Colossians 3:1-3 (AMP)
Therefore if you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, sharing in His resurrection from the dead], keep seeking the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind and keep focused habitually on the things above [the heavenly things], not on things that are on the earth [which have only temporal value]. For you died [to this world], and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God.
In this passage, Paul is encouraging the disciples not to get caught up in the legalism that is toxically infecting what was intended to be a pure relational spirituality. The disciples are attached to rules and regulations that make them performance-focused. As a result, they forget about the sheer joy in having a relationship with Jesus. Christ died to free us from living lives distant from Him, so that in turn we might together be free to enjoy God in fellowship forever. He’s given us a performance-free journey, so why do we still find ourselves fighting to perform for Him and others?
It’s a relief knowing that God doesn’t expect us to perform for Him. I must admit that, even with the gifts He’s given me, I could never perform well enough to earn the enormity of God’s grace. Resist the temptation to focus on performance-based spirituality. You can never fully live up to it. No one can, and it becomes a legalistic dread. Jesus ceases to be a friend, and is instead seen as an inspection agent who is going around trying to point out the places where you have glaring contradictions. It’s like you’re living every day as if you’re in a courtroom and God is the judge. It’s tiring.
Get out of the courtroom. You don’t need to perform for God—or anyone else for that matter.
Do you want to know why? You are living hidden in Christ. He is within you. He is already doing the inside work on you. You may be feeling unworthy because of the natural contradictions of human performance. So, you try to improve. But everything God is doing in you is not always revealed; it’s concealed within you. Call it a private transformation, an inner alteration, or a transformation of mind. Whatever you want to call it, you need to understand that your outside might look like the construction project is over, but God is still doing rehab on the inside. Your inner self is being renewed day by day, no matter how great the outside looks.
Jesus says that the kingdom of God is within you, and the branch is only strong because it’s connected to the vine. If you believe that, then you must also understand that you don’t go walking around measuring and evaluating the strength of the branch by the branch itself. You can’t always see what makes the branch so strong. In other words, don’t look at everyone’s outward appearance and measure the strength of their spirituality. Everybody who is spiritually strong doesn’t always look like it, dress like it, or hang out like it.
Live freely in the strength and love of God, and performance won’t matter to you. The moment you decide to have a relationship with Him, nothing else matters. You don’t need to be stronger—you’re already mighty in the Lord.
You see, your performance changes when you have a relationship with God and you affirm what you already are, rather than what you hope to be. If you hope to be loved, then you’ll need affection and attachment from someone in order to fulfill that need. But if you already know that you’re loved by God, then you don’t need those false feelings of attachment.
Stop performing for other people. Leave the courtroom. God already went on trial for you. He was examined about your performance and the sentence was death, but He took it for you and set you free. His admonishment to you is that you go outside the courtroom and imitate His life and live redeemed. Leaving the courtroom means you are then free to only perform for one, and you already know that God sees you as perfect righteousness.
It doesn’t matter how other people think God needs to bless you. You’re a privately-owned corporation—it’s God’s business.
Psalm 27:13-14 (NKJV)
I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord.
Have you ever driven behind the shopping center strip mall to the back alley where the stores receive deliveries? You might be surprised that the stores are actually a simple metal structure with a fancy façade. The “face” of the store may be fun, functional, or fancy, but the backend is just like all the others.
There’s a façade covering Christians today. We hide behind the picture of perfection. We either project it onto our faith family, or we think we have to live behind it. We walk around thinking that some of our brothers and sisters have never had their faith challenged, that sin has never touched their lips.
Or we think because we’re Christians that we need to be perfect. We struggle with silent sin. We live in fear of our enemies and fear that if we reach out for help, we’ll be condemned. We are drowning in our own doubts and fears of inadequacy. Some of us are going through some crushing circumstances—alone.
But that’s not what God wants for us. He gave us a book of friends who have been right where we are—in pain and in trying circumstances.
