DELIBERATELY PURSUING GOD
LEARNING TO ENCOURAGE OURSELVES
It is true there are times when we are down and we all will have problems and situations that we must deal with in this life. Thank God that His church is a safe haven to receive genuine love and support that can help us through our times of troubles and sorrows. But there is a different type of sadness that is finding its way into the hearts and minds of the weary warriors and it is coming from a decrease of joy. Yes, the battle is very difficult and many of the soldiers may crawl and drag themselves into the sanctuary but a worship service is no place for unbelief or an attitude of defeat. A negative attitude can be like a contagious virus that can infect and drain a room full of expectation. In I John chapter one, verse 4 we see that joy is like a liquid in a “tank” that can run low or be filled, “And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” It is our duty to keep a full tank of joy if we are to have victory in our daily walk. If the general of an army told the soldiers they did not have a chance to win the battle it would drain their strength and crush their faith. So how do we stay filled with joy? It is one of the simplest yet most complex revelations of our faith: Joy comes from abiding under the shadow of The Father’s wings in a personal, constant, intimate relationship with Him.
Hope is one of the three main themes that are to be ministered along with faith and love as edification to the body of Christ to build us up and align our minds with the unfailing promises of God’s word. But if we are going through trials, discouragement or despair we should be aware of our words and be careful of negative “advertisement.” Love is the foundation that all the other spiritual attributes rest on but joy cannot be far behind. Those who do not realize the seriousness of spiritual warfare have not received the revelation of how fierce we must guard our joy. If we play “patty cake” with our joy we will be vulnerable to live defeated which in turn causes our light to grow dim and our salt to lose its savor. Can our level of joy determine how much in love we are with God?
Thoughts of defeat, frustration, worry, depression and fear have become the uninvited guest in the church and all ministry leaders are too familiar with these haunting shadows. What does all this have to do with worship? The strength of the church is based on the fullness of joy in the hearts of the people. Without a strong personal relationship with God there is limited joy and with low joy there is a mediocre interest in worship; so we can say the closer we are to The Lord the more full our joy will be and the more vibrant the church will be.
I believe as Pentecostals we must be careful not to fall back into human reasoning and become deceived about what is “normal” church to God and what is normal church to us. It is sad to imagine how many Christian assemblies have become spiritually hindered by fear and anxiety to the point where it is difficult to tell the difference between God’s Kingdom army and a gathering of unbelievers. I do not mean to be critical or have a negative outlook because I speak positive confessions and decrees of revival everyday but the Bible has already revealed how the last days are going to unfold and how religious spirits will continue to be a problem. True, the last days will have trials, tribulations and persecution but in every life, in every testimony there will be victory in Jesus! The future has been divinely designed and it is already written – the gates of hell will not prevail! We are still living in the last moments of grace and a time of blessing but it is also a time to become strong in faith and personal intimacy with the Lord because our lifestyles can change very quickly and many might be stunned to find themselves in places and situations that are not comfortable to say the least. Where will people go and what will they do when life becomes really difficult? Now is the time to seek God’s face and find our spiritual identity. We must be filled with His Spirit, knowledge and the wisdom of His word or we will not have the courage to boldly stand (or lead others) in the days ahead.
We have been given His promises and instructions that explain how we are to react to the world’s system and how to believe that He will create and provide the miracles we need. But we have become a spoiled generation that has not really needed all that much except when we have a crisis which has put much of the church into a self induced coma of pleasure and prosperity. We must not lean on our own understanding or trust in our own strength, politics, logic or education when it comes to survival but rather listen to God’s counsel and He will guide us. If we are going to be provided for like Elijah at the brook and the woman with the measure of meal we must learn how to walk in faith – depending on the supernatural manifestations from God and His angels. If we are to minister the (uncompromised) gospel with His anointing it will not be with our ideas about how to entertain the people or keep them entertained it will be with the power of God’s piercing truth that will bring true salvation, deliverance and healing. The seeker sensitive atmosphere, church growth programs and all of the fancy technology cannot take the place of the Holy Spirit stirring and convicting the heart. Those who are desperate for the person of Jesus, who cry out for mercy and thirst for the living waters of God’s salvation can only be changed by God Himself.
