Why Do We Suffer? – Just a Thought

God uses our suffering to pry our idolatrous hands from the things we thought were most precious, and to teach us to cling to the One who truly is.

Philippians 1:29 For unto you it is given on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake.

Making Decisions that Align with God’s Will

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Time and time again we hear that we should seek God’s direction for our lives. We are told that we should seek God’s guidance in making big decisions, we should pray for the answers to life’s big questions, and we are told that we should aspire to carry out all our actions in accordance with God’s plan for our lives.

We have all been guilty at times of being overly confident in our own abilities. Our egotism has at some point given each of us over to an overinflated sense of self-assurance. Having experienced some success we become apt to believe that we can function without the guidance of the LORD. In other cases, many of us start in the right way – fervently seeking the guidance of the LORD – and as He promises, He guides our steps. As we begin to develop a level of comfort that the LORD is with us, and is smiling upon our endeavors, we sometimes then begin to seek the LORD’s guidance less, and trust more in the unfounded confidence in our own hearts. It is easy for Christians to believe that we are in alignment with God’s will and we are capable of making our own decisions. After all, we have been saved by grace, we are His chosen, and we live by the aid of the Holy Spirit. We begin to believe that our own decision making is sound, and forget that it was because of God’s good providence that our decisions were blessed to begin with. In either case it is by an overgrown sense of self-righteousness that we then cease seeking God’s guidance in all our decision making. When we begin to believe we are “good” people, and believe we operate with “good” intent, we become confident that our decision making is consequently “good.” We then become dependent on ourselves for our own guidance, and unfortunately, as has been demonstrated by thousands of years of history, self-reliance ultimately leads a person far from the LORD and, the more ambitious a person is, the more catastrophic the results can be. Jesus teaches, “No one is good except God alone (Luke 18:19).” We must not begin thinking that because we have come to know Christ that we are now “good” people capable of making righteous decisions. The truth is, we are sinners, soiled by sin, making decisions with a fractured conscience and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Though we are justified to God through Christ, it is by Christ’s righteousness alone, and not by any good of our own (Ephesians 2:8). No person does righteously apart from the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We must remember who it is that is good – He who makes us good – and seek His advisement always.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

The Bible very clearly teaches and demonstrates that those who lean on their own understanding, rather than acknowledge the LORD in all they do, will indeed eventually falter. Man is completely and fully corrupted by sin, and there is no one righteous apart from the Lord, not even one (Romans 3:11). Even those with the best of hearts and the best of intentions are sinful, and are betrayed by their own hearts. We must depend on the LORD for our provision, and we must understand that we truly succeed when we desire our lives be more of Christ and less of ourselves (John 3:30). Wisdom comes from the negation of self, and the entire reliance upon the LORD.

What must be done to know the will of God you ask?  First, have no will of your own.

When seeking direction from God we must remember that His voice may be heard in many different ways. Sometimes God’s message to us is clear as day. Sometimes God’s answers appear in black and white in the Bible. Sometimes we feel as though we are being unmistakably called to a certain action. Sometimes we receive a sign that is undeniable and rocks us to our very core. Sometimes we receive a pressing instinct that, by faith, pushes us to move. Sometimes, the unfolding circumstances around us elicit His desired reaction from us. Sometimes we have no choice, and react simply out of survival. Sometimes someone speaks a prophetic word that drives right to the heart of an issue we are dealing with. I’m sure there are countless other ways the LORD reveals himself that I am leaving out here, but I know many people who can speak of the amazing ways our LORD has revealed His will to them and changed the course of their lives. It is truly incredible when The LORD moves in these kinds of ways and manifests Himself and His will so clearly. Other times, the LORD’s will for our lives is not clear at all. Not all of God’s revelations come in an earth shaking show of fire and wind. Sometimes the LORD speaks to us in a gentle whisper. Be always prepared to hear the LORD in the event that He may speak to you in a subtle way (1 Kings19:12). Sometimes in all of our running, we fail to listen, or to be observant.

“Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Still, Many times, even while we diligently seek God’s will in our decision making, we do not see His answer. We feel we are left to make decisions on our own – relying on our own best judgment. We ask questions like, “What does God’s will for my life look like? How do I know?” And we say things like, “If God gave me a clear answer to my prayer, I never knew it.” At this point we either take decisive action on our own, or we flounder. We all know from experience that either can sometimes be to our detriment. When we pray for guidance and we feel we receive no answer it feels as if we are calling for help and there is no one on the other end of the line. In times like these it is important to remember that God always has His hand on our lives. Nothing in this world happens outside of His provision or allowance. Where we are fervently seeking the LORD, He is there. Many have heard the song that says, “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” No truer words could be spoken regarding this matter. Trust that God knows the plans He has for you (Jeremiah 29:11).

Having established that we must consult the LORD in our decision making, and that the LORD determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9), how then do we know that the clear message we are receiving truly is a message from God? How can we confirm that we are not being deceived by the desires of our own hearts, but know that our decision is indeed the will of God? And, if we are not receiving a clear answer, what can we do to seek God’s will for our decisions?

1. Pray Unceasingly
Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Do not be discouraged when you do not immediately receive answers to prayer. Jesus says, “Ask, seek, knock. (Matthew 7:7),” and instructs that we ought always continue to pray without being discouraged.

Luke 18:1-8 And (Jesus) told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

Pray with persistence. If an unrighteous judge will respond to persistent pleas, certainly our just and loving God will give His response to our continuous prayer.

2. Test Your Decision Against Scripture
Does the Bible specifically address this issue? The scripture is the infallible Word of God and is the first litmus test against which we must measure all decisions. Does your decision honor and glorify God? Does this decision further the Kingdom of God? Will this decision be helpful to your Christian brothers or sisters, or be a stumbling block to them? Is this decision being made in pursuit of godliness, or as an indulgence of worldly, temporal, material things? Will this decision bring you closer to Christ, or will it serve to distract you from your walk with the Lord? The Bible does well to define what honors God and speaks specifically to many issues we are faced with everyday.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. Proverbs 9:10 “…knowledge of the holy is understanding.”

Some people like to think of “B.I.B.L.E.” as an acronym for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Truly the word bible is simply Greek for “book.” The Bible is “The book of books.” The Bible may not be a step by step plan for living (fortunately it is more entertaining than a droning list of instructions), but it does indeed outline the principles for living righteously, coping with death, and receiving eternal salvation. The Bible’s instruction is spread across nearly 1200 chapters and over 31,000 verses so opening it up once and expecting to quickly find answers is an unrealistic expectation. It is wise to be well versed in the scripture in advance of making decisions. My best advice is to start reading your Bible now in preparation for the future. It is a certainty decisions are coming. If, however, you need answers immediately, we live in the age of Google. You can search “What does the Bible say about…,” and find verses that speak specifically to just about any topic.

3. Fast
Fasting is something that seems a taboo in our society of abundance and self-indulgence. We live a lifestyle that rarely, if ever, denies us any fundamental need.

Christ, when seeking to properly prepare himself at the beginning of His ministry first fasted 40 days. Christ’s stated expectation was also that you and I will fast.

Matthew 6:16 “Whenever you fast…” 17 “But when you fast…”

Christ does not say “if” you fast; He says “when” you fast. While fasting you will find that every time you are hungry, and every time you avoid a particular food, you are reminded of the reason why are you are fasting. You are making a sacrifice in your desire to become more closely aligned with God. This is very effective in keeping the LORD at the forefront of your mind, and making you more keenly aware of His presence. Most of us are much better at talking to God, than we are at listening to Him. It is very difficult to forget to listen to God when he is forced to the forefront of your mind in this way. There are few times when I have engaged the LORD so intimately and consistently, or been as acutely aware of God as while fasting.

4. Seek Counsel from Godly Advisers
What do the Godly people in your life, who have wisdom, experience, and a track record of Biblical living have to say? Even if you believe you have received your answer from the LORD it is still wise to seek the advice of the people you know who are qualified to give Biblical counsel. I am speaking mainly of your ministers and church elders here. Be discerning in whose advice you take, and don’t seek out someone that you think will give you the answer that you want to hear. Be open to receiving honest and unbiased advice from someone who knows the LORD. Ask your pastors. It is their responsibility to guide you. The LORD has blessed them with wisdom for this very task, and they will be happy to help as they have dedicated their lives to the very service of shepherding the Lord’s flock.

Psalm 1:1 How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked… Proverbs 11:14 Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.

