Don’t Lower Your Sails Prematurely

 

Large white modern sailing ship with sails rolled up

How often we believers in Christ easily become spiritually complacent in our walk with God. Throughout the Old Testament we find many examples of complacency where the Israelites took God for granted. As a result, God would withdraw and let them find out that they were operating on their own. Through defeat in a battle, or being taken captive by their enemies, they learned the hard way that to be victorious in God, they had to continually obey His Word and also prepare themselves for the next trial or attack of the enemy. But whenever they became complacent or self-righteous, they failed.

God expects us to do as the Israelites should have done. We are not going in battle physically with our spears, clubs, swords, and armor today, but we are still fighting an enemy, and ours is unseen. Jesus said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38 emphasis added). Jesus would not have told His disciples this if He knew that they were strong in their spirit.

It is human nature to ease off at, or after, a time of victory. Compare this to a runner or race car driver who slows down or even stops just as he is about to win a race—even though his competition is coming up fast right behind him. Yet this is the very point when we must be the most vigilant. Peter became an example of how easy it is to be complacent concerning God, even though he was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, and thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept” (Mark 14:66-72). Not once, but three times Peter denied that he was connected with Jesus. Yet this is the same person who, just a short time earlier, had said “…though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (Matthew 26:35).

Peter in his own wisdom thought he was strong spiritually, and probably felt that after having been with Jesus for some time, he could never stray away from Him.

This is why Jesus emphasized many times that we must watch and, as well, pray. Whenever something is mentioned in the Bible one time—it is important, two times—it is very important, and multiple times—it is extremely important. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is well aware that we tend to grow overly confident and then we stumble. Had the Israelites gone to God during and after the victories that He brought them through as much as they had prior to the battles, there would have been fewer defeats afterward. If Peter had been watching and praying prior to Jesus’ arrest, his faith would not have wavered and left him open for the devil to push him to deny Christ.

Watching doesn’t involve our physical eyesight solely; it is a spiritual matter as well. “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” (Ephesians 6:12). God wants us to be in tune with Him through the Holy Spirit. If we are not open to His Spirit trying to alert us of impending danger, we leave ourselves prone to failure when temptation arises. It is only through His Spirit that we can truly know and deal properly with spiritual matters.

Accordingly, prayer must follow when we have been made aware of any imminent peril by the Holy Spirit. We are to go to God and seek Him for direction and protection for what is to come. We need to be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit as we pray, or else we will ask amiss and be ineffectual in our petitions to Him.

If we are watching without praying, we are like a child who sees an impending attack, but just stands there, instead of crying out to a parent for help and protection.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). God expects us to continually keep watch and then pray, for we, in our own physical understanding, do not know when or where the devil may strike. Our victory only comes through Jesus and His finished work on the cross. But when we become complacent, we take our eyes off of Christ and look at ourselves. This will result in a hopeless defeat by the devil. Don’t be like the captain of a sailing ship who, upon seeing land ahead, lowered his sails prematurely hoping to come in on his momentum, while failing to look behind and see a violent storm rapidly approaching. Let’s keep our sails fully open while we watch and pray accordingly.

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“Surely I Come Quickly”

sun streaming through brownish clouds

Jesus’ last words spoken from Heaven were, “Surely I come quickly” (Rev 22:20). And it won’t be long before He speaks once again—when He comes down from Heaven with a shout! In the meantime, the hearts of those waiting and watching for Him need to remain glowing hot, focused, and faithful concerning this blessed hope set before us. Nothing less will satisfy the cravings of our hearts for Him! But if we deny this hope, then we are not correctly understanding prophecy.

Here we are coming closer than ever to the very end of the age, and we find, as predicted, that many have given up hope in Jesus coming back to Earth at any moment. But it doesn’t matter whether many today believe this or few—it still is true. When will Jesus come? It could be at any time now. No, we don’t know just what day or hour our Bridegroom will come for His bride. Therefore, it could just as well be today! No prophecy concerning Christ coming for His bride remains to be fulfilled before we will hear His shout from Heaven to come up and be with Him.

Certainly the true Church, the bride of Christ, will go through tribulation while she remains on Earth. But the horrible ‘Great Tribulation’ to come of the last days is not promised to the Church. The True Church is not in the Great Tribulation at this time, and it won’t be here when it does occur. The wrath of God is not for His children. This is the other aspect of our blessed hope as we wait for Jesus’ appearing at any moment.

Many verses of God’s Word teach that Jesus is coming soon, so the bride is to be ready and waiting for her Savior to come:

  • “The Lord is at hand” (Phil 4:5).
  • “For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry” (Heb 10:37).
  • “…nearer than when we believed” (Rom 13:11).
  • “…the coming of the Lord draweth nigh [near]” (James 5:8, emphasis mine in each passage).

All of these leave us with the distinct impression that Jesus is coming soon!

