Where a River Flows — An Increase of Faith

Increase of Faith

The river of God’s divine mercy flows from the high mountains of struggle to the ocean of grace, producing an increase of faith. We find ourselves in such a time and place.

Many people today are experiencing the intense pressure and weariness of rock-hard impasses — immovable, constricting, and looming large. Take courage! God turns such gargantuan opposition to serve divine purposes. Because “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17), I’m switching up my normal pattern of writing this week to focus entirely on praying the truths of Scripture.

As you read these words, may you experience an increase of faith for whatever trial you are facing. Take heart! “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us(Romans 8:31)? “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17).

Fast flowing water

The following prayer originates and finds root in direct Bible verses. As you pray, release God’s power and authority over yourself and your situation.

God of The Impossible

“God, we approach Your throne of grace with confidence (with outspoken frankness, bluntness and assurance), yet also in humility, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16) . . . We are facing what appears impossible for us, but God, with You all things are possible (Matthew 19:26) . . . Jesus, You declared that ‘Everything is possible for (those) who believe’ ” (Mark 9:23).

“Without faith it is impossible to please You, Lord, because anyone who comes to You must believe that You exist and that You reward those who earnestly seek You” (Hebrews 11:6) . . . We believe! We know and proclaim You to be loving and infinitely good. You reward all who choose to seek Your face.

Rushing Water

“Just as Paul spoke of the believers in Rome, may it be said of us. May our faith remain unwavering during this season of pressure, believing Your promises, being strengthened in our faith, and giving constant glory and praise to You, O God. May we be persuaded that You have the power to fulfill everything You promised” (Romans 4:20-21) . . . For no word from You will ever fail! . . .

“God, grant us an increase of faith . . .

Walking by Faith

“We do not belong to those who shrink back, but we move forward courageously in faith. You deliver us from every assault of the enemy (Hebrews 10:39) . . . By your grace, we live by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7) . . .

“We choose today to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11) . . . May our lives produce lasting work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3) . . .

The testing of our faith produces perseverance. When perseverance finishes its work, we become mature and complete, lacking nothing (James 1:3-4) . . . Lord, may we consider ourselves crucified with Christ, no longer living for ourselves, but recognizing that Christ lives in us. The life we now live, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave Himself for us (Galatians 2:20) . . .

Rapids

“Lord, in every action, word and deed, may we not be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes . . . For in the Gospel the righteousness of God is revealed — a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ ” (Romans 1:16-17; Habakkuk 2:4) . . .

“You have already given to each one of us a measure of faith (Romans 12:3). Lord, we ask for an increase of faith in each one of our hearts . . .

Warrior Faith

We take up the shield of faith, extinguishing all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16) . . . Everyone born of God overcomes the world. We are Yours! You have named and declared us to be overcomers! . . . This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1John 5:4) . . .

“Thank you, Lord, for the great confidence we have before You. This confidence rests completely in who You are and all You have accomplished . . . ‘Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ ” (Romans 5:1) . . .

“The time is now! Warriors of faith, strap on the weapons of our warfare and take a stand against sickness and disease . . . Heal us, LORD, and we will healed; save us and we will be saved, for You are the one we praise (Jeremiah 17:14). You are the Lord who heals us (Exodus 15:26) . . . Breathe new life into us . . . Pour your soothing oil into the broken-hearted . . .

Prayer of Faith

“Lord, You invite us to ask big, to believe large, and to come expecting the impossible, so increase our faith . . . You said, ‘if we say to the mountainous obstacle, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and do not doubt in our hearts but believe that what we say will happen, it will be done for us. Therefore . . . whatever we ask for in prayer, we believe that we will receive it, and it will be ours!’ ” (Mark 11:22-24) . . .

Mountain, Rock, River

“So, we come today laying our petitions before You. We speak to our impossibles in Your precious Name, ‘Be moved!‘ . . . “Give us grace and courage to stand firm in the faith, to be courageous and strong (1 Corinthians 16:13) . . .

“Do it again, Lord! The things we read about in the Book of Acts we ask You to do again. We ask for an advancement of Your Kingdom in our day and in our time. We ask for multitudes to be drawn into Your family. Lord, raise up a generation of men and women, young and old, with an ever-increasing faith. May they pray confidently and humbly, desiring nothing more than to see Your Name glorified and You exalted in our time . . . May they live fearlessly for Your honor . . .

“Encourage the weary ones. Restore the wounded. Revive the frail. Oh God, come to our aid, we pray. You are our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

**********

Mark 11:24 — Believing Prayer: Pray With Faith

Believing prayer forms a rock-solid foundation for every vibrant Christian. Jesus has already made provision for everything we need. We pray with faith, not in the power of our words, but rather faith in what Jesus already made available to us.

With the approaching Christmas season, I have been considering again the significance of Jesus’ coming. He fulfilled every requirement of the law and the Old Covenant, implementing the New Covenant. Jesus made a way for all those who believe in Him to come to the Father without sacrifice or religious ceremony.

What does this mean regarding believing prayer? Everything!

