Chapter 8: Prayer and Encouragement
Accompanying kindness, compassion and the other attributes of the Spirit are prayer and encouragement. If we are correcting a brother and we are not encouraging them back to spiritual wellness, we are not operating under the directive of the King. The entire written Word of God is based 100% on compassion. Even in the Old Testament when God would annihilate entire cities and tribes, it’s because they would not relent in their wickedness and they, by their own actions, forced God’s hand so as to protect His righteous seed. It is never God’s desire for anyone to perish (I Peter 3:9).
This life should only be a pre-cursor to better things to come, not worse. Blatantly or inadvertently, most people purpose to cause this life to be the “best” through worldly lusts of the flesh (sin); as a result, only hell to follow. This life is temporary and we must approach it as such or we will be consumed by the evil one. Sin is death and it is our command as Kingdom citizens of Heaven to cause those in darkness to most earnestly desire the Light. In this mindset, we will devote ourselves to prayer; prayer for the lost, the dying, the sick, the poor, the haughty, the wicked, the righteous, and so on. Prayer is encouraging, both for the one for whom we pray and for the one praying. I’m always encouraged when I stand before the throne of Grace regardless of the reason. We must encourage one another and pray that the faith of our brethren not fail in the hard times. We are to be people builders, not people destroyers.
Not Destined for Wrath:
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing (I Thessalonians 5:9-11).”
We can look at these verses two ways:
- we are not designed for God’s wrath against us, but for His love to consume us
- we are not designed for wrath against other people, but for His love to come through us so as to turn others toward the Kingdom of God
When I hear of or witness firsthand a “Christian” extending wrath against any other human being, I am saddened because I know it saddens the heart of God. For example, recently Joy Beher of the TV show The View referred to Mike Pence, the current VP of the USA, as one having a “mental illness” because of his faith in Jesus Christ. The multitude of the Christians of the land was ready to lynch her at high noon for such disrespect.
Let us recall Psalm 119:165 mentioned earlier: “Great peace have they who love Thy law and nothing shall offend them.” Christians, different from authentic followers of Christ, are quick to offense and quick to criticize the world when they say foolish things against God. She later apologized to the Vice President and, as one would imagine, Christians were once again offended because her apology was a day late, a dollar short, and altogether insincere, allegedly.
When will people of God recognize that the world will speak and act as the world, as the one running the world’s system? His name is Satan, the devil, Beelzebub, Lucifer, etc. When the peace of God rules in our hearts, we will be able to extend love and honor to those in and of the world. We will begin to have a Kingdom perspective instead of an earthly, fleshly, limited view.
Prayer is required in such situations, not criticism. It’s equated to being mad at a baby for screaming for not getting their way when what is required is discipline and instruction, not anger and wrath. Worldly people, aka those not of Christ, are like those babies. They don’t know any better. The only way to spiritually handle it with efficacy is to encourage those in Christ so as to not combat the wrong entity or in the wrong way.
People are not the enemy, Satan and his legion of demons are. The war is between Heaven and Earth, between God and the devil. We mere mortals are caught in the crosshairs. When mere mortals surrender to Christ, we become something more than mortal; we transition into the supernatural strangers and aliens from Heaven sent to Earth so as to pronounce and expand the Kingdom of God.
Once that transition occurs in an individual’s life, we no longer see, think, act, walk or talk as our old nature. We are no longer to function in the “tit-for-tat” mentality. We are no longer to be offended by the foolish deeds of darkness. Joy Behar, for example, is a person whom God loves and for whom He gave His life. Our human enemies of this life are people for whom Christ died. Pray for them. Stay away from them if the situation warrants, but do not retaliate in a manner of hatred and wrath. Do everything offense-free and with a heart to turn them toward the heart of God.
“but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers (Luke 22:32, NAS).”
“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer…(Acts 1:14, NAS).”
“For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother (Philemon 1:7, NAS).”
“Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ (Philemon 1:20, NAS).”
