Is Your Territory Contracting or Expanding?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

A fully committed heart—that was and still is the secret sauce to a life of ever-increasing favor from the Lord. If you want to advance the ground that you have gained, that is the way you do it.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 10:32-33, 35

At about that time the Lord began to cut down the size of Israel’s territory. King Hazael conquered several sections of the country east of the Jordan River, including all of Gilead, Gad, Reuben, and Manasseh. He conquered the area from the town of Aroer by the Arnon Gorge to as far north as Gilead and Bashan…When Jehu died, he was buried in Samaria. Then his son Jehoahaz became the next king. In all, Jehu reigned over Israel from Samaria for twenty-eight years.

Jehu was an army commander whose rise to the throne of Israel was in direct fulfillment of a prophetic word. He was God’s instrument of choice, and a blunt one at that, to rid the land of the unspeakably wicked rule of the dynasty of King Ahab (historically, this was known as the Omride Dynasty—Omri was Ahab’s father). Jehu not only viciously removed the royal family, he also got rid of the priests of Baal and anyone else of significance who supported the atrocious system of false worship. It was a clean and brutal sweep of the land under Jehu.

Yet Jehu was not fully devoted to God, and at the end of the day, God began to remove bits and pieces of the territory he had gained over his twenty-eight years of rule. The Lord raised up another man, a foreign king named Hazael, as an instrument of judgment upon Jehu for his tepid commitment to the God of Israel. Why was the Lord displeased with this man he had raised up as an instrument of reform?

Jehu did not, however, destroy the gold calves at Bethel and Dan, with which Jeroboam son of Nebat had caused Israel to sin. (2 Kings 10:29)

But Jehu did not obey the Law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He refused to turn from the sins that Jeroboam had led Israel to commit. (2 Kings 10:31)

Jehu lost ground that God had given because he wasn’t fully committed to the Lord. Contrast that with another Israelite, a humble man by the name of Jabez. He wanted to expand his territory, and his prayer was answered because of his full commitment to the God of Israel.

There was a man named Jabez who was more honorable than any of his brothers. His mother named him Jabez because his birth had been so painful. He was the one who prayed to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and expand my territory! Please be with me in all that I do, and keep me from all trouble and pain!” And God granted him his request. (1 Chronicles 4:9-10)

What about your territory? I am not speaking necessarily of real estate, but what about the ground you have gained through your influence? Is your career continuing to advance, are your financial goals making steady progress, is your career path on an upward trajectory, do you continue to exert spiritual influence with the people you love? Or are you losing ground? Of course, there are times when the sovereign God removes the things we have gained in order to refine us even though we are living a righteous life. But if the removal of his favor has come as a result of spiritual drift in our life, that is something we can correct through repentance and a return to full devotion to the Lord.

The message we receive over and over through the examples of these Old Testament characters, polar opposites like Jehu and Jebez, is that God will bless the obedient but will remove that blessing from the disobedient. The word of the Lord given to the people of that day is still at play for you and me today:

The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicle 16:9)

A fully committed heart—that is still the secret sauce to a life of ever increasing favor from the Lord. If you want to advance the ground that you have gained, that is the way you do it.

Going Deeper With God: Memorize 2 Chronicles 16:9. Use it in prayer each day this week to ask the Lord to give you an undivided devotion toward him.

The Unlikely Instruments of God’s Justice

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God rules, and earthly leaders, both good and bad, are still in the hands of the Almighty as he directs the affairs of this world to a conclusion that he has foreordained. Not even Satan in all his ugly designs fails to perform God’s holy purposes. Hang on to that in these evil days: God rules!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 9:6-8

Then the young prophet poured the oil over Jehu’s head and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anoint you king over the Lord’s people, Israel. You are to destroy the family of Ahab, your master. In this way, I will avenge the murder of my prophets and all the Lord’s servants who were killed by Jezebel. The entire family of Ahab must be wiped out.

Sometimes God choses a blunt instrument to carry out his justice. Jehu was just that; he was God’s hammer. He was not a nice man; in fact, he was brutal. He had a tornadic reputation: “The watchman exclaimed, ‘The messenger has met them, but he isn’t returning either! It must be Jehu son of Nimshi, for he’s driving like a madman.’” (2 Kings 9:20). Everybody seemed to know how Jehu was wired. As a commander in the king of Israel’s army, he was a fast-moving tornado looking for a flimsy house.

And God has ordained that tornado to hit the household of King Ahab. Now Ahab was already dead, but he had been wicked beyond the pale, and his surviving wife, Queen Jezebel, was even worse. Furthermore, the children this unholy duo had spawned were evil to the core as well. And after multiple warnings through multiple prophets—Elijah, Elisha, Micaiah (1 Kings 22:9) and others, God’s patience had finally run out. There was going to be a payday for the sins of the household of Ahab, and that payday would come through Jehu.

Once Jehu was turned loose, two kings (King Ahaziah of Judah was in the wrong place at the wrong time and paid for it with his life—1 Kings 9:27-29), one queen, and a whole bunch of priests were slaughtered. Truly, Jehu the Tornado left widespread devastation. He was God’s blunt instrument of justice.

