Never Overruled, Never Overwhelmed

…Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army … [King Joram said] “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today” (2 Kings 6:24, 31). 

Two kings who both think that their overwhelming force can override God’s plan.

Ben-Hadad had already experienced God’s power when his previous plans were disclosed by God to Elisha, and when his “strong force” has been thwarted by God’s power (vv. 8-10, 14-20). As a result, Ben-Hadad temporarily stopped sending his small raiding parties into Israel. Now, he somehow believes that sending his “entire army” can overwhelm God’s plan?! 

King Joram also had first-hand experience is of God’s power. Not only in the above incident with King Ben-Hadad, but also in the desert when God miraculously provided water for his army. Now, he somehow thinks “this disaster is from the Lord” and Elisha is the cause. He thinks that killing Elisha will somehow intimidate God into lifting the Aramean siege?!

Here are the facts:

  • God brought the Aramaeans together to demonstrate His power.
  • God left Israel without any resources on their own to demonstrate His power.
  • God foretold events yet to come through Elisha to demonstrate His power.

And then God fully demonstrated His power!

God’s plans can never be overruled. That means that when I place my trust in God, I can never be overwhelmed by the enemy’s plans. 

No matter the circumstances, God is in control. Let me say that again: GOD IS IN CONTROL.

God will demonstrate His unequaled love and His unmatched power at just the right moment. He will bring about “a day of good news” and superabundance for all who fear and trust Him (7:9, 16). 

Don’t ever despair, no matter how dark the battle is. Don’t ever try to coerce God into doing something you want Him to do. Don’t ever become frustrated with God’s timing. Only wait in eager expectation for His answer: His all-loving, all-powerful answer. 

God is never overruled so you are never overwhelmed!

Two Great Lies

“By two great lies was man led away from God. By the same two lies has the estrangement been kept up. On these two lies the world has been feeding ever since the Fall. Their fruit has been woe and death—‘Ye shall not die’ and ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ …

“The world’s history is the same. Our race has been eating the fruit of lies [Hosea 10:13]; not simply of sin, but of lies. The sorrows, sighs, tears, pains of our race are the fruit of lies—the original lie of Paradise, and a thousand such since then. …

“The two original satanic lies are continually coming up, and along with them myriads of others, all leading us astray. Each day brings forth the lie, the fruit, the eating thereof. satan, or the world, or the flesh, or a friend, or a book, or a scene whispers the lie; it is fair and specious, we believe it; it brings forth fruit, we eat of it, and the end is bitterness and disappointment. We feed on lies. … We persuade ourselves that this world is good, and pleasant, and excellent, so we pursue it in preference to the world to come. …

“Jesus says, ‘Yes, ye shall not surely die, but that deliverance shall not be in the way you think. Death is the wages of sin, yet I bring life to the sinner, everlasting life, life through the belief of the Truth, even as death came through the belief of a lie. Yes, ye shall be as gods, but not in your way. I will make you partakers if the divine nature, not by eating the forbidden tree, but by eating of Me.’” —Horatius Bonar, in Light and Truth: The Old Testament

The Danger Of Great Gifts

I recently posted this

“We are more vulnerable to an attack (and a temporary defeat) after a victory than after a defeat. Why is that? Because victory tends to make us self-satisfied, but defeat tends to make us God-dependent.”

The same is true with our God-given gifts. In his book on spiritual warfare, William Gurnall identifies great giftings in an individual’s life as a vulnerable place for an attack:

“Great gifts lift a saint up a little higher in the eyes of men, but they also tempt him to pride. Do not envy those with great gifts; instead, pity and pray for them. It is hard for them to escape the error of supposing that God’s grace in them is their own doing. … 

“Had God given you gifts merely for your own pleasure or edification, the sin of pride would not be quite so bad. But when you use your gifts to lift yourself up, you tear down the Body of Christ. Your gifts are necessary to the health of the whole Body, but they must be administered properly.” —William Gurnall, in The Christian In Complete Armor (emphasis mine)

Run To The Banner

Psalm 60 may have the longest introduction of any of the psalms, and it gives us some key historical information. David has been successful against the Philistines and the Moabites, and now he is fighting in Mesopotamia. While the army was focused elsewhere, the Edomites must have seen an opportunity to attack Israel, where they won a temporary victory (see the intro to Psalm 60 and 2 Samuel 8:1-3). 

