The Common Threads of Knitted Souls

Now it came about when he had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself. Saul took him that day and did not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:1-4

These verses come on the heels of David’s defeat of Goliath. Jonathan, much older than David, watched a boy become a champion for God. That day, something happened in Jonathan’s spirit. But it was not just a one way street—Jonathan admiring David. David shared the same feelings toward Jonathan. There was a spiritual connection between them. Two souls were knit together that day. A bond of friendship and fellowship formed between them such as exists only between brothers in the Lord. 

There was a whole army of men present that day, including three of David’s own brothers. However, being a member of that army didn’t forge the kind of unity that existed between David and Jonathan. Nor does simply being a member of the church mean that your soul will be knitted together in such a unity that existed between these two brothers in the Lord. 

David didn’t have such a relationship with his blood brothers. Jonathan didn’t share such a relationship with his father—although they were often partners in battle. The story of this relationship between David and Jonathan reveals the common threads shared by these two knitted souls. These same threads form a bond of unity share between true followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

In describing this relationship, David called it a covenant of the Lord between himself and Jonathan. 1 Samuel 20:8a

The first thread that served to knit these two souls was this Common Covenant.

This was more than just a relationship between two friends. It was a relationship between brothers in the Lord. In a way, it is a relationship that mirrors Christ’s own relationship with the church—and therefore ought to mirror our relationships with one another.  

There are many people who are members of the church. Some don’t attend, but they are still members. Some  don’t give, but they are still members. Some don’t serve, but they are still members. Some don’t worship, but they are still members. But members of this kind are like the cowards in Saul’s army, who shared no camaraderie  with David and Jonathan. True members of God’s church have made a covenant of the Lord. They are bound together by cords that can’t be broken.

What do true brothers in the Lord have in common? We will find those characteristics in the fellowship of these two knitted souls.

The second thread that served to knit these two souls was a Common Cause.

Jonathan was himself a breed apart. More than once he risked his life for God’s honor and glory. And that day, as David came walking across that battlefield wagging that giant’s head, Jonathan realized that here was a lad whose heart beat in tune with his heart.

They shared the same vision, the same passion, and the same purpose. That vision and passion and purpose was to know God, serve God, honor God and bring Him glory. Jonathan recognized David as a man after God’s own heart. The passion of David’s heart fanned the flame of that same passion in Jonathan’s heart. The Bible says that as iron sharpens iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. Proverbs 27:17 

This was the relationship that existed between these two men. They each inspired the other to be better men. It all began with the thread of a common cause. That’s what brought them together. A church that gathers around the common cause of knowing God, worshipping God and bringing Him glory will be a congregation of knitted souls. A contagious unity will flow from that fellowship drawing others who long to serve God and bring Him glory. The bond of true unity in the church is held by the common threads of souls knitted together in a common covenant with the Lord and who share a common cause.

The third thread that served to knit these two souls was a Common Courage.

Prior to the time David fought Goliath, Jonathan emerged  among the soldiers of Saul’s army as a man of great courage.  

 Now the day came that Jonathan, the son of Saul, said to the young man who was carrying his armor, “Come and let us cross over to the Philistines’ garrison that is on the other side.” But he did not tell his father. Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah under the pomegranate tree which is in Migron….Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, “Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few.”1 Samuel 14:1-2a; 6

That day, Jonathan and his armor bearer proved to be more courageous than those men who sat in the shade with Saul.  Jonathan had a heart for God. He knew Who he was fighting for and who it was helping him in the battle. Jonathan, like David, fought that battle depending on the presence and power of God. 

That day, as Jonathan watched David stroll across that battlefield with nothing but his shepherd’s bag filled with five smooth stones, his shepherd’s staff, and his slingshot, he was watching someone who shared his own courage and his own confidence in God.

David’s courage was a moral courage. It was the courage to stand up for what was right and to stand against what was wrong. Such a courage will cause a man to stand apart from the cowardly who have no passion to stand up for what is right.  If you stand up for what is right,you will find that God’s true people will stand with you. Those otherwise will stand somewhere else.

The kind of courage needed in the church today is not only a moral courage. The church today needs a doctrinal courage. We are bound together by what we believe about God and what we believe about the Bible. 

It was a doctrinal courage—what David believed about God—that sent him to battle the giant. It was doctrinal courage—what Jonathan believed about God—that prompted him to leave the comfort of the shade and risk facing the enemies of God’s people. The threads that knit the souls of David and Jonathan were these threads of a common cause and a common courage as they stood bound together by a common covenant with the Lord.

There was a great contrast between Saul and Jonathan. They were members of the same family and members of the same army, but their souls were not knit like the souls of David and Jonathan. It was not just what Jonathan believed about David that separated him from his father. It was what he believed about God. It was doctrinal courage.

The church of the future, large or small, will not be men and women boys and girls whose names are on the church roll—whether they attend or not—whether they give or not—whether they serve or not.  The church of the future will be those whose souls are knit together by the threads of a common cause and a common courage who share a common covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ.

