Refined By The Fire

Where is God in our trials? When we call, Jesus runs to our cry. He is able to help us because He knows exactly what our cries sound like. Aren’t you glad He does?! 

While we are in these difficult times, you might find yourself asking a question I have asked, “Okay, God, I believe You are doing something, but what exactly are You doing?” 

I can’t tell you specifically what God is doing in your life, because your story is unique and special. But I can tell you that during the hard, painful chapters of our lives, God is accomplishing at least five things in all of us.

  1. God is opening our eyes to new paradigms

We will learn lessons in these fiery trials that we couldn’t possibly learn any other way. 

  1. God is building empathy in us which we didn’t have before

One dictionary defines empathy as “the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings.” It’s only because of our trials that we no longer have to imagine what someone else is feeling, but instead we know exactly what they’re feeling and how we can help. 

  1. God is growing our patience 

It’s been said that patience is the “mother of all other virtues.” Paul said that “these troubles produce patience” (Romans 5:3). As God grows your patience, He will also help you to grow all of the other Christlike virtues. 

  1. God is refining His character in us 

Paul went on to add that not only does trouble produce patience, but “patience produces character” (Romans 5:4). During the times of difficulty and uncertainty, we become more aware of deficiencies in our character. 

  1. God is building in us an unshakable hope in His future grace 

Hope is not wishful thinking; it’s well-founded believing! 

I want to circle back to that word refining because I think that best sums up what God is doing in our painful times. Romans 8 tells us—The Spirit Himself thus testifies together with our own spirit, assuring us that we are children of God. And if we are His children, then we are His heirs also: heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ—sharing His inheritance with Him; only we must share His suffering if we are to share His glory. But what of that? For I consider that the sufferings of this present time—this present life—are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! (Romans 8:15-18) 

So where’s God in this time of fire? He is overseeing our trial as a Perfect Refiner. Do you know how the silversmith knows he has purified the impurities from the silver ore? The silver is pure when he can see his own reflection in the silver! 

In the heat of your trial, God is close to you. He knows the perfect temperature and the precise time that it will take to allow His face to be seen in you! 

Sometimes you will see what God is doing through your furnace time, sometimes you won’t. But don’t ever bail out! God IS working! He is giving you a new perspective, a deeper empathy, more patience, an unshakable hope, and most of all—He is removing the impurities that will allow His face to be seen more clearly in you! 

Join me this Sunday as we continue to learn where God is in our darkest times. And if you didn’t catch the previous messages in this series, please check out The God That Runs To You and How Long Will This Last?

How Long Will This Last?

Chaos is all around us! There’s infighting both politically and religiously. Government officials are imposing new laws and regulations and restrictions. Lots of rival voices are clamoring to be heard. Loss of personal freedoms, civil liberties, and even the freedom of worship. Uncertainty about the future. Fear in the present. 

Although this may sound like current conditions in the USA, I’m actually describing life in Israel around 31 BC. 

The people of Israel were frustrated beyond words with the restrictions they faced. They thought they were living in their land and that they should be able to govern themselves as they saw best. 

Have you ever been in that place of utter frustration? Are you there now? “What’s happening? Why is this not going according to plan? Isn’t there anything I can do? How long is this going to last? God, where are You in all of this?! 

We humans like to think we are in control. Or at least we like to think that we know God’s timetable. Throughout the Bible—and still today—the questions persist: 

  • How long will this last? 
  • When will this take place? 
  • What about him? 
  • Is this the right time? 

(see Psalm 13:1-2; Matthew 24:3; John 21:21; Acts 1:6; Revelation 6:9-10) 

When we ask God, “How long?” He never answers us by pointing to the calendar or the clock, but He points us to principles in His Word.

Here are four principles that we need to ask the Holy Spirit to help us grasp: 

  1. God’s timing was determined before Time even started. 
  2. God is using this “How long?” time to perfect us for His service.
  3. God is using this “How long?” time to empower us to point others to Him.
  4. God is calling us to trust Him alone during our “How long?” times. 

(see Psalm 90:2; Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 13:5-6; Romans 5:3-4; Matthew 24:13-14; Acts 1:7-8; John 21:21) 

Those Israelites I described earlier were so frustrated with asking “How long?” and apparently getting no answer, that they frequently took matters into their own hands. This never turned out well for them. But God’s perfect timing was heading toward His perfect fulfillment.  

