Crumbs of Mercy

What need exists that troubles your home and troubles your heart? Are you in need of a few morsels, a few crumbs of mercy from God’s table to deal with some need in your life?

There is a story in the New Testament of a woman who was unfit for God. If that sounds shocking or surprising to you in any way, then you should read further, because her story is your story and my story. In the gospel of Matthew, she is referred to as a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus in search of mercy for her little girl, who she described as cruelly demon possessed. In the story, it appears Jesus abruptly told her she didn’t qualify for mercy since she didn’t come from the right people. Then He said something that seems cold and cruel from our perspective. He said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” In just a few moments of conversation, Jesus spoke to a desperate woman, telling her she was unfit for God. If it troubles you that Jesus would say that about a woman in her position, then you need to hear the rest of the story because it has a wonderful ending.

This woman was a person who was distant from God. I’m convinced that Jesus’ approach was very tender, in spite of how it seemed to her in the beginning, or how it might seem to us as we read the story. Jesus is moving her to consider her standing before God. The Jews considered all Gentiles as dogs. It was a cruel term and a failure to understand the heart of the God they worshipped. There is no distinction among peoples or races. We are all equal before God. No person or people group is less important than another. 

However, in the presence of God, against His holiness, His greatness, and His glory, I am no more than a dog. That is to say, I am unfit for God. I don’t qualify for God’s help. I am undeserving and unworthy. That is why this story is not only the story of a troubled woman, it is your story and mine. She was unfit for God. She was distant from Him spiritually. She didn’t know the true God. She was a worshipper of false gods.

One of the great truths the Bible teaches us is that all of us, in spite of race, economic status, or religious standing are unfit for God. You were distant from him from the day you were born. That distance is evidenced by the thoughts and intents of your heart that are only evil continually. According to Jesus, it is what comes out of a person’s heart that pollutes them and renders them unfit for God.

This woman was unfit for God. She was unfit for God’s fellowship. She was unfit for heaven. As she sought help from Jesus, she was asking Jesus for something she didn’t deserve. Likewise, God owes us nothing. All of us are unfit for God.

She was at a point of desperation in her life. As Mark tells the story, he writes, But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Mark 7:25

Here was a woman who was unfit for God, and now, her little daughter had an unclean spirit that defiled her. She was distant from God, and now that distance from God was showing up in the life of her little girl. 

Emotionally and spiritually exhausted, she fell down desperate at the feet of Jesus. I’ve carried a limp and lifeless daughter in my arms into the Emergency Room. I know what it is to stand in the hospital with a child so sick I didn’t know whether she would live or die. So I feel her pain, even as I read this story. Some of you do as well. You know what it is for your child to have a demon; for the devil to get a hold of your precious boy or girl, and you would do anything to see them set free.

That is this mother. Are you desperate? Have you run out of options? Is there some need in your life that has reached critical mass? You want to talk to the Lord about it. You want to bring it to Jesus. But then you look at your own life, and you say, “But I’m like that woman. I am guilty of sin. I am distant from God. I am unclean. I am unfit for God.”  You see, this is your story, and it is mine!

She made a decision to make a move toward God. This woman had trouble in her home. When you have trouble in your home, I know by experience, you also have trouble in your heart. 

God created us all with a conscience. Your conscience tells you if you are right with God or guilty of sin. You may never listen to the voice of your conscience. You might shut it out and not even care until your child is sick or in trouble. The first thing your conscience does is to condemn you as guilty. It blames you for the problem or you blame yourself. As you stand in the middle of difficulty in your home and in your heart, you begin to feel an overwhelming need for God. You may have lived distant from Him all your life, denying His existence and running from His influence. 

This is your story. This is you. This is a picture of your life. This is a picture of your need. This is a picture of what you must do. You need to come to Jesus in your need and as you are. Your only help and only hope is at His feet.

What was that woman thinking that day in the moments before she ran to Jesus? Was she thinking, “I haven’t been living for the Lord. I can’t pray. I can’t ask God to help me. I’m not worthy. I’ve been living distant from God. I’m unclean. I’m unworthy. I’m unfit for God!”

If those were her thoughts, then certainly the Lord’s initial response reinforced them.  In the gospel of Matthew, we are told that initially, Jesus didn’t respond. The disciples were urging Him to send her away, considering her unworthy for His attention. When Jesus finally answered, He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Have you ever applied for some kind of special assistance and been told you didn’t qualify or that your child didn’t qualify or that you were the wrong kind of people or worse that you were a dog? Were you made to feel unclean, unworthy and unfit?

She might have just stomped her feet and walked away in anger. But she didn’t. She fell at His. She risked making this move toward God by coming to Jesus. She heard about Him. She thought: “He can help my little girl.”

In Mark, we see Jesus’ response to her request: “And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Mark 7:27

Two things here. First, Jesus is taking this woman through the process of evaluating her own relationship with God. Was she deserving of God’s help? No. Are you deserving of God’s help? No. You prove it over and over. Your thoughts that rise up out of your heart betray you as being just as unclean and unworthy and unfit as this woman here.