Let’s look at an incredible promise Jesus gave to each of us.

” ‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Mark 11:22-24

Say It!

Although faith makes room for silent prayer, Jesus taught His disciples to “say,” or speak, their prayers out loud. He emphasized disdain for anyone who used loud, long-winded, public prayer, attempting to inflate egos or elevate religious status. God knows our hearts, but we inform the enemy through our words.

In verse 23, Jesus uses two different Greek words for “say”:

  • The first comes from the Greek word epo, which means “to speak with authority, to command or order as a king or general.”
  • The next word “say” comes from the Greek word lego, meaning “to speak by linking together or expressing the heart and mind with words.”

A king doesn’t need to raise his voice to issue a command. Our humble voices carry the authority of Jesus Christ to bring God’s will into effect around us.

Jesus emphasized to His disciples that a person’s confident faith combined with God’s power could produce amazing results. When the request is in harmony with God’s will, God is fully capable of doing that which man regards as impossible.

“Jesus responded, ‘What appears humanly impossible is more than possible with God. For God can do what man cannot.”
Luke 18:27

So, we pray spoken, authoritative words, with a united heart and mind.

Does Not Doubt

Jesus calls us to combine authoritative voice with an undivided heart. The Aramaic word for “doubt” means “to be divided or undecided in your heart.”

Let’s reject the whispers of condemnation regarding why some prayers appear to go unanswered. Prayer will always contain an element of mystery. Through believing prayer, we bring our requests to the Father and allow our hearts to leave the results to His ways and wisdom. Sometimes the healing comes; sometimes it doesn’t. Often, provision unfolds, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Nevertheless, may all of our prayers be void of doubt! May believing prayer, birthed and immersed in faith, flow from a united heart of mind.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
James 1:6

James calls anyone who doubts “double-minded,” or literally having “two souls” — one of faith and one without.

Believe You Have Received It

Do I drench my prayers in the faith that God has already answered? Sometimes yes, but sadly not always.

Here rests the heart of Jesus’ promise to us.

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Mark 11:24

“You have received it!” Jesus declares! What? When? How? Everything we could every ask from God has already been provided through Jesus Christ. Everything!

Let’s take a quick look at the example of prayer Jesus gave His disciples and us.

“…Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one,
for yours is the kingdom
and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.”
Matthew 6:9-13

Every aspect of this model prayer, we have already received! We approach God not as some distant cruel tyrant, but as our loving Father. Through the authority of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, heaven already invades earth’s corrupt domain. We already feast on daily manna, the Living Word. Every sin (past, present, and future) Jesus already dealt with through His shed blood. Jesus already broke all the enemy’s authority over our lives. We already live under the protection and provision of our King of kings and Lord of lords.

So as we pray, we do so with complete confidence.

One Condition

Both Matthew and Mark speak about one condition — our willingness to forgive others.

“That’s why I urge you to pray for absolutely everything, ranging from small to large. Include everything as you embrace this God-life, and you’ll get God’s everything. And when you assume the posture of prayer, remember that it’s not all asking. If you have anything against someone, forgive — only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins.”
Mark 11:24-26 MSG

Several months ago, God challenged me to refuse to entertain any negative thoughts toward anyone. Too easily, we allow critical thinking or judgments to swirl in our hearts and minds. Jesus makes it clear that it is impossible to have a pure heart in prayer while holding a polluted heart toward others. By freely and willingly forgiving every hurtful thing against us, we align our hearts with His.

May nothing stand in the way of us receiving His full promise. May believing prayer rise from knowing that we “have received” whatever we ask for according to God’s will. Through the prayer of faith, we reach into the treasure trove of God’s storehouse of provision already waiting for us.

Today, may we each grasp a greater awareness of all that God has made available.

**********

Focus on the Greatest: Faith, Hope, and Love

Faith, Hope, Love

Can you imagine the impact upon us as individuals and upon our society if everyone would turn their focus toward faith, hope, and love? These are undoubtably the greatest and best assets anyone could possess and share with others, not just now but for eternity.

Many people live frivolously, even selfishly, expecting unending tomorrows in which to “eat, drink and be merry.” But what if we knew our time was short, our opportunities limited? Would the flow and direction of our lives change? Would an eternal perspective help us refocus our priorities and energies?

“And I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy, eat, drink, and be merry.’ ‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you . . . ” ‘ ”
Luke 12:19-20

It is all too easy to become distracted by the trivial and consumed with the mundane. Too often the responsibilities of life dictate our agendas and demand our time. The urgent pushes ahead of the necessary. Re-evaluating our focus helps to center us, pulling us toward far-reaching eternal goals and targets.

Whether I speak, write, teach, mentor or encourage, I’m continually brought back to the motivation behind it all — faith, hope, and love.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

“These three remain,” existing for eternity!

Faith

Paul commends the church in Corinth for their effective use of spiritual gifts. He asks them to remember and honor each individual, valuing their uniqueness. Like us, the Corinthian church struggled to maintain unity within diversity. Like us, they elevated the minor and diminished the major. They found it easy to focus on the external functioning of gifts and ignore the deeper issues of the heart. They faced these challenges — sometimes well, sometimes not.

