“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28).
The angel then made an incredible announcement: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (1:30-32).
Mary was a simple girl from an obscure village. Living in a male-dominated culture, she had few expectations in life beyond becoming a good wife and mother. So imagine how strange this encounter must have been for her. The angel told her that she had found favor with God but very little in her life reflected favor of any kind. That, however, was all about to change!
Many of us are like Mary. We would like to see our circumstances transformed — a troubled child finding purpose in Christ, a tense marriage restored to its former joy. We would also like to see a different spiritual reality in the world around us. When Mary began to understand the magnitude of God’s promise to her, she sang a song of gratitude and praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (1:46:48).
The visitation from the angel was not some emotional, one-time event for Mary. No, it was a binding reality and her life was changed forever. Likewise, when you find God’s favor, it does not result in just an emotional turnaround. God births something new in your life, completely changes your course, and stirs a new song within your soul.
Today, you may think God is nowhere to be found, but his favor is on you! He is conceiving something new, transforming your trial into his glory. He has his hand over you, so trust him with your heart, your family, your situation — and you will see his glory.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith … if it is encouraging, let him encourage” (Romans 12:6, 8).
Of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of encouraging is probably the least appreciated. We constantly hear about the need for solid teaching and proper leadership in a church, but when was the last time the “gift of encouraging” received its proper due? Our need for it is so acute that the Spirit has granted special grace for some of us to specialize in building people’s faith. Just as not all of us are gifted to teach or preach, not everyone has this special anointing to encourage others.
“That you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12). Being strong in the Lord enables us to minister to others who are weak. This is particularly true for encouraging and strengthening someone else’s faith. Our own robust faith spills over to lift up those who are struggling. Faith-filled words and actions act as antidotes to the hopelessness people feel when they have lost their grip on God.
Most often encouragement is conveyed through the words we speak. Consider what Paul says to the Thessalonians: “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Like Paul, we can encourage others by sharing the teaching of the Scripture and speaking about salvation in Jesus. Remember, “Faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). As we speak God’s Word, faith can be born in those who hear it.
When Paul was separated from the believers he cherished, he revealed another avenue for edifying their faith: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17). When Paul could not speak encouragement to the church, he prayed that the Holy Spirit would carry on the same work within the believers.
In the same way, if we cannot personally encourage our fellow believers, we can lift them in prayer. What a privilege!
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
“I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
David was a man who knew how to repent. He constantly searched his heart before God and was quick to cry, “I’ve sinned, Lord. I stand in need of prayer.”
Being repentant does not mean you simply try to make things right with the person you have wronged. No, it’s about making things right with God! He is the One who has been sinned against. Yes, we are to apologize to our brothers and sisters whenever we have wronged them, but, more importantly, we are to repent of our sin before God. David said, “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Psalm 51:3-4).
David believed strongly in conducting heart-searchings — the hard discipline of digging out sin in his heart. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). He continually invited the Lord to examine every corner of his life.
Perhaps you search your heart on a regular basis, yet you come away from the Spirit’s dealing saying, “Thank goodness, I’m clean. I don’t have any more sin in me.” If that is the case, beloved, you are deceived. Isaiah confessed, “For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them” (Isaiah 59:12). The prophet was saying, “We know all about our own sins.” Of course, God knows when we say or do wrong things but we know it, too.
A great benefit of repentance is receiving peace and strength. After Daniel had prayed and fasted in great agony, Jesus came to him, touched him and said, “O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong” (Daniel 10:19).
A truly repentant heart never has to hide from the Lord because there is no longer any fear of judgment. When you acknowledge your sins, evidence godly sorrow and make restitution, Jesus will look at you, just as he did at Daniel, and say, “I love you and I want to give you my peace. Now, stand up and be strong!”
I want to talk to you about mental distractions during prayer and forsaken worship — especially in the house of God. Jesus called people hypocrites who came into His presence mouthing words of praise, but whose minds and hearts were preoccupied. He spoke directly to them, saying, "You give Me your mouth and your lips — but your mind is somewhere else. Your heart is nowhere near Me!"
What about you? Most likely, you are present in God's house for an hour every week. So, your body is in church — but where is your mind? Your mouth says, "I worship You, Lord" — but is your heart a thousand miles away? Where do your thoughts take you during worship and praise?
It is not a light thing to come into God’s house to worship him! “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke, saying: ‘By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified’” (Leviticus 10:3). God had said to Moses, “I will not be treated as an ordinary person! If you’re going to enter into my presence, you must come before me sanctified. All who approach my holiness must do so with carefulness and thoughtfulness — because of my glory and majesty.”
We are not to utter anything in the Lord’s presence without our heart and soul in it. Jesus commands, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
God’s house is a house of worship. When we enter, we are to set aside all flesh and cry, “Lord, I’m not where I should be but I love you! Put a wall of fire around my thoughts and let me bring the offering of a focused, full-minded praise unto you!”
God loves you and he knows the power that pure worship releases in your spirit. It makes you stronger than a lion and bigger than a giant, pulling down every wall and stronghold that comes against you. Hallelujah!
“Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13).
David became a man who was godly, wise, loved: “And David behaved wisely in all his ways, and the Lord was with him” (18:14). He was a man of much prayer who praised the Lord as few people ever have, blessing the heart of God with his songs and psalms. David was also a man of great faith. He went on to slay the giant Goliath on his way to becoming a mighty warrior for King Saul. God’s Spirit clearly was upon him.
After a time, Saul became angry at David and came after him with great wrath. David had to run for his life and hide in caves. At times he must have thought, “Lord, if I’m so special, anointed and chosen, then why am I in such deep trouble?” During this low period, David made an unwise choice and fled to a town called Gath, the hometown of the defeated giant Goliath. Because he had not sought the counsel of the Lord before making this move, hostility rose against him there. He was captured and brought before King Achish, where he made another foolish move. He pretended to be insane in hopes that his “insanity” would deliver him from the clutches of the enemy. This was a poor testimony to David’s men but it worked to a degree — King Achish wanted absolutely nothing to do with him.
Even though David was unfaithful to the Lord during this episode, God was still faithful to him! He did not write David off. Even while he was playing the madman, behaving foolishly, God’s eternal purpose for him went forward.
Have you ever gone through some sort of “insane” period in your life? You may have faced utter chaos and given up, saying, “I can’t handle this anymore!” You acted according to your flesh, getting ahead of God. But God still worked on your behalf. He is always at work behind the scenes; always faithful to his promises and his plan for your life.