~Ebb and Flow of Grace while in The Storms of Life~

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Sometimes you got to hurt something to help something. Sometimes you have to plow under one thing in order for something else to grow.

Ernest Gaines
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There are no bonds so strong as those which are formed by suffering together.

Harriet Ann Jacobs
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Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way as we seek to understand the lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments.
The disciples experienced several “mountaintop moments” in their time with Jesus. But when a storm arose while they were out on the Sea of Galilee, fear took over. Amidst the roaring waves and with the boat rocking, Jesus’ chosen ones failed to recall the lessons they had learned about the power and purposes of their leader. Even the appearance of Christ walking on water didn’t bring immediate relief (Matt. 14:26).

When trouble strikes, we sometimes forget our knowledge of God, too. We struggle to recall past answers to prayer, specific guidance provided by the Holy Spirit, and lessons learned in previous crises. Only the present seems real. Our minds spin with future implications, and our troubled emotions inhibit clear thinking.

In our own strength, we lack sufficient resources and abilities to meet life’s challenges. So God provides what we need. Our suffering is never a surprise to the Lord. He knows everything we are going through. More than that, He’s orchestrating our circumstances for His glory and our benefit, according to His good will.

 

Reflecting on the divine purpose in hardship can help us respond to trials in a God-honoring way. Let’s take a moment to fix our attention on the Lord and seek to understand four lessons He wants us to learn through life’s dark moments:

 

1. One purpose for hardship is cleansing. Because of our own “flesh” nature and the self-absorbed world we live in, it’s easy to develop selfish attitudes, mixed-up priorities, and ungodly habits. The pressures that bear down on us from stormy situations are meant to bring these impurities to our attention and direct us to a place of repentance. Our trials are intended to purify and guide us back to godliness, not ruin our lives.

2. A second reason we face difficulty is so we’ll be compassionate and bring comfort to others. God’s work in our lives is not intended solely for us. It’s designed to reach a world that does not recognize or acknowledge Him. The Lord uses our challenges to equip us for serving others. As we experience suffering, we will learn about God’s sufficiency, His comforting presence, and His strength to help us endure. Our testimony during times of difficulty will be authentic. Those to whom we minister will recognize we know and understand their pain. What credibility would we have with people in crisis if we never experienced a deep need?

3. Third, God promises usHe’ll provide a path through any trialwe face. The disciples probably wondered how long the storm would last and whether they would make it safely to shore. Most likely, they wished it never happened. But, had they somehow avoided this storm, they would have missed the demonstration of Jesus’ power over the sea and wind. The frightening situation was transformed into a revelation of the Savior’s divine nature. God wants to make His power known through our trials, as well.

4. The most important thing He gives us isanawareness of His presence. At first, the disciples believed they were alone in a terrifying storm. When they initially spotted Jesus, their fear increased. They thought He was a ghost. But as they recognized Him, their fear changed to relief and hope. Similarly, we may not sense God’s presence during a crisis. But He has promised to always be with us (Heb. 13:5-6). The assurance that the Lord will never leave provides immediate comfort, an infusion of courage, and a sense of confidence to endure.

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No one enjoys suffering. But in the hands of almighty God, trials become tools. He uses hardship to shape believers into the people He intends them to be. Jesus allowed the disciples to experience the fear and anxiety of being in a boat on a raging sea. He permitted them to suffer because He had something far more important to teach them. He wanted the disciples to recognize their own helplessness, His sufficiency, and their dependence on Him.

Ask God to reveal His abiding presence in the midst of your trouble. And remember—He always provides for your spiritual needs to help you both endure and grow stronger in your Christian faith.

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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Martin Luther King, Jr
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~Color Forward In Spite Of Challenges~

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What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir

What is the biggest barrier facing the formerly incarcerated as they try to reintegrate into society?
To us, the biggest barrier is the lack of critical legal information that people need in order to overcome barriers in reentry. We see the major issues as:

—Enormous legal and practical barriers to stability and success, including an inability to get an ID or open a bank account, enormous court debt, denials of employment, housing, and public benefits

—A complete lack of legal advocates, knowledge and navigational resources about these barriers

—An infrastructure of people and agencies who already support and work with those in reentry—including family and loved ones, social services agencies, housing facilities, legal advocacy groups, education programs, religious institutions, substance abuse facilities, corrections departments and government agencies—that lack the legal guidance necessary to navigate critical and often crippling issues

The lack of an integrated, knowledgeable and supported reentry infrastructure undermines the spirit and intent of reform efforts to reduce incarceration levels. The “Roadmap to Reentry” guide illuminates pathways to stability and success post-incarceration by educating people on how to navigate enormous legal and practical barriers.

In terms of the legal barriers, there are many—which is why the guide covers nine areas! Reentry is so unique to each individual, so we see that people experience very different issues, much of it dependent on their life circumstances and goals. The biggest issues that we see are court-ordered debt and fees that have amounted over time, which leads to an inability to get an ID; housing and employment discrimination; trouble reunifying with children and loved ones upon release; and unlawful parole conditions that can overly restrict where people can live and work.

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What is the most important thing families can do to ease the transition?

Plan, prepare and do research! Family has access to phone and Internet, so they can help the loved one make plans and goals and then research opportunities in the area they are returning to—including housing, employment, education and support services. If you know your loved one’s goals and have a timeline for completion, you can help to set them up for success before they get out. If the county to which they are returning doesn’t have the right resources, they can help their loved one understand the process to transfer counties, either before or after release. Also, I would say that families can help their loved one in reentry by helping them do research on the law—reading manuals like ours to help their loved one understand whether they are actually banned from public housing or public benefits, and what kinds of jobs they can get—because many myths persist. So family can help a huge amount by educating themselves, getting a ton of resources and then empowering their loved one with that information.

The other thing that I think is critical for family members is to take care of themselves. If you find your loved one a support group, find one for yourself too. Families are often the support structure for a person in reentry, but of course they do not have the education of a case manager, therapist or social worker, yet they are playing that role. So having support for families who are helping someone through the ups and downs of reentry is critical.