Faith, Hope, Love

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
1 Corinthians 13:2

That’s an impressive list, isn’t it? Who wouldn’t want a faith to move mountains or the gift of prophecy? What about an ability to understand the deep secrets and mysteries of God? Many people pursue these gifts and receive them. God, speaking through Paul, clearly states that these things don’t impress or please Him. Unless, of course, they spill from a heart overflowing with love.

Unbelief, scepticism, cynicism, and doubt permeate our culture. But there’s good news. they are all temporary ailments of a society in which God is absent. Every negative will come to an end. Faith leads the list of eternal qualities, replacing all negative undercurrents.

Hope

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
Proverbs 13:12

Never before have people become so connected yet disconnected at the same time. The bombardment of information and influence serves only to amplify our loneliness. People feel incredibly isolated and ignored while their social media “friend” lists explode and expand.

Hopelessness in various forms pervades. Hope defers. Heartsickness abounds.

The Greatest Things

The longing within us refuses to be quenched and screams for more faith, hope, and love. For a while people hope; often, they give up. Like the faint scent of rain swept away by the harsh winds of reality, hearts lie barren and dry — hopeless in a world without significant hope.

Jesus restores hope!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.”
1 Peter 1:3-4

No matter how hopeless your situation appears, it lasts for a season. Jesus Christ grants each one of us an eternal and living hope. Receive your inheritance of hope, securely kept for you. Hope floods your eternal future! Nothing and no one can stop it!

Love

We have all experienced frail, fickle, and faltering love. Genuine love, never fails or falters. We all crave a love that endures. It is a basic need of all humanity.

“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease, where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
1 Corinthians 13:8

Even in Christian circles, we easily major on the minors and overlook the major or greatest qualities within God’s Kingdom. No attribute outweighs the significance of love.

I don’t need to look outside myself to find a discrepancy between belief and action. Oh, how frail, fickle, and faltering my own love often becomes!

Jesus Love

Many people feel rejected, abandoned, and unloved. Maybe, you know the feeling all too well. Listen to the following verse and allow God to speak directly to your heart,

“‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
Isaiah 54:10

It’s possible for mountains to shake and crumble, but impossible for God’s love to be shaken, let alone cease. I find it comforting to know that hatred will end, but God’s love remains eternally secure.

Faith, Hope, and Love

Since God’s Word is true, enduring forever, how should we respond? Since everything else will eventually pass away, how can we nurture faith, hope and love, first in our lives and then in others?

God has given to each of us a measure of these qualities in seed form. When we plant and nurture them (activating them), they will grow and increase. The principle of sowing and reaping runs throughout God’s Word.

  • “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” Psalm 126:5.
  • “A wicked person earns deceptive wages, but the one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward” Proverbs 11:18.
  • “Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” 2 Corinthians 9:6.
Sharing Faith

Together, let’s aim to live our lives in the best way possible. Let’s pursue the eternal qualities of faith, hope, and love, both in ourselves and in others. May we commit ourselves to inspire faith, instill hope, and ignite love. How we each accomplish the task will look different, but every one of us possesses the ability to make a difference.

May we focus on these greatest and enduring qualities of faith, hope, and love, receiving them fully, and then just as freely, giving them away. Let’s stop for a moment to ask God how we might spread these attributes further.

**********

First Corinthians 13 —The Way of Love

What is the way of love? How do we truly love? By asking God these questions and seeking to understand love, we will continue to form a lifestyle of love.

And yet, I know I fall so far short of truly loving the people I am in contact with. Last night I fell asleep with these swirling thoughts and awoke this morning pondering them again. First Corinthians 13 echoed in my heart, reminding me that though faith, hope, and love eternally remain, the way of love is the greatest of all three.

Today instead of personal thoughts or perspectives, I offer you the pure word of God which speaks clearer than any words of my own. May the Holy Spirit highlight the portions that soothe your spirit, calm your concerns, and echo living hope to you.

I have chosen The Message Bible1 (perhaps a less common version) so that His voice would speak in a fresh tone and resonate to us in a new way.

First Corinthians 13

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere.”
First Corinthians 13:1-3


“So, no matter what I say,

what I believe,

and what I do,

I’m bankrupt without love.”

Love In Motion

“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut.
Doesn’t have a swelled head.
Doesn’t force itself on others.
Isn’t always, “me first.”
Doesn’t fly off the handle.
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others.
Doesn’t revel when others grovel.
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.
Puts up with anything.
Trusts God always.
Always looks for the best.
Never looks back.
But keeps going to the end.”
First Corinthians 13:4-7

Eternal Love

“Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like an infant. When I grew up, I left those infants ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!”
First Corinthians 13:8-12


But for right now,
until that completeness,

we have three things to do …

trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly.

And the best of the three is love.”

