#Write31Days – Post 18 – Spiritual Strongholds

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Have you ever found yourself in a building, standing under a chandelier… and suddenly your mind is flooded with every movie you have ever seen in the past.  The chandelier falls, someone dies.  Over the course of your life, subconsciously you have made the decision to never stand under a chandelier.  So, you take a few steps the left and breathe a sigh of relief.

When you were a child, perhaps, you were splashing in the ocean.  Suddenly, a current sweeps your legs out from under you, pulling you out to sea.  A hand grabs you, pulling you to safety.  You were so traumatized by what could have happened, you no longer go into the ocean.  You don’t take your kids to the beach.  You make a conscious decision that the ocean is not safe and to be avoided.

Everyone has some sort of stronghold in their life.  These are beliefs or opinions that are strongly held and fortified in our minds to the point that reason and logic will be locked out.  These strongholds can be based in reality or in our perception of reality. They are often formed by our past experiences, the environment we were raised, and by the people whom we respect or were authorities in our lives.

I have seen plenty of movies where a chandelier falls, on accident or on purpose, and a person dies.  I have personally never known anyone this has happened to, nor have I read about it happening the paper.  Logic and reason stand that the chandelier in any given building isn’t going to just suddenly break loose and fall on me.  It really isn’t a logical fear.  However my perception of that truth can be swayed when I allow those imaginary scenarios to root themselves in fear and paranoia.

The scenario at the beach, that actually happened to me.  It is a reasonable fear, logic would stand that I would be afraid of the ocean.   This was a real life experience for me.  However, that reality also must root itself in fear in order for it to become a stronghold in my life.  I still love the beach, take my children there, and I am not afraid of the ocean.  I do, however, respect it.  I am not careless.    I have not allowed this real life circumstance to impact the logic that being swept out to sea is very rare and small percentage.

As Christians we not only are faced with strongholds in our lives, based on our past or perceptions, that affect our daily decisions.  We also have spiritual strongholds, that have embedded certain beliefs or “truths” into our minds.

For example, if you were raised in a denomination or area of the country where dancing was considered a sin, and you accepted that belief to be true.  You now have a spiritual stronghold, that is going to impact how you engage with the rest of the world.  But, the questions we must ask is:  Is it true?  Is dancing a sin?  What do the scriptures say?

In most instances of spiritual strongholds that come from our environment, how we were raised, or the influential people in our lives… if we truly want to let go of spiritual stronghold… we go to the Word.  When faced with generational or denominational “truths” it is really quite easy to open up the scriptures and do the research for ourselves.  We can see what the scriptures say about any number of subjects, and find truth.  We can study the history of the scriptures, to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of a piece of scripture and then apply that to our own beliefs and perceptions.

We may be right.  We may be wrong.  And, in the grand scheme of things, it may not matter.  Personal convictions are no less important than scriptural mandates, they are just individual verses general.

The most difficult spiritual strongholds are the ones we are self imposing on ourselves based on our past experiences and decisions.  They arise when we live in guilt, shame, and failure.   We become so engrossed with who we once were, that we disregard any of our potential to be better person or live a better life.  We feel unworthy of God’s love, which keeps us from having a true relationship with Him.  This, of course, also means that our faith and spiritual growth is going to be stunted.

And, the enemy loves to use our spiritual strongholds against us.  He knows how to spin our past in a way that makes our sin look greater, more disgusting, and deeply shameful.   Satan puffs up our sin to look so horrible that we feel it would be impossible for God to find us worthy of anything.  We allow this to discount us and discredit us from God’s love, and Kingdom work.  People tend to respond in one of three ways.

  •  They do nothing.  They attend church, read their bibles, pray.  But, they never do anything more than that.  They disqualify themselves from being able to lead a bible study group, give their testimony, or even volunteer for the simplest of things at their church.  They say “who am I, what do I have to give?”
  • They run away.  In this case, the person is so haunted by their past that they are actively running away from God in shame.  They may run to a different religion or no religion, but they are running.  They attempt to hide like Adam and Eve after biting the fruit, hiding from God in their shame.
  • They go extreme.  This person is the one who is not running from God but actually chasing after Him.  They think that God has turned his back on them, or at minimal is deeply disappointed in them.  What they attempt to do is to win back His favor, His affection, by going to the extreme as a believer.  For example, if they had a history of immodest dress and immoral behavior… they will be entirely the opposite now, to the extreme.  Her ultra mini skirts have been replaced by ankle length skirts.  Her long flowing locks may be tempered by a tight bun, her make up drawer has been emptied into the trash.  He may have traded a life of drinking and parties for weekend long, isolated, and silent meditation.