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The United States criminal justice system is the largest in the world. At year end 2011, approximately 7 million individuals were under some form of correctional control in the United States, including 2.2 million incarcerated in federal, state, or local prisons and jails.1) The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, dwarfing the rate of nearly every other nation.2)

Such broad statistics mask the racial disparity that pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Racial minorities are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, they are more likely to face stiff sentences. African-American males are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white males and 2.5 times more likely than Hispanic males.3) If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.4) Racial and ethnic disparities among women are less substantial than among men but remain prevalent.5)

The source of such disparities is deeper and more systemic than explicit racial discrimination. The United States in effect operates two distinct criminal justice systems: one for wealthy people and another for poor people and minorities. The former is the system the United States describes in its report: a vigorous adversary system replete with constitutional protections for defendants. Yet the experiences of poor and minority defendants within the criminal justice system often differ substantially from that model due to a number of factors, each of which contributes to the overrepresentation of such individuals in the system. As Georgetown Law Professor David Cole states in his book No Equal Justice,

These double standards are not, of course, explicit; on the face of it, the criminal law is color-blind and class-blind. But in a sense, this only makes the problem worse. The rhetoric of the criminal justice system sends the message that our society carefully protects everyone’s constitutional rights, but in practice the rules assure that law enforcement prerogatives will generally prevail over the rights of minorities and the poor. By affording criminal suspects substantial constitutional rights in theory, the Supreme Court validates the results of the criminal justice system as fair. That formal fairness obscures the systemic concerns that ought to be raised by the fact that the prison population is overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately black.6)

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“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Audre Lorde, Our Dead Behind Us: Poems

~Consider Your Ways~

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“When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives.”― Ezra Taft Benson

I have spent a great part of my  life searching for the one trait all successful people share. I found in my quest for this knowledge”The Common Denominator of Success” revealed successful people’s common characteristic was not hard work, good luck, or astute human relations, although these traits were important. The one factor that seemed to transcend all the rest was the habit of putting first things first. I observed, “The successful person has the habit of doing the things failures don’t like to do. They don’t like doing them either, necessarily. But their disliking is subordinated to the strength of their purpose.”

The Book of Haggai, the second shortest in the Old Testament, communicates this same message: Put first things first. It was written to people like us, who would say that God must be first. But they had drifted away from this truth. They lived with misplaced priorities. Haggai was sent to help God’s people get their priorities in line with what they knew they should be.

Haggai spoke his message to Jews who had returned to Jerusalem after living in captivity in Babylon. As you recall, Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple some 70 years earlier. When the Jews returned from exile they faced the daunting task of rebuilding. The first returnees made preliminary attempts to clear the debris and lay the foundation for a second temple. Their Samaritan neighbors offered to join in the work, but the Jews refused them. The Samaritans, in turn, threatened the workers and sent men to Persia to lobby against the Jews, bringing the work to a halt.

As years passed, slowly but surely, Jerusalem came to life again. Homes were built, stores opened, commerce established, fields planted, crops harvested, and life began to resemble normalcy. Israel, however, got used to life without the Temple. The foundations were overgrown with weeds. They stood as a mute reminder of the Jews’ failure to take care of God’s house. Fourteen to 16 years passed, and then Haggai appeared on the scene with one prevailing message: It’s time to finish rebuilding the Temple.

It was a message of priority: Put first things first. The Temple was the center for worshiping God. It represented the heart and soul of the Old Testament religion. Although God is everywhere, the Temple was the place on earth where God dwelled in a special sense. For the Temple to lie in ruins was to neglect the worship of God. It was a testimony of misplaced priorities. It was an embarrassment to God and a blemish on his reputation.

Haggai’s message was blunt. He pulled no punches and wasted no words. Haggai spoke like a foreman on a construction project. With a hardhat and tool belt, walking around the construction site, he bellowed out orders. Found here are a few practical steps about putting first things first.

I. Stop making excuses

First, Haggai confronted excuses for the Temple lying in ruins. “The LORD of Hosts says this: These people say: The time has not come for the house of the LORD to be rebuilt” (Haggai 1:2, HCSB). They intended to build God’s house, but just hadn’t got around to it yet. If you were to ask them about it, they would probably say, “I’m all for building the Temple. It is a great cause. But God wants us to take care of our own families first. Times are hard. Jobs are scarce. We need to pray about it some more. We will eventually build it, but not now.” They made excuses.

Billy Sunday defined an excuse as “the skin of a reason stuffed with a lie.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “I never knew a man who was good at making excuses who was good at anything else.”

It is always easy to make excuses when you don’t want to obey God. We can always find rational justification for not doing what God wants us to do: The time is not right. I’ve got family responsibilities. My kids need me now. When things settle down at work, then I can do something. The first step to putting first things first is to admit our responsibility.

II. Cease being selfish

Closely aligned with excuse making is a selfish mindset that permeates everything. Haggai challenged the people’s selfish behavior. “The word of the LORD came through Haggai the prophet: Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:34, HCSB). Paneled houses can mean “covered” or “roofed,” but the point was that it represented the finishing touches. Their homes were not “in process.” No weeds were growing around their unfinished foundations. Their homes were complete while the Temple remained nonexistent.

Please understand: Nothing is wrong with having a nice home. This statement is not an attack on riches or big houses. What’s wrong is to own a nice home while God’s house lies in ruins. What’s wrong is spend all your money on selfish needs while ignoring the things of God. What’s wrong is to spend one’s time, one’s best hours, and one’s talents on selfish pursuits while the things of God are left undone. It is an indictment of misplaced priorities.

It is easy to drift away from God’s agenda to our own. It is easy to pursue selfish desires while ignoring God’s. In fact, it is the default mode of our lives. If we give no thought to how we are living, we will naturally live for ourselves. The bent of our hearts and is always toward selfishness. This is what happened to the Jews Haggai addressed.

Like William Cowper, the hymn writer and pastor, penned: “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” That is what happens when we don’t persistently and consistently seek God first.

III. Don’t miss God’s blessings

As a consequence of their excuse-making and selfish living, the people in Haggai’s day experienced hardship. He continues: “Now, the LORD of Hosts says this: Think carefully about your ways: You have planted much but harvested little. You eat but never have enough to be satisfied. You drink but never have enough to become drunk. You put on clothes but never have enough to get warm. The wage earner puts his wages into a bag with a hole in it” (Haggai 1:5-6, HCSB). They sowed plenty of seed, but there was a drought and the crops didn’t yield as much as they had hoped. They had active lifestyles but were not experiencing satisfaction. They were laboring but showing no profit. No matter how hard they tried, they seemed to be spinning their wheels. No matter how much money they made, they could not keep it. Do you know how that feels?

Because of their selfishness the people missed God’s blessings. Haggai points out a sobering reminder: What happens in your heart affects every other part of your life. Because the people had pushed God out of the center, they suffered in every area.

What they did not see was that God caused their predicament. They hadn’t stopped to consider that God was trying to tell them something. Haggai screamed: “Hey! It’s God who controls the rain and the harvest. He is withholding his blessing because your priorities are not right. Put his house first and he will bless you.” Jesus said the same thing: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:33, HCSB).

Blessings come through obedience. If we want to experience God’s blessings we will put him first.

IV. Take time to evaluate

With this strong indictment and devastating predicament, the people realized they had caused their own calamities. The people were ready to evaluate their situation. Twice Haggai instructed the people, “Consider your ways” (1:5, 7.). The word consider means to give careful thought to. It was time for the people to do some serious self-examination before the Lord. Haggai wanted the people to stop long enough in their busy schedules to evaluate their life in light of God’s Word. He wanted them to measure the consequences of their actions.

