Sometimes we are too casual about prayer. But in times of trouble we find ourselves wrestling with the Lord in prayer every day, until we are assured in our spirit that He has everything under control. The more we want to be reminded of that assurance, the more we go to our prayer closet.
The truth is, God never allows an affliction in our lives except as an act of love. We see this illustrated in the tribe of Ephraim in Israel. The people had fallen into great affliction, and they cried out to God in grief. He responded, “I have surely heard Ephraim bemoaning himself thus” (Jeremiah 31:18).
Like David, Ephraim testified, “Thou has chastised me . . . as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke: turn thou me . . . for thou art the Lord my God” (31:18). In other words: “Lord, You chastened us for a reason. We were like a young, untrained bull, full of energy, but You chastened us to tame us for Your service. You brought our wildness under control.”
You see, God had great plans for the tribe of Ephraim, fruitful, satisfying plans. But first they had to be instructed and trained. Thus, Ephraim declared, “I repented; and after that I was instructed” (31:19). They said, in effect: “In the past, when God had us in the classroom preparing us for His service, we couldn’t take correction. We ran away, crying, ‘It’s too hard.’ We were stubborn, constantly slipping out of the yoke He put upon us. Then God put on us a tighter yoke, and He used His loving rod to break our stubborn will. Now, we yield to His yoke.”
We also are like Ephraim: young, self-centered bulls that don’t want to be put under a yoke. We avoid the discipline of plowing, experiencing pain, being under the rod. And we expect to have everything now—victory, blessing, fruitfulness—by merely claiming God’s promises, or “taking them by faith.” We chafe at being trained in secret prayer, at having to wrestle with God until His promises are fulfilled in our lives. Then, when affliction comes, we think, “We’re God’s choice people. Why is this happening?”
The prayer closet is our schoolroom. And if we don’t have that “alone time” with Jesus—if we’ve eased off from intimacy with Him—we won’t be ready when the flood comes.
Grandma Carosso, my wife Gwen’s mother, died at age ninety-five. She was a praying woman, quiet and unassuming.
After she went to be with the Lord, in her closet Gwen and I found a cardboard box filled with checkbook stubs dating over many years. Grandma Carosso had spent little on herself, but the records showed she had supported missionaries for many years. She sent in small amounts at a time: five, six, ten dollars.
All that time, Grandma Carosso had thought she didn’t do much in the work of the kingdom. She would say she had no talent, no ministry. But she was just as important to Jesus and His kingdom as the many missionaries she supported over the years with her sacrificial gifts.
When our blessed Lord rewards those wonderful missionaries she supported, Grandma Carosso will share in all the spoils of their front-line spiritual victories. Remember what Jesus said of the poor widow who cast two pennies into the offering: “She has cast in more than all the others” (Luke 21:3). The widow had given all she had.
My wife, Gwen, stayed at home while I traveled for years on the front lines of evangelism. Gwen is much like her mother: quiet, unassuming and very dedicated to her family. During the decades when I traveled the world in ministry, I was away from home much of the time. Gwen had to stay behind to care for our four children; she was always there when they came home from school, always there when they expressed a need.
When I returned from trips, Gwen rejoiced with me at the reports of numerous souls being won to Christ, or addicts and alcoholics being healed. Yet she wasn’t able to go and do this work herself.
Many times I heard my wife say, “I can’t preach or sing. I’m not a writer. I feel I’m doing so little, if anything, for the Lord.” But Gwen came to believe that her calling was to be a faithful wife and mother (and, eventually, grandmother).
While writing this message, I told my wife, “On that day when I stand before Jesus, if I have been used to win souls or raise up godly works that please Him, if there are any rewards to be had, Gwen, you will share in them equally.”
Some Christians think peacemaking means avoiding conflict—but doing that only leads to further division, strife and disorder. When was the last time you avoided a necessary confrontation with someone? Did you end up being passive-aggressive toward that person and withholding kindness? Did your e-mails or Facebook posts about them contain an edge?
There’s nothing Spirit-led about avoiding conflict, per se. In fact, Jesus commands us to do the opposite. He even gives us specific instructions on how to go about it. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15, ESV). Jesus’ instruction here is packed with wisdom. Confronting a person in private preserves one’s dignity in the face of their sin. It also allows truth to shine its light on sin.
Yet, confronting someone this way isn’t a one-time solution. Why? First, it may not work, as Jesus points out. “But if he does not listen . . .” (18:16). Also, this isn’t just a cut-and-dried command, where afterward we can walk away and say, “Well, I did what Jesus said. That’s that. I won’t have to deal with this guy anymore.” According to Jesus, we have more to do—because love goes the extra mile: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (18:16).
It doesn’t even end there. Love keeps going the extra mile, on and on: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (18:17). This last phrase sounds like a final rejection but that isn’t accurate. Our actions are meant to reflect back the sinner’s behavior so that he might repent and enjoy fellowship again.
This sequence of actions shows us something else. It teaches us the lengths to which God extends His grace—and the cost to us as agents of that grace. God’s heart is always to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. How far does this grace extend? As Jesus told Peter, we’re to forgive our sinning brother “seventy times seven”—meaning as many times as it takes. Once again, this requires a lay-down-your-life-on-the-cross kind of love. It’s a love that says, “I’m still here for you. I’m not going anywhere.” This love requires a Spirit-filled walk because our flesh simply isn’t capable of it.
You and I have been given a gift greater than we could possibly imagine or ask for. We’ve been entrusted with the most powerful blessing we could ever receive—the gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit. The Spirit that is God, that lives within us, directing us, guiding us, empowering us for great and mighty things.
And with this gift comes great responsibility. We are to take it and use it for God’s glory. Use it to further God’s glory, to further the work of the kingdom.
When we move in the blessing of God, we can never forget the source of this blessing or the reason He blesses us. It’s not to keep us comfortable, but to empower us for greater service.
No one is more obsessed with saving souls than God. His heart burns for those who need His love and forgiveness, those who refuse to trust Him with their future, those who have yet to understand just how much He loves and cares for them, how much He wants to hold them in His loving arms, kiss away the pain, and bring them into the fold of eternity!
God lives to see the day that heaven is literally bursting at the seams with souls, and He has trusted you and me to see that that happens. He has put His faith in us to carry this burden for Him, to carry His message of hope to a lost world. He longs for us to develop a soul obsession in the depths of our heart.
If you haven’t embraced the passion for souls that God wants each of us to have—the passion that Jesus displayed during His days on earth—then begin today by asking God to burn it into your heart.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.
I have a special word for all who face impossibilities: “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).
Here is a glorious revelation of the steadfastness of God’s love for His people. Scripture tells us He rests and rejoices in His love for us!
The Hebrew word for “rest” here means God hasn’t a single question concerning His love for us. In other words, He has fixed, or settled, His love for us, and He will never take it away. In fact, we’re told God is so satisfied in His love for us that He sings about it.
Can you imagine this? There is a manifestation in heaven of God’s delight over you. John Owen interprets the passage this way: “God leaps, as overcome with joy.”
Moreover, Paul tells us, everything that is out of divine order—all that is of unbelief and confusion—is changed by the appearance of God’s love. “After that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared” (Titus 3:4).
In the preceding verse, Paul says, “We ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived” (3:3). In other words, “Everything was out of order. Our faith was not an overcoming one. But the kindness and love of God appeared, which the Father shed on us abundantly through Christ.”
When Paul says the love of God “appeared,” he uses a word from a Greek root meaning “superimposed.” In short, the Lord looked down on us poor, struggling souls, full of fear and questioning, and He superimposed this revelation: “My love will deliver you. Rest and delight in My love for you.”
I thank God for the day His love “appeared” to me. There is no faith that can stand against impossibilities unless everything—every problem, every affliction—is committed into the loving care of our Father. When my situations are at their worst, I must rest in simple faith.