In today’s focus scripture, we see a real man who wants to give up, but he can’t. There’s a “thing” keeping him from giving into the doubts and fears.
God gave us His word to show us that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, NIV).
David, today’s psalmist, was not a perfect person. He wasn’t always upbeat and positive. His sin was often right behind him. But David was different. He was far from perfect, but he was honest with God and himself.
If you pieced together David’s timeline, you’d see that he was often in turmoil or danger. He went from wrestling lions and bears to years of being pursued by a crazy king to seeing his own son die to losing his wife’s respect to having his own children try to kill him.
In today’s psalm, we see a frequent prayer from David: “God, deliver me from my enemies because they seek my life.”
What kept David showing up in prayer? The “thing” Christians have.
By looking at the pattern of David’s life, you could almost certainly deduce that defeat was inevitable and that a faith failure was certain.
However, David had belief. And all Christians have it.
We have that “however” or “unless” as David uses here. “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
David trusted the promise “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 8:28, NIV).
David had an internal dependence on the hope God offers us. David had faith.
God didn’t give us faith so we would be perfect in our own strength. He gave us faith because He is perfect. He gave us faith so that we would rely on Him when we weren’t perfect. The “thing” we have is that we can believe God is working for us—always.
That’s what kept David showing up in prayer. That’s the “thing” that kept him getting up when he got knocked down.
Do you rely on that “thing” Christians have?
Luke 24:13- (AMP)
And then, that very day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing it, Jesus Himself came up and began walking with them. But their eyes were [miraculously] prevented from recognizing Him. Then Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with one another as you walk along?” And they stood still, looking brokenhearted. One of them, named Cleopas, answered Him, “Are you the only stranger visiting Jerusalem who is unaware of the things which have happened here in these [recent] days?” He asked, “What things?” And they replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet powerful in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel and set our nation free. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. And also some of the women among us shocked us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and they did not find His body. Then they came back, saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive! Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women had said, but they did not see Him.” Then Jesus said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to trust and believe in everything that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and [only then to] enter His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and [throughout] all the [writings of the] prophets, He explained and interpreted for them the things referring to Himself [found] in all the Scriptures.
Then they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as if He were going farther. But they urged Him [not to go on], saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening, and the day has just about ended.” So He went inside to stay with them. And it happened that as He reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were [suddenly] opened [by God] and they [clearly] recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight.
I have one question after reading this passage of scripture, and you may be asking yourself the same thing. Why did Jesus wait so long to reveal Himself to Cleopas and the disciple? They’re both carrying disappointment. They thought Jesus would be the one to save them, but in lieu of recent events, their confidence is down. Jesus has the perfect opportunity to reveal Himself and ease their fears, but He doesn’t. Instead, He walks them through the Old Testament and shows them that scripture has pointed to the coming of Christ and the need for sacrifice in order to return humanity back to God.
They walk with Jesus and they talk with Jesus, and then they invite Him to dine with them as a guest. Instead of sitting as a guest, Jesus takes over the dinner, grabs the bread and breaks it much like He did days prior. The moment they recognize Him is the moment He disappears.
If Jesus’ goal was to reveal Himself, why didn’t He do it sooner? This question took me down other thought paths. Why is it that sometimes God intentionally withholds the release of an answer to our prayers? Why does God sometimes reveal His plans to us only after He has watched us panic and threaten to walk away? Why does He conceal His identity?
The lesson is that He wants you to know who He is. In so many struggles we face, we can’t figure out why He allows us to go through them. We can’t make sense out of the tension in our lives and discern that God is up in the mix of it all. It’s not until we’re hurt and wonder where God has been in the first place that we realize His place was right alongside us the whole time.
That’s why He had no problem taking over the dinner. It was His intention all along to reveal Himself then. All He needed was an invitation to take over. He shows just how comfortable He is inserted into tension and that He is more pronounced in our lives when we stop expecting Him to be a guest.