Such perfect love we find only in and through God. Rather than seeing our failures as a source of shame, the imperfection of our love drives us continually toward His grace, leading us to love Him, ourselves, and others in life-giving ways. May we all carefully consider His Word and grow in the way of love — God’s love!

  1. The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson ↩︎

**********

The Difference Between Zeal and Passion

The more I experience life, the more I realize the difference between zeal and passion. Zeal will lead you where only passion can keep you.

I love young people! Sometimes, I wish I was still one of them. They live “all in.” Whatever they give themselves to do, they do with contagious zeal.

At first glance, zeal and passion may look remarkably similar. But they produce considerably different results. The Bible gives us multiple examples of people who zealously began a work or entered a calling. Over time, many people lost momentum or even veered off course. Why? Let’s look at a few examples for the answer.

Elijah

Elijah became a famous prophet during the times of the kings of Israel. He performed many supernatural signs and miracles. But something shifted. Immediately after challenging the prophets of Baal to a public showdown, the entire nation appeared to turn their hearts back to God. You can read more about it in 1 Kings 18. Most prophets would consider this to be a career high point.

But the wife of the king threatened Elijah’s life. This was no idle threat, since she held the power to do exactly what she promised.

Instead of standing firm in his faith, Elijah ran in fear. That’s not the reaction we would expect from God’s great man of the hour. Elijah immediately hands in his resignation.

“I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
1 Kings 19:4

We can empathize with Elijah. He had been through a lot. But then, Elijah proceeds to justify himself before God, while issuing a scathing report about the other prophets and his people.

“He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty.”
1 Kings 19:10

God accepts Elijah’s resignation and commissions him to anoint someone else to take his place. Elijah’s ministry immediately begins to dwindle. Zeal had led Elijah to where only passion could keep him. Though he had been very zealous, his passion for God had faded with discouragement, disappointment, and disillusionment. God continued to use him and show him favor, but Elijah’s best years were now behind him.

Zeal will only carry us so far. Eventually, it will fade. Only authentic passion will stay the course.

Peter

Perhaps none of Jesus’ disciples were as zealous as Peter. He quickly rose above the others, becoming one of the top chosen three. Always ready to speak out and move into action, Peter held unquestionable zeal as he followed Jesus.

When Jesus announced He would soon be arrested and crucified, Peter responded,

… ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.‘”
Luke 22:33

And Peter meant it! But zeal took him to where only passion could keep him. Perhaps you know the story. Within hours, Peter denied his Lord — not once, but three times. He wept bitterly over his failure to faithfully stand with Jesus (Matthew 26:75).

Despite Peter’s failure, Jesus valued him immensely and had plans for Peter’s future position in the soon-to-be-formed church. So after Jesus’ resurrection, He confronted Peter, emphasizing the difference between zeal and passion.

“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?'”
John 21:15

That’s the question not just for Peter but for all of us. Do you love Me? Do you love Me more than this, or that, or anything?

Three times Jesus posed the same question. “Peter is your love for Me the foundation of your life? If it isn’t, zeal will always fall short. Zeal will lead you where only love can keep you. Love sustains. Love drives us forward. But only your love for Me enables you to carry out any mission. Love equips, empowers, and motivates. But My love will hold you fast. The deep tap root of passion is love — love for Me.”

Paul

One man, more than any other, fiercely stood against the progress of the early church. A man who was extremely zealous. A man who went about imprisoning and murdering every Christian he could get his hands on.

“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
Galatians 1:14

Though zeal quickly led Saul up the ranks within the religious elite, God knocked him off the high horse of zeal and set him on a more humble course — the course of love and passion. Intimacy with Jesus Christ became Paul’s only pursuit. Everything else flowed from that place of love and intimacy.

‘But whatever were gain to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ.”
Philippians 3:7-8

Paul perhaps became the most passionate and devoted follower of Jesus this world has known. He recognized the difference between zeal and passion. Zeal drove him to kill many. But through passion for Jesus, many millions have found live and faith in Christ.

Zeal and Passion

As much as I appreciate the zeal of youth, passion rises strongest through maturity — not a maturity of age or faith but a maturity of deep devotion. Zeal quickly rises, is often volatile, and eventually evaporates. Passion for Jesus grows, intensifies over time, and lasts for eternity. Passion accomplishes more than zeal ever could.

 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
Ephesians 3:16-21

A passion for Jesus develops in the incubator of intimacy. There is no substitute. As we intimately know and remain in His unfailing love, our passion grows and deepens. God is a consuming fire. In the fire of passionate love, we will “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”

There is no other way! No short cuts! Intimacy fuels the true passion of infinite love that will lead us beyond anything imaginable.

Do we, or will we, love Him more than “these”?

**********

The Lord is Peace — Jehovah Shalom

Our King still reigns over all the kingdoms of the Earth. He is the Lord Almighty, the Ancient of Day, Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is Peace. Despite the uncertainty of our time, He welcomes us to seek refuge in His everlasting peace. Throughout the ages, His affirming words have kept the sails of many faltering ships steady as oceans rage.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

Jesus left His followers in the same wicked world we now inhabit. They faced oppression and persecution at levels most of us cannot comprehend. Ripped from their peacefully homes, they were cast into prisons and exposed to atrocities. Yet, they held to the words of Jesus. His promise gave them peace despite anything demonic elements threw at them.