Evaluation is a good thing. That is why teachers give tests and employers hold job reviews. Socrates wrote: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Each day we need to evaluate how we spend our time and our money, and how we use our talents. We should examine who we choose as friends, what we set as goals, and where we are going. If God is not first, guess who removed him from his rightful place?

The failure to make constant corrections each day is like a pilot who does not make slight course adjustments in flight. The plane will end up hundreds of miles off course later. The failure to take the proper precautions today will result in severe consequences tomorrow.

When we stop making excuses, cease being selfish, seek God’s blessings, and take time to evaluate, we can see God work in powerful ways. This is what happens when first things are first, when God is first in our hearts. How will we know that we have put first things first? How will we know that God is first place? Here are three indications.

A. We are active in the right things

“Go up into the hills, bring down lumber, and build the house. Then I will be pleased with it and be glorified, says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8, HCSB). In all of life there is a time to talk and a time to act, a time to consider and a time to do. Those who put first things first are up and doing the right things: spending time with God daily, serving people, honoring him with their time, talents, and financial resources. For the Jews living in Jerusalem, it meant cutting down trees to build God’s house.

B. God is glorified

Why should the Temple be built? That God may be glorified. When God is not first we are indifferent to his glory—his fame and his reputation being spread. But when God is first revealing his glory is first on our minds. In fact, everything we think, say, and do is to honor God and bring credit to him. Whatever your occupation, the chief business of every Christian is to bring glory to God.

C. God blesses us

When the people obeyed, God sent word: “I am with you” (1:13). When God is first, he blesses us. And the sure sign of his blessing was his manifested presence. If God seems distant in your life, perhaps your priorities have gotten mixed up. When you put God first, you experience a new awareness of his presence. That is true blessing.

Conclusion

An instructor at a time-management seminar told the participants to prepare for a quiz. He reached under the table and took out a wide-mouthed gallon jar and set it on the table. Next to the jar were a number of fist-sized rocks. He asked the group, “How many of these rocks do you think we can get inside this jar?” The participants made their guesses. The instructor said, “Let’s find out.” One by one he began to put as many fist-sized rocks as he could into the jar until the rocks inside were level with the top of the jar.

The instructor then asked, “Is the jar full?” All the participants looked at the jar filled with rocks and said it was.

But then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar. The gravel filled the spaces between the big rocks. He grinned and asked again, “Is the jar full?”

The participants were not about to be fooled a second time. They said that the jar was probably not full.

The instructor nodded and said, “Good. You are catching on.” He next took out a bucket of sand and poured it into the jar. Slowly the sand filled the gaps between the rocks and gravel. After the sand settled, the instructor once again asked, “Now, is the jar full?”

The audience roared, “No!”

He said, “Good.” He was pleased that they understood an important principle. The instructor poured a pitcher of water into the jar. At this point he stopped and asked the group, “What’s the point of this?”

Somebody said, “Well, there are always gaps, and if you work at it, you can always fit more into your life.”

But the instructor said, “No, the point is this: If I hadn’t put in those big rocks first, I would never have gotten them in at all.”

What should be your big rocks? God and his house. Put them into your life first.

~What voice do You Hear?~

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“You cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.”
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here for?

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The Bible tells us that we need to be led by the Holy Spirit (see for example Romans 8:12-14 and Galatians 5:16-25). Therefore, it must be possible for every one of us to discern the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit within us!

You can hear the voice of God, and this article will teach you how.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into all of the different ways in which God speaks to us, such as dreams, visions, tongues and interpretation, prophecies, and so on, but this article will give you practical guidance in how to discern God’s usual “voice” which He often uses to speak to us.  Jesus Did It!

The Four Voices We Hear  

There are actually four types of “voices” which we hear speaking to us, and it is important that we learn to distinguish each one so that we are able to discern the true voice of God:

 

  • The voice that is perhaps the most obvious is our own voice. In addition to our speaking voice, we also talk to ourselves inside our heads, we see images and pictures inside our heads, we have emotions and feelings and desires, and so on. Our minds tell us what we think, our wills tell us what we want, and our emotions tell us how we feel. The Bible refers to our minds, wills, and emotions as our “flesh nature,” and this article will give you a better understanding of the “voice” of the flesh.
  • Another type of voice which clamors for our attention is the “voice” of other people. Sometimes people say things which are true, noble, and good, and sometimes people say things which are just the opposite. This article will provide some guidance to help you discern what you are hearing from the “voice” of other people.
  • The third type of voice is the “voice” of the devil. The devil has crafty ways of speaking to us which he has perfected over the millennia. He does not appear before us in a red, cloven-hoofed suit and speak out loud to us, he is much more subtle than that. What he does is to throw thoughts into our minds like flaming arrows, and he speaks to us through the worldly ideas and viewpoints that he has injected into other people. By the time you finish this article you will have a better understanding of how to “extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
  • The fourth and final type of voice is the most important, but it is also the most subtle. It is the voice of God. God does not speak to us in our minds, He speaks to us in our spirits because that is where the Holy Spirit lives. Unfortunately, we tend to spend most of our thought life in our heads, in other words in “the mind of the flesh” (Romans 8:7, AMP), focused on the sensory world around us where our physical senses and our thoughts, feelings, desires, and emotions are constantly being bombarded and stimulated in worldly, carnal, fleshly ways. We tend to live on the shallow surface, so to speak, rarely venturing deeper where the Spirit of God lives within us. The result is that many of us do not know where our spirits are nor how to hear and be led by our spirits. Because of this we leave ourselves wide open to fall for the many deceptions of the devil. This article will help you to begin recognizing the leadings and promptings that are coming from your spirit, and how to be more Spirit-led.  Jesus Did It!

 

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These are the four types of voices that we hear, and in the next several sections we will examine each of these more closely. Hearing from God is not a science, so I have tried to offer plenty of examples from my own experience to help describe some of the ways that God speaks to us. Please don’t let this mislead you, however. In order to “teach by example,” it is obviously important to offer examples of the times when I believe that I have heard from God. However, the danger in doing so is that it might give the impression that I am some kind of “spiritual giant” who always hears from God clearly and accurately and never makes any mistakes. Believe me, that’s definitely not the case! How I wish I could hear God speaking out loud every day, telling me exactly how I can be obedient to Him and serve Him and honor Him! But that’s not how He does things, and I’ll elaborate more on this throughout the article. Like everything else in the Christian walk, hearing from God is a journey, and we are all at different places along the way. The journey never ends and no-one ever “arrives,” and just like everyone else I still have a long way to go in this area of hearing God’s voice. All I have to offer are some things I have learned so far on my journey, which may help you on your journey. I hope that my experiences and examples are helpful in describing some of the ways that God speaks to us, and I am trusting God that soon you will have plenty of your own examples to help someone else who feels frustrated in his or her journey of trying to hear and obey God’s voice.