We may not perceive it, but God IS doing more than we will ever know during our “How long?” times. 

God’s perfect timing for His people couldn’t be until Caesar Augustus came on the scene and brought an end to the political uncertainty that kept everything in chaos. Nearly 30 years before Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, Augustus was launching the pax Romana—the peace of Rome—all over the world. Pax Romana was creating the perfect environment in which Jesus could be born and minister, as well in which His followers could then take the Good News all over the world. 

Jesus was born “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), around 5 BC, in a land where a Jordanian king (Herod the Great) served an Italian emperor (Caesar Augustus) to a people frustrated with waiting. But God knew exactly when and where and how to send His Son to be our Savior!

So, my friends—Trust God in the “How long?” times! 

God’s perfect plan includes YOU, so guard against any anxious thoughts that would make you bail out of His perfectly-timed plan early. (see Psalm 139:16, 23-24)

Join me this Sunday as we continue our series called Where’s God? 

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! 

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!

A Praying Family

Not one word in Scripture is wasted: not one word is redundant or replaceable. When Jesus taught us to pray to a Heavenly Father, He taught us to say, “OUR Father.” That means we are all His children, with His Holy Spirit helping us to grasp this—The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that WE are God’s children. Now if WE are children, then WE are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ… (Romans 8:16-17). 

Did you know that the word saints never appears in the singular in Scripture? No one person is singled out for his or her saintliness. Because we are saintS, praying together to OUR Father, this means accountability. For some people, accountability is a bad word. It seems to them to feel like someone is looking over their shoulder or checking up on them. But Christians should never feel this way! I like how Ken Blanchard defines this: “Accountability means: We owe each other for something we’ve agreed upon.” 

What have the saints of God agreed upon? That God is our Father, that Jesus is His Son and our Brother, and that the Holy Spirit is our Helper. We’ve agreed that if we are brothers and sisters in God’s family, we are mutually accountable to one another. 

In the context of the prayer Jesus taught us to pray, being mutually accountable means: 

  1. Power in our prayersgive US today our daily bread. Jesus talks about the power in agreement, and the apostle Paul emphasizes how the Holy Spirit helps believers harmonize in prayer with each other and with God’s will (Matthew 18:19-20; Romans 8:27). 
  1. Strengthening of our characterforgive US our debts, as WE also have forgiven our debtors. Jack Hayford points out that, “The believer’s best defense against self-deception is through mutual accountability to one another.” In order for our character to be strengthened, we have to allow others to speak into our lives—even the lovingly painful words (Proverbs 27:17, 6). 
  1. Protection from falling to temptationlead US not into temptation, but deliver US from the evil one. Samson became entangled with a prostitute when he was all by himself; Elijah became depressed when he sent his servant away; David fell into sin when he was alone; Peter denied Christ when all of the other disciples had run away. That’s why the writer of Hebrews counsels us to stick close to our Christian family members (Hebrews 10:21-25). 

In an earlier post, I noted that how we view God is going to determine what we pray and what we expect after we pray. Coming together and praying together will help us see God better. Just as the angels around the throne are always crying out to each other “Holy! Holy! Holy!”, when we come together we can show our fellow saints what we’ve learned about our holy Father’s love and power. This is both an encouragement to others and allows others to be an encouragement to us too. Then together we can pray more boldly and expect great things in response to our prayer. 

Being mutually accountable to the saints in prayer…

  • hallows God as our Father

  • glorifies Jesus as our Brother

  • honors the Spirit as our Helper

God never intended that you would have to walk through life alone. He wants us to share the journey with fellow saints—His family made up of our brothers and sisters. This praying family truly honors God’s name! 

Join me on Sunday as we continue to learn more about prayer. 

Prayer Expectations

Many of our prayers could be much bolder and much more specific than they are. Why is that? Because how we view God is going to determine what we pray and what we expect after we pray.

When we pray, we approach an All-Loving Father, and we approach an All-Powerful God. I have found that typically people get warmed by the idea of Father and get scared by the idea of God. They say things like: “What if my prayers don’t hallow God’s name? What if He’s mad at me? What if I pray an improper prayer?” 

God wants us to come to Him in prayer, so He makes Himself very accessible! The Father is both Father and God; the Son is both Friend and King; the Spirit is both Comforter and Convictor. We get ALL of this in One God. 