I am certain that at least some of you are looking at the last one and thinking: this is a bad thing?  Yes, and no.   If the reason you have made these changes is out of deep, personal conviction… then NO, this is not a bad thing.  You are to be obedient to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  However, if you are making these choices to try and earn back God’s love and favor, then YES … it is a very bad thing.  Keep reading, because I will explain why.

For the better part of twenty years, I allowed a spiritual stronghold to stand in my way.  I was totally ashamed of myself and some of the decisions I had made.  I would pray to God for forgiveness, but I was unable to let go of these things.  I held onto them with a tight grip.  His Word tells us that when we ask for forgiveness are sins are washed clean.   Every time I prayed to God to forgive those sins that haunted me, I was putting them at the foot of the cross & walking away.  Yet, in a very short amount of time, I was running back to cross and snatching them back up.

I was saying to God, I believe you can forgive me for so many things… but not this.  This is too big, too dirty, and too shameful for you to forgive.  I’d begin trying to work them off.  If I read more of my Bible.  If I pray harder.  If I volunteer more.  If I alter my dress, my speech, my thoughts, my life, my everything… then I can make up for this shame.

I was sinning against God, every single time I took them back.

I was saying, God … you are not enough.

When we are sinning, we create a division between us and God.  So, no matter how many good, noble, and wonderful things I was doing… they meant absolutely nothing because I was in sin.  I was doing things for a God that I didn’t trust.  I was reading a Bible, but not believing in the promises within it’s pages.   I was praying to a God that I thought wasn’t capable enough.  I was volunteering for Kingdom work, while believing I wasn’t worthy of being in the Kingdom.

You can change your manner of dress, the way you speak, and your daily study habits. You can pray from dusk to dawn.  You can give every cent you earn, volunteer every waking hour, and take up every noble cause.   Man can look at you in wonder and awe, you can have a million gold stars on your chart.  Women can hold you in high regard, men can respect your dedication and loyalty.  However, you will never feel good enough.  You will still feel guilty.  You will keep doing more and more to win the affection of God, because your guilt tells you that you are not worthy of His sacrifice.

We must let go of these spiritual strongholds, and cling to God.  We must surrender WHOLLY…. EVERYTHING.  We leave nothing behind, we hide nothing, we don’t hold anything back from God.

I know that I am not worthy.  That is why God is gracious and merciful.

I know that I never will be worthy.  The Old Testament reveals this every time the Israelites would turn from God.  The New Testament reveals this as Paul shares that he struggles doing what he knows is right.  I see it in my own life, every time I mess up and have to confess to God.

It is in this knowledge that the beauty of God’s love unfolds.

I am not.  I never will be.  I deserve death.

I was given the gift of Life.

There is nothing I can do that will separate me from God’s love.  I can not run or hide from Him.  There is nothing I could ever do, in my flesh, that will repay God for his mercy, his blessings, or his Son’s sacrifice.  It is arrogant and prideful of me to look at God’s gift, Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and say:  Sorry God, that isn’t enough to cover MY sin.

God asks so little of us.

Love God with all of your heart and understanding. – When I love Him, I trust Him.  I know His word, and His promises.  I believe Him.  I hold nothing back from Him.  I am washed clean by HIM and HIM alone… not anything of my own doing.

Love others as you love yourself. – I forgive as I wish to be forgiven.  I love as I wish to be loved.  I help others as I wish to be helped myself. 

I believe, the very first step in letting go of those crippling spiritual strongholds begins when we acknowledge it for what it really is.

Sin.

Confess this sin, ask God to forgive you for taking back what you have put (or keep putting) at the foot of the cross.  Pray for His Word to quiet the voice of the enemy who haunts you.  When you feel the urge to pick it back up, rebuke Satan’s hold on your life.  Then remember you are not who you once were, you are a new creation.  The past has faded, it is gone.  Today, you are a child of God, adopted into his family to start a new life… a far better life than you could ever imagine.

