Abiding Under the Shadow

person and shadow

A shadow can be considered a nuisance or a benefit at various times, like when a cloud obscures the sun. On a hot summer afternoon, the shadow from a large cloud is a welcome relief, but on a bitter, cold winter morning, the shadow from almost any size cloud will cause discomfort. A shadow could be a sign of impending danger as well, like when a very large object is about to fall on someone. On the other hand, a shadow could also be an indicator of protection.

The psalmist declares in the first verse of Psalm 91, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” What a wonderful thought for us, the children of the Almighty, to be under His shadow! Imagine how our enemies would feel if they knew that someone the size of the continents of Asia, Europe, Africa, and Antarctica combined was hovering over us to protect us. Yet that represents only a fraction of how much God covers over us when we dwell in His secret place.

God protects and shelters those whom He loves and who are obedient to His Word. He is ready and willing to shelter us under His shadow at any moment. “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler,” the psalmist continues to declare in verse 4. His protection resembles a bird that spreads its wings to shield its young. Without the bird’s protective shadow, its young are helplessly vulnerable to predators that are quick to snatch them away. We are also helpless without His protection. His shadow is always ample to keep us covered, no matter how many enter under it, or how extreme the circumstances are outside of it. “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday” (Psalm 91:5, 6).

shadow of cross

But God’s shadow is only available to us when we earnestly seek it. When we enter and stay in His secret place, we obtain His protection. This place can only be found through prayer and communion with Him. It is an area where we can dwell alone in an intimacy with God that can never be shared with another. As long as we stay in His secret place, His shadow will continually be over us. But when we allow ourselves to be lured away by the cares of this world, we leave the protection of His shadow and expose ourselves to the enemy. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

God expects His children to continually rest under His shadow. When we choose something else, we deny ourselves the abundant protection that He provides. The devil will try to keep us from abiding there, but God will never keep us out. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). Why should we continue to expose ourselves out in the open when He is willing and able to shelter us bountifully? “For thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (Isaiah 25:4). Why wait until tomorrow, or next week? Come now into His presence, His secret place, and lodge under His shadow. Allow Him to be your refuge and habitation.

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Floating or Sinking?

boat in water

Have you ever watched an object float on the water? All it will do is float along and it won’t sink—unless water is allowed to come inside. It doesn’t matter whether it is a huge ship on the ocean carrying hundreds of containers of cargo, or just a plastic bottle cap on top of a puddle—both float on the water. Yet, when water gets an opportunity to come inside, both will stop floating and sink to the bottom, either slowly or very quickly, depending on how much water has been allowed in.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are like a ship floating in the ‘sea of humanity’. You have a responsibility to maintain your buoyancy in order to stay afloat. You can’t allow your exterior to deteriorate or corrode. If you do, holes will develop, or you may become structurally unstable and your ‘hull’ (a boat’s outer covering) will weaken and collapse or burst, allowing the water of godless humanity to enter in. This will cause you to sink. When you are floating in this ‘sea,’ you are in the world of the ungodly, but when you allow the water of this ‘sea’ to enter your ‘ship,’ you become full of this world of the ungodly. Then you will be liable to sink. Jesus told us to “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:15, 16). The more of the corrupt system of this world you allow into your heart, the more your ‘ship’ fills with water and starts to sink. A sunken ship seldom has value to anyone.

sinking sailboat

The ways that the ‘water’ of this ungodly world can come into you are not always obvious, since Satan, the prince of this world, usually operates in subtle ways. One of the simplest ways he likes to use is to get you to decrease your desire to pray, to the point where you eventually stop praying altogether. Satan likes to use this method, since prayer is your communication with God and it is where He aligns you with His will. Regular communication is essential for a lasting bond to develop, whether in a marriage relationship, or just between two close friends, but especially in your relationship with your heavenly Father.

Satan absolutely hates it when you diligently continue to pray to God with all your heart.