Chapter Sixteen: Bearing One Another’s Weaknesses
This is a subject near to my heart as it has been grossly misinterpreted by most. Have you ever had a loved one in dire need of assistance and, since you want to ‘bear their burdens’ according to our Lord’s instruction, you get dragged into their chaos and feel more burdened than they? It happens all the time. We think we’re doing right by people when we engage in their problems and we wear ourselves out trying to help when all we do is feel as bad or worse and no one gets actual aid.
We must keep the ‘bear one another’s burdens’ in proper perspective with the fullness of the Word. To be sure, the only way to accomplish this daunting task too big for mere mortals is to first be a person who casts their own cares upon the shoulders of Christ. We must learn to, and I quote, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”
If we cannot care for ourselves in such a manner allowing ourselves to be burden-free through Christ, how can we consider attempting to help someone outside ourselves? We will only further exacerbate our own problems and theirs. It goes back to the question, “Why worry?” If I as a minister, wife and mom cannot cease worry about my own, what good would I be to another? How could I rightly say to one in need, “Trust God” if I’m not doing it myself? I can teach others to pray with power and authority, faith and praise because I first practice it myself with my family. I first must surrender before I can call someone else to surrender.
When I do this, I can indeed help bear another’s burdens because I can, with ease, lead them to the Christ who bears my burdens. Then, we are both free of burdens. Burden-bearing is about no one but Christ alone, the one bearing the entirety of the burden. All roads lead to Christ and Christ is the only road to God the Father, the quintessential burden-bearer.
In summation, the first step in bearing another person’s burdens is to make sure you, first and foremost, have cast your cares upon Christ. Then, and only then, will you be equipped with the power and presence of Holy Spirit so as to lead them to the One who can lighten their heavy load.
My personal self-evaluation: If my yoke is hard and my burden is heavy, I have not cast my cares upon Him and a recalibration is required. With all I’ve endured with mine and Sophia’s health, when things became too hard and heavy, I consult the King and resubmit my troubles to the trouble-checker. At that, I immediately experience the relief of such heaviness and go on about my day. I deal with today as tomorrow has enough troubles of its own and will care for itself.
“Come unto Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30, NAS).”
“Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves (Romans 15:1, NAS).”
“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions (Romans 14:1, NAS).”
“Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble (Hebrews 12:12, NAS).”
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:12-17).
Chapter Fifteen: Strength for the Weary, part II
Weakened Unto Death:
What a beautiful act of unwavering love when God sent His Son in human flesh weakening Himself, the Almighty, so as to rescue those who are weak. Honestly, I can’t mention this enough as we, His creation, seem to keep missing this incredible act of kindness, thoughtfulness and, yes, weakness. He became all things to all people so some may be saved. I become overjoyed and saddened simultaneously when reading I Corinthians 9:22. The gift of Christ thrills me; adversely, the fact He states “some” may be saved is sad. Only a few will answer the call of Christ by surrendering their fleshly strengths so His strength can prevail.
Mankind, better yet Christ-kind, gets so frustrated at God when things aren’t fixed the instant they pray or within a week, months or several years. They expect God, because they deem themselves a “good person”, to jump the moment they pray or, better yet, they expect to have no real life issues as though they are exempt. These people have deluded themselves into thinking they deserve exemption from hardships.
The truth of the matter is, God has already extended all the help there is to give – the sacrifice of His life. What we fail to see, especially within the confines of the professing Church, is that we are to relinquish our lives (all the good and the bad) so that we may position ourselves to receive His completed help, as previously discussed. John 16:33 states, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” This is a past-tense statement, not an “it is forthcoming” possibility. Furthermore, John 19:28-30 confirms with clarity, “After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished…when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.”
We become weary in situations of life, death, divorce, abuse, poverty, resentment, rejection, abandonment, or whatever life throws our way, and haven’t figured out how to receive the power and dominion we’ve already been bestowed while enduring hardships. When will we understand that weakness is the greatest place to be? “He gives strength to the weary”, reads Isaiah 40:29. This isn’t just a matter of saying, when we are weary, God gives His strength; it’s far more reaching than that. It’s saying, it isn’t until we are fully weakened that we are in a place where we can receive His strength. When we are strong in ourselves, who needs God or anything He has to offer? When things are great, good, or even bearable, we continue to cling to dead flesh. In turn, without intending, we forgo the rest and peace of Christ which can only be birthed through relinquishing ourselves to God.
If you truly want to be renewed in strength, stop resisting natural weakness. It isn’t a shortcoming; it’s the only place where Christ can actually take over. When you realize “it’s finished” and there’s nothing more for Christ to do on your behalf, you’ll quickly perish your fleshly nature so that His completed work can begin to manifest in every area of life.
When Paul became truly weary, he was positioned to receive the fullness of Christ. Jesus gave Himself over to utter weakness that the glory of God the Father could accomplish His perfection through His human death. Strength for the weary comes because you are weak. Because Christ was weakened unto death, He could bear us when we are weakened unto death. In other words, once we have suffered and disciplined ourselves to cast our cares upon Jesus, only then can we guide others how to do the same.
He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. Isaiah 40:29-31 (NAS)
“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some (I Corinthians 9:22, NAS).”
Chapter 14: It’s All About Refinement
If I have heard once, I have heard a thousand times, “They were such a good person until thus and so happened; then they really changed for the worse.” With all my being, I believe trials and tests do not change a person, they simply bring to light who the person is at their center. It was definitely true in Job’s case as well as my own. Neither of us knew what was wicked within until the disasters came.
Adam lived in utopia and it was true for him. The worst comes out of people in dyer situations because the love of Christ is not in effect. Sure, they may be saved from hell but a person led by Holy Spirit would be able to recognize what God was allowing to happen and even why, instead of tail-spinning out of control and losing sight of God’s reality. Just because one is led by Holy Spirit for a long time does not mean that, in an instant, they can’t revert back to the flesh. Satan is crouching at the door waiting for an opportunity to stumble you. You and I must daily die, which is merely a result of having been transformed into the image of God.
When my first husband left with a note on the coffee table, I fell apart. I began cursing, ranting and raving. Why? It was because I had no grounding in an intimate relationship with God. I had never once said, “Father, show me everything that is wrong within me. Lead me into righteousness.” I had received salvation at the age of six and went on my way “getting people saved” as I was taught. I didn’t drink, curse, sleep around or do drugs. I was basically a “good” kid. However, in reality, it was all a lie because there is no one good but God.
I failed to hear from God, receive warnings, admonition, or anything of the kind. If I had, I would not have married two wrong men. I knew nothing of God except being able to quote a few Scriptures. In my mind, making a profession of faith was equated to “an intimate relationship” when it was nothing more than the beginning of what should have developed into an intimate relationship. I was weak in Christ on my best days and was so because I thought myself spiritually strong and mature.
A terrible weakness in God’s people is the feeling of unworthiness, yet we call it humility. When you focus on your own unworthiness, you are focused on self. Although it certainly appears humble and righteous on the surface, contrary to popular belief, this is another lie from Satan. It is actually false humility, self-abasement, and self-righteousness.
False Humility: “I am unworthy to walk in the shoes of Jesus, so I won’t. I’ll sit here quietly in my recliner of do-nothing. Praise God, one day I’m going up yonder in the sweet by and by. I’ll wait here ‘til I get to Heaven to throw my crowns at His precious feet. Who am I to walk in authority and speak with boldness? I’m too humble to do that.”
True Humility: “I am unworthy and I know it. However, with that knowledge, I (the unworthy one) choose to surrender and live only unto Christ (the worthy One). I choose His worth and allow Him to speak, think and operate through my mortal body. I choose to walk boldly and courageously in the authority and power He projects through me. I give God all praise, honor and glory for all accomplished.”
I pray every believer will get this imbedded in their spirit, heart, and mind. God is not asking for your perfection or power since you have none to offer. He is asking for your willingness to allow Him to move through your weak mortal body as you are merged with Him as one entity. Allow refinement when the hard times hit let you be overtaken by the evil one through despair. God is the perfection in the weakest places of life. Yoked together Christ is the only hope for strength and a sound mind.
“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:7, NAS).”
“If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it (Genesis 4:7, NAS).”
I must be transparent. The “mamma bear” Alexys and the “minister” Alexys are often in conflict. As a minister, I purpose to live a life of balance, love, patience, kindness, holiness and to be at peace with everyone, at least as far as it is up to me. Adversely, as a mother of a chronically ill child, I often feel the urge to, at the very least, tell someone off. Or, at the worst, punch someone squarely between the eyes for their neglect, bullying or disregard for my child who only wants to be well and accepted by her peers.
For example (in no particular order):
- Dealing with doctors who pass her around from this one to that one or one questions another’s diagnosis or treatment and look at me as though I’ve done something wrong.
- When kids her age at school or elsewhere tease and/or bully her because they don’t understand her situation, why she likes colored hair, why she’s so shut down, or why she doesn’t fit the acceptable body image.
- When the youth pastor at our church refuses, though begged repeatedly over a year, to reach out to her or have girls her age reach out to her. He visited her once, had a couple girls text her a few times and, just like that, she was quickly discarded and forgotten like yesterday’s news.
- Dealing with the school powers-that-be who threaten to call truancy because they question the word of doctors as though she isn’t really too sick to attend; who demand meeting after futile meeting.
In the aforementioned scenarios, yes, I definitely want to scream at and hit someone albeit completely contradictory to who I am in Christ. These are the times where I preach the Word of God to myself so as not to completely ruin my testimony for the Christ whom I love and serve. Mamma-bear has, on occasion, gotten the better of me because I despise the injustice thrown at my kid.
The struggle is real and I have to combat it on a regular basis. When these people who are in positions to help my child do not and, furthermore, cause more harm, I battle with mamma-bear, with the inclination of my fleshly man to do what would otherwise come very natural to me. My personality is very aggressive, forthright, proactive and protective and, therefore, it would be nothing for me to blast someone (and I have). I purpose daily to walk according to the Spirit of the Living God versus my natural man. I have to daily find the balance between knowing when and what to speak to whom and just letting loose when the notion strikes.
I have definitely learned, throughout all of this that, in fact, I am fully capable of restraint, patience, and silence; that I can choose to be self-controlled, to be silent when necessary, and, when I speak up, I can do so without yelling or demeaning the person at which my words are directed.
I Corinthians 1:27: “but I discipline my body to make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”
If there’s one “skill” I have honed having a chronically ill child, it’s patience. Patience, as many know, is one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. My entire adult life, I’ve functioned in two speeds: fast and faster. I made quick decisions in everything; procrastination is not in my vocabulary. This can be an asset but, also a liability depending upon the situation. With a child who is perpetually ill, there is no such thing as “instantaneous”. There’s waiting on getting an appointment with specialists, waiting on meds to kick in, waiting on doctors to decide the next move, waiting in a lobby to be seen by doctors who are running behind (sometimes hours), and so on.
In this, I have learned (by force, in a manner of speaking) that patience is an invaluable asset in the Kingdom of God and, in turn, my life. Although, there are times when going fast can be good because we need to think on our feet, it can cause a stream of destruction by refusing to slow down long enough so as to properly evaluate the end result of our momentary actions. Patience comes from pause and pauses are very good. Pauses allow us to properly assess what is happening and what needs to occur next if, that is, we are wise enough to stop whining through the halt.
Impatience has proven itself deadly or, at the very least, tumultuous. Abraham birthed his own enemy through Ishmael. The prodigal son received his fortunes immediately but, then lost everything until he humbled himself. Judas received his fortune by selling out Jesus and his end was quite horrible. Eve’s impatience for more caused the death of mankind; on and on the stories go. The impatience of my youth caused me to marry a vile man; the repercussions took two decades to subside. On the flip side, Joseph, because of his intense patience, became ruler over all of Egypt, second only the Pharaoh. Patience, once Abraham surrendered to God’s timing, birthed many nations in his old age through Isaac.
My point is this: there is good in every obstacle if only we look to God. “There are no problems, only possibilities and opportunities”, I heard back in the 90’s from a wise man. I must admit, I initially thought the man was loony but, it began a new quest to look at things differently. Fast forward twenty-five or so years: I could easily murmur and complain about how difficult this all has been with Sophia or, I can choose to look to God so as to recognize good which has come about through the intense difficulties we have faced. Patience allows us or, rather, me, to see with Kingdom vision instead of the here-and-now.