May we find equal courage and strength in the sure Word of our Lord.

Go in Strength

Our God gives us peace out of the essence of His character and name – The Lord is Peace. Israel had walked away from God, facing their self-made destruction at the hands of enemy forces. Deprived of safety, they hid in mountain caves and strongholds while their enemies invaded like swarms of locusts. Impoverished, they finally cried out to the Lord for help (Judges 6).

God raised up the most unlikely candidate as His instrument of deliverance — Gideon. Filled with fear and intimidated by life circumstances, Gideon hid in a winepress threshing out a few grains wheat.

I’ve had plenty of my own hide-out moments — reluctant to take a stand or speak up against injustice. Like Gideon, I have argued with God about assignments He has given to me.

“Who me? I’m the littlest, the least competent, too old, too insignificant, ill equipped, untrained …” My excuses trail endlessly along. Arguing with God never turns out well. Not for Gideon, and certainly not for me.

“The LORD turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have … am I not sending you?”
Judges 6:14

When God is with us, nothing else matters. Despite any personal limitations, God always proves Himself more than enough.

The Lord is Peace

Enough faith in God rises in Gideon to give God his shaky “Yes!” Before he confronts the enemy, Gideon first builds an altar of sacrifice to God. What an example! Every victory begins at the place of worship and thankfulness.

“So Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and called it The Lord is Peace.”
Judges 6:24

Though Israel’s condition remained the same, Gideon’s heart had changed. Instead of focusing on the enemy’s strategies, he knelt before the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords. He declared the Lord is Peace. Peace exists only through Jehovah Shalom, the Lord our Peace.

Jehovah Shalom

Shalom means to be complete, sound, or absent of strife. It represents a peace of mind, heart, and life. We can only experience the peace of God by first experiencing peace with God. Such peace comes as we relinquish control and yield by faith to God’s grace.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:1

God’s peace implies much more than freedom from conflict. It includes prosperity, health, well-being, and faith in the face of conflict. Gideon began to believe more in the invisible God than in the visible danger surrounding him.

The pictographic symbols for shalom would read “to destroy the authority that binds to chaos.” What a powerful image! Let me say that again.

Peace means to destroy the authority that binds us to chaos.

Restoration

Our great redeemer, the Lord is Peace, comes to not only save our souls from eternal destruction but to give us His supernatural peace.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7

What is at work to bind us to chaos? What is causing complete disorder and confusion to your life? Are there thought patterns, body habits, or toxic environments?

God didn’t suddenly snatch Gideon out of his situation. Rather, He gave Gideon strategies to overcome in the midst of chaotic circumstances. The Lord is Peace, coming beside us in a similar way. As He spoke to Gideon, He speaks to us, “Peace! Do not be afraid” (Judges 6:23).

Do you feel anxious over present circumstances? Or fear?

God again speaks, “I AM with you. I AM Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is Peace.”

“(I) will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in (Me).”
Isaiah 26:3

Prayer for Peace

Thank You, Lord! We come before You, laying down our chaotic patterns of thinking and functioning. We receive Your supernatural, divine peace. Fill our hearts and minds with the comfort and knowledge of knowing You alone sit on the throne. All dominions, powers, and authorities must bow before You.
Come, Lord. Give us the faith and confidence to trust in the assurance of Your character and Word. You are Jehovah Shalom, the Lord is Peace. Bind and destroy any and every authority that holds us and those around us to chaos. Surround Your children with Your “perfect peace.” May our minds be steadfast, trusting in You.
There is none like You, O God! We worship You before our situation changes. We set our hearts to thank You, giving glory and honor to Your Name. Be exalted in our day, O God.
Amen.

**********

Rooted and Grounded in Christ

Are you rooted and grounded? Planting takes only moments, but roots develop and spread over a lifetime. Fruit appears last of all. By allowing God time to send our roots outward, we will flourish wherever He plants us. But lately, I’ve been a little frustrated with my personal growth and progress — feeling stagnant and unproductive.

As a long-time gardener, I have gained experience in rooting and planting annuals, perennials, and trees. Though I experimented with newer species, my gardens often contained tried-and-true varieties, originally passed from my mother’s or grandmother’s gardens. In our northern climates, the extreme heat of summer and cold of winter offers a more limited palette of vegetation than in other parts of the world. But no matter where you live, a healthy root system is the key to any plant’s longevity and growth.

What holds true in the natural holds true to our spiritual condition as well.

“Having been deeply rooted [in Him] and now being continually built up in Him and [becoming increasingly more] established in your faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing in it with gratitude.”
Colossians 2:7

Planted

Each plant thrives in a specific location and environment. And so do we. While shade loving plants wilt in dry sunny locations, the reverse is also true. But even when planted in the perfect location, a gardener focuses on root development. Trees need to be staked for the first few years until their roots spread far enough to support them against even the cruelest winds. Weekly watering routines become essential, as well.