Let my stronghold be the Lord. (Psalm 18:2)

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#Write31Days – Post 11 – Waiting on the Lord

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A little bit of truth here, I am NOT the world’s most patient person.  I really hate to wait for anything.  It’s not from a space of instant gratification either, it is actually everything else.  I don’t like to wait because I feel like time is being wasted.  There are other things I could be doing in that time, that are important and need to be accomplished.  Or,  on the other side of the coin, I don’t want to waste another minute not doing the thing I have been called to do.

When my daughter went to the DMV to get her learners permit, it was tortuous.  I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of things I could be doing instead of sitting.  Just sitting.  Her number gets called, but it is just to prepare her paperwork.  Then we have to sit again.  Then she takes the written exam, and we have to sit again.  She is then called back up for the eye exam, to answer a few questions for her license and take her photo.  We sit again, waiting for the license to be printed.

SO. MUCH. WAITING.

There have been times that I could see where God was moving me, long before I actually got there.  Waiting would be so hard, because I knew that we were just wasting time.  If I could get there NOW, so much more could be accomplished.

GOD SAYS WAIT.

But, waiting is hard.  Ask any three year old who is waiting on mom to get off the phone and fix the thing that she broke for the hundredth time that day.

WAITING IS HARD.

Our world of increased technology has created in us a spirit that we shouldn’t have to wait, not for long anyway.  We have information available to us at the touch of a button.  An oil change on our car can be done during our lunch break.  Meals are ready and waiting at drive through windows.  We do not have to suffer through life due to infertility we can adopt, we can have medical interventions, and surrogate mothers.  Anything we need, we can just go right out and buy.  We no longer have to wait for things to be constructed or manufactured.  Thanks to flight, I can leave my home and go anywhere in the world in a day’s time.

All of this progress has made waiting all that much harder.

But the Lord, He waits.  Bible account, after Bible account…. He waits.

He waits long enough for Noah to build an Ark.  Israel wanders the desert for forty years while He prepares a place. He waits for Lot to flee. Nehemiah waits four months while God makes provisions for the task ahead.  Even after Christ is crucified, the Lord waited three days for him to rise.

We have all heard and said the cliched response of “In the Lord’s timing….”.  We know the scriptures say that His ways are not our ways.  So we know in our minds that His timing is not our timing…. but the flesh doesn’t like that answer.  Waiting is hard.

This is where we begin to make our biggest mistakes.

As a wife, I may have come to a decision about something I feel God is calling us to.  My husband doesn’t agree.  I rush him to a decision in my favor by manipulating him, as I walk through the home depressed and crying.  I withhold affection from him, yell and demean him, make him feel guilty.

As a ministry worker, I see the direction that God is leading our ministry.  However the things we need to get there are slow in coming.  I take it upon myself to make things move faster.  I work in my own strength and ability.

I feel called to move to another state, but I don’t know the rhyme or reason, I sell everything and pack the family up, and we move.  I have no clue why, or what for.  I am following blindly.

The thing we have to understand is that when it is something God has willed for us, we must be patient and allow him to unfold it in HIS timing, not our own.

When we rush God, we will often shortchange our blessing.   God had a bigger picture in store, but because we were foolish and couldn’t wait… we get something smaller.  The reason this happens is that we are incapable of seeing or knowing all of the things that God is moving around in the background.

In every piece of scripture God’s people waited because God was doing something.  God was giving Noah the time he needed to construct the Ark.  God was PREPARING a place for Israel to call home.  God was PROVIDING the necessities Nehemiah would need for his task.  God was CHANGING the hearts of men.  God was PROTECTING his children.

God goes before us, and he comes behind.

As we sit and wait, we feel like God is doing nothing… but in reality GOD IS DOING EVERYTHING.  Everything that is necessary to get your from point A to point B.  He isn’t being still, ignoring your prayers, nor has he forgotten the calling He put on your heart.  He is making the arrangements for it to happen.  He will move people into place that you will need to learn from or will assist you.  He is making sure the financial provisions are met, or the supplies are provided.  If you are to fill a vacancy, he must first make it vacant and move that person to their new calling.

The good news is that waiting on the Lord is never a waste of time.  There are many things we can be doing, actively, while we wait.  I look at “waiting on the Lord” in the same way as a waitress will serve a customer.  A good waitress (servant) doesn’t just seat her patron (God) and never return to the table.  NO!  She welcomes the patron to her table (life).  She may compliment (praise) him.  She will offer to get a drink while he is making his decision (service, offering).  She will take his order (receive his calling).  She will check in with him to ensure everything is to his liking (prayer life).  She will present His bill & He will pay that price (Christ).  She invites him to come back (willing to continue to serve).

