We Need Trials

Tree ImageWe don’t like trials. We don’t want them, and we don’t enjoy them. What’s more, I don’t think we should ask for them. But the truth is, sometimes we need them.

Peter pointed to this when he wrote, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials” (1 Peter 1:6). If need be. What a fascinating phrase.

Why would we need trials? Because without them we get soft. Like a body-builder who stops exercising, a strong believer without any trials inevitably grows flabby. Trials cause our spirit to make diligent search (Psalm 77:6), and that passionate pursuit of Christ keeps us lean, growing, reaching.

Look around right now. As our world grapples with the coronavirus, believers the world over are fasting and praying and seeking God. This trial is pressing us into God. It’s confronting everyone, believer and unbeliever alike, with an opportunity to call on God.

Trials are not a blessing. Proverbs 10:22 says, “The blessing of the LORD makes one rich, and He adds no sorrow with it.” When God blesses you with wisdom, provision, direction, or protection, they come with no sorrow. But trials often come with great sorrow. Trials aren’t a blessing, therefore, but a trial. In the end, however, they can produce great blessings in our lives if we respond properly to them.

Sometimes, we imagine the blessed life to be one of financial prosperity, excellent health, fulfilling relationships, and a happy family—free of troubles, crisis, or pressure. But a blessed life is not a trial-free life. A trial-free life makes us soft, fat, and sluggish. The blessed life is that which endures through trials and overcomes (Revelation 3:21).

Since He scourges every son He receives (Hebrews 12:6), how can I possibly consider myself blessed if He never chastens me? To be left alone is a curse not a blessing.

Since pruning is essential to bearing more fruit (John 15:2), how could I think it a blessing for the Vinedresser to never prune radically in my life?

I watched a winemaking documentary once in which they explained what makes a vintage wine. A vintage wine is coveted for its exceptional flavor. I thought a vintage wine would come from a perfect growing season—plenty of sun, ample rain, and warm temperatures. Actually, it’s the opposite. Perfect conditions might produce much wine, but they don’t produce a vintage wine. Vintage wine comes from hard seasons in which there was too much rain, or not enough rain, or too much cold, etc. A hard season forces the vine to work harder. The harvest might be smaller, but it’ll produce a wine they’ll talk about for years to come. The wine of 1992.

During drought, vinedressers don’t irrigate. They intentionally stress the vines by withholding water. Why? Because if they were to irrigate the vines, the roots would turn upward to capture the moisture. Without surface water, the roots have only one direction to go: Deeper. Desperate to survive, the vine will thrust roots into places never before reached. In the push to find moisture, untouched nutrients are accessed and absorbed.

You’ll never get a vintage wine from an unstressed vine.

Pruned plants look bad. Take apples, for example. I was in apple country once in November, and said to my companion, “Look at that apple orchard!” It looked horrible. The trees were leafless and bare, with hardly any branches whatsoever. My friend replied, “That orchard was bad, they had to kill it.” I smiled to myself because I knew something—the orchard had been pruned. The trees looked grotesquely ugly, but next harvest I knew they would produce huge apples.

God’s not trying to make you look good; He’s trying to make you fruitful. We need trials if we’re to be fruitful.

Arizona has a tourist trap called the Biosphere. Looking like a big white bubble or half-globe, the Biosphere is an array of enclosed buildings that house a variety of scientific initiatives. Among their experiments, they wanted to see how fruit trees would produce under ideal conditions. With temperatures carefully controlled, they gave them perfect amounts of fertilizer, light, and water. The trees produced an abundant crop but with one problem: The branches snapped. Why? Cultivated indoors, they were protected from wind. They knew no storms.

Wind stresses trees by forcing branches to remain flexible. Without wind to move them, branches become too brittle to sustain the weight of the harvest and eventually snap.

Trees need wind, and so do we. We need storms in our lives that make us flexible and adaptable to the movements of the Holy Spirit.

I was speaking in a Texas church once, and a sister who was interested in my personal story was asking about my vocal affliction and associated limitations. She asked, Does it hurt when you talk? I answered, Every word has been painful for 28 years. Her response was heartfelt and compassionate, Oh, I’m sorry.

I replied, God has never apologized to me for this trial.

In the Bible, God never apologized to anyone for their suffering. I can imagine God saying, Job, why should I apologize to you for your horrific trial, when I’m going to use this to give you the first book of the Bible, make you the first signpost in Scripture to the cross, use your example to encourage believers for millennia to come, make you the father of a stunning generation, and give you an eye-to-eye visitation with Me in glory?

Joseph, why should I apologize to you for the horror of your dark Egyptian prison, when I’m going to use your consecration to make you a feeder of nations and the preserver of your family’s national heritage?

Jesus, why should I apologize to You for forsaking You in Your hour of consummate suffering, when I’m going to use Your cross to vanquish Satan and make You the Redeemer of the entire globe?

