Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life. – Proverbs 4:23 (NASB)
The debacle between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the recent Academy Awards drove home a point that’s been needling at my heart for a couple of years now. The pricking happens when I turn on the TV or scan the latest Hollywood movie releases. A nettling jab also comes when I watch main-stream news. If I’m not turning my face away from sex scenes or covering my ears to raunchy language, then I am slapping my forehead at the confounding lies pouring forth from the national news anchor who has been in my living room every night for years–until 2020.
Where is Our Culture Going?
The truth is, we have not watched our culture slip slide into a bad angle here. No. Mouths agape, we’ve clinched our sofa arms watching this out-of-control freight train called force-feed the sheep head straight for hell.
No longer are the gutter-worthy script lines and sex scenes left for the late-night or R-rated movies we don’t let our children near. We are dished up perverse, and, quite frankly, evil images and stories on prime time these days.
Even though ABC edited out the nasty word Will Smith used after he took the stage and slapped comedian Chris Rock, there’s not a preteen in our country that couldn’t lipread Smith’s word choice. And just in case anyone missed the award show and got curious about the disaster, an unedited version of the live and onstage altercation went viral.
I mean, what happened to family prime time?
It’s called woke time now.
The Good Old Days — You Mean a Year Ago?
I remember a time when dignified souls got up and walked out when the vulgar and unimaginable happened in movies, plays, or presentations. Had Will Smith been so offended with the AA’s lenient boundaries and the host’s crude jokes, then why didn’t he boycott the rest of the show?
Wait. That’s right. He had an Oscar to collect.
I believe he would have made a more positive, long-standing impression if he’d stood up, said no thank you to the Oscar, and left to get a burger.
We all have choices.
I believe Smith’s reaction is a microcosm of our current society’s reactions to things that offend. That reaction? Get down on their level.
Instead of holding to our moral values, we’ve let the dark side overtake our society with talk of—originally—tolerance, but now full-blown acceptance.
I hope it’s not too late to take our Judeo Christian culture back.
Is it Prophesied?
It’s true that the Word of God tells us that in the latter days cultures will morph into some pretty evil stuff. For a full list of the coming atrocities, read Matthew 24. And I do believe that we’re entering into these times now. But because these days have been prophesied, we are by no means to pack up our morality and head for the hills, or bury ourselves in a fox hole, waiting for a rapture removal.
The Bible is clear, evil exists, and we’re to take action, keeping our hearts and minds pure and on point. We are to be image bearers, witnesses, and sharers of God’s Word. And to fulfill this calling, we must not have one foot in the muck and slime and one foot on the rock. We have to put both feet on the rock, and close our culturally tolerant doors—lock ‘em shut!
Romans 12:12 says: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
We’re not suppose to look like the world. We’re not supposed to think like the world.
I believe, we must fill our minds and hearts with godly things, refusing personal entertainment that doesn’t support our biblical morals. Or, as I wish Will Smith had done, we have to sacrifice our Oscars.
Look at Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
To maintain thoughts of excellence, we should be willing to keep the thoughts of evil out of our heads. For me, this means choosing my entertainment wisely.
In Matthew 6:22-23, we read: The eye is the lamp of the body; so then, if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. So if the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
I must keep my eyes on what is lovely from God’s holy perspective. I cannot compromise. I cannot wade around in the mirey clay waiting for my Oscar.
I’ve hesitated to write about the caution I sense as I watch the whole world wave their blue and yellow flags in support of Ukraine from the safety of social media thousands of miles away from the conflict.
Is It Me, Or Is There More to the Story?
I experienced confusion when I watched the recent State of the Union address and witnessed American congress men and women wearing Ukrainian colors and pins—jumping to their feet in applause as our government made bold proclamations from televised, albeit safe, platforms.
I’ve heard water-cooler speak of the heroic Ukrainian president that reminds me of a we-want-a-human-king-not-God-as-our-leader biblical account found in 1Samuel, chapter 8.
While I, too, have searched through my news channels to follow the travesties of the distressed people of Ukraine, I continue to wonder if what I’m being fed isn’t sometimes propaganda at its best. And to be honest, I guiltily feel l am watching the Hunger Games, cheering from the sidelines as people destroy each other in a reality internet show.
Considering that the last two years, the main-stream source of our news has not just willingly, but passionately, heartily, vehemently shared changing and misinformation about the recent virus, I have doubts when it comes to trusting all of the information coming from the American media. Those guys will jump on a headline faster than a duck on a June bug. We forget that they are not reporting for the good of the people but the good of their dollars—these commerce outlets have ratings to reach and salaries to pay, after all.
A Nightly Check
I’ve received that check in the spirit that keeps me up at night wondering about the bigger picture of all the chaos. What am I missing here and why am I uneasy? Why am I not creating hate posts against Putin and Russia?
The Lord reminds me that I, as a wee, little human on His planet earth am not seeing the reality of the situation. The reality, He tells me, is unseen. We truly receive only a glimpse of the truth because our earthly manner of sharing information is stunted. There is a reality that is unseen.
Ephesians 6:12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
In this passage of Scripture, I’m told that the real war is in the heavenlies and not in Central Europe. In searching through the Word to scratch my itch of unrest, I found this jewel:
2 Corinthian 4:18 – …as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Whoa. I am told not to seek truth in the short-sighted, agenda-filled media, but in the plans of my God. Then I found this verse concerning His plans:
Zephania 1:17 – I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind, because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.
Walking like the blind appears to be an earthly curse. There are those among us who cannot or will not discern the truth—they are blind to spiritual matters. Here’s the proof of that truth:
1 Corinthians 2:14 -The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Jesus affirms this reality in this Scripture:
John 9:29 – Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”
The Truth of the Matter
In light of God’s Word, should it be maddening to me that untruths, false prophets, and propaganda abound in current world chaos?
No. As a believer, through the Truth found in the Word, I’ve been made aware, warned really, that the blind of the world will not discern the plans of Almighty God. But I am not as the blind. I have a discerning Holy Spirit that guides me.
John 16:13 — When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
And this brings me back to some of the Scriptures I’ve written about, made videos about, and continually point to: Matthew 24:3-8
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
God’s plans are underway, my friends. And if these times and troubles are by His design, then we, as His children, have work to do beyond the flag-waving and thundering applause surrounding our propaganda-spewing national leaders.
Isaiah 55:6-11 – Seek the LORD while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the LORD, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your way, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.
From these Scriptures I can confirm that what my work in all of this worldly chaos is to pray the Word and share the Word with those within my influence. Working for an international ministry which shares God’s audible Word in the languages of the world, I’ve witnessed, firsthand, the thirst for truth.
Spreading salvation hits the real but unseen enemy where it hurts.
We must pray truth. We must share truth.
If you want to do more than stand in solidarity with those fighting to keep their country, then do something dramatic—send God’s Word. Kingdom build. Find a ministry working on the inside and encourage; buoy their confidence with your support.
Last Words of Encouragement
I’ll wrap up with these encouraging Scriptures:
Isaiah 35:4 – Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution, he will come to save you.
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
Yes, I pray for the people of Ukraine. I also pray for the people in Russia, China, Afghanistan, and North Korea, and even America. I pray for the great harvest. This world will not last, and it is not where my hope lies.
My hope is in Christ alone.
Love to all,
Join the Be Brave Community through Bible Briefs: fast-paced Bible Studies
Three Timely Bible Lessons for the Busy and the Brave
The Mystery of Abiding
And the bearing of fruit
Bible Briefs by L.G. Westlake, Author, Blogger, Adventurer, Word Advocate
Lesson 1 – Being Still
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. – John 15:4 (ESV)
I’ve been called a workaholic. I don’t claim the title with pride, but I do recognize that my need to stay busy—to sink my teeth into projects whether it be writing a Christian book or blog, repainting my kitchen cabinets for the third time in two years, or putting in an extra five hours a week at the ministry—can look like I have issues with sitting still.
Again, this is not something I’m proud of because I know Psalm 46:10 by heart: Be still and know that I am God.
This has been one of the struggles of my Christian walk—being still, ear in tune to that still small voice that Elijah heard on the mountain top in 1 Kings 19:11-12.