5. Remain Faithfully Open to Correction
This is arguably the single most difficult thing to do. For most people it is a painstaking task to develop the humility necessary to openly receive and appreciate rebuke from others. Being that all people sin, it is very easy to respond with a “Who are you to correct me?” attitude. Many people are also quick to go directly to “Judge not lest ye be judged,” discarding any good point that could have actually been made by the person offering them reproof. Though Christ instructed that we should not judge, for we will be judged in the measure by which we judge others, the Bible does consistently instruct (across the Old and New Testaments) that we have a responsibility to teach, develop, and correct our brothers and sisters. Sometimes the one needing correcting is us. Are you open to that? Or do you really think you are perfect? Some correct out of love, and others out of contempt. The truth is, a wise man knows this does not validate or discredit the content of the criticism. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters are more graceful in lovingly rebuking us than others. Often times, graceful or not, it is hard to hear. What we must come to understand is that the intent of the person offering us correction is not important. What is important is that we receive what they have to say and examine it for truth. Are we in need of improvement in our thinking, or in our actions? Are we being honest with ourselves in our decision making, or is God speaking to us through this person? It is incredibly important that we remain faithfully open to correction. The Bible demands it.

Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Proverbs 15:32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. Proverbs 27:5-6 Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

The absolute last thing that we want to be is the King who has everything, but brings destruction upon himself because he despises the wise words of a prophet (2 Chronicles 16:10), or a Pharisee who dedicates his life to the pursuit of righteousness, only to end up crucifying the Lord because He is too prideful to receive the Lord’s correction. We must swallow pride and remain humbly aware that we ourselves are not perfect.  We are far, far from it.  We must seek counsel from God, from the Bible, and from our church leaders.  We must be open to receiving correction from our brothers and sisters. This is how Godly decisions are made. Decisions made outside of these confines are decisions made in sinful self-reliance due to pride.  Being mindful of all these things, and seeking to hear the guidance of the LORD in it’s many forms will help us find the path to righteousness.  Narrow is the path that leads to righteousness (Matthew 7:14), but God assures us that if we listen to Him and follow His commands He will make us abundantly prosperous in all our endeavors (Deuteronomy 30:9).

Deuteronomy 28:1 “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God.

 

Chad W. Hussey is an average Jesus loving iconoclastic non-conformist neighborhood hope dealer – a husband, father, urban missionary, community group leader, Master of Divinity student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Community Life Intern at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.

Chad W. Hussey

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The Peace that Surpasses all Understanding Pt. 2

Part 2 of 4:  Peace Comes When We Align Ourselves With God’s Will

All things come by God’s will, in God’s time, for God’s purpose.  Seek His will for your life, and you will receive what you seek 100% of the time.

So how do we know what God’s will is?

Romans 12:2  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

God is diametrically opposed to the sinful nature of man.  Many of our world leaders, the politicians, media outlets, scientists, doctors, and so-called experts constantly advise us as to what they believe is proper.   Being that God is holy, sinless, and perfect His will remains counter-intuitive to the instruction of people who have their sight set on the things of this world.  We must understand that as Christians we are not to conform to these ideas but to be transformed by the Word of God.  The renewing of our minds comes from replacing the fallible knowledge of man with the truth of God. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts have good understanding. (Psalm 111:10).  We know what is the will of God by holding all things against His Word.

Word

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

To know the Word is to know God.  To know God is to know His will.  The biggest problem we have as Christians today is that we don’t know the Word.  We don’t read our Bibles.  We are expected to be able to recall the truths contained within scripture in all circumstances, but we can’t possibly do this if we don’t even know what is in the Bible.  If God is the Word, and we don’t read the Word, how then do we know God?  Perhaps we don’t.  Six times in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus asks,“Have you not read?”  The expectation expressed here is that we should read the scripture. The expectation is not that we will depend on preachers to teach us, or that we will depend on the teaching of our worldly society.  The Word of God is the measure by which we determine all that is right and good.  This is how we test our actions and the actions of others.  This is even how we test good preaching and good teaching.  We are to hold on to preaching that is good, and discard what is not biblically sound (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  The Bible says many false teachers will attempt to lead Christians astray.  Do you have the peace of knowing that the teaching you’re listening to is biblically sound? Do you have the peace of knowing the God of the Word?