He doesn’t apologize for our trials because He redeems them for greater blessing than if the trial had never happened.

How do we grow, mature, become more fruitful, and change our world? Through trials. We need trials if we’re to be history-makers.

I don’t think it’s biblical to ask for trials. But I do think it’s biblical to pray tearfully and desperately for all of Christ. Whatever it takes. Jesus, I’ve got to know You more. Do whatever it takes, until I’m fully Yours and surrendered to Your holy purposes in the earth.

For that cry to be answered you may, if need be, suffer grievous trials. But always remember, stressed vines produce vintage wines.

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Rekindling Our First Love

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At the launch of 2020, the Holy Spirit’s agenda for us is clear: He wants the first commandment in first place in our hearts. The first commandment — to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength — comes before every other passion, vision or mission (Matthew 22:37–38). Nothing is more essential as we step into this pivotal decade.

Good news: The Holy Spirit is willing to do whatever it takes to restore our first love (Revelation 2:4). Start your year by praying the dangerous prayer, “Whatever it takes.”

It’s time for dangerous, desperate praying out of holy desperation — when you’re willing to pay any price to have more of Christ. What merciful kindness — when God disrupts our soft, middle-America Christianity and launches us on a journey to pursue His face.

For me, that journey has meant a profound return to the cross of Jesus. Because the cross is where everything starts.

Back to the Beginning

To reclaim the vitality of a thing, sometimes you have to go back to its inception. For example, to renew vitality in your marriage, you may want to go back to the things that first brought you together. As another example, when the Jews asked Jesus about divorce, He talked about how God instituted marriage way back in the beginning. The principle applies to our first love. To rekindle our love for God, we should go back to the beginning. It all started, for all of us, at the cross. That’s where the two of you first met.

It’s at the cross that the fountain of love was first opened. This is where gratefulness, abandonment, fire, passion, devotion, zeal and longing flow. This is where love is excavated, revisited and explored.

Go back to the nails, the stripes, the bloody wood, the thorns. Go back to the naked horror and the writhing, contorted trauma. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” (John 3:16).

God Withholds Nothing

The adversary tells me, just like he did with Eve, that God’s withholding from me. He tells me that God is withholding the answers to my prayers that would make me everything I could be. And when I hear that ancient accusation I just go back to the cross, because the cross nails that accusation.

When I come to the cross, I see a God with nails in His hands, a nail in His feet and thorns on His brow, who stands on the nail, spreads His arms wide and says to me, “I give you all My strength. I give you My mind. I give you My flesh. I give you My soul. I give you My heart. I give you My last breath. I give you My last drop of blood.

When I look at the cross, I don’t see a God who’s withholding from me. Rather, I see a God who is giving me His best. He’s giving me His only begotten Son — His everything. Therefore, I declare to my generation, My God withholds nothing from me. He’s already given me His everything! And if He hasn’t answered my prayer yet, it’s because He’s got a better way to answer it than I have in my best imagination.

And now I find the courage to stand on my nail, spread my arms, and say back to my Beloved, “I love You with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, all my body, my time, my finances, my giftings and my strength. I am Yours, and You are mine.

“The fire of God’s love is so empowering that no trial in life can extinguish it.”

The Cross Awakens Love

How does God renew our first love? Through trouble. Through the cross. There, I said it.

Don’t despise the means God uses to make you more desperate for Him. Satan may have a hand in your trial, but God has a purpose to make you desperate for everything He’s willing to give.

Are you in a fiery trial? It’s not the fire that changes you; it’s the pursuit of God in the fire that changes you. Harness the distress of your trial and press into God with the desperation of someone who’s drowning. He wants to become your survival.

It was a fiery trial that launched me on my spiritual journey. Over 20 years ago, I suffered a debilitating physical injury (fallout from a bad surgery) and nearly lost my way. With the desperation of a drowning man, I began to cling to the words of Jesus like never before. Psalm 119:92 became my personal experience: “Unless Your law had been my delight, I would then have perished in my affliction.” His promises and the words of His mouth became my survival. I’m here today only because of His word.

This is where He brought me back to my first love.

For years, my prayer life was reduced to three words: “I love You.” “I don’t understand You; I don’t see what You’re doing; I don’t know where You’re taking me; I’m not even enjoying You right now, but I love You.” Just giving Him my love, in the darkest place of my life, that’s all I could do.

And now I realize, it’s the most powerful thing you can do. When you choose to love Him in the greatest trials of life, you become eligible for some of the most powerful promises in Scripture.

“All things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him, and show him My salvation” (Psalm 91:14–16).

He used the greatest trial of my life to bring me into the kind of intimacy with Jesus that I always wanted.

The cross opens to the deepest intimacy. Why do we run from the very thing that will bring us into the bosom of our Beloved?

The Fire of God’s Love

Song of Solomon 8:6 says, “Love is as strong as death,” because love took Christ to His death. That same love empowers us in the face of the greatest opposition, just as those who faced the wrath of the accuser “did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11).