“The Mind of the Flesh”

Our greatest enemy

Here’s an interesting question for you: Who is our greatest enemy? If you said it’s the devil, you’re wrong! Our greatest enemy is our minds, our wills, and our emotions, which the Bible sometimes refers to as our “sin nature” or our “flesh.” Consider that if we did not have a sinful flesh nature then the devil would have no hold on us. For example, Jesus had a body made of flesh and blood but He did not have a sinful flesh nature as we do, and therefore the devil had no hold on Him (John 14:30).

1 Thessalonians 5:23 says that we are made up of “spirit, soul and body.” Your body is aware of the physical world around you, your spirit is aware of God within you, and everything else is your soul, which is aware of “self.” Your soul is made up of your mind (what you think), your will (what you want), and your emotions (what you feel). Our spirits were “regenerated” (made alive) the moment we were saved (see for example John 3:3-8), and our bodies will be made immortal when Jesus returns for us (1 Corinthians 15:51-53), but we must wage a daily battle against our “flesh nature.” For example, how often do we say or hear things like, “I know I shouldn’t say this, BUT” or “I know I shouldn’t do this, BUT” or “I know I probably shouldn’t eat this, but I’m going to eat it anyway”? Our “flesh nature” pushes us to do what it wants to do, and we often obey our “flesh” even when we know better!  Jesus Did It!

Our flesh is unGodly

You see, the problem is that our “flesh” is unGodly, it is our sin nature, and that’s why the Bible tells us to “crucify” our flesh (as we’ll see in the next section).

For example, try telling Jesus every day, “Jesus, You are my Lord and I am desperately in love with You. I will do anything and everything You say, without questions or hesitations or reservations. I will say what You want me to say, I will go where You want me to go, I will do what You want me to do. I am all Yours, Lord, live Your life through me and receive great glory and honor by my devoted, loving, and unswerving obedience.” Isn’t this the attitude that He wants us to have? Then why do we find it so difficult to say this and to live this way? It’s because we are afraid of what He might call us to do! For instance, you might have a great job and make lots of money and have an affluent lifestyle, but God might call you to leave all of that and to go spend the rest of your life ministering in remote African villages. He has done this before! You might be a shy, self-conscious stutterer, but God might call you to hold large healing and/or evangelism crusades all around the world where you will be speaking in front of thousands and thousands of people. He has done this before! You might be a comfortable, middle-class person successfully climbing the corporate ladder and enjoying the “status” of being a member of the “right” clubs or social circles, but God might call you to turn your back on all of that and to begin spending your evenings or weekends in the “slum” areas of town ministering to the homeless or ministering among youth gangs. He has done this before! You might be a small-town housewife with a high school education, but God might call you to go on the road most of the year preaching several times a week in churches, universities, conferences, and so on. He has done this before! God has done every one of these things in certain people’s lives, and there is always the possibility that He might do it in our lives as well. Now, be honest, some of these things just scare the daylights out of us, don’t they? We are afraid to completely give ourselves over to God’s plan for our lives because we are afraid that we might be called on to do things which might embarrass us or stretch us out of our comfort zones. Our flesh doesn’t like the idea of having to go through these sorts of things, even though God will only call us to do things which are best for us. God always has our best interests at heart, but our flesh wants to cast its vote and make its wishes and desires known, and we tend to follow what our flesh wants rather than what God wants. Isn’t it fairly clear that our “flesh nature” tends not to want to obey God?

What does the Bible say about our “flesh”?

Now let’s take a close look at what the Bible has to say about our minds, our wills, and our emotions:

 

  • “And He said to all, If any person wills to come after Me, let him deny himself [disown himself, forget, lose sight of himself and his own interests, refuse and give up himself] and take up his cross daily and follow Me [cleave steadfastly to Me, conform wholly to My example in living and, if need be, in dying, also].” (Luke 9:23, AMP)
  • The Amplified Bible is often a useful study tool because it provides various shades of meaning to help us more fully understand what the original Greek words mean. According to these shades of meaning in the original Greek, Jesus was saying that we must follow His example by denying ourselves and our own agendas, by disowning ourselves, by forgetting ourselves and our own agendas, by losing sight of ourselves and our own agendas, by refusing ourselves and our own agendas, and by giving up ourselves and our own agendas! This is what it means to “take up [our] cross daily.” This is because our natural interests are contrary to the will of God, our natural feelings are contrary to the will of God, and our natural reasonings are contrary to the will of God. The cross is a place of death, which means that we should daily lose sight of ourselves (as in the verse above) in order to hear and obey God.  Jesus Did It!
  • the mind of the flesh [with its carnal thoughts and purposes] is hostile to God, for it cannot submit itself to God’s Law; indeed it cannot. So then those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him.” (Romans 8:7-8, AMP)
  • The apostle Paul said that the mind of the flesh has carnal (worldly, sinful) thoughts and purposes, and that it is hostile to God and cannot submit to God! Paul went on to say that if we are living according to our “flesh nature” then we cannot please God.
  • “The Lord knows the thoughts and reasonings of the [humanly] wise and recognizes how futile they are.” (1 Corinthians 3:20, AMP)
  • God says that our human thoughts and reasonings are futile!
  • walk and live [habitually] in the [Holy] Spirit [responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit]; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh [of human nature without God]. For the desires of the flesh are opposed to the [Holy] Spirit, and the [desires of the] Spirit are opposed to the flesh (godless human nature); for these are antagonistic to each other [continually withstanding and in conflict with each other]” (Galatians 5:16-17, AMP)
  • The apostle Paul tells us that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature, and that our natural desires are opposed to the things of the Spirit and are continually in conflict with the Spirit. The solution, Paul says, is to walk and live habitually in the Spirit, always being responsive to and controlled by and guided by the Spirit within us. When we are busy analyzing things in our minds and trying to figure out the solutions to our problems and so on, it hinders us from hearing the Lord clearly.  Jesus Did It!
  • Now, obviously we need to use our minds and reasoning abilities throughout the day in order to do many of the things that we need to do, but the problem is that we tend to use our reasoning abilities almost exclusively and never bother to consult God on any of the decisions that we make.
  • “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
  • Paul said that his “flesh nature” had been crucified and that he no longer lived for himself. Instead, he allowed Christ to live His life through Paul, and this is the attitude that all of us should have.
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus, the Messiah, have crucified the flesh (the godless human nature) with its passions and appetites and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, AMP)
  • “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24, NIV)
  • Once again Paul said that our “flesh” (which is made up of our minds, wills, and emotions) is our Godless human nature and our sin nature, which must be crucified with Christ. Jesus Did It!
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. … But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:5-10)
  • Here Paul said that it is up to us to put to death whatever belongs to our “flesh” (our earthly nature).