But second, Jesus did this a little more tenderly than it appears. The word He used was not for some mangy street dog, but for the puppy that might sit at your feet as you eat at your table. 

He was painting the same picture that I have painted for you, but He did it in a tender way. Here was a woman who came to Him for help. She made a decision to make a move toward God—even though she was unclean, unworthy, unfit for God. She did so because she was desperate.

Are you ready to make such a step toward God today? Is there some need in your life that presses you to fall at the feet of Jesus and plead with Him for help that only He can give?

What was it that she wanted? What was it that she needed? Matthew tells us that when she initially approached Jesus, she came crying out,“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” Matthew 15:2

When Jesus told her that dogs didn’t eat bread from the children’s table, she replied: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28

There is the deep desire of her heart! She wanted crumbs—crumbs of mercy. Whatever He could spare! Whatever He could give.! Whatever drop of mercy He could provide, she believed it would help her little girl. Like that other woman who had the issue of blood who said, “If I could just touch the hem of His garment, I could be healed,” this woman wanted just a few crumbs—a few drops of His mercy.

She was saying, “Lord, I know I’m unworthy. I know I am unclean. I know I don’t deserve anything from you. I know I am unfit. I know who I am. But I also know who You are. All I am asking for you is for a few crumbs of mercy!”

Would that do for you today? Would you settle for a crumb of mercy that fell from the table of Heaven? I believe most of us would. I believe most of us would say, “Lord, I don’t deserve anything from You, but I beg you for mercy.” Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you too have a son or a daughter or a spouse who you believe could be delivered with just a few crumbs of His mercy.

So how do you get that process started? Do what she did. Make a decision to move toward God. Place yourself by faith at the feet of Jesus. Tell Him that He’s right about you. Tell Him you know who you are, but you also know Who He is. Believe that He is willing and able to help you!

Did Jesus give her the deep desire of her heart? He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Mark 7:29

What was so special about her answer. First, it revealed that she understood her own spiritual condition before God. She was distant. She was unworthy. She was unfit. It revealed that she understood her own need for God. She proved that by coming to Jesus. Second, it revealed what she believed about Jesus. She believed He could meet the need in her life as no one else could. Third, in placing herself at His feet, she was coming in surrender, not based on her own worth, but simply on her need for mercy. And fourth, in coming to Jesus for help and hope she was placing her faith in His person and in His power.

So Jesus said, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Mark 7:29 It’s done. It’s over. I’ve done it. I answered your prayer. I met your need. Instantly. Miraculously. Just what you asked for because of your answer. The demon is gone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could exercise the faith of this woman. She knew who she was and what she was. She didn’t come to Jesus based on her worth. She came as she was, and in her need, looking for just a crumb of mercy. And when she went home, look what she found.

And going back to her home,  she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.   Mark 7:30

Imagine the joy in that mother’s heart when she went home and found her little girl no longer tormented by that demon. Her little girl delivered. Her little girl whole.

What need exists that troubles your home and troubles your heart. Do you need to put yourself and that need at the feet of Jesus? Do you have a need like that? Are you in need of a few morsels, a few crumbs of mercy from God’s table to deal with some need in your life? Are any of us worthy? No. But all of us are needy!

How desperate are you for the Lord’s blessing? Are you desperate enough to come to Jesus? This woman was so desperate that she came publicly. Her need was so great that she clamored for just a crumb of His blessing. How about you? Are you willing to identify yourself as the person whose need and faith moves you to come to Jesus? All of us are unworthy. Jesus wants all of us to know that. He also wants us to realize that all of us are needy! Ultimately, He wants us to know that He is the One who can meet the deepest need of every heart!

Photo by Monika Grabkowska

Out of the Depths: Surviving the Dungeon of the Soul

The lowest spot on earth is the Dead Sea.  Geologists tell us that it sinks a little lower every day.  Some estimates say it is sinking at a rate of thirteen inches per year. But in the ocean is a place even darker and deeper. No light has ever penetrated its darkness.  The deepest part of the ocean is called the Mariana Trench.  If you dropped Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on the surface of the earth, into this part of the ocean, the top of Everest would be more than a mile below the surface.  The pressure at that depth is eight tons per square inch. That is like trying to hold sixteen thousand pounds with just two fingers, while an equivalent amount of weight is bearing down upon every square inch of your body.

Have you ever felt like you were living in the lowest spot on earth? Like the Dead Sea, you sink a little more every day.  Like being in the depths of the Marianna Trench, the pressures are almost more than you can bear. Is that what life is like for you? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? If so, you can understand the feelings of David when he wrote these words.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, O Lord should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  Psalm 130:1-41    Out of the depths I have cried… Psalm 130:1

David Was In The Depths

Was it the depths of sin?  Was it the depths of despair? Was it the depths of danger? Was it the depths of poverty? Was it the depths of sorrow? The depths have been described as that point in your life where: “Earth is hollow,  heaven empty, the air heavy, every form a deformity, every sound a discord, the past a gloom the present a puzzle, the future a horror.” C. H. Spurgeon:  The Treasuries of David

The depths describes the very bottom of your circumstances, the very bottom of life.  It is as low as a person can go. That’s where David was. He was in the depths!

