Fighting War with Praise

Spiritual warfare is real. We can be attacked by powerful temptations, overwhelming fears, or major anxieties.

The ‘enemies’ described in the Old Testament often waged physical attacks, whereas in the New Testament they are usually described as spiritual attacks. But the outcome is the same—God promises to rescue you from all your enemies.

And, God has given us the power to fight the enemy.

First, we can sing His praise.

When we praise God, we turn our back on Satan and his attempts to harm us spiritually.

Singing praise brings us into God’s presence. In 2 Chronicles 5 Solomon had completed the temple for the Lord. He brought in the furnishings, and finally the Ark of the Covenant. When it was in place scripture says,

“The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:

‘He is good;
his love endures forever.’

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with the cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” (2 Chronicles 5:13-14)

God’s presence overwhelmed them in that moment. Psalm 22:3 says God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel.” The footnote says He is dwelling in the praises. When we praise, He is there with us.

Singing praise routes the enemy. In 2 Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, must face the armies from Moab and Ammon. He prayed to God for help. God answered and told Jehoshaphat that He would deliver them. Jehoshaphat chose to lead the battle with praise:

“After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’

As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” (2 Chronicles 20:21-22)

Second, we can thank God continually.

Giving thanks to the Lord is closely related to praise. When we thank Him, we are at the same time acknowledging His goodness and other attributes. Psalm 136:23-26 says,

“He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever.”

We can humbly thank Him for remembering us in all our circumstances, for freeing us, and for His eternal love.

Third, we can stay close to Jesus—abide in Him.

We struggle with our own propensity to sin, with the temptations of worldly living, and with the condemnation and deceitfulness of the devil.

James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” How do we resist the devil? The first part of the verse tells us—submit to God.

When we seek Him and continually give our wills over to Him, the devil can’t harm us. But it requires us to be intentional about turning to Him.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

Finally, we can remember His victory is complete.

Jesus’ death and resurrection won the victory over the enemy. We can take that victory personally! We battle daily with living in a fallen world, but through Jesus, we have already won.

I’ve recently been reading Daniel. He had some amazing visions from God that revealed the future. Daniel foresaw that the victory would be won by a messianic figure in the form of a ‘son of man’.

“and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

The following quote from Bible in One Year describes how Jesus is the “Son of Man” seen by Daniel.

“Jesus spoke of ‘the Son of Man …  coming on the clouds of heaven‘ (Mark 14:62), and ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory‘ (13:26; see also Matthew 24:30; 26:64).

This passage [in Daniel] clearly had a profound impact on Jesus and his own understanding of himself. He often described himself as the ‘Son of Man.’ The expression appears eighty-two times in the Gospels, all in the sayings of Jesus.

Jesus chose a title that did not have the same political overtones as some of the other Messianic titles. It spoke of a representative figure who would identify with human beings and ‘give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). It carried with it the idea of suffering (Daniel 7).

In his great love for you and me, Jesus, the Son of Man, suffered as a representative of the entire human race, so that you could be rescued from all the spiritual forces of evil in the world. One day, Jesus will return ‘with the clouds of heaven’ (v.13) as he promised, and victory will be complete (Matthew 24:30–31).”

All of these things seem simple: sing, thank, abide, and remember. When we do these simple things, we wage war against the devil. And God will fight for us. We can remember these using the acrostic STAR:

Sing

Thank

Abide

Remember

Think of the star that guided the first worshipers to Jesus at His birth. Think of Jesus, the “Bright Morning Star,” our reference point guiding us through this life. By remembering the STAR, we can live out the victory won on our behalf!

Lamenting the Hearts of Men

The daily news causes my heart to cringe. I mostly avoid the news until I become aware from other sources that something occurred that requires more of my attention. Unfortunately, most of the time the event is bad news.

News of natural disasters horrifies, and I feel sadness for people experiencing these tragedies. My prayers go out for them. But what horrifies even more are those tragedies caused by people—violence, both mental and physical, resulting from hate, rage, bigotry, pride, or other abhorrent outpourings of the hearts of men. (When I say men, of course I mean humankind.)

At a recent Cru staff conference, we were asked to lament what is heavy on our hearts. Lamenting is defined as  feeling or expressing sorrow or regret for something. Not only does a lament express sorrow, it also can voice feelings of regret.