 

As we can see, God has some pretty strong things to say about our “flesh nature,” and none of it is good! In the passages above we are told to deny ourselves and to lose sight of our own agendas. We are told that our minds and thoughts and purposes and impulses and desires are naturally hostile to God! We are told that our reasonings are futile and that our natural desires are antagonistic to and opposed to and constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit. We are told that our “flesh” is our Godless human nature and our sin nature and that it should be crucified and be put to death on a daily basis.

Those are some pretty strong words from the Lord, but the way to begin hearing God better is to quit listening to our flesh so much. That’s not an easy thing to do, but in order to hear God it is important to turn off our reasoning and to put our emotions into neutral when we are listening for an answer from God. Our flesh is always going to cast its vote on what it thinks we should do, but we need to ignore all of that voting and listen to our spirits instead. For example, if we are determined to do something no matter what anyone says, then we might not hear God when He is telling us not to do it. If we have weighed the pros and the cons and we have made the choice which seems to be the most rational to our minds, then we might not feel the need to ask God about it (even though He might guide us to an even better decision). If we really, really want to do something, then our emotions can drown out God when He is trying to prevent us from making a mistake. This illustrates how our wills, our minds, and our emotions can hinder us from hearing the voice of God.   Jesus Did It!

Jesus was “dead to self”

Jesus heard from God better than anyone who ever lived, and one of the main reasons is because He chose to deny His own opinions, interests, goals, thoughts, and so on, and He only did what the Father told Him to:

“Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”” (John 5:19)

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

“So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.”” (John 8:28)

“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (John 14:10)

What it boils down to is that “the mind of the flesh” tends to be unGodly and tends to be directly opposed to the things of God. The reason I have been emphasizing this so strongly is because we are living in a war zone, and to a large degree the battle against the devil takes place in our minds. If we are led by our own reasonings and our own feelings when we make important decisions then it can leave us wide open to be deceived by the devil, and our lives might end up being useless for the kingdom of God.  Jesus Did It!

The Voice of the World

As I said, we are living in a war zone on planet earth. As Christians, we don’t belong to the world, we are aliens and strangers here (John 15:19, 17:15-17, James 4:4, 1 Peter 1:1, 17, 2:11). We are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) serving as ambassadors here (2 Corinthians 5:20). The whole world is under the control of the evil one (1John 5:19), and we should be very careful not to become ensnared in the world’s ways of thinking and the world’s ways of doing things.

The devil speaks to us through worldly views  Jesus Did It!

In the world we are bombarded by loose morality, by various forms of spiritualism and the occult and New Age philosophies, and by other worldly, unGodly messages. This is why the Bible tells us to guard our hearts and minds from being contaminated by the world (see Acts 20:30-31, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Philippians 4:7, 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14, 4:14-15, 2 Peter 3:16-17). We live in the world but we are not of the world (1 Corinthians 2:12, 7:31, James 4:4, 1 John 4:4-5), and we should be very careful about what we are hearing in our daily lives. This is why it is important to be well-grounded in the Word of God.

Sometimes it is easy for the devil to deceive us simply because we do half the job for him by not reading our Bibles in a prayerful, honest, thorough, unbiased way, and we help the devil by being complacent in our Christian life. It is my prayer that by the time you finish this article you will be better equipped to listen with discernment to the Spirit of God within you as you study His Word. Even your pastor is not immune to these biases and “filters,” which is why it is important for you to develop your own spiritual sensitivity and to study the Bible for yourself, allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate to your spirit whatever He chooses to reveal. We should be careful not to let our feelings or our logical reasonings or other people’s opinions be our source of “truth,” but instead we should read the Word of God and listen to His Spirit within us. That is why God gave us both of these things!

The devil can speak to us through Christians!  Jesus Did It!

It is so natural for us to become caught up in what makes sense to us that we forget that often the things of God are far above our understanding. This makes it easy for the enemy to speak to us even through the voice of well-meaning Christian friends, family, pastors, and so on. For example, when God called me to this Internet teaching ministry, I wasn’t sure at first what the call was. I began applying to missionary organizations to see if that was the direction God was leading me, but when I mentioned this to Christians that I knew they sometimes tried to talk me out of it by saying things like, “Why would you want to be a missionary and maybe end up in some remote part of the world?” People mean well, but remember that they are not sensing the same call that you are sensing, so you should be careful sometimes about telling other people, even strong Christian friends, about what God is speaking to your heart.

Here’s an example from the apostle Paul’s life. In Acts 20:22-24, Paul said that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. However, in Acts 21:10-15 a prophet told Paul that he would suffer in Jerusalem, and Paul’s traveling companions pleaded with him not to go there. Paul knew that he was being compelled by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem, yet all of the Christians around him kept trying to talk him out of it. If Paul had allowed himself to follow his own reasonings and opinions and to be swayed by what other Christians thought, then he would have disobeyed God.

Another example in the Bible concerns the apostle Peter. In Galatians 2:11-14 the apostle Paul said that Peter was swayed by the opinions of others into separating from Gentile Christians, and in turn Peter swayed other Jewish Christians to do the same. In this case, an apostle was led astray by the “voice” of other Christians, and an apostle led other Christians astray! It is easy for us to be deceived, which is why we need to know how to discern whether or not our spirits are bearing witness with what we are hearing from the “voice” of other people (more on this in a later section). All of us have preconceived biases which act as “filters” when we read the Bible, and therefore even your pastor or my pastor can be deceived and teach us things that are incorrect. If an apostle can be deceived then certainly a pastor can! This is why it is important for each one of us to study the Bible for ourselves every day and to ask God for discernment so that we can recognize the Truth when we see it.

Here’s another example. When Jesus told the apostles that He would suffer and die, Peter took Him aside and tried to talk Him out of letting this happen. Do you remember Jesus’ reply? He said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:21-23). The devil was speaking through an apostle! Peter was not possessed by the devil, of course, but he was still choosing to follow his own thoughts and reasonings and opinions and emotions, and these are the very things that the devil uses to deceive us. In the very next verse, Jesus then told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Only by choosing not to be slaves to our own reasonings and emotions can we win the battle for our minds and begin hearing the voice of God within us.  Jesus Did It!