In the time that it takes a customer to place an order the waitress is never WAITING, just wasting time sitting around.  In fact, while He is considering the menu… what is she doing?  Rushing around and serving other people.  No time is wasted.  Her waiting is not passive, but very VERY active.

When God told Noah that He was going to flood the earth, Noah was given the time to construct the Ark. Noah was actively working while God was preparing.  When Moses wandered the desert with Israel, Moses  was actively ordering the nation’s laws, societal structure, and people.   When God called Nehemiah to return to rebuild Jerusalem, there were four months between when God planted the seed and when God called Nehemiah to move.  In the four months, Nehemiah was praying while God was putting things into order.

These men were not sitting under a tree, like lumps, waiting for God to deliver them to their calling on a silver platter.  NO.  They were working, they were building, they were shaping, they were serving and they were praying.

If you are waiting on God,  it is time to get to action.  This doesn’t mean moving mountains to make Him move faster in your desires.  It means that while you are waiting on God to answer your prayers or his provision… you are:

Serving God in the ministries of your church or in your community.

Serving God’s people through hospitality, generosity, use of your gifts and talents.

Praying, faithfully, every day.  Not just for yourself, but for others.

Praise God as you reflect and share with others how He has moved in your life in the past.

Pray for discernment that God will direct your paths for today, and you will not worry about the days to come.

If there is WILL, there will be PROVISION

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There is a belief that I have always held on to when making big financial decisions, it’s really quite simple:

If it is God’s will, then God will provide.

I truly believe that if God is calling you into a new place, new ministry, or new direction in your life… and that step requires some sort of financial need… God will provide the funds for that need.

I’m not suggesting that it means you can sit around and do nothing, and your bank account will suddenly grow by the amount you need.  However, I do not believe God will call you to action if it means you will acquire debt to do so.

It may be that God is preparing your heart, head and family for the transition or change, but you are not getting the finances because the timing is not NOW.   When the time comes to take those steps, the details will be addressed.

Too often, we try to force these things because we feel the call… and then we assume that it must happen right now.

But when we rush God’s calling, we are shorting the blessing.

God put a calling on my heart quite some time ago, but I wasn’t sure how it was going to unfold.  I knew God was calling me back to school, I needed to be equipped for something.  I wasn’t sure what.  Through a series of affirming events, I found myself enrolled in a certificate program. This worked for my family in so many ways.  I could work at my own pace, they had a payment system that was within our budget, and the certificates were the equivalent of a seminary degree.

I didn’t know at the time what God wanted me to do with this education, but I did know that going back to school was part of the steps to get me there.  As a mom, with young children at home, I had plenty of time to work my way through.  I was not in a rush to get a job.  So, I was just going to do what I could… as I could.

Then just a few classes in, the news broke that the school was in the process of accreditation!  They were going to start a degree program.  I was so excited. However, this was also going to be a bit more expensive.  As I stated before, I wasn’t really in a hurry.  So, I just kept plugging away at my classes.  Each payday I make a payment into my student account, because we agreed that there would be no student loan or credit card debt.  I believed if God was calling me, the money would be provided.

My first dose of reality hit when I had my transcript reviewed.  There were some classes from my old college that they were not going to count toward this degree.  I didn’t quite understand why, and I made a request to have the transcript looked over again.  I provided a bit more information on the classes, explaining why I thought they fit the degree requirements.

After a few days, I got a wonderful email that they agreed!  They credited me for the classes I questioned, and I was just thrilled.  I sat down with my course schedule to see the impact that would make on my degree plan.  Sure enough, I would be finished in ONE YEAR.  Super exciting, but I wondered…. how are we going to get the rest of the money in this short of a time?  When I didn’t have those classes credited… the end was far enough out, I wasn’t worried.  This changed everything.

But, I still held true to the belief that if this was indeed God’s calling, then the money would come.

And it did.

Within just two weeks, I was given a job opportunity that would take a few weeks of my time….but would pay for my school balance in full.  This was nothing I had done myself, but God doing exactly what He does best….

Being faithful to those He calls.

Equipping those He calls.

Providing for those He calls.