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Whose Glory Is It Anyway?

The Least

135,000 soldiers filled the valley of Jezreel. Like a swarm of locusts they noisily consumed every living thing before them: crops, cattle, donkeys, grass, trees, wild animals, everything. When they moved through, nothing was left.

Within earshot of this vast swarm of humanity, Gideon bent over with his threshing rake, tossing what little grain he could in the bottom of a winepress, afraid. Perhaps he was peeking over the edge of the winepress when he spied a man sitting under the oak tree in Ophrah that belonged to his father, Joash.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Looking around: “You talkin’ to me? Well … if the Lord is with us, then why do I need to thresh the grain in this winepress? Eh? Why is Israel overrun by these locusts, these Midianites? Why are we so poor, then? Answer me that! Where are the miracles? The deliverances? What about the stories my daddy told me when I was knee-high to a grasshopper? The Lord cut us loose. He handed us over to Midian … mighty warrior … let me be. I’m busy.”

“Shut up! … and listen. You have some strength left. Go and save your people from Midian. It’s Me talkin’ here … you will set your people free–by my hand.”

“You serious? I’m from the weakest clan in Manasseh, and I’m the least of that line.” Something clicked in Gideon’s mind. “You mean it? You’re going to use me to do this thing? You’d do that? Really?

You know the rest of the story. If you don’t, you’ll find the story written in Judges chapters six through eight.

Encouraged

I find Gideon’s story encouraging, if puzzling. Gideon is essentially a nobody in Israel. Today we’d call him an “everyman”. He’s taking care of his family, putting food on the table, trying to keep his head down and make it through tough times.

He’s honest. He speaks his mind. No filters. Even to the angel of the Lord. Even though he couldn’t wrap his head around the great tragedy that he was living through, he knew that Jehovah was (and is) the God of Israel. He wants to believe what he’s being told. It’s just so blasted hard when he looks both around him and within. He’s confounded. “Why me?”

His story shows me that it is OK to speak plainly to the Lord in prayer. God doesn’t smite him or grind him to dust. The ground doesn’t open up and swallow him. His questions are honest, not rebellious. He’s not opposing God, he’s just trying to understand, to discern the words being spoken to him. Though there is a twinge of fear in his heart, he obeys anyway. He fears the Lord more than he fears what might happen if he obeys.

His first task is to tear down Baal’s altar and cut down the Asherah pole, these abominations to false gods. He goes in the dead of night, but he goes nonetheless.

Gideon’s story is a picture of God’s grace and mercy. He uses a no-name to do deeds that were so pivotal in God’s greater story that they would be recounted for thousands of years. Gideon, though hesitant, was obedient. God used him to deliver Israel. He conquered an army of 135,000 with a mere three-hundred men, delivering Israel.

Lessons?

What can be learned here that will help us shake the gates of hell?

God chooses the weak, the nameless, the forgotten to fight the war in the heavenly places. Jesus chose fisherman and tax collectors and hot-headed zealots to be his disciples. When God chose the nobodies he equipped them to follow. They were chosen for their obedience and character, not for their name. He empowered them by his Spirit to carry out bold and courageous missions. God acted in the midst of their obedience and faith.

Warning

There is a stern warning here as well. Israel was quickly confused about who delivered Israel. They wanted to make Gideon their leader. But Gideon was not having any of it. His response was as straightforward as his initial prayers, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son. The Lord will rule over you.”

He next did something, perhaps with good intention, that became a snare. He took his share of the plunder and made into an ephod, which became an idol to the people. They worshiped the thing that represented victory to them. They worshiped “success.”

Today there is no end of books, blogs, and emails promising the secret to growing a successful church, building your mailing list, making a platform for your message. More often than not these are thinly-veiled business principles reimagined for religion and reputation. And what if we build a list of 100,000 readers or congregate of thousands of people? Gideon’s success became a snare for Israel. Could not our “success” be a snare to us? Will “success” make Jesus’ name famous or ours? (I’m not suggesting that well-attended churches or highly read authors or growing organizations are wrong or evil. By no means. I am suggesting that success doesn’t necessarily indicate blessing or eternal reality and that we should guard our hearts from seeking the wrong things.)

Whose Glory?

Shaking the gates of hell is something that happens in the heavenly realms and occasionally manifests in this one. Israel looked at the man God used to bring deliverance and wanted to worship the man. He wasn’t looking glory for his “success”. He was simply obeying. Whose glory is at stake anyway? God’s or ours? If we are seeking glory over obedience, it is surely time for repentance, humility, and submission to the Lord of hosts lest we destroy ourselves with our “success” and bring shame to the only Name that matters.