God can speak to us through other people

In examining the “voice” of the world, we should recognize that God speaks to us through other people as well, but the only way to know that it is God is if we are listening for discernment deep inside ourselves. For example, after the Lord taught me about healing and I had begun writing the articles in my Healing Training Course, I was at a friend’s house and as I was leaving I saw that their 10-year-old daughter had a cold. I debated within myself whether I should offer to lay hands on her or not because I didn’t know how well the idea would be received, and I missed my opportunity to possibly relieve her of her cold and to give Jesus glory. When I got home, my three-year-old son (Michael) wanted to show me something in his room, but he walked right past the light switch without turning the light on. Normally he is proud that he is now big enough to turn on the light, but that day he began whining that he couldn’t do it, even though he had come back and was standing right next to it and could easily have turned it on. There was a flash of discernment within me which caused me to see that as Michael was whining, “I can’t do it, I just can’t do it, I don’t know how to do it,” it was God’s way of showing me that this was how I was behaving when I debated with myself about laying hands on the 10-year-old girl. I could easily have done it and she might have been healed, but I allowed my mind to talk me out of it. In this case, it seemed that God was speaking to me through my child. On another occasion I was trying to teach Michael something, and I realized that he wasn’t quite old enough and mature enough to grasp what I was trying to teach him. Once again I got that flash of discernment within me, as if God was telling me that as I become more mature in the Lord then I will be laying hands on people when the opportunities arise. These are just a couple of examples of the way that God might speak to you through other people (even if they don’t realize that God is speaking through them), but it requires being sensitive to your spirit within you in order to recognize that God is speaking to you.

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“This is the responsibility we all owe to ourselves– that the purpose of our existence be to positively affect others with our gift and this does not begin when we feel we have become “something”. It begins when we decide to pick our gift and align it with it’s purpose.”
Chinonye J. Chidolue

 

~ Race and Reality for Blacks In America~

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Even for blacks who make it to college, the problem doesn’t go away. As statistics would have it, 70 percent of all black students who enroll in four-year colleges drop out at some point, as compared with 45 percent of whites. At any given time nearly as many black males are incarcerated as are in college in this country. And the grades of black college students average half a letter below those of their white classmates.

A pressing problem: teachers and police officers monitor, profile and police black and Latino youth and neighborhoods more than white ones.

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When asked during the 2008 campaign if he identified as black, President Obama simply said, “The last time I tried to catch a cab in N.Y.C….” His comment signaled to blacks that he experienced discrimination, while simultaneously illuminating a fatal flaw with race relations in the 21st century — our inability to separate black man from criminal.

In addition to the Department of Education study, sociological research continues to show that blacks and Latinos are more likely to be disciplined in school and stopped by the police. While some may anecdotally argue that black kids are badder than white kids, studies show a more pressing problem — teachers and police officers monitor, profile and police black and Latino youth and neighborhoods more than white ones.

While 75 percent of high school students have tried addictive substances, only specific groups and areas get targeted by the police. As evidence by the e-mail University of Akron sent their black male students, college status does not afford them the privilege to avoid policing. Thus, a black senator is treated similarly to a“potential felon.”

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Legalizing marijuana could potentially lead to more legitimized policing of black and Latino men. Reducing draconian drug laws would help in sentencing, but still not change the way that black and Latino men are criminalized. In this regard, this criminalizing epidemic is just as much a social problem as it is legal and institutional.

There are a few solutions worth mentioning. Legally, there can be tougher sanctions for racial profiling when individuals are unfairly targeted or searched.

Socially, when individuals meet a “good” black man, they can be seen as the rule and not the exception. Most black men are not criminals or untrustworthy; they are law-abiding citizens. People need to start recognizing social class cues that signal professionalism and decency instead of ubiquitously categorizing black men as dangerous.

It is high time that individuals see not just a black man, but a man who could be a doctor, lawyer, neighbor or even the president. These changes in individuals’ perceptions will a go long way to solve the criminalization of nonwhite bodies.

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I sense a certain caving-in of hope in America that problems of race can be solved. Since the sixties, when race relations held promise for the dawning of a new era, the issue has become one whose persistence causes “problem fatigue”—resignation to an unwanted condition of life.

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This fatigue, I suspect, deadens us to the deepening crisis in the education of black Americans. One can enter any desegregated school in America, from grammar school to high school to graduate or professional school, and meet a persistent reality: blacks and whites in largely separate worlds. And if one asks a few questions or looks at a few records, another reality emerges: these worlds are not equal, either in the education taking place there or in the achievement of the students who occupy them.

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As a Human Behaviorist , I know that the crisis has enough possible causes to give anyone problem fatigue. But at a personal level, perhaps because of my experience as a black in American schools, or perhaps just as the hunch of a myopic psychologist, I have long suspected a particular culprit—a culprit that can undermine black achievement as effectively as a lock on a schoolhouse door. The culprit I see is stigma, the endemic devaluation many blacks face in our society and schools. This status is its own condition of life, different from class, money, culture. It is capable, in the words of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, of “breaking the claim” that one’s human attributes have on people. I believe that its connection to school achievement among black Americans has been vastly underappreciated.

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This is a troublesome argument, touching as it does on a still unhealed part of American race relations. But it leads us to a heartening principle: if blacks are made less racially vulnerable in school, they can overcome even substantial obstacles. Before the good news, though, I must at least sketch in the bad: the worsening crisis in the education of black Americans.

Despite their socioeconomic disadvantages as a group, blacks begin school with test scores that are fairly close to the test scores of whites their age. The longer they stay in school, however, the more they fall behind; for example, by the sixth grade blacks in many school districts are two full grade levels behind whites in achievement. This pattern holds true in the middle class nearly as much as in the lower class. The record does not improve in high school. In 1980, for example, 25,500 minority students, largely black and Hispanic, entered high school in Chicago. Four years later only 9,500 graduated, and of those only 2,000 could read at grade level. The situation in other cities is comparable.

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Blacks in graduate and professional schools face a similarly worsening or stagnating fate. For example, from 1977 to 1990, though the number of Ph.D.s awarded to other minorities increased and the number awarded to whites stayed roughly the same, the number awarded to American blacks dropped from 1,116 to 828. And blacks needed more time to get those degrees.

Standing ready is a familiar set of explanations. First is societal disadvantage. Black Americans have had, and continue to have, more than their share: a history of slavery, segregation, and job ceilings; continued lack of economic opportunity; poor schools; and the related problems of broken families, drug-infested communities, and social isolation. Any of these factors—alone, in combination, or through accumulated effects—can undermine school achievement. Some analysts point also to black American culture, suggesting that, hampered by disadvantage, it doesn’t sustain the values and expectations critical to education, or that it fosters learning orientations ill suited to school achievement, or that it even “opposes” mainstream achievement. These are the chestnuts, and I had always thought them adequate. Then several facts emerged that just didn’t seem to fit.

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~ I Can’t See “You”~

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“We are not sheep or cows. God didn’t create fences for us or boundaries to contain our nationalities. Man did. God didn’t draw up religious barriers to separate us from each other. Man did. And on top of that, no father would like to see his children fighting or killing each other. The Creator favors the man who spreads loves over the man who spreads hate. A religious title does not make anyone more superior over another. If a kind man stands by his conscience and exhibits truth in his words and actions, he will stand by God regardless of his faith. If mankind wants to evolve, we must learn from our past mistakes. If not, our technology will evolve without us.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack

I feel abandoned in my trial.
Why does God seem so distant when I need Him most?