Charles Spurgeon had this word of encouragement: “If You are my Father, then You love me. If I am Your child, then You will regard me, and poor though my language is, You will not despise it.” Jesus came to earth fully God and fully man, making Him our perfect intermediary (see Job 9:32-35; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25). And the Holy Spirit helps interpret our groaning prayers (Romans 8:26-27). 

Have you ever noticed that neither the prophets of the Old Testament, nor Jesus in the Gospels, nor the apostles in the New Testament ever prayed, “God, if this is Your will please do such-and-such”? They simply prayed. Or more accurately, they prayed so boldly and specifically it almost sounded like a command: “Stand up” or “Be clean” or “Go, your prayer has been answered.” 

When you and I are praying to an All-Loving and All-Powerful Father, with Jesus interceding for us, and the Spirit helping us, we too can pray these bold and highly specific prayers. 

After all, if you don’t pray specifically and expectantly, how will you know when your prayer is answered? 

I find John Piper’s acrostic very helpful in praying these bold and expectant prayers. He calls it APTAT: 

  • A—Admit I can’t do anything without Christ. This hallows His Name. 
  • P—Pray for help to do it. 
  • T—Trust a specific promise of God to help me (two general promises are found in Isaiah 41:10 and Romans 8:32). 
  • A—Act. Do the things I need to do: apply for the job, ask forgiveness, schedule a meeting. 
  • T—Thank Him when I’m done. 

Two final thoughts—

  1. Make prayer more of a listening relationship than a talking relationship. 
  2. Give yourself some grace as you are maturing; don’t expect immediate perfection. Start praying and then let the Father, the Son, and the Spirit help you mature in your prayer life. 

I hope you can join me this Sunday as we continue to work on our plans to pray.

Hallowed Be Your Name

Jesus was once asked, “What is the greatest commandment?” He responded by saying, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One,” and then saying we should love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (which fulfills the first four of the Ten Commandments), and then love our neighbor as ourselves (which fulfills the next six of the Commandments).

To live this way, we need to pray this way too! That’s why Jesus taught us a model prayer—which we typically call “The Lord’s Prayer”—in which the first three petitions are for God’s glory (hallowed be Your name; Your kingdom come; Your will be done), and the next three petitions are for man’s help (daily bread, forgiveness, victory over temptation). 

Jesus says we can pray to our Heavenly Father, but we still need to remember that He is also the God of the Hallowed Name. The Greek word for hallowed is made up of two other Greek words: 

  • hagnos is something totally immaculate, blindingly pure, and unapproachable. The apostle Paul said this about God: Our Master, Jesus Christ, is on His way. He’ll show up right on time, His arrival guaranteed by the Blessed and Undisputed Ruler, High King, High God. He’s the only one death can’t touch, His light so bright no one can get close. He’s never been seen by human eyes—human eyes can’t take Him in! Honor to Him, and eternal rule! (1 Timothy 6:15-16) 
  • thalpo means cherished. The same apostle Paul also said that God has given us the right to approach Him as “Abba, Father” or “Daddy, God” (Romans 8:15). 

He is both unapproachable and approachable. He is both awful and lovable. He is both Supreme power and Supreme love. He is both Hallowed and Father. He is unique. Since He is unique, we must approach Him uniquely in holy prayer. But we must always approach first and foremost to reverence His holy Name. As Matthew Henry said, “Let Him have the praise of His perfections, and then let us have the benefit of them.” 

Think of His glory in every request you make of Him. Father, may Your holy, righteous name be hallowed and exalted and made famous as You…

  • … provide my daily bread
  • … forgive me and help me forgive others
  • … give me victory over temptations

Let’s not pray prayers that rob God of His glory. Prayers like:

  • Selfish prayers that are all about me, me, me
  • Doubtful prayers that aren’t really sure God can help
  • Little prayers that insult God’s power and His love
  • Unexpectant prayers that ask God to do something, but we don’t really expect that He will

Let’s be known as people who pray confidently humble prayers. Let’s come to a Father Who is All-Love and to a God Who is All-Powerful—a God Whose power is perfectly balanced by His love, and Whose love is perfectly balanced by His power. May our prayers HALLOW His name! 

Join me this Sunday as we continue to learn more about prayer. 

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