Battleground!

“Men think of the world, not as a battleground but as a playground. We are not here to fight, we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land, we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, we are already living, and the best we can do is to rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. …

That this world is a playground instead of a battleground has now been accepted in practice by the vast majority of evangelical Christians. They might hedge around the question if they were asked bluntly to declare their position, but their conduct gives them away. They are facing both ways, enjoying Christ and the world too, and gleefully telling everyone that accepting Jesus does not require them to give up their fun, and that Christianity is just the jolliest thing imaginable.” —A.W. Tozer, in Culture

(To read other quotes from this A.W. Tozer book, click here or here.)

The Value In Retreating

So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed (Luke 5:16).

So”—in light of what just happened. What happened? Jesus was preaching everywhere, He healed a leper, and great multitudes came to hear Him speak and to be healed. So Jesus had to withdraw frequently to pray and be replenished.

All of us have only a finite amount of energy. When we are sensing that energy level is low, we also need a retreat. Otherwise, our low energy levels can sabotage us and diminish what God wants to do through us. 

Then check out the results after Christ’s time of replenishing:

  • God’s power was “present to heal” (v. 17)
  • People were saved (v. 20)
  • Jesus had holy perception (v. 22)
  • Miracles confirmed the word that Jesus preached (v. 24)
  • God was glorified (v. 26)
  • People followed Jesus (vv. 27, 28)
  • Jesus had enough grace and patience to handle criticism (v. 30)
  • Jesus had enough wisdom and patience to handle tricky theological questions (vv. 33-39)

J.C. Ryle noted, “The most successful workmen in the Lord’s vineyard are those who are, like their Master, often and much upon their knees.”

Healthy leaders are keenly aware of their own energy levels. 

So… A mark of a godly leader is one who frequently retreats. 

This is part 32 in my series on godly leadership. You can check out all of my posts in this series by clicking here.

No Asterisks

This past Christmas I was quite surprised to receive a package in the mail. It was something I ordered as a Christmas gift for my wife. 

Sort of. 

It was actually half of what I thought I ordered. I went back online and discovered some “fine print” that I hadn’t really noticed earlier. 

You’ve probably experienced that too—asterisksfine print … footnotes … hidden fees … “limits and exclusions may apply” are all so frustrating!

Unfortunately, we get so used to these things that we begin to—consciously or subconsciously—plug them into places where they don’t actually belong. So even when Jesus Himself says something that sounds wonderful like, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20), we want to insert an asterisk. 

Or when He says, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it” (John 14:13-14), we think we’re supposed to ask, “What’s the catch?” 

Christians are inserting asterisks where they don’t belong and, as a result, are praying timid prayers. 

Why do we pray this way? Perhaps we are…

  1. …fearful of being too bold. But in telling us how to pray, Jesus says God rewards our bold “shameless persistence” in prayer. 

I tell you, although he will not get up and supply him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his shameless persistence and insistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you, ask and keep on asking and it shall be given you; seek and keep on seeking and you shall find; knock and keep on knocking and the door shall be opened to you. (Luke 11:8-9 AMP) 

  1. …unsure that God hears us, cares for us, or even wants to answer us. But the Bible is quite clear that all of these things are true: He hears us, cares for us, and does want to give us what He has promised (1 John 5:14-15; Romans 8:32; Romans 4:20-21).  
  1. …ignorant of what/how to pray. T.M. Moore reminds us, “God has given us three great helps to assist us in our prayers. His Spirit groans for us; His Word guides us; and His Son governs and intercedes for us.” 
  1. …not looking for God’s answer. David said that after praying, he expectantly watched for God’s answer (Psalm 5:3). Indeed, the Aramaic word for prayer means “to set a trap.” 

“He is the God of limitless resources—the only limit comes from us. Our requests, our thoughts, and our prayers are too small, and our expectations are too low. God is trying to raise our vision to a higher level, call us to have greater expectations, and thereby bring us to greater appropriation. Shall we continue living in a way that mocks His will and denies His Word?” —A.B. Simpson 

Why are you hesitating to ask God for even a tiny amount when such vast resources are available? What would happen if you started to pray more boldly? What if you began to make mountain-moving requests? I dare you to try! 

Stop looking for the asterisks and start taking God at His word!

Join me next week as we continue our series on Boldly Praying, looking at some bold pray-ers in the Bible.

Boldly Praying

As a general rule, God would like us to pray much more boldly than we typically do. 

Jesus told us that we could pray mountain-moving prayers! But C.S. Lewis rightly observed, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.” 

This Sunday we begin a new series of messages called Boldly Praying, in which we are going to consider how we can replace our weak prayers with bold prayers. We’ll be looking at the requests of four bold pray-ers that we meet in the pages of Scripture, and each one of them will teach us a new aspect of bold praying. 

