Riding Against the Wind

bike riding

Riding against the wind is one of the things I despise the most when I ride my bicycle, (although riding up a steep hill would have to be second on the list!). No matter what I try to do, like shifting to the lowest gear, or hunching over close to the handlebars, etc., I still struggle to move forward. It seems like I spend eighty percent of my effort and energy trying to push against the wind. Yet, even though I am weary upon arrival, I have found over time that the extra effort has gradually strengthened my muscles and developed my body in areas I may not have developed much otherwise.

Although the wind will continue to impede my travel, I am now more physically equipped to handle it than I was before. That is, I will be as long as I don’t avoid the wind, the hills, or other forms of resistance. When an athlete, such as a football player or weightlifter, stops building up his muscles, flab and weakness result. He will soon find that his weight no longer contains a large percentage of muscle, but rather fat. He won’t be able to run or lift great weights like he used to, although his food intake will still be strong. He will also find that trying to rebuild those muscles will require much more effort than the first time he began building them.

As believers in Jesus Christ, we face the same responsibility to strengthen our spiritual bodies. Satan will continue to buffet us and bring about great resistance as we develop and increase our relationship with Jesus. But we can’t let this hinder us from pressing forward, like riding against the wind.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God wants us to stand, not fight, against the ploys and schemes of the devil. It is normal human nature to want to fight, but when we have Jesus as the Lord (master, governor, ruler) of our life, we operate with a godly nature. Therefore, when we stand against the enemy, we do not stand in our own strength, but in Jesus’ strength—when we let Him be in charge. Actually, we must let Him, since we are dealing with a spiritual matter much, much greater than our frail human body.

To “stand” does not mean to stay in one place and do nothing but gaze at the trees and clouds, or wait around to be overtaken by some disaster. It means to resist or hold yourking of the hill ground. In wrestling, your opponent must try to move and pull you away from the area that you are trying to hold. Your goal is to resist all of these attempts, and not to fight back. It is like the game kids used to play called ‘king of the hill,’ where one person has to keep from getting pushed or pulled off of his position on a hill by the others at the base. If he fails to hold his ground, someone else will take his place. In return, the person who just lost his position will now attempt, along with the others, to remove the successor.

So how do we press onward and stand against these efforts of the devil to dislodge us? The answer is simple: through prayer. The Apostle Paul was referring to prayer when he gave this analogy of the armor of God. The simple act of prayer produces the best results when it comes to holding our ground against the devil. One of the greatest things Jesus told His disciples was not to fight against the devil in battle, but to “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Now what was Jesus doing prior to this? “…he went forward a little, and fell on the ground, and prayed…” (Mark 14:35). After He told the disciples to watch and pray, what did He do? “…again he went away, and prayed…” (Mark 14:39a). If Jesus—the very Son of God, the One who was in constant communication and communion with God the Father—needed to pray, how crucial it is, and even more so, that we must pray!

girl praying

Prayer is one of the easiest things we can do, and yet, in our own strength, we make it one of the hardest. But it is our own laziness that makes prayer such a chore. Prayer is an uphill challenge to us when we have allowed the devil and his minions to gain ground through our lack of prayer. When we don’t exercise frequently and build our muscles, we lack the strength to overcome any resistance we may encounter. If we don’t watch and pray often, the very act of prayer becomes more and more of an effort. This eventually leaves us wide open for temptation and sin. At the same time, we should never bring prayer to the position where it is the solution alone. Jesus Christ and His victory at the cross is the real solution; prayer only opens the door of our heart to the solution. We don’t worship prayer; we worship God.