What Can You Do in the Depths?

You can cry. And most people do. The depths is the lowest of all places in life. But it is more than a place. It is an attitude—an outlook—one of the most intense hopelessness and despair.  It is the dungeon of the soul.  How does a person survive such a place, such a period, such a season of life?

Even strong men cry in the depths, for in the depths, a man realizes that he has come to the end of his own resources—that he has nowhere to turn. So in the depths you cry.  You weep secretly, sometimes silently, sometimes invisibly to those around you. David was in the depths, and there in the depths he cried.

To Whom Do You Cry in the Depths?

In the depths, that deep, dark, depressing dungeon of the soul, one can conclude that all is utterly hopeless. A person might decide that there is nowhere to turn, that there is no place to cry, that there is no ear that will hear. We can even decide that God’s shoulder is not available to cry on. But David said, Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Psalm 130:1

Not only so, but in the depths, a person might detest himself or herself, and so, feel that even God loathes them and their condition. But listen to what Paul said when he asked, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

The depths can’t separate us from our Lord’s love or His presence. David was in the depths.  And there he cried, but not just into his pillow. He cried to the Lord! C.H. Spurgeon said, “Prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places.  Deep places beget deep devotion.  Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation.” 

It was out of the depths of slavery in Egypt that the children of Israel began to groan earnestly.  “They sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried out..” Exodus 2:23b  But while their souls were chained in the dungeon of the depths, their prayers took flight. Their cry for help rose up to God, and God took action to initiate their deliverance!

Out of some pit of life, whether despair, or sin or sorrow—out of those depths, David cried to the Lord. Could it be that you are the person in the depths—that deep, dark, depressing, dungeon of the soul?  Are your eyes weak from sorrow?  Is your pillow wet with your tears?  Then turn those cries heavenward.  Your situation may be desperate, but God’s love, compassion and salvation reach even into the depths.  

How Does a Person Come to Be in the Depths?

When I find myself in the depths, I usually get there as a result of my own folly.  In my own personal experience, I have found that sin will take you to the depths! It will take you deeper in the depths  than you want to go. It will keep you longer in the depths  than you want to stay. The depths of sin will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.

When I find myself in the depths, I am never there alone.  Satan is always there to assault me and to remind me of my faults and failures.  He is there heaping sorrow upon sorrow and discouraging me from calling on my God who is mighty to save. The same is true of all of God’s people. The enemy not only accuses us of being unworthy to call on God, He accuses God as either weak or unwilling to save us from our despair. He reads in our hearing the record of our sins. The devil keeps a detailed record of our sins against God so that he can accuse us, and dishearten us, and accuse us before God, pointing at our sin list with his crooked finger. The devil keeps a list. But listen to what David said about God.

David said, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,  O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You,  That You may be feared.”

If God held a grudge—if my sins were kept in His heart all would be hopeless. Make no mistake, there is a record, but against that record stands the promise of full and free forgiveness. Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.” And Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13-14 that he has “forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Yes—there is a record!  But there is also a Redeemer!! So, when in the depths, it is not necessary to plead your merit when pleading for God’s forgiveness.  You have no merit.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of God’s mercy and grace.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of the Cross! No dungeon is so dark or deep that the Savior can’t see and save!  David was in the depths.   He cried to the Lord—daring not to stand on his own character—but on the grace and mercy of the Lord.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Where Does One Wait While in the Depths?

David waited in the depths.  Bombarded by his doubts—bludgeoned by his fears—there he cried out to God—hanging on precariously as he waited for God’s deliverance and hoped for God’s help. There in the depths, he cried for God’s mercy, while clinging to God’s word.

Sometimes, that is all that we have in the depths. We have just one precious promise, just one verse to cling to.  Tell me what else is there—when your money is gone—when your health is gone—when your wife has told you that tomorrow she’ll be gone—when your hope is gone—what is there to hold on to?  David held on to the promises of God!

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,  and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6

Can Anything Good Come Out of the Depths?

Can any lesson be learned in the depths of distance from God, in the depths of disobedience, in the depths of discouragement? Remember Jonah. How deep did Jonah sink in the depths? Jonah described his circumstances as having sunk to the belly of Hell. He prayed, The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.nI went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.When my life was fainting away,  I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. JONAH 2:5-7

God delivered even Jonah from the depths. In the throes of the desperation that you now experience, you may be wondering if any good could come from it.  It seems right now that it will destroy you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But in the depths, David learned to call on God. He was forced to look to God.  He was forced to pray. And he was forced to wait. Listen to his testimony:

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love  and with Him is full redemption.  He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. 130:7-8

What David might never have known in life’s noon, he discovered in life’s midnight.  The depths is a place where a person can meet God!What secret is God teaching you as you travel through the tremendous soul-crushing pressures of the depths?  Do you feel as if you are living through the lowest spot of life? Like the dead sea, do you feel like you sink a little more every day? Like being in the depths Marianna Trench. do the pressures seem almost more than you can bear? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? Then cry out to the Lord. He plumbs the depths and the darkness. Neither height nor depth can separate you from his love.  