Where has God planted or perhaps transplanted you? Do you feel fragile? Are you fearful that the winds of adversity may topple you?

As we give God time to expand our spiritual roots, we gain greater stability in our lives. Shuffling from one thing to another hinders spiritual progress. We may look healthy on the surface, but it is the hidden strength of being rooted and grounded that helps us to withstand the storms of life.

God says of the righteous,

“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
Psalm 1:3

Cut Down

Without success, I have attempted to “trick” certain plants to grow where they weren’t designed to flourish. But when I followed instructions and planted the seedling in their preferred location, the resulting growth was stunningly obvious.

We have all felt my tender roots pulled up from soft fertile soils, only to be pushed into one restriction or another — without room or stability. We have felt the stretch and strain of being “planted” in unfavorable and unfamiliar territory, including hard and rocky circumstances. I, and perhaps you, have resisted God’s choices, believing we could never grow in such adverse conditions. Yet, God knows where our roots of faith and trust in Him would grow the best.

Job felt it, too.

“For there is hope for a tree. When it is cut down, that it will sprout again. And its shoots will not fail. Though its roots grow old in the ground and its stump dies in the dry soil, at the scent of water it will flourish and put forth sprigs like a plant.”
Job 14:7-9

Where roots grow, hope remains. And we, my friends, have been rooted and grounded in Christ. Every external circumstance must bow to Him.

Trust

Jeremiah encourages us to trust “in the LORD,” because our trust “is the LORD.”

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:7-8

God birthed within us the desire to reflect such vitality, growth, and maturity. But, it takes time. Spring, summer, fall, and winter repeated year after year. Some seasons kind. Other seasons harsh.

Yet, as we trust in the Lord, and our trust is the Lord, seasons pass as strength builds and and we become rooted and grounded.

Rest

We can either resist God’s process or rest in it. Resisting comes easy. Rest takes courage and faith to remain rooted and grounded.

A tree never strives to grow. It rests while growth naturally occurs. God has formed us the same way. The more we strive, the more we pull apart our fragile roots. But as we rest in His goodness and sovereignty, our roots push ever deeper and wider.

May God give us the courage to stay, wait, and rest. Unlike a tree, we can pull ourselves out and force ourselves into something we believe more conducive and comfortable. Shade sounds good. Shelter invites.

“The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree. He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”
Psalm 92:12-13

Gratitude

As I look back over the seasons of my life, I feel a sense of equal gratitude for both the easy and trying seasons. The seasons of apparent spiritual drought, dis-ease, pruning, and struggle have caused a deeper maturing as sin has been exposed and confessed, ungodly attitudes have been unearthed and removed, patience has been tried and pressed, and Christlikeness has been refined.

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:5-8

God directs us to places we don’t understand and to circumstances we might resist. When people damage us, abuse us, use us, wound us, rob us, or mistreat us, may we send our roots of trust in God deeper, knowing somehow, some way He will use it all for our good. Richer fruit will come from our lives.

Just like a tree goes through a season of dormancy before sending out new blossoms and shoots, so must we. The season of fruitfulness will come. Each season prepares us to produce greater and better fruit.

If you are in your fruitful season, be grateful. If not, rejoice! Your time will come, if you remain rooted and grounded.

**********

Nobody Can Tell Your Story — Tell What God Has Done

Nobody can tell your story but you. Nobody can tell my story but me. The most important story to tell is what God has done in our lives.

Biographies and autobiographies list the highest on my favorite genres to read. True stories of those who have courageously walked out their faith challenge my own faith to grow deeper and more steadfast. Call them trailblazers or pioneers, survivors or thrivers. Tenacious faith marked each of their lives. Their stories, personal and relatable, resonate within us.

So even though I know the power of personal stories, every time I attempt to tell my humble story, I flounder for the right words. I hesitate, wondering if my story has any real value.

Throughout my life, and even more so in these days, God welcomes me to tell everyone and anyone the things He has done for me.

As you tell your story and I tell mine, we join the ageless troop of those who have overcome fear and intimidation to tell their God-story.

“And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”
Revelation 12:11

Uniqueness

Though similarities mark all our stories, each life-story charts the making of who we have uniquely become. The essence of our faith stories begins with who we once were and how our old lives looked. It includes an encounter with our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. And finally, who we are now.

I was one way. Then, I met Jesus. Now, I am another way. It’s that simple!

“And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.”
1 John 5:11

I stumble most to tell my story when I’m deceived enough to think it is “my” story. Oh, how wrong! God owns all our stories. Without Him, there would be no story to tell. When I gave my life to Jesus Christ, I gave Him everything, including my story. His story of redeeming grace weaves through my story. His story of power to transform broken, ruined lives has also become mine.

When you tell your story and I tell mine, we testify that God has given us eternal life through Jesus Christ. Not just a life in heaven, but a life we live every day.

Only God knows the eternal impact when you tell your story.