Remember that the victory over sin’s power and control has already been won through Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Romans 8:37). We are not to conquer, for He has already conquered. We are to stand in faith on His victory. He has already fought the devil and won. (And we, in our physical bodies, can’t fight a spiritual entity like the devil and win anyway.) Notice how many times the word “stand” is used in the passage from Ephesians. Now count how many times the word “fight” is mentioned. The devil will gladly fight and bully our unprotected self, but when we put God’s armor on, the devil sees God, not us, and he flees.

man riding bike

When I ride my bicycle against the wind, I use the strength that I developed in my muscles to pedal harder. At the same time, I reduce some of the resistance by crouching closer to the handlebars, keeping my body as close to the bike as I can. I do not throw my bike at the wind in an attempt to fight against it. I do not take a large stick and stab at or slice the wind. I never yell at or curse the wind either. And, most importantly, I do not give up and run away from the wind, or hide somewhere until it passes. God expects us to develop ourselves through prayer, and then stand against the enemy when he comes. He wants us prepared when we pray by utilizing the armor He has provided. Never are we told to fight or flee, but “having done all, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13b).

Little is Much

 

 

kneeling at cross

 

 

“And when the day was now far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: Send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. He answered…Give ye them to eat. And they say unto him, Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth of bread, and give them to eat? He saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? go and see. And when they knew, they say, Five, and two fishes. And he commanded them to make all sit down by companies upon the green grass…And when he had taken the five loaves and the two fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all. And they did all eat, and were filled. And they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes. And they that did eat of the loaves were about five thousand men” (Mark 6:35-44).

Jesus had been teaching the people in a solitary part of the region for much of the afternoon. They had come because they were hungry, not for physical food, but for the truth (spiritual food). The people sought Jesus because they knew He taught the truth. Even though Jesus was physically tired at this point, (since He had originally come with His disciples to this desert location for rest), He was strengthened by the people’s desire to hear and learn God’s Word.

Jesus’ disciples, however, grew more concerned with getting physical food for the people than about them hearing the truth.

As the evening drew near, the disciples urged Him to send the people away to find something to eat. The idea never occurred to them that perhaps Jesus could provide for their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. Of course, Jesus was fully aware of their concerns. “When Jesus then lifted up [His] eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do” (John 6:5, 6). Surprised (and perhaps shocked) at His response, the disciples immediately looked to their own selves to provide food for this great assembly. (Some scholars believe that there could have been over 15,000 individuals present). They replied, “…Shall we go and buy two hundred pennyworth [several thousand of dollars worth] of bread, and give them to eat?” (Mark 6:37). They really believed that Jesus might be out of His mind at this point, because He was expecting them to meet all of these people’s needs. They had probably expected Jesus to respond, “You’re right, we really ought to send them back to the nearest villages and let them get fed there.”

Jesus wasn’t fazed by all of this though. Instead, He let them see for themselves just how little they had for such a great need. If they hadn’t known what they had begun with, then the full depth of the miracle that Jesus was about to perform wouldn’t have been realized. After they took the smattering of provisions (enough for only a few to eat) over to Him and had the people sit in an orderly manner on the grass, He blessed and broke the bread, then the fish, and gave them to the disciples to be distributed among the people. Notice that He never gave any of these provisions directly to the people Himself—it was always through His disciples. In the end, there was so much distributed from the hands of Jesus that everyone was able to eat and be filled. No lack was mentioned and a dozen basketfuls were still leftover.

How many times do we believers in Jesus Christ go to Him first for our needs, both great and small? When Jesus is trusted solely, a small amount yields an overabundance.

Trying to meet a great need by ourselves is the same kind of problem as the disciples trying to feed the whole multitude with the tiny provisions that were available. Jesus never told them to go and buy all of the food, or to take the loaves and fishes and give everyone just a crumb or two of bread. (We won’t even try to determine how much of a portion of those two fish they would have to give!). That is why Jesus told them “you give them something to eat.” He knew that in their hearts that they would say “We can’t; He will have to do something!”

God wants us, as His children, dependent upon Him for our needs. When we look to our self, we take our eyes off of Him, and meeting our need becomes more and more insurmountable to us. The need doesn’t have to be just for food. It can also be in other areas, physical or spiritual. “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

The problem comes when we limit God. The disciples tried to limit God, as in the example above of the five thousand being fed, by implying that the people needed to leave in order to be fed.