Song of Solomon 8:6 also says this love is like “flames of fire, a most vehement flame.” The fire of God’s love is so empowering that no trial in life can extinguish it. This is what the next verse means when it says, “Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it” (8:7). Waters in the Bible often symbolize problems and difficulties that seek to overwhelm and drown us. This verse is saying, “There is no opposition great enough to quench this love for Jesus that burns in the hearts of God’s saints.”

Many saints in the Bible knew overwhelming circumstances, and many today continue to experience deep floods of adversity and crisis. But even after Satan levels his greatest attacks, God’s people come through with a deeper, more fiery love than ever. Revelation 12 depicts Satan (the dragon) in his last days’ rage, spewing a flood from his mouth in order to try to drown the church, but he’s not successful. The grace of God lifts up a standard against that flood. When the enemy would seek to drown us, the Lord kindles a fire within us that cannot be extinguished. It’s a fiery love for the Lord Jesus.

In the hour when God’s people experience their greatest tests, the Lord is reserving a revelation of Himself and His beauty. He is saying to us, “Don’t be afraid or intimidated of the dragon’s floods, because when I reveal Myself to you, the revelation of My love will be stronger than the rage of Satan.” God has a fire that will consume the greatest floods — the very fire of God Himself.

Do you feel too weak to love Him with this kind of extravagant love? Are you aware of your inner wounds, emotional handicaps, addictions and proneness to sin? The Lord would answer, “The issue is not your weakness but My fire! When I release the fire of My love in your heart, everything will change. I will awaken in you a love beyond anything you’ve ever experienced. You will see My Son!”

Love Him With Everything

Jesus created the human body for crucifixion. At creation, when Jesus was fashioning a body for Adam that He Himself would one day inhabit, I can imagine the Father saying to Him, “Son, are You sure You want to put all those nerve endings in the hands like that? That’s where they’re going to put the nails. And are You sure You want to put all those nerve endings in the feet like that? That’s where they’re going to put the nail.”

I imagine the Son replying, “Yes, Abba, I know. I want to feel their sorrows in the depths of My being. I want to feel for them in every part of My being.”

How does Jesus feel about you? He feels about You in His hands, in His arms, in His shoulders, in His neck, in His face, in His scalp, in His back, in His gut, in His legs, in His knees, in His feet, in His toes. His love for you runs the full course of His entire body, soul and mind.

And now, this is how we love Him too. No matter the troubles; no matter the distractions; or the temptations; or discouragements. The cross has awakened us to the greatest romantic adventure of the centuries. Love for Jesus runs the full course of our entire beings.

Love gets all of me. Worship gets all of me. The cross gets all of me. All I want to know is, how can I give more?

Kneel again at His cross today. Give Him your love. Let this love grip, shake and take you. Love Him in 2020 with all your mind, flesh, soul and strength. May the fire of this love so consume you that all is burned away except for one thing — love for the face of Jesus Christ.

Pray the dangerous prayer. “Anything. Everything. Whatever it takes.” +

Bob Sorge is the author of more than 20 books and is best known for “Secrets of the Secret Place,” which inspires and strengthens believers in their secret-place relationship with Jesus. Visit freemethodistbooks.com to order this book. More of Sorge’s teachings can be found on his Oasis House Ministries website (oasishouse.com) and his YouTube channel (fmchr.ch/sorgeyt).

Scripture in this article is taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Resolve the Crisis in Your Marriage Jesus’ Way

Brad and Anna had a happy marriage. They were both devout believers in Jesus, fell madly in love, and married soon after college. In time, they began having children, were active in their church, and to all appearances seemed to have a peaceful, happy family. 

But something dark lurked in the shadows. Brad had an addiction to porn that he couldn’t shake. Anna didn’t even learn of it until after they were married. Sometimes Brad would talk about it with Anna, but shame kept his struggles mostly secretive. Brad began to lose his resolve to fight temptation and slowly sank even further. 

Throughout their marriage, Anna expressed her support. She prayed for Brad and held him accountable when he asked. She cried to God on his behalf but felt powerless to help him. She urged him to see a counselor, but Brad was a private guy and went to the counselor only a couple times. He began to lie, telling Anna he was doing better. In actuality, his thought life grew darker and eventually he had his first affair with a co-worker. 

Brad loved the Lord, but when the affair started he began to feel more distant than ever from Christ. He felt trapped. That’s when he signed onto a dating app and met a woman he really fell for. The second affair quickly became serious, and Brad’s heart toward Anna grew cold.

By the time Anna knew Brad was in a serious affair, it was too late. Brad pulled away from their church, divorced Anna, left her with the kids, and remarried. 

——-

Why do believers like Brad and Anna sometimes divorce? Christians really want their marriage to work, and yet the percentage of divorce among believers is virtually the same as among unbelievers. Are we missing something?