You’re troubled, so you pray. You’re distressed, so you cry for God to bring you quick relief. But all you hear in reply is silence–a silence so deafening it drowns out every thought but this: God isn’t listening.

Is that your testimony? If so, we want to help you attain a biblical perspective by providing a few principles for you to reflect on. We trust these thoughts will bring you comfort and hope.

Yours Is a Common Experience

Feel left alone? Other believers have felt the same way. Peruse the writings of Oswald Chambers, Charles Spurgeon, and D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and you’ll discover they knew well the agony you experience. Spurgeon wrote this autobiographical account in his comments on Psalm 88:6:

He who now feebly expounds these words knows within himself more than he would care or dare to tell of these abysses of inward anguish. He has sailed around the Cape of Storms, and has drifted along by the dreary headlands of despair.

After C. S. Lewis lost his wife to cancer, he called out to God for comfort but sensed no reply. Confused, he asked, “What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?”

But you don’t need a large library to know your experience is common. Just turn through the pages of your Bible, especially the Psalms, and you’ll read several distressed cries for God to act:

  • Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am pining away; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are dismayed. And my soul is greatly dismayed; but You, O Lord–how long (Psalm 6:2-3)?
  • Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion (Psalm 77:7-9)?
  • O God, do not remain quiet; do not be silent and, O God, do not be still (Psalm 83:1).

Psalm 22:1 contains perhaps the most well-known example, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.” Jesus echoed that psalm on the cross: “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?‘ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (Matthew 27:46).

A key passage in 1 Peter will help you appreciate that times of distress are common and are for the good of God’s children. Amid the rich details of God’s glorious grace, resides an affirmation that those who rejoice in their salvation will also experience distress due to various trials. Take special note of the second paragraph:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-7).

Take solace in knowing that sorrowful times–even periods of feeling God has withdrawn His presence–are an integral part of your spiritual experience. God hasn’t utterly abandoned you, though you feel He has. Other believers have successfully traveled the dark path you walk and completed their journey.

Peter acknowledges that trials produce grief in believers–and grief is a common experience. He also touches on two further principles that will help you understand and patiently endure your trouble:

Yours Is a Temporary Experience

Feeling distressed by trials–such as sensing the absence of God’s presence–would crush a weakened believer if it had no end. And so Peter adds that the distress is only “for a little while.” Your trouble is temporary. God will not leave you in your distress forever. It will cease–maybe not as soon as you’d like–but it will come to an end. Once the trial has served its purpose, you will benefit from its results and regain the joy of your heavenly Father’s warm embrace.

Yours Is a Purposed Experience

Peter anticipates your next question, “Why does a believer have to experience grief-producing trials?” He replies, “These have come so that your faith … may be proved genuine” (v. 7).

As one of God’s children, you are promised His presence, though for now you feel alone and without help. Rest in knowing God your Father has good reasons for bringing you into your trial. He is committed to making you holy, even if it means taking away your happiness for a time.

You will derive benefit from your trial, not by ignoring it or fainting under its weight, but by understanding its purpose. When you realize God is using the trial to make you aware of His grace in your life and fit you for eternal glory, praise, and honor, you’ll be equipped to endure it even though it brings you into distress and heaviness of soul.

Suffering in silence will also:

  1. Make you more obedient (Psalm 119:67).
  2. Deepen your insight into God’s Word (Psalm 119:71).
  3. Increase your compassion and effectiveness in ministry (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
  4. Teach you to wait patiently on God (Psalm 27:14).
  5. Make your joy less dependent on circumstances (Habakkuk 3:16-19).
  6. Make you appreciate God all the more when He restores you (Job 42:7-17).

Allow those principles to mold your perspective. Learn to respond biblically and not emotionally to your trouble. Lean on the revealed character of God. He is allowing you to experience a temporary sorrow that will provide you with the greater benefits of increased holiness and deeper assurance (cf. Romans 8:18).


Here are some other resources that will help you overcome the feeling God’s absence:

~Ministry and Criticism~

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“Choose a leader who will invest in building bridges, not walls. Books, not weapons. Morality, not corruption. Intellectualism and wisdom, not ignorance. Stability, not fear and terror. Peace, not chaos. Love, not hate. Convergence, not segregation. Tolerance, not discrimination. Fairness, not hypocrisy. Substance, not superficiality. Character, not immaturity. Transparency, not secrecy. Justice, not lawlessness. Environmental improvement and preservation, not destruction. Truth, not lies.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

Generally speaking, parishioners appreciate the roles pastors perform in their churches and communities. This includes preaching/teaching Christian doctrine;performing rites of passage, such as baby dedications, baptisms, weddings, and funerals; pastoral care, such as visitation, counseling, comforting, and praying for people; and administration, such as chairing meetings, developing inreach and outreach programs for the church and community, and representing the church to the community.

But despite the roles pastors perform, they are not spared criticism from a number of their parishioners. Some of the criticism may be constructive and some destructive.

Pastoral ministry has its ups and downs. One of the up moments is when church programs work well in the church and parishioners support and affirm the pastor’s ministry. During this time, the ministry becomes pleasant and rewarding. A down moment occurs when there is a lack of support from parishioners and the program fails. The pastor faces criticism and bitter opposition from parishioners that can lead to feelings of frustration and discouragement.

Let us face it, a leader cannot avoid criticism. It does not matter what leadership position you hold, whether in politics, as the president or prime minister of a country, the head of a corporate organization, a pastor, or church administrator, there will be criticism.

Some years ago an experienced minister advised me how to deal with criticism from parishioners. What caught my attention was a remark he made that has encouraged me in my ministry. He said, “Jesus faced criticisms, too, and if you are a pastor and parishioners don’t criticize all the work you do, you wouldn’t know how you are performing in ministry.”1 Since then, I have learned to take criticism differently.

Jesus faced criticism too

Jesus faced criticism in His ministry. Matthew writes, “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw” (Matt. 12:22).2 While the multitudes were amazed, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (v. 24).

Some criticized even His eating habits. They said Jesus was “‘“a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” ’ ” (Luke 7:34). On another occasion, the Pharisees and scribes were critical of Him, saying, “ ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’ ” (Luke 15:2). Yet, reaching out to save sinners was an integral part of Jesus’ mission to this world. No wonder, in a similar incident in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus replied to the Pharisees, “ ‘For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’ ” (Matt. 9:13).

In spite of criticism, Jesus was a successful leader. He did not allow criticism of His good deeds to divert attention from His goal to reveal His Father’s love for humanity, and preach the good news of salvation. He stayed focused and accomplished His mission. Pastors need to understand that we will face criticism as Jesus did. Besides, unlike Jesus who did not sin (Heb. 4:15), we will make mistakes and face criticism as well.