Photo by Alice Alinari

Decisions

The root word from which we get our English word “decide” comes from the latin cis. It originally meant to cut or kill. Isn’t it still true? When I have to make a decision, I realize one has to die. I have to reject one and embrace the other. For that reason, decisions are hard for me. I prefer to be presented with two choices, not ten from which to choose one. More than once I had to make a decision that would impact my future and my family. The bigger the decision, the more tentative I become. In Isaiah 42:16, God gives the promise of His guidance. I choose to trust God’s guidance over my own in the decision making process.

I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them, I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains.   These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.  Isaiah 42: 16

This is one of the most remarkable promises in the Bible. It is precious to those of us who know it and have needed it at various points in our lives. Consider with me the precious riches of this promise.

First, the basis of this promise rests entirely on God Himself. 

Five times God affirms His determination to fulfill this promise. I will lead the blind. I will guide them. I will make darkness into light. I will do it.  I will not leave them undone. There are some promises in the Bible that are conditioned upon our obedience. This promise rests entirely on the grace of God. He shoulders the complete responsibility of bringing it to pass. That gives me confidence that God will help me when I don’t know which way to choose. He will show me which way needs to be dead to me and the way that He wants me to take, even if that way seems difficult and fraught with danger.

Second, this is a promise made to the helpless.  

How helpless were those to whom the promise was made? He calls them the blind. We might call this spiritual blindness, but it is also physical blindness. It is the blindness we face when confronted by one of the passages of life or by some major life decision. I find it is not failure to say, “I don’t know which way to turn.” It is an acknowledgement of the truth that we all face because of who we are and the limits of human knowledge. I am blind to the future, whether it is the near or distant future.  I don’t know what is around the corner of my life.  Walking by faith is essentially walking blind, admitting our absolute and utter dependence on God.  

Third, this is the promise of God’s leadership.

The question in my mind, more often than not, is: “How will I get from where I am to where God wants me to be.”  The more I ask that question, the more I begin to look down the familiar roads of God’s leadership.  I begin to think, “Well this is how God worked before.  Perhaps this is the way God will work again.”  I look for God’s activity in ways that I have known it in the past—ways with which I am comfortable—because of prior experience.

Here, God promises to lead but by a way that is new to us.  Not only is it new to us, it is completely unknown to us.  More often than not, God’s leadership comes to us in ways we don’t expect. It takes us by surprise.

How will you get from where you are, to where God wants you to be?  You have God’s promise that He will lead you. When you have God’s promise, that is all you need. You don’t need a road map. All you need is Him! In the study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby said, “If you follow Jesus one day at  a time, you will always be right in the center of His will. For me, that was one of the greatest discoveries of my life. However, I still must trust Jesus and His wisdom over my own.

Fourth, it includes the promise of God’s presence.

A leader may only point the way. A guide is someone who walks with you in the way.  A leader points you in the right direction and leaves you to go there on your own. A guide ensures you make it there safely by placing on Himself the responsibility for your journey. How will you make it from where you are to where God wants you to be? Wait on God and His leadership. Don’t worry or fret when you don’t know the way.  God is your guide and He will not leave you until He has done what He promised you.  

Fifth, God accepts full responsibility for the risks involved in following Him.  

There will be dark places, and there will be rugged places.  During those times, it isn’t up to you to provide light in the dark or to make the rugged smooth.  Your responsibility is simply to keep walking when the way is dark, and to keep trusting when the way is rough.  As you face these difficulties with your trust in Him, God will make a way where there seems to be no way. Remember, Jesus promised, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

If you are standing on the verge of some life-changing decision, it is my prayer that the God who made this promise will reveal His plan in the midst of your circumstances. I pray that you might know His presence with you, even as you read these words. Trust Him! I have followed His leadership for over forty years. Many times I have failed Him, but He has never failed me!

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi

Healing the Hole in Your Soul

25A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.28For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Mark 5:25-28

Is there a hemorrhage in your life?

A hemorrhage is a loss of blood.  It can happen slowly over time and make one weak and sickly as it had this woman.  Or it can happen suddenly and massively as when a vessel ruptures, causing loss of life. If there is a hemorrhage in your body, you are in trouble physically. But it may be that there is another kind of hemorrhage in your life.

A rupture can take place in your marriage relationship, and you discover the love that was holding you together is oozing away. It might take place in your spiritual life.  Sin, deadly spiritual cancer that it is, eats its way into the fabric of your soul, until ounce by ounce, your spiritual vitality has slipped away.  That hemorrhage can take place in a relationship between you and another brother or sister in Christ, so that you can no longer stand to see them coming.  Once you were close. But now that relationship is so bitter, you sit on separate sides of the church and shop in separate stores.  Because of it, the joy of your salvation is ebbing away.