They felt that Jesus was so absorbed in teaching and healing the people that He had forgotten about the basic needs of the people and that He needed the disciples to remind Him of this. How often do we limit God, or put Him “in a box,” by saying that He can meet these particular needs, but He probably won’t be able to meet these other needs? How many times are we impatient with God meeting our needs and end up taking care of them ourselves? How many times do we hurt or insult God by not having complete faith in Him?

We must remember that God is always in control of the situation; we are the ones that lose control and become anxious. We are to place our needs and circumstances in the hands of Jesus and let go, not picking them up later when He doesn’t respond or do anything in our anticipated timeframe. If we take back the needs that we laid in His hands, we are effectively saying that we don’t fully trust Him in everything and that we will take care of it ourselves. Again we are back to limiting God. [Cast] all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Remember that the disciples never even asked Jesus to provide for the people’s needs. How much more will He respond when we really do ask and fully believe?

Packed, Shipped …and Forgotten.

package

The young woman was eager to get her treasured articles sent off to her beloved living thousands of miles on the opposite coast of the country. She packed it carefully in a box, sealed, addressed and dropped it off at the shipping facility. Then she waited for her beloved’s response. One week, two weeks, over a month had elapsed and still no word was received from him concerning the box. She returned to the shipping facility and spoke to the clerk at the counter. He inquired with all the sources available to him and determined that the package just might be misplaced. She was told to wait a little longer before giving up and disappointed she returned home. After another month had passed, she again with great anticipation returned to the facility. The manager in charge this time checked with every point that the package should have traveled through on its journey. He eventually concluded that her package fell off of a conveyor somewhere and is forgotten.

How often do you feel that your prayers and requests to God are like this package? You make your need known and yet nothing happens. You send them off with great anticipation, believing that the answer will come very soon and you wait and wait and wait without a single word or response from your Heavenly Father. How often do you feel forgotten by God?

Well, God has similar feelings about you. How often has He persuaded you to come and yield yourself to Him? How many times has He tried to convince you that He knows more about you and your situation or problem than you ever could know for yourself? We too easily fall short in our understanding of just how patient and longsuffering He is toward us.

How we fail to see all of the times we ignored Him when He called out to us. God sent His only Son to this earth, who willfully and innocently died a horrible death on the cross, to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. Yet we quickly forget all of this for some valueless distraction in our own life.

In these modern, hectic and fast paced times we gravitate towards an instant response mentality. We ask for a hamburger and fries and we expect them in no more than a few minutes later. We stop at a red traffic light and are upset if it takes more than twenty seconds to change to green. Heating a meal in a microwave for two minutes feels like fifteen minutes and if a program on television can’t make its point in thirty to forty-five seconds we keep changing the channel until we can find one that does.

intersection

All of this leads us to feel forgotten by God when He does not respond to our requests in our timing. You may feel right now like He has forgotten or rejected you and your needs. You may feel like He is giving you ‘the silent treatment’ such as one spouse would give the other when they did not meet up to the others’ demands or requests. Yet this is not so with God. He said in Deuteronomy 31:8, “And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed (emphasis mine).” Unless you are knowingly living with sin in your life (which you need to repent of and seek His forgiveness), He does hear your cries to Him. He wants to hear from you, in fact, He expects to hear from you.

We are quick to give up when asking God for a particular need. True, many needs are met rather quickly and sometimes instantaneous, but only God sees the bigger picture that you cannot see. He knows when it is the appropriate time to respond or when your faith just needs to be tested and refined. Jesus said in Luke 11:9, “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye [you] shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” He wants us to keep on asking, to keep on seeking and to keep on knocking.