My sorrow. People pursue their own way apart from God. People have forgotten God and show no regard for Him. Blinded by selfishness and self-reliance, men and women determine their way is the best way. If this is true, why do we consistently feel this world falling into a deeper spiral of despair and hopelessness? We see the evidence in the news and in our personal lives. But God has a purpose for each person. When we surrender to and live out that purpose, He is pleased to shower us with provision, peace, fulfillment, and hope. And that hope is in Christ.

To some, righteousness is a loathsome word. It is often viewed as self-righteousness and judgement. However, I’ve come to learn that righteousness simply means being right with God and right with people. How much more enjoyable would the news be if we all lived with this as our goal? Jesus, the righteousness of God, will fulfill all our desires and needs. Romans 9:33 says,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem [that is, Jesus] that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”

It hurts my heart and baffles my mind how people continue to live in ways that will bring them shame and disgrace. Why don’t people strive to live without disgrace?

My regret. I too have a heart that contains detestable things. My past actions have not always been stellar. Nor will my future actions. I am not immune to the words of sorrow I speak. Therefore, I lament not only the hearts of men, but also my own.

However, I gave and continue to offer my life in surrender to God’s plan. I trust in Jesus who willingly guides me into a life without shame. My goal is to pursue righteousness—living right with God and with people. All people.

What is your lament today?

Effective Without Words

Help me to love with open arms, like You do
A love that erases all the lines, and sees the truth
Oh that when they look in my eyes, they would see You
Even in just a smile; they would feel the Father’s love*

These lyrics became my prayer on a recent humanitarian outreach trip to the Middle East. My inability to quickly connect with people felt like a weakness, a flaw that rendered me ineffective in ministry outreach.

But God encouraged me with the story of the Good Samaritan. He called me to join the outreach team to do good for people in a culture different than my own. The Samaritan didn’t preach, teach, and possibly didn’t talk much to the injured man he helped. His actions, not words, made all the difference. His example is one Jesus would have us follow. Be kind to your neighbor. This is the reason I traveled to a place I never thought I would go.

God also revealed to me that the commandments given to Israel during their desert wanderings were intended to set them apart. Their lifestyle was to be a testimony to the nations around them.

From a Bible in a Year devotional:

God intended them to be a highly visible example both as to the nature of the God they worshipped, and as to the quality of social justice embodied in their community. In other words, following the example of the Good Samaritan has an evangelistic consequence.

When we live the life God asks of us, people take notice. Our lifestyle is a testimony. How we behave, how we love, how we show kindness matter immensely.

As I read God’s word at the conclusion of my trip, I sensed His love for me. He revealed that nothing I do in the name of Jesus is without effect. Although I recognize I need to do a better job of using my words to share Jesus, God affirmed through His word that my time in the Middle East was in fact effective.

*Chorus of “For the One” by Brian Johnson and Jenn Johnson

What Was Jesus Thinking?

While reflecting on the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death, I wondered what was going through His mind.

When accusations flew at Him,
He remained silent.

When mocked and beaten by soldiers,
He remained silent.

When forced to carry His cross, and then enduring the nails, He remained silent.

During all this, what was He thinking? Was He praying? I think so considering the life of prayer He led. I believe in His suffering, His prayers and thoughts were of me—and you. He loved people so much that He willingly went through the humility and agonizing pain of the cross for them, for us.

He took His suffering and undue punishment quietly because He could see the big picture.

When we suffer through hard things, we should remember His love, and we too should think of the big picture. There’s more to come, and what we endure now through the power of the Holy Spirit will be redeemed and rewarded.

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:17

How Do You Define Success?

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Take a minute and think about what success looks like for you? Is it:

  • Having a high paying job?
  • Living in a beautiful home?
  • Acquiring access to influential people?
  • Enjoying a peaceful family life?
  • Fulfilling dreams of traveling the world?
  • Achieving the financial ability to retire?

These are all good things. What if you achieve them? Would you consider yourself successful? I think it all depends on what you do with them and where you give credit for the success. Did your success come from your own hard work and skill, or does your attitude reflect God as the ultimate source of your success?

Defining Success
I recently read a book by R. Scott Rodin called The Steward Leader. I will be honest; it wasn’t an easy read. But the overall message was an interesting perspective about leadership success.

According to Rodin, we become leaders when we respond to God with joyful obedience. God is concerned more with our transformation than with what we can do. Achieving success in leadership and in life requires submission to Him. We must

  • Love God before we can serve.
  • Follow Christ before we can lead.
  • Submit to His will before we can succeed.