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Tested and Tried

Plato attributes the famous saying, “Know thyself” (Γνώθι σεατόν) to fellow Greek philosopher and mentor, Socrates. Socrates’ notion seems to be the preoccupation of the privileged, an activity of leisure. Not so. Consider what Paul had to say to the church at Corinth when preparing to visit them:
“Examine yourselves; to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV)
While Plato was using Socrates’ teaching to make some philosophical point to other philosophers, Paul was writing to ordinary people, some of them really messed up and in need of transformation, in order to give them means to remain strong in the faith, to make a daily choice to stand.
To examine and test one’s soul is no easy task. Says commentator Simon J. Kistemaker: “True faith is active and constantly forces Christians to test themselves to see whether Jesus Christ through the Holy spirit lives in their hearts. True faith testifies to intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son (I John 1:3).” (Emphasis mine.)
Yet this intimate fellowship we have with the Father and the Son draws us into deeper, more challenging testing. This fellowship takes us beyond our own conscience, placing us in the domain of the Father’s testing us. Consider what is written in Deuteronomy 8:2-3: “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
When we examine or test ourselves, we find either affirmation that we are in Christ or not. When God the Father tests us, he humbles us, removes our mistaken ideas that we exist on the merit of our own strength and genius, to see whether or not we will still follow him when it doesn’t make us look good in the eyes of those around us. What pride can we possibly derive from being fed and watered and lead, helpless and needy?
We are prone toward pride and independence, are we not? Hence the warning in verses 17-18: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”
It can be easy to become discouraged in times of testing, misinterpreting the purpose of the test. We can feel attacked, forgotten, isolated, devalued. We can fall into the Satanic trap of feeling less than zero. But, in this case, truth trumps emotion.
Deuteronomy 8:16 indicates that God humbles us to do us good. He can use broken, submitted, humble servants: those are qualities ascribed to Jesus’ time in the flesh, on the earth. Our pilgrimage is to become Christ-like is it not?
Should you choose to take up the mission to shake the gates of Hell in your generation, you must take up the habit of examining and testing yourself, to see whether or not you are in the faith. You must take up the habit of submitting to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that Jesus might be represented well in this generation, that those who have ears to hear might receive the gospel, that those who choose to reject Him will do so not on the basis of ignorance, but having been informed of what they choose to reject. Friend, “Know thy faith.”


[1] Kistemaker, Simon J. New Testament Commentary: 2 Corinthians. Pg. 450. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997.

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5 Assurances that We Are Praying According to His Promises

The faith that Abraham had in God’s promises was so great that in the absence of the written Word of God, in the absence of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in the absence of the church or a national identity based on fealty to Jehovah, Abraham believed God would do what he said he would do–and it was credited to him, by God, as righteousness. In the previous article entitled Promise and Prayer, I reflected on the faith of Abraham and posed this question: “How can we be confident that we are indeed praying according to His promises and not merely according to our personal aspirations or desires?”

This  question is important to answer because prayer is the context within which our hearts are aligned to God’s heart. While our hearts and minds are informed by the word of God and our faith is worked out in practicing good deeds (rooted in right attitudes), our hearts are find those right attitudes and apply the Truth in the prayer closet. It is in the prayer closet that we confess our sins to God. It is in the prayer closet that we petition Him for a new heart–a heart of flesh instead of stone. It is in the prayer closet where we verbally submit our hopes and dreams, our intentions and desires, to his (as Jesus did at Gethsemane). It is in the prayer closet that we lay aside our personal agendas to take on His agenda for us. It is in the prayer closet that the words of Scripture become the catalysts of our hearts.

I believe that there are at least five components in answering the question, “How can we be confident that we are indeed praying according to His promises and not merely according to our personal aspirations or desires?”

First, we must practice confession of sins and the clearing of our conscience before God. Hebrews 3:12 and following states: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This is done both privately in the prayer closet and also in community. Elsewhere we are exhorted to “confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed. (James 5:16) If we are to be aligned with the desires of God, we cannot be walking in rebellion and hardness against Him.

Second, closely related to the first but slightly different, don’t put your own agenda ahead of God’s agenda for you. Jesus was wholly honest before His Father has he knelt there in the garden, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” He dreaded the hour of is torture and murder, yet knew that God’s desires for him were preeminent. He submitted to the unthinkable to fulfill God’s purpose for his sojourn on earth. We must be very careful when facing difficulty and challenge not to assume that it is God’s will for us to avoid suffering. It is vital that, having confessed and cleared our conscience, that we lay our agendas on the altar before God and give Him the opportunity to choose our destiny. Sometimes we find ourselves in the crucible because He has created us for such times.

Third, keep the Bible before you–test the prayers you pray against the revealed will of God as found in the Scriptures. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13, ESV) As we confess our sins, as we submit our own agenda to His, we also must submit ourselves to the scrutiny of the Scriptures. The Word will sift and penetrate our attitudes, our thoughts and intentions. We must be yielded to the Word. When our heart’s agenda is found to be at odds with the Word, we must repent or change our course of action.

Fourth, do not assume that His promises are fulfilled in keeping with our timing. Abraham waited twenty-five years from the time of the first promise to the time of its fulfillment. Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Indeed, “. . . with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9, ESV) Don’t become discouraged and stop praying because of impatience. Don’t think that He is not answering your prayer because it is slow in coming. He alone has view of all past, present, and future and He alone has the wisdom to coordinate all things for good. If you are confessing your sins as needed, are submitting your agenda to His, are testing yourself with the Word of God (the whole counsel of Scripture–but that is another post 😉 ) then be constant in prayer on whatever matter you are bringing before God.

Finally, and perhaps this goes without saying, don’t assume that every answer is “yes”. There are times when we pray that the answer is clearly “no” and we need to accept that answer from the Lord. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden was “No, this cup will not pass you by . . .” Consider the experience of Paul and company as recorded in Acts 16:7ff (ESV): “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.  And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” The Lord did not say “yes” to their good and right desire to take the gospel into Asia and Bithynia because He wanted them to go to Macedonia to preach. He had the plan. They submitted to his plan.

I believe that as each of us applies these basic principles of prayer in our lives, we will be transformed in the secret place and will be real threats to the enemy of our souls. I believe that as we find ourselves walking in faith, in submission, in brokenness, and in humility we will shake the gates of Hell.

 

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Day 35: A Call to Prayer

December 26, 2013 Cape Coral, Florida —

Our youngest daughter hummed, sang, and listened to Christmas music from October until at least yesterday. Yesterday, the Christmas story was read, prayers were prayed, turkey eaten, presents opened, time shared with loved ones.

Today feels different. The Holy Spirit has been pressing on my soul for some time now to be really prepared for 2014 in a number of areas. I and Angela see both challenges and opportunities in the coming year and are vibrant with anticipation of what God has in store for these coming days. It is critical that as we prepare and anticipate God’s work in the days of 2014, that we call believers to pray with us. We need to live in the shadow of the Almighty. We need to call on his name. We need to experience ongoing answers to pray that all might behold His glory.

Would you pray with us in the coming days that:

  • We will recognize God’s leading and be able to know the difference between His plan and our desires (when they are not the same).
  • We will have God’s wisdom in planning and in executing the plan for developing ministry partnerships.
  • We will be equipped and ready in every way to depart for Papua New Guinea in July 2014.
  • Our Somau Garia co-workers will be protected from the attacks of the enemy as they continue to draft Acts, James, etc. in preparation for our return.
  • We will be fully submitted to Christ in all things as we proceed toward the goal of living and working, once again, in Papua New Guinea.
  • God will continue to grant grace and mercy as our family is dispersed to colleges, jobs, and callings.
  • God will grant us new financial partners even before the close of 2013.
  • God will raise up the prayer team He is designing for us.

Thank you for praying with us. Our heavenly Father is pleased beyond measure when we put our trust in Him in prayer.

What will our daughter be doing in the coming months? She will still be singing, humming, and being enthusiastic, but I think it will be praise songs from church, hymns played on the piano, and enthusiasm about making the trip across the big pond to Papua New Guinea. I hope, too, that of all her enthusiasms, she will also be praying.

Blessings, friends!

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 39

September 18 (Day 39) — Pray that Todd’s stamina will hold out. Ask God to give him wisdom as he finalizes details and has final conversations regarding a return to PNG with the family in 2014, the sorting out of the mission station at Uria, the translation work, checking, etc. to be done in the intervening months. Pray that Todd will have wisdom in choosing what to bring back to the U.S. and what to leave. Pray that there will also be lasting blessing for the Somau Garia left in the wake of Todd’s visit.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 22

September 1 (Day 22) — Sunday. Pray that those tempted to absent themselves from a Christian gathering will be motivated to join others in worship, preaching, and fellowship. Pray that the Word will be proclaimed with power today, that the preachers will speak the Word of Christ with such insight that none can deny that it was from God. Pray that the Word will multiply and grow in each heart, that the power of the spoken Word will stick in the spirit of each hearer, that they will dream about it, talk about it, marvel in God’s name and majesty. Pray that transformation will begin today.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 21

August 31 (Day 21) — Saturday. Jesus spent his Saturdays in the synagogue. He was true to himself, confident in his mission. When the authorities told him to toe the line with tradition, he healed, he surprised, he followed the call given him by his Father in heaven. Pray today for the heart of each one who will be preaching the word tomorrow. Pray that each messenger will be still today, listening to the still, small voice. Pray that their posture will be one of broken submission. Pray for the Spirit’s power and insight to be theirs today. Pray for the people speaking the Somau Garia and Aruamu languages today, that they will be moved to attend a worship service tomorrow, that the Spirit will provoke and encourage them to seek out a Christian gathering tomorrow.

