SYNOPSIS: When you and I come to trust that God cares for us, and is competent to do so, we can live confidently—we will experience God’s transcendent peace guarding our hearts and and protecting our minds. And when we live in the settled assurance of that promise, all of life will change for us. We will live not only with faith in Jesus, but we will live with the faith of Jesus.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
I like how Dallas Willard, an influential Christian thinker, defines the peace that the Apostle Paul promises as the fruit of prayer and petition:
The peace of Christ is the settled assurance that because of God’s care and God’s competence, this world is a perfectly safe place for me…even though it doesn’t always seem so.
When you and I come to trust that God cares for us, and is competent to do so, we can live confidently—we will experience the transcendent peace of God guarding our hearts and minds. And when we live in the settled assurance of that promise, all of life will change for us.
That’s the kind of settled assurance that Jesus lived in. Author John Ortberg describes it in this helpful way—which I will summarize:
In Matthew 8, Jesus and his disciples are in a boat in the middle of a storm. The disciples are frantic, but Matthew reports that Jesus is sleeping! Why does Matthew include that detail? He wanted us to know what Jesus knew about life in the Father’s hands: That given God’s care and competence, the world was a perfectly safe place—even in the midst of raging storm! So he sleeps right through it. Now in their frantic state, the disciples went to Jesus since they trusted he’d do something to help them. They had faith in Jesus, but they didn’t have the faith of Jesus.
Wouldn’t you love to have not only faith in Jesus, but the faith of Jesus? What would that look like for you? In your financial life you would be more generous and less focused on yourself. The me-centeredness and materialism that robs you of joy and energy and freedom would take a back seat to calm and contentment and compassion. In your emotional life, there would be a whole lot less anxiety, guilt, insecurity and frenzied living. There would be inner calm and poise even under the most intense pressure. In your relational life there would be less hostility. You would be much better at resolving conflict. You would not be so caught up in who likes you…or doesn’t. People would die to be near you because of your confidence.
When you live in the settled assurance of God’s care and competence, you’ll become an oasis of sanity in a world of conflict and chaos. That is what God promises to give us when we exchange our anxiety for his peace through prayer. Thankful prayer is simply the practice of reflecting back to God an acknowledgment of his careful and competent involvement in your life.
Exchanging of your anxiety for God’s peace That sounds like a pretty favorable exchange, I’d say!
“You can tell the size of your God by looking at the size of your worry list. The longer your list, the smaller your God.”
Reflect and Apply: Anxiety is your cue to pray. Your anxious feelings may or may not subside right away, but just do it. If you will begin to lift thankful prayer, you will experience what God guarantees: The peace of God—no matter what!
You Are Called To Take A Stand
SYNOPSIS: The realm of spiritual warfare where the Christian resides is no theological Switzerland. Moral issues demand that we take a stand as Kingdom ambassadors. We cannot keep our distance from this conflict; we cannot stay neutral in it. We must engage, even when the odds seem overwhelming. To step forward in faith into the fray is to be on the right side of history—and time will prove it.
The Journey// Focus: Judges 5:15-18, 24-25
The princes of Issachar were with Deborah; yes, Issachar was with Barak, sent under his command into the valley. In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. Why did you stay among the sheep pens to hear the whistling for the flocks? In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart. Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan. And Dan, why did he linger by the ships? Asher remained on the coast and stayed in his coves. The people of Zebulun risked their very lives; so did Naphtali on the terraced fields….Most blessed of women was Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women.
When they write a song about you, it is either going to be a really good thing or a really bad thing. Whichever the case, it will be remembered for a long time. And if you think you are not going to get a song, think again—everybody gets a faith-song.
In Judges 5, the prophetess Deborah wrote a song on the occasion of the Israelites’ victory, led by General Barrak, over the Canaanites and their leader, General Sisera. The very memorable and brutal battle took place in Judges 4, and ended with the gruesome death of Sisera, which Deborah memorializes in this song—a song she not only composed, but sang for all to hear.
The tune, however, was not just a celebration; it was a bit of a diatribe, too. Not only did she celebrate the brave hearts of several of Israel’s tribe: Issachar, Ephraim, Benjamin and Zublun, along with a courageous lady named Jael, but she also castigates the indecision of other tribes: Rueben, Dan and Asher. These latter tribes apparently sat out the conflict because it didn’t really concern them directly.
Rueben was conflicted about joining the fight, apparently not so sure there would be a good outcome, given how badly Israel was outmanned and outgunned: “In Reuben there was much searching of heart.” (Judges 5:15-16). The others, the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin and Zebulun, were either sitting in the safety of being far from the conflict or too busy with their own thing to jump into the fray.
Despite their lack of participation, Israel conquered the Canaanites. It was an amazing victory for Israel when General Barak put the larger, better equipped army led by General Sisera to flight, no thanks to these aforementioned peaceniks. When the time came for courage, for the reasons mentioned above, they stayed home, but in so doing, earned the ire of this steely prophetess, Deborah. She interpreted their reluctance as disloyalty to the nation, which was tantamount to a lack of faith, disobedience and disloyalty to God. Deborah called them out quite publically for seeing themselves as separate entities rather than as a part of the nation as a whole, a problem Moses had previously warned about, and a problem that actually became reality in future chapters throughout Judges.
So what does this story have to do with you? Simply this: there is always a conflict in the believer’s life—whether you want it or not; whether you want to acknowledge it or not. At times the conflict is in the unseen realm, while at other times it spills over into the real world in your personal, family, social, professional and church life. In the battle that rages, there is always a right and wrong side, a side that represents good and one that represents evil. And wherever conflict invades your world, there are always three positions you can take—one right, two wrong.
The two wrong sides are similar to what we see immortalized in Deborah’s song. One side, represented by Reuben, is to stay neutral in the fray when the choice is clear. The Rueben mentality is conflicted, not sure what to do, worried about the cost, wanting to play it safe, but not feeling so good about sitting it out. But safe it is not—it is wrong, for in the fight of faith, there is no spiritual Switzerland. Moral issues demand that we take a stand.
The second wrong side takes a definite stance to sit it out. They are too busy, too far removed (they don’t have a dog in this fight, or so they think), and to jump in would take too much effort with little reward. But in the fight of faith where the choice is clear, staying off the field will only get you into history books, and for the wrong reason. Spiritual infamy is not what you want when you were needed in the conquest.
There is only one right side—to step forward in faith and fight for right. When sin threatens, encroaches or seeks to enslave, even when it seems the odds are against you or against those who need your help, Deborah’s eternal call is to jump into the fray. Her words to Barak are the Word of the Lord to you: This is the day the Lord has given your enemy into your hands—for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” (Judges 4:14)
Where is the battle of faith calling you to take a stand today? If there is an identifiable conflict, jump into the fray. God is already there and you are not only guaranteed a win, but also a song to commemorate your conquest.
Where is the fight of faith in your world right now? Is there an issue of sin in your personal world, rebellious behavior in your family or among your friends, an uprising in your church or a moral issue in your place of work? Discern whether this is a case of sticking your nose where is doesn’t belong, or getting on the right side of history by declaring that you are on God’s side. Get on the right side—they will sing about you some day.
God Is Already There Where He Has Call You To Go
SYNOPSIS: What would you attempt for God if you knew that he was already where your steps of faith would lead you? How energetically would you press forward if you knew he was waiting there for you to arrive? What level of confidence would you have knowing that God had gone ahead of you and secured your victory even before the battle began? The truth is, when God calls you to step out, he has not only promised to be with you, he has promised to actually go before you, and while you may not see around the bend of faith, God is already there with your victory in hand.
The Journey// Focus: Judges 4:14-15
Then Deborah said to Barak, “Get ready! This is the day the Lord will give you victory over Sisera, for the Lord is marching ahead of you.” So Barak led his 10,000 warriors down the slopes of Mount Tabor into battle. When Barak attacked, the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and warriors into a panic.
What would you attempt for God if you knew the Lord was marching ahead of you? What grand thing would you pursue if you knew that he was already where your steps of faith would lead you, waiting for you to arrive? What level of confidence would you have knowing that God had gone ahead of you and secured your victory even before the battle began?
When God calls you to a step of faith, you are guaranteed his presence and his power, which means that you are invincible in the journey. Moreover, he has not only promised to be with you, he has promised to actually go before you, and while you may not see around the bend of faith, God is already there, waiting for you to take the victory lap for a victory that he won for you. How cool is that!
That is exactly what the prophetess Deborah is telling the reluctant general of the Israelite army, Barak. He is shivering in his boots knowing that his army is outmanned and outgunned by the Canaanite army of General Sisera. We are told in Judges 4:3, “Sisera, who had 900 iron chariots, ruthlessly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years.” 900 iron chariots to Israel’s none…no wonder, on a human level, Barak was not too excited about leading Israel into battle.
But this battle was not going to be fought only on a human level. No battle is. In the spiritual realm, God had already heard the cries of the Israelites and had determined to deliver them from their oppressors under the guidance of Deborah the Judge and Barak the General. In light of that, the fight was over before it even started. Barak couldn’t see that, but Deborah could. That is why she told him, “now get out there and fight, for God is already ahead of you and has guaranteed the victory. C’mon, go take your victory lap.” And that is exactly what Barak did, and a great deliverance for Israel was accomplished.
Perhaps you are a little uncertain about what’s next for you. Maybe you’re not too confident about your future. Maybe the circumstance you face are overwhelming, from a human perspective. You are outnumbered and outgunned. But where God is asking you to step out in faith, those odds do not matter one iota. God is on your side; he is with you, he is actually before you. He is already where he has called you to go, waiting for you to walk into a victory that he has secured for you. You cannot loose. So take heart.
Therefore, because of God’s exemplary record of faithful goodness in leading his people to victory, do not be afraid to trust an unknown tomorrow to a known God. So get ready! This is the day God will give you victory, for the he is marching ahead of you. That is God’s promise to you!
In a verse similar to this, King David said to his son Solomon as he gave him the daunting task of building a temple in Jerusalem to the God of Israel,
Be strong and courageous and get to work. Don’t be frightened by the size of the task, for the Lord God is with you; he will not forsake you. He will see to it that everything is finished correctly. (1 Chronicles 28:20, LB)
Whatever is before you, if God is calling you to step out, then do it with confidence; God is already out there where you have been called to go. And he has guaranteed victory if you will go with him!
Picture your greatest challenge. Once you have that in view, picture God already there waiting for you. Now get out there; go take a victory lap in a victory that God has won for you.
I Am Third
SYNOPSIS: To this day, my all-time favorite football player is Gale Sayers, the “Kansas Comet”. Gale not only was a star running back for the University of Kansas, in the early 1970’s he ran circles around defenses as a pro playing for the Chicago Bears—literally. If you ever get a chance to watch film of Gale, do it! It’s as if the man could run in two directions as the same time. Gale was also an incredible human being, whose life philosophy was captured by the title of his autobiography, “I Am Third.” What is the “I Am Third” philosophy of life? Simply this: God is first, my family and friends are second and I am third. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Jesus, in the Great Commandment, said as much: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
To this day, my all-time favorite football player is Gale Sayers, the “Kansas Comet”. Gale not only was a star running back for the University of Kansas, in the early 1970’s he ran circles around defenses as a pro playing for the Chicago Bears—literally. If you ever get a chance to watch film of Gale, do it! It’s as if the man could run in two directions as the same time. Gale was also an incredible human being, whose life philosophy was captured by the title of his autobiography, “I Am Third”.
What is the “I Am Third” philosophy of life? Simply this: God is first, my family and friends are second and I am third. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Jesus, in the Great Commandment, said as much:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Not only did Jesus issue that as a commandment for his followers, he modeled it as a way of life. Philippians 3:1-11 is a short but stunning description of the “I Am Third” principle on display in the life of Jesus. That was fundamentally how Jesus lived, it was at the core of who Jesus was, it is how Jesus is now presented to the world through the lives of his followers—or at least, should be. Simply put, Jesus’ life and ministry was characterized by “I Am Third”. His orientation was others!
What about you? Is that your life-philosophy, too? Not just in theory, but in practice—are you “others” orientated?? I hope so! I hope that for me as well. It is not a philosophy that is easy to pull off because of the gravitational pull of our selfish nature, but we have been given the Holy Spirit to boost us beyond our sinful atmosphere into the orbit of “I Am Third” living.
Others—that is the Christian orientation.“I Am Third—that is the fundamental philosophy of the authentic Christ-follower. God first, others second, me third—from heaven’s perspective, that is the most powerful use of a human being’s life.
“I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” ~William Penn
Reflect & Apply: C.S. Lewis wrote, “Our prayers for others flow more easily than those for ourselves. This shows we are made to live by charity.” That is true. Though we’ve been corrupted by sin, God’s original design had us oriented toward others, not ourselves. As you seek to return to his design today, with his help, of course, you will discover the descent to serve will lead you to the summit of exaltation. (Philippians 2:9, James 4:10, Luke 6:38) Enjoy the view!
A Tempered Faith Requires A Tested Trust
SYNOPSIS: Why doesn’t God completely vaporize your every spiritual enemy? He is testing you and he is teaching you. He allows you to be in strenuous situations to test and temper your faith, and then in those moments, he forces you to learn the art of spiritual warfare. The argument could be made that you wouldn’t really need the testing and teaching if you were sinlessly perfect, but you are not. So God does you a favor by getting you battle ready through testing and teaching.
The Journey// Focus: Judges 3:1-2,4
These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had no previous battle experience)….These enemy nations were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the Lord’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses.
Do you ever wish God would just annihilate sin in your life? Wouldn’t it be nice it he removed everything that troubles your soul? How wonderful it would be if the Christian’s voyage from salvation to eternity was nothing but smooth sailing!
Yes, that would be nice. But God’s doesn’t’ work that way. He could have given Abraham and Sarah, whom he called the parents of many nations, an heir long before they were in their nineties and well past the years of bearing a son. He didn’t have to leave Joseph languishing in a prison cell for fifteen years training him in how to be a faithful leader in small matters and under great duress when a weekend stay would have sufficed. The Lord didn’t have to teach Moses how to shepherd Israel over a forty year illustrious career by first burying him in ignominy and isolation during a forty year stint as a goat herder on the backside of the Sinai desert. And God didn’t have to take the Israelites on a forty-year meandering journey through that same desert when two years would have gotten them from Egypt to Canaan and more than sufficed to mold them into a nation.
The thing is, God takes his time in preparing his people. He does it apart from our sense of time because God is God. And God knows more than we do. And God can do what he wants. And God knows that it takes us a long time to learn. So he uses the sharpest edged tool, discomfort, to test us and to train us for glorious purposes.
After Joshua died and the Israelites settled into Canaan, there were more than a few enemy nations still left in the land. Moses had commanded that Israel wipe them out because they would ultimately lead God’s people astray by enticing them to tolerate, then accept, then actually worship their gods. Israel had failed to remove these nations, and sure enough, Israel began to intermarry with some of them and live alongside others as if it was no big deal. But it was a big deal indeed, because what Moses predicted was exactly what happened: Israel began to embrace the unspeakable pagan practices of these Canaanite nations. So God punished them.
Punishment came in the form of subjugation—the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Hivites and Jebusites defeated Israel and put onerous demands and taxation upon them. Finally, in desperation, Israel cried out to God, who in turn raised up judges to deliver his people. This is the story of Judges: judge after judge is raised up to lead Israel into repentance, unite and inspire them, then lead them into battle and throw off the oppressive yoke of their masters. This vicious cycle of subjugation, desperation, repentance and deliverance took place over a period of 400 years.
But there was something else going on during this time. God was testing the loyalty of his people by leaving these pagan nations that Israel had failed to remove; he wanted to show them how easy and quickly they would surrender to the enticement of false gods. Which they did! And he not only tested them, but he had to teach them how to battle their way back to holiness and freedom by throwing off the yoke of their oppressors. They had to suffer the consequences of the pain that always came after enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season; they had to relearn the power of holiness; and they had to learn literal fighting skills that it would take to decimate these enemy nations.
Why doesn’t God completely vaporize your every spiritual enemy? Same reasons! He is testing you and he is teaching you. He allows you to be in strenuous situations to test and temper your faith, and then in those moments, he forces you to learn the art of spiritual warfare. The argument could be made that you wouldn’t really need the testing and teaching if you were sinlessly perfect, but you are not. So God does you a favor by testing you and teaching you.
So until you are sinlessly perfect—which means you will have died and are firmly in heaven—then praise God that in the meantime he is getting you battle ready!
Are you enduring hardship and spiritual harassment? Step back and think about how God might be allowing this as a test to temper your faith. Then look for ways that you can cooperate with God as his gets you prepared for the battle ahead.