I am forever changed for all this and I know, with great confidence, it will (in time) change Sophia for the better. There will be people with whom she can relate whereas someone else may not. This will cause her to be a game-changer in the lives of those who are otherwise hopeless and helpless. It will make her far more compassionate and relatable than someone who can only assume how they would feel or respond in a particular trial. Patience in allowing ourselves to endure something with grace and growth instead of attempting with futility to “get out of jail free quickly” develops endurance, perseverance and victory.
Watchman Nee (my favorite author and man of God) said (and I paraphrase) God’s people try too hard to pray themselves out of tribulation when, all the while, God is purposing to train us through it. Getting out to quickly actually hurts us because we soon will have to start over in another trial so we may eventually learn what we need. God’s will is not necessarily to experience “healing” (in whatever capacity) instantly because we will miss its purpose. In this thinking, my friend was correct: There are no problems, only opportunities and possibilities. Are you looking for your possibility and opportunity?
Chapter Thirteen: Igniting God’s Completed Work
Faith, faith, faith and more faith is the key to unlock the Kingdom of God and His power therein. When I read Hebrews 11 in its entirety, I stand amazed; first at God, and, secondly, at the people who withstood things most of us can’t fathom in their wildest nightmares. What these folks endured is nothing short of a miracle because they didn’t buckle, not even in the face of death. The chronicle of these mighty people of God reminds me of Matthew 10:28 which instructs, “do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
In this world and, more specifically, in the Church, people are far more concerned with what people think of them than being obedient to the Word of God (the expression of His power). Forget being concerned with being hung, beaten, burned or tortured in some capacity since we can’t get past being afraid of someone rejecting us. This is a sad fact but, looking around the churches, it’s evident. We are far more concerned with the opinion of our fellow man than following Christ outside the city walls no matter the repercussions.
How can we possibly walk an authentic life of faith if we can’t get past worrying about what someone thinks of us be it family, friends, co-workers, fellow church members, or whomever? This behavior does not and cannot please Yahweh. Having good intentions without faith cannot please Him; consequently, we squelch His power within us. When we are not walking in faith, God cannot materialize His completed work and then we’re left wondering, “Where’s God? Why isn’t He helping me? Where is His power now?” To quote my friend, Rachelle Freeman Sanders, “Faith doesn’t move God; faith is your positive response to what God has already done by grace. ‘Won’t He do it?’ you ask. No, He’s already done it!”
When you get to the place where you genuinely desire experiencing His power moving in your life, start with faith. This isn’t to insult where you are with Christ; it is simply a fact which applies to everyone. This is for me and this is for you. Faith is where Holy Spirit power ignition begins and ends and it usually comes prior to falling in love with Him. Faith is the vehicle which delivers into your life that which God has already accomplished before the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3). Everything past, present and future was perfected before the Earth was set in motion, we’re just watching it unfold over the centuries. How you operate in faith in the face of your most ferocious adversary will determine how far God can present and produce His completed work.
Faith is paramount to any Christ-follower. Faith is the ignition switch to God’s power and strength. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Without faith, how can one have joy in Him? If we only have information about God with which we desire to share with others yet have no joy, where is the supernatural strength required to be displayed in everyday life so as to draw others to Christ?
We who desire earnestly to follow Christ must understand, all that is to be done is already accomplished. There is nothing more for Christ to do on your behalf. Money problems? Already solved. Children problems? Already resolved. Spousal problems? Already finished. Do you see? God sees the end from the beginning because, in God’s timing, the ending has already been fulfilled.
If this were inaccurate, how could God have spoken of Jesus in the Old Testament? How could the prophecies yet to come have been written? It’s because it’s already finished. Furthermore, how could Christ say in John 16:13, “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” The “what is to come” part reveals what already is but is yet to be. The truth is, according to the Spirit of God, all is already complete. We’re simply awaiting it’s unfolding.
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval…and what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:1-2, 32-40, (NAS)
“and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3, NAS).”