David’s reflexive response to this temporary setback was not retaliation or blaming, but remorse and repentance. In verses 1-4 he says “You have” five times, acknowledging that God allowed this temporary defeat. He also acknowledges that only God can restore. 

Then David comes to the Selah pause: But You have raised a banner for those who fear You—a rallying point in the face of attack. Selah. (NLT) 

The Selah here is David calling us to evaluate our options just as he did. We are to consider things like: 

  • God’s help vs. our own strength 
  • the benefits of righteousness vs. the consequences of sin
  • depending on God vs. depending on man 
  • rallying under God’s banner vs. rallying under our own banner 

It’s interesting to note that in the list of David’s long string of victories in 2 Samuel 8, we read this: “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (v. 6). But how can that be since the Israelites were temporarily defeated by the Edomites? 

I think this is the key principle—We are more vulnerable to an attack (and a temporary defeat) after a victory than after a defeat. Why is that? Because victory tends to make us self-satisfied, but defeat tends to make us God-dependent. 

When David confesses that God has allowed this temporary defeat, he is really confessing that he had attempted to navigate things on his own. Perhaps he thought his strategy would keep Israel secure, or that his men were trained and resourced enough to be victorious, or that David didn’t even have to pay attention to the Edomites any longer. 

Whatever went through David’s mind, it was clear that he had become more self-satisfied than he was God-dependent. So David correctly recognized that he needed to run to God’s banner. He recognized that was the only secure place for him to stay. 

The Bible DOESN’T say “resist the devil and he will flee from you,” but it DOES say “submit yourself to God—run to His banner and stay under His banner—and then you can resist the devil and he will flee from you.” 

Look at the keywords in the final verse of Psalm 60: “With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies.” 

WE WILL only because HE WILL. 

Has there been a temporary setback in your life? Repent and run to the banner of God. 

Have you felt under attack? Humble yourself and run to the banner of God. 

Have you recently won a victory? Stay humble and keep on running to the banner of God! 

If you have missed any of the other posts in this Selah series, you can find the full list by clicking here.

C’mon, Let’s Go!

In May 1917, the British war cabinet was divided. Some of the generals wanted to continue a combined assault on the German forces, but other generals saw the need to confront the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. They selected General Edmund Allenby to lead the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force against the Turks.  

Allenby’s forces were able to quickly recapture Jerusalem, but the Turks had entrenched themselves at Micmash Megiddo, allowing them a place to launch counterattacks. As battle plans were being contemplated, Major Vivian Gilbert came to Allenby with an unorthodox solution. Major Gilbert was a student of history, and he remembered the name Micmash Megiddo from an ancient text. Reading in his tent by candlelight one night, he rediscovered the text. 

Gilbert brought his report to Allenby. To take advantage of this text, conventional battle plans would have to be scraped. Instead of attacking with overwhelming force, as was usually done, Allenby ordered one company out. This small force discovered just a few Turks whom they overpowered with hardly a sound. Then scaling the cliffs, the company took up their position just before daybreak. When dawn broke and the Turks saw Allenby’s men on the highest, most strategic point, they panicked, thinking they were nearly surrounded, and quickly retreated. 

In his journal, Major Gilbert wrote, “And so after thousands of years British troops successfully copied the tactics of Jonathan.” 

Who was this Jonathan that he referred to? He was the oldest son of Saul, king of Israel. 

Before his successful assault, Jonathan had another military campaign that ended poorly. The Philistines seized the high ground, the Israelite army was reduced to a fraction of its original size, and many of the Israelite soldiers who remained were defecting to the Philistines or deserting the army altogether. And if that weren’t bad enough, Israel had only two swords left: one for King Saul and one for Jonathan. 