Yes. We’re not following Jesus’ path for relational reconciliation. Jesus’ way is very clear: 

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Matt 18:15-17

If you’re married to a believer, then your spouse is also your brother or sister in Christ, and this passage applies to your marriage.

Most Christian marriages fail because of sin that hasn’t been handled Jesus’ way. Sin is like a deadly cancer that kills marriages when not removed carefully. We must identify sins that are hurting our marriage and go after them.

Start by asking, Is my spouse sinning against me? Am I sinning against my spouse? What commands of Scripture are being disregarded or violated? Start by identifying the sin, along with a verse that addresses that sin. Disciples of Jesus are eager to repent and pursue obedience with all their hearts. 

Look at some of the things that destroy marriages: rage, railing language, not submitting to one another, adultery, being unkind, abuse, unforgiveness, threatening divorce. They’re all sins

One of our biggest mistakes is to tolerate sin in our marital relationship. When we do, we violate Jesus’ command. When our brother or sister—our spouse—sins against us, Jesus commands us to rebuke them (Luke 17:3), and show them their fault (Matt 18:15). To refuse to do so is to refuse Jesus. This is one of the most rampant mistakes in Christians marriages today. Submit to Jesus and stop tolerating sinful behavior in your home. Let’s remove from our marriage any sin that hinders love.

In Matthew 18, Jesus gave us three steps resolving serious problems in our marriage. Let’s look at each.

Step One: Go to Your Brother or Sister

If your spouse sins against you, go first to them privately and tell them their fault. Explain to them the nature of the sin you think they’ve committed against you, hear their perspective on the incident, and then both of you will hopefully be eager to repent of the ways you were wrong. Bring Matthew 18:15-17 with you to the visit so your spouse understands you’re obeying Jesus.

When addressing someone’s sin, be gracious, wise, gentle, loving, kind, and ready to forgive (Eph 4:32). When you bring Matthew 18 to your spouse, you’re not stifling the romance of your relationship but are actually giving the romance of your relationship a basis to thrive. Nothing kills romance in a marriage faster than overlooking cancerous sins that undermine the relationship. 

What if your spouse doesn’t hear you in step one? Then take it to the second step Jesus gave us. By doing so, you’re not dishonoring your spouse but are rather honoring both them and Jesus.

Step Two: Take One or Two Witnesses

Jesus said, “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’” (Matt 18:16).

Jesus told us to set up a gracious and kind confrontation. Find one or two witnesses to labor with you in helping your spouse find repentance. This is done when your spouse isn’t willing to go with you to consult a pastor or counselor. Jesus is describing something more confrontational than a counseling appointment. He’s describing your taking someone with spiritual authority to your spouse who is resisting repentance.

Be thoughtful about who you take to your spouse. Choose someone your spouse honors for their walk with Christ. That person may have some suggestions to help you walk out the crisis more wisely. When the time is right, take them to your spouse. If your spouse is a sincere disciple of Jesus, they will hopefully be won by the appeals of a wise leader in the body of Christ. 

When step two is invoked, many situations turn around and move toward healing. But what should you do if your spouse doesn’t receive this leader? Jesus gave a third step. 

Step Three: Tell It to the Church 

Jesus said, “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17).

When you tell your story to the church, you are asking the church to come to a unified judgment on the matters between you and your spouse. The church stands as a corporate witness before you both, appealing to both of you to receive the judgment of the entire congregation. The witness of the church carries more authority than just one or two leaders. The church’s united witness carries an authority that no true disciple of Christ can dismiss. Our hope in implementing this step is that the sinning spouse will come to their senses, submit to the witness of the church, and repent. 

Bring your appeal to the governing body of your local church, whether elders, pastors, or deacons.

If your sinning spouse is unwilling to go with you, then present it by yourself. This council of leaders will determine the course of action they’ll take in order to pass an informed judgment.  

If your sinning spouse is unwilling to receive the judgment of the church council, Jesus said, “Let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” In other words, he is to be viewed at that point as an unbeliever—someone who has broken faith, is no longer walking as a disciple of Jesus, and needs to be evangelized again. 

I’m appealing to local church leadership councils to hear every case brought to them by their members. Even when cases aren’t handled perfectly, Jesus honors our efforts to obey His process. 

Jesus meant for the local church to serve as a governing body for the health of its members. Leaders in a church court are deeply invested in the health of the church and care deeply for each and every member. The entire process is bathed in the affections and love of Jesus Christ.

It’s time for believers in troubled marriages to use Jesus’ wisdom in Matthew 18 to bring resolve and healing to their home. Jesus’ path seems rather confrontational, however, so why would someone want to invoke His three steps? 

Let me suggest six reasons to do this.

  1. Obedience

Jesus gave us Matthew 18:15-17, not as an option but as a command. He left no room for sins between brethren to fester or be ignored. As disciples of Jesus, we follow His pathway simply because we want to obey Him.