Join us either in person or on Facebook Live. 

Thursdays With Oswald—Getting The Order Right

Oswald ChambersThis is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Getting The Order Right

     Beware of walking in the spiritual life according to your natural affinities. We all have natural affinities—some people we like and others we do not; some people we get on well with and others we do not. Never let those likes and dislikes be the rule of your Christian life. “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” [1 John 1:7], i.e., God gives us fellowship with people for whom we have no natural affinity. …  

     Our example is not a good man, not even a Christian man, but God Himself. We do not allow the big surprise of this to lay hold of us sufficiently. Jesus nowhere says, “Follow your Father which is in heaven—that you may be good men? that you may be lovable to all men?” No, “that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 5:44-45], and that implies a strong family likeness to Jesus Christ. …  

     It takes a long time to get the full force of our Lord’s statements. “I say unto you, love your enemies”—an easy thing to do when you have no enemies; an impossible thing when you have. “Bless them that curse you”—easy when no one is cursing you, but impossible when someone is. “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you.” It seems easy to do all this when we have no enemies, when no one is cursing or persecuting us; but if we have an enemy who slanders and annoys and systematically vexes us, and we read Jesus Christ’s statement “I say to you, Love your enemies”—how are we going to do it? Unless Jesus Christ can remake us within, His teaching is the biggest mockery human ears ever listened to. …

     “I say unto you, love your enemies.” Jesus does not say, “Love every one.” The Bible never speaks vaguely, it always speaks definitely. People speak about loving “mankind,” and loving “the heathen”; Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” Our Lord does not say, “Bless your enemies,” He says, “Love your enemies.” He does not say, “Love them that curse you”; He says, “Bless them that curse you.” “Do good to them that hate you”—not bless them. He does not say, “Do good to them that despitefully use you”; He says, “Pray for them that despitefully use you.” Each one of these commands is stamped with sheer impossibility to the natural man. If we reverse the order Jesus has given it can be done with strain, but in His order I defy any man on earth to be able to do it unless he has been regenerated by God the Holy Ghost. When a man does love his enemies, he knows that God has done a tremendous work in him, and everyone else knows it too. 

From Studies In The Sermon On The Mount

It’s impossible to do what Jesus commands if we’re trying to do it solely in our own strength. But when we allow the Holy Spirit to remake us from within, we can do what Jesus says:

  • If someone is your enemy—love them.
  • If someone persecutes you—pray for them. 
  • If someone curses you—bless them.
  • If someone hates you—do good to them. 

When we operate this way, we know that God has made this possible in us—and everyone else knows it too!

Jesus Is Immanuel

I am Immanuel—God with you—and I am enough! When things in your life are flowing smoothly, it is easy to trust in My sufficiency. However, when you encounter rough patches—one after another after another—you may sometimes feel that My provision is inadequate. This is when your mind tends to go into high gear: obsessing about ways to make things better. There is nothing wrong with seeking solutions, but problem-solving can turn into an addiction: your mind spinning with so many plans and possibilities that you become confused and exhausted.

“To protect yourself from this mental exhaustion, you need to remind yourself that I am with you always, taking care of you. It is possible to rejoice in Me—to proclaim My sufficiency—even during the most difficult times. This is a supernatural work, empowered by My Spirit who lives in you. It is also a decision that you make—day by day and moment by moment. Choose to be joyful in Me, your Savior, for I am indeed enough!” —Jesus Christ (in Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling For Christmas)

(You can check out some more quotes from Sarah Young’s book by clicking here.)

God Bless Christmas

I just finished my annual re-reading of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol. What a masterful author he was! This year I was especially struck by the argument between Ebenezer Scrooge and his nephew Fred—

“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.

“Bah!” said Scrooge, “Humbug!”

He had so heated himself with rapid walking in the fog and frost, this nephew of Scrooge’s, that he was all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again.

“Christmas a humbug, uncle!” said Scrooge’s nephew. “You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

“Come, then,” returned the nephew gaily. “What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough.”

Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said, “Bah!” again; and followed it up with “Humbug.”

“Don’t be cross, uncle!” said the nephew.

“What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

“Uncle!” pleaded the nephew.

“Nephew!” returned the uncle sternly, “keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.”
“Keep it!” repeated Scrooge’s nephew. “But you don’t keep it.”

“Let me leave it alone, then,” said Scrooge. “Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!”

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

There is something “special” about the Advent season. You can palpably sense it in the way people talk and act differently. Could it be that the celebration of Christmas—despite all the tinsel and consumerism that has sought to overwhelm it—sounds a familiar chord in people’s heart because the Story is true? God bless it!

Here are a few Christmas Carol observations I shared last year.

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