Prepare

Several years ago, a mentor challenged me to prepare three versions of my God-story — a one minute capsule, a five-minute version, and then a more complete fifteen-minute expansion.

His wise advice has helped me to tell my story over and over again. In casual conversation, we often only have a moment of opportunity. At other times, people may ask questions which lead to more details. Being prepared ahead of time gives us an advantage to naturally ease the things God has done for us into conversation.

I’m not talking about platform opportunities with a microphone and video recording, although that may come too. Sometimes the curious, or even condemning, ask questions about why we believe what we believe. Others may see significant changes in our lives and want to know the reason why. Then, tell your story.

“The man who had been freed from the demons begged to go with him. But Jesus sent him home, saying, “No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” So he went all through the town proclaiming the great things Jesus had done for him.”
Luke 8:38-39

Few people have such dramatic stories to tell. But every God encounter is worth relating to others.

Tell Your Story

People often disregard or dispute the truth of Scripture. They may question the validity of the Bible. But no one can deny when you tell your story, sharing your personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15

The Message Bible relays this portion as, “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.”

As you tell your story and I tell mine, we allow no room for arrogance or pride. We can boast in nothing but Him. Gentleness, respect, and courtesy should infuse every word as we explain the Living Hope within us. Hope that has produced confident assurance, solid faith, and significant life change.

We have so many good reasons to tell God’s story about our lives. Let’s write it, speak it, and share it everywhere we go. Our story brings Good News to others.

Today’s Prayer:

Father, open our hearts to respond with gentleness, respect, and courtesy to all who ask about You. May we be sensitive to those who are aching to know You intimately and deeply. May we always be ready to tell about the incredible grace You have shown to us. Give us the right words for each situation that we may share the Good News of Jesus Christ in a loving and humble way. May the gratitude we feel for all You have done be expressed sincerely and simply. With thanks, we pray. Amen.

**********

The Power of Praise Verses

We don’t need to look at recent statistics to recognize the power of praise. Instinctively, we know that words deeply matter. Words of acknowledgement and praise build a person up; while words of criticism and judgment tear one apart. We have all felt the soothing effects of one, as well as the sting of the other.

While shopping, I encountered a weary mother not-to-gently plunking her just-as-weary toddler into a seat while muttering harsh words. I cringed as my heart went out to both the mother and the child. Even though the words weren’t directed towards me, they had a lingering effect on my soul.

I was reminded again of the power of words and, specifically, the power of praise. It requires deliberate intention to turn those trying moments into something positive and uplifting. Reversing the effect of negativity comes with effort — serious effort.

If that is how negative words make us feel, how does it make God feel when the words of our mouths cut instead of mend, destroy instead of rebuild, or wound instead of heal?

James calls it like it is,

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.”
James 3:10

Psalm 103:1

Awareness

Awareness forms the starting point for change. We may easily fall into the trap James speaks about. Rather than becoming discouraged, let’s turn awareness into the motivation to bring personal change.

When we honestly evaluate where we are positioned on the scale between “praise and cursing,” it can actually help us develop better patterns of relating to each other (or even in our self-talk).

The next positive step imagines where, how, or who we eventually want to become. Let’s ask God for a clear vision of who He intends us to be.

Then, let’s ask Him for the first steps to propel us toward that destination.

Even moving through these few steps usually offers enough hope for us to create change in how we think and respond verbally to people or situations. The hardest path, even a path of sacrifice, will reap the greatest and most amazing rewards.

Main Focus

Through focused praise, we can turn discouragement and fatigue around. God doesn’t need our praise. We have a built in need to worship Him, however. Praise focused on Him changes our perspective, because praise turns the direction of focus off of ourselves and our circumstances and on to Him and His consistent character.

No matter how difficult our situation becomes, God remains the same — always worthy of our praise. As we turn our hearts toward Him in praise and adoration, something internally shifts within us despite external circumstances. It welcomes peace and opens the door to hope.

Again and again, I have experienced this power of praise to lift and transform my thinking and heart attitude.

“Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.”
Isaiah 25:1

Isaiah 25:1

Power of Praise

As we develop a habit of praising God, the power of praise infuses all our interactions and conversations. An internal shift overrides former patterns — not instantaneously, but through practice. And through it, God makes it easier for us to discover increasing reasons for praise within the movements of our day.

The power of praise works faithfully within us, as consistently at it works in those around us. The negative critical voices begin to filter through the lens of praising God in His majesty and glory.

“Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
Philippians 4:8

Get Started

God gives us ample verses to help us refocus and turn cursing into praise. Our words contain power and exercise authority in both the natural and the spiritual realms. When we speak the following verses (and many others like them) out loud, we reinforce the message of truth they contain.

May we all learn to consistently speak words that build others up, change internal narratives, bless those who might be listening, and give glory to the One worthy of praise.

Psalm 150:6
Revelation 5:13
Psalm 34:1
Psalm 105:1-2
1 Chronicles 29:13
Psalm 71:8
Psalm 91:1-2
Psalm 35:28
Psalm 92:1

**********

Two Paths — The Easy or the Hard Way

In almost every decision, we have the option of two paths — the easy or the hard way. Only one way offers a permanent reward.

I crested the rise, coming to a small plateau leading to a forested dip before rising higher up the steep grade. The well-travelled path was broad and deeply indented by annual tourists seeking a better view of the lake below. The path narrowed through the trees, shrinking to a barely visible trail up the steepest and highest slope. The majority of hikers contented themselves to climb the easiest section, declining the more strenuous upper portion. The further the trail ascended, the more difficult the climb became. Because few people possessed the initiative to scale to the upper ridge, the path was barely visible.

Reaching the summit, I scanned the view. From here, I saw details of the lake and surrounding terrain obscure from lower levels. Vehicles and people moved between miniature houses far below. The refreshing breeze tangled my hair as I rested in the warm sun. I quietly watched as groups of hikers turned back after reaching the first plateau, saddened that they wouldn’t see from this perspective.

I thought of these words of Jesus:

“Enter through the narrow gate because the wide gate and broad path is the way that leads to destruction—nearly everyone chooses that crowded road! The narrow gate and the difficult way leads to eternal life—so few even find it!”
Matthew 7:13-14

The Hard Way

The hard and most difficult way always proves to be the least travelled. We all crave the way of least resistance — minimum output for maximum returns. But wisdom leads us through the “narrow gate” and up the steep slope of hardship.

My dad often questioned, ‘Why do you do everything the hard way?”

Sometimes, it was because I anticipated the challenge. At times, no other way but the hard way seemed available. Other times, I recognized choosing between the easy or the hard way determined a lesser or greater outcome. Often, I looked beyond myself to the long-term benefits for future generations.

By choosing the hard way now, I somehow hoped to make life easier for others. I knew that if I didn’t choose the hard path, someone else would have to. I trusted God to help me break through the generational cycles of addictions, depression, and poverty thinking. My tough work would bring freedom for others to come.

Life is hard! God doesn’t promise any of us a fair or easy lot.

My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties, see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up in you the power of endurance. And then as your endurance grows even stronger, it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.”
James 1:2-4

Quick and Easy

Human nature leans toward quick and easy ways. We look for the smooth road and the fast track to success. We sow seeds of faith today, expecting to instantly receive a bountiful harvest.

Advertisers everywhere shout, “7 Easy Steps to …”, “5 Quick Ways to …”, “10 Days to …” Promotions invite us to flock down the wide road of ease.

The hardest way will always be the Jesus way. Jesus calls us to the narrow and difficult path of self-sacrifice and self-denial. He commands us to

 ” … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Matthew 5:44 

and

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23

When given the choice between the easy or the hard way, few choose the difficult way of fully following Christ Jesus. But those who do, brightly shine among us.

A Reward

Seldom do we reap the full reward of the difficult path on this side of Heaven. Eternity, like the high view, will reveal the full scope of our efforts.

Many who have walked before us left a vivid example of choosing the difficult road — giving abused children a home, enlisting in war to defend godly values, sacrificially caring for the sick and dying, burying personal dreams to promote others, laboring long hours to support the needy, working through difficult relationships for the benefit of the most vulnerable … Their full reward awaited them, not always in this life but certainly in the eternal one ahead.

Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked so hard to achieve. Be diligent so that you receive your full reward.”
2 John 1:8

The loss people experience in choosing an easier path far exceeds anything this world offers. We have everything to gain and lose through the daily paths we choose.

Faith and Maturity

The sign of true maturity shows in our willingness to choose the hard path over the easy one — to choose to love amidst hate, to give out of our need, to forgive through pain. Such obedience to Jesus carries a deep cost. Are we willing to do the tough thing? Will we abandon the tough to others? Will we choose the easy or the hard way?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Matthew 7:21-23

Jesus warns that doing what we want, even if it’s good stuff, will never validate our love for Him. In obedience to Him, we find our true connection to Christ. By choosing the hard road over the easy, we become like Him through suffering.

These thoughts I share with you today come out of a deep conviction to keep walking the tough road, the hard path, the way of sacrifice and pain. Too often, I have quit too soon. Too many times, I have served and obeyed Him from the plateau of comfort and convenience.

God spurs me, and us, further into radical obedience — to fully love Him and others along the gruelling path.

**********

Prayer

“Father, forgive us for the times we have chosen the smooth road and self-serving ways. Forgive us for narrow-minded thinking and self-seeking intentions. We turn our faces toward You — the One who travelled the most difficult path to the cross because of Your love for us. When we were utterly wicked and steeped in sin, You rescued us, saved us, and claimed us as Your sons and daughters. Give us boldness, courageous fortitude, and faithful, pure hearts willing to take the high way, the most difficult way — representing You well to those around us. In our weakness, give us strength. In our poverty, make us rich in love. Shape us into sons and daughters willing to follow You wherever You lead us. Strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees to go higher and further with You than we ever dreamed. Help us to become faithful and true followers of The Way, leading many others into life eternal.

**********