This is just the impetus we need to dedicate our lives to active service for our Lord in a pure and unselfish way, not of this world. Many have preached that we should strive to work diligently for God and live a holy life, because death will come soon enough and then we can do these things no more. But the Bible argument is always that Jesus is coming soon, and we need to be sure we are ready for Him! In the meantime, we need to be constantly waiting, watching, and praying. We should be active in service to and for Him—so we will be found as faithful stewards carrying out what He has called us to do while we await His return.

Jesus is the only one in scripture who ever said to us, “I come quickly.” And our proper response should always be, “Come.” We need to be patient while maintaining our hope as we watch and wait. We want Him to come quickly—but we know the timing is up to Him. We know He loves us and that we can always trust Him. If He delays, it is not because He is “slack concerning His promise” (2 Pet 3:9). He waits because His longsuffering will allow an opportunity for many more to be saved. We could never deny others the privilege of joining our ranks. Therefore we are not dismayed that He lingers to bring more in.

“And the Spirit and the bride say [to Him], Come” (Rev 22:17). There is no one else they can properly say this to! God’s Spirit strengthens the desire of the bride as she repeats this word, while others are also being wooed by it. They are also being urged to cry out for His reappearing. All who share Jesus’ favor and grace while here will be filled with joy when He appears and takes us home to be with Him there. By His grace, we are being made fit for it and are preserved unto it. Therefore, keep joyfully expecting His glorious return.

Meanwhile our responsibility is clear. We need to—

Be ready for service.
Be like the others who wait for their Lord.
Be sure our lights are burning bright.
Teach this message passionately while our lives glow with the truth.
Not give in to false teaching that we have no right to expect Jesus’ return at any moment.
Continue to watch for and believe in His return at any time.

“Surely I come quickly”—this is the pleasing note prophecy ends on, and Jesus’ last message to the hearts of believers. What an encouragement, after waiting for Him so long, through so many difficulties, trials, dangers, and woes. We are blessed to know that the holy and true One speaks these words to us. He has given our hearts a faithful pledge, and He won’t fail to fulfill it. He is surely about to return. Soon He is coming! Coming for you! Coming for me!

Can love ever be satisfied before the One most desired makes His long-awaited appearance? Our hearts will freely respond to Him in love and truth. And who wouldn’t respond right away to a free invitation that is so divine? If only we could in some way properly relay just how loving and tender our beloved Lord is!

Jesus said He is coming to bring an end to the hard work and suffering of those who serve Him. He is coming to receive to Himself the ones who have been faithful and continuing the course in spite of opposition, discouragement, or any other influences to the contrary. He is coming with the reward of His grace with Him. Every faithful work, every labor of love, He will repay. And He will take His beloved bride to live with Him forever in Heaven—the state and place of complete happiness. To this we heartily reply, “So be it—come quickly, Lord Jesus!”

“Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent, that ye may be found of Him in peace, without spot, and blameless” (2 Pet 3:14).

Counterfeiting the Truth

three bills of United States currency on scannerdrawing of stack of three books

“He that hateth [hides his true motives] with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; when he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart” (Proverbs 26:24, 25).

We locate what we want to buy at the big department store, proceed to the checkout and hand the clerk large sums of our money. The clerk takes the larger denominations of our cash, and with a quick swipe of a special felt-tipped marker, verifies that the bills are genuine. If our money passes this quick test, the clerk finishes the transaction, hands us our change and away we go with goods in hand, ready to head for our next destination. But if one or more of these bills do not pass the test, a member of the store’s management will be summoned. He will also contact the police. Now we are in for quite a bit of questioning by the authorities, as well as confiscation of this suspect cash.

Why do larger denominations of money need to be analyzed before they are accepted? Why are there so many security measures on paper currency? Why, especially, are the twenty and the one hundred dollar (US) bills among the most counterfeited money in the world? Why don’t we find one dollar (US) notes or even pennies frequently counterfeited? The answer lies in value. A twenty dollar bill has far more value than a dollar bill, and a one hundred dollar bill has more value than a twenty and a single dollar bill combined. On the other hand, for convenience, a twenty dollar bill is more likely to be exchanged than one for five, ten, or a hundred dollars. As to pennies, producing one costs more than it is worth. Why take a great amount of time and money making lots of illegal copies (two thousand pennies only equal one twenty dollar bill) or small bills, when just a few larger bills would accomplish the same thing?

Counterfeiting is not limited to currency only. All over the world, numerous kinds of goods are copied and sold for far less than the original. The more valuable something is perceived to be, the more likely it is to be forged. But the more it is forged, the less valuable it becomes! This resembles pouring purple-colored, grape-flavored, sweet water into pure grape juice. The more that is added, the less pure the juice. It may still look and taste a lot like pure grape juice, but eventually it will be so diluted that no nutritive value remains.

“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6 emphasis mine).

