The struggle is real…and that’s okay. Just in case you’ve never been acknowledged in your struggle, I wanted you to hear it from me. Now that I have your attention, I’d like to talk to you for a bit. This may touch a very tender part of your heart, but I promise it’s worth it to stick with me until the end. This post is a call to action of sorts and is meant to encourage your heart and motivate you to move your feet toward meaningful action. To take some pressure off of you, I’ll start.
What happens when God releases you but you’re too afraid to walk in freedom?
Over the last few months, God has been making it clear to me that He has released me in certain areas of my life to walk in territory that I was once kept from due to His pruning hand of protection. He had been doing a work in me that needed to be completed before I could safely walk in true freedom. It has been a journey that has taken me down many roads I never saw coming and revealed parts of myself I never knew existed. To sum it up in one word, it was cleansing.
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Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were asked to make a decision that felt like you were relinquishing something you love? A part of yourself or your life you felt was intrinsic, inseparable even? Well, that is the kind of situation we’re focusing on in today’s post. In this biblical story, we are introduced to a man named Abraham. For some historical context, you should know that he was originally named Abram before God called him away from everything he knew, asking him to take a walk down a new path that was completely unfamiliar to him. Along this journey, he and his wife were promised a child. They were both quite old, Abraham being 100 years old and Sarah being 99 years old, by the time they conceived their son, Isaac. Isaac was the promised son that God foreshadowed approximately 25 years prior. This is the same son that, in our passage of focus for today, God asks Abraham to sacrifice. Now that you’re familiar with the backstory, let’s begin to explore the dynamics at play.
“Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am,’ he replied. 2 Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.'”
Genesis 22:1-2 NIV
Now, it’s easy to disregard the intensity of the stories we read in the Bible sometimes because, like a movie, we are receiving details that the characters are unaware of. In that first line, we get some pretty important context. This is a test that God is bringing to Abraham. While we don’t know God’s reasoning at this point, it’s safe to asssume that He has one. Like a teacher doing role call at the beginning of class to ensure all of their students are present and accounted for, we observe this brief exchange of identification between God and Abraham. God, wasting no time on pleasantries, makes a request of Abraham that is so monumental that it’s almost absurd.
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Perhaps in recent weeks, months, or years you have, like me, been wondering where your place is in all the work that still needs to be done regarding the reunification of humanity. Sometimes, when we have a particular burden on our hearts, God is calling us to be the very answer we wish existed to the problem(s) we observe. Other times, we are so busy expending our energy and efforts in the various areas we feel drawn to that we bypass the vacant spaces that await our awakening to God’s call on our lives to fill them. God’s purpose for the body of Christ is to be the example to a hurting world of what unity is and how His love is to be effectively expressed.
I found myself drawn to the passage that we will study together today. My hope is that, through our deeper exploration of this passage, we can better identify the unique part each of us can play in the larger charge to be the light of the world and embody the love of Jesus through our unique gifts, imparted by the Holy Spirit. The way that we operate in our gifting is how we honor God and bring glory to His name. While this is a popular passage within the church for its identification of spiritual gifts, one additional lens has been used to help us broaden our scope of the message Paul shares. For anyone unfamiliar with him, Paul is one of the New Testament (NT) leaders, called apostles. The heading of the passage in question, “Unity and Diversity in the Body,” already speaks volumes in itself. Let’s dive right in.
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It is a trick of the enemy to get you to put your trust in anything other than God. That’s not news to many, but let me make this very clear. The enemy is very good at playing his role. He is committed. He has rehearsed every line and prepared ahead of time to use every opportunity to his advantage. With that said, we are not left to fend for ourselves against his schemes. We have a solid line of defense available to us in every situation we face. We have the full armor of God.
Whenever something is repeated in scripture, it highlights an important point for our understanding. In Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV, the words “put on the full armor of God” are repeated twice within two verses (v. 11 and 13). The most significant word in this repetition is “full.” We must put on the full armor, not just parts of it. This repeated command has crucial information sandwiched in between and I think it would be negligent for us to move forward without briefly exploring what is listed:
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“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.“
Ephesians 6:12 NIV
There are many instances in the Bible where God makes it clear that He is well acquainted with the heart of humanity. In His choosing of David over all of his other brothers. In His acceptance of Abel’s gift over Cain’s. God is no respecter of persons and He makes it abundantly clear that living a life of honorable service to Him is primarily a heart issue. With this understanding of the God who created the universe, who exists outside of time, and has all power in His being; Shouldn’t we be able to trust Him at His word?
The short answer is yes. However, our thoughts and behavior often show otherwise, complicating what God originally intended to be a simple solution to address our needs. You may be familiar with the quotable found on many t-shirts, mugs, and other collectable items: “Keep Calm and…” The end of that statement has an extensive list of suggested things, people, and places to put your faith in. Yet, every believer is aware, to some degree, that the only true source of stability that we can put our trust in is God. This year, 2020, has quite rudely interrupted the norms that humanity has created for ourselves and made it abundantly clear that many of the things, people, and places we have put our faith in are not able to hold us up when life takes an unexpected turn.
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25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, [a]“Be of good cheer! [b]It is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:25-27 NKJV).
The disciples were in a dire situation. They were caught in a storm that had been raging for some time (according to the passage, it would have been after three o’clock in the morning and, based on verses 22-23, they set sail prior to the evening’s start). In the distance, they saw something that looked unfamiliar coming towards them. They were troubled by what they saw and began to cry out in fear. What are you inviting into your life during difficult situations? The disciples were inviting fear to take hold of them. Jesus, knowing where fear would lead, was swift in His encouragement of their faith, attempting to assure them of who He was. Since they already knew Jesus and witnessed His track record, one would think that this would be enough to quell their fears. However, that did not appear to be the outcome.
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And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
-Isaiah 6:5-8 ESV
In this passage, the biblical prophet, Isaiah, went from insecurity in his present circumstance to boldness through swift obedience. There was a crucial process that occurred in the few lines between those two versions of him. His lips were touched with burning coal (he went through a refining process, brief but transformative) and life-giving words (blessing) were spoken over him. In that blessing, he was made aware of the purpose of the process, which encouraged him to let go of the guilt he felt and step confidently into his calling.
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I have a question. Have you been in a breaking season recently? Perhaps you’re in one right now. Amidst all that this year has had to offer, you may be aware that there is something really personal happening in your life. Something that is shaking the foundation of who you believed you were at your core. If you can relate to any of what I just mentioned, please know that it’s not just happening to you. A breaking season is meant to uproot the things that never belonged to you as God replaces them with His truth, His love, and His plan for your life. For many, this means that you lost one or more of your employment positions or opportunities. For others it means that your family or friendships have been turning up recently. Still, for others, everywhere you turn, you can’t seem to catch a break. Whether its been physical, emotional, or psychological, your well-being has been difficult to maintain due to the pressures you’ve been facing.
Can I offer something to you that God took His time to reveal to me? It’s a perspective issue more than it’s an issue of your life’s circumstance. Let me take a step back and share a bit more so we can get a bit more acquainted. My issue is impostor syndrome. I have learned that impostor syndrome (at its core) stems from worry, which is brought on by focusing your attention on the wrong thing(s). Can I submit to you that you have probably been making the same mistake? I’m not here to pass judgment, I promise. As I just mentioned, I have my own issues to work out with God’s help. I simply want to encourage you to take a different stance as you face the giants in your life.
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More than likely, you’ve heard the saying, “Walk, don’t run,” often as a safety precaution to avoid accidents or injuries. However, there are some things that require a different level of pursuit, a much more urgent one. Our spiritual lives are at the top of that list. Whenever we find ourselves in need of reprieve, encouragement, protection or peace, we need to run to the only source that can provide the nourishment for our souls, remedy for the pain and the protective capacity for life’s trials and tribulations. We need to run to God.
Like a child running into the arms of a parent, we need to pursue our Heavenly Father. It’s one thing to acknowledge this truth and another thing entirely to believe it. Before we continue, I’d like to spend a bit more time on the last attribute of God that I mentioned above. Protective capacity refers to a caretaker’s ability to anticipate the needs of a vulnerable individual, namely a child. It encompasses behavioral, emotional, and psychological components. The behavioral component includes the caretaker’s ability to protect the child from physical danger and provide their basic needs (i.e. food, shelter, clothing). The emotional component involves the caretaker’s attunement to the child as well as their ability to nurture the child’s well-being. Closely tied to this is the psychological component, which highlights the caretaker’s awareness of and thoughts towards the child (i.e. thinking their child is good or bad as well as their expectation/perception of the child’s abilities and limitations).
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Upstream. Against the current. Even after losing yourself in the waves of disappointment. Just. Keep. Swimming.
This line spoken by Dory in the movie Finding Nemo is such a memorable one. It’s a reminder to keep going no matter what. Dory’s character is most memorable for her “can do” spirit, even in the face of what appears to baffle her. Even when she forgets her surroundings, what she’s learned and who she’s met. She keeps a persevering mindset and presses forward with enthusiasm. Now, I understand if you’re reading this and thinking that you can’t relate to that level of fortitude in the face of what you’ve been making your way through lately. But I want to remind you of something. God is faithful. He knows what you’ve been going through and He cares about every detail!
On those difficult days, there are words of encouragement that can be found throughout scripture to address your situation. For example, Proverbs 24:16a in the New International Version says, “For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.” This is a beautiful reminder that, no matter what gets you down or how many times you feel defeated, in Christ, you don’t have to be! There will always be an opportunity to get back up and keep going. God guarantees it. Another important reminder we receive in scripture is not to grow weary in doing good because a beneficial outcome awaits on the other side of our perseverance (Galatians 6:9). God’s word is filled with affirmations reminding us that He’s on our side, rooting for us.
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