So if you are at the brink of feeling forgotten, don’t quit now. He may not answer today, He may not answer for what seems like a long time but He will answer. When God says in His Word that He will do something, He will do it. “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11 emphasis mine). God will never forget you, even when you forget Him.

–James Pangburn

Rain and Unbelief

rain on bridge

I recently read an interesting anecdote about an open-air religious meeting held in Scotland in the 1800s. On the morning of the day of the meeting, rain came down in torrents. A minister connected with the meeting led the others in prayer, confidently praying that the weather would clear up by the time of the meeting—two o’clock that afternoon. Many within earshot of the one praying felt that he was overly confident. Their concern was that God would be dishonored when the prayer was not answered. One of them told the minister who was to be speaking that the weather instruments continued to show the weather getting worse and not better. He therefore felt that the man praying should not have prayed in that manner.

Then the one who was to speak went to his room and began to pray to God about areas related to the meeting without mentioning the weather. About two o’clock, the Lord led him to pray that the weather would clear and the sun would begin to shine for the meeting. Before the minister had even finished praying, God moved the rain clouds away and brought the sun streaming in over the whole area. He moved mightily during the meeting that afternoon, and a large number of people were in attendance. When the meeting ended, the workers came and cleaned up and returned to a nearby hall. Then the rain returned and poured without stopping.

Have we been guilty of limiting God through our lack of faith when we pray? Notice that I said lack of faith, not absence of faith.

It is easy to believe a little and let someone else believe for the rest, but God wants us to put our whole heart into our believing.

The other ministers at that meeting were quick to cast doubt, because they were relying on human sight, not full faith in God. There was no encouragement for the person who prayed initially, only skepticism. Back in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders refused to believe that He was their promised deliverer, and therefore refused to believe that anything He did was of God. “And when he [Jesus] was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). “And when he [Jesus] had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched [it] out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him” (Mark 3:5-6). “Then again the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. He said unto them, He [Jesus] put clay upon mine eyes, and I washed, and do see. Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. Others said, How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles? And there was a division among them” (John 9:15-16).

I have often encountered situations where I had what could be called ‘faith with reservation.’ I believed the need could be met, but I didn’t have full faith that it actually would be met. It was seventy percent faith that God would supply the need, and thirty percent skepticism that the need might not be met. God can’t reward that kind of attitude.

The minister who was to speak in the meeting in Scotland went to God in prayer even though he had just heard the skepticism and doubt of the other ministers. He didn’t let their unbelief get into his spirit—he went right to God and sought Him on the matter.

Notice also that he didn’t immediately bring the matter of the weather to God; he sought God first for the other needs of the meeting, and then was led by the Lord to pray for the sun to shine. He already believed that God would handle the situation; he was just waiting on His right timing.

How times do we go to God already believing that the problem is going to be handled properly by Him? How many times do we allow God to lead us in our prayers? And even more so, how many times do we really go to God in prayer at all? How quick we are to criticize and how slow to seek God. There was no mention of the other ministers at the meeting going right to God and seeking Him about the weather, much less any other needs of the meeting.

When we let unbelief crowd out our faith, the answer to our prayer may be delayed, or it may never come to pass. On the other hand, we should not let God’s timing be a hindrance to our faith. In this case, God’s timing was immediate. He intended for the meeting to go on so they could reach many lives for a specific duration, and then the rainstorm returned. This was God’s window of opportunity for the great number that attended. Yet there are other times when God doesn’t respond immediately.

God’s timing is not our timing. He sees the big picture that we don’t see, and He always knows when it is best to act. Therefore, when you pray, don’t stop believing, don’t give in prematurely, and don’t give up.

Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). Keep on asking, keep on seeking and keep on knocking. Don’t stop before your answer to your troublesome situation comes from the Lord. Keep pressing in and believing that Jesus will resolve the situation. Don’t let a rainy day be the source of unbelief and doubt. Take your hands off of the matter, put it into Jesus’ hands and He will bring you through. There is nothing too great for God. The rainstorm seemed to be an impossible situation and yet, after the men went to God in prayer, believing for that which could not be seen, God cleared the foul weather away. Believe wholly in Him and He will do the impossible!