We often incorrectly assume that our lives are supposed to be easy, that God makes life easy, that the devil makes life difficult. Here is the revelation: everything that is easy is not because God made it easy. Everything difficult isn’t because the devil made it difficult. Every hard trial is not satanically-induced. Some trials are God-ordained to get you to see today what you could not see before. Tension can be the fertilization of soil that makes one ready to nurture seeds of increased spiritual understanding. Tension and struggle are often gifts from God. In the midst of tension, you can be open to seeing something you did not consider before, much like when Jesus recites scripture to Cleopas and the disciple.
God didn’t choose the easy way when He gave His only son. He could’ve wiped us out, reprogrammed us, and started over. Instead, He risked everything by giving His only son.
Follow the path of God. You might have to risk everything, and it won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it. Give God the reins. Let Him lead. Surrender to His presence. How disappointing would it be to have Him so close but let Him go because you had to be in charge?
Stop not surrendering to challenges. Stop trying to ignore your tense places. Stop trying to outrun your perplexities. You miss Jesus when nothing is pressuring your life. Sometimes tension is good. It keeps you on the field fighting, pushing and seeking.
Is it time for you to find Jesus in the tension and invite Him to take over?
Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God knew we would be challenged, persecuted, troubled, embarrassed, harassed, and hurt in this world. He knew the weight of sin. That’s why He sent his son Jesus, to take it on His own shoulders for us. He loved us that much. Yet, He allows us to experience trouble and persecution.
Why? Paul, an apostle and former persecutor of Jews, tells us that it’s the sin of this world that causes death and faith in Christ that gives us life. In Romans 8, Paul gives us a guide to what life is like for those who have this faith. He tells us that those who are called by God will be used for His purpose and all things will work out for their good
Yet, when you’re in the battlefield, it doesn’t always feel that way. You don’t feel like fighting the battles that this world brings. If you’re weary from the good fight, you might want to go read Paul’s speech in Romans 8 again.
You’re a conqueror because of the love Christ has for you. That’s worth jumping out of bed for every day. Grab that sword of truth (Ephesians 6) and get ready to face your day.
It’s easy to say it, but it’s not easy to do it, especially when you consider the words of people— said to you and about you. Still, even here God has a battle plan for you. A plan for you to conquer persecution and trouble with your faith.
James, who was Jesus’ half-brother and initially was quite doubtful of his brother’s mission (John 7), may have picked up where Paul left off in his powerful speech. His entire letter is more of a playbook on how to live this Christian life. In it, he addresses persecution and trials as a means of how we get closer to God. He writes: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12, NIV).
He even tells us how to deal with this challenge of words—ours and the ones others use against us. He covers all the bases with how to handle God’s Word, your words, and others’ words when it comes to all situations—especially trials.
Here’s what he writes: “Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and] slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]” (James 1:19, AMP).
Why does God allow persecution? Persecution and trials contribute to your walk toward holiness. Trials prove your faith, prune the defects from your human heart, strengthen your relationship with the Lord, and prepare you for His great plan for your life.
So, when you’re in a trial, scripture gives you some instructions that help you accomplish this game plan:
1. Listen to what God’s Word is telling you about your need for this trial.
Listen to how God intends to shape you in and through it. What are the revelations that shall come from it? What about your character is it challenging? Which of God’s promises is it revealing? What of your behavior is it calling for you to alter?
2. Listen to others and recognize that they are experiencing trials too.
Listen for common ground so you can say “me too” and share the power of the Gospel in your trials. Finding common ground in trials can be life-giving to a hurting soul and a blessing to the one who comforts.
3. Listen with God’s filter on your mind. Don’t take the words of others to heart. Don’t allow anger to block your faith.
When conversations heat up and words become weapons, you don’t have to participate in the anger. You are not responsible for the anger of another person. You are responsible for your response. Scripture tells us to be “patient, reflective, forgiving” in our response to others.
Yet, that’s REALLY hard to do. But there’s a secret to it. Listen for the voice of God in what they are saying. What is He asking you to do in this trial?