Is there a hemorrhage in your life? There was in the life of this woman.  And it had lasted twelve years. How many years has it been going on in your life? How many years has sin been sapping your vitality and draining you physically, spiritually and emotionally? How long?

In this dear woman’s life, it was chronic, but it was also cumulative.  Year by year, it grew worse and worse instead of better and better.  So it is with a hemorrhage of any kind.  You either cure it, or it kills you.  It’s just a matter of time. What sin is festering in your soul, that if you allow it to go on and claim your heart, it will claim your home and your health and your hope?  

Where Are You Looking For A Cure?

No one looks for a cure unless that person can acknowledge being sick.  This woman endured many things of many physicians. She did so because she was desperate. How desperate are you?

Let me give you a description of her plight in the words of the great preacher Dr. G. Campbell Morgan.  

“On account of the peculiar form of physical disease from which she was suffering, she was excommunicated from the temple, not allowed to mingle with the worshipers.  By that selfsame law she was divorced from her husband, not allowed to live with him. By that same law she was ostracized from society, and in appalling loneliness, she had lived for twelve years. Twelve years of a disease that weakened her day by day, until all her physical powers were feeble.  Twelve years shut out from the fellowship of the saints as they went up to the house of God.  Twelve years shut away from the comradeships of home and the fellowship of her husband.  Twelve years shut out from all the circle of her friends and acquaintances.  Twelve years of suffering and weakness.  Twelve years in which she had done all she knew for healing, and spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but grew worse.” (The Westminister Pulpit, volume 8, 239)

How have you been dealing with the hemorrhage in your life? Where have you turned for help?  Have you become so desperate that you spent all your energies, and all your ideas, and all your hope, leaving you more helpless and more hopeless than in the beginning?

Sometimes we become so exasperated with our situation that we decide not to fight it anymore?  We decide to give in to our sickness and let it have the best of us. We decide to give in to our sin and let it run whatever course it chooses to take in our lives.  We are spent and hopeless and have no where else to turn.

This woman had heard about Jesus. But she wasn’t there that day just to hear a story. She came seeking a Savior, a Helper, who had the power to deliver her from her circumstances. 

What Do You Believe About Jesus?

Can He deliver me? Can He deliver you? That is the question that needs an answer. If He can, then Christianity has relevance.  If He can’t, I am wasting my time writing, and you are wasting your time reading what I have written.

Mark tells us that after hearing about Jesus, this feeble, frail, fragile woman began to push her way through the crowd in order to make her way into Jesus’ presence. What was it that prompted her to make this journey? What clicked inside her mind and heart, making her sense that He was the One. Many of you have heard stories about Jesus, but it has never clicked inside you that Jesus is the One you need. He is the One who can heal that hemorrhage in your life.

I will never forget the testimony of one dear woman as she shared how that connection was made in her heart.  There was a hemorrhage in her marriage relationship.  The relationship itself was near death. They were newcomers to America. Yet,  every day she expected him to tell her he was divorcing her, abandoning her alone half-way around the world.  But one day, as she prayed, she caught a glimpse of the greatness of God.  Her spiritual understanding was opened, and she saw a God who was great enough to save her husband and save her marriage. In that brief moment, she reached out to God in faith, asking Him to do what she in all of her efforts and energies had not been able to do.   God work a mighty miracle in the life of that family. The husband was saved and so was the marriage!

Is something beginning to click inside of you?  When the connection was made in her heart, she pressed through the crowd and touched His cloak, for she thought, “If I just touch His garments I will get well.”

Have You Touched Him and Has He Touched You?

29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. Mark 5:29-33

Do you know why she touched Him? She touched Him because she had a need. She touched Him because she believed He could meet that need. There were two blind men who asked Jesus to heal them. Do you know what He asked them before He touched them? He said, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  

You might answer “yes” without batting an eye. But that means nothing! Why? Because you are yet come to that conclusion in your heart. You are saying “yes” with your head only.  When Jesus asked these blind men if they believed that He was able, although they were blind, they had an internal vision of a God with whom noting was impossible. When they said, “Yes” then Jesus touched their eyes.

Do you believe that He is able to seal the hemorrhage that is sapping the life from your soul? I tell you that there were hundreds in that crowd that day who would have said ”Yes” with their heads. And all of them were touching Jesus too. But there was only one woman who was healed, and she was healed immediately.

Jesus said that it was because of her faith that she was healed. It was a faith that was expressed—not just by her head—but by her hands and her feet and her heart. When she reached out to touch just the hem of His garment, a connection was made that tapped the power source of heaven. There was such a surge of power that Jesus said, “Who touched My garments?”

Have you eyes been opened to Jesus as the ONE and ONLY ONE who can help you? He wants to be your Savior and your Deliverer. He wants you to be able to testify to  a time when you touched Him and He touched you?  

Something changed in that woman’s life that day. 29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Twelve years of sickness came to an end in that moment.Twelve years of suffering came to an end in that instant.Twelve years of hopelessness vanished like a vapor.Twelve years of hurt and heartache was erased.

But something more significant than that happened in her life.

This Woman Experienced a Transformation in Her Relationship with God.

 Let me tell you why. Did you know that Jesus said a word to her that he never said to anyone else in all the stories of the New Testament? Never—not even to His mother or to His friends Mary and Martha.

Before I tell you that word, let me remind you of where and what this woman had been for twelve years. For twelve years, she had been abandoned by her society. She was an outcast from the community of faith. If she was married, the law would have demanded that she live apart from her husband for all of these twelve years. She was an orphan of hope and happiness. But in the instant that she touched Jesus, He looked down into her eyes, and this is the word that He spoke to her orphaned heart. HE called her “DAUGHTER.” He would use that title in reference to others. But it was never bestowed by Him on any woman but this one. When He called her daughter, she knew, not only that she was healed of her sickness, but also of her separation from God. She was accepted. She was adopted. She was His own!

That very thing can happen to you in your circumstances. If you reach out in faith to this same Jesus, you will find His power to be effective in your life. You will also find that it is both His passion and pleasure to make you His child. In an instant, you would no longer be an outcast. You would no longer be an orphan of hope and happiness. You would be adopted as His very own!

She thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Mark 5:28 She did, and she was, and the same thing can happen to  you!

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

“What in the world are we going to do?”

I am sure you’ve experienced one of those moments or some of those days when you sat with your face in your hands wondering, “What in the world are we going to do?” All of us have been to one of those “wits-end” moments when it felt like the walls of our personal world were falling down. When was the last time circumstances prompted you to ask that question to someone in your family? 

It always encourages me to discover that similar questions were raised by Biblical characters. They found themselves in situations that brought them to the end of their rope. An example can be found in the life of the Old Testament character Elisha. Elisha was so successful in predicting the military maneuvers of the king of Syria, that he shifted the focus of his wrath and the force of his army against Elisha personally. He sent horses and chariots and a large army, and they surrounded the city where Elisha was during the middle of the night. Elisha’s servant woke up early the next morning, only to discover they were overrun by the Syrian army. 

15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  2 Kings 6:15

The Problem That Confronts Us

How is it Elisha was so successful in predicting the previous locations of the Syrian army? Why did God allow this particular predicament? But the key concern of Elisha’s servant was, “What shall we do?”

That question, should you find yourself asking it, always relates to some problem that confronts us or some difficulty that besets us. In this case, it was significant, it was overwhelming, and it left Elisha’s servant at a mental and spiritual loss in the face of his circumstances.  Is there a problem like that in your life? You don’t know what to do. You find yourself overcome with anxiety and foreboding in the face of the problem that confronts you.

The Challenge It Presents Us 

The problem itself is only one part of the difficulty. The other side of that difficulty is the challenge it presents us. How will you handle it? What decisions will you make in the face of it? What steps do you need to take, and how will you know when to walk forward and when to stand still?

Whenever we face difficulty, one of our first reactions is to panic. What shall we do?  Shall we melt with fear, or shall we exercise our faith in God. Shall we seek our own solution, or shall we seek God and His wisdom? This challenge will always confront us in the face of difficulty. We will respond in fear or in faith—in self reliance or in dependence upon God?

The Promise Laid Before Us

The servant delivered the bad news to Elisha. There was a significant contrast between the reaction of the two to the same set of circumstances. One was at His wits end, the other was ready to lay claim to the promise of God.He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”   (2 Kings 6:16 ESV)

This was the promise laid out before Elisha’s servant. That promise is also ours in the face of our difficulty. Whatever resources our enemy has—God has more. However great our problem is; God is greater. This is true in every set of circumstances.

The Deficiency Within Us

Our greatest problem is not the difficulty that surrounds us but the deficiency within us. Elisha had something his servant did not have. He had spiritual vision.

I was preaching in an African-American church in 1997. The community was racially divided. No white preacher had been asked to preach there in many decades, and rightfully so. Not everyone at my church was happy I had been invited. Not everyone at the church where I was preaching was happy that I was there. I was more than a little nervous. 

One of the families in my church accompanied me to the church that Sunday along with their little six year old son.  Just before the service started, he sat down on the front pew beside me and said, “God has bookmarked my Bible for me.  It opens up to Two Kings six.”

I was amused by his voice and the way he gave the reference.  So I asked, “What did God say to you from ‘Two Kings six?’ He replied, “I don’t know. God hasn’t bookmarked the verse yet.”

His little words began to haunt me while I sat up on the platform before that sea of black faces. So for  a few moments, I blocked out all the activity around me, and the Lord and I went on a journey to Two Kings six.

My eyes immediately fell on verse 17. Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17 ESV)

God got his word across to me that morning by bookmarking a little boy’s Bible.  As a result, I had no problem preaching. I was in the center of God’s will. My life journey was under God’s protection from animosity that might arise from any direction.

There are going to be times in all of our lives when we are faced with circumstances that cause us to ask:  What Shall We Do?  Elisha’s response to the circumstances give us the five keys that will enable any of us to survive some storm of difficulty. 

First, He Prayed for Restored Spiritual Vision for His Servant.

I suggest you do the same. Simply pray that God would restore your spiritual vision as you stand in the midst of your circumstances. Ask Him to give you the perspective of heaven and guide you through the present difficulty. 

I have a problem with cloudy vision. The doctor tells me I will have it from now on. I am supposed to put ointment in my eyes every night before I go to bed. It helps my vision to be clearer. In Revelation 3:18, Jesus encouraged us to acquire eye salve from Him so that we can see. He will give clarity to our spiritual vision so that we can better understand ourselves and our circumstances.

The Second Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Recognize the Reality of God’s Presence.

Once God opened the servant’s eyes, his new spiritual vision enabled him to recognize the reality of God’s presence.  In my personal experience with difficulty, what I need most is just to know God is with me. I need an assurance of His presence.  If God is with me, I can cross any bridge of fear in my path. That will also be true for you. 

Elisha prayed for spiritual vision for his servant. His servant’s eyes were opened, and he came to a new awareness of God’s presence. Knowing God’s presence, enables us to exercise our faith, putting our hope, not in ourselves, but in God.

The Third Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Rely on God’s Mighty Power.

Consider the servant’s initial question in the face of difficulty. It was, “What shall we do.” Once God restores our spiritual vision, enabling us to recognize the nearness of God’s presence, we are able to place our confidence in God’s mighty power. The question is no longer, “what shall we do?” The question becomes, “What will God do.” We learn to rely on God’s mighty power to calm the storm of our circumstances and bring us safely through. We may not always be able to answer that question with specifics. But because we have placed our faith in God, we know what He will do something. We know that He is at work behind the scenes to help us in our difficulty.

The Fourth Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Remember God’s Promise.

In verse 16, Elisha offered his servant a very simple promise as the both of them faced difficulty. That promise simply stated that God’s presence and power was more than sufficient in the face of their present difficulty. Is there ever a time when that is not true? No. That will be true in the face of any difficulty, even the one you are facing today.

The Fifth Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Rest in God’s Peace. 

You will not always see horses and chariots surrounding you in the storm of difficulty. But you do have this promise. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7

The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The word guard originally meant to protect by a military guard. The picture we are intended to see is not that our hearts are surrounded by horses and chariots of fire, but by the impenetrable wall of God’s peace. We know that He is in control of our present circumstances and any future peril that may befall our lives. 

Photo by lee junda

Recognizing Moments of Spiritual Significance

Maybe you’ve never seen a bright, blinding light shining from the heavens. I don’t know that you should expect to. Allow me to explain why. Moments of spiritual significance are not the same for every person.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3As he was traveling, it happened… 9:1-3a

What happened was a moment of tremendous spiritual significance. This was a remarkable man, but up until this day his life bore no record of a significant encounter with God. Unfortunately, there are some of you here today who are just like Saul. 

First, I want you to think about who Saul was and what he was before he was converted.  Saul was a Pharisee.  That means he was very religious.  It means he attended worship services in the synagogue and in the temple.  It means he read from the Scriptures. It means he prayed. It also means that he was one of the most educated and articulate men of his day.  

3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said,“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:3-9

 “Though his eyes were open he could see nothing.”  To me, that says as much about his previous spiritual condition as much as it did his present physical condition. All of Saul’s religion only blinded him to the truth about Jesus. 

I have to pause here and ask you a personal question. Could the same thing be true about you? Saul was very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, but in his life, there was never a record of an encounter with the God who authored those Scriptures. Like many, who call themselves Christians today, he was familiar with the structure of the Scriptures and the standards of Scripture, making every outward effort to bend his life to fit that mold. No doubt, he believed some of the great doctrines of Scripture. He even believed in the existence of angels and spirits. Nevertheless, this man who was zealous for his religion, was lost. What does it mean to be lost? It means he was lost from God. It means he was lost in terms of his own life purpose. It also means he was on his way to being lost for all eternity, in spite of all his apparent religiosity. Why was Saul lost? He was lost because there had never been a moment of spiritual significance in his life!

What do I mean by a moment of spiritual significance? What was it that happened to him? Read a few of those verses again.

3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said,“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:3-5

Here was a man known for instructing others about God, who didn’t know God himself, until he met Him that day on that road to Damascus. Have you had such a spiritually significant moment in your life? Using Saul’s story as an example, I would like to give you some characteristics of a moment of spiritual significance.

  1.  Any spiritually significant moment will have a date attached to it

It will be connected to a date on the calendar. It will also be connected to some event or activity, which may or not be memorable in itself, but becomes so because it is forever attached to that significant moment.

It will happen at a point in time. The day on the calendar may be fuzzy. The hour on the clock may be ambiguous. However, you will never forget where you were and what happened. Saul’s encounter has no date and time stamp, but he remembered the event associated with the encounter. It was as he was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus that IT happened.

2. Any moment of true spiritual significance will be transformational. 

There will be a night and day difference in your life. Allow me to illustrate that by referring to the man born blind who encountered Jesus in John chapter nine. Blind from birth, he never had the experience of sight until the day he encountered Jesus. The  religious officials,  attempting to downplay the significance of his experience as well as the reputation of Jesus, questioned him about how it could be that Jesus, who they considered sinful, could give him sight. It was then that the man they were questioning testified to the transformational nature of his encounter with Jesus. He said,“Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”John 9:25 The difference in his life was so great, even those who knew him weren’t sure it was the same man.

Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus was also transformational. Something happened that left him physically blind. His newly acquired physical blindness was an illustration of the deep spiritual blindness the pervaded his life. That blindness was illustrated in his hatred for those who were followers of Jesus.

This moment of spiritual significance on the road to Damascus resulted in the spiritual transformation of this man called Saul of Tarsus. He became the mighty apostle Paul. It happened on a certain day, at a certain time, and it had a transformational impact on his life.  

Have you had such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? Maybe you’ve never seen a bright, blinding light shining from the heavens. I don’t know that you should expect to. Allow me to explain why. Moment’s of spiritual significance are not the same for every person.

3. Any moment of spiritual significance will be unique to you.

The only man whose life has ever been changed at a burning bush was the life of Moses. That was his moment of spiritual significance, and it was unique to him and unique in Scripture.  To my knowledge, Saul’s life is the only life changed by an encounter with a blinding light from heaven. We could consider character after character in Scripture, and you would observe that each person’s encounter with God was unique to them. While their experience was unique, they clearly knew God had spoken. 

Isaiah had such an encounter with God in the temple. He said, “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” That is just another illustrated of an encounter that could be associated with a date on the calendar. It was something each individual never forgot and something that changed their lives from that moment forward? 

Have you experienced such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? It might not have been a burning bush or a blinding light or a vision of God seated on a throne, but something happened to you that you’ve never forgotten, and that encounter continues to shape your life.

4. Any moment of true spiritual significance will be preceded by the activity of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus spoke to Saul in his physical blindness. He not only saw a blinding light, he heard a voice. Reflecting on that experience, Paul later took an opportunity to share what Jesus said to him. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Acts 26:14

Goads were sharp sticks that herdsmen used to prod specific their animals in a specific direction. Apparently, God had been at work in Saul’s life, pricking his heart with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, any moment of spiritual significance will be preceded by a trail of  other moments God uses to alert you of your need to change and to move you to that spiritually significant moment. That trail might be the trail of your own resistance to what God wanted to do in your life, until the point in time comes for your surrender.

Moments of spiritual significance are orchestrated by God. Such moments are planned onto the calendar of our lives and often involve other people who God uses to move us on to His agenda. In the case of Saul, God used a specific disciple whose name was Ananias.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized. Acts 9:17b-18

As Saul was travelling, it happened! But it was not a happenstance. It was a moment of spiritual significance, carefully calendared onto his life journey. It was a divine appointment. 

Ananias was used of God to help Saul understand God’s new purpose for his life. Across the pages of Scripture, we meet men and women whose lives were transformed in some moment of spiritual significance. From that moment forward, God called them for some specific mission or purpose. That brings me to the next characteristic of these moments of spiritual significance.

5. A moment of true spiritual significance will require radical adjustments to your life purpose.

Abraham was required to leave to leave his father’s house. Moses was required to leave the wilderness and return to Egypt. Peter and Andrew left their nets. Saul abandoned his hatred for Christians and became one because of God’s activity in His life. No encounter with God scheduled onto the calendar of our life will come like a lightning bolt out of the blue. God will be at work in ways you don’t see or understand to prepare you for that moment. That single moment of spiritual significance was peppered with many previous pricks from the Holy Spirit. 

Yesterday, I sat in the sanctuary of the church where I served for nine years. I adjusted my life to go there at God’s leading. I spent nine years there. Those years seemed so lonely to me. But yesterday, as I sat there, I recognized that is where God befriended me. He shaped my heart. He taught me many things about myself and Himself. A moment of spiritual significance will not require a single adjustment to your life purpose. It will prepare you for a string of adjustments, all of which God will use to bring you closer to Him.

That leads me to my final observation about moments of spiritual significance. 

6. A moment of true spiritual significance will be a spiritual marker you share with others in an effort to explain who you are and why it is you do what you do. 

If you read the book of Acts, you will hear Paul repeat this story of that day on the road to Damascus when he had that encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a spiritual marker. Every time he shared it, it refocused his life on the purpose to which God had called him.

Many of you who read these posts are spiritual people. You are religious people. You may read your Scriptures or mine. But let me ask you, for all your connection with religion and religiosity, have you had such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? Has this God of the Bible, who reveals Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, scheduled such an encounter onto the calendar of your life? If not, would you be willing to ask Him to reveal Himself to you. I remind you, it is not your life mission to find God. God’s passion is to find you and reveal Himself to you. Jesus said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Please consider praying this simple prayer: 

“Jesus, I have read about You. I have heard about You. But I have never encountered You. Would you reveal Yourself to me in a way of Your own choosing? Allow me to know that it is You. Please prepare my heart for that moment of spiritual significance. Amen”

Photo by JOHN TOWNER

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