A great way to grow closer to the Lord is to read His word, pray, and write down what He is teaching you! Many of the people at Paradise Calvary Chapel do just that and we get to share them with you here!
“Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident…In the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:3, 5).
Over a break, I went on a hike up a mountain. The top had a magnificent view, but there was somewhere that had an even better view—a rock formation where stones were stacked like platforms over the cliffs below. Of course, I had to go out and climb on them—after all, what else are you to do with perfectly climbable rocks?
Between me and the vantage point was loose shale, and I had to be very careful to avoid a very long fall, but that wasn’t the only part that gave me concern. Once I reached my goal, the world was a bit more daunting. The rock under my feet was secure, but I had the instinct to drop down to all fours. My brain was convinced that if the slightest breeze didn’t send me to my death, I’d grow overconfident in my amazing standing-on-a-rock prowess and make a fatal misstep.
In reality, I was far safer on the rock than I was on the shale, and I knew that, but my fears still were boisterous enough that I eventually left my perch.
How similar was this experience to walking in the spirit, or trusting in the Lord? Sometimes we reach a spiritual mountain, and the view is glorious! Even when we think we’ve reached the top, the Lord still points out a better view and leads us a bit further, saying, “Hey, stand over there!”
Even if we’re brave enough to follow His direction, it’s very easy to be shaking in fear the whole way. Then, once we get to the pinnacle the Lord has sent us to, what are our greatest threats? Either stumbling in fear from not trusting in the strength of the foundation beneath us, or growing overly confident in our own capabilities, forgetting what brought us to the rock in the first place.
Maybe I’m overanalyzing this experience, but whenever I’ve been in a place of trouble, I do long for the security that I receive and the view I see when I stand on the power and stability that is our rock.
“His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water” (Psalm 1: 2-3).
My water bottle usually gets a comment or two because of how it looks. It’s nothing fancy, just an old, glass, lemonade bottle, but I like it more than the typical metal bottles you find in the store. Besides, it was much cheaper! The biggest reason I use it is because it makes it easier to track exactly how much water I’ve had in my day. If I look at it and see it’s still mostly full, I remember, “Oh, yeah! I haven’t had enough water today!” As anyone living in a desert will tell you, staying hydrated is very important, and sometimes it’s easy to forget to take a drink.
Sometimes I think of my Bible in the same way. “Oh, yeah! I haven’t had enough of the Word today!” There is a thirst that resides in our souls, and sometimes we forget how thirsty we are until something reminds us of how long it has been since we last tasted God’s presence. It’s really easy for me to get caught up in the busyness of my day and to get distracted by all of the wheels I have spinning. Maybe that’s why I occasionally find myself thirsty for God’s Word. Just like how going without drinking water all day makes me practically drown trying to quench the dryness in my throat, I have to submerge in the Bible to refresh my soul.
Some days, I find myself reading the equivalent of a bottle of the Word. It’s survivable, but definitely not healthy. Even if I can survive on the fountain of the Holy Spirit that resides in me, that doesn’t mean I should settle for it. David said it best in Psalm 143:6, “I spread out my hands to You; my soul longs for You like a thirsty land.”
I’ve heard it said that we should have at least eight cups of water a day. I think a better rule is drink what you need whenever you’re able to, and then drink a little bit more.
Sometimes I take a moment of personal reflection, considering my life and what I’ve done, and I think, “My poor mother!” One memory that makes me say that is one from my early childhood. I must have been six or seven, and I was at a Christian music festival when I reenacted every parent’s worst nightmare: I got lost. Once I realized I was alone, I did what my parents had instructed me to do in that situation: I found someone who gave me directions to our RV site, and I went to wait. I can only imagine the terror I put my parents through—especially my mother, who was both infuriated and overjoyed when they finally discovered me.
Now, I insist that I wasn’t technically lost. After all, I knew exactly where I was; I was just alone. I only asked someone for directions because that’s what my parents told me to do. In all fairness, isn’t that the certainty we have when we’re lost and don’t realize it?
The fact that many people are lost is clearly evident in the way they live. Often they don’t realize it, and if do, they don’t always choose to seek the appropriate guidance to remedy their situation. More often than not, they are confident that they have everything under control. They think they know where they’re going and how to get there.