Let us not hang our heads in discouragement because we have been promised that our direction and encouragement will come from God’s word. He will lead us with the revelations of His word, prophecies, visions, dreams, wonders, miracles and signs like He guided and provided for the children of Israel. The Lord said in Acts chapter 2 verse 16-21, “But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it will come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they will prophecy: and I will show wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon to blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass that whosoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
We notice several pity parties in God’s word and as we open the eyes of our heart let us see some examples of how we are to handle our times of discouragement. Remember the story found in I Samuel chapter thirty about David and his army when they retuned home to Ziklag and found the city had been burned and all of their families had been taken captive by the Amalekites. In verse four it says, “Then David and all the people that were with him lifted up their voice and wept until they had no more power to weep.” But notice in the last part of verse six, “but David encouraged (strengthened) himself in the Lord his God.” Those of us that are involved with ministering God’s word will not always feel like standing strong or be electrified with an overflowing current of joy but we must reach down deep in our faith and speak to our body and mind. We must listen to only King Jesus as He inspires us to confess out loud HIS TRUTH over ourselves and our situations. This is why it is crucial to find that secret place with God where we pray and praise so we can be the overcomer that God wants us to be. We must command, demand and speak to ourselves just like a general would give orders to a private. Either the flesh or the spirit is constantly giving orders and the body will respond to whichever one has been chosen by the will. We can take the safe path of least resistance where we just hold our shield, play defense and do enough to get by or we can face our fears of being uncomfortable, take a bold stand, pick up our sword and go on the offence. How will you choose to live in this last hour?
Yes, there was another scenario of sadness; in the upper room after Jesus died they were afraid and their faith was shaken but Jesus appeared that gave them a faith experience they would never forget. When Lazarus died his family was very heavy with sorrow and even Jesus cried because he loved all of them but when He stepped into the situation – realities changed and the darkness had no where to hide. Paul and Silas were locked in prison yet began to worship because joy is not confined to a geographic location, a mood or an emotion – it is activated with determination to believe that God is true! They made a choice to praise God because THEY LOVED HIM and He appeared and brought deliverance through a manifestation of His miracle power. God is not moved by human need but through our faith!
Hopelessness belongs to the lost and dying world that has nothing to put their trust in except their own strength. Human intellect, impressive education, riches and political power cannot help save their souls or the kingdoms of the earth. Only God can change a mind and transform a life. I realize that church leaders must be real with their feelings because if the “human factor” did not come through our personalities we would all seem very robotic. At the same time many are forced to wear the mask of being positive all the time because they want to keep everyone pumped up and they fear if they do not “demonstrate” a positive image they will discourage others. Learning to balance this daily decision of knowing what to do is like walking a spiritual tight wire. The role of a pastor is not easy and deserves more prayer and less criticism. I recently attended a meeting of pastors that were discussing the trials and challenges of ministry and instead of being understanding – I was disappointed because they were not wearing their super-hero capes. I listened as each one shared their burdens and worries and questions about church growth and how to get people to catch their vision? As each one talked about their problems about everything from excessive debt to people being unfaithful, I sensed a heaviness of negativity and defeat. I was left with a feeling of weakness and a lack of hope for the modern church world. I was not encouraged, inspired or built up in any way, yet was surrounded by leaders that were filled with God’s power and faith. I felt there had been a mistake because I thought I was going to a celebration of spiritual victory but instead had been invited to a religious pity party. I was saying to myself, that everyone knows there are problems in the church but pastors are supposed to have the answers! Why? Because that is the most important part of their calling. We have teachers, counselors, associate pastors, singers, musicians, superintendents, elders and deacons but none of these are actually responsible for knowing the direction of the church because they do not “literally” lead it. Of course Christ is the head of the church but He appoints the “under Shepard” to relay His messages and care for the sheep – right? Well, yes, but remember, the pastor also wears the brightest bulls-eye.
It is true, the super-natural gift and office for pastors is to know God’s vision for the assembly and lead the warriors into the battle! But, what I personally failed to experience in that room was compassion for those who stand on the front lines. These men were letting down their guard in front of me. They felt secure with each other and used this time as a place of refuge away from the war, to share their wounds, experiences and open their heart. I did not adjust to what was happening and was judging to harshly. They are the ones that get up in the middle of the night and kneel on cold hospital floors praying for the sick. They hold peoples hands as they pass on to the next life. They are the ones that counsel the messes that others have made and go inside the prisons to preach the Kingdom message. They carry the worries and stress that no one else knows because many people have shared their secret life with them and trust them to remain confidential. While none of us including pastors are to live in a world of depression let us also remember that it’s ok to be honest with ones we trust and who care for our souls. True, there is no time for a pity party, but let us not forget that as servants of the Most High, ministers feel the same pain and heart ache that we do and there’s no condemnation for being real. It is not an option but crucial that we all learn how to encourage ourselves in such a time as this. “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” II Corinthians 4:8-9