Reasons for criticism

Here are a few reasons, both positive and negative, why pastors may face criticism.

1. Failure to fulfill the responsibilities of pastoral leadership. Pastoral leadership can be very demanding and parishioners often know when pastors perform their jobs or not. Hence, pastors should not be satisfied with a level of mediocrity in their job performances. When we fail to fulfill our responsibilities, criticism will most likely come.

2. When a pastor wants to introduce change. Usually, when a pastor is transferred to a new district and attempts to change established tradition, some parishioners criticize the pastor and resist such change. To most parishioners “change is uncomfortable and often threatening.” 3 There will always be resolute defenders of tradition in every congregation who will criticize your intentions for change.

3. A breach of pastoral ethics. Pastors are expected to uphold and commit themselves to practice a pastoral code of ethics. For example, parishioners want a pastor they can trust and confide in with their personal issues. Failure to “practice strictest professional confidentiality”4 will result in criticism from parishioners and a loss of credibility.

4. Pastor a district for years without transfer. Though parishioners may feel uncomfortable when a change occurs in the status quo, this is not always so when it comes to a change in pastoral leadership. With time, parishioners get used to the pastor’s method of preaching and leadership skills.

5. Parishioners’ unresolved issues. Sometimes parishioners go through church-related issues for which they have not sought help from a counselor or their local pastor. Quite often, they are stressed out, impatient, and angry because of these unresolved issues. The church board meeting, or the church business meeting, becomes the forum for them to blame and criticize the pastor for what goes wrong in the congregation.

6. Expectation to live above reproach. Generally, people hold pastors in high esteem and expect much from them. Since pastors are seen as preachers of probity and accountability, parishioners expect them to live above reproach. When a pastor breaks one of the commandments or doctrines of the church, criticism or even rejection often follow.

Approaches for dealing with criticism

Not all criticism from parishioners is destructive. Some may be constructive; therefore pastors should take criticism seriously and not ignore it. What may be considered trivial and not given much attention may become a serious issue too difficult and too late to solve. Here are some suggestions pastors may include in their approaches to criticism from parishioners.

1. Count criticism as a blessing, not a trial. Let’s be realistic about this. We do not find it easy to face criticism and accept it as a blessing from God. When I started ministry, I used to think that parishioners who criticized my job performance did not like me. But I have also come to understand that criticism from parishioners may be God’s way of pointing out something I need to change or correct in dealing with an issue as a pastor. While I do not allow destructive criticism to detract me from doing my job, I do not ignore constructive criticism either. It reminds me that I am human and make mistakes. Constructive criticism also helps me learn and avoid other similar and terrible mistakes later on.

2. Pray for guidance and for those who criticize you. In one district, I made an appointment to see one of our conference officials for advice concerning the criticism I was facing from some parishioners. I can recall sitting in his office and pouring out my heart to him. After I finished, he looked at me and said, “You must pray for them.” I must confess that was not the answer I expected at that moment. But I continued to pray for them and before long they stopped the criticism, though a couple of them occasionally criticized me about church programs. Praying for those who criticize you will make a difference in your ministry.

3. Avoid arguing with those who criticize you. This is one of the difficulties a pastor may encounter with parishioners, especially when the pastor knows they are right about an issue they are being criticized for in the church. However, try not to argue with those who criticize you in public, whether at a church board or church business meeting. Assume a good disposition when confronted with criticism. Calm down, and if it requires a response, choose your words carefully and answer gently.

4. Always do what is right. In every decision that involves the congregation, if you have the church board’s and the majority of the members’ approval, go ahead and implement it. People will criticize and persecute you for doing the right thing, but God will admire and vindicate you for not doing the wrong thing. Ellen G. White offers encouraging words here, “To accuse and criticize those whom God is using is to accuse and criticize the Lord who has sent them.”5

5. Uphold ethics and beliefs of the church. Whatever the pastor does should be in accordance with the church beliefs and policies. Parishioners respect pastors who are honest and have a strong affirmation for, and practice, ministerial ethics.

6. Address the needs of your parishioners in a timely manner. The nature of our work requires us to be sensitive to the questions and felt needs of our parishioners, and we should make every effort to address those needs in a timely manner. We should not treat parishioners’ needs as trivial. Every parishioner is important in the eyes of Jesus, and as ministers of God, we are to treat them with love and respect as we shepherd them. This will help pastors avoid some criticism.

7. Sell your ideas to your leaders: Pastors have good plans and ideas for the church but quite often we meet opposition and criticism because of the way those plans and ideas are communicated to parishioners. When this happens, we wonder whether the church officers and parishioners see what we see. When you work with leaders in a church, they want to feel that they are a part of the decision-making process of the church. The board of elders and the church board members should know the pastor’s ideas and programs. They will then be able to support and help sell them.

8. Do not sideline those who criticize you. Remember the saying Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. You will be surprised that, in most cases, parishioners who criticize you are not necessarily your enemies, but they may be going through personal issues that require a referral or your expertise in pastoral counseling.

9. Involve those who criticize you in church ministries. Sometimes you will find it necessary to harness the energy and talents of parishioners who criticize you for soul winning instead of using their time in sowing seeds of divisiveness in the church. You can request some of them to volunteer in the prayer team or a special needs ministry in the church. Meet with them periodically to affirm and evaluate what they are doing. As you engage them in church ministries, it will help them use their talents in the right areas.

10. Know if, when, and how to confront those who criticize you. Pastors approach and deal with criticism differently. Some pastors adopt an attitude of a culture of silence and ignore them. Others choose a confrontational approach. “The attitude needed to deal with criticisms is not a withdrawal from the issue or an arrogant approach to the issue. It is gentleness and firmness—an attitude of smart love.”6 Pastoral attitudes and approaches to criticism should follow the biblical instruction in Matthew 18:15–17. Try not to harbor any animosity toward parishioners who criticize you. Continue to love and pray for them. This will make a difference in your ministry.

Conclusion

The pastor cannot avoid criticism. Every congregation has parishioners who will affirm your ministry and those who will criticize what you do. At times, the criticism may be constructive, and other times it may be destructive. The pastor should be open to criticism and willing to accept mistakes and correct them. Never allow criticism to detract from your calling as a pastor to perform your role. You can count on Jesus as He guides you to shepherd His flock and prepare them for His kingdom.

 

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“A great leader must serve the best interests of the people first, not those of multinational corporations. Human life should never be sacrificed for monetary profit. There are no exceptions. In addition, a leader should always be open to criticism, not silencing dissent. Any leader who does not tolerate criticism from the public is afraid of their dirty hands being revealed under heavy light. And such a leader is dangerous, because they only feel secure in the darkness. Only a leader who is free from corruption welcomes scrutiny; for scrutiny allows a good leader to be an even greater leader.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem