Submit to God: Serious about Relationship with Him

James 4:9 (NKJV) 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom

In order to walk in God’s possibilities, we must realize that we have an enemy to our souls. His name is Satan and he is committed to either corrupting us to the point where we will be useless to God or destroying us. James 4:7 gives us the promise that if we resist him, he will flee from us. However, it also makes it clear that the position from which we can successfully resist the devil is submitted to God.

We have looked at a number of things that are indicators of our level of submission to God. We must draw near to him. We must put away sin. We cannot submit to God and behave like the devil. It just does not work. We must put away double mindedness. This is the tendency to be stuck between two thoughts or opinions. Our opinions must be dominated by the truth that God is always right. What he says is the truth, whether in his Word of in our hearts. We must believe and act on that truth no matter what other opinions are present.

In the verse above we once again are confronted with the harshness of James’ language. On the surface it seems that what he is saying is in contrast to Paul. Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always! (Phil. 4:4) James tells us to lament, mourn and weep. How can both be true?

There is no doubt that the joy of the Lord is an important part of the Christian life. Nehemiah calls it our strength. Jesus said he gave us his joy. We are not to be a dour, depressed people. One of the rules of bible interpretation is that we interpret the bible with the bible. Joy must be a part of our walk with God. So what is James saying?

As I was looking at this, I considered what I have observed in my own life and in the people I have pastored over the years. James is not telling us that to be joyful is wrong. He is talking about what it takes to draw near to God in true submission to him. As I read this, what struck me is that we need to take our relationship with God seriously. Many times we simply do not do that.

How many times have we all said, “I really need to pray more.” or, “I really need to get in the Word!” How many times do we actually do those things? How many times do we just treat that thought as one more thing we need to get around to in our busy lives? How important is our submission and relationship to God?

If it was your wife or husband who came to you and said, “I need some time with you.”, what do you think would happen if you ignored them? I can tell you that if you did it too long your relationship would be in trouble. If your children constantly asked you for time but you never give it to them, you should not be surprised when they grow away from you and the things that are important to you. Our relationship with the Lord is even more important.

If your boss came to you and said, “There are some things we need to talk about.”, what would you do? Would you tell him that you would get around to it at some point? Too many of those kinds of responses would result in you looking for another job! You would make time for a meeting with the boss and pay attention to what he had to say. If you valued your paycheck, you would make whatever changes he or she deemed necessary. Do you treat the Lord of the church and of your life with the same respect?

James is not telling us to stop being joyful people. He is telling us that we must begin to take our relationship with and submission to God seriously. We need to give it time. We need to pay attention to what he is trying to tell us. We need to make time for communication with him. That is the real definition of prayer. We need to read, study, meditate and do his Word. We must not do these things when we get around to it. We must do them regularly. We must see this as vital to our success. We cannot walk in God’s possibilities if we do not.

How many times have we felt dry in God? Maybe we feel like we are in a wilderness. We just do not have the same sense of faith or joy we used to have. Maybe we are feeling unloved by God. Maybe we just know something is wrong in our relationship and we do not know what. What do we do about it?

Too many times we ignore the problem. Sometimes we want to blame God. There may be something that did not go right for us or we just feel that God is far away. Once again, if this was a natural relationship that was important to us we would make time to deal with the situation. We would talk about the problem. We would listen to what the person had to say. We would ask what was bothering the person.

We need to take our submission to God just as seriously. When you recognize something is wrong in your relationship to God, immediately make time to spend with the Lord. Pray and ask him what is wrong. Share your heart with him. He is there and he will comfort you. It may take days and you may have to block sections of time when you can, but do not give up. Stay with it until you know you have met the Lord.

Go to his Word and let him guide you to the answers. If he brings correction, pay attention. He never says or does anything that is not for your good. If the problem persists, make some time to fast and pray. I know this may sound extreme to some and you may say, “I just don’t have that kind of time!” We need to remember to whom we are speaking. This is God almighty. Do you really think it is valid to tell him you do not have the time to get things right?

I have seen far too many people take their submission relationship to God lightly. They put off relationship problems with him. They tend to prioritize everything in life as more important than dealing with the issues that keep them from a healthy relationship and a proper submission to God. The longer they ignore the seriousness of this relationship, the farther they get from where God wants them to be.

One day they find that they are so far from where they should be in relationship that they cannot seem to get back. Sometimes they find themselves in sin, in trouble or in crisis. Sometimes they find they just do not care anymore. Both are dangerous. Both will keep us far from God’s possibilities for our lives.

James’ says some harsh sounding things but we need to pay attention. When he tells us to “lament, mourn and weep” he is not advocating that Christians be a dark people. He is talking about taking our submission relationship seriously. When he says “let your laughter be turned into morning and your joy be turned into gloom” he is not saying church should be a quiet, somber place. However, we cannot “laugh off” relationship problems with God. We cannot blame him when things do not go right. I believe in a joyous celebration of our relationship with the Lord but I have heard and seen people who laughed at inappropriate times. Again, we need to remember who we are dealing with.

Lamentations 3:22 (NKJV) 22 Through the LORD’S mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.

Hebrews 10:31 (NKJV) 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

These are not the kind of scriptures we like to read but they are in the bible. We are really talking about the fear of the Lord. That does not mean we should be afraid to be in God’s presence. It means we must remember that we are in the presence of almighty God, not someone else. When almighty God speaks, we listen. When almighty God indicates there is a problem, we deal with it. That is what James is trying to tell us.

If we take our relationship with God seriously, we will be in proper submission. If we are in submission to God we can resist the devil and he will flee from us. If we do that, we will walk in God’s possibilities.

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Submission to God: Clean Hands and Pure Hearts

James 4:8-10 (NKJV) 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

We have been talking about resisting our enemy so that we may walk in God’s possibilities. If we resist our enemy the devil, he will flee from us. That is a promise from James 4:7. However this promise is contingent upon being in submission to God. That is the position from which we can successfully resist the devil. How do we know if we are submitted to God and what steps can we take to ensure that submission? I believe James 4:8-12 gives us both a gage of and the things that we can do to strengthen our submission to God.

In verse 8 we found that the first thing we must do is draw near to God. He will then draw near to us but the decision for how close we will live to him is up to us. We must examine our hearts and adjust our priority structure so that being near to God is at the very top. We draw near to him in his Word, in prayer, in praise and worship and in our relationship with the body of Christ. The priority we give to those things is representative of the priority we give to our relationship to God.

Today I want to look at another gage of our submission. We are most familiar with the way Paul writes. He is a man who knows the depth of God’s forgiveness in his own life and, although he can be hard at times, his understanding of our condition usually comes through in the tone of his words. James is quite different. He is much more direct and often harsher. I prefer Paul, but the Lord reminded me that he put James in the New Testament as well. James says some very direct words concerning our submission to God.

We cannot draw near to God and allow sin to reign in our lives. Paul says much the same thing in Romans 6 but James pulls no punches. We must cleanse our hands and purify our hearts if we are going to walk in submission to God. He calls us sinners. I do not believe he is talking to those who are not yet saved. He is talking to me.

I am not a sinner by nature. I have been born again. I am a new creature in Christ. However, I cannot honestly say I never sin. Therefore, though I am not a sinner by nature, when I sin I am a sinner by action. It is important that we make this distinction if we are going to properly respond to what James has to say. He is not saying we are not new creatures in Christ. He is saying that if we allow sin in our behavior we are not drawing near to God and we are not really submitted to God.

Submission is not something we can do in word only. As the Pastor of a local church, I teach divine order. The bible is clear in Hebrews 13 we are to obey those who are over us in the Lord. That means someone has the right to be over us! I have discovered both as the one submitted to and in my own accountability relationships, that submission is only as strong as when we disagree with the one to whom we are submitted. As long as we like everything that is said, that is not really submission. It is when we do not want to obey that we find out if we are submitted. The same holds true in our submission to God.

James is pointing this out in very certain terms. We are saved and by nature children of God. When we allow sin to take hold of our actions, we are putting a separation between us and God. We cannot expect him to bless actions that do not reflect our submission to him or his Word. When sin or ungodliness takes hold of our actions, we put ourselves under the authority of the devil in that area. We cannot resist the devil and give in to his temptations at the same time.

What do we do about this problem? James tells us what to do but John tells us how. We must cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. Look at 1 John 1.

1 John 1:8-10 (NKJV) 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.

John makes clear what we already know. We do sin. If we say we are immune to the weakness of the flesh we are lying to ourselves and to God. This lie is unnecessary. God already knows we are “but flesh.” He knows humanity living in the world created by Adam’s fall cannot live every moment of every day without giving in to the flesh and the temptation of the enemy. That is why he sent Jesus to die for all sin.

Jesus paid the price for sin through the vehicle of grace. We access the benefit by faith (Ephesians 2:8.) This is true in salvation and it is also true when we yield to temptation after salvation. James tells us we must be cleansed to draw near to God in submission so that we can effectively resist the devil. John tells us that when we confess our sins to the Father, he is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We must shore up our holiness by confessing our sins to God by faith in what Jesus has done so that we will be clean in our submission to him. That is not to say that God will disown us if we do not. The sacrifice of Jesus was good for all time and anyone who receives it is forgiven. However, when we give in to the flesh we put a block between us and God on our side.

When we confess our sin to him, we access the power of grace for that transgression, close the door to any authority of the devil over us and restore our side of relationship to God. All of these things occur because we bring ourselves back into active submission to God, his will and ways. When we do that, we are back in the position that will allow us to resist the devil and see him flee.

James mentions one more thing in verse 8. We must put away doublemindedness. What is that? We should ask James as he defines it earlier in his letter.

James 1:6-8 (NKJV) 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

When we ask anything of God we must not be double minded. James defines this as wavering. The amplified bible says that the asking must not be with hesitation or doubt. I have heard double mindedness described as being of two opinions. If we are going to submit to God we must not be of “two minds.” We cannot waver between our own opinion of what is right and God’s opinion of what is right. God and his Word are right and that must be the end of it.

We used to say, “I can do anything God says I can do.” That is a good and true confession. However, submission requires that we also say, “I must not do what God says I should not do.” You cannot have one without the other. That is James’ lesson to us.

As we put away doublemindedness we will become increasingly stable in our approach to God and to life. We will resist the devil on sure ground. We will not waver at temptation. We will not waver when we read the Word of God and see what God says about our situation. We will read and meditate on the promise of God and with one mind move forward to our destiny in God’s possibilities.

The Position Required for Resistance: Draw Near to God

James 4:8-10 (NKJV) 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

In order to walk in God’s possibilities, we must realize that we have an enemy. That enemy is committed to destroying the children of God and keeping them from walking in God’s possibilities. James 4:7 tells us that if we resist the devil he will flee from us. We can and should resist the devil in every way. He will flee from us and we will walk in God’s possibilities for our lives.

In order to resist, we must be in the right position to resist. James 4:7 tells us what that position must be. We must be submitted to God before we can resist the devil. When we are out of submission to God we are out of position to resist. In military terms, you cannot defeat the enemy if you are out of position in relation to the enemy, your own troops and the battle plan. Submission to God puts us it he proper position in relation to God’s plan, the body of Christ and the devil. We cannot win any other way.

Submission is one of the primary forces of the kingdom of God. When God created man he gave him instructions. If he followed those instructions, submitted to God, he had dominion over all of God’s creation. The moment he chose to rebel against those instructions, he fell under the influence of the devil and lost that dominion. You are subject to whomever you submit. Paul points this out in Romans 6.

Romans 6:16 (NKJV) 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?

When we choose to obey sin, we are submitting to the author of sin, the devil. We become his slaves. When we choose to obey righteousness, we submit to God. We become “slaves” of God. However, this kind of slavery leads to true freedom. Submission to God and Godly authority are cornerstones of the Kingdom of God. Rebellion is the satanic nature and will always release ungodliness.

How can I tell when I am walking in submission to God? What can I do to bring my life into submission to God? I believe James gives us some keys in the section of scripture above. He begins by telling us to draw near to God. When we do that, God will draw near to us. God is always with us but it is up to us to decide how close we want to be to him. He will not force you to submit. Submission is a choice. The teachings of the New Testament make that clear. (Mark 10:42-45, 1 Peter 5:1-5)

In order to be submitted to God, we must choose to submit. I believe there are many ways God can and will help us to come to the conclusion that submission to his will is the right way to go. I think the easiest way for us to learn submission is to voluntarily choose to learn. We must choose to draw near to him. Then we find that he more than meets us halfway as he draws near to us.

There are many things we can do to draw near to God. We draw near to him by giving attention to his Word. We draw near to him by spending time communicating with him in prayer. We draw near to him by thanking God, praising God and worshiping God. We also draw near to him as we cultivate relationship with the body of Christ. I get closer to God as I learn about the God in you.

As I was thinking about this, I felt the Lord say this to me. To draw near to God, we must elevate our relationship with him in our priority structure. Where does your relationship to God fall in the priorities you set for your life? What place does that relationship hold in your time? What place does that relationship hold in your outward behavior and decision making? It should be at the top of our priority structure. If it is not, we are not drawing near to God. If we are not drawing near to God, that is a good indication that we are not submitted to God. It is also an adjustment we can make to create that submission.

If I want my marriage relationship to be healthy, there must be times of “drawing near.” My wife and I have been married for 44 years this August 5. We work together in the ministry so we are together most of the time. However, there are still times when we need to set aside all the other things and life and “draw near” to one another. We need to spend quality time together. We need to talk about the concerns we have. We need to communicate about our decisions and sometimes we just need to renew our love. If we do not, our relationship will not be healthy.

I was doing a study from Hebrews 11 some time ago about the “heroes of faith” mentioned in that chapter. The second “Hero” in the faith pantheon is Enoch. I felt the Lord wanted me to devote a message to each hero. When I researched Enoch there was not much to go on. He had one defining characteristic. Enoch walked with God. Because of this one characteristic it says that Enoch did not die. He was taken up to heaven with God. What made him so in tune with God that the “rules” of that dispensation were suspended for him? He walked with God.

The more I thought about that I realized that our normal focus is God walking with us. We know God is with us. He says he will never leave us and never forsake us (Hebrews 13:5.) We pray, “Lord be with me in this circumstance.” We ask God to go with us into trying situations or places. All of this is good. We should believe that God is with us and we should ask God to go with us where we have to go. Moses confronted God with this request in Exodus 33.

God promised Moses that he would take Israel into the promised land. Because of their lack of submission, he told Moses that he could not go with them. He could not draw near to them because they would not draw near to him. Moses faith often rescued the Children of Israel from themselves and this was one of those times. His persistence with God caused God to promise that his presence would go with them. He said to God, “If your presence does not Go with us, we do not want to go.”

As good as it is for God to walk with us, that is not what it says about Enoch. It says that the thing that set Enoch apart from all the others of his day was that he walked with God. The bible tells us that all the days of Enoch were 365 years. That was a short life compared to his contemporaries. However, Enoch did not die so in reality his life has been much, much longer than all the rest.

What is different about walking with God as opposed to God walking with us? If God walks with me, I am in control of where we go and what we do. If I walk with God, he is in control. He determines my destination and he determines the nature and direction of the journey.

If God is walking with me, I may take some wrong turns and get into some difficult situations. I am thankful that God is with me and will help me. However, if I walk with God, those difficult situations can be avoided. If God walks with me, it shows that he knows me. If I walk with him, I get to know him and his ways more deeply every day.

When I walk with God I am making daily choices to make his priorities my own. I am allowing him to lead me, therefore I am in submission to him. If I simply ask him to walk with me, he will be there. However, the degree to which I walk with him is the degree that I am submitted to him. The degree I am submitted to him will be the degree to which I am able to resist the devil. It is also the degree to which I will walk in faith and therefore the degree to which I will walk in God’s possibilities.

Strength Through Relationship: We Have an Enemy

James 4:7 (NKJV) 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Last week we looked at two basic ideas that are keys to seeing God’s possibilities for our lives. Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” He was not talking about the work of the ministry here. He was talking about dealing with the pressures of life. We need the strength available to us in Christ to overcome the challenges of everyday living.

This strength is made available by grace and accessed by faith. However, if we are going to walk in Jesus strength we must be willing to acknowledge our comparative weakness. Both 2 Corinthians 12 and Isaiah 40 say that God’s strength is available to those who understand they are weak in themselves. This strength is our heritage in Christ. We need it to see God’s possibilities as real and viable options for our lives.

This week I want to move to another scripture that I think presents a key to the impossible. The thing that makes Christianity different from all other religious systems is personal relationship with the Lord. I remember some years ago I was listening to a commentator talking about President George W. Bush. President Bush was not shy about mentioning his faith in God and prayer. This commentator, who was a supporter, wanted to help the president by making sure people knew he was not some kind of crackpot. He said, “It’s not like he’s talking to God and God is talking back!” I thought at the time, “That’s exactly what it’s like.” That is what makes Christianity different.

We access the strength of God by relationship with him through Christ Jesus. That level of relationship is necessary if we are going to see God’s possibilities. This scripture points out two important aspects of how this relationship works. Let me start with what James says second. We often quote this part of the verse and it is valid to do so. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Our relationship with the Lord has an enemy. One of the things I see happening in the church is a de-emphasis of the reality of the spirit world in general and our enemy, the devil and his forces, in particular. The church has been under attack by the media, education and many other leftist forces. The nature of this attack is to portray bible believing people as backward, ignorant and intolerant. Part of the way we have reacted is to minimize any mention of things that would reinforce that perceptions. The idea of demons and the devil would fall into that category.

I believe this is a major mistake. It may have started out as something we did to control perceptions, but too often perception becomes reality. I sense that we are increasingly pushing the reality of the spiritual battle to the background. This is not biblical. Look at what Paul says.

Ephesians 6:12 (NKJV) 12 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.

Paul makes it clear that our enemies are not the flesh and blood we can see but the spiritual powers we cannot see. The first battle Jesus fought after his baptism was against an invisible foe, the devil.

Luke 4:1-2 (NKJV) 1 Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.