Of course, this isn’t something I can exclusively lay at the feet of unbelievers, pointing to them with the claim, “Look at those guys! They don’t know what they’re doing!” The truth of the matter is sometimes it’s easy to get off the beaten path, to walk with your head held high in confidence without looking at where your feet are going. Then, in a fit of sanity, you look around and notice that you not only don’t know where you are, but you’re not sure where you’re going.
I wonder if that was the situation David found himself in when Nathan confronted him about Bathsheba. Now that was a situation where David got himself good and lost. It was only when he acknowledged what he had done and sought forgiveness that he found his way back to God.
Honestly, at the festival, the idea that I was lost never even entered my mind. It was only after I was found that it registered. That’s not the perspective my mother had. I’m sure she had every horrible scenario make its rounds in her head. Just as my parents were searching high and low for me, we have a Father in heaven that will go to the ends of the earth to seek us when we lose our way.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’” (Luke 15:4-6).
There’s a difference between knowing a bungee cord will catch you and actually believing in it enough to step off a ledge. The same principal applies to my walk: I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and I know that the Lord is a savior and a healer, but when I read that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3), and I looked down at the little, crumbled, broken bits of soul-shard in my hands, I had a hard time believing it.
What can God do to fix something so broken as my heart, something so continually self-destructive as myself? Even if He does have the power to heal my brokenness, is He willing? I wasn’t very convinced that He would, but then He nudged me to read the entirety of Psalm 147.
The Psalm starts off by saying how good it is to praise God. Some translations say that praise is “fitting” for Him, and that He is beautiful. We see His beauty in creation; the universe alone attests to it. The vastness of galaxies and precision of gravity prove His greatness as a creator. His understanding is limitless, too; not only does He know the number of the stars, but He knows each one by name (Psalm 147:4-5).
He is powerful enough to create, and He is caring enough to nurture His creation. This Psalm explains how He goes out of His way to orchestrate the globe’s weather just so that grass will grow to feed cattle. He even listens to the hungry cries of baby birds, and aren’t His people more valuable than those? (Psalm 147:8-9; Matthew 6:26).
He’s taking care of animals I will never meet on mountains I will never see in ways that will never affect me. He is both mighty and considerate enough to fine tune details I will never even notice. In short, He is in control of far more than I realize.
How could I honestly think He’s concerned with my ability to fight a battle He has already won? My ability to keep my commitments is void in light of of His promises. Verse 11 says, “The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy.” In other words, all He requires of me is that I revere Him and expectantly look forward to the manifestations of His steadfast, steadfast love. He wants me to trust Him, and to rest assured that the binding up of my broken heart will come to pass. I believe that’s why this Psalm says so often to praise Him with thanksgiving, even if that means thanking Him in advance.
I am an agreeable person, or at least I like to think so. I try and be helpful when I can be, and one of the words I’ve used to describe myself to people is “complaisant.” I remember one occasion when I was describing myself to a friend that “I’m complaisant—with an I!” She looked very confused for a moment before I explained. Complaisant is a homonym; it has the exact same pronunciation as the word complacent, which is a word that I absolutely didn’t want her to think I said. Complacent, with an E, is the word so frequently heard in church, often preceded by the phrase, “Do not be.”
Complacent—with an E—means to be uncritically satisfied. Most every time I’ve heard this has been during a teaching on how people fell into sin because of carelessness, as if being complacent and lazy were the same. If you’re uncritical, then you’re content with how things are. It means you neither strive to improve nor recognize when you’re not good enough; it is essentially wallowing in pride. Anyone who has made the mistake of becoming tolerant of sinful behavior is not striving to be like Christ.
On the contrary, to be complaisant—with an I—means to comply with the desires, advice, or instructions of others. If you’re complaisant, then you are accommodating, or at least try to be agreeable. Complaisance is essentially being a servant to someone. We can see our ultimate example of a servant in Jesus, who was complaisant to the will of the Father—even to the point that He was willing to die. “[Jesus] said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will’” (Mark 14:36).
When I told my friend, “I’m complaisant—with an I!” I was trying to make a very important distinction. More importantly though, I make the distinction in my own life. The line between complaisance and complacency is one that I have to be conscious not to cross. If I ever stop examining myself or become lazy in my walk, I will begin to slip from the former into the latter. I Corinthians 9:24 says, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.” What happens to an athlete who falls into the trap of thinking they are good enough all the time? They stop striving, and by extension, they grow weaker in achieving their goals. Even if just to remind myself to serve others and serve the Lord, I must clarify that my goal is to be complaisant—with an I!