When God decides to speak, He can and will be heard.
I take solace in this story of zealous Elijah for he, before reaching the solitary mountain top to hear the voice of God, had been in a busy, (and extremely brave, btw) season of life. He’d challenged some 450 prophets of Baal to a prove-your-God showdown where God rained down fire and consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. After this jaw-dropping event, Elijah commanded the wayward people of Israel to annihilate the false prophets of Baal. But then brave Elijah took to fugitive life, running from Jezebel who wanted his head for killing her mass collection of fortunetellers. Under a broom tree hidden in the wilderness Elijah prayed that he might die in the aftermath of the chaos, weary of the fight.
I think it’s important to note that before Elijah got still before the Lord on the mountain top, he’d had his hands full with the sins of Israel, false prophets, and an evil, murderous queen. And once he reached the mountain top? A wind tore the peaks apart, an earthquake shook the foundations, and a fire blazed—all outside the mouth of his hide-away cave. I can imagine Elijah huddled in the damp dark dreadfully anticipating what would come next. That’s when the still, small voice called this prophet to come forth and receive his next instructions.
A brave warrior for the Lord, Elijah’s dark cave moments are only part of his dynamic story. Elijah walked with the Lord. Sometimes he ran with the Lord. Communing with God constantly, Elijah received instructions in a variety of ways and circumstances.
We take time to review Elijah’s story here for my sake. Because there was a time I, brimming with false guilt, thought the only way I could hear the spiritual whispers of God was to shut myself up in my prayer closet (on the floor in the corner of the bedroom) waiting for revelation. After reading my Bible, offering up praise and petitions, I’d sit still, trying to force my mind to focus, ear tuned to the silence, save the neighbor’s dog barking. If, by chance, the day’s end arrived without my time of strained listening, I’d writhe before the Lord, begging forgiveness for missing the opportunity to hear Him speak.
But believe me, I’ve learned this important lesson: When God decides to speak, He will be heard.
I’ve discovered that the Lord speaks to me through dreams, the wisdom of friends and family, in His Word, and once He spoke while I was sick and coughing my head off with Covid-19. He also speaks to me through the simple observation of plant life. I’m a bit of a gardener and as I care for the variety of living plants in my gardens, the Lord teaches me using His nature.
What I didn’t understand in my earlier walk with Christ is that abiding is not a once-a-day quiet time. Abiding is a 24/7 state of being.
A special note: Setting oneself off from the world for a time of communion with the Maker is biblical and I don’t wish for you to think I’m making a case against it. In the Take Action below, we’ll look at the biblical mandate to spend time in solitude with Christ.
Look at Matthew 6:6 in your Bible. What are Christ’s instructions about praying? Why? Can you find examples of Christ praying alone?
** write your thoughts in your journal or electronic notebook
We’re called to pray in secret. However, being still, is not the sole method for hearing from God—though it is a darn good one. The well-known be still verse found in Psalm 46, is couched in the cry for us to behold the mighty and earth-shaking works of the Lord. Psalm 46:10 is not a call to hideaway, but to come forth out of the cave and behold the global works of the Lord. This demand is parallel to Elijah’s coming out of the cave post supernatural events and also Lazarus coming out of the death cave.
Read all of Psalm 46. I believe these verses give us a prophetic look at what happens during and after God’s prophesied wrath on the nations. There are more treasures in these verses, however.
What other take aways can you find?
In examining this entire psalm, has your understanding of be still changed? Why or why not?
**Write your answers in your journal or electric notebook.
Lesson 1 Wrap Up:
If being still, or as our key verse in John says “abiding” in Christ has been a difficult concept or discipline to practice, there’s hope. In lesson 2 of The Mystery of Abiding, we’ll dig deeper in the metaphor found in John 15.
Lesson 2 – The Metaphor
An important Bible-study lesson I’ve learned is to always examine a verse within context, avoiding the idea that a single verse should shape a theological stance. Like the be still verse we identified in Lesson One, the context (the who, what, when, where) surrounding John 15 can also help us better understand what He wanted to communicate to His disciples.
Put our key verse into its contextual place in the Word. Read chapters 13, 14, and 15 in the book of John and scribe your answers and thoughts in your journal or electronic notebook.
What is the setting (where are Jesus and His disciples)?
Christ speaks of His love and the future in these verses. Why? What is He preparing His disciples for?
In John 15:1-8 Christ refers to himself as a vine. What is He communicating to His disciples using this metaphor? What is He communicating to you?
As some of the best wines in the world are produced from the grapes grown in the arid hillsides of Israel, the disciples would have been very familiar with vineyards. The picture of the Father as the vine keeper is fantastic. A vintner (vigneron or vine keeper) in biblical times lived near, if not in, the vineyard. Closely linked to his vines, the vintner cared for his plants like children. Christ’s remaining eleven disciples would have instantly grabbed the imagery of the Father tenderly lifting and pruning the growing vines.
As Christ describes His father as the vine keeper, He calls himself a vine. In our current form of English, Christ might have said something like this: My father is the Vintner who cares for the grapevine. I am that vine.
But for the disciples, at this point, things might have gotten a little confusing. Christ a vine? It’s an interesting metaphor but when we dive deeper into the anatomy of plant life, a fantastical teaching of Christ living in us emerges.
An early and prophetic reference to Christ is found in Isaiah 53:1-3. In Revelation 5:5 and 22:16, this specific metaphoric term is used again. Why would Christ be likened to a root?
Look into the Parable of the Seeds found in Matthew 13. What do you learn from verse 13:21?
** Record your answers in the usual places.
We’re receiving a revelation of Christ. Like a root that spreads deep into the earth in search of water (The Word) and other nutrients, Christ is the foundation of our seedling faith. He is our root. And from the root foundation springs forth a vine (stem). Look at John 15:1 again. Christ reveals that He is the True Vine. To understand what His words mean, let’s take another quick look at the vineyard and the mystery purpose of the vine.
Grapevine roots extract water and nutrients from the ground, producing hormones which influence plant growth in the spring. As root absorption increases, water is drawn up through the vine’s xylem vessels, creating sap— the fluid which carries water and nutrients throughout the plant. Filled with minerals, sap rotates throughout the vine. Without the vascular system operating at capacity, the entire grapevine plant would become weak and die.
The sap is the blood running through the vine and carrying nutrients to the otherwise lifeless branches.
Back to John 15:
In verse 5, what does Christ call you?
Now are you nourished and sustained?
Through the anatomy of the grapevine, what does Christ teach you? ** Record your thoughts in your electronic notebook or journal making notes of unfolding revelations.
Lesson Two Wrap Up
Through biblical context, we are given a wider scope of Christ’s mandates. Speaking to His disciples for the last time before His crucifixion and ultimate resurrection, He prepared His friends/followers for His death by explaining not only His love, but His sovereignty in sustaining their faith. Only through a connection to the True Vine, would these committed men be nourished and bear fruit for future generations.
In Lesson 3, we’ll take a closer look at the fruit of the vine.
LESSON 3 – Bearing Fruit
I am the vine; you are the branches. John 15:5 (a)
Our key verse reveals an amazing truth: As branches, the only way we’ll produce fruit is through our connection to the vine—the life-giving source of the entire plant. Through the metaphor of the grapevine, Christ explains that His sinless blood, soon to be shed, is the sap—the nutrient source—for the branch … which is you.
Following is the discourse of the True Vine Christ gave His disciples at the last supper. He meticulously explains, over and again, that the fruit the disciples are to produce cannot and will not happen unless they are connected to Him—their source; their sap. Take another look at His repeated points.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. – John 15: 1-9 (ESV)
In the beginning of this study, I spoke of my misunderstanding of being still and waiting on the still small voice. I somehow equated communing with Christ as something that could only be done in my prayer closet or secret space. When I look at this revealing teaching of Christ, I come to understand that the branch is always with the vine. A branch doesn’t hop on and off the vine to receive life-giving, fruit-producing nutrients. The branch is connected permanently to the vine unless, as we’re told, the vintner (the Father) removes the branch because of its fruitless state.
Christs ultimate point? Because of Grace, we do not bear fruit from our works or own efforts. We bear fruit by receiving Christ’s free-flowing power and that power is in us at every circumstance and in every hour.
