The Touch That Transforms

Seven times in the book of Matthew, Jesus encountered people with sickness or infirmities and healed them with a touch. Although He had the power to simply speak a word or command illness to leave, He often chose a more hands-on approach. In the case of the leper in today’s passage, Jesus’ personal touch must have been something the man rarely experienced, since he was considered untouchable. In fact, that may be why Jesus chose this avenue of healing.

The need for a touch from a fellow human being has not disappeared in the 2,000 years since Jesus walked the earth. Yet in a world dominated by social media and technology, we are now more isolated than ever before. Physical contact is being replaced with “likes” on Facebook. And when we do think of touch, it’s often associated with scandal, impropriety, or immorality. How did this wonderful word become so maligned?

As Christians, we have the opportunity to “touch” people in a variety of ways, including by our words—for example, the proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ can transform a person’s life and eternal destiny. However, ministry is also accomplished with our hands through service, compassion, and the encouragement of a hug or loving pat on the shoulder.

Our heart, mouth, and hands must be cooperating in order to fully minister in Jesus’ name. And whether alone or gathered with others, we have the privilege of touching lives through prayer. Jesus touched people both physically and spiritually, and as His followers, we must do likewise. Look for opportunities in which God might use you for His glory. 

The Foundation of Faith

At salvation, everything we’ve built our life upon comes crashing down and is removed like rubble from a vacant lot. Then a new foundation is laid in Christ, and we begin building upon it day by day with our deeds and motives. As with any building project, we have a choice about which materials to use. They may all look good on the surface, but the real test of their quality will be revealed when we stand before Christ to be “recompensed for [our] deeds in the body, according to what [we have] done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Therefore, we should carefully consider what we are using as building materials. The world offers us many philosophies from which to choose. We are told that we can mix a little worldly wisdom with a bit of Scripture and create a suitable Christian life. But Paul warns that if anyone thinks he is wise in this age, he is a fool. God will destroy everything we use that is derived from the world rather than from the truth of His Word. 

Building a solid house of faith on the foundation of Christ is a lifelong process. Through prayer and meditation on Scripture, we learn to know and love our heavenly Father and understand what pleases Him. As He transforms our life through His Spirit, our actions and attitudes become increasingly obedient and godly. 

With so much at stake, our goal should be to establish our life on the foundation of Christ, with righteous actions and attitudes empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such a faith house will stand firm in this life and be worthy of reward in the next. 

God’s Unfailing Love

Do you feel loved by God?  Let me ask the question a different way: Did you know that as a believer, it’s possible to mentally understand God loves you without actually sensing it? In fact, the reverse can be true as well—we may say we love God, all the while knowing that our feelings of affection for Him are limited.

There are a variety of reasons that a Christian might not sense love from God or affection for Him, some of which stem from childhood experiences. Perhaps love was absent in the home, or maybe it just wasn’t expressed verbally or demonstrated in practical ways. An individual’s personality could also be part of the equation—some people are naturally expressive while others are more reserved in their emotions.

Although this discrepancy between knowledge and experience can be distressing, there is hope. Meditating on all the ways God has demonstrated His love for you—and asking Him to help you perceive it—can begin to move that truth from your head to your heart. Remember that love is God’s very nature (1 John 4:8), not something conditioned on your performance. And if you’ve been adopted into His family through faith in His Son, God has chosen to lavish kindness on you in Christ. 

Believing and accepting that you are loved by the Father will in turn affect your feelings for Him. Commit to knowing Him more intimately and accurately through His Word, and your affection for Him will begin to grow. As you spend time with Him in Scripture and prayer, you’ll discover that the saying “to know him is to love him” is certainly true of God. 

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

An Example of God’s Love

Our society is confused about the meaning of love. Much of what is portrayed in movies and television could more accurately be described as lust or infatuation. It’s often based on self-satisfaction rather than the principles of God’s Word. This is in direct contrast to the way the Lord calls us to live—by allowing the Holy Spirit rather than our natural inclinations to control us.

The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, and in today’s passage, we see that these concepts were not mere words to him. Paul actually demonstrated this kind of love by the way he interacted with the believers in Thessalonica. His love was given …

Freely (1 Thess. 2:5). Paul offered the Thessalonians what they needed most—the gospel, which could save their souls. Furthermore, he didn’t preach for profit or try to manipulate the people with flattery.

Humbly (1 Thess. 2:6). His goal was their salvation and God’s glory, not personal gain.

Unselfishly (1 Thess. 2:7). Paul’s service to these believers was as selfless as a nursing mother’s tender care for her baby.

Affectionately (1 Thess. 2:8). His love was also very personal and warm. He didn’t just give them the gospel; he gave them himself.

Sacrificially (1 Thess. 2:9). Paul willingly suffered hardship and worked long hours so he wouldn’t be a financial burden to them.

We are to show love to others in a way that stands in stark contrast to the type of love promoted by our culture. It is to be offered willingly, without thought of convenience, cost, or what might be gained.

Not of This World

“What is going on in the world?”  You’ve probably heard people say this. And as Christians, we sometimes wonder how we are to live in a culture that seems to be on a downhill trajectory ethically. Since Jesus said of His disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:16), we can certainly conclude that our lives should look different from unbelievers’ lives.

The darker things become, the more pronounced should be the contrast between our way of life and the world’s. And one of the most obvious differences should be in the area of love. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul warned that in the last days (a period just before Jesus’ return) mankind would be lovers of self, money, and pleasure rather than of God and others. Such misplaced affection results in arrogance, ungratefulness, unholiness, and all the other tragic descriptions found in this passage. When love becomes distorted, these vices inevitably follow. And today we see the evidence of this all around us, don’t we?

Even the technology that makes life easier is drawing us apart. Face-to-face conversations and phone calls are increasingly being replaced with emails and texts. Everywhere we turn, eyes are looking down at phones rather than seeing the people right in front of them.

The good news is that we can make a difference by intentionally living and loving differently from the world around us. As the Lord told us in Matthew 22:37-40, the way to fight the lovelessness all around us is by loving God and our neighbors.