So what does Christ say is His will for our lives?  In John 14:15 (Jesus says), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  As believers in Christ we would be well advised to know what those commandments are.  Jesus’ commandments are not the 10 Commandments that God gave to Moses…Jesus fulfilled that covenant in living a sinless life, and that covenant is finished and paid in full by the blood of the cross.  The 10 commandments remain as a general principle for our behavior, but Christ, in His preaching, gave new, more pointed commands. In Matthew 22 Jesus simplifies the entire law in 2 commands:

Matthew 22:37 (Jesus said), “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law…”

Jesus uses the phrase “If you love me…” a very small number of times in the gospels.  These “if…then” statements are specifically indicative of whether or not we actually love Christ, and we should take them seriously.  Here are the things He said we will do if we love Him.  “If you love me you will obey my teaching (John 14:23), you will keep my commandments (John 14:15), and you will feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep (John 21:15-17).”  In other words, if you love Jesus you will know His commands, you will live by those commands in order that your life will honor Him, and you will share His word with others.  Jesus is the great shepherd and the bread of life.  His sheep (children) must be fed (taught).  When you hold yourself against the Word of God can you say that you love Jesus Christ, and that you have submitted your life to Him?  If not, then prayerfully get into the Word of God and get the Word of God in you!

Many of us fill our lives with desires that have very little to do with God’s will for our lives as outlined above.  Where do these desires come from?  It would seem they come from a desire to be like the world.  The best way to know whether or not what you are desiring is of God is to ask yourself the question, “Does this glorify God?  Does what I desire bring glory to His name and further the advancement of His Kingdom?”  If what you are desiring or praying for doesn’t honor God, then it probably isn’t God’s will for your life.  God’s desire is that we would serve Him and praise Him.  These desires that are not of God become dangerous for our lives because they eventually overtake us, drive us far from what is good, and lead us to final destruction.  God is a loving God, and being the good Father that He is, He may use hardship as discipline to teach us as His children. (Hebrews 12:7) All good fathers discipline their children, and no good parent will allow an unruly, spoiled, or lost child to go unchecked. Some children do not grow up the way a parent would prefer, but many times it is not for lack of the parent’s disciplining and guiding them.  Let us make the effort to be good children of the LORD, to follow His commands, to be good stewards of our resources, and to make the concerted effort to live by His will.  Why invite opportunities for His discipline?  This will only become hardship in our lives.  At some point most of us have felt the LORD’s discipline, and all strong Christians, while we recognize we are infinitely better for it, would prefer to avoid discipline.  To use the cliché, the circumstances of our lives good and bad “have made us who we are today.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18 God’s discipline, while it seems severe, is designed to intensify our joy in that it destroys the origins of our worst sorrows.

1 Peter 1:7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

When we place ourselves in alignment with God’s will for our lives, and we understand that struggles we face are a means by which God purifies us, refines us, and strengthens us…and we trust that…we can find contentment in any situation.  Everything we endure is for our good, and for our growth.  God is sanctifying His believers.  God desires that you will seek Him. He desires that you will honor and glorify Him by seeking His will.  When he turns you from your wicked ways back towards Him, though it may be painful, he is truly saving you from destruction.  We should let all circumstances of our lives point us toward the cross.  When we seek God’s will for our lives, we will receive what we seek 100% of the time.  In being in right step with the LORD and submitting to His will there is found peace that surpasses all understanding.

Read Part 3 Here

Prayer…You’re Doing It Wrong!

Well…maybe.  I don’t have access to your prayers so I don’t know, but I have written a post on prayer just in case, to hopefully help if you do happen to have questions about how God wants us to pray.

The Lord wants us to talk to Him.  Prayer can be incredibly simple, or it can be equally elaborate, but we have been given a specific blueprint for prayer that many of us often ignore.  Later we question why our prayers are not answered.

When the Apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He provided them the basic outline for prayer, and this prayer has become known as The Lord’s Prayer.  Most of us have heard this prayer,  seen it somewhere, recited it, and many of us may even have it memorized.  But, the the real issue is…#1 Do you understand what it says?  And #2 Do you follow it as the prescribed outline for your prayers? There is no way anyone can ever say it better than the Son of God said it Himself.

Because the language is confusing, or because we have recited it so many times we’ve grown numb, merely reeling it off or glossing over it, I am going to crack it open and offer an explanation of what it actually says.

Jesus said:  (Matthew 6) “…your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.  “Pray, then, in this way:

Our Father, who is in Heaven (This is a salutation addressing God as our Father. Thus, we are His children. Children ask parents for things, good parents provide things children need.  Good parents don’t spoil their children.  Children don’t dictate the terms of the relationship, nor do they determine their parents’ actions.  Parents discipline children when necessary, in love, and good parents ultimately know better than children what is good for them.  This salutation also clearly acknowledges that God does exist, is in Heaven, does hear us, and desires that we pray to Him directly.)

Hallowed be Your name (This phrase means, God, your name be exalted…let everyone proclaim and raise up God’s name.  To proclaim and raise God’s name we must actually be vocal in professing our faith in Him.  May your name be glorified in both your healing of us, and also in the way we, the people of faith, handle suffering…with grace. Further this statement says that I raise you above all…including myself.  I place myself under your control.  I do not attempt to stand over you and dictate who you are, hold your actions or your laws on trial, or control what areas of my life I will allow you access to.)

Your Kingdom Come (God I desire you spread your kingdom across this earth until the time of Christ’s return to reign over your chosen.  Please come soon!)

Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven (I acknowledge Your will controls every event of both Heaven and Earth either by Your design or by Your allowance.  I am in alignment with Your will.  I desire Your will for my life and the lives of others.  Even if Your will is not what I might selfishly think I want…I know You know better than I what is good, and I trust Your plan.  I know that You make all things work together for the good of those who love You – Romans 8:28.)

Give us this day our daily bread (Give me the health, strength, energy, and spiritual nourishment necessary to serve You. Give my family, friends, and my brothers and sister in Christ the health strength, energy and spiritual nourishment to serve you.  Give me neither poverty nor riches, but only my daily ration so I may not have such wealth I would say “Who has a need for the Lord?,” or I would be so poor I would steal and dishonor your name.  I understand It would be a curse for You to give me such abundance that I would no longer feel a need to seek you, and thus fall away. – Proverbs 30:7-9)

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us (I acknowledge I am a depraved sinner and a hypocrite.  I ask Your forgiveness of my sins.  In my deep sense of regret I seek to change the wrong doing in my life and strive to live a life of good.   In sincere recognition of my sinful condition and hypocrisy I show forgiveness and mercy to others when they sin against me, and I desire to be patient with those who are indebted to me.  I do this because I recognize I can never repay the gifts of grace and salvation You have showered upon me, and despite my feeble offerings You relentlessly love me and forgive my debts.)

Lead us not into temptation (Don’t let me be tested beyond what I can bear…I acknowledge God is more powerful than Satan, that He has control over Satan, that He could cast him from the earth as He cast him out of heaven, He has the ability to control the amount the devil tempts me, and He allows Satan to sift the wicked like wheat. Please LORD do not allow me to face testing beyond what is ultimately beneficial for my growth in sanctification – 1 Corinthians 10:13 and Luke 22:31)

Deliver us from evil (Keep me far from the Evil One, and when he does reach out his hand to me and I draw close to Him, take me from his presence.  Preserve me.  God controls the access that Satan has to each of us – Job 1:12)

For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever.  (This is an acknowledgement that God is the sovereign, infallible, almighty, holy ruler over all creation -Heaven and Earth – from before time began and for all eternity.  God created us, we did not create God.  The creation does not question or dictate to the creator. The creation does not put the creator on trial and judge His Word, His plan, or His actions.  I recgonize that all the glory in everything good I do is His, and I recognize that apart from the LORD no one is capable of doing anything truly good or righteous.)

In Jesus Christ’s name  – Jesus said: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”  (This does not mean that if we throw this tag line on the end of our prayers that they will be answered.  This means that the things we pray for in Jesus’ name, meaning, the things we pray for that are for Jesus’ cause, or for Jesus’ purpose, for the furthering of His kingdom, and furthering of His name…those prayers shall be answered.  All of our prayers should be in Jesus name, meaning, everything we ask for should be for the purpose of glorifying Christ’s name and advancing His kingdom. The desire of the heart of one who is a living sacrifice for Christ, is to serve, and glorify the Lord, and to see God’s will fulfilled. If the desire of our prayers is to see the LORD’s will fulfilled, we will see our prayers answered 100% of the time. And finally, we are to pray directly to the Father, and no one else, in Jesus’ name. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:5 “…there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” There is no need for any other mediator.)

Amen (Truly…So be it.)