Jesus’ way is a fabulous gift to you. He has provided for the church to cover you spiritually so you don’t have to weather the storm alone. To obey Him is not burdensome. Rather, His way will lift a burden from you. Don’t deny the gracious gift He’s provided for your marriage. Do it His way and He’ll honor your obedience.

  1. Faith

A second reason to follow Matthew 18:15-17 is because we believe in Jesus’ wisdom. He alone is wise. 

The unrenewed mind thinks, “If I follow the steps of Matthew 18 in my marriage, it’ll be blown apart or become intolerable to stay in.” But faith believes His wisdom surpasses ours and produces eternal fruit. 

Some people don’t follow Jesus’ advice here because they feel hopeless about anything changing. In other words, their faith is depleted. Build yourself up, therefore, in your faith (Jude 1:20). Get your eyes back on God and renew your confidence in His ability to heal your marriage. 

When we believe and obey the words of Christ, God steps in! (Because God likes faith.) He makes up for our lack, releases His power, and does amazing things on our behalf that can leave us astounded. 

  1. Peacemaking

When you follow Matthew 18:15-17, you’re being a peacemaker in your marriage. Where anger, resentment, suspicion, frustration, and anxiety have damaged the peace in a marriage, repentance will restore it. 

Outbursts of wrath kill the peace in a home. We must confess such sins so we can see the peace of Christ restored to our home. 

To make peace is to declare war on all the divides and separates.

  1. Protection

When a home is in good spiritual order, it’s guarded by an encampment of angels that circle everyone in the home with safety (Psa 34:7). Sin can compromise that spiritual perimeter around a believing family. Follow Matthew 18:15-17, therefore, to re-establish a spiritual hedge around your home.

Don’t be shocked when your home becomes a battleground. Satan has declared war on marriages and families. The war is real. He wants to break up your marriage and devastate your children. 

Parents, you’re the gatekeepers of your family. Withstand every attempt of darkness to compromise the spiritual security of your home. Do it for the sake of your children.

  1. Love

Another reason to do Matthew 18:15-17 is for the sake of love. Let your love for your spouse and Jesus win the day. When sin has caused a breach in love, go after the breach. You’re not attacking your spouse, you’re pursuing love.

Tackle the issues head-on, early in the journey, to preserve love and restore the romance of your marriage.

  1. Preservation

A final reason to obey Matthew 18:15-17 is to avert divorce and preserve your marriage. I consider this the greatest benefit of following Jesus’ counsel. When we resolve conflicts Jesus’ way, our courage can save the marriage. Passivity is deadly, but courage is redemptive. Doing it Jesus’ way doesn’t guarantee that your spouse will be won to the wisdom of Christ, but it provides the best chance of saving the marriage.

I’m presenting this message to militate against divorce and to fight for marriage—your marriage. 

We have a vision—for radiant wives who are nurtured and loved by their husbands, for respected husbands who demonstrate integrity in business and family, for upright children who establish healthy families of their own, and for grandparents who glory in the legacy they grant their descendants. It’s a vision worth fighting for. 

If we’ll fight for our marriages Jesus’ way, I’m persuaded many marriages like Brad and Anna’s can be saved, reconciled, and restored to health.

This blog post is adapted from Bob Sorge’s new book, STUCK: Help For the Troubled Home. For information, visit bobsorge.com/stuck.

 

Get Control Then Lose Control

EXPLORING WORShIP bLOG (2)Through their leadership style, some worship leaders maintain such a high platform profile that they actually distract people from worship. It’s hard to see the Lord when the leader is so large. I believe worship leaders can provide clear leadership while also seeking to be invisible before the congregation. How? By setting their focus on the Lord. When worship leaders engage with Jesus, the eyes of the people are naturally lifted to Jesus as well.

I’d like to present this dictum to worship leaders: Get control then lose control. Let me explain.

Get control. Exercise your strongest leadership at the launch of the worship service. Step up and take charge. Call the people to praise. Encourage and provoke with cheerful optimism. Lay hold of the meeting and gather the room. Sensing your confidence, the people will relax and follow.

But then, lose control. At some point in the worship service, take your foot off the gas, release your ability to muscle the meeting, and decide in your heart to give room to the Holy Spirit. It’s fairly easy to take control of a worship service; it’s threatening to our insecurities to surrender that control to the Spirit’s lead. Why? Because we don’t know what He’ll do with it. And yet, this is where worship leading becomes most effective and where running with Jesus becomes most adventurous.

An enthusiastic leader might be able to stimulate an enthusiastic praise service, but no human is capable of empowering people to worship. Only the Holy Spirit can unlock the heart. This is why we lose control to the Holy Spirit. We give Him room to move on hearts in ways we can’t accomplish even with our best leadership skills. If we insist upon holding a tight rein on the entire worship service, we can miss the sovereign move of the Spirit.