The Person of the Holy Spirit

If asked who the Holy Spirit is, would you say He is a ghost, a power, or a person? The Bible provides many details about Him that point to His personhood, yet many of us do not think of the Spirit as someone we can know. Perhaps we have received incomplete teaching about Him or have misunderstood translations that call Him the Holy Ghost. Maybe when we read about His power, we assumed He was merely a force. It could even be that we have focused on the Father or Son to the exclusion of the Spirit. But the personhood of God’s Spirit is clearly revealed by the Bible’s descriptions of Him:

He acts as a person—living, teaching, testifying, convicting, guiding, and speaking.

He has a personality, as shown by His will, thoughts, and knowledge.

He is called by many names, including Spirit of God, Spirit of Christ, and Spirit of Holiness—all of which represent His divine nature.

He can be treated like a person: He can be lied to, resisted, obeyed, and called on.

Believing anything less than what Scripture teaches about the Holy Spirit robs Him of His glory and diminishes our understanding of the Trinity. Furthermore, a faulty perception of the Spirit hampers our Christian life because we won’t recognize the magnitude of His transforming power, which allows us to triumph over sin and obey God.

But there is a solution. Ask the Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures so you can know Him in all His fullness. He is the one who helps you find in Christ a life that is joyful, peace-filled, wise, discerning, and submissive.

Live According to the Spirit

Do you ever find yourself thinking other Christians have learned a secret that you don’t know about living the Christian life? Perhaps it seems as if they’ve solved the mystery of rejoicing in suffering, forgiving the unforgivable, conquering sin, or showing love in ways you haven’t yet discovered.

What you are seeing in these believers is not a secret reserved only for those who have gained a certain level of enlightenment, but a life lived according to the Spirit. He’s the one who is producing this amazing fruit in those who are being led by Him rather than by their own fleshly desires and efforts.

Spirit-filled living is not reserved for a select few Christians. On the contrary, it’s available to every believer who yields his or her life to the leadership of God’s Spirit. As a member of the Trinity, He has all the power, wisdom, and love of almighty God. We can rely on Him to teach us truth (John 16:13), help us in our weakness (Rom. 8:26), intercede for us according to God’s will (Rom. 8:27), and give us victory over sin (Gal. 5:16).

The Holy Spirit is a person whom we can know intimately and who continually works to transform us into Christ’s image (2 Corinthians 3:18). Like God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, the Spirit of God loves, comforts, guides, and protects us. He is a friend like no other and will reveal Himself to us through the Scriptures.

Considering all this, we should gladly acknowledge our obligation to live according to the Spirit and delight in submitting to His leadership. 

The Struggle With Envy

Jealousy is a treacherous emotion. It’s poison to the believer because it opens the heart to a host of other sinful emotions and attitudes. Consequently, envy must be dealt with quickly—before it has the opportunity to take root.

 King Saul’s jealousy so warped his thinking that he eventually became an embittered fool and destroyed his relationship with David. The problem began when the people praised David more highly than the king, saying, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7). The king became suspicious and began watching for signs that David might be trying to undermine his royal position. Though Saul never found any actual evidence, his clouded thinking mistook any success in the young soldier’s life as reason for resentment.

Bitterness and fear festered until he was willing to take David’s life just to put his mind at ease. We could never go as far as Saul did, right? Don’t be so sure. Jealousy is a powerful emotion, and one cannot say what he or she might do if given free rein. That’s why it’s important to deal with jealousy as soon as we’re aware of it. First, we each need to examine our heart and determine if there’s anyone who elicits feelings of suspicion, bitterness, hostility, or resentment. Then, we must prayerfully submit those feelings to the heavenly Father.

Jealousy and resentment are poisonous emotions that simply do not fit who we are as children of God. Even a little venom can be dangerous, and harboring such attitudes for any period of time is too long.

Conquering Jealousy

Envy can damage the life of a Christian. A feeling of displeasure about someone else’s good fortune can also harm a believer’s witness, since it often causes people to act out of hostility and bitterness. And the jealous person suffers far more than his or her target.

Before we can rid ourselves of envious feelings, we must be willing to confess we have them in our heart. Like greed, jealousy is an emotion we don’t like to admit we feel, but the Lord already knows. We also must realize that harboring envy is the same as objecting to God’s blessing upon someone else’s life. Regardless of how we try to rationalize such feelings, we are in conflict with the Lord—a person cannot be simultaneously jealous and right with Him.

The surest way to strip away resentment is through prayer. After we’ve confessed to the Lord that we have jealous feelings, we must begin to pray for the other person. Our petition should contain two elements: first, an offering of thanksgiving for the blessings in his or her life, and second, a request that God will place love for the individual in our heart. Initially, praying in this way will no doubt be difficult, but as love grows—and it will—you’ll find the words come more easily and joyfully.

Envy is inappropriate for followers of Christ since it distracts us from the Lord. We have the promise that if we delight in our heavenly Father, He will give us the desires of our heart. So we need to refocus our attention upon Him and what He is doing in our own life.

Satisfaction for the Thirsty Soul

Think about a time you experienced unbearable thirst. You probably would have traded anything for a drink. When you finally got your wish, there was nothing that could have tasted better than that cold, refreshing glass of water.

Compare this physical need to spiritual thirst. The Lord knows our deep need for fulfillment, and only He can truly satisfy.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that we live in a society where most people feel dissatisfied? In Christ, we have everything necessary to be complete, content, and fulfilled. Yet our world deceptively tells us to seek after wealth, glory, and other empty dreams. These seem to work only for a short time, if at all. Yet we often do not recognize our actual needs. The enemy continues to deceive by telling us that his poor substitutes will satisfy the craving inside us.

Our triune God, on the other hand, is all we need. Let’s take a look at several passages from Scripture. Jesus called Himself “the bread of life” and “living water”—the sustenance our souls require to survive and thrive (John 6:34-35; John 7:37-38). God’s Word is alive, able to teach, convict, and redirect us toward a godly path (Heb. 4:12). Biblical truth, which is compared to milk, provides the nourishment our souls need (1 Peter 2:2).