Jonathan’s first military campaign had been with 1000 men. As he discovered, that was actually too many men! For his next assault on Micmash, Jonathan switched tactics: he alone would attack the enemy with only his armor bearer to assist him. 

Was Jonathan impetuous? reckless? a man with a death wish? No! He was a God-fearing initiator. He knew that God would fight for anyone who was fighting for God’s people. I think his inspiration came from this promise—Each one of you will put to flight a thousand of the enemy, for the Lord your God fights for you, just as He has promised (Joshua 23:10). 

Knowing that God would help him, three times Jonathan implores his armor bearer, “C’mon, let’s go!” 

Jim Rohn noted, “The difficulties you meet will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed, and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness on your path.” 

Just look at the light that dawned with Jonathan’s c’mon-let’s-go initiative: 

  • his armor bearer said he was with Jonathan “heart and soul” even though he didn’t even have a sword!
  • God sent an earthquake that caused the Philistines to panic 
  • King Saul finally mobilized the remaining army that remained with him 
  • God so confused the Philistine that they turned and fought against each other
  • the Israelite deserters returned from Philistia 
  • the fearful soldiers that had deserted returned to their posts 

Could God have defeated the Philistines on His own? Of course He could have. But He was waiting for just one godly leader to say, “Enough is enough! C’mon, let’s go!” 

Godly men are never satisfied with maintaining the status quo. Godly men know that standing still is really moving backward. Godly men know that their initiative can start a momentum that liberates others. 

Fellas, your family needs you to initiate. Your Christian brothers and sisters need you to initiate. Your countrymen need you to initiate. 

Take the initiative for God’s glory, for your family’s protection, for your nation’s revival, for generations yet to be born. Let’s charge the enemy of our souls together—

C’mon, let’s go!  

Zero Casualties

The whole army then returned safely to Joshua… (Joshua 10:21).

The only time any deaths in battle are mentioned in the whole military campaign of Israel conquering Canaan is at Ai when 36 men died (7:1-5). Other than that, zero casualties.

A massive Israelite army, waging war against huge armies “as numerous as the sand on the seashore” (11:4), many of them entrenched in fortified cities, several of the warriors are giants, fighting on terrain that is unfamiliar to them—zero casualties! 

But why should this surprise us?

God doesn’t see masses of people; He sees individuals. He knows how many hairs are on each soldier’s head! He is able to keep alive all His children despite the rigors of warfare.

Total victory. Zero casualties!

The casualties at Ai were due to Israel’s disobedience. The ongoing victories were due to Israel’s total obedience: “As the Lord commanded His servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua, and Joshua did it; he left nothing undone of all that the Lord commanded Moses” (11:15).

“All these kings and their lands Joshua conquered in one campaign, because the Lord, the God of Israel, fights for Israel” (10:42), with zero casualties!

We wage a spiritual warfare today that is no less rigorous or dangerous than the military campaign the Israelite army fought. God is still able to keep those who are His until He calls them home. 

Missionary John Paton, while surrounded by hostile cannibals, said, “I realized that my life was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done.” 

The same is true for you. Don’t fear the enemy. Don’t shrink from the battle. Obey God, and trust Him to bring you safely home to Heaven. Then you can say with the apostle Paul, as he neared the end of his campaign—

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8). 

Jesus is able to keep you from falling until He brings you into His Father’s presence—zero casualties!

10 Quotes From C.S. Lewis

Any day is a good day for some C.S. Lewis quotes! 

“To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbor; act as if you did.” —C.S. Lewis 

“If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his ‘gratitude,’ you will probably be disappointed.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.” —C.S. Lewis 

“For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity.” —C.S. Lewis 

“The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.” —C.S. Lewis 

“Faith, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.” —C.S. Lewis 

“And as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” —C.S. Lewis 

“A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means—the only complete realist.” —C.S. Lewis

The God That Runs To You

I’m sure you’ve experienced what I’ve experienced. My nice, orderly world came crashing down all around me. It totally blindsided me! I got on my knees to do some serious soul searching and I prayed, “God I know you called me here. I know I’ve done what You’ve asked me to do. What’s happening? Why am I being attacked? Where are You, God?