As long as we maintain control of the worship service, we’ll have a human-directed service. When we surrender our control, we open to the possibilities of a Spirit-led worship service. Notice that I didn’t say we’ll have a Spirit-controlled service. Why not? Because the Bible never talks about being Spirit-controlled. It speaks of being self-controlled and Spirit-led. The Holy Spirit will never try to control us but will graciously lead us in worship when we move over and give Him the driver’s seat.

The Holy Spirit never controls people, and neither should we. To get control means, therefore, that worship leaders don’t take control of the people but of the meeting. And to lose control means we give control of the meeting to the Spirit’s lead.

Some worship leaders today don’t let go the reins of the worship service until the tick of the clock indicates we’re done. But I’d like to advocate for an intentional letting go in order to make room for the Spirit. The Holy Spirit won’t impose Himself over our leadership; He waits to be invited in.

How can worship leaders lose control?

Ask. Stop and ask the Holy Spirit what He’s doing in the moment.

Withdraw. Pull back from the microphone and give the Lord room to move in a way we hadn’t planned.

Wait. Before moving straight into the next song, pause and wait upon the Lord.

Bow. When a worship leader goes to their knees, it signals a dependence on God and a reach for more of Him.

It’s threatening to the ego to lose control because, if the Holy Spirit doesn’t step in and help in a way we can identify, we can appear to be aimless and incompetent in our leadership. Worship leaders are always putting their pride on the altar. We’re willing to look bad so the Holy Spirit can have His way.

We don’t know everything God wants to do in worship, and rely upon the Holy Spirit from start to finish to accomplish what He alone can do. The potential of worship is as limitless as God Himself. Only God knows what He can do when we surrender to His leadership. Let’s give Him room to work “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph 3:20). That awareness may one day lead us to say something like this: “Let’s take a little more time to enjoy the Lord’s presence as we sing this line again. It’s possible that God is doing as many things in this room right now as there are people. Let’s take the time to allow Him to complete His work in our hearts.” God is always doing more in corporate worship than leaders realize or understand. So get control and then lose control.

 


This blog is adapted from chapter eight of Bob’s just-released book, EXPLORING WORSHIP, THIRD EDITION.

 

 

Look Three Directions in Worship

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Some churches are highly interactive between worshipers in their worship services while other churches prefer to go vertical and focus only on Jesus. Some might argue that one model is to be preferred over the other, but I argue for both. In fact, I see corporate worship looking in three directions: up, around, and within.

My model for this comes from the worshiping seraphim at the throne of God. Here’s how John described their worship: “The four living creatures,each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying:  ‘Holy, holy, holy,  Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev 4:8).

The seraphim are preoccupied first with God. They gaze unceasingly upon His holiness as they worship. What a fabulous occupation!

Secondly, the verse says they “were full of eyes around,” so while worshiping they are also looking around at all the sights of the throne room.

Thirdly, the verse says they were “full of eyes…within.” Part of their gaze in worship is inward.

Just as the seraphim look up, around, and within while they worship, so do we.

UP

Our primary focus in worship is to go vertical and gaze in amazement upon the Lord. We bless Him and minister to Him (1 Pet 2:9). We bask in His presence and encounter Him personally. We talk to Him and He talks to us. We’re entirely distracted by the glory of who He is, and are careful to let nothing distract us from the privilege of standing before Him and pouring our affection upon Him. Worship isn’t worship unless we first of all look up.

But worship doesn’t stop there. It also looks around.

AROUND

Corporate worship doesn’t block out everyone else and everything else that’s around us, as though to pretend no one else is in the room with us. Rather, congregational worship is delightfully aware of the other worshipers in the room. Worship brings us together in true spiritual unity. Worship services actually give us opportunities to minister to one another. We speak truth to one another in the lyrics we sing (Eph 5:19). We encourage one another to magnify the Lord together (Ps 34:3), and we advertise the fame of His name with our songs.

But worship doesn’t stop there. It also looks within.

WITHIN

Corporate worship does things within us that catch our attention. We find ourselves liberated on the inside to exalt Him with greater abandonment. We find ourselves becoming better equipped to express the true feelings of our heart to Him. As we magnify His greatness, faith fills our hearts and surges within. We realize that the holiness of God is actually bringing us into holiness as well. Our hearts open in preparation to receive the preaching of the word. It’s amazing, while you’re worshiping, to look within and actually see the ways He’s changing you into the image of Christ.

When you join God’s people in exalting the name of Jesus, therefore, let your heart go in three directions. Set your eyes fully on Jesus; enjoy your brothers and sisters who are worshiping with you; and delight in the good things God’s doing within you.

Look up, look around, and look within.


This blog is adapted from chapter six of Bob’s just released book, EXPLORING WORSHIP, THIRD EDITION.

 

Entropy

Loyalty Message (1)
The dictionary defines entropy as a gradual decline into
disorder. The word points to the tendency of everything in the
universe to ultimately die and become inert. In other words,
everything in our world constantly tends to deteriorate and break
down.