All of us have an emptiness within—a longing for something more. What are you attempting to use to satisfy it? Our hearts are like a jigsaw puzzle. No matter how hard you try to force a wrong piece, it will never fit correctly. Turn to Jesus, and trust that He knows how to fulfill you. 

When We Cry Out to God

When you face a crisis, what is your first line of defense? The natural response is to attempt to fix the problem on your own. God, however, gives us a different way to handle difficulty.

David was no stranger to pressure or sudden appearances of evil. When he wrote Psalm 57, he was facing many hardships—including pursuit by King Saul, who wanted to kill him (1 Samuel 24:1-22). The shepherd’s response was to cry out to God and take refuge in Him until the calamity had passed.

Let’s learn from David’s example by exploring his words. Today’s passage has much to teach about the One to whom he cries.

First, David refers to God as El Elyon, or the Most High God. With all power and wisdom, He is the only one who can help us in our need.

Second, God is said to be our refuge. If He is a place of shelter for our soul, then we need not fear. He hovers over us and protects us when crises arise and leave us feeling helpless.

Third, the psalm expresses complete confidence that the Almighty can and will accomplish anything it takes for His purpose to be fulfilled. He’ll do whatever is necessary to intervene on our behalf, to hold accountable those who oppose us, and to surround us with His love and truth.

During His time on earth, Jesus brought great passion to His life and ministry . Therefore, we can approach Him when emotions run high. If your heart is troubled, cry out to the Lord. Know that you come before the throne of Him who is a powerful protector, capable and willing to do all you need.

The Value of Our Conscience

The conscience is God’s early warning system for alerting us to potential danger. It monitors our emotions, thoughts, and conduct.

Think of the conscience as a radar system that notifies us of possible trouble, usually without specifically identifying the problem. The principles and standards that we hold determine the sensitivity of our conscience. For example, if we believe lying is wrong, an alarm will sound when we start to shade the truth. But if we think lies are justifiable, it will be silent.

When programmed with the truth of God’s Word, the conscience has great value for a Christian. It detects deviations from the Lord’s standards and sends out a warning. The Holy Spirit uses that signal to get our attention. Then He will reveal what the problem is, give us understanding about it, and show us the right choices to make. He may guide us to friends, relevant Scripture verses, or other resources that can shed light on our situation and point out the implications of a wrong choice.

Failure to heed our inner alarm can bring serious consequences. Adam and Eve knew what God expected (Gen. 2:15-17). When tempted, however, they ignored their conscience and sinned against Him.

When your conscience sounds the alarm, do you stop and take notice or continue on the same course? Repeatedly ignoring your internal warning system can decrease its effectiveness at keeping you out of trouble. Ask God to help you program your inner alarm with His truth and sharpen your ability to hear it.

Can We Trust Our Conscience?

The conscience looks at thoughts and actions to determine if they are in line with a person’s principles. It is important to keep our internal monitoring system well maintained so it will be trustworthy. For our moral alarm to sound at the right time and for the right reason, we must:

Accept Scripture as our standard for behavior. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” If we choose to adopt our culture’s values, which are often at odds with the Lord’s, our conscience will be unreliable. Instead, we want our radar to alert us to the possibility of going off course.

Align our thinking with the Lord’s. Romans 12:2 says to renew our minds. It is necessary and ongoing work to combat what this unbelieving world accepts as true and right.

Apply God’s Word to daily living. When our habits reflect godly values, our conscience will become more sensitive to what is right and wrong.

In addition, it is essential that we rely on the Holy Spirit for understanding. Our conscience by itself is of some usefulness, but it becomes indispensable when accompanied by the Spirit’s guidance (John 16:13).

The Scriptures teach us how to live—with regard to our thought life, conduct, and emotions. As we fill our mind with the Lord’s standards and wisdom, our conscience will become increasingly trustworthy because it is based on what’s important to our heavenly Father.

Our Struggle With the Flesh

One of the most misunderstood concepts in the Christian life is that of “the flesh.” So, what is it? In today’s passage, flesh refers not simply to the physical body but also to the inner being, which is still subject to sin even though believers have a new nature given to them by God’s Spirit. Therefore, flesh refers to our entrenched habits of sinful thoughts, desires, and attitudes—which often lead to ungodly behaviors. 

Paul presents, in a painfully honest way, the results of living according to the flesh: deeds including immorality, impurity, idolatry, anger, strife, dissensions, and other destructive attitudes and actions. In contrast, a life led by the Holy Spirit produces the rich spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).

Why do so many people who desire a godly, self-controlled life repeatedly fall to fleshly sin? Paul says the determining factor is whether or not they are being led by the Spirit. If Christians try to overcome sin on their own without submitting to the Spirit’s reproof and guidance, they will fail.

The flesh cannot be disciplined, rehabilitated, or improved. Instead, it must be put to death (Rom. 6:11). Then, through the power of the Spirit, we do not have to yield to sinful impulses but can instead present ourselves to God for obedience to His desires (Rom. 6:12-14).

Walking by the Spirit means submitting to the Lord when you feel tempted to follow your flesh. With His help, you can see your desires give way to obedience that pleases your heavenly Father.

Assurance of Our Salvation

Do you ever wonder if you are truly saved? John wrote his first letter to give believers assurance of salvation by describing characteristics of those who have been born again (1 John 5:13). God wants us to know we are safe and secure in Him through the salvation provided at the cross to all who come to Christ in faith. A three-fold test can help you assess whether you’ve experienced spiritual rebirth.

What does the Word of God say? The best way to know about salvation is through the Bible’s teaching. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

What is the witness of the Spirit? When we by faith receive Jesus Christ as Lord, the Father sets His Holy Spirit within us. Romans 8:16 tells us, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” His internal witness assures us that we are saved—regardless of how our feelings ebb and flow.

What is the desire of my heart? When the Holy Spirit takes up residence within the human heart, powerful changes occur. We are given new desires to know God and His Word and to live in obedience to Him. We now have the capacity to hate the sin we once loved and to quickly repent when we feel the Spirit’s conviction. 

If you’ve trusted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and can see the changes God’s Spirit has made in your life, then rejoice today as a saved and secure child of God.

Why Does God Allow Suffering?

At some point, you’ve probably been asked why a loving God would allow suffering in the world. Though He is able to stop it, He often doesn’t. And while we can acknowledge seeing Him at work during certain difficult situations, at other times it looks as if nothing is happening despite our many prayers.

We live in a sinful world, so the potential for anguish is great. Sometimes we’re troubled when people are driven by the evil within. Other times the cause is our own weakness or God’s discipline in our life. Still another reason might be persecution or simply the consequence of ignoring good principles. But whatever the origin of our distress, we can be sure that if God allows it, He has a purpose. He may want ...

To get our attention. The psalmist realized affliction brought him back within God’s will (Psalm 119:67; Psalm 119:71). In times of distress, we often turn to Him for help.

To develop personal righteousness in us. God wants us to mature, so He will reveal areas of our life that we need to address.

To prune us. John 15:1-2 paints an excellent word picture of how God eliminates attitudes and actions that are not godly or fruit-bearing.

To teach us obedience. Jesus, who always did the Father’s will, is our perfect example (John 4:34; Heb. 5:7-9). As we are conformed to His image, we will increasingly learn to obey God (Rom. 8:29).

Over the next two days, we’ll look at other reasons God may allow painful seasons in our life. Until then, ask Him to show you how He may be using suffering for your good.

Growth Through Suffering

Yesterday we saw that when we focus on God, we are in a better position to grow in maturity and godliness. When our suffering persists, the Lord may also have other purposes in mind:

To increase our trust. You might think the happiest people are the wealthy or famous. But the truly contented are those who are at peace with God because their faith has been tested—and they know He has only their good in mind.

To strengthen our dependence upon Him. The apostle Paul testified about how his persistent thorn taught him reliance upon the Lord’s grace and strength (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Instead of believing that we can handle things on our own, we likewise learn to depend more fully on God when our circumstances leave us powerless.

To manifest Christ’s life in us. God wants us to be a living example of the conduct and character of Jesus Christ. For this reason, He uses suffering to sift, sand, and prune whatever doesn’t belong in our life. But in those hard seasons of change, He also sustains us, providing all that we need in order to persevere.

To purify our hearts. During the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God (Matt. 5:8). The purification of our heart is an ongoing process. Sometimes it takes difficult situations to identify the things that keep us from delighting in our relationship with God.

Do you trust that God loves you and wants the best for you? Decide to be more open to the work He wants to do in your life through the hard times.

Perseverance in Suffering

As we have seen, God doesn’t waste our suffering. For one thing, He uses it to draw us to Himself. In addition, it’s a tool for eliminating hindrances to our holiness, helping us grow in faith, and making us increasingly Christlike.

Let’s look at a few other ways our trials become triumphs when we trust the Lord. Through hardships, we can ...

Share in the holiness of Christ. Hebrews 12:10 explains that when God disciplines us, He does so to bring us to the point where Jesus’ holiness is expressed—instead of suppressed—in our life.

Learn to give thanks in all situations. We’ve all faced circumstances when it was hard to name something for which we felt grateful. But 1 Thessalonians 5:18 tells us to give thanks “in everything,” with no mention of feelings. Through experience, we learn to be thankful even for suffering because we know that the end result will be good.

Develop steadfastness. Romans 5:1-5 says tribulation leads to perseverance, and perseverance in turn develops character, which gives us hope. When we choose not to give up during difficult circumstances, we allow God to build up good qualities in our life that will keep us going in the long term.

Participate in the sufferings of Christ. Nothing was more valuable to Paul than knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8-11). But how can you truly know someone unless you can somehow relate to his life and experiences?

God at times allows us to suffer so we can humbly recognize how much we need Him. When we trust His will, He uses those trials in amazing ways.

God’s Loving Outreach

The story of the Lord’s encounter with a Samaritan woman is a wonderful example of His loving response to those who hurt. Jesus is always reaching out in love, even when we do not recognize His extended hand.

Although this meeting may have appeared accidental, it was really a providential appointment with the Messiah. As the woman reached the well, Jesus initiated conversation by asking for a drink of water. His direct approach surprised her and opened the door for a dialogue that would change her life forever.

Throughout the exchange, Jesus’ goal was to help the woman recognize her greatest need so He could supply the only gift that would meet it: salvation and the forgiveness of her sins. She had spent her life trying to find love and acceptance in all the wrong places. The Lord offered her the living water of the Holy Spirit—the one thing that would quench her spiritual and emotional thirst.

Like the Samaritan woman, we can at times be so intent on getting our immediate needs met that we fail to see God’s hand reaching out to us in love, offering what will truly satisfy. Only Christ can eternally fill our empty souls and provide for our essential emotional needs now.

This world is filled with “wells” that promise to provide love, acceptance, and self-worth but never fully satisfy. When your soul is empty and the well runs dry, look for Jesus. He has a divine appointment scheduled with you, and He will quench your thirst with His Spirit—if you let Him.

Left Here to Minister

Why do you think God has left you here on earth instead of immediately taking you to heaven the moment you were saved? Think of all the hardships and heartaches you’d have escaped. Imagine the joys you’d be experiencing with Christ in heaven. But then again, who would be here to tell others the gospel of salvation if all the believers were taken out of this world?

If you are living and breathing, then the heavenly Father has a purpose for you, a ministry to fulfill. Don’t think of ministry as something done only in a church building by a select group of people. Service to God is the responsibility of every believer. It’s a matter of doing the “good works, which God prepared beforehand” for each of us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10).

Although the way we serve may change over time, we are never called to retire and do nothing. Even a bed-bound saint can pray for others or offer encouraging words to visitors and caregivers. A believer’s goal should not simply be to attend church, listen to a sermon, and receive enough spiritual food to get through the coming week. The goal is to serve God with our whole being, reflecting the love of Jesus through who we are. Our worship of God and instruction from His Word is what edifies and equips us to serve one another and go into the world to share the gospel.

Your entire life is meant to be an act of service to God. If instead you are living for your own happiness and goals, you will eventually be disappointed. But when you walk in the good works God has prepared for you, you’ll have the satisfaction of doing exactly what you were created to do.

The Riches of God’s Grace

Life sometimes seems like one long series of problems, doesn’t it? Even if we’re going through a relatively pleasant “season,” there’s always an undercurrent of yearning for something better. Perhaps this is what Solomon meant when he wrote of God, “He has planted eternity in the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11 NLT).

What we are longing for is revealed in today’s passage, and each benefit to believers is found “in Him,” meaning Christ.

God’s Lavish Grace (vv. 7-8). As believers, we have confidence that through Christ, we’ve been forgiven of our sins and redeemed. No matter what’s going on around us, we never have to doubt our eternal security.

A Glorious Future (vv. 9-10). Although we currently live in a fallen world, we know God will “in the fullness of the times” bring all things to completion in Christ. In that day, Jesus’ familiar words to the Father will be fulfilled: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).

An Inheritance (Eph. 1:11-14). One of the most amazing aspects of our salvation is that we are heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17)—and our inheritance has already been obtained for us. We can be confident of this because God always brings His will to pass, and He’s given us the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing that we will receive this heavenly inheritance.

When our journey becomes difficult, or we’re simply worn out with all the struggles or routines of daily life, we need to remember that we are not home yet. Life isn’t yet as it should be, but God has provided His grace and His promises to give us hope and contentment.

Can God Use You?

Do you want to be used by the Lord? I hope so because that’s His will for every believer. As we saw last week, Ephesians 2:10 says God created us in Christ to do good works that He planned for us beforehand. If we are going to become useful to Him, there are three questions we must consider.

Who is God? In Exodus 3, the Lord used a burning bush to get Moses’ attention (v. 2), and then He introduced Himself as the God of Moses’ forefathers (v. 6). The future liberator of the Hebrew slaves needed to know the identity of the One calling him into service. In the same way, we, too, must be sure that we’re serving the only true God. Otherwise, all our efforts and sacrifices will be in vain.

Who am I? Once Moses knew who God was, he was overwhelmed with his own inadequacy and asked, “Who am I?” (v. 11). The Lord uses humble people who reverence Him. Although Moses knew he was insufficient for the task, the Lord assured him by saying, “Certainly I will be with you” (v. 12).

Why am I here? God told Moses his obedience to the assignment would culminate in worship (v. 12). Romans 12:1 says we worship God when we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. In other words, we surrender totally to Him so that He can use us for His glory. We exist to glorify Him by the way we live, speak, and love.

Serving the Lord isn’t something that we design and plan. It has nothing to do with our will but instead requires that we know and submit to the Father, humbly relying on His strength to do His will for His glory.

Praying in a Crisis

When life is moving along smoothly, it’s easy to say, “God answers prayer.” But a crisis can bring doubt, especially if the Lord is not responding as quickly as we might like. That’s when we may be tempted to bargain with God as if He could be manipulated into acting on our behalf. However, the goal of prayer is not to get God to do what we want but to bring our concerns to Him, trusting that He will answer in His own way and time.

Waiting on the Lord is fairly easy when we’re not facing anything urgent. But difficulties and suffering tend to make us impatient. We may even begin to find fault with God, thinking that if He truly loved us, He would intervene and bring relief.

As we seek the Lord for help, David’s prayers in the Psalms provide wonderful patterns for us to follow. He faced many dire situations and continued to turn to God. Today’s passage from Psalm 86 starts with an urgent cry for help, followed by a reminder to the heavenly Father that David belongs to Him. Then he recounts God’s character—gracious, good, ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call on Him (vv. 3-5). These characteristics are the basis for trust.

Knowing who God is enables us to trust Him through the crises of life. Because He is faithful, we know that He will keep His promises. His holiness causes us to examine our life and repent of any sins that are hindering our prayers. And His mercy, grace, and love give us the comfort we need to endure hardship.

Praying Effectively

Toward the end of James’s epistle is a statement that should increase our confidence in God: “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (5:16). What a comfort to know that the Lord hears and responds to the petitions of the righteous.

The Greek word for “accomplish” is the one from which we derive our English word energy. The prayers of God’s people don’t merely drift into space but are avenues through which God does His amazing work on earth. However, He cannot be manipulated into unleashing His power—there are no prayer formulas or perfect words that cause Him to act.

What does James mean by “effective prayer”? First John 5:14 gives us a hint: “If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Therefore we can define effective prayer as that which is in accordance with God’s will.

What is required for us to pray effectively? According to James, effective prayer requires a righteous life. If we are harboring sin, pride, and self-reliance, it’s doubtful that our prayers will align with God’s will. We can’t hang onto our unrighteousness and expect to offer effective prayers, because sin hinders our relationship with God. Before coming to the Lord with our petitions, we must first confess our sins and turn from them.

Prayer is an amazing privilege by which God involves us as He accomplishes His will in our lives and in the world. During hardships and trouble, we come to Him in weakness and helplessness, asking for His aid, strength, and guidance. Then He answers according to His good and perfect will.

The Nature of Discouragement

Discouragement is a powerful, destructive force. Before we can understand how to rid our life of this common temptation, we must recognize its harmful nature.

Understand that discouragement...

Is something we choose. While it’s a natural response to difficult circumstances, we have the power to choose a different response. No one else is responsible for our discouragement.

Is universal. At times, everybody will face periods of disappointment and discouragement because we live in a flawed world filled with flawed people.

Can recur. Sometimes we think we’ve settled an issue, which later resurfaces when we least expect it. Or we may have old emotional wounds triggered by something a person says or does.

Can be temporary or lifelong. Refusing to face discouragement head-on can open the door for it to influence our decisions, actions, and relationships as long as we live.

Is conquerable. With the Father’s help, we can get through seasons of discouragement. He wants His children to have a rich and fulfilled life. If we trust in His promises and His character, our feelings of discouragement will slowly be replaced by hope.

Are you stuck in the throes of discouragement? If so, the Lord wants to lift your spirits. Let Him help you out of that lowly state: Start by believing that the Father wants to encourage you and get your life back on track with Him.

Dealing With Discouragement

How can we conquer discouragement? Let me suggest nine specific tips:

1. Look within. Examine yourself for the underlying cause.

2. Admit that you are discouraged. This is something that’s easy to avoid, ignore, or lie about, but denial doesn’t help you grow.

3. Identify precisely what you are discouraged about. Name it—then face it.

4. Recall the nature of discouragement. Disappointments will come and go, but discouragement is a response, and we can respond in other ways.

5. Begin meditating frequently on Scripture. God’s truth can help you accurately evaluate what you feel.

6. Take your area of discouragement to God in prayer. Ask Him to reveal what He wants to teach you in this area of your life.

7. Focus on the Lord, not your situation. Ask Him to help you see this disappointment and its lessons from His perspective.

8. View the cause as coming from the Lord. If we understand that He allows disappointments, we can find meaning in trouble.

9. Confess three things: The Father is with me in the pain; He’s in control of my life and has allowed this for a reason; He is a good God, who will not let this disappointment be in vain. Try speaking these truths out loud.

Discouragement may sound harmless enough, but don’t underestimate its power. By keeping watch, you can avoid its deadly trap. So write down these nine steps on an index card, and then review the list whenever disappointments start to consume your thinking.

External Causes of Discouragement

Whether in the workplace or elsewhere, discouragement can hit from many angles, depleting energy and productivity. To lessen its paralyzing effect, wise believers learn to detect its sources and symptoms. Let’s examine some external causes.

Unresolved disappointments. This could be letdowns caused by our own failed expectations or someone else’s.

Constant criticism. Frequent put-downs can make us think, What’s wrong with me? Yet unless God reveals truth in such comments, learn to let them go.

The feeling that no one’s listening. This can leave us with a sense of rejection.

A sense we aren’t appreciated after doing our best. We at times get so tied to our work that someone’s failure to acknowledge our efforts can feel like a personal rebuff.

Bad working conditions. Many believers enjoy what they do but pick up on coworkers’ cruelty, bitterness, or refusal to recognize their investment of time, energy, or creativity. This can make it extremely difficult to get motivated about going to work each day.

Lacking opportunities to shine. A job that doesn’t make the best use of one’s gifts and abilities can wear a person down. So can tight-fisted management that limits freedom to make innovations.

Oftentimes, it’s the people we see every day who seem to have the most power for causing discouragement in our lives. Read through the list again. Do any of the above scenarios sound familiar? If so, pray for the strength to face these external discouragers with renewed confidence and grace.

Abusing God’s Patience

Have you ever ignored a nagging sense of conviction in your heart? Maybe you rationalized wrongdoing with the thought that if God were really upset, He’d put a stop to things by disciplining you. Psalm 50:21 reminds us that the silence of heaven does not mean approval. Remaining in sin is an abuse of the Lord’s patience.

When God seems slow to react, we might hope He’s overlooking our transgressions—we’d like to continue in sin because the momentary pleasure is more appealing than obedience. But thankfully, the Father knows our weaknesses, our innate carnality, and the state of our spiritual growth, and He therefore measures His response. Motivated by love and a desire to gently restore His children to righteousness, God refrains from instantly doling out punishment. Instead, He waits for the Holy Spirit’s proddings to impact the believer’s heart. The weight of conviction is actually an invitation to turn from wrongdoing and return to godliness.

However, we’re a stubborn people. There are times when we persist in sin because the sentence against an evil deed isn’t executed quickly (Eccl. 8:11). In this dangerous situation, it’s possible to immerse ourselves in sin and harden our heart against the Lord. Then the Holy Spirit’s call to repentance falls on spiritual ears rapidly going deaf.

As we learn and understand more about God and His ways, we are increasingly responsible to live righteously. Our heavenly Father is not slow; He’s patient. But don’t abuse that patience with callous disregard for His statutes. Repent and be holy in the sight of the Lord.

Relying on the Spirit in Our Work

Israel’s enemies were clever in their efforts to block the temple’s reconstruction. First, they offered to help. What better way to cause things to go wrong than to get involved in the work? When their aid was rejected, they set out to discourage the workers and make them afraid. The opponents even hired counselors to thwart the Israelites and were successful in hindering the project.

God, however, wanted His people to reject self-reliance and instead carry out His work in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. He offered them encouragement and protected their building project despite the mountain of opposition facing them. Sometimes this means He will remove the problem; at other times He walks us through it. In either case, we are to rely steadily on God’s Holy Spirit. Doing so will allow us to:

Patiently love our spouse when there is turmoil in the home.

Wisely guide our children toward godliness in our self-centered culture.

Follow scriptural principles about giving, saving, and spending in a society that urges us to get what we want now.

Experience contentment and God’s peace in our current circumstances—single or married, employed or out of a job, healthy or sick.

Do God’s work His way.

Being led by the Spirit characterizes how we work. While that mindset is countercultural and not pleasing to the flesh (Gal. 5:16), it’s the only way to live as a child of God. Seek out believers who are trying to practice dependence on the Spirit, and encourage one another not to give up.

Our Trustworthy Guide

Many years ago, while I was on a photography trip, the heavenly Father taught me a valuable lesson about leading and following. My party had been hiking on a trail for three or four hours when I felt a slight sensation of dread. I had a sneaking suspicion that we were traveling the wrong way. When I asked our guide about it, he calmly reassured me that we were, in fact, heading in the right direction.

Well, that quieted me for a few minutes, but this persistent sense of being off track simply would not go away. So I pulled out my compass and discovered that, sure enough, we were heading the wrong way. When I pointed this out to our guide a second time, he finally stopped to think about it. After examining the compass, map, and trail markers, he realized that we really were off course. We lost about three hours—and some beautiful photo opportunities—because our guide wasn’t leading us correctly.

That experience taught me how vitally important it is to trust in the person who is guiding us. Beyond the hiking trail, this holds true in business, church, families, or any other relationship. If our guide isn’t trustworthy—if we cannot put our complete faith in him or her—we’ll end up lost.

So let me ask you: Who is your guide? Are you following celebrities or news reporters? Are you trusting in politicians or business leaders? If you’ve placed your absolute faith in anyone or anything other than your heavenly Father, you’re already off course. He is our one trustworthy Guide. Seek Him and get back on track today.

The Self-Directed Man

Surely you’ve heard the old stereotype about men never wanting to stop and ask for directions. That’s probably truer than we’d like to admit, but when it comes to asking for help, it isn’t just males who are guilty. There are many men and women—all driving full steam ahead—who don’t want to stop or slow down to ask for guidance.

If you were to look at this through spiritual lenses, you’d see a world of lost, hopeless souls trying to save themselves. They think they can somehow earn their way to heaven through good deeds and hard work. They assume it’s possible to accomplish this on their own. But they’re wrong.

As you read through Luke 12:16-21 today, count the number of times the “rich fool,” as he is known, says the words “I” and “my.” This parable is a picture of the self-directed man trying to make his own way and secure his own future without help from anyone—including God.

The Father does not mince words with this man. Entering the scene in verse 20, God immediately calls him a fool! Don’t miss the severity in the condemnation. By relying solely on his self-focused shortsightedness and pride, this man left nothing behind at the end of his life—except for a pile of crops.

The message for us today is that, when we strike off on our own and initiate actions with no thought of God, we behave like fools. The Lord has a plan for your life. He knows where you’ll succeed and where you’ll fail. Trust Him to provide the direction you need.

Suffering a Spiritual Failure

No one likes to fail at anything, and a spiritual fall is particularly distressing. The word failure immediately drums up uncomfortable thoughts of a blemish on our walk with God. Try as we might, however, we simply cannot and will not go through life without missing the mark from time to time.

Most troubling to believers are those instances when we know the right thing to do but don’t do it. That’s what happened with the Israelites, who refused to enter the land God had said to conquer and possess. They allowed fear to short-circuit their obedience to the heavenly Father. But the ultimate reason for their disobedience was a lack of trust in God.

Think about a time you failed to follow one of the Lord’s commands. Did you look at the circumstances around you and conclude that it was too risky to do what God had said? Or perhaps your way simply seemed like a better approach. In both cases, the temptation began with doubts about God. Is He powerful enough to handle the circumstances if I follow Him? I’m not convinced He knows what’s best for me.

Every time we trust in ourselves and doubt God’s wisdom, power, and goodness, we are headed for failure and its aftermath. Although He always forgives us when we come to Him with a repentant heart, we may still face the consequences of our self-willed rebellion.

The Lord wants us to have enough confidence in Him that we choose to follow His directions and thereby avoid the pitfalls of self-reliance. Remember that the God who calls us empowers us to obey whatever He commands.

Principle or Preference?

Imagine driving down a gravel road on a dark, rainy night. Even the light from your headlights seems to be swallowed by the blackness as you struggle to avoid veering off the road. Now consider what a difference it would make if there were yellow lines down the middle and white ones along the sides. You’d know exactly where on the road you’re supposed to be.

These two scenarios represent the difference between a life based on preferences and one guided by scriptural principles. Preferences fluctuate with the circumstances. When this is the basis for our decision making, the result is confusion, stress, and possibly danger as we wander through life. In contrast, principles are God’s unchanging truths, which keep us on the path of His will and protect us from spiritual danger and deception.

Daniel is an example of a young man who lived by principles. When he realized there was a line he couldn’t cross without disobeying the Lord, he stood fast and trusted God instead of conforming to the pagan world around him. Daniel chose not to eat food that had been sacrificed to Babylonian idols, and he left the consequences of his obedience to the Lord.

There are two main reasons we sometimes rely on preference-based decision making: Either we want to fit in, or we want to avoid the negative consequences that could come as a result of obeying the Lord. Yet to go this route will leave us in darkness, swerving dangerously through life. Safety and security can be found only in obedience to God’s principles, which are like bright white lines on the road keeping us in the center of His will.

The Influence of Faith

In today’s Christian culture, faith is often seen as a possession that affects just its owner. Because of our love for independence and self-sufficiency, we’ve in many ways lost the sense of community and outreach that the church is meant to embody. We live like little islands in our own “personal relationship with Christ,” but God wants our faith to influence others, both within and outside the church.

Elijah’s faith influenced the entire nation of Israel. By believing and delivering God’s message, he was an example to them in word and deed. When he asked the Lord to reveal Himself as almighty God, fire fell from heaven and the people believed.

The prophet’s motive in the showdown at Mount Carmel was to draw the people back to the Lord. We usually think of “sharing our faith” with those who don’t know Christ, but our confidence in God can also encourage weak or wayward believers. Likewise, those strong in faith can strengthen us when we are struggling with doubt.

The church is described as a body whose parts are all interconnected. (See 1 Cor. 12:12.) God never intended that we be autonomous, living in our own personal faith. We are not like a bag of marbles; rather, we’re to be like a bunch of grapes whose juices blend in times of pressure.

Guard against living an isolated Christian life. Share your confidence in God’s faithfulness. Your testimony could help others’ faith to grow. If you’re troubled by doubt or fear, let go of any pride or shame, and seek help from a strong believer. Mutual blessing awaits when we reach out to one another.

The Prayer of Faith

A committed and consistent prayer life is essential for every believer who wants to grow in his or her relationship with Christ. Yet so many Christians struggle in this area. What is hindering us?