Success means a willingness to submit in joyful obedience to God’s will. If I fight for my own way, I set myself up for failure. By giving God control and living out His way, I can’t lose. He will give me success.

A Successful Point of View
Rodin says the following in the context of organizational effectiveness, but I believe it applies to the success of individuals, as well.

When we develop definitions for “success” and “organizational effectiveness,” we must be very careful to ground them in thoroughly kingdom terms and according to kingdom values.

We must do all things out of an understanding of God’s point of view. Otherwise, we will lose sight of our purpose or even cause others to get off track. Jesus recognized Peter’s worldly view in Matthew 16:21-23 when he said, “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

As Christ-followers, a worldview influenced by in-depth relationship with God is key to success in His kingdom. Rodin writes

In a world that sees everything apart from Christ’s control, people still can see Jesus in the lives of the workers of his kingdom.

Reflecting Jesus and making an eternal impact on the lives of others—that’s what I call success!

Light or Dark. It’s Your Choice.

img_2132Light and dark—these are common metaphors for good and evil, and very real in the spiritual world. We have a choice to turn toward light or into the shadows of darkness in any given circumstance. Being aware of this choice and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide every moment is crucial. He desires to walk with us into the light. My daily devotional put it this way, “[He] seeks to guide us into the light with every thought, emotion, action, and decision.”

In even a little thing like a thought, the dark lures us. We must choose to take every thought captive before it manifests into emotion or action, and allow the Holy Spirit’s power to work within us. When we do, we resist the dark. Make wise choices as filtered through James 3:17.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

Are your choices:

  • pure?
  • peace-loving?
  • considerate?
  • submissive?
  • full of mercy and good fruit?
  • impartial?
  • sincere?

If so, then they are wise choices.

In the final days before the 2016 presidential election, questions abound. What will our nation look like in the next year? It already feels chaotic and without a moral compass. Can it get worse? My prayer is for hearts to open to God’s love and truth. I pray Ephesians 5:14:

…’Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’

We desperately need the light of Christ to turn back the darkness.

I also pray Matthew 4:16, that before we fall into even greater darkness, the people of our nation will see a great light. On we who dwell in the shadow of death, the greatest light will dawn.

In God We Trust.

Pursuing Career or Fulfilling a Calling

I’m behind the times. I only recently read a book called The Hole in Our Gospel by Rich Stearns, CEO of World Vision. He writes about how God pursued him, revealing His plan for Rich’s career. The book challenges Christians to put their faith in action. Reading it now was good timing considering I took a leap of faith only seven months ago to move from career to calling.

IMG_2333I can’t say I had high aspirations regarding my career. I fell into technical writing soon after landing my first job out of college. When I was offered an opportunity to leave technical phone support to work in the documentation department, I gladly took it! Little did I know that God was preparing me for my calling.

During many years of technical writing, I learned to convey information succinctly. I enjoyed writing just the facts. I’m most certainly not a novelist or a fictional story writer. I prefer simpler words, keeping things uncomplicated. My last writing job gave me some experience in marketing communications. Thankfully I was writing about a technical product that had no need for flowery nonsense. But, it was a step toward more creativity.

In the middle of my career, I became a mom. I was ecstatic that my husband’s salary allowed me to stay at home. I wasn’t concerned about the break in my career. As I said, I didn’t have ambitions to climb the ladder.

As any mom can attest, having children (I had two and stayed home for 8 ½ years) teaches one about selflessness. My heart softened because of these beautiful little ones; I learned to be more patient – a lot more patient. This was another way God was working, and continues to work in my life.

God also used short-term missions to prepare me for my calling. Earlier in life, I never imagined having the desire to embark on a mission trip to Africa. But I did – three times. And then, one trip to Haiti. These missions began to break my heart for what breaks the heart of God.

As I reflect on events that shaped me into who I am today, I see how my character required refinement so God could use me for His planned purpose. My past poor choices and my reactions to heartache were a training ground and a process that apparently had to take place. I now have a clearer view of the big picture. I know I can trust God to guide me into what’s next. I’m learning to surrender the future, trusting His vision. As a result, I stepped into His calling for me, working in ministry writing stories about the poor, suffering, and helpless. I bring awareness to their plight, and celebrate the hope they receive when we heed the command of Christ to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Thank you, God, for showing me the sweet spot where career fades and calling shines brightly.