Go back to the full story of Elijah. Prior to his God encounter on Mount Horeb, Elijah received messages and instructions from the Lord in various ways. The Lord did not wait for Elijah to come to the mountain before speaking. But once in the cave at the mountain top, three supernatural actions occurred and it is after … after these powerful and glorifying events that Elijah hears the tender voice of God saying, Why are you here, Elijah?
Another explosive example of the Lord speaking to His child in a chosen moment is the story of Moses and the burning bush. While Moses went about his shepherd day tending sheep, God spoke from a common bush, set a fire to get Moses’s attention and show God’s glory. It is there that God commissioned Moses to go back to Israel and release His people.
The takeaway: it does not depend on your ability to sit still to hear from God. Communing with God depends upon His ability to speak. And oh, He speaks whenever and wherever He pleases.
Do we sit still before the Lord? Absolutely.
But because Christ’s presence in us is timeless, as we abide, He can speak, make His glory known, and guide us at His appointed time. Abiding–let the vine bring it’s powerful source into your veins.
All depends on Christ.
For Further Contemplation
In the Abide Scriptures we read that the Father (vintner; vinedresser) removes fruitless branches. Grapevine plants are pruned to potentially increase the quantity of fruit from the already fruit-bearing brances.
Look up the follow passages about waiting on the Lord:
Psalm 27:14; Psalm 130:5; Isaiah 40:31.
Look up these verses that ensure Christ is near:
Acts 17:18; Acts 17:27
Waiting upon the Lord is trusting, hoping in the power that is not just near, but inside, abiding in you.
Spend time contemplating the vine and the branches. If possible, visit a vineyard in the fruiting months or draw the vineyard Christ describes, labeling the crucial parts of Christ’s lesson.
Lesson 3 Wrap Up
What does it take to abide? Recognize Christ as your all in all. Cease striving and live in the truth of this reality. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul compels us to pray without ceasing. This is abiding—trusting Christ in all things and communing with Him as if He’s with you in all times. Because … He is.
The at-risk branch is one that strives to bear fruit apart from Christ. As Christ explains in John 15:4, apart from the True Vine, the branch is lifeless and cannot bear fruit. The Father removes lifeless branches from His thriving vineyard.
**Through Christ’s victory on the cross and His blood flowing through us, we have His antibodies against sin. Thankfully, we are grafted into the vine, cut away from Adam’s vine of death.
That’s all for this lesson. I pray and am full of hope that you have unearthed fresh, new revelation about your Savior. He truly is our all in all. His sap flows freely through you. Take that to heart and take it to the next challenge He places you in.
Prayer is believing that our triune God is engaged with our purposes and lives.
Prayer is confessing our frail mortality and claiming our Maker’s eternal plan.
To Call on the Name
Let’s begin shaping our prayer life by taking an historical look at prayer.
The Bible’s first mention of prayer is found in Genesis 4:26: “To Seth also a son was born; and he named him Enosh. Then people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” (NASB) In what begins as a story of Cain and Abel and ends with the birth of Enosh, the grandson son of Adam and Eve, we’re told, that men began to call upon the name of the Lord.
Look at GEnesis 2:16-17. What was God’s command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? What would be the result of disobedience concerning this tree?
Look at Genesis 3:1-7. How ere Adam and Eve tempted to sin? What was the first recorded lie of the serpent (Satan)? What did he want Eve to believe?
Read Genesis 4. What other insights do you have?
** Record your answers in your journal or electronic notebook
Through the murder of Abel, Adam and Eve came face to face with the devastating consequences of their sin. Death had arrived. The original humans now mourned for the first time. Shocking, the sudden revelation of death likely hit hard. We’re given a glimpse of their eye-opening epiphanies when their grandson is named.
The Word tells us: “Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, ‘God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.’ To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.”
In Hebrew, Enosh translates to weak, mortal man. At the time of Enosh’s birth, the frailty of mortal humankind had been experienced. Paramount, the people now understood the need for the eternal, all-powerful God.
By consuming the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve moved from a trusting relationship with God to a pursuit of self will—man and woman seeking knowledge God had not yet granted. Since this time in the garden, humankind has fervently chased after the mysteries of life and universe. But don’t we continue to come up short?
Striving to do it our way, we continually miss the mark. But rather than leave us to our own limited devices, God has given us a way to come back into the trusting relationship of the garden. Ultimately, that way is Christ. But until the time of our Savior’s self-denying sacrifice, prayer provided not only the means to commune with God, but a recognition of our dependence upon Him.
To call on the name of the Lord is to appeal to the authority of our Lord and Maker.
Look up the following verses:
Psalm 124:8 – According to this psalm, where is our help.
Psalm 92:2 – What is the promise for calling on the name of the Lord?
Joel 2:28-32 – During the awesome day of the Lord, how will men and women be saved? Can you explain why?
Romans 10:13 – What is a promise for recognizing we cannot save ourselves but must call upon the name of the Lord?
Zephaniah 3 – In this prophetic chapter of Zephaniah, what happens after God’s wrath is poured upon the earth? Will we still call upon His name? See verses 8 – 9.
** Use your journal or electronic notes to record your thoughts.
We know we need God’s perspective and power in every area of our lives, but in this season of life, where are your weak areas? What are the heavy burdens? Have you, as when Adam and Eve were removed from their eternal status in the Garden, come face to face with your mortality? Call upon the name of the Lord. Through prayer, confess your fragile humanity, the need for Christ, your Savior, and the power and purposes of our Triune God.
Wrap up: Moving further into the mysteries of prayer, we’ve now laid a foundation through confession that without the Lord, we are powerless. Acknowledgement of who He is and who we are not is the beginning of a favorable prayer life.
LESSON 2 The Shape of Prayer
HOW GOD PRAYS
Assuming we all understand the three natures of the One True God, we’ll take a look at how God—in the nature of Christ the Savior—took on flesh and not only walked, but prayed among us frail, mortal humans. The Bible records some twenty-five accounts of Jesus praying and we can look to Him as our perfect example. If we’ve ever been confused, doubtful, or shy about prayer, we have, God in the flesh, showing us how it should be done.
And the interesting thing about Christ’s prayer life? He offered up prayer in a variety of circumstances and places, bringing the act of holy prayer to the common, everyday man’s life.
A PERSONAL ACCOUNT
I’d like to interject a personal story here. I received Christ as my savior when I was eight years old, and I’ve been a disciple of Christ for some thirty years now. I’ve been to conferences on prayer, read books on the topic, and prayed with a variety of people—some mighty, mighty prayer warriors. But it was one quick conversation on the subject several years ago that made me stop and evaluate my prayer life.
I helped a couple of friends move their ministry offices and while we packed boxes, prayer came up in the conversation. We talked of the power of prayer for healing the sick, and that’s when one of my friends made this statement: “Whenever someone says, ‘if it be your will, Lord,’ in prayer, it’s not a prayer of true faith. It’s copout prayer and if I’m sick, I want a prayer of power and faith, claiming God’s healing, not wimping out by saying, ‘God’s will.””
Since I was one those “if it be your will,” type prayers, I thought I’d better dig deeper and see if, indeed, my prayers were of a weak, cop-out nature.
After studying the Word (and not depending on someone else’s opinion—books, conferences, or friendly chats), I pray differently now.
Let’s continue the study and I’ll show you what I discovered.
CHRIST AND PRAYER
In Lesson One, we determined that God is all powerful and all sufficient, and we weak and fragile humans should call upon His authority—call upon the name of the Lord as our true source of all.
Since Christ is God, it seemed to make sense to me that the next step in my prayer study should be discovering how and when our Savior prayed. I went to the Word.
Understanding our fickle hearts and sometimes confused minds, Christ taught us how we should pray and what we should pray for. We’ll find a substantial teaching in the book of Matthew.
Read Matthew 6:8-13 (The Lord’s prayer)
Before Jesus says, “Pray then, in this way,” He makes a declaration about what the Father knows. What is this declaration? How does it affect you?
In verse 9, Jesus calls upon the name of the Lord. How does He describe God’s name?
In verse 10, does Christ name and claim His own will? His own agenda? Whose will does Christ ask be done? And where?
Outline the Lord’s prayer in your journal or electronic notebook.
Perhaps one of the most heart-wrenching prayers found in God’s Word is the prayer Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. In these holy suspended moments between the last supper with His disciples and the wild and unjust court judgements against His kingship, He spent His final, free moments with the Father in prayer.
Read Matthew 26:36-47.
Christ clearly understood what would be taking place in a matter of hours. How did He pray during this distressed time?
Though He wanted the Father to change the circumstances, to alter the course, whose will did Jesus ultimately submit to?
How many times did our Christ ask to have the cup of wrath taken from Him? What are your thoughts about praying God’s will?
** Write your answers in your journal or electronic device.
The prayer for God’s will is not a prayer of weak faith, but a prayer of sold-out trust in God’s plans.
The prayer of God’s will is a prayer that communicates, your ways are perfect, O God, unlike mine.
We’ve rediscovered that calling on the name of the Lord is saying to the Lord and ourselves (and any nearby principalities) that we are dependent upon Him. This is truth. Our Maker is our sustainer in all aspects. As well, we’ve taken a deeper look at praying God’s will. Telling the Lord our desires is always encouraged. However, stating that God’s will is better than anything you or I can imagine, tells His heart and ours that we believe His outcomes are perfect and glorifying.
Craft a prayer at these basic levels. Don’t rush past the hallowed be you name part to get to your agenda. Take time and let Him know you are small; He is colossal. Then lay out one big request you’ve had on your heart. Wrap up your prayers with, not my will, but yours, Lord. Say it in your own words letting your Maker know you trust Him with outcomes.
Lesson Two Wrap Up
There’s a certain relief in knowing that my prayers are to intersect with the will of God. Nothing in God’s kingdom is dependent upon my bringing well, thought-out proposals to the Lord. My laments, requests, and thanksgivings are a privilege offered by my Maker and it is through our communion that I join Him in His work. He doesn’t join me in mine. Actually, I’m not the one working. I prepare. He works out His will.
Your prayers take on a new shape, couched within His will. Amen.
LESSON 3 — THE SHAPE OF PRAYER
MORE PRAYER REVELATION
We’ve looked at how and why the first prayers of mankind were offered up to God. We’ve studied two of Christ’s prayers recorded in the book of Matthew. Now, let’s take a broader sweep of a biblical-based prayer life.
We’ll start today’s study following Jesus again. Here’s a brief of the different circumstances in which Christ prayed. Look up each and discover the details of His prayer life.
Christ prayed in community: Matthew 18:20
Christ prayed alone: Luke 5:16
Christ prayed for you and me (all the people the Father gives him): John 17:9
Christ prayed after performing miracles: Luke 5:15, 16
Christ prayed for resurrection: John 11:41-43
Christ prayed with thanksgiving: Matthew 12:25; Matthew 15:36; Luke 22:19
** Interesting note: there is no biblical record of Christ praying before performing a miracle of healing. Could it be that the power to heal eternally resided within His knowing faith? While I don’t have a biblical explanation to share, it’s something interesting to ponder.
Prayers of the Saints
There are some 650 prayers recorded in the Bible. Here are a few of the standout prayers. Each is unique and each a personal communion with the Lord. Some are short, some are long. The reasons and words are varied. But each serves as a biblical example of how God’s children sought His help, guidance, forgiveness, and mercy for others.
Samson’s prayer – “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me just this time, O God that I may at once be avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes … Let me die with the Philistines!” – Judges 16:28, 29(b)
Hannah’s prayer – “And she, greatly distressed, prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly. And she made a vow and said, ‘O Lord of hosts, if Thou indeed look on the affliction of Thy maidservant and remember me, and not forget Thy maidservant, but wilt give Thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come to his head.’ Now as it came about, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli was watching her mouth. As for Hannah, she was speaking in her heart, only her lips were moving, but her voice was not heard.” (1 Samuel 1:11-13)
David’s prayer – “And David inquired of the Lord saying, ‘Shall I pursue this band? Shall I overtake them?’” (1 Samuel 30:8)
David’s prayer – “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (Psalm 51:1-3)
Solomon’s prayer – “Then Soloman said, “Thou hast shown great lovingkindness to Thy servant David, my father, according as he walked before Thee in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward Thee: … And now, O Lord my God, Thou has made Thy servant king in place of my father David, but I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. … So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Thine?’” (1 Kings 3:6-9)
Job’s prayer – “Then Job answered the Lord and said, ‘Behold I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. Once I have spoken and I will not answer; Even twice, and I will add no more.’” (Job 40:3-5)
Stephen’s prayer – “And they went on stoning Steven as he called upon the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ And falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ And having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:59-60)
Using the Scriptures above, make observations of how the different people apporach prayer. Do you find instances of calling on the name of the Lord? Instances of faith? Record your insight or use the following verses to discover how different biblical Christians approached prayer: Nehemiah 6:9; Job 42:1-6; Psalm 90; Daniel 12:8; John 17; Ephesians 1:3.
In the potter’s hands, your prayer life takes on a shape as unique as you are.
Lesson Three Wrap Up
Prayer is the proclamation that we serve an almighty God. When trust pours forth from our hearts and tongues, we internalize the truth that He is the source and we are the sponge.
Prayer is the proclamation that we serve a relational God. Let’s face it, we know that the Lord can accomplish all things without the need for our opinion or input. Yet, His desire is to let us take part in enacting His will. Through our realized trust in Him, He shares more of Himself.
Why not finish your week contemplating prayer. After all, we’re told in Ephesians to pray without ceasing—communing constantly with our Source. Take time to seek the Lord and ask Him how he’d like to commune deeper with you.
That’s all for now. Lord willing, we’ll have more on prayer in the future as this one Bible Brief isn’t near enough to exhaust the subject.
2. Do you see calling on the name of the Lord as an important part of your prayer life? Why?
3. Which of the prayers of the saints did you identify with most?
4. What will you be changing about your own prayer life?
5. Keeping it current – If you were to lead a Bible Study on Prayer what verses would you choose first?
6. Email each member of the group a written prayer you’re willing to share. Don’t be shy or self-conscious. Remember, in the Word of God we read intimate prayers offered by the saints of old who are alive today in heaven. Millions of people have read their vulnerable prayers—including you!
Three Quick LESSONS on Knowing Who Jesus is in Times of Troubles
Who Do You Say I Am? Bible Study
In the times of troubles … He is
Bible Briefs by L.G. Westlake, Author, Blogger, Adventurer, Word Advocate
He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15
Lesson 1 – Can Christ Be Trusted In Our Troubles
Three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) record Jesus asking His disciples an interesting question. “Who do the people say I am?” When the disciples answer that the people believe He is either a new prophet or a prophet returned from the dead, Jesus asked this question: “Who do you say I am?” In the book of John, the last of the four Gospels, Jesus uncovers revelation after revelation about himself, claiming seven different titles. These metaphorical names explain His purposes in walking earth as both a man and God. If you’re anything like me, reviewing the I ams will bring you back to the grace-filled, shock and awe moment of when you first believed. After years of life as a believer, we can all take the unveiled mysteries of Christ for granted. I want to change that today. You?
WHY IT MATTERS WHO CHRIST CLAIMS TO BE
Before diving into the mystic descriptions of Christ, let’s chat about current global climates and why pressing into these metaphorical titles is important for our spiritual growth.
Christ truly can be trusted with all that’s seemingly wrong in life. Including our current trials and tribulations. His self-proclaimed titles prove this.
Trials infiltrate every life. Tribulations eb and flow through the progressions of nations. And hardships can and have reverberated across the entire world affecting almost every single person of our near eight billion global population. It is during these troubled and burdensome times that we often discover the full substance of our faith … or lack of.
In the last couple of pandemic-laden years, I’ve discovered that my own faith is not nearly as robust as I’d hoped. As Covid affected loved ones, knocked me down for several weeks, and fear-inducing rhetoric blasted from every electronic device I owned, I found myself asking the typical whys and praying for things to get back to normal ASAP.
But we’ve never been promised a normal. In fact, as children of God walking closely with our Savior, we’re told the path will be narrow and that the Jesus trail leads to the death of our flesh.
Death of any kind is not pleasant. But for you and me, necessary. And to kill the flesh, we must be willing to be stretched in our thinking, give up our comfort zones, and endure some pain.
And there’s nothing like a debilitating trial to expose our weaknesses.
During the upheavals of 2020 and 2022 (pandemics, riots, protests, government overreaches, and economic hardships), what weaknesses did you discover in your faith? Pray about your answer then list your responses to the uncertainties or circumstances that caught you off guard and found you not trusting in God’s sovereign plans.
** Write in your journal or electronic notes
LESSON 2 – Who Do You Say I Am?
In Lesson One, we took an inventory of the faith flaws trials can expose. In Lesson Two, we’ll discover why identifying weaknesses are important.
In the Word of God, where all truth exists, we find character-exposing trials have purpose.
Look at James 1: 2-4
Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (NASB)
According to God’s eternal and perfect wisdom, what are trials meant to do in your life?
**Write your answers in your journal or electronic notebook
PROACTIVE NOT REACTIVE
If distresses and difficulties are a purposeful part of every person’s faith walk, then we shouldn’t be caught off guard when troubles come. It is through the dark-valley journeys that we ultimately reach the clear skies of the beautiful mountain-top experiences. Knowing that in our current state on planet earth, trials are by holy design, we can and should be prepared to face personal and worldly upheavals with grace and sold-out trust in God’s eternal plans.
Being prepared for trials means trusting Christ with every aspect of your life.
To build upon your foundational faith, read the book of John and identify and record the seven I Am statements made by Christ.
** Record these titles in your journal or electronic notebook
Had you forgotten one or more of these seven revealing titles of Christ? Did something in the verses surprise you?
INTERNALIZE THE WORD
Spend the rest of your contemplation time mentally reviewing each of Christ’s seven metaphorical titles. Using your own Scripture memorization methods, commit these important trust-building truths to memory.
Lesson 2 Wrap Up: When trials come our way, we can trust that the Lord has identified a weakness He wishes to strengthen. When we can identify that weakness, we work beside him, in trust, to become more Christlike. Christlikeness leads to a calm, peaceful approach to enduring the process of refinement.
LESSON 3 – I Am Seven Times
In Lesson two of this Bible Brief edition, we reviewed the seven I am statements of Christ found in the book of John. Throughout the Word, there are more than fifty names attributed to our Savior. Each of these names gives us insight into the love, sacrifice, but also purposes of Christ.
In Corinthians 15:45, Christ’s death is paralleled with the beginning of mankind’s life. “The first man, Adam, became a living person. So also it is written: The last Adam was a life-giving spirit. (NASB)
In this verse, we’re told, the purpose of Christ is to be a life-giving spirit. The Adam of Eden was a living creature made from the dust of the ground. Christ, in comparison, was indeed a man born of a woman, but also wholly God, able to impart a new and eternal life through His spirit. His purpose? To offer a new and eternal spirit life to all that belong to Him.
Hebrews 12:2 tells us that Christ is not only our Savior, but also the One who initiates and grows our faith. “ … looking only at Jesus, the originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” As the Perfecter of our Faith, another of Christ’s purpose is to grow and perfect your faith. He often uses trials to accomplish this.
Through Christ’s grace, we are granted His God-given trust. It is in our personal relationship with Him that we develop the faith to move mountains as promised in John 14:12: “Truly, truly I say to you, the one who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I am going to the Father.”
Through discovering the depths of Christ’s many names and metaphoric titles, our faith grows; spiritual wisdom matures; and we develop a new strength, realizing that our Jesus not only gave us eternal life (John 3:16), but He imparts faith (Hebrews 12:2), perfects that faith through trials (James 1:2), and prepares us for even the unthinkable.
It is through Him that you and I stand.
It is through Him that you and I fight.
It is through Him that you and I have victory.
Looking back to the book of John, we also discover that Christ solidified His I am statements, using miracles and situational context proving that who He claimed to be is supported by the Father. Conduct your own Bible study and identify as many correlating real-life circumstances and/or miracles that underscore Christ’s metaphorical claims. Use both Old Testament and New Testament books in your search. I’ve used the first I am statement as an example below. Can you find more examples?
** record your findings in your journal or electronic notebook
The “I am” statement in John
Correlating Miracle or Circumstance
I am the bread of life
Manna from heaven (Exodus 16); Feeding the 5K (John 6)
I am the Light
I am the Resurrection and the Life
I am the Way, Truth, and Life
I am the Vine
INTERNALIZE THE WORD
In your current life circumstance, which of Christ’s metaphorical titles brings you the most comfort?
** Record your answer in your journal or electronic notebook
Spend the rest of our contemplation time calling on this title of Christ through prayer. Literally speak His description.
My prayer example:
My Bread of Life, you sustain me. I know, no matter the circumstance, you will provide for my needs and feed me spiritually, making me an example of your trusting love and goodness.
Last thought for your pondering: Because of His great love for us, our Father is building experiences into our lives that will cause flesh (sin nature) to be exposed. This is for circumcision—the removal of flesh—so the Spirit of Christ in us may reign. We must surrender to the trials that expose the flesh, cutting away our nature and letting Christ’s power flow.
That’s all for this edition. I pray and am full of hope that you have unearthed fresh, new revelation about your Savior. He truly is our all in all.
STUDY QUESTIONS For Coffee Shops and Zoom Meetings
From the Who Do You Say I am Bible Brief
1. What have you/we learned about trials?
2. Could you identify a faith/trust weakness in lesson one? Share one weakness.
3. Which of the metaphorical titles of Christ helps build trust in a current, personal trial?
4. After identifying and studying the seven I am statements of Christ, do you feel more prepared to trust Him during unexpected troubles? Explain.
5. Keeping it current – If you could design a business card for Christ to share with the world, but could only choose three of His metaphorical titles, which three would it be? What else would your business card say?
6. Email each member of the group a graphic and/or worship song that will, moving forward, inspire them.
Inspire your inbox (and yourself)
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While the unknowns for some twenty-five months have allowed anxiety and fear to be the common forces moving like locomotives across the landscapes of our lives, we’re seeing a glimpse of the wake these first two-years’ waves of chaos has left behind. Yes, death has been a horrible reality most everyone of us have dealt with. And I’m so sorry for all the loss.
But here in bed, on the mend from my own personal encounter with Covid, I see something beautiful, something I might have missed if I hadn’t spent personal time in the unknowns of this very perplexing illness.
From My House on the Hill
As my home is perched on the side of a hill overlooking the city of Albuquerque, I’m struck by the individuality of it all. As the new variant spreads faster than wildfire, I’m physically looking over thousands of homes that are dealing with covid variables behind their closed doors. No two covid journeys are alike. Some homes will be left standing after the fires, but for many that were originally built on sinking sand, through this chapter in world history, they’ve rebuilt upon the rock.
That makes a fire worth it.
No matter how insistent the unelected powers at the top of the medical food chain push their one-size-fits-all narrative, our peculiar encounters continue to set us apart from one another and from single solutions. The Lord seems to be assuring us that we are wonderfully and uniquely made, and He chooses our existence—our healings, our deaths, our lives—to be this way.
Even if we’re facing a man-made virus.
You are Unique to God
God never mass produced anything. Every creature, you included, was uniquely formed with experiences preordained.
Psalm 139:13-16 — For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Acts 17:26 also tells us that every person’s time and place on earth was determined by God. That means you and I were fashioned to be alive during these unprecedented times. Because we have relationships (Oh, I pray we do), with the Lord, these preordained experiences are vetted through our distinctive personalities, chosen giftings, chosen purposes, and individual rapport with Christ.
As I look at the oneness of it all: the whole world dealing with the same pandemic, the push for one world economics, the uh-hem suggestions at one-world alliances, I’m seeing beyond the noise of baaing sheep folds. I see people, our people, leaning into the unknown, holding fast to the hand of God.
We’ve blazed some new trails ya’ll, and on the trails we’ve been given fresh new lenses, looking for God in the areas we haven’t been before. He’s there with all new lessons to learn.
We’re rising up in the wake with new strength, wisdom blossoming.
And He’ll get the glory for it all.
My Personal Journey
Through my few days with Covid, I felt impressed by the Lord to embrace whatever this was going to look like. Sure I prayed for healing and asked my peeps for prayer. And there were a couple of days when I got mad, threw off the covers and said, “Enough, already. I’m not giving into this.” (I’m one of those bad-mood sickies) But it wasn’t long before I’d find myself back in bed licking my wounds.
Lean in, He said. And listen.
When I embraced the unknowns ahead and slipped my fingers into the hand of the one who knows all, I realized I had nothing to fear.
My covid days were unique in that I got Covid while battling a bronchial infection, so I was fighting to keep the wicked little covid virus out of my already sick lungs. But God knew all of this long before I did. I took peace and comfort in that truth when He squeezed my hand.
He has eternal, all seeing eyes. I do not. Beside Him, my hand in His, I can trust that He’s navigating perfection for my experience. Even if it means death.
I know this perspective is hard for some of us to grasp—our culture screams survive at all costs while the Lord bids us to come and die. But hear me out. Aside from rapture, we will all die. Period. And our death time and place is known by God. Our journey to that time and place should be one that we embrace, learning the wisdom of suffering, and leaning into the arms of everlasting love.
And realizing, our journeys are our own.
Here I Go
I’m not vaccinated.
My unique Covid story begins in Equitorial Guinea some twenty years ago. Working with a Bible translation project, we were in a remote West African area with little medical support. As part of our training, we took medical classes, and this is where my eyes were first opened to the idea that we Americans are obsessed with quick medical fixes in the way of small, convenient pills. We press for survival but press for convenient survival that doesn’t cost us more than a copay and a glass of water. I was guilty! Just get me in, get me a prescription, and send me on way, Doc!I got things to do.
I’ll save all the Africa medical trauma stories and the thankfulness I do have for medicine for another blog, but it’s important to know this about me, to understand my choices: for some twenty years now, I’ve done medicine differently than I did my first 40 years of life. My personal experiences molded new thinking.
In late 2020 when talk of vaccine arrivals began, I received an email from one of my trusted doctors. She’s one of those who likes to talk about alternatives, boosting immune systems, and explaining, in detail, how certain meds work, and why natural alternative approaches can be effective. Had I not received this provocative email about the ingredients of the upcoming vaccine, I wouldn’t have been compelled to research further. If I hadn’t researched, I wouldn’t have come up with several questions of my own. If I didn’t have questions, I wouldn’t have stopped to consider what was best for me and which aisle of risks I wanted to walk down. And if the decision hadn’t been hard, I might not have prayed for an answer, and lined up with the masses, assuming, what was coming down the pike was best for everyone, including myself.
But I didn’t line up. I looked into it and weighed my personal and God-given variables.
Ultimately, as a uniquely and wonderfully made creature guided by my Maker, I made a choice believing I had a firm hold on His strong hand. It’s been an interesting journey. In a recent discussion with a perplexed-about-my-status person, I was asked, “It’s the science, Laurie. Don’t you follow the science?”
“Yes,” I answered. Let me tell you what the science I choose to follow is saying. I gave a layman’s brief on spike proteins and possible long-term effects, then quoted some numbers from VAERS, then asked, “What about the science you follow? What does it say?”
He deflected my question. “Well, you get the flu vaccine every year right? You follow that science.”
I stunned him with this: “I do not get the flu shot.”
That ended that conversation.
I’ve been asked by some of my friends to defend my position (they don’t always get me) and I’m okay with that. I don’t feel threatened that some people don’t understand my choice. I’ve experienced dropped jaws, red faces of fury, shaming, and guilt inflicting, and that’s okay, too. I know that people are walking their own path with the Lord and learning different lessons from me. I could well be the Lord’s object lesson of acceptance for some of them and vice versa.
And trying to keep up with the science and math has been like riding a spinning tornado. I’ve watched vaccinated people who believe they were not contagious spread Covid faster than a duck on a June bug (remember, I work for a large ministry). I’ve seen the unvaccinated and vaccinated alike be asymptomatic. I’ve known both to be in serious conditions in ICU wards.
These are the experiences I’ve witnessed. God may be bringing you different experiences.
I also scratch my head frequently. A month or so back, when the newest variant ramped up, our local news cast girl, God love her, did a little shaming on how the number of new Covid cases in New Mexico skyrocketed. She pushed for all of us who just hadn’t gotten to it yet, to go get vaccinated so we’d all be safe. New Mexico, at that moment, had one of the highest rates of new infections nationwide and she grimaced pure despair as she announced our fate. What was so very mathematically interesting was that immediately following her announcement on high rates of new infections came a national report on states with the highest vaccination percentages. Yep. There sat New Mexico in one of the higher positions. So … if we’ve a high percentage of vaccination rate, then … uh … why are we among the fastest-growing rates of infection? And the states with the lowest vax rates … you guessed it … lowest infection. I asked the Holy Spirit if I’d missed too many statistics classes in college because I couldn’t make those percentages compute in my brain.
I rarely watch mainstream media news, but on this day, as I walked through the living room, this segment played, it caught my attention, and I stopped to hear the incoming data. You may be guided to different information that helps you compute differently. Again, I’m chronicling my journey to help you understand my unique perspective. I’m not looking to change anyone’s mind. I’m looking for us to accept what God is doing in each of us … differently.
And I realize the data is changing every day. And so are the opinions about what needs to be done.
There is all kinds of opposing data and we could each defend our choices with our preferred set. And that’s my point. The confusion and the different voices vying to be heard present us with options, which should drive us to our knees in search of answers. If Covid illness and ultimate treatment selection keep us in the throne room, that’s a win for the Lord.
Each … each and every one of us unique human creations walks an exclusive path towards holiness.
No two of us are alike.
A Bit More
There’s more to my story: One of my unvaccinated children got really sick with Covid, went to urgent care, and was told to just fight through it. We overnighted a familiar-to-us medication (familiar to us because of fighting Malaria in Africa ) to her, and she got better without hospitalization. One of my closest friends ended up in ICU after going to the hospital twice but was turned away because she wasn’t sick enough for help … yet. When she finally came in by ambulance, the hospital admitted her and told her she was destined for a vent or death. But my gal, she refused to be intubated. I watched this woman, on death’s bed, fight the system while caged within it. And I took great heart as she did what she believed the Lord wanted her to do. She survived on prayer and her own terms and is fighting Covid again now. But this time, she is treating at home and doing great.
My husband and I, based on prayer and our experiences with these people and research, determined early treating would be our approach to fighting Covid. We’ve been taking over-the-counter preventative vitamins, upping our immune system with exercise, and have on hand some of the treatment drugs suggested by the doctors who are being silenced in mainstream media.
But this is my journey. Not yours. Whether vaxxed or not, I know you’re receiving unique information and having distinctive experiences that are guiding you further down your path of wisdom and holiness. We cannot all be on the same road. Otherwise we wouldn’t need our private guide, the Holy Spirit. We’d just follow one another to the land of zombies if we didn’t let our unique DNA, illness charts, risks factors, and at-risk family members play their part in God’s plan for our journeys.
If you’re vaccinated, embrace it. Ask the Lord to show you all you need to do with this situation.
If you’re unvaccinated, embrace it. Ask the Lord to show you all you need to with this situation.
I’ve had friends, unvaccinated and vaccinated reach out to help my husband and me during our Covid days. Oh my, how thankful I am for each. I know prayers have been lifted up on our behalf from the vaxxed and unvaxxed, and maybe soon-to-be vaxxed. Man, am I thankful.
Let me end where I started: As each of you has a unique personality, unique DNA, unique gifts, and host unique illnesses within your body that effect you in different ways than others, you each have built, over the last two years, unique stories that intertwine with a worldwide pandemic.
And intertwine with God’s will.
You’re part of the 2020-2022 wild and wooly tapestry called world events.
We will each stand as an audience of one, before God one day. We won’t stand with our political party, or our inner circle of friends, or our church’s collective body. It will be just you and Him.
Did you do it His way?
Even when it was different than others?
Even when it didn’t make material sense?
Even when it hurt?
I know you did. You are brave.
Thank you, Thank you
We’re on the mend! We had a couple of days of feeling okay, a couple of days of feeling like hell, and now we’re in the getting better part. Steve’s back at work and I’m taking additional meds for the cough because yep, that bronchial stuff came back about day 4 into Covid. After exploring alternatives to antibiotics, my doctor and I decided to go ahead with the pill form to keep the infection under control.
I’m making plans to be back at work next week. I’m so thankful for the prayers, the support, and the love. I’m thankful that we accept each other as we are–messy people following a perfect God.
Today, I read through Jeremiah 37 and 38 pondering Jeremiah and the difficult job God assigned him as a prophet. Our Lord chose Jeremiah to speak to the kings and spiritual leaders of Judah at a time when truth wasn’t popular. Jeremiah paid dearly, on several occasions, for being a mouthpiece for our Maker.
While reading his accounts, I kept imagining Jeremiah in Washington DC. Or standing before a pop-culture mega church. In my mind’s eye, I could see Jeremiah there addressing the superstar politicians and icon influencers of today.
“Shut up, Jeremiah!” I hear them say. “You make everyone here uncomfortable!”
Persecuted for Speaking Truth
While Jeremiah received rebukes and threats throughout his truth-sayer career, the story found in chapters 37 and 38 fascinates me. Here, Jeremiah is threatened by local and spiritual officials for speaking the unpopular truth that Jerusalem would be given into the hands of the king of Babylon. Nobody wanted to believe this because they’d been fighting this foe for awhile and people were sick and tired of the war. And so the scoffing officials go to King Zedekiah, the current reign in Judah, and say, “Now let this man [Jeremiah] be put to death, inasmuch as he is discouraging the men of war who are left in this city and all the people by speaking such words to them: for this man is not seeking the wellbeing of this people but rather harm.” (Jeremiah 38:4)
In Jeremiah’s defense, the physical wellbeing of the people was never God’s concern. Their spiritual holiness was.
As the story goes, the exasperated officials have Jeremiah thrown into a mud-pit cistern and left to die. There’s an intervention, another imprisonment, and more discouraging encounters for Jeremiah, but when I read through the reason the officials attempted his murder, I stopped and reread the story twice more (NASB version). Then I thought about what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3. “For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires …”
Then … then, I thought of our world today.
How many have been silenced for speaking an unpopular truth? How many have lost friends, careers, even lives for pointing out the obvious, even though no one wants to look at the obvious. How many have been labeled conspiracy theorist when simply presenting alternative points of view?
I believe we live in the days in which Paul warned of—a time when, like the officials in in Jeremiah’s day, alternative voices are silenced. The officials back then were willing to kill a mouthpiece of the Lord to keep their messaging on point. Our current officials seem unrestrained to do the same.
Our society has tender ears. Through social media, we’ve surrounded ourselves with people who think like we do and with the push of a block button, we can silence anyone who challenges our group echo chambers. How will we ever become tough enough for the days ahead when we’ve sheltered in place with with no one to challenge us?
God warned Israel of war, captivity, and banishment over and over again to get their spiritual attention and direct their passions back to Him. These warnings were radical, punch-ya-in-the-gut notifications that God was not putting up with sin and self absorption. He builds a kingdom of holy, hardy priests and tough ruling kings … not snowflakes.
Walking the narrow path of righteousness, God’s path, is not laying back and eating bonbons.
Walking the narrow path of righteousness is picking up a cross and following Christ … to His gruesome death on a hill. (Matthew 16:24)
Obsession with Comfort
Conviction is no longer welcomed. Christ told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come once He left the earth. And when He comes, Christ said, He will convict the world or sin and righteousness and judgement (John 16:8). Conviction is a current work of the Holy Spirit, yet in Christians circles we’ve taken on the “you do you and I’ll do me” attitude of the world as not to be offensive. Though the Lord has convicted you or me in a certain direction, we’re squeamish to explain it, fearing someone might disagree. But without hard and healthy discussions, how do we check ourselves or the spirits’ guiding? (see 1John 4:1-3 on testing the spirits.)
As the officials wanted to silence Jeremiah, we seek to silence the Holy Spirit.
The silencing of the Holy Spirit I speak of is not only the inner nudging of personal convictions, but also the silencing of God’s people who speak on behalf of the Holy Spirit. In Luke, chapter 12, Christ tells the people gathered that when they face persecution, not to worry for the Holy Spirit will teach them what should be said at the moment. Many brave souls speaking out against the direction of our society today are speaking, in the moment, from the Holy Spirit.
I tremble when I consider the coming cost of silencing those who have been sent to speak the words of God through this third person of the Trinity.
You may be reading between the lines here and guess that I nod at the unprecedented medical mandates and over reach of our governments worldwide. I am! There are thousands of doctors and scientist that warn against the direction we’re headed and claim there is another way. But the powers that be, like the officials in Jeremiah’s day, wish to crush any opposing debate.
If we let this happen, it will be just the beginning of a great silencing. Eventually, the ruling class will shut the mouths of those who carry the good news. You, too, will no longer be able to speak of your faith or your king unless you’re willing to die to do so.
And if we’ve stood by and let them silence dynamic debate over health, how will we have the fortitude to die for the opportunity to speak of Christ? Oh my, how we’ve become, as those in Jeremiah’s day, obsessed with emotional wellbeing.
Let’s Get Back to Normal
Do any among us wish for the bad news to “just go away?” I hope not. The news we need to know may not be comforting, but if it’s from God Almighty, the news is perfect and purposeful. The Bible proves we can bank on this.
When the Jeremiahs of today come along and tell us something different from what we’re hearing from our regularly scheduled programming, we must stop, listen, and consider that the Lord may, and likely will, have a narrative that doesn’t sound anything like what comes out of the world.
Perhaps the good news here is that the controlling religious and corporate leaders in Jeremiah’s day encourage me to seek the Lord when my own nation’s leaders (both secular and religious) are pushing a single narrative without a willingness to let opposing voices be heard.
The Lord may well send a conspiracy-toting oddball into my path to steer me in an unpopular direction. After all, narrow is the gate and small is the road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14). Oddballs and prophets seem to stick to the backroads. You won’t find them on the crowded highways of popular messaging trends.
I need to seek Christ’s perspective at every encounter. At every voice out there.
Here’s the point: in the current climate, we must constantly commune with the Lord, trusting His direction, no matter how out-of-the ordinary His direction may seem. We have many biblical characters who received out-of-the ordinary callings as our excellent examples—Moses, Abraham, and Sarah to name just a few.
Censoring is a dangerous manipulation of man. If God wishes to silence a voice, He will, I promise, make that objective happen. I’m going to trust in His sovereignty.
I’ll end with this from James:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5
I am hopeful that in the new year ahead, we find ourselves praising God, extending crazy encouragement, and experiencing supernatural patience and peace even though the news media and current, prominent world powers forecast further and mightier troubles.
I am hopeful that we will be fearless when the world screams at us to be very afraid.
This requires that we lean not on our own, limited understanding but seek God’s perspective.
Throughout the Word, we are commanded to fear not. Concerning this royal decree, here’s a thought for our new year: The Lord would not have admonished us to be fearless if we were never going to face big hair-raising, scary ordeals. In 1 Samuel, God gave us a perfect example of what facing an ordeal, or better said, giant can do to an entire army of capable men. Every day when the dread giant Goliath stomped onto the barren battlefield and taunted Israel’s best men, the warriors ducked behind the hill instead of taking on the giant. Knowing we’re prone to weak hearts and likely to hide instead of taking the hill, God wrote the remedy of this natural human response multiple times in the Word. He commands us to fear not.
Thankfully, there’s more to the story of David and Goliath so we can see what one small and fearless boy can accomplish. You know how it goes. While Saul’s men shook in their boots inside the comforts of their tents, one little kid with a brave heart stepped up, used his God-given skill with a sling-shot, and knocked the giant down. Then the young David ran for wounded Goliath, pulled out the giant’s sword, and finished him off by decapitation.
Gruesome, yes. But necessary. If giant fighting is not bloody and heart-wrenching, then there would be no need to steal our nerves. Look, what I’m trying to say is that facing giants will never be easy but always necessary. And trust in the Lord plays a big part of the necessary actions when taking on giants.
James Said It
I love the book of James and in chapter one, verse two, James drives home the point I’m trying to make: “Consider it all joy, my brethren (and sistren), when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.
So if we had no test, we would not learn to endure.
James goes on to tell us to let endurance have its perfect result, that you and I may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. It’s through endurance that we grow spiritually. Endurance, the Lord says, produces supernatural trust.
James, like the David and Goliath story in 1 Samuel, is telling us that big and bad stuff will come our way, both individually and corporately, and when it does, we will not only have opportunity to glorify the Lord through victories, but also grow spiritually.
Biblical victories, by the way, don’t always look like we want or expect them to. Our Maker’s current concern is not with the material, but with the spiritual. We, at this moment, do not live in the period of time when our bodies are indestructible or worldwide evil banished. Those days lie ahead. But for now, while we live in the age of Grace and grow through the sanctification process, we also live on a planet still under the curse. Men, women, and children will become ill and death will follow. Loved ones will walk away from truth. False and deadly doctrines will spread like wildfire.
This is where the action of fearing not and the picking up crosses come into play. This is the time when we use our God-given skills, like David, on our own battlefields.
In 2022, we will decapitate not just one, but multiple Goliaths because there’s going to be more and more of these giants wondering into our lives with mockery and threats.
In this, I rejoice.
I rejoice that you are already equipped with the slingshots of experience. I rejoice that God has begun to build supernatural trust within your spiritual veins. I rejoice that He has also given you the following, awesome command:
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10
As more fear spreads about variants of the current pandemic and coming economic downfalls, it’s time for us to go to our king and say, “let no one loose heart on account of these evils, I will go and fight them.” ( adapted from David’s statement in 1 Samuel 17: 32), Take your skill, choose your five stones, and meet the giant, faith-first on the field. The battle belongs to the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:15). You simply need to put your fearless and trusting feet on the other side of that safety hill.
Then rejoice. The whole world will marvel on the day of the Lord and our God will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
Do not hide or shrink back as lie after lie hits the airways. Move forward. Your God has plan for your slingshot and your trust in 2022.
If I perish, I perish,
L. G. (Laurie) Westlake
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near – Hebrews 10:24-25.
Together to Encourage
Togetherness—for the purpose of encouragement—is a directive of Scripture. In many of the passages he penned, Paul the Apostle speaks of the spiritual gifts and purposes of the church which train up and equip the body of Christ. But here, in verses 24-25, he pushes the point of encouragement for sharing love, inspiring good deeds, and holding fast to our faith. Verses 26-31 go on to speak of what not holding fast (abandoning) to our faith will look like in the coming day of God’s judgement. Evidently, some who have heard the Truth, seemingly receiving it, will continue to blatantly sin, taking advantage of grace. These, we are told, will face God’s fierce and terrible wrath.
But from the passage above, encouragement will be important to the body of Christ in the days ahead as we see the daydrawing near.
We’ll talk about the day in a moment, but first, let’s look at what the assembling together actually refers to. Some have used these verses to imply that we must be seated, like spectators, in a church pew every Sunday. Considering the context of this chapter in Hebrews, I don’t think this is what Paul had in mind.
Let me explain. If Paul wanted to encourage a body of believers, he only had two earth-bound options. There were no phones, no texting, no internet, no gmail accounts, no zoom meetings. The only way he could communicate with others was to either meet face-to-face or by handwritten letter delivered via human traveler.
A letter written by Paul (and laboriously hand copied once it arrived) couldn’t be blasted to everyone in the church via individual email accounts.
That’s not the case today. Technology allows the assembling together to look very different than it did in Paul’s day.
As well, the historic and budding church of the New Testament operated very differently than most churches today.
In its beginnings, the church was dynamic, never a slave to buildings or debt.
It’s also interesting to note that the original churches were identified by the name of a city or region comprised of the Christian residents of said city or area. Granted, the number of Christians were fewer in those days, but all the Believers within a city were considered to be part of the same body of Christ, so the places and times of meetings were likely fluid, allowing spirited movement within the body. Homes, gardens, and even cemeteries were the locations the church would gather.
Because of past restrictions, the body of Christ has new opportunity for spirited movement. We’ve seen evidence of this as the recent pandemic has obliterated the notion that a building constitutes the church. Believers all around the world were forced to gather in innovative ways. As buildings locked down, smaller groups formed in coffee shops, parks, and online.
But churches that defied laws and met together grew! These rebels seemed to offer something others had missed–the for comradery. Like-minded warriors need each other and when they are together, face-to-face, their power increases.
In the midst of crisis, what we called church morphed and a couple of years later, we’re seeing the effects. More passion, more boldness.
I’m totally cool with the new church models developing. Denominational rules and regulations have been replaced with a global, Bible-loving community that recognize the sovereign hand of God upon the world, not just the building at the street corner.
OurTake the Hill (women’s encouragement group) and other online groups are an example of this. We have women in diverse geographical locations praying for and encouraging each other. This is biblical. Each of us is to fill the role of priest. As Peter writes, the body—both men and women—are royal priests serving and proclaiming the king.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9 ESV
As to his reference about the day, I find it exciting that Paul tells his readers to step up the encouragement as they see the day coming. As has already been discussed, we know the 25th verse speaks of God’s judgement, so the day is a reference to the time when Christ arrives as the Lion of Judah, bringing judgement upon the whole earth. Of course, I believe the rapture of the body of Christ will happen before the second coming, but there’s not doubt, a time of judgement is on approach. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rejoicing that judgement comes or that humanity has fallen into complete depravity. I’m excited that in His grace and mercy, it’s been made clear—we shall see the prophetic signs of the times promised in both the Old and New Testaments. Paul doesn’t write if you see the day, but when you see the day. It’s understood that Believers will be biblically literate enough to understand the times and to recognize the season of Christ’s return.
Do you see it?
Though no one knows the day or hour of rapture, we can know and see the moment is near.
Again, do you see it?
Then let’s encourage one another all the more. Testify. Sing. Share Scripture. Spur each other on in our services to the King in these last of the last days.
None of this will be easy. We’ll be censored, mocked, and tempted to withdraw from the spotlight of persecution coming upon all who truly follow Christ.
Each of us will need to be courageous—be brave.
Is you scabbard strapped to your hip? Is your sword sharpened?
I am thankful for you.
If I perish, I perish,
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Bible Briefs are short Bibles Studies (within the book) that can be done at your own time at your own pace.
To Everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. — Ecclesiastes 3:1 NKJ
Seasons. In the life of every believer, there are seasons–seasons of plenty, seasons of lack, seasons of new life and celebrations, and seasons of mourning.
The mark of a true and courageous warrior is a patient trust in all the seasons that come, and then, eventually, slip by only to come around again.
According to this verse, everything has a season.
And, according to this verse, every purpose has a time.
Your purpose has a time–an appointed time under the banner of heaven.
What I love about this second half of Ecclesiastes 3:1 is the explanation that my purpose has specific timing, just like seasons have timing. In other words, my purpose is not necessarily a twenty-four/seven action. There will be seasons of ripening, if you will, like the budding fruit on a tree.
Purposes are molded into shape at the will of the potter’s loving hands. Our life experiences are used by the Holy Potter to shape us into vessels for His glory.
Seasons on Shelves
If you feel you’ve been put on a shelf, or maybe even fallen off to lie broken on the floor, take heart. Each of these winter seasons is bringing you to a specific time and place of purpose. Though the situation seems lifeless, unseen and inside, the Lord works to prepare you for a magnificent bloom that will yield bountiful, beautiful fruit.
Seasons of Bravery
What seems unlikely is that this is the time to be brave, not despondent or depressed. Being brave means stepping up when it’s easier to step back–in the times of inactivity and low motivation. It’s praising Him through the storms of life, but also through the valleys of life.
Bravery is trusting God through the dormant winter.
Our purposes have seasons.
To praise Him in seasons of loss, or when work is dry, or children disappointing, or families on opposite ends of the jab debate–this is pure, untainted trust. Trust is faith. Faith is brave.
To be brave is to praise God even when life hurts.