In 2 Kings 4:1-7, we have an amazing passage about Elisha and a widow. She began to share her story with Elisha, and it was a tale of hurt, brokenness and disappointment. Her husband had died. That one thing alone would be tragic enough, but her story gets even worse. Not only was her husband gone, but she was saddled with debt far beyond her ability to pay.
If all of this weren’t bad enough, she was approached by the creditor who threatened her, saying, “If you don’t pay this debt back immediately, I’m going to take your two sons and make them my slaves until they pay off that debt through hard labor.”
Here she had a choice to become frozen in cynicism and say to herself, “I prayed for my husband’s healing, and he’s dead. I prayed for this debt to be gone, and I’m in more debt than I’ve ever been before. Why would I believe that my sons are going to be rescued? So many things I’ve prayed for haven’t happened.”
Once you become cynical, the door often closes. The cynic rarely prays and even more rarely believes in God’s power to work. It’s like when Jesus went back to his own hometown. People looked at him skeptically and dismissed his power because Jesus was the local carpenter. As a result, scripture tells us, “He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6, ESV).
Fortunately for this woman in 2 Kings, she believed in God’s word through his prophet Elisha, and the Lord worked an incredible miracle in her life.
I may have seen some unanswered prayers in my time. I may have gone through some hurts in life, but I know that God hears me, and I know that he’s ready to fill my hands that I hold open to him. That tiny seed of belief is all that’s needed. “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).
All it takes is a mustard seed of faith to overcome a life of cynicism.
In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul draws up an unfiltered, precise and realistic list of numerous negative emotions and thoughts that we struggle with on a daily basis: impurity, anger, jealousy, envy, grudges, pity, shame, insecurity, pride, egocentricity, deceitfulness, laziness, despair, hatred, wickedness, hypocrisy, etc. We clearly see how our nature manifests itself in immorality and idolatry.
“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21, ESV)
Understand that the apostle Paul’s words were radically politically incorrect in the eyes and ears of the religious legalists of his day who hypocritically claimed to live above all sin.
It’s as if he’s telling them but also us today, “Don't be hypocrites. These emotions, thoughts and bad actions are present in all of us. They are very real temptations on our doorstep every day. Let us not deny their existence and their impact on our relationship dynamics. On the contrary, let's recognize them, identify them and resist them by placing them daily in God’s hands.”
In the remainder of his letter, Paul uncovers the emotions and thoughts that God wants and can create or restore in us by his Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of a relationship with God produces an obvious work in us, which results in a wide range of strong but healthy emotions.
God did not give us a spirit of wickedness, fear, resentment or anger. He gave us a spirit of love, peace, forgiveness, hope and consolation. The fruit of the spirit of God in us is a gift that he desires to rekindle every day. To that end, Paul commanded believers to put certain practices in place to help these spiritual fruits grow: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
Our lives can be a pleasing offering to God through the constant renewing of our hearts and thoughts.
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
You know the story. A young man took his portion of his father’s inheritance and squandered it on riotous living. He ended up broken, ruined in health and spirit. At his lowest point, he decided to return to his father. Scripture tells us, “He arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20, NKJV).
Note that nothing hindered this father’s forgiveness of his son. There was nothing this boy had to do, not even confess his sins, because the father had already made provision for reconciliation. Indeed, the father ran to his son and embraced him as soon as he saw the boy coming up the road.
Forgiveness is never a problem for any loving father. Likewise, it’s never a problem with our heavenly Father when he sees a repentant child.
With that in mind, forgiveness is not the main issue in this parable. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that it wasn’t enough for this prodigal merely to be forgiven. There needed to be restoration. The father didn’t embrace his son to forgive him and then let him go his way. No, that father yearned for his child’s company and communion. Even though the prodigal was forgiven and in favor once more, he still wasn’t settled in his father’s house. Only then would the father be satisfied, his joy fulfilled when his son was brought into his company. That is the issue in this parable.