There was a fourth thread that knit together the souls of these men. It was a Common Commitment.

Jonathan loved David like he loved himself. If you read the story all the way through, to that moment when Jonathan loses his life, you will find that David laments over the loss of a brother who meant more to him than his own brothers by blood.

What a beautiful picture this is in Chapter 18: Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. 1 Samuel 18:3-4

In these actions of Jonathan, he was at once brining David into the family, so to speak—but at the same time—he was surrendering his own position—his own glory—his own place in the kingdom to David. It is a picture of a great commitment on the part of Jonathan and a great confidence in that commitment on the part of David.

When we enter into fellowship with one another in the church, we enter into a similar covenant of commitment with one another. Jonathan esteemed David better than himself. We are to do the same toward our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

It is that kind of relationship that existed between David and Jonathan. They were committed to one another because they were both committed to God. It was Jonathan’s desire to empower David, to enable him to become the leader God meant for him to be. Jonathan took off his robe and gave it to David.  He clothed David with his armor. He girded David with his belt. He gave David his sword. Now David wore the robe of a prince, the belt of a prince, the armor of a prince and carried the sword and bow of a prince. There was no selfishness between them. Jonathan, like John the Baptist, would have said of David, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

The souls of David were knitted together by a common cause, a common courage, and a common commitment.  They were bound together in a common covenant with the Lord. They were committed to one another and they were committed to God’s kingdom. 

Likewise, you and I should be committed to God’s kingdom as it is represented through his church—not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. Church membership is not just on paper. It is not something you can put on your resume when you run for political office or drop into a news article when you want community attention. It is a commitment to a specific body of believers who share a common cause, a common courage, a common set of convictions, and a common commitment having entered into a common covenant with the Lord.

But they were not just committed to one another—they were set apart by their strong commitment to God. Each one’s own personal commitment to God fanned the flame of commitment in the other.

This week, I have reflected on that verse that says: A true friend is a gift of God.  Have you pondered the significance of that? Most of the time we read that and say, “Yeah, what a blessing a friend is.” That is not what the verse is saying. It is saying that a true friend is a gift to you from God. In other words, God is the one who purposefully brings that person into your life. That person may be a there for a lifetime. They may be present for only a short time. But when that person comes along—hopefully, each of you will recognize the other as God’s gift to you. Not just a random acquaintance—but somebody God brings into your life to challenge you to a deeper commitment—to bring you to a closer walk with Him—but also to help you know when the Lord is calling you to make a course correction in your life.

For me, the most beautiful part of this story is the last meeting between David and Jonathan. The whole of chapter 19 tells of the multiple efforts of Saul to put David to death. In Chapter 20, Jonathan comes to the reluctant realization that David is no longer safe in Saul’s house and that the time has come for David to depart. David and Jonathan agree on a signal Jonathan will use to warn David of danger and to confirm God is calling David away.

That is where we discover the final thread that knit together the souls of David and Jonathan—the thread of a Common Calling.

Both of these men were clearly called of God. Each of them had come to the kingdom for such a time as this. Their lives crossed, in the purpose of God. But their lives also parted according to that same purpose. David’s calling required that he leave the house of Saul. To stay would have been physically dangerous for David. 

There are also times in our lives when failing to adjust our lives to the next phase of God’s purpose is spiritually dangerous. There may not be a Saul seeking to kill us as there was for David. But there is a devil seeking to destroy us. Had Jonathan encouraged David to stay, it would have put at risk the greater purpose of God.

The final meeting between David and Jonathan is a moment of great sadness but greater commitment. Jonathan arranges to have David hide in a field. 

18 Then Jonathan said to him, “Tomorrow is the new moon, and you will be missed because your seat will be empty. 19 When you have stayed for three days, you shall go down quickly and come to the place where you hid yourself on that eventful day, and you shall remain by the stone Ezel. 20 I will shoot three arrows to the side, as though I shot at a target. 21 And behold, I will send the lad, saying, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I specifically say to the lad, ‘Behold, the arrows are on this side of you, get them,’ then come; for there is safety for you and no harm, as the Lord lives. 22 But if I say to the youth, ‘Behold, the arrows are beyond you,’ go, for the Lord has sent you away. 1 Samuel 20:18-22

The story of what happened next is found in the verses below.

35 Now it came about in the morning that Jonathan went out into the field for the appointment with David, and a little lad was with him. 36 He said to his lad, “Run, find now the arrows which I am about to shoot.” As the lad was running, he shot an arrow past him.37 When the lad reached the place of the arrow which Jonathan had shot, Jonathan called after the lad and said, “Is not the arrow beyond you?” 41 When the lad was gone, David rose from the south side and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times. And they kissed each other and wept together, but David wept the more. 42 Jonathan said to David, “Go in safety, inasmuch as we have sworn to each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will be between me and you, and between my descendants and your descendants forever.’” Then he rose and departed, while Jonathan went into the city. 1 Samuel 20:35-42

Jonathan and David realized that while their journey together on this earth was about to end—their friendship was forever. The very threads that knit them together would also be the basis of their separation. David had a calling from God as did Jonathan. That calling for each of them was their highest priority in life. 

The only thing that binds some of us together is that our names appear on the same church roll. But those who belong to the fellowship of souls knitted by common threads share a common calling, a common commitment, a common cause and a common courage. They have entered into a forever covenant with the Lord. What does that mean? It means that some in the church share a fellowship that will last forever. Some share a fellowship that will last only in this life. But friends are friends forever when they are friends connected by the common thread of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Some of you are connected to me through the words that I write. You read them. You relate to them with a deep passion that reveals these common threads. For others, these are just words on paper. You can’t relate. You read them as an outsider, curious, but a true stranger to their meanings. What is it that you need that would allow you to feel such a connection—to know the common threads of knitted souls? You need a relationship with the Jesus Christ. You need to meet Him. You need to know Him. Your soul needs to be knit to Him first of all. I would like nothing more than to help you make that connection. And for all of you whose souls are knit to mine in this covenant of the Lord, we may never meet in this life, but because of our relationship to Him we share a forever friendship. We are bound together by the common threads of knitted souls!

Photo by David Clode

One Hour with Jesus

Did you know that if you get 8 hours of sleep every night, you spend 4 months of every year sleeping? If you sleep that much who needs a vacation? If yo,u watch television three hours a day, you spend a month and a half of every year just watching television. If you work forty hours a week, or more, you spend about three months of every year working.  Check your screen time on your phone. I don’t know which side you are of average, but according to statistics, the average person spends about four hours a day on their phone. That translates into two months of every year.

So you spend four months sleeping, three months working, two months on the cell phone, a month and a half watching television. That is the way you spend  over ten months out of every year. If you goof off another four hours of every day that’s the other two months. And that is your life.

In regard to that, allow me to ask you a question, in all of the time that you spend—however you spend it—have you thought about spending one hour with Jesus? How you spend your time is none of my business. But the chances are good that there is a situation in your life right now that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus?  But you didn’t. You were too tired—or too sleepy—or too busy—or too interested in television—or too distracted by sin to spend one hour with Jesus.

And now you have this situation in your life—and you wonder—“If I’d only prayed more and spent less time surfing the web—if I’d only read my Bible more and spent less time watching sports—if I’d only thought about Jesus more than I thought about  _______!”

Consider these words spoken by Jesus to his disciples. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

First, It Was a Personal Question.

How many disciples were in the garden with Jesus? There were three—Peter, James, and John. But Jesus was especially disappointed with Peter.  So He singled Peter out with this question. Jesus asked the question to an individual. Perhaps He will ask that same question to you.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 

Did He single you out as you read it? Did He call your name? As soon as you saw the verse, did you somehow know that Jesus had put His finger on your heart?

Why Peter? Why call his name? Why question him? Do you know the last thing that Jesus said to Peter before they went into the garden?

 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permissionto sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” Luke 22:31-34

This is not only a Personal Question, it is a Question About Prayer.

There was something Jesus knew that Peter didn’t know. Peter needed to pray because of a situation that was coming into his life. One hour spent with Jesus would make all the difference in the world in how He handled it.

Has the Lord called you to pray recently? Has He urged you to adjust your priorities so that you could spend time with Him? Now, I am not talking about time at church. Time at church is not the same as time with Jesus. Do you think Jesus called you to pray because of something He knew that you didn’t? There is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome.

This was a personal question, directed specifically to Peter. And it was a question about prayer. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?”

Couldn’t you—of all people—you who I warned—you who I personally prayed for—couldn’t you have spent one hour with Me—rather than sleeping—rather than surfing the web—rather than talking on your cell phone—rather than….

Not only was it a personal question, not only was it a question about prayer:

It Was A Question About Priorities.

How would you like to take a two week all expenses paid retreat with just one other person? Those two weeks would make all the difference in the world in how you looked at life—in the way you handled your problems—in the way things turn out for you in the future.  Can you give up two weeks?  Can you spare the time?  Can you afford it?  Would you be willing to spend two weeks with Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, or some other financial or business entrepreneur who could give you business or financial insight? You might. But what do any of those people know about the needs that are going to arise in your life and family. How can one of them alert you to some impending crisis that is just around the corner of your life? 

The two week opportunity I am talking about is absolutely free. There’s no travel involved.  You won’t have to take a day off work or spend any time away from your family. All you have to do is to commit to spend One Hour with Jesus. One hour every day for 365 days. Do that and in the course of a year you will spend the equivalent of 15 days, 24 hours a day with Jesus.

Is Jesus asking you for that commitment? Remember, there is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome. So how do you need to adjust your priorities so that you can spend time with Jesus?  Why? Why is it so important? Why was it important for Peter?

Jesus said, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

This Question Concerns the Protection Of Your Life And Your Family.

Jesus only recently warned Peter that Satan had demanded permission to sift him like wheat. Do you know what happens when wheat is sifted? The impurities come to the surface. Everything that is ugly and dirty comes to light. Is that what Satan has planned for you? Is that what he plans to do to your family? Could that be why Jesus has called you to spend time in prayer? Watch and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. Jesus knew what was around the corner in Peter’s life. He knew that a disaster was coming—a failure of Peter’s faith—an embarrassing, humiliating, heart-breaking failure.

But Peter didn’t have to fail! Peter could pray! He could spend an hour with Jesus. But Peter didn’t pray. He couldn’t stay awake. He didn’t adjust his priorities.

Why didn’t you pray? Why haven’t you answered the Lord’s call to prayer? Will you answer it today, before Satan sifts you and your faith fails, and things that are ugly and dirty come to the surface of your life for all the world to see?

The warning that Jesus gave Peter is a warning that most of us have turned into an excuse. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I know I ought to pray. The spirit is willing—but I just can’t seem to spare that hour of sleep—or give up that hour of television—or sacrifice that hour of spare time. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

How did Jesus know that ? Because He was flesh, just like you and me. He was flesh for forty days in the wilderness, and when Satan came to sift Him in His weakness, His spirit said no to Satan’s suggestion to turn stones to bread. And His spirit said yes to God.

He did that every day. Many times He sacrificed sleep getting up a great while before day to go out to a lonely place to pray. Jesus knew that Peter would have to say no to sleep to watch and pray. But he didn’t. He slept and didn’t pray. And just hours later, Peter was in a courtyard where Jesus was taken to be questioned. Satan was there waiting for him.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk ]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75

That was the situation that Jesus warned him about. That is why Peter needed to adjust his priorities so that he could spend one hour with Jesus. Now, what situation exists in your life that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus? What situation has caused things that are ugly and dirty to surface in your life—that might never have surfaced if you had spent one hour with Jesus?

What situation has entered your life that when it happened you felt as if you were looking squarely into the face of Jesus—and you—like Peter wept bitterly because you fully understood that it might have been different—it might never have happened—if only you had spent one hour with Jesus.

You must adjust your priorities so that you can spend ONE HOUR WITH JESUS.

Finally, This Is A Question That Probes The Heart Of Your Relationship With Lord Jesus.  

Jesus addressed Peter as representative of the group, and He said, why could you—you of all people—you men of all men—you who have I have shared so much of my life with—why could you not spend one hour with Me.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart concerning his personal relationship with Him. Let me ask you some final questions? When is the last time you spent even five minutes with Jesus? Maybe its been a while. Are things messed up inside you? Are there personal and spiritual disappointments that are directly related to your failure to spend time with Jesus? Only you can answer that question. 

Now let me ask you another question: Are things broken in and around your life? Relationships? People? Your Finances? Your home? Your job? Would those things be broken if you had spent time with Jesus instead of spending time_________? Last question: Could things be different, if from today you began spending time with Jesus? If what you have been doing is not working, why not try spending one hour with Jesus.

Photo by Agê Barros

How God Guides

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit? Is it audible?

How does a person go about discerning guidance from God? God doesn’t send out emails or text messages or newsletters offering His guidance. (I don’t get them. I don’t know about you.) So, how am I to recognize His guidance for my life.

I want to share an example from the life of Peter. In Acts chapter 11, Peter reported to the church in Jerusalem concerning his mission into Gentile territory. Christianity was in its infancy. The first believers were still wrestling with personal prejudices.  Initially, Peter’s mission created quite a controversy in the church in Jerusalem. They wanted to know who authorized such a trip. That is when Peter went into great detail concerning how God guided his journey. When we put together his explanation with the details of the story, we get a very clear picture of how God guides. 

Peter shares how it all began.  5“I was in the city of Joppa praying…Acts 11:5a

While there is no indication that Peter was specifically praying for guidance from God, that is when His guidance came. In prayer, we share our hearts with God, and He shares His heart with us. All the great men of the Bible, including Jesus, took time every day to pray.  If you will take time to pray, as you share the concerns of your heart with God, He will share the concerns of His heart with you.

In the previous chapter, where more details of the account are given, we discover Peter went up on the roof. He did this so he could be out of the hustle and bustle below where meal preparation was taking place.

Peter was just like us. He had no idea of what God was doing somewhere else in the world. Yet, what God was doing in Peter’s life had a direct connection to what God was already doing in another person’s heart. That man, Cornelius, was prompted by God to send to Joppa for a man he had never met. The man’s name was Simon Peter. Peter didn’t know that the men were already on their way. God set events in motion in two men’s hearts so that His purpose could be accomplished. That lets us know that God knew where Peter would be in advance. I have no doubt, the prompting to pray came from God. Peter went on to describe what happened while he was praying.

4But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision… Acts 11:4-5

I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what that meant? Some translations describe it as a visionary state. However the Greek word used to describe Peter’s experience is a word that refers to a mind so fixed and focused on the things of God that all else fades away.In that moment alone with God, his spiritual perception became exceptionally clear, and God communicated through signs or symbols that appeared very real.God used that opportunity as a teaching moment to prepare Peter for what was ahead. This happened in the context of prayer, and I think we can safely say that without prayer, Peter would have missed this guidance from God.

First, Peter’s guidance was received in the context of prayer.

Second, in the context of prayer, Peter received a witness in his spirit.

While Peter was praying, something happened, but it happened inside Peter. He describes that moment, and it must have been just a moment. You understand the process of dreams. Peter’s experience involved a question and answer session about this sheet that he saw that was filled with animals.  Why did God have to use such a symbol to get Peter’s attention?  It was because Peter had a major hindrance to receiving God’s guidance. Do you have any idea what that might have been? It was his own prejudice. Likewise, one of our greatest hindrances to receiving guidance from God is our own personal prejudice.  We already have our own mind made up before we go to God to ask.  Therefore, one of our biggest challenges is being willing to allow God to mold our mindset to his.  If I come to prayer with my mind made up about the guidance I want from God, that is the guidance I will probably get.  I will not allow God to move my mind from my will to His.  Watch this struggle take place in the life of Peter.

I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8“But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10“This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.  Acts 11:5-10

The first part of God’s dealing with Peter was to prompt him to give up his own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God for his life.  As God guides you away from your own will toward His will for your life, He may use lessons from life just like He used with Peter.  

God may have something for you to do that is different from what you have in mind.  You may want to serve Him but not as a missionary.  You may want to be a missionary but not with a specific people group whose race or customs you find repulsive.  So God may lead you through a process of discovery to teach you to give up your will in favor of His own. That also has to happen in the life of a church. Each person must give up his or her own will for the church in favor of the will of Christ, who is the Head. When He reveals it, we must follow without question just as Peter did.

Obviously, this didn’t happen immediately for Peter. Peter’s initial response was to tell the Lord, “No.” But the process continued, until after the third time, God had Peter’s attention.  

When you pray, stay alert to see what happens next. You will notice that what happened next in Peter’s life was essential to him discerning the guidance of God.

Third, the witness in Peter’s spirit was confirmed by the witness of circumstances.  

11And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Acts 12:11

Can you put two and two together?  If you pray, and ask God for guidance, what is it when the phone rings and someone who had no idea you were seeking God calls to give you information that fits right into how you had prayed.  That is guidance, and it is likely guidance from God.  

Suppose you are seeking God’s guidance about surrendering to be a missionary.  When you pray, you inform God that if He wants you to go to the mission field, you first need to sell your home.  You struggle with that issue because you love your home and you don’t want to give it up. So, you continue to pray and ask God for guidance.  Then one day someone calls you and tells you they were looking for a house in your neighborhood and were wondering if you ever thought about selling your home. What is that?  That is guidance.  It is the witness of circumstances confirming the witness in your spirit—and it all grew out of the context of prayer.

Fourth, the witness of circumstances was confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.

The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.  Acts 11:12

These three events came for Peter in rapid succession.  First was the vision—this witness in his spirit. Then came the obvious providential circumstances.  And then like a bolt out of the blue came the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The time will come when God will make it very clear to you what He wants you to do.  He will show you the direction you should take.  The answer will come in the context of prayer.  It will come when you are willing to surrender your personal prejudices in favor of the will of God.  There will be a witness in your spirit.  There will be circumstances that take place that seem to confirm that witness.  But the ultimate authority is the witness of God’s Spirit who will say to you, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit?  Is it audible?  For me it has never been.  But I can tell you this, although that voice has always come in a different way, I always knew it when it when it came. When God speaks to verify His leading, you will know that it is God.  

How can you be sure? There is only one way to verify God’s guidance. When God shows you the way—walk in it.

Finally, Peter’s guidance was verified in the context of obedience.  

12“The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13“And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.  Acts 11:4-15

When Peter began to take steps of obedience, each one was verified by God.  He saw God’s activity.  He saw how God had been working to prepare the way for his visit to that home.  He saw God’s work in the lives of those to whom he preached.  But how would the guidance of God have ever been validated if Peter had not been obedient. There are some things that you will never know until you make the journey of obedience.  

Pray for God’s guidance.  As you listen for a witness in your spirit be sure that you are willing to give up your own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God. Watch for providential circumstances that God will use like signposts pointing the way.  Make sure that you have that vital witness of the Holy Spirit before you go.  Then when God shows you the way, walk in it and watch God work.

In the fall of 1988, I found myself in the small community of Camden, Alabama, being considered as the pastor of the church there. I didn’t know a soul. In many ways, it was like a foreign country to me. I was so apprehensive for myself and for my family. I needed some word from God about what to do.

I was alone in the back hallway waiting to enter the sanctuary. The instrumentalists inside began playing the prelude music. I recognized the tune. It was the familiar hymn, Trust and Obey. As they played, one of the verses of that hymn came clearly to my mind. “But you never can prove the delights of His love, until all on the altar you lay. For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for those who will trust and obey.” In that moment, I knew clearly what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to surrender my family and my future into His hands. The only way to confirm God’s guidance up to that moment was to obey. I did, and never once have I regretted the years I spent there. 

God’s guidance in one decision will not be a blueprint for another. However, these basic principles have helped me get a sense of God’s will for my life.  

Photo by Robin Noguier

Seeking God’s Guidance

Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you? Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God? Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction that you have already taken or are about to take?

The capital city was in shambles. People were hungry and homeless. I can think of cities around the world today who are experiencing the practical implications of such a calamity. However, these people were living in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah. Foreign invaders, under the directive of the king of Babylon, captured the king. They murdered his sons before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes so that it would be his last visual memory. They burned the temple and every other house of size in the city, taking the best and brightest of the people captive. They did leave behind the poor, fearing no threat or reprisal from them. It is these, the poor and homeless, who stood in the rubble of what was once home, who came to an awareness of a need to seek God’s guidance. By the grace of God, Jeremiah was not taken captive and was allowed to remain in the land with these people.

Imagine the helplessness of these people. It was made worse by a power struggle going on behind the scenes in the chaos. A new leader was appointed by the invading king to govern these homeless poor. The new leader was murdered, along with many who gathered themselves around him, throwing these hungry, homeless poor into further chaos. Johanon, a leader who helped bring some order to the chaos, and personally rescued some of the people, felt things were about to get much worse. Fearing reprisal from the king of Babylon, these desperate people made up their minds to flee to Egypt.

In the calamity that swirled, confusion reigned in the hearts of God’s people. Perhaps your circumstances are not as dire, but you can certainly feel the desperation of these confused people as they grappled with decisions they needed to make in the midst of calamity. One of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity is: 

  1.  Confused People Tend to Follow Their Instincts and Feelings Rather than Following God. 

Their decision to return to Egypt was based on fear and on their perceived personal need. When God delivered His people from Egypt through Moses, He intended for them to never return.  Any return to Egypt was tantamount to abandoning their faith in the God who had planted them in the land.

Have you ever been flushed from your position of trust in the Lord by fear?  When you evaluate your circumstances from the eyes of fear instead of the eyes of faith, you will follow your instincts, your feelings, your fears, rather than following God? This is what these people were about to do. However, to their credit, they realized their need for God’s guidance. Therefore, these desperate people sought out the prophet Jeremiah. They asked him to pray for them, asking God for direction. The directions God gave them, as well as their response, can be found in Jeremiah 42.

Remember, one of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity, is that confused people tend to follow their instincts and feelings rather than following God. Consider the following request they made to the prophet Jeremiah.

Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah 42:1-3

That request seemed, on the surface, straightforward and very sincere. Most of us are willing to quiz God concerning His guidance for our lives.  We believe, just as they did, that God’s guidance is good medicine and should be considered in our decision-making process. What we believe and what we practice are often quite different.

Jeremiah gladly agreed to their request to seek God’s guidance in their behalf.

Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I am going to pray to the Lord your God in accordance with your words; and I will tell you the whole message which the Lord will answer you. I will not keep back a word from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us.Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:4-6

However, these people suffered from the same basic problem we struggle with today when we seek a word from God.

2.  Too Often, God’s People Seek a Word from God that Will Affirm the Way They Feel.

There is a great deal of commitment on the surface of their promise in verse six.  There is also a great deal of truth in their understanding of the ways of God.  It will go well with us when we listen to the voice of our God.   Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you?   Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God?  Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction you have already taken or are about to take? Always make your decisions based on God’s guidance and His knowledge of your circumstances, and not your own.  

3. When You Seek God’s Guidance, Make Sure You Abandon Your Personal Priorities in Favor of the Will of God. 

While that appears to be what they had done, as the story unfolds, it is clear they failed to abandon their own plans.  They were still leaning on their own understanding.  Do you trust God’s will over your own?  Do you believe God’s will is always best—that his directions are always right?  Until you do, you will not abandon your ways in favor of His ways. 

4. When You Seek God’s Guidance, You Must Be Willing to Wait for a Word from God.  

Now at the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Jeremiah 42:7

How long did it take an Old Testament prophet to hear from God? The time varied—but it always required waiting.  Jeremiah waited before the Lord for ten days. Seeking God’s guidance does not mean making a decision—asking for God’s blessing—and then taking steps in the direction of the decision that you have made.  Seeking God’s guidance means praying, and making no decisions and taking no steps, until you have a clear word from God.

The greatest evidence of a person’s faith is not how quickly they make decisions but how long they are willing to stand still waiting for a word from God.  Circumstances often scream hurry.  Faith whispers wait.  These people were forced into seeking God’s guidance by the desperation of their circumstances.  What is the crisis that is prompting you to seek the Lord?

Then he called for Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were with him, and for all the people both small and great, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: 10 ‘If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. 12 I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil.Jeremiah 4:8-12

This was a crisis controlled by God.  As they received God’s guidance, they learned their calamity was God imposed. It was sent because of their sins, and it was sent to prompt them to seek God.  It was a calamity from which they could bedelivered, if they responded in obedience to their word from God.  

If there is a storm of calamity swirling around your life, you need a word from God.  You need to hear what God is saying to you in the midst of your circumstances.  As the stormy mists swirl around you, you might be tempted to look at your circumstances through the eyes of fear. If you do, you will be guided by your feelings.  Instead, ask God to show you your circumstances through the eyes of faith. In Experiencing God,Henry Blackaby wisely observed, “You never know the truth about your circumstances until you have heard from the truth.” What is God’s promise? What is God’s guidance? What is God’s perspective of your present calamity? Ask Him. Wait for an answer, and as you prayerfully wait, pledge to do whatever He tells you. Above all else, keep that promise and obey God!

5. God Waits for Our Obedience to Bring an End to the Crisis that Has Come into Our Lives!  

God’s word was “Stay in the land…”The situation that swirled around them was desperate. All their precious things had become a ruin. There was terror on every side.  But if they would hold their ground and trust God, He would work all things together for their good.

What is the word that God has spoken to your heart in the midst of your circumstances.? Has He whispered,“Wait, Stay, Trust?”  Or could the fear in your heart be because He has whispered, “Go to a land that I will show you?”Whatever God’s word is to your life, your obedience is critical.

When you are seeking God’s guidance, you must come to the firm conviction that you will do whatever God asks you to do. Unfortunately, their commitment to obedience was a commitment of the lips and not a commitment of the heart.  Is your commitment to obedience a heart deep commitment?  Are you ready to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do?

6. When You Receive God’s Guidance, It Will Require You to Act in Faith in the Face of Your Fear.  

13 But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen to the voice of the Lordyour God, 14 saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; 15 then in that case listen to the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, 16 then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious, will follow closely after you there in Egypt, and you will die there. 17 So all the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them.”’”Jeremiah 42:13-17

Remember, these people had already set their mind to go to Egypt before they consulted God.  Does God know the true motives of our heart when we pray?  Does He know when we are seeking Him to bless our plans and when we are seeking to know the blessing of His plan for us?  He does!  We would do well to hear the warning He gave to the people in Jeremiah’s day and to hear it loud and clear.  

Please understand that the fears of God’s people were well founded. They had reason to believe the King of Babylon would retaliate because of the assassination of the governor he placed over them. But the King of Heaven was Sovereign over the affairs of His people. HE STILL IS! God is well aware of the dangers we face as we follow Him.  If you continue to allow your life to be ruled by your feelings and your fears, you will miss the activity of God.   The very things that we fear will hound our every step if we head in any direction other than the one assigned to us by God.  

Remember their commitment:Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:6

Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.

19 The Lord has spoken to you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go into Egypt!” You should clearly understand that today I have testified against you.20 For you have only deceived yourselves; for it is you who sent me to the Lord your God, saying, “Pray for us to the Lord our God; and whatever the Lord our God says, tell us so, and we will do it.” 21 So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the Lord your God, even in whatever He has sent me to tell you. 22 Therefore you should now clearly understand that you will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, in the place where you wish to go to reside.Jeremiah 42:19-22

Their response to God’s word and warnings through Jeremiah is recorded in Jeremiah 43.

But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lordto stay in the land of Judah…. and they entered the land of Egypt (for they did not obey the voice of the Lord) and went in as far as Tahpanhes. Jeremiah 43:1-4; 7 

7. Never Take a Step that Will Violate Clear Guidance from God!

What a sad commentary on the faith of God’s people. They were walking by their feelings and not by faith. They were viewing their circumstances through the eyes of fear and not the eyes of faith.  They made their decision, leaning on their own understanding rather than the guidance of their God. If you are on the verge of violating clear guidance from God, don’t! Stop! Wait! Reconsider! It will go well with you if you will do what God wants you to do! If you disobey God, the very disaster you fear will overtake you. 

I don’t know your circumstances. I don’t know your calamity or how deep the chaos is that swirls around your life. However, I do know the God who spoke order out of the chaos of pre-creation, who spoke light out of darkness and life out of deadness. I know Him whose way is in the whirlwind and the storm and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He has the power to say to the storm in your life, “Peace, be still!” 

Don’t make decisions without God’s guidance. Seek Godly counsel to help you understand the will and ways of God. Don’t act on fear or instinct. Always act in faith based on God’s promises. Seek a word from God in the midst of your personal circumstances. Be willing to wait for it. Whatever God says to you, be sure to obey His counsel and follow His direction. 

What are the circumstances that stand in your face and scream for you to take matters into your own hands?  The situation screams hurry! But in your heart, a still small voice whispers “Wait!”  Which of those voices will you allow to govern your life?

Photo by Joshua Watson 

Is Your Hand to the Plow?

Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:61-62

When I was growing up, my grandpa and my dad did a bit of farming. I have fond memories of riding my grandpa’s mule between the fields. My family spent long hours with hand on the plow, preparing fields, and laying out rows. Great value was placed on the rows being straight, for as the crop came up, it had to be plowed again and again to keep it free of grass or weeds. As a young boy growing up in South Mississippi, I was blessed to have a few opportunities to hold the plow and do my best to keep in step with the mule. There is an art to guiding a mule. He will go where you want him to go, as long as you know where you are going. You can’t plow looking back over where you’ve been. You will plow a crooked row and perhaps damage existing plants. Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Since I was a young person, verse 62 has troubled me. It has been a plumb-line, hanging down beside my life, as a measure of my own personal commitment to Christ. I identify with this man’s own conflicts and commitments toward home. My life is not the only life measured by this verse. It measures all who hear the call of Christ to come and follow, or who have expressed some semblance of commitment to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I didn’t understand until recently that this verse is set in contrast to an earlier verse in the same chapter where it is said that Jesus’ face was steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem. He made that decisive decision to follow the will of God for his life, having counted the cost. He knew all it would mean, and he was making the journey. He refused to look back, even when facing the cross.

It was in the face of the divided commitment of a would-be disciple, that He contrasts it with His own absolute abandon to the will of God. But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

Jesus was not suggesting it was a sin to have an affection for home or an obligation toward those at home. These people were not asking for a moment to take care of what was necessary—they were putting forward an excuse that would not allow them to follow. That excuse could have been anything. It could have been family, it could have been treasure, it could have been pleasure. If you will notice, the way this would-be disciple worded it said it all, “But first…”

Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with having a priority higher than following Christ? YES! Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

This man had no intention of following Jesus. Saying “goodbye” meant finishing that phase of his life. In other words, he was saying, “Let me raise my children, then I will follow you.  Let me reach retirement, then I will follow you.” 

Is it not true that some of you made such a commitment? But now, time has come and gone since you made that promise. Since then, the children have been raised, and now there are grandchildren, and you still can’t follow. Retirement has come, and with it, other concerns, and you still can’t follow. Something always comes first. Something always will, until you determine that Christ will be first above all.

Jesus didn’t excuse this gentleman for his commitment to his family. He will not excuse me. He will not excuse you. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

Follow Me!  This is the first step of the Christian life. To say you believe, but never begin to follow, is to prove your unbelief. Once you do begin following Jesus, living for Jesus and putting His will ahead of your own, must remain the focus of your life. 

There is a story in our Bible that is  a perfect illustration of the kind of commitment our Lord requires. It is the story of a young man named Elisha, who was led of God to follow Elijah the prophet, so that he too might become a prophet of God.  He was plowing a team of oxen. He had his hand on one plow, but God was calling him to lay hold of another. 

The Bible says, “He (Elisha) left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he (Elijah) said to him, “Go back again, for what have ai done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.  1 Kings 19:20-21

Didn’t he do exactly what Jesus found unacceptable? Didn’t he say goodbye to those at home?  Yes! But it was a real goodbye. He made sure he put his hand to the plow of serving God and that he would never look back to plowing the field again. He cooked his animals and burned his plows and followed the plan of God for his life. He took care of the excuse so there would be no turning back. 

As a 17 year old boy, I sat in the office of Dr. William Clawson, a Bible Professor at William Carey College, who took time to guide me about ordering my life to pursue God’s calling. He urged me to so order my life that I would never be able to look back or go back. That is what I did, and I don’t regret it. I cherish his counsel to this very day!

So it was with Elisha. He could be one or the other. He could be a farmer, or he could be a prophet. He could not be both. The Lord required him to follow with absolute abandon. He requires the same from you and me. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

There are no exceptions to this rule. That is why Jesus always laid out the true cost of discipleship. “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33None of you means you. It means me. 

This is true at the very beginning of the Christian life. There can be no excuse for me not following Jesus… no “but first.” The priority of my life, the focus of my existence from that day forward, must be to follow Him. But don’t fail to understand the Lord’s emphasis here. This is not only the requirement as I begin to follow. This is the journey of the Christian life. There should never be an excuse for a delay in my obedience. My priority is absolute abandon to the Lordship of Christ. 

I should never be found saying: “Lord, I will follow, but first…” ” Lord, I will serve, but first…” “Lord, I will go be a  missionary, but first…” “Lord, I will forgive, but first…” The “FIRST” in your life is always to be following Christ. To excuse your way out of the obligations of following Him, at any point along the way, is to lose fellowship with Jesus from that moment forward.  

He is to be Lord of my heart and Lord of my home. He is to be Lord of my actions and Lord of my attitudes. Should I offer Him an excuse as to why my will, at some crossroad, cannot bow to His Own, then I will hear him say to me what he said to this gentleman in the book of Luke.“No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

The standard, the plumb-line of my commitment, is my Lord’s commitment to go to the cross for me without looking back. He steadfastly set his face to follow God’s will for His life. I am to steadfastly set my face to follow His will for mine.

I understand this means something different for everyone who might read this. The cost of full surrender to Christ for you may be far different than it is for me. You may risk being excluded from your family. You may face physical suffering or imprisonment. You may lose your job or even your life! Nevertheless, the plumb-line remains: “No one, after putting HIs hand to the the plow and looking back, is for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

I conclude with a final challenge from the author of the book of Hebrews, who, after he finished a list of those whose lives exemplified such absolute abandon, wrote the following:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2 NASB)

Put your hand to the plow, keep your eyes on Jesus, and never look back!