The devil knows how powerful and valuable the Truth is, so he produces imitations of it. He knows that when enough forgeries of the Truth are circulated, people no longer find value in it. Then they lose interest in, or become indifferent toward, God and His Son. The devil delights in these ‘counterfeit Christians’. They consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ, but don’t want to fully obey Him and His Word. They readily follow something that resembles the Truth but has no value in the end, thereby leading them away from the Truth. Jesus said, “For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit” (Luke 6:44).

‘Counterfeit Christians’ do not produce good fruit. How could they, when they are not feeding solely on God’s Word? They are living a life that is corrupting what little fruit is produced.

When unbelievers look at them, they don’t see Christ. They see a mixture of Him and the sinful world they live in instead. Therefore these unbelievers see no reason to leave their worldly lifestyle, since these ‘counterfeit Christians’ are not that much different from what they are. Worse yet, they may likely assume that all Christians are the same as the counterfeits.

Jesus mentions such in one of His parables. “Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in [here] not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and [grinding] of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:9-14). The man the king singled out was not wearing the proper garment—a garment of righteousness (being in right standing with God). At face value, the man appeared to be just like the other guests. But the king could see through all of this, and recognized that he was a hypocrite. God does not look lightly on those who proclaim to follow Him yet have no intention of knowing the Truth or doing what He commands.

True children of God should never be like such people. We must not readily accept others as true Christians just because they claim or appear to be one. If they are not producing godly fruit, we need to rethink how much we should be interacting with them, especially on a spiritual level.

Our lives should become transparent to the point that, when others see us, they only see Christ. We need to decrease our dependence on our self, so that He can increase more inside of us by His Spirit.

This is why we are to be reliant upon God for our guidance, like a child. The world we live in is getting worse every day. There will continue to be more and more counterfeiting of the Truth—whether it is via another Christian, a pastor, or what is purporting to be from the Bible itself. Jesus said, “Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them” (Luke 21:8). How do we keep from being deceived? Jesus tells us in Mark 13:33: “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” We should continue to ask Him for discernment, and have our foundation in His Word, the Bible. The more we increase and intensify our relationship with Him, the less we will fall for counterfeits of the Truth.

 

Fading Footprints

shoreline with footprints

Children like to play the game of following another child by trying to step in each of his footprints behind him. The child who follows will do his best to keep up, but he may let his attention get distracted while the leader keeps walking and gets too far ahead. Before long, the one following will lose sight of the leader and become lost. After making attempts for a while to find the missing track of footprints, he may stumble across a different set, mistakenly thinking that he has rediscovered the missing tracks instead. He will be likely to follow the new prints immediately, without stopping to consider that they may belong to someone else. Only after he has traveled quite some distance will he come to realize that they are not the right ones. By then he will be nowhere near where he began and will have also lost the leader altogether.

Apply this illustration to following in the steps of Christ. When we first give our lives over to Him, everything is so wonderful, and we are willing and eager to follow Him anywhere He wants to lead us. Our intentions start out good, but when following in His footsteps becomes more difficult and challenging later, we tend to lose our zeal. Then we are likely to become distracted and lose sight of where He is heading. Sometimes we rediscover His path and return to following Him again. Other times we become lost by wandering around in places where He did not go, hoping to find Him there. But all too often, we end up following the wrong footprints and are never able to find Him again.

multiple footprints in the sand

Jesus gave us an essential command that would help us keep our focus on Him and keep us following His steps. He 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). Our “flesh” (physical self) is prone to getting distracted from God and tends to wander and fall for almost any temptation that may come its way. So we can’t depend on our flesh to find the way; we need to keep our focus on Jesus, especially concerning His victory at the cross. If we get distracted, we have stopped watching where He is going, and we often fail to pray. Even if we regularly seek God for forgiveness for the sins we have committed, we are still not necessarily watching and praying. We need to continually look to Jesus and stay prepared for what is coming. Don’t lose sight of His footprints due to the distractions all around us. Immediately after a victorious moment, our adversary, the devil, likes to come to steal our victory away, along with our joy. He’ll try to use a time like this to bring a heavy dose of doubt and unbelief into our lives. We therefore need to continually watch concerning our victorious moments, while being sure to seek God in prayer at the same time.

footprints in sand along surf

Success in keeping up with the footsteps of Christ only comes from maintaining our desire to stay with Him. But, if we lose interest in His Word, or in the desire to communicate with Him in prayer, we make ourselves vulnerable to distractions instead of following Him. As a result, we won’t notice that His footprints are fading, and will either end up detached from Him, or following another set of footprints that are not His—thereby leading us farther away from Him.

How much do we really want to be with Him? So much that we make sure we will follow close enough to Him that His footprints are never out of sight? Are we continuing to watch and pray so that we will not get distracted or be led away to follow the wrong set of prints? Does our focus continue to be on Christ and Him crucified, or has it turned to some distraction we have encountered along the way?

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).