4. Remember the game plan—prove, prune, strengthen, prepare.
God is allowing these trials because He’s proving your faith. He’s addressing your defects and He wants you lacking nothing with regard to what He wants to do with your life.
Don’t get angry, because you’re listening for the voice of God in what’s being said to you. You’re listening for God’s intent rather than another person’s intentions.
Now, go be a conqueror!
James 1:1-8 (AMP)
James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve [Hebrew] tribes [scattered abroad among the Gentiles] in the dispersion: Greetings (rejoice)!
Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials. Be assured that the testing of your faith [through experience] produces endurance [leading to spiritual maturity, and inner peace]. And let endurance have its perfect result and do a thorough work, so that you may be perfect and completely developed [in your faith], lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom [to guide him through a decision or circumstance], he is to ask of [our benevolent] God, who gives to everyone generously and without rebuke or blame, and it will be given to him. But he must ask [for wisdom] in faith, without doubting [God’s willingness to help], for the one who doubts is like a billowing surge of the sea that is blown about and tossed by the wind. For such a person ought not to think or expect that he will receive anything [at all] from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable and restless in all his ways [in everything he thinks, feels, or decides].
How many times have you said a prayer, but doubted God’s ability to answer that prayer? Be honest.
You know God has good intentions for your life, but do you still recognize that when you’re undergoing trials? In this passage, James is teaching the tribes that difficult, uncertain times are faith conditioning times. Uncertain times are the times you grow and come closer to God’s purpose for your life.
You have no choice but to pray, recognizing His sovereign providence and knowing that there is no challenging time stronger than Him. James says it’s okay to ask God for clarity regarding why He is making you walk in this season. However, the one condition He puts on it is this: don’t pray because of the pressure. Pray because of your faith. Pray confidently because you want God more than anything else. That’s what it means to be single-minded.
Doubled-minded people don’t get answers to their prayers. Double-minded people are hesitant, dubious, unstable. You can’t be of two minds. You can’t ask God to open a door for you while standing there wondering if He’ll be able to do it. When your faith is divided, you give up your confidence in God.
You will be so much closer to your destination if you stop being double-minded and trust in God and His plan. Your disciplined offering is an offering of spiritual single-mindedness. In fact, become so focused on God that you are monomaniacal. Become a maniac for God—a spiritual maniac. Be a maniac when it comes to prayer. Pray, and if nothing changes, do it again, then again. Stand at God’s door unafraid to say, “Hey, it’s me again.”
Melba Pattillo, notable for being a member of the Little Rock Nine, a group of nine students in Little Rock, Arkansas who were among the first African American students to desegregate a local school, wrote a book called I Will Not Fear. In the first chapter, she describes her birth. Anticipating it was going to be a difficult birth—as Melba was nine pounds and her mother was petite—her equally petite grandmother trekked through the winter storm to the local hospital to request her daughter be admitted. The hospital supervisor told her she could not have a room in the hospital, but could go down the hall to the janitor’s closet, and her daughter could give birth there. The supervisor reasoned that if it was rumored that one African American woman had been given a room, other African Americans would come down to the hospital requesting the same thing, and the hospital didn’t want them to come in and stink up the place.
After thirty hours of labor, Melba had to be removed with forceps, which caused an infection on her head. Her temperature skyrocketed, and she was close to dying. Her grandmother says that all she had at that time to lean on was prayer. She was a maniac in prayer, so much so that the kind janitor heard her in the closet praying. He told her that she should wash Melba with Epsom salt; he’d overheard the doctor tell the nurse to do that, but the nurse had yet to come down the hall. Melba’s grandmother went to the store, began washing Melba’s head with Epsom salt, and Melba survived. Melba says she’s alive because she had a grandmother who wouldn’t stop praying, and a janitor who wouldn’t stop sweeping—an angel with a broom.
I think we could all learn a lesson from Melba’s grandmother. You must have the same mind and spirit that God does about your trials. Since God believes the pressure in your current season is working to mature your faith and contribute to your purpose, you must believe the same!