Here the story gets very interesting. Note how the father responds to his son. He utters not a single word of reproof. There is no reference to the prodigal’s rebellion, foolishness, profligate living and spiritual bankruptcy. In fact, the father didn’t even acknowledge his son’s attempts to stay outside. Why?
In the father’s eyes, the old boy was dead. That son was out of his thoughts completely. This son who had returned home was a new man, and his past would never be brought up. The father was saying, “As far as I’m concerned, the old you is gone. Now, walk with me as a new man.”
This is the same invitation our heavenly Father gives us. The sin problem is settled. We are invited to come boldly into his presence and partake in his mercy.
If I seek to please man, I simply cannot be a servant of Christ. If my heart is motivated by the approval of others, my loyalties will be divided, and the driving force behind my actions will be confused. I’ll always be striving to please someone other than Jesus.
A few years after the apostle Paul was converted, he went to the church in Jerusalem to try and join the disciples there, “but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26, NKJV). The apostles all knew Paul’s notorious reputation as a persecutor. “I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, ‘He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy’” (Galatians 1:22-23).
Barnabas helped the apostles get over their fear of Paul, and it might’ve been very tempting for Paul to settle into being a type of celebrity convert, but he decided to itinerate among the Gentiles. Indeed, Paul states, “I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ…. I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood” (Galatians 1:11-12, 16).
What did Paul mean by this? In Galatians 1:17, he explains, “Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia.” What he is saying here applies to all who desire to have the mind of Christ. “I didn’t have to read books or borrow men’s methods to get what I have. I received my ministry and my anointing on my knees. I went into Arabia and the desert to have Christ revealed to me. I spent precious time there, being emptied of self and being taught by the Holy Spirit.”
This by no means justifies those who are arrogant, lone-ranger believers. We know Paul had a servant’s heart. He had emptied himself of self-ambition and completely relied on Christ.
When your mind is set on knowing and pleasing Christ, you will not place the approval of human teachers over the instructions of the Holy Spirit. Avoid following other believers rather than the Lord. Only then will you maintain a clear vision of God’s calling on your life.
In chapter nine of Acts, we’re told that the Holy Ghost came to a godly man named Ananias. The Spirit instructed him to find a man named Saul, lay hands on him and restore his sight. Ananias knew of Saul’s reputation. He believed this was going to be dangerous, but here is how the Holy Spirit recommended Saul to Ananias: “Behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11, NKJV).
The Lord was saying, in essence, “Ananias, you will find this man on his knees. He knows you are coming. He even knows your name and why you’re being sent to him. He wants his eyes opened.”
When did Saul receive this inner knowing? How did he receive this pure word from God? It came through fervent prayer and supplication. In fact, I believe the Spirit’s words to Ananias reveal what moved God’s heart about Saul: “Behold, he is praying.” Saul had been shut in with God for three days, refusing all food and water. All he wanted was the Lord so he continued on his knees, praying and seeking God.
When I was growing up, my preacher father taught me, “God always makes a way for a praying man.”
There have been periods in my life when the Lord has provided indisputable evidence of this. I was called to preach at eight years of age when the Holy Spirit came upon me. I wept and prayed, crying out, “Fill me, Lord Jesus.” Later as a teenager, I prayed until the Spirit came upon me in divine intensity. As a young pastor, a deep hunger rose up in me. Something in my heart told me, “There’s more to serving Jesus than what I am doing.” I spent months on my knees, weeping and praying for hours at a time, when finally the Lord called me to go to New York City to minister to gangs and drug addicts.
If I have ever heard from God—if I have any revelation of Christ, any measure of the mind of Christ—it came not through Bible study alone. It came through prayer. It came from seeking God in the secret place.
Do you want a fuller measure of the Spirit and God’s presence? Seek his face in prayer. Seek him unrelentingly and passionately. Through fervent prayer and supplication, you will find God’s mind and will for your life.