I’m sure you’ve been there too. “Where’s God?” has been the cry of countless people from the oldest book of the Old Testament until this very day. In dark times our world seems to shrink, and the weight of the entire world seems to rest on our shoulders. We begin to at first sigh and say, “Why me?” and then those sighs become sobs of “God, where are You?!” 

“Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where He is when we need Him. We want a God we can in some measure control. We need the feeling of security that comes from knowing what God is like.…” —A.W. Tozer 

Here’s the truth: We are always in a spiritual battle. It’s just hard to see it in the “good ol’ days.” But in the “bad ol’ days” we realize we don’t have it all figured out! The dark days are simply the reality of spiritual warfare revealed. 

Answers don’t come easily because there are no easy answers!

One of Job’s friends named Zophar thought he had God all figured out. He concluded his easy answer that the wicked have a bad life and the righteous have a good life. So if things were going badly for Job, he must have messed up somewhere. Except Zophar was wrong! God Himself pronounced Job righteous (see Job 20:1-8; 1:8). Zophar’s easy answer now doesn’t seem so easy, does it? 

I’ll say it again: In the hard times, answers don’t come easily because there are no easy answers. 

In fact, Jesus told us, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). 

How did Jesus overcome the world of hurt and pain? He did it by taking a hands-on approach—Since the children have flesh and blood, [Jesus] too shared in their humanity…. For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way…. Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14, 17-18). 

The phrase “He is able to help” literally means that He runs to the cry! 

In order to be able to run to our cry, Jesus has to know what our cries sound like and what our pain feels like. He had to taste all our pain for Himself. He had to feel all of them in a human body. The Limitless God was incarnated in limited flesh to experience everything we would ever feel. 

Now that Jesus has died and been resurrected, our cries bring Him running to us with ALL of His LIMITLESS love and power and empathy! 

In the good ol’ days we may not recognize just how close God is to us. But when the bad days come and we cry out to Him, He comes running. Jesus may be closer when you say, “I don’t know where You are!” than He’s ever been before. 

Go ahead and cry out. Jesus knows those cries. He hears you, He knows your pain, He runs to your cries, He comes close to help.

Join me next week as we continue this series asking “Where’s God?” in the specific difficulties that we face. We’ll ask questions like, “Where’s God in my depression?” and “Where’s God in my divorce?” and “Where’s God in this national calamity?” Please don’t miss these encouraging messages! 

Fasting Power

We are always engaged in an intense spiritual battle. Sometimes we feel the intensity of the battle, sometimes we don’t. But it’s always happening. 

This is why we need to make prayer an ongoing discipline. If we do, we will be much more likely to turn to prayer when we feel the intense moments, and our faith in those intense moments will be strengthened and ready to respond. 

Every day we are either preparing or repairing. Prayer is either helping us prepare for the challenges we will be facing, or it’s helping us recover from the battle we just fought. Believe me: it’s much better to be preparing than it is to be repairing!

One time the disciples of Jesus got stymied in a spiritual battle. A father brought his demon-possessed son to them, asking that they cast out the demon. But this distraught father then had to report to Jesus, “They couldn’t do it” (see Matthew 17:14-21). 

Why couldn’t they? These men had been taught how to pray by Jesus Himself, and they already had experienced ministry success (Matthew 6:9-13; Mark 6:13). So were they stumped now? 

Jesus told them, “It’s because you have so little faith.” He went on to tell them that these intense spiritual battles require an ongoing lifestyle of prayer. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that they should have said to that father, “Come back in a few days after we have prayed and fasted.” 

But what Jesus was really saying was that all of us need to stay connected to the Source of our spiritual power at every single moment (John 15:5, 7). Sometimes this requires taking our eyes off ourselves and our own appetites. 

In a word: we need to fast. 

The word fasting means “to cover the mouth” or “to close the mouth.” 

  • often fasting is in response to calamity or as a sign of mourning 
  • sometimes it’s alongside an intense prayer 
  • ideally it should be a regular discipline in our lives. In Matthew 6:16-18, notice the phrase “when you fast.” Not “if you fast,” but when. Jesus assumed that we would do this, and since this teaching appears right after Jesus teaches us how to pray, it makes sense that prayer and fasting go well together.  

Fasting is not…

Fasting intensifies our focus on God in the quiet times so that we can keep our eyes on Him in the crashing storms. 

Fasting helps us tune in to the unmistakable Voice of the Holy Spirit in the peaceful moments so that we can still recognize His Voice in the tumult of battle. 

Is there a comfort food you tend to run to? Is there a coping activity that you typically use to de-stress? Is there someone or something other than God that is your go-to in times of trouble? Perhaps we should start there and fast from those things for a short period of time. 

Fasting in the quiet times will strengthen us for the intense battle times. 

Let’s prepare daily for victory, instead of having to repair after a failure.

4 + 4 Strategies To Eliminate Distractions To Your Prayer Time

There’s a quote that has been the theme for this series on prayer: “Prayer pursues joy in fruitful fellowship with Jesus, knowing that God is glorified when we bear fruit in answer to prayer. Why do God’s children so often fail to have consistent habits of happy, fruitful prayer? Unless I’m badly mistaken, one of the reasons is not so much that we don’t want to, but that we don’t plan to.” —John Piper 

And unless I’m badly mistaken, the most obvious thing we need to plan to eliminate is distractions. 

Some people say they can juggle a lot of things at once. “I’m a really good multitasker,” they say. But science says differently. MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller concluded that our brains are “not wired to multitask well…. When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.” What is that cognitive cost? “Multitasking can drop IQ as much as 15 points, essentially turning you into the cognitive equivalent of an 8-year-old” (Inc. Magazine). 

If the devil can make you think you can multitask prayer with other things, he has seriously inhibited the effectiveness of your prayers. 

Jesus was not a multitasker—but He was singularly focused on His Father’s plan. And yet He accomplished more in His three years of public ministry than anyone else in history! 

Here are 4 strategies to help you get ready to pray:

  1. Try to have your prayer time in the same place and at the same time. Your brain likes routine and it will help you zero-in during your scheduled prayer times. 
  2. Silence your cell phone or other noisy distractions. 
  3. Keep a notepad handy for random thoughts that pop into your head. Writing them down will keep your brain from switching back-and-forth to them.
  4. Focus on listening, not on talking—Eugene Peterson said, “Prayer is first of all a means of listening. Prayer is an act of attention.” 

When we get right down to it, prayer is spiritual warfare (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:10-18). In the context of warfare, the word strategy means the maneuvering that takes place prior to the battle. The devil is a masterful tactician, and he will do everything he can to keep you distracted. 

That’s why three times Peter tells us to be clear-minded and singularly-focused in our thoughts SO THAT we can pray without the hindrances of distractions (1 Peter 1:13-14; 4:7; 5:8-9). And Paul tells us to take all our thoughts captive, so that no un-Christlike thoughts are inhibiting our prayer time (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). 

Here are 4 strategies to help you stay focused in prayer:

  1. A—adoration. Enter into God’s presence with a Psalm or worship music. 
  2. C—confession. Deal with unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, or relationship strife as quickly as possible (Psalm 66:18; Matthew 5:21-24). 
  3. T—thanksgiving. Paul counseled us, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition WITH thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).  
  4. S—supplication. Intercede for your brothers and sisters in the battles they are facing (James 5:16; Job 42:10; Ephesians 6:18).  

Remember—

Prayer isn’t preparation for the battle; prayer IS the battle! Let’s not be distracted from that!

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