Satan also likes to discourage you from reading the Bible each day, or, better yet, he tries to bring you to the point where you stop reading it altogether. The Bible is God’s standard for your life. It shows why we are all sinners in His sight, how you can obtain His mercy, how you can be redeemed from the bondage of sin, and that forgiveness for your sins is available because of His Son’s sacrifice of His own life on the Cross on your behalf. It also tells you how to live a righteous life that is pleasing to God by coming to Him through His Son (and only through His Son). It shows us the consequences of our past, and the future of everyone who does not believe in and obey God by accepting His Son and the ultimate sacrifice He made on their behalf into their heart.

Satan likes to lure you away with the things you used to do in your ungodly past. He might also try to distract you with things that, while not outwardly sinful, will still succeed in removing your focus from Jesus. Whenever Satan can get you to focus on yourself and not Jesus, then those holes start rapidly appearing in your ‘ship’s’ hull and let water rush inside. He may even get you to become so focused on what you want, and not what God wants, that you will actually start letting in water on your own, without the need for any holes or corrosion at all! God does not want you to ever lower yourself down to the world’s standards. He wants the world to come up to the standard you are to be following, which is Jesus Christ.

cross

The best way to be in this world of ungodliness, and not become full of it, is to put Jesus Christ at the center of your faith. Stop trying to operate your ‘ship’ by yourself and place it in His hands instead. Then you will no longer give Satan the freedom to force ungodly water inside as a result. If you take your focus off of Christ and all that He accomplished for you on the Cross, you will create openings that give Satan the legal right to work in your life. In other words, the ‘water’ of the world begins entering inside you. You can’t freely mingle with the sinful world as a child of God and still walk away afterward unaffected by it. Jesus told us to Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41 emphasis mine). Fill your ship with God’s word instead. Keep your ‘hull’ strong by prayer, and you will be able to keep the ‘water’ of the world from causing you to sink, through Jesus Christ!

The Lonely Ones of God

young Japanese woman looking over railing

Many people fear loneliness. But for a child of God in His service, being alone is a necessity—because God’s way is a lonely way. If you are going to lead others as God directs, it requires a certain amount of loneliness. You cannot take friends along with you, even though they may provide you a great deal of comfort.

Anyone can go with the crowd. But how many can turn and go in the other direction—alone? Nothing but God’s grace can make it possible for a man to face any obstacle—alone.

You need to be able to stand like a solid rock that nothing can move, even if the whole world pushes against you! It is boldness like this in the name of the Lord that is worthy of His grace. Do you count all the difficulties that you encounter? You don’t need to. Why not count how many times God has gotten you through difficulties you considered insurmountable instead! In fact, it is better to have more difficult situations, and fewer friends, because more grace will be poured out on you to help you stand firm in your lonely situation—with your faith resting solely on God.

O man or woman of God, don’t think of yourself as alone! God never leaves you unprotected. You would be amazed if you could see all the mighty angelic bodyguards surrounding you all the time!

You have no right to complain of loneliness, therefore, because you never really are alone. Nor do you have to fear evil, because “thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). When you know the Lord is with you, you will be able to go through loneliness, illness, grieving, poverty, and even terrifying torment. Yet you never need to doubt the Lord, or give up on Him, in spite of what you may go through. In fact, your song can still be full of joy, even if you have to pass through “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). This is the victory that your faith in Him provides!

man sitting on bench with distant mountains

Are you a child of God in some remote place, far from any friend, known by no one? Even if you have only a hut to live in, and are not near any group of Christians, don’t let your spirit be down. Lift up your voice and sing to God! He will hear you and comfort you and remain with you. Maybe you rent a room in the middle of a crowded city, without even one person you can call a friend. The Lord sees you and can help you to thrive in the midst of your loneliness, even in a crowd. He has not forgotten you and is not neglecting you.

You can’t see God’s presence when He is working on your behalf. But those who know Him and fellowship with Him can sense His presence, nevertheless.

When your ears have been constantly trained by faith, you will hear God’s ‘footsteps’ nearby. Do you ever sit in sorrow, feeling all alone at times? Every so often, lift your head and listen for that gentle whisper telling you “It is I; be not afraid” (John 6:20). “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him…” (Psalm 25:14). Instead of trying to avoid loneliness, retreat every once in a while to a private corner alone. Tell your heart to rejoice, and then break into a song of praise unto God.

 

woman standing water at sunset

Sometimes the Holy Spirit stirs you inside, calling you to come away and be alone with God. Do not take your own good time responding to His call. If you are truly born again, you need private prayer time just to live! The Spirit calls you to spend much time in loneliness. This is to your advantage, so you will have a chance to prove whether you are truly trusting only in God. There are also times when you can get very alone, and then discover that no one will be kind to you. At times like this, lean solely on the Lord. He has the power to provide the comfort you need and He will prove it to you. Then you will discover more of what God is to His people. Get alone with God and the damage done by the noise and worry and shouting of the world will be repaired in your life.

Man of God, woman of God, you don’t need to feel the pain of being lonely. No matter where you may be at any given time, God is there. All you need to do is to pray, and you and God will be together. Bring Him to mind, and you’ll find Him walking with you that very moment. Go to Him with all your needs and He will lay His hand upon you. He is your dependable, inexhaustible source of supply and support. Devote yourself to Him and you will find that lonely, narrow path which leads to His unending love.

man looking out window

No one who ever lived experienced more loneliness than Jesus did. He knows just what it’s like to be lonely and forsaken—even by His own brothers. Therefore, His sympathy is endless for all who feel alone and forsaken. But who did Jesus turn to when He was afflicted and set apart from others? Who could He uncover His innermost feelings and thoughts to? No one but His Heavenly Father. He prayed and asked for His assistance humbly and earnestly, time after time. All of His sorrow and complaints He brought to Him. And His heavenly Father answered them all and comforted Him.

Lonely one, you are not truly alone. The Spirit of the One crucified on the cross of Calvary is with you right now, whispering gently in your ear: “Fear not: for I am with thee” (Isaiah 43:5). He “is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). He promised that He will never leave you, nor forsake you. Let Him be your source of comfort whenever you are in danger of succumbing to the pain of loneliness.

Ask God

two women praying

“…your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).

So what point is there in asking, if God already knows what you need? What we think prayer is—and what God says prayer is—are not always the same thing. Is prayer just a way to convince God to give us something? We should not come to God like spoiled children, demanding more treats and goodies from Him all the time. We should not expect Him to indulge our every lust or desire. “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (James 4:3). The real purpose of prayer is for us to get to know God, so He can have a chance to reveal His presence to us.

If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14). Jesus said to pray in His name. This doesn’t mean that we are to tack “in the name of Jesus” on the end of our prayer every time we pray. It means we are to pray “in His nature.” First we need to be born again, and then the nature of Jesus will be spread extensively in our heart by the Holy Spirit. When Christians call a prayer meeting together, they assume that Jesus will be present. But He said that He will come “…where two or three are gathered together in My name…” (Matthew 18:20 emphasis mine) or nature. They do not necessarily have to gather for a prayer meeting in order for Jesus to be present, because He is already present in each believer through the Holy Spirit (who lives inside each of them). Praying together does not have to be limited to a formal meeting. It can be just you and another believer or two and God will hear and be present.

woman praying

Jesus also said, “…when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matthew 6:7). It is not lofty words, or majestic religious talk, or repeating our prayers over and over that move Jesus on our behalf. Nor is it all about how serious we portray ourselves as being to God either. The way to get in touch with God, the only way, is through acknowledging and accepting the life-giving death of Jesus on our behalf. Come on that basis and we will get God’s attention. Then we can be certain He will be present and will hear us when we pray.

“Ask, and it shall be given you…” (Matthew 7:7). Some complain before God and then apologize, while others remain impassive or indifferent before Him. But none of them actually ask Him for much of anything. Children certainly know how to ask their parents for something! When they want it badly enough, they make sure they know about it! They don’t complain or act indifferent. They zero in on what they want their parents to give them, and they ask, and keep on asking, until they get it. Jesus said, “…Except ye…become as little children…” (Matthew 18:3).

Why not give God a chance to answer your requests? But if you maintain excessive confidence in your own worth or ability, you will not think that you have to ask God for anything. We wait until we are powerless and then we are ready to hear what Jesus has to say. Then we are ready to do what He wants. “And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:15).

man in prayer

Our Lord said, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will…” (John 15:7). This refers to what our will wants. We do not put our will into much when we pray or intercede for others. We often do it mechanically. Then we wonder why God does not respond. Pray for your brother or sister in Christ and ask God to help them with their present difficulty. Do not go up to them yourself and talk about it. Turn it over to God and keep on asking Him to work on their behalf and He will do it.

Come to God the way you are. Present your problems to Him, especially the ones you do not have a clue how to solve. If you ask God for your desires, wishes, and requests, Jesus promised that He will answer. Prayer does not really change things—prayer changes you. Then real change can begin!

“Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).

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).

Jesus Says ASK

person praying

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
(Matthew 7:7-8).

Did you ever notice, concerning the first letters in the three key words in this passage: “ask,” “seek,” and “knock,” that they form the word “ASK?” This makes it easy to remember the order of the words when we are trying to recall these scriptures. The Lord has laid it out clearly for us. First we need to ask Him for what we need. Then we are to seek Him for the answer. Then we are to knock on His door and He will open it to us.

“Ask, seek and knock” are in the present perfect tense in Greek*, meaning that it is not just a once complete action, but an action that continues. Therefore, the Amplified Bible version adds “keep on” after each instruction. Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. The Lord wants us to come to Him with all of our needs and requests. If we don’t get what we are asking for the first time, we are to come back and ask again. And if not the second time, we are to ask once again, and again and again if necessary. The same with seeking and knocking, which are mental pictures of asking. He is not aggravated with us when we repeatedly come to Him. He wants us to do so, as we read here. He wants to be part of everything in our lives, not just a bystander watching from the distant sidelines.

God emphasizes asking, seeking, knocking without conditions or limitations. But it is important to understand that His answer is not as we will, but as He wills. We need to pray the right way—in faith, submitting to the will of God.

He doesn’t always give us exactly what we have asked for—sometimes He gives us what would be better for us.

Is it wise for us to ask for more than what God determines is best for us? The important thing is our relationship with our Father. That is what is vital for prayer. It is our right as a child of God to come to our Father to make our needs and desires known to Him. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11).

Also take notice that Jesus said “everyone.” Does God have only certain favorites that He answers when they call? No, it states right here that “everyone” that “asketh receiveth,” etc. It makes no difference whether they are young, old, rich, poor, master, servant, educated, illiterate, Jew, or Gentile. Everyone is welcome to come before God’s throne of grace, but all must come with faith in God, believing that He hears us and will answer our prayers. Our heavenly Father wants us to be persistent and keep at Him until He answers. Then He knows just how serious we are about our request. What is the ‘secret’ to getting God to respond? Keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. He who gives up receives nothing!

*Greek is the language the New Testament was originally written in.

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

Afflicted or Merry?

 

“Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (James 5:13).

 “Is any among you afflicted?”

Are you currently in distress? Have you been extremely annoyed or highly embarrassed lately? Or are you experiencing pain or suffering? Now is the time for you to exercise your faith and hope in God. You may need physical healing, or your need may be spiritual healing. We frequently need both, since some physical suffering and distress comes on us because of a spiritual affliction.

We cannot always tell the difference between afflictions and sickness. James connects sickness with sin here in chapter five, and healing the sick follows forgiveness of sin. The sickness spoken of here seems to have been the result of doing wrong. And there are many sicknesses that can be related to sin in a very direct way. But trying to relate all sickness to sin is a very dangerous error. Doing this puts you in the position of judge, and we often judge wrongly. It is cruel and dangerous to say all sickness is the result of sin in someone’s life.

statue of despair

photo credit: Michel Meynsbrughen

God seems to use afflictions for purposes of correction. When they come, pray and find out what He is trying to teach or tell you in your case. Too often, we are not sensitive to the things of the Spirit. In fact, a spiritual dullness seems quite widespread in the church today. Has God been forced to beat you over the head to get your attention? Then pray and find out what He is trying to tell you! He most likely wants your attention in some particular area of your life. Sometimes He has to use rather harsh or painful means to get it.

I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee” (Psalm 32:8-9).

To lead a stubborn mule around, a bit has to be put in its mouth. The reins pull the bit up against his mouth so it hurts and he turns his head. Don’t be stubborn like the mule, forcing God to use pain to get you to turn. He does not want to use pain to guide you. But He has so much love for you that He will, since it is so important to be guided by His Spirit. You need this for your own good. If you stop paying attention and start to stray from Him, He will pull the bit to get you back into position. Be sensitive and attentive to God’s will and His plan—then He will gladly guide you with just His eye.

“let him pray.”

Come before God at times like this and beg Him to forgive you of your sin. But do not bother if cold and formal prayers are all you have to offer Him. Don’t look to man’s merit either to qualify for the answer you want from God. It all comes from His grace, which we do not deserve and cannot earn. The right kind of prayer is the prayer of faith. Nothing is more effective than praying in faith to get answers and blessings from God. But prayer itself has no power in its own right. Unbelievers would get all their prayers answered, without having faith in God or being obedient to Him, if it did. When you pray, don’t just say a prayer. Pour out your heart to God and believe that He hears you. Continue until you get your answer. Actually pray when you are in prayer to God!

“Is any merry?”

People naturally sing when they are cheerful and happy, but not those who enjoy wickedness. Most earthly songs have some degree of sadness; sacred things of God are never the subject of their songs. But heavenly songs are sung in joy and thankfulness to the God they praise. Praise in the form of song and prayer should be offered up by both congregations and individuals.

“Let him sing psalms.”

Singing songs that glorify God actually becomes a form of prayer. This keeps our hearts for the longest time on what we are saying. God is the One who made all that makes us merry. Therefore, the message of the songs from any who are merry should be praise to God.

happy girl

photo credit: Audrey Johnson

“Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (Ps. 119:54). Someone traveling a long way alone may sing to himself to keep merry. Believers in God—take note and do the same! Every true child of God will inherit heaven and is a “stranger in the earth” (Ps. 119:19). Therefore, you can stay cheerful in the midst of weariness and sorrows by thinking all the time of the words of our heavenly Father, and saying or singing them aloud. The ancient Greek states made their laws into songs so the people could remember them better. The words of God can be sung to help us remember them better too, and keep us cheerful when we are far from home, whether physically or mentally.

Singing on the outside encourages worship on the inside. It wakes us up and brings our hearts to life in praise to God. Therefore, sing in devotion to God whenever you can. How could you not be blessed if you do? Are you heavy-laden, suffering, or afflicted? Or are you joyful and merry? Whatever state you are in, sing your praise to God!

— Alana Pangburn

Prayer Pump

 

“O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant, and to the prayer of thy servants, who desire to fear thy name: and prosper, I pray thee, thy servant this day, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11a)

Nowadays, in a developed society, it is very easy to get water when we need it. We can just buy a bottle at the store, or all we have to do is turn on a faucet (provided, of course, that the water line is working) and out flows a stream of water. It doesn’t matter whether we are at home, in a factory, or in a store. If we want to wash our clothes, take a shower, or irrigate the farm, the water is there. Yet it was not always this easy. There was a time when water had to be brought to the place of need by hand. During the 1800s, rural U.S. homes relied on hand pumps to bring water to the surface. While it wasn’t extraordinarily difficult to operate, there was a bit of effort involved, and it could become quite tedious, especially when a lot of water was needed.

red hand pump

The typical hand pump of the day consisted of just a few components. First, there was the main housing where the water entered and was pushed out. Then there was the plunger, the shaft, and the handle that operated the plunger. Finally, there were the various valves, O-rings, nuts, bolts, and the connecting pipe for the water to enter the pump. The operation was pretty simple:

  1. The handle was firmly pushed down, raising the plunger inside the pump’s housing.
  2. Water was drawn up the pipe from the well (or similar water source) below, and flowed through a valve into the area inside the housing beneath the plunger.
  3. The handle was then lifted up and the plunger went down as the valve closed and the water was retained in the lower part of the housing.
  4. As the plunger continued to go down, a valve in the plunger itself opened and the water entered the upper part of the housing above the plunger.
  5. Finishing this procedure, the handle was pushed down again, the valve in the plunger closed, and the water in the upper part was forced out the pump’s spout.

If you wanted more water, you simply followed the previous steps all over again. If you used the pump frequently, it wouldn’t take much for the water to start flowing again, as the water level was high.

But if you didn’t use the pump very much, the water level would be low, and much effort would be needed for the water to flow freely.

Sometimes, especially if the pump was hardly used, the area inside the pump housing would be dry and the pump would need to be primed. This means that some water would have to be added to the inside of the pump, especially around the plunger’s O-ring (the rubber ring that fills the space between the plunger and the housing) so that some suction was created to pull the water below up to the pump.

This narrative gives us a good example of the value of constant prayer or communication with God in our lives. We need to be in frequent communication with God. A brief prayer over a meal or the occasional prayer once a week, or even once a month, is not nearly enough. The pump is running dry; the water level is getting low. We have got to be much more frequent in using that pump and keeping that water level high. The natural tendency of our flesh (our earthly ‘self’) is not to pray at all, unless our flesh is getting the glory or recognition through a lofty prideful prayer that God never hears or acknowledges. Due to this tendency, we must make an extra effort to ensure that we are spending time with God. That means time must be taken from another area in our daily activities and given over to Him in prayer.

The most common complaint is, that we can’t find enough time to really pray. We feel that maybe we could cut a little time off of an activity, or speed up in our traveling, to get an extra ten to twenty minutes. We may think that if we pray extra on our day off, that will cover the rest of the week. Try looking at it this way: if you apply those excuses for communicating with your closest friend, your spouse, your children, or your parents, you will most likely have a very poor relationship with them!

If every day is given to us from God our Heavenly Father, shouldn’t we be giving back a portion of it to Him in prayer? If we can cheerfully give Him a portion of what He has given us, whether it is income or goods, why aren’t we giving that same portion or more to Him in fellowship through prayer?

Our time seems very valuable when it comes to watching television or movies, browsing the web, texting, using social media, etc. Yet we are very quick to respond that time for God is nonexistent! We tend to shy away from prayer as if it is very difficult to do, or very hard to begin (or some similar reason). Remember from the pump example that when the water level is low, pumping becomes a real chore. You have got to spend more time in prayer to keep the water level high and the pumping easier. Oh, how much easier the pump is to use when it is well-oiled and used frequently!

I used to be among those who had many excuses for not praying. I never really enjoyed praying; it was just rote or ritual for me. Years and years went by without much effort given to communication with God. During Bible college, I took a class on prayer (required for graduation) and still struggled with making time and effort to pray. As part of the course, we were required to maintain a prayer journal. (I was equally not fond of writing my thoughts in a journal). You might have guessed that my journal was almost totally empty. Needless to say, my grade was barely passable, yet this or any other attempt to increase my time in prayer did not help. It wasn’t until over two decades later that I began to really understand the need and began to make an effort to take time away to spend it with Him.

While the desire not to pray still existed, I found that the less I prayed, the emptier I felt inside.

Over time, I discovered for myself that the pump really does flow easier when used more often, and how difficult the pump becomes to operate when used less and less.

If you want to be victorious in your walk with God, you must spend time talking with Him. If it takes great effort or is a real bore, then you are not praying and your relationship with God is suffering. Start simply and expand from there; let His Spirit formulate or compose the thoughts and desires of your heart. You are not training in an oratory school; you are expressing your heart to God.

If you find your mind wandering or journeying into some distant land while praying, rein it back in! If you are daydreaming in the middle of a conversation with a very close friend, how does that benefit them?

In your prayer time, don’t let yourself be clouded, or distracted with a focus on your ‘self.’ Prayer is to be the time that we align ourselves with God’s will and not our will, or the will of others. Don’t ask God to change others for your sake; ask Him to change you! Spend more in prayer and keep the pump moving freely!

–James Pangburn