Jesus was not tempted for 40 days by the Pharisees or the Romans. He would fight many battles with those groups but his first battle, and the one that mattered most, was not with them. It was with the devil. We cannot be successful fighting battles in the natural alone. Both Paul and Jesus dealt with natural opposition but they understood that to deal with the visible they had to do battle in the invisible. So must we.

One of the greatest challenges of our day is the fight against terrorism. There is a great press in many circles to make sure we do not offend anyone by naming the enemy. Although it is true that many groups have used terror as a weapon when more conventional means have failed to produce results, today there is really only one group that has embraced it as a viable and acceptable method to make war. That group is radical, Jihadist Islam. There is virtually no one else carrying out the attacks we read about with increasing frequency.

I know that there are wonderful Moslem people in the world who love peace and hate terror. However, that does not change the fact that to defeat the current terrorist enemy we must be willing to identify it as the enemy. As long as we do not we fail to expose it for what it is and we cannot defeat it. This is right out of the devil’s playbook.

The Satan’s greatest weapon against God and humanity is deception. His name means deceiver. His greatest deception is to convince people he does not exist. If he can do that, we will ignore him until he so corrupts that it is too late for us to overcome the corruption. Jesus said the thief, Satan, comes with a purpose.

John 10:10 (NKJV) 10 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

The abundant life spoken of by Jesus is the fullness of God’s possibilities in your life. That is Jesus will for you. However, we have an enemy to that and his name is Satan, the thief. He comes for one three-fold reason. He wants to bring death, destruction and corruption into your life. His most effective way to do that is by stealth. If you do not know he is there and if you ignore what he is doing you will not resist him.

James tells us in this verse that if we do resist him he will flee from us. James words are very positive and uncompromising. He does not say he might flee. He says that he will flee from the believer who resists him. You can understand why the devil would do anything he can to make sure we do not resist him. If we do resist him, the devil tries to limit our resistance to the natural. The real power of our resistance against the devil is not in the natural but in the spirit. If he can keep us from doing that, he will keep us from really winning the battle.

There was a time during the Charismatic movement that the focus was too much on what the devil was doing and not enough on what God was doing. There were those who saw every problem and every emotional issue as a demon. We used to say “They see a demon behind every doorknob. That was not right either. Everything is not a demon. There are natural things we need to do. There are natural issues that require natural solutions.

That said, our power is never in our natural ability. It is always in the power of the invisible world of the spirit. We need that strength we talked about last week and it comes from the inner man not the outward. Even the natural things we must do should be fueled by the power of the spirit. We must recognize that natural challenges have supernatural components and those components need to be dealt with in the supernatural.

Balance is the key to life and I think the balance is tipping too far away from the reality of the spirit. We need to get it right. We need to resist the devil. If we do he will flee. If we do not acknowledge or recognize that he is there, we will not resist him.

Although I think it is a good thing to quote the second half of this verse, it is only the second half. James did not just say “resist the devil and he will flee from you.” He said “Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee from you.” That is a very different thing. To successfully resist, we need to be truly submitted to God. Tomorrow we will begin to find out what that means.

Strength Made Perfect in Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:9 (NKJV) 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

This week we have been looking at Philippians 4:10-13 as another key to releasing God’s possibilities. Paul found the secret of contentment in whatever state he found himself. He could have plenty or not enough. He could be in difficult times or easy times. He could do all those things by the strengthening power of Christ.

I believe we all need to find the key of contentment. We should not be complacent. We should not stop striving and believing for better things in life. We should resist the devil and he will flee from us. However, if our walk, our emotional health or our sense of how much God loves us is determined by natural circumstances we are limited to the natural. When I can be consistent in my spiritual life no matter what is going on around me, I am will be able to access the supernatural possibilities of God.

In today’s scripture we read a verse that has often been misunderstood. There are those who say that Paul had a terrible illness and this verse is the Lord telling him that he would not be healed. Some use this verse to prove it is not always God’s will to heal our bodies. There are several problems with this thinking. Healing is part of our covenant with God. Isaiah 53 points that out. Second the previous verses say that Paul was talking about a messenger of Satan. The bible tells us that we should resist the devil not give in to him (James 4:7.)

I also want to point what Jesus actually said to Paul. “My grace is sufficient for you.” He did not say insufficient. I think that this means it was sufficient to sustain Paul until he overcame this challenge. I also believe that the grace of God would have eventually produced victory. Paul asked God to deal with this “messenger of Satan.” God said to Paul, ‘I already took care of him by grace. Now go and do what I told James. Resist the devil and he will flee from you!”

Whatever we choose to believe about Paul’s infirmity, one thing is not open for debate. Jesus told Paul that His strength was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. As people of faith we do not like to admit weakness. “How can I be weak if God is with me?” To that I say, “Precisely!” The question is not whether we are strong but whether are able to access the strength with which Christ has promised to strengthen us.

This scripture points to the channel for Jesus’ strength. It comes by grace. Grace is unmerited favor. Grace is the vehicle by which God saved humanity. Faith is the vehicle humanity uses to access grace. Jesus told Paul that his grace was sufficient for him. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me and that strength is mine by grace: what Jesus has already done in salvation.

Grace is by definition a gift. When I give gifts it is only a gift if the recipient does not pay for it. I like to give gifts the recipients cannot pay for. That is what makes it a gift! We must understand that the reinforcing power of Christ does not come to us because we paid the price to get it. It does not come to us because we have been “especially good.” We are not educated into it and there is no special experience we need outside of salvation to be eligible for this strength. It comes by grace and grace alone.

Why is this important? We tend to think in terms of what we have done, should have done or can do. The strength in Philippians 4, cannot come to us in that way. Everything that is ours by grace can only be received by faith. If you want to be strengthened by Jesus so you can be consistent in any situation, you are going to have to believe it is available to you and access it.

The devil will do to you what he did to Paul. Why did Jesus remind Paul of grace? I believe it was because Paul was thinking he had done something to keep Jesus from helping him or he had not done something to earn that help. Jesus wants him to know that neither is true. He wants him to know that his grace is all that Paul needed to defeat the devil.

We can see in from scripture in Philippians as well as what Paul says in Romans 8 that he learned this lesson. Paul declares that he is “more than a conqueror” in various difficult situations because he is persuaded that he cannot be separated from the love of God. That is the essence of grace.

Why then, does Jesus mention weakness. We see a very similar scripture in the Old Testament.

Isaiah 40:28-31 (NKJV) 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, The Creator of the ends of the earth, Neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength. 30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, 31 But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

This is one of the most famous and comforting scriptures in the bible. Those who wait on the Lord will renew, or exchange, their strength. The idea in the Hebrew is that of covenant. I give God all my strength and I get his strength. However, verse 30 makes something very clear. If we want to access His strength, we must not trust in ours. It says “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength.”

We like to think that we can handle most things in life. We generally can. Nevertheless, what happens when we cannot? What do we do when we run into a situation that we are not equipped spiritually, emotionally or physically to handle? Most of the time we do all that we can and if all else fails we pray. Often it is too late by then and the enemy wins a victory over us. What should we do?

I believe we must continually acknowledge that our only true strength is in our relationship with Christ. Of course there are things we do not need a miracle to deal with. The Lord expects us to use our abilities as well as some good old common sense to deal with life. I am not talking about living in some spiritual bubble where we declare that we are just “poor old sinners.” I believe we need to declare what Paul says we should be.

Ephesians 6:10 (NKJV) 10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.

I am strong but I am strong “in the Lord” and not in myself. We know this religiously but I believe we need to accept this by revelation. The focus is not really on how weak I am. The focus is on how strong Jesus is in comparison to me. It is also on the fact that his strength is mine. It is not just mine when I can do no more. It is mine all the time. It is mine by covenant.

If I will not acknowledge that I am weak in comparison to God I will not access the strength that is rightfully mine. I will be focused on the natural possibilities for my life and not on the possibilities that His strength makes available to me. I believe we need to use what God has given us. At the same time, I believe we need to meditate on the strength of Christ that is available to us. It will sustain us through trials. It will give us victory over the enemy. It will release the power of God’s possibilities in our circumstances.

Do not wait until you are so overwhelmed that you can go no farther. Accept that you are weak compared to him and practice believing and receiving his strength. Then when you run into something that is beyond you, you will be ready to tap into the power that is yours in Christ. The transition to “His strength” will be seamless and supernatural possibilities will become the norm for your life.

Through Christ Who Strengthens Me

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Yesterday we began looking at this scripture as a key to releasing God’s possibilities. We established that this oft quoted verse does not mean exactly what we usually think it does. It is certainly true that if God is with us, there is nothing we cannot do. If he has called us to minister to a person in some way, he will enable us to do that ministry. We can heal the sick, work miracles or do anything God asks us to do as he gives us the power. However, the primary context of this verse does not say that. It is talking about dealing with the trials and pressures of life.

Paul says he knows how to be abased or abound. He knows how to have enough or go without. He can deal with anything he must face though Christ who strengthens him in his everyday living. He says that in any state he finds himself he is able to be content. I believe this is a key to faith for the impossible. That may seem counter intuitive, however, if we can learn to maintain the same relationship with the Lord no matter what we are dealing with, we will be able to access the invisible power of the spirit.