No Burden: Being diligent in prayer is easy when we feel passionate about our request. We will storm the gates of heaven when a loved one is sick, but once the urgency is past, so is the prayer. We drift back into apathy.

No Time: We’re busy and can see no way to squeeze in regular prayer time without a drastic rearrangement of our schedule.

No Apparent Answer: We’ve tried praying, but God just doesn’t seem to answer. Thinking, It’s a waste of time, we give up.

James 5:16-18 tells us about someone whose prayer accomplished much: Elijah was passionate and persistent in his petitions because he knew God intimately and believed He would answer. Past answers to prayer and time spent in God’s presence had solidified the prophet’s trust.

When Elijah first began to pray on the mountain, there was no apparent answer, and yet he continued to seek the Lord. God is always working around us whether we perceive it or not. Eyes of faith can see His presence and involvement even when there’s no tangible evidence.

God did not design prayer as simply an avenue for requests; spending time in conversation with our heavenly Father is meant to help us know and love Him. Then, as we grow in passion for the Lord, spending time with Him will be a delight, and life turns into an adventure of faith.

God Is Always With You

Craig Stowe served on a naval ship during World War II. As his vessel prepared for an attack, the commanding officer lined up the men. As usual, a volunteer was needed to ride out the battle in the crow’s nest and send pertinent information to the captain. No one stepped forward. Then, Stowe heard the Lord speak to his heart: I’ll be with you up there, as I am down here. The young man volunteered, and he endured without a single scratch. In fact, he reported that no harm even came near him.

Years later, Mr. Stowe told this story to his Sunday school class of teenage boys. The truth in that adventure made a profound difference to one of the students, who came from a difficult and chaotic home situation. He never forgot the life-changing message: “God is always with you no matter where you are.”

I was that young man. As I matured in my faith and studied Scripture, God confirmed what Mr. Stowe had taught me. I saw that Jesus stressed His abiding presence to His disciples. He knew how quickly a sense of rejection would settle in after the crucifixion. Moreover, potentially discouraging hardship awaited them as they carried the gospel to the rest of the world. So the Lord promised a Helper who would remain with Christians forever—the Holy Spirit.

Every day of a believer’s life is lived in the presence of Christ through His Holy Spirit. He comforts during hardship, encourages amidst difficulty, and strengthens in times of weakness. The benefits of a relationship with God are not postponed until heaven; we walk with Him now and always.

Who Is Jesus?

We know that most people have some inaccurate perceptions of Jesus, but this is also a problem in the church today. A survey called “The State of Theology” asked professing evangelical Christians about their beliefs, and the answers were a mixture of truth and error. For instance, 97 percent do hold the belief that there is one true God in three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. However, 78 percent erroneously believe that Jesus is the first and greatest being created by God.

Our salvation is dependent on following the One whom God sent to redeem us. Therefore, we must be certain we’re trusting in the only true Savior—Jesus—as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. In today’s passage, the apostle John describes Him as “the Word” and lists five attributes.

Jesus is eternal. “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1-5). Jesus didn’t come into existence when He was conceived and then born as a baby. He existed before time even began.

He is God. “The Word was God” (v. 1). He has always been and will never cease being divine.

He is with God (John 1:1-2). The Son and the Father, along with the Holy Spirit, have always existed eternally as separate persons while being one in nature.

Jesus is the Creator. “All things came into being through Him” (John 1:3). In fact, nothing came into existence apart from Him.

In Him is life (John 1:4). Jesus is the source of all life, both temporal and eternal.

Is this the Jesus you’ve trusted for your salvation? Though He became a man, we must never cease to recognize and worship Him as the Son of God.

The Judge

While we live on earth, Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. However, as our days here draw to a close, and especially at the end of time, He takes His seat as Judge and prepares to reward believers for the good things they did in His name.

I think there is a widespread misconception that God the Father will be our judge. But John 5:22 says, “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” Jesus has been given the right to judge our thoughts and actions.

Christ is an impartial judge. He is not influenced by what others think or say; rather, He determines what is right and good based on His honorable, just standard, which He gives us in His Word. We’ll be stripped of our worthless works—the actions and words we used for selfish ambition or vain conceit. All that will remain are the worthwhile things we thought, said, and did to honor God. These are the valuable parts of our life, for which we will be rewarded.

Reward is the whole point of placing believers before the judgment seat of Jesus Christ. Shame and guilt over past sin and mistaken motivation have no place there (Rom. 8:1). Our loving Savior is eager to show us our heavenly treasure.

Christ will expose the real you at the judgment seat by casting away the worthless things you’ve done. What remains will be a man or woman who endeavored to please the Lord. Let us determine to be powerful reflections of our Savior.

The Judgment

Every Christian is answerable to Jesus for how she or he chooses to live. But we will not stand before the great white throne of Revelation 20:11—that is where unbelievers will be judged. Instead, we will go before Christ’s judgment seat and give an account of ourselves.

If it seems like a contradiction to say believers won’t be judged but will stand before Christ’s judgment seat, look at 2 Corinthians 5:10. The Greek word used there for “judgment seat” is béma, which means “a place where justice is administered.” Those who believe in the Savior won’t be condemned to death, because they are saved. They will live and be accountable to Him.

Do not confuse accountability with giving a defense. We won’t defend our ungodly actions—those things we said and did that brought no honor to the Lord or His name. God likens our selfish works to wood, hay, and stubble, which are items fit only for the fire (1 Corinthians 3:13). The valuable thoughts, words, and deeds that serve the Lord are exchanged for rewards in heaven.
What we’ll be judged on is the quality of our work. God has given every believer an individual purpose, along with the personality, talents, and spiritual gifts needed to fulfill it. The question that will be answered at Christ’s judgment seat is, Did I live out my purpose to honor and glorify God?

Standing before Christ’s judgment seat is something to look forward to. We need not fear, since believers are co-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17; Rom. 8:34). Because of His sacrifice, we have a right to the treasures of heaven. And the Lord is eager to bestow them as a reward for faithfulness and obedience.

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