God sent Jeremiah the prophet to address the people of Israel because they were caught up in a nasty cycle of sin. The nation had gotten wrapped up in all sorts of idolatry, and they adopted false gods from other people groups to the point that God described His beloved people as being like an unfaithful bride. The little graven figurines and the rituals weren’t the worst of it, though. The Israelites hadn’t simply gotten complacent and strayed onto the wrong path; they were running onto it.
God explained to Jeremiah, “No man relents of his evil, saying, ‘What have I done?’ Everyone turns to his own course” (Jeremiah 8:6). That was the main problem. The sin itself wasn’t Israel’s biggest fault. The real issue was that the sinners didn’t acknowledge their need for a savior.
Today, that’s especially true in light of the cross. God sees our mistakes as us just deviating off course, and will tell us, “Whoops, that wasn’t the right way,” as if we’ve stumbled off the sidewalk curb—so long as we get back up and continue on the right path. Now, if we gave up on the straight-and-narrow and shamelessly turned to our new course, then we would be truly lost.
The point is, God doesn’t care about performance as much as He cares about heart. Good deeds done to make up for bad deeds mean less to Him than sincere regret for bad deeds. He wants to use willing servants, not already-perfect prodigies. Think about how David sinned with Bathsheba, and how he tried to cover it up with murder and deceit. Even so, David is still described as being a man after God’s own heart! In his song of repentance, David writes to God, “You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).
When your flesh and the world and the enemy get the better of you, don’t get hung up on the fact you’ve fallen. It happens, and the Father awaits your return with open arms. The important piece is that you run back to Him rather than trying to cover up the sin yourself, rather than just shrugging it off, rather than continuing in it.
Have you ever almost died? I grew up on the water; our family was usually found in lakes, rivers, or creeks during the summers. One year, there had been some flooding, and the river we were rafting on had changed. A tree forked the river in a place it hadn’t before. For some reason, maneuvering around it was confusing, and we quickly collided into the tree. All we could do was brace for the impact.
I must have been around fourteen, and after growing up on the water, I felt that I no longer needed a life jacket. For all my confidence, I quickly sank beneath the water. I couldn’t see, so I swam in the direction that I believed was up, only to feel like I was pushed down again. I was tumbling around so much that I kept swimming into the river bed. It didn’t take long before I knew I was running out of air, so I did the only thing that made sense, and let go. I stopped panicking, I stopped swimming, and I just let the water carry me. I have never felt more peace than I did in that moment; I actually felt as if I suddenly had more air.
Obviously, I survived the ordeal; my father saw me floating down stream and pulled me up to the surface. Suffice to say, I wore a life jacket after that.
Now, it doesn’t take a philosophy major to see why I brought this up. I’m sure this story, once broken down into its simplest of parts, parallels the experience of many people in how they came to the Lord—maybe it even recounts your story. Still, it was an intensely spiritual experience for me. In those few seconds, I was as surrounded by His presence as the rapids that threatened to drown me. I feel like I learned more about the peace God brings, how He absolves the fear of death, in that moment than any time in my life before or since. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3). Because I know someone eternal, I now know what it means to no longer fear death, and I hope that when my time comes, I can experience the kind of enrapturing comfort as I did in the river.
Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27-28 certainly had an element of spiritual warfare. Being a prisoner on a ship that was caught in a two-week-long storm must have been testing, to say the least. Still, God was able to give the situation a positive result, as He always does. If the ship had sailed smoothly to Rome as planned, Paul wouldn’t have had the opportunity to show the power of God to his captors, or to heal to the sick chief’s father on the island of Malta. The outward attacks didn’t move Paul from his purpose to fulfill God’s Word and speak God’s truth. Everyone shipwrecked should have died—but didn’t.
So Satan tried another tactic as soon as they reached the shore. “When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand” (Acts 28:3).
Many times when Scripture talks about snakes, the word used is “serpent,” but this specifically talks about a “viper.” The difference is that vipers are venomous, so their bites cause muscular failure. When he got bit, Paul should have died—but didn’t!
Look at this verse and see how greatly Paul trusted in God’s promise that he would reach Rome: “But he shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm” (Acts 28:5). Catch that? He shook the spiritual snake off into eternal fire, and he suffered no harm. If only Eve had done the same thing!
I’ve felt a lot like Paul, lately. I struggle with a temptation-condemnation-double-whammy internal warfare, and whenever I finally get my head somewhat put together, I immediately get caught in a financial bind, or an argument. It’s very back-and-forth.