Our cars are always breaking down. Our houses will never
maintain their condition unless we repair things as they break, touch
up the paint, and replace worn carpets. Our muscles want to atrophy,
our physique wants to soften, and our minds want to grow lazy.
Everything in life is always deteriorating.

The same tendency happens in our spiritual lives. It’s so easy
to become cool, distant, and disengaged in our relationship with
Jesus. Have you ever felt like everything in life is conspiring to
squeeze out your connection with Jesus? I know how you feel. If we
don’t devote ourselves intentionally to prayer, our prayer lives can
easily fall into disrepair.

No matter how long you’ve known the Lord, your spiritual vitality
can deteriorate. Even the most mature believers among us must fight
to hold onto everything they’ve gained in Christ.

My point is this. If your walk with Jesus has lost any of its
vibrancy and fervency, you’re not alone. This temptation is common
to all believers.

Holding to our first love is something we must sign up for.
Again. And again. Sometimes we need to re-up and step back into a
passionate pursuit of Christ.

I’ve written a book designed to help believers with this. RESET
is written to help believers put behind them everything of the past,
step into a new day, and jump-start their prayers lives.

Is it time to reset your prayer life? If so, I hope this resource is a
strong help: PrayerReset.com

It’s time. Gather a group of friends and do a #PrayerReset
together. God bless you!

5 Ways to Awaken Your Spiritual Vitality

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For a vine to produce succulent grapes year after year requires constant dressing. The vine must be pruned, fertilized, protected, watered, and harvested. If the vinedresser gets negligent or lazy, the health of the vine suffers.

In the same way, for our heart to be healthy and alive in Christ requires constant attention. The neglected heart begins to shrivel and die.

Jesus addressed this issue in a letter to the church at Sardis. At one time they had been spiritually vibrant and were known as a revival center, but through neglect they had shriveled and were dying.

Here’s Jesus’ letter to them:

Rev. 3:1 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, “These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Rev. 3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.’”

If you’ve known Jesus for a long time, you know there are times when we’re tempted to relax in prayer. We might have a name for being spiritually vibrant, but that vitality can easily fall into disrepair. Our reputation can outshine our reality.

When things are dying, what should we do? Jesus’ letter to Sardis contains five injunctions—five ways to renew our spiritual vitality. He told them to watch, strengthen, remember, hold, and repent.

1. Be watchful. Be attentive to your spiritual health. Take your own temperature. Scrutinize and evaluate your heart condition. Evaluate your current ability to see and perceive. Are you able to see your true spiritual condition, or are you self-deceived? How is your faith and love? Do you still weep when praying the word? Take candid stock.
2. Strengthen. Strengthen those things in your heart which still have some life. Expose the cooling embers to the Holy Spirit’s breath. This will take time, energy, and effort. Just as a muscle is strengthened through exercise, our heart is strengthened through spiritual exercises in the word and prayer.
3. Remember. Remember the joy you had in the past in times of special devotion to Jesus. Review your journal. Remind yourself of the things God has spoken to you in years past. Renew your vows.
4. Hold. Hold fast to the things you’ve received from Jesus in the past. If they’ve been slipping from your grasp, rise up and lay hold. Again. Renew yourself in the precious promises you cherish. Refuse to relinquish or lose anything of those good things which you’ve received from Jesus.
5. Repent. The main idea in repentance is changed behavior. Don’t just nod compliantly and affirm your desire for renewed passion. Change. Actually change. Actually do something. You know what you need to do. Now do it.

Recently, I wrote a book entitled, RESET: 20 Ways to a Consistent Prayer Life. I tried to make it relevant and helpful to new believers. To my surprise, however, seasoned believers have also been strengthened by the book’s message. Who isn’t tempted to relax and neglect prayer?

Perhaps this blog is coming at just the right time for you. Is it time to reset your prayer life? Listen to Jesus’ counsel. Watch, strengthen, remember, hold, and repent.

For more information, go to PrayerReset.com.

3 REASONS TO BE LOYAL

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Loyalty is a glorious, godly quality which is rightly to be celebrated. That’s why I’m glad it has taken a more prominent place in the minds of Americans today. Misconceptions about its true nature abound, however. Loyalty that is coerced or required is not loyalty but servitude. I’d like to use this brief post to identify the three things upon which loyalty must be built.

Before I get to that, though, I want to point to three things that loyalty is not based upon. First, loyalty is not expressed in silent acquiescence. It’s bold enough to disagree with a leader and speak the truth when necessary. It’s not loyalty unless it’s willing to confront. Silent submission isn’t loyalty, it’s foolishness.

Secondly, it’s not romantic unrealism. It doesn’t have an unrealistic view of a leader’s greatness. Loyalty actually sees the weaknesses, quirks, and foibles in a leader, but is willing to stay because of a fundamental conviction about the leader’s integrity, proven effectiveness, and favor under God.