I had an interesting opportunity to practice this recently. We were in an African nation where a friend of mine occupies a high government position. When my wife and I arrived, we were escorted from the plane to a semi-limousine and taken to the presidential lounge. While there, our customs and immigration procedure was taken care of as we drank coffee. After a few minutes our luggage was brought to us and we were put in another car and driven to see our friend. For the rest of the trip, a protocol car and officer were available to us whenever we had to go anywhere.

Where we were staying was across the city. To get to us the protocol people had to go through a particularly dense market area. It could take two or more hours for what would be a 40-minute journey for us. One of the churches we were ministering in was only 15 minutes down the road. One of our friends had a car and he would pick us up for church. It was not a very nice car. You could not open the back doors from inside. The interior was old and it was mechanically questionable, but it was just a 15-minute drive!

My friend did not like the fact that we did not call the protocol car. I just could not see sending people on a two-hour each way ordeal to take me 15 minutes down the road. He wanted to bless me, and I appreciated it. I enjoyed the plush ride. I liked that we had a police escort to the airport when it was time to go home. I liked being treated like a dignitary. That is not usually the case. However, I did not feel less important riding in my other friend’s car.

It is wonderful to be blessed with nice things, to live in a nice house or stay in the finest hotel. I really like having good food to eat and some nice clothes. However, if I look at the outward, I am only going to draw from the outward. If I can be the same no matter what surrounding I am in, I am able to believe God to deal with those conditions. In the end I will minister to those who need me and the Lord will give me some times when I have the “protocol officer” at my disposal.

We can have this consistency in only one way. We must access the strengthening power of Jesus Christ. Paul says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” There is a power that comes to us when we choose to be consistent in any circumstance. Jesus himself will strengthen us. Let us look at some definitions.

The Greek word means to endure with strength or increase strength. The English simply means to make stronger. We might also say that to strengthen is to reinforce. Concrete is made stronger by including metal bars called “re-bar.” Such concrete is called “reinforced concrete.” It is stronger by and an order of magnitude more than regular concrete.

Another use of reinforce is to add troops to a battle when the current force is insufficient. We send in more troops to reinforce those that are there. The extra strength will cause them to prevail if it is great enough. We can do all things through Christ who reinforces us. Without that reinforcement we will not be up to the task.

The word strength is also interesting. The Greek word means power or ability. It is inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth. We are talking about the inherent power of God residing in Jesus our savior.

The English sheds more light. It is the quality or state of being strong: capacity for exertion or endurance. It is also the power to resist force and conversely to exert force. If I am strong it means I can endure whatever comes against me. It means I can exert whatever energy I must in order to prevail. It also means I can resist the force against me, the devil. I can also exert force against the devil that I must to overcome him. All of this is possible, not because I am strong in myself. It is possible because I can be reinforced by Jesus strength.

What a powerful picture we see here. When I run out of strength, Jesus comes in with reinforcement. He reinforces me in my soul and body. Look at this verse from Ephesians.

Ephesians 3:16 (NKJV) 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,

I can be strengthened with might in my inner man. This inward fortitude will enable me to be consistent in my attitudes and my faith until I see the victory over my circumstances. What about the attacks of the enemy?

James 4:7 (NKJV) 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

James tells us that if we submit to God we can resist the devil and he will flee from us. He goes on to say that the key is to draw near to God. What happens when we draw near to God? We are strengthened by Christ Jesus.

I am not talking about complacency. I am talking about a complete reliance on the power of God in my life. I am talking about refusing to evaluate that power by my outward circumstances. I am talking about being so focused on Jesus that the outward does not matter. In whatever state I find myself I know that Christ is for me so who can be against me. You may look at my outward situation and see lack or failure. I choose to see the possibilities of God and Christ strengthens me as I do.

This is a promise to you. If you will access it by faith, the reinforcing power of Jesus is available to you. The more difficult the circumstances, the greater the strength that can come to you. It will come to you inwardly to strengthen your resolve, your character and your patience or endurance. I know we do not like that word but the bible is clear that we must “endure to the end” to see the victory. You cannot lose unless you quit. You cannot win if you quit. The strength that comes from Christ will keep you from quitting. (Matthew 24:13)

At the right time this strength will enable you to push through the devil and the problem until you see victory. The force of faith can and will be exerted against the resistance of the natural and the devil because our inward man has not been weakened by the trial, it has been strengthened.

Paul’s statements in Philippians 4 can seem like statements of weakness but they are not. In consistency is strength. If the devil cannot cause you to fail within, you cannot fail without. There is one thing that must be in place if we are going to access this strength. We must acknowledge our weakness.

More tomorrow.

The Apostle Paul in Real Life: Contentment

Philippians 4:10-13 (NKJV) 10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

For me, 2016 has been a year of impossibilities that have been swallowed up by God’s possibilities. We are moving into some new areas in life and ministry. These areas involve much more travel overseas than ever before in my life. We do not have the resources for this and yet God has provided every time for what we need to do. He has used expected channels and unexpected channels.

Our theme for this year is “all things are possible to him who believes” and we have seen that come to pass before our eyes. As we have been studying this truth, there have been many keys that God has shown me that release God’s possibilities. Today’s scripture is another one.

I believe that if scriptural principles will not work in real life they have no value. It is a good thing to study theology and discuss doctrinal points of view, but until we see them work where we live it is only theory. Paul was the most educated of the apostles. He understood things the rest of them did not. He liked to debate in the market with the Jews and gentiles alike. I have been to Athens and stood in the Agora where Paul would have had some of these discussions. It is truly inspiring.

That said, Paul was a real person just like you and me. He had good and bad days. He had successes but he also had failures. In fact, by modern standards Paul could not be considered a success. He was hated by his own and by the world. He was seen as weak in his presentation and harsh in his convictions. He started a number of churches, but it is questionable as to whether he was the pastor of any of them for very long. He gives us a list of the challenges he faced in 2 Corinthians 11.

2 Corinthians 11:24-28 (NKJV) 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness– 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.

There is very little on this list that I would want on my resume! Yet in Romans 8, after another list of the trials he suffered, we see a statement that puts all this into an interesting perspective.

Romans 8:37 (NKJV) 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.

How can Paul say that he is more than a conqueror and list all these problems? Paul would not have been a success by our standards. However, he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. He was an eternal success. He faced many trials but found a key that allowed him to rise above them all. His life was a series of impossible situations yet his testimony in the end was “I have finished the race and kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) He lived in the realm of God’s possibilities and it caused him to be a success in heaven’s eyes. I wonder how many of us would choose that today.

When I first learned the principles of faith, I probably would have tried to overlook or explain this scripture away. I could not have seen how what Paul says here could be a key to releasing God’s possibilities by faith. After more than thirty-eight years in ministry, I know it is impossible to continue in faith without understanding what Paul explained in this scripture.

We often quote verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We use it to say that we can heal the sick or raise the dead. We think in terms of doing great things for God through “Christ who strengthens me.” All of which is true but Paul is talking about something much more mundane. The context is that the Philippian church sent him an offering. When he got it he thanked them and in the course of thanking them he reveals that things had not been going so well.

He tells them that it is good that “finally” their care had abounded to him again. He says that he does not speak according to need yet if you read the context he did have needs. Paul was in yet another challenging time. Once again, this time through the church at Philippi, the Lord released his possibility into Paul’s impossibility.

There is something we can see in what Paul says that will help us. He tells the Philippians that he knows how to have enough and he knows how to suffer lack. He knows how to be abased and he knows how to abound. I do not think most of us know how to do either. Paul says that he “can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.” In this statement he makes it absolutely certain that he will see God’s possibilities released in his impossible situation.

The key to the impossible Paul reveals is that he has learned to be content no matter what is happening around him. I am not talking about complacency. I am not talking about just laying down under circumstances. I am not talking about accepting bad things and realizing that some things just do not change. I am talking about something far more important and far deeper than that. I am talking about realizing that no matter what you may be facing today, you will never be without the Lord in your life. Speaking to his son in the faith, Timothy he says, “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)

Paul went through some hard things. Life can be hard. Anyone who tells you that you can live a life devoid of hard times is lying. You will face challenges. You will have great days and bad days. The mark of success is not how high you fly but in the fact that you keep flying no matter what! When Paul says he can do all things through Christ, he means he can deal with any problem and be the same person and have the same face through all of them. (1 Timothy 6:6)

I believe contentment is lacking in most people today. We live in a culture of discontent. We live vicariously through the experiences of movies and TV shows. Our lives pale in comparison to the ones we see played out on our screens. In the past the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” we never seen by most people. Today we are ushered into their homes most every night.

We are bombarded with all the reasons why what we have is not good enough. We need the latest and greatest new thing or life is hardly worth living! Excuse my hyperbole, but I think you get the idea.

I am not saying we should not believe for better things in life. However, if you get those things is that what will make life worth living. I like to be comfortable. I like to have new things and nice things. However, I do not feel that my life is more complete if I do not have them.

That is a key to seeing God’s impossible released in your life. Paul found that he could be consistent no matter what was going on in his life. Since he did not judge his life by the outward conditions, it freed him to access the power of the inward. Since it is the inward where true strength and power lie, nothing is impossible for one who finds that consistency.