Paul’s storm and viper are good representations of how the enemy will attack us on our spiritual journey. Storms of circumstance beat against us from the outside, and as soon as the situation clears up, the attacks come from within. Satan injects venom of doubt, fear, condemnation, or temptation, trying to cause spiritual collapse, paralysis, and death.
Remember this: no matter how deeply that snake sinks in his teeth, though, he has no authority over your life. We can shake off those darts of thought and continue on our journey, confidently knowing that what the enemy intends for evil, the Lord can use for good (Gen. 50:20). Don’t see the storm as a setback. Smooth sailing and circumnavigating a problem won’t bring you to the shores of those who need healing. Don’t see the viper ’s bite as the end of life, either—you have been healed already. Also remember that people are watching you, just as the sailors and the Maltese were watching Paul. When the world sees you going through a storm, or sees a viper fastened onto your hand, they’ll see God use the thing that should have killed you to instead bring life and healing to many.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
Do you realize that earth is a principality? Sometimes I forget that. Simply put, a principality is a territory ruled by a prince. Here in America, we have no idea what that’s like. England has a little more experience, with all their princes ruling over their assorted countries and such. Oftentimes, when I think about earth, I attribute it as God’s territory, making Him the ruler—kind of like a king or queen of England—but I have to remember that while our King may be our Sovereign, earth is still ruled as a principality.
This is something that has caught my eye for some time, but it really made sense when I devoted a little brain power to it. Jesus said several times that He and the ruler of this world had conflicting goals (John 14:30). That ruler will be held accountable for what he has done (John 12:31; 16:11). When Jesus was questioned by Pilate, He said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here” (John 18:36).
There is another ruler of this world—that is, Satan—for the time being. Paul gives him the ominous title “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). If you really think about it, when we become servants of God, we become rebels against the current ruler of the world, because we become citizens of the opposing kingdom. Of course, I think I would rather be a traitor to Satan than to the ultimate Sovereign of eternity.
Maybe I’ve spent too much time thinking about this, but what can I say? It captures the imagination, especially when I realize that the world is not only the battleground between these two rulers, but also the prize. We are in the middle of a war waged between the prince of the power of the air, and the King of kings. It practically sounds like a pro-wrestling grudge match! We have nothing to worry about, though. As the titles would suggest, a king outranks a prince every time.
The book of Proverbs paints an obvious contrast between folly and wisdom. While the world's ways (folly) promote fame and fortune, God's ways (wisdom) instructs me to serve and give to the lowly people, because I'll gain a heavenly treasure that will last much longer and be much more valuable. Folly says to get back at people who've hurt me, but wisdom says to trust God to take vengeance, because He knows the situation much better and can deal with those other people much more effectively. Folly says to run toward whatever makes me happy, while wisdom says to run after God, because having wisdom means knowing that God's will is the best place to be in, that He will provide everything I need, and that He will give me a joy far deeper than any kind of happiness the world can offer. God's way—the wise way—is clearly so much better than the way of folly, yet…I find myself so quick to be foolish.
In one of my favorite chapters, Proverbs 9, Solomon personifies wisdom and folly as if they are two women, walking around a city and calling to the city dwellers. The woman who represents wisdom shouts in the middle of the city square, at the city gates, or on the tallest hill in the city, telling the people to come to God's ways. The woman who represents folly does the same thing, except she tells the people to follow the ways of the world and their selfish desires. Both are calling, so why does it seem easier for me to hear the woman named Folly than it is to hear the woman named Wisdom? Why do I look back and realize I've obeyed what felt good to the flesh in the moment, or what seemed rational from the world's-eye-view, instead of following the sagacity given by my omniscient God?
Some translations of Proverbs 9:13 say that the woman named Folly is loud and seductive. In other words, foolishness is hard to ignore. The feel-good ideas of this world are all around me. Sin is incredibly attractive; it strikes my curiosity.
God's voice, on the other hand, is described as sometimes being quiet and gentle, like a low whisper (I Kings 19:12). Even though Wisdom is calling out in the middle of the city square, it can be hard to hear her over the sound of all those people who need to hear her. The noisy intrigue of a foolish thought can drown out the still, small voice of God's good sense. The world is a noisy place, and its ideas are alluring. So are you tuning in to that tender whisper? Are you familiar with which voice is His? Remember to take time to go to a quiet place, and listen to what God is saying by opening His Word.