 

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Praying 40 Days to Freedom — Day 20

August 30 (Day 20) — Friday. Half way through the journey, friends. How goes the praying? Is Satan buffeting you, challenging you to give up and lay aside the work of intercession. Friends, stand firm. Pray today for yourselves and for others like you who are on the “hump day” of the forty day season today. Pray for clarity to see and acuity to hear what the Spirit is speaking to you in your prayer time. My prayer for you today is that He is filling you with all knowledge through Jesus Christ, that he is giving you the spirit of wisdom and revelation (in increasing measure) that you may know him better. I’m praying for you today that He is sustaining your strength and resolve as you imitate Jesus’ ongoing ministry of intercession, taking us to the Father and praying for us. Let’s pray for one another today.

 

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Surrender as Victory

I sat quietly at my desk. The room was only half-lit. I was praying, frustrated and melancholic. “How can a person live a completely surrendered life?” The question sprang from a certain amount of accusation that had been circling my heart. I waited. I was seeking wisdom from above and I was not moving until I had something to go on. The answer came, but I have to tell you that this flesh of mine was not at all satisfied.

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

I wasn’t really asking how to live a surrendered life as much as how to win, but I didn’t realize that at first, until the Father gave me a gentle rebuke.

My flesh was not satisfied because my flesh has many demands. My ego demands that I win victory on my own so that I can take credit for it. My flesh wants to be in charge, in control of a situation to work things out the way that makes me look good–in charge. My flesh wants to be honored and coddled and attended.

The flesh exerts its will. The devil flings flaming arrows at me to weaken my resolve. The world squeezes, trying to fashion another empty, soulless robot to march according to it cadence. But the Spirit indwells me. He intercedes for me, as does the Son. I feel the conflict within.

Because I live by the Spirit, I want to crush the devil under my feet, cast off the shackles of the world system, and crucify the flesh. The subtle temptation is to try to do so prayerlessly, relying upon my own force of will, so that I might walk into the King’s presence to show him my victory. There is no victory without prayer, there is no victory without the Spirit, there is no victory without surrender.

Surrender is present in both failure and victory. Failure is tantamount to surrendering to the force of the flesh, to the force of the world system, or to the forceful temptation or attack of the devil. Failure (sin) is making friends with the world and living a laissez-faire lifestyle that assumes that it is the only option; the only way to get along. Failure is a surrender of self to someone else’s will, even if it is the “old man” that Paul writes about to the Roman believers.

Victory is a surrender to the will of God. Victory is a surrender of bragging rights, admitting that we are not able to bring a self-won victory into the throne room, not able to boast to God, “Look what I did. Aren’t you impressed?” Victory is approaching the throne of grace, humbly, offering ourselves to God as servants, as sons and daughters, as ones in need of grace.

This kind of victory rightly gives credit where credit is due: it is God who made us, who redeemed us from an empty way of life, who provides for us, who calls us, who empowers us, who gives us everything we need for life and godliness. It is God who makes any victory possible. It is God himself who gave the ultimate sacrifice that we might come to him. It is God who sought us out and offered us a second chance. It is God himself that enables us to stand, in grace.

Surrender begins with submission to God’s wishes. Submission is not a shameful condition. It merely acknowledges God’s rightful place as King of my life. He rules. Surrender then requires resisting the devil. He will flatter and deceive in order to get us to deviate from obedience. Surrender involves the deep desire of the heart, an act of will that accesses grace so that we can draw near. Without an active and accessed grace we cannot draw near to God. Surrender involves reducing our will to a single allegience: God. To purify essentially means to reduce to a single element. One. Not two. Not ten. One. Surrender involves a cessation of laughing at our sin and willful disobedience. Surrender results in the fulfillment of promise.

If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us. If we come humbly, He will exalt us. If we lay aside our will in lieu of His, He will give us Victory–victory over sin, victory over death, victory over the world.

Humility is one of our “secret” weapons in shaking the gates of hell–a weapon that the world, the flesh, and the devil would never think of using.