Thirdly, it’s not unqualified allegiance. It doesn’t say, “I’ll follow you no matter what you do.” Loyalty is conditional. Only dogs give unqualified allegiance.

Yes, loyalty is conditional. It has a very concrete, substantial basis which must not be violated. Why, then, would someone be loyal to a leader? For three reasons.

1. Humility. Humility earns our loyalty because it’s realistic and wise. When you see a leader walking in authentic humility before God, you’re safe to give your heart.

2. Truth. Loyalty devotes itself to a cause where truth is valued and preserved. When you find fierce adherence to the truth of God’s word, it’s safe to give your heart in loyalty.

3. Righteousness. When a leader is walking in blamelessness and purity in his or her personal life in moral areas such as sexuality and financial integrity, then join the team and give your heart to the cause.

Leaders who display these three qualities are following in the legacy provided by our Master, of whom it says, “In Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness” (Ps 45:4).

If a leader becomes arrogant, or abandons truth, or compromises his or her righteousness, gather your stuff and move on. The only reason to stay is if that leader repents and returns to these three values.

Leaders, give us three reasons please to be loyal to you. Demonstrate an unbending commitment to truth, humility, and righteousness.

This post is adapted from Bob’s book, LOYALTY: The Reach of the Noble Heart. You can find it at https://oasishouse.com/collections/bobs-books/products/loyalty-the-reach-of-the-noble-heart

THREE REASONS TO TEACH ON THE FEAR OF THE LORD

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What is the fear of the Lord? Consider this definition: A trembling zeal to obey every word of His mouth. It’s a treasure He gives His favorites (Isa 33:6).

The fear of the Lord was a powerful component in the atmosphere of the early church in the book of Acts. It preserved the integrity of the church in an era of explosive growth. In contrast, we don’t hear much about it today.

Why do we tend to minimize or overlook teaching on the fear of the Lord? When we neglect it, it’s for all the wrong reasons. It’s time to dig up this doctrine, dust it off, and equip today’s believers and also our own children in this essential ingredient to a healthy Christian walk.

I’d like to suggest three reasons to teach the fear of the Lord to this generation.

  1. We don’t understand it as we should.

Some people have a skewed concept of God. For example, some think of Him as such a merciful and gracious heavenly Father that there is nothing in Him His children need fear. On the opposite extreme, others have been put off by the caricature of a God who is always in a foul mood and looking for ways to punish His enemies.

If the fear of the Lord causes you to back away from Him, you haven’t been taught in the true fear of the Lord. Taught properly, it draws us forward into His heart. Those who truly tremble before Him run into His arms, wrap themselves around Him, and in awe and reverence cling to Him for their very lives.

There is no contradiction between His fear and His goodness. They actually go together. Hosea showed us that when we understand His goodness, it sets our heart to trembling (Hos 3:5).

Somebody needs to say it to this generation, “Never fear the fear of the Lord!” Let’s show them how to run into it and wrap their arms around it. It’s the wisest thing they’ll ever do (Pro 9:10). It’s safe, clean, and it endures forever (Ps 19:9). We need to teach this stuff.

  1. Since Jesus taught it, so should we.

Jesus delighted in the fear of the Lord (Isa 11:3). In His teaching, He laid open the profound paradox that is found in Exodus 20:20. He began by charging us to fear God: “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:5). But then two verses later He said, “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). He said, “Fear Him! Do not fear therefore.” He taught that we are to fear—and not to fear—both at the same time.

Do I fear God? Of course not! He’s my Father! I run into His arms with brazen boldness because of the blood of Jesus. I can interrupt any conversation He’s having because I’m His son and have constant access to Him. But do I fear God? I’m terrified of Him! He’s a consuming fire, His name is Jealous, He chastens His children, and He holds me accountable for my attitudes and actions.

I fear Him, therefore, and I don’t fear Him. This is the fear of the Lord as Jesus taught it. And those who teach in their Master’s shadow will also proclaim this important truth.

  1. The benefits of the fear of the Lord are too marvelous to forfeit.

I like to listen to podcasts by Christian leaders, but I don’t remember hearing a podcast on this topic. Is it just that I haven’t found the right podcasts? Or are we generally quiet on topics that would awaken believers to the benefits of fearing the Lord?

For starters, here are some benefits:

  • God remembers forever those who fear Him (Ps 103:17).
  • He lavishes blessings (Ps 112:1), mercy (Ps 103:11), and sustenance (Ps 111:5) on those who fear Him.
  • He dwells with those who tremble at His word (Isa 66:2).
  • His fear enables us to become partakers of His holiness, and produces in our lives the fruit of righteousness (Heb 12:10-11).
  • The fear of the Lord releases grace to serve a God who is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).
  • It empowers obedience (Pro 16:6).
  • He tells secrets to those who fear Him (Ps 25:14).

When you are teaching people in the fear of the Lord, you are engaged in one of the highest privileges available to God’s servants.