–James Pangburn

Your Point of Contact

boats in storm

 

“…in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (Matthew 14:25-31).

That particular evening Jesus faced the weariness of physically ministering to the throngs of people all day, and of feeding all of them too. Not only had He been pressed by them all day long, but also up into the evening. While the disciples headed back to the other side of the Sea of Galilee without Jesus, during that crossing they felt the same tiring effects from the exhausting day that Jesus felt. Even though they were physically exhausted, they continued to row further and further away from the point of contact of Jesus’ peace.

You may need that point of contact right now yourself, particularly if you have had an extremely hard day at work. Maybe you lost your job, or are very stressed out and feel that it is imperative to just get alone for a while. Maybe you are at the point of having no hope, and are destroying yourself with alcohol or drugs. Or maybe you just received notice of the death of someone dear to you. You need a true point of contact with God right now, but you may lack the one basic thing that can establish this contact. You need to pray with faith in the divine, invisible presence of God, which comes from having a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus.

While the disciples were crossing the sea, Jesus went to pray on the mountain. That was His own most important point of divine contact.

And if Jesus, being the Son of God, felt the necessity of being strengthened through prayer to the heavenly Father in these circumstances, how much more do we, who are weak, often failing, followers of Jesus, need to spend time alone in prayer to be strengthened by God too?

Yet we make excuses, like: It’s getting late, or, I really need my nap right now to get my strength back. When night fell, He was still there on the mountain alone, interceding for His disciples. There Jesus found His place of great strength. And you will find that prayer is a place of great strength for you as well.

You can experience the same touch from God’s divine presence as you face your own daily weaknesses, when your body is tossed around by the waves of the turmoil of life, in the midst of the darkness of its winds which are contrary to you. Howling winds of the storms coming against you will whip around you, the same as it was with Jesus’ disciples when they faced the dismal prospect of trying to row against the strong wind and waves that night.

As the disciples continued rowing, suddenly Peter and the others saw Jesus in the darkened distance walking toward them on the sea. He came closer and closer to them near the bow of the boat. They were very troubled at this sight and they said, “It’s a spirit; and they cried out for fear.” Jesus responded with perfect divine peace, “Be of good cheer; it is I, be not afraid.” Peter immediately answered, “Lord, if it is you, bid me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus told him to come, and Peter responded to that point of contact of faith and prayer. He stepped out of the boat and kept his eyes focused on his Lord Jesus in strong, obedient faith in His word, as he began to walk toward Him on the water.

As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, he could continue to walk on the water. And in the midst of your daily troubles of life, Jesus is also calling to you, “Come to Me, my child.”

It’s amazing how our difficulties of life are similar to Peter’s. He walked on the water until he looked down and took his eyes off Jesus. We tend to do the same thing in our own lives when we also take our eyes off Jesus, the point of divine contact in our lives, and look down instead on the storms and troubles of life. Their boisterous winds blow around us, and we become afraid as we start to sink in the darkened, troubled waters. Then we cry out, “Oh, Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretches forth His hand and grasps us, pulling us to safety, while saying “O you of little faith, why did you doubt Me, my child?”

Maybe you are facing waves slapping around you right now, waves of fear, worry, doubt, or uncertainty. You look all around in the natural sphere without hope. Peter faced the same problem as wave after wave slapped against his face.

Looking around hopelessly, he cried out, “What am I doing out here?” And he started to sink. Then he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Can’t you just hear Jesus saying, “Oh, you of little faith. You started well, what happened to you?” Jesus was right there in the midst of the unsettled circumstances of life’s troubles, and God will reach out as the divine point of contact for you, too, so that you can release your faith in God through your prayers to God.

–Gary R. Pangburn