Have you ever considered that in our day some of the ungodly people that get elevated to public leadership may just be God’s kingdom instruments as well? Have you mourned over the election loss of a good person when such a blatantly bad candidate got the job? I have. But while our temporal desires and short-sighted wishes may not have materialized, God is still on the throne. And he is still directing traffic from his eternal perch here on Planet Earth. And the president, or governor, or mayor do not get elevated to office without the permission of God. Yes, even the bad ones. Daniel spoke of this when he and his Hebrew buddies were facing intense pressure because of the demands of a brutal, evil Babylonian king by the name of Nebuchadnezzar:

Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. (Daniel 2:2-21)

Even Jesus, looking down the barrel of a Roman crucifixion, told Pontius Pilate, who thought he held Jesus’ fate in his hands,

You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. (John 19:11)

Keep that in mind the next time you are depressed over the election of a blunt instrument. It may just be God’s way of bringing his will to bear upon a world that has drifted far from his ways. I know it doesn’t sound too hopeful, and it may sound like I am being fatalistic about elections—I am not. What I am simply saying is that no matter what, God rules.

Yes, God rules, and leaders good or bad are still instruments in his hands as he directs the affairs of this world to a conclusion that he has foreordained.

Going Deeper With God: The next time you are upset or depressed about things your leaders are doing, remember this verse that I am suggesting that you memorize today: Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings. (Daniel 2:2-21)

Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Make it your goal to live your life in such a way that you give “them” something to talk about. By that I mean, live with such passion for God, with such ruthless trust in God’s goodness, with such great expectation for God’s power to be revealed through you, that you will become the fodder for water cooler conversations, dinner time talks, and bedtime stories. Whether your faith rubs people the wrong way or draws them to your God, it is a badge of honor that they are talking about you.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 8:4-6

The king had just said, “Tell me some stories about the great things Elisha has done.” And Gehazi was telling the king about the time Elisha had brought a boy back to life. At that very moment, the mother of the boy walked in to make her appeal to the king about her house and land. “Look, my lord the king!” Gehazi exclaimed. “Here is the woman now, and this is her son—the very one Elisha brought back to life!” The king asked her, “Is this true?” And she told him the story.

Elisha had a unique calling, obviously. God did amazing things through this Old Testament prophet that he is not likely to do through believers like you and me—parting the waters of the Jordan, calling out bears to attack young people who made fun of him, pronouncing judgment on kings, performing miracles for destitute widows. Unlike us, Elisha and his predecessor Elijah occupied a very specialized niche in God’s prophetic economy, and the things God enabled them to do became fodder for dinner time conversations and bedtime stories throughout the generations of Israel. Even kings got in on the act:

Tell me stories about the great things Elisha has done. (2 Kings 8:4)

Yet as great as they were, they were just you and me. In fact, in the New Testament, James, the leader of the early church, said that Elijah was a human of like passions as us:

Yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. (James 5:17-18)

The implication is that we, too, will have our prayers heard when we offer them in Elijah/Elisha-like faith. So let’s not sell ourselves short: God can likewise use us in unique ways. Of course, how God uses us is up to him. Our part is to simply offer ourselves to him in wholehearted devotion, ruthless faith, and expectant trust, then leave the results up to God.

When we do that, we will leave them something to talk about. Who is “them”? The people in your world, that’s who—your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. They talked about Elisha; they will talk about you, too. It may not be because of the miracles that God works through you or the spectacular answers to your prayers—again, that is up to God—but for sure, they will talk about your passion for the Lord, your godly character, your willingness to speak his truth and to act lovingly in his name. They may speak in favorable ways, as the king did in Elisha’s case in the present story, or they may speak of you in a negative light, as the king did of Elisha in 2 Kings 6:26-31,

May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t separate Elisha’s head from his shoulders this very day. (2 Kings 6:31)

Good or bad, at least they were talking about Elisha. In reality, however, they were talking about God because of Elisha. And shouldn’t that be our goal? Shouldn’t we so live out our faith that we give them something to talk about, that we give them fodder for water cooler, or dinner table, or bedtime stories? If your goal in life is to avoid being the topic of conversation, I would suggest that is not a worthy goal. However, if your goal is to be a conversation starter for Jesus, then you have lived a noble life.

Today might be a good day to start living your public life with such devotion for God and passionate love for people that you give them something to talk about.

Going Deeper With God: Ask the Lord to give you such a consuming love for him that your concern for what people think of you becomes a distant second. As the Lord does that for sure, you will rub some people the wrong way. That is to be expected—it’s called conviction. But there will be others who are drawn to God because of your love for him. That’s the irresistible witness the Holy Spirit will enable within you. Either way, you will give them something to talk about.

What Is God’s Greatest Challenge?

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

What is God’s greatest challenge? You have probably shouted out the answer already—at least in your spirit: Nothing! There is no such thing as a challenge with God. He has no unsolvable problems, no dilemmas, no head-scratching issues, and certainly no worries. Jeremiah said it well, “O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” (Jeremiah 32:17) Lean into that truth today—you will need it!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 7:1-2

Elisha replied, “Listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.” The officer assisting the king said to the man of God, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” But Elisha replied, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!”

What is God’s greatest challenge? You have probably shouted out the answer already—at least in your spirit: Nothing! There is no such thing as a challenge with God. He has no unsolvable problems, no dilemmas, no head-scratching issues, and certainly no worries. Jeremiah said it well,

O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! (Jeremiah 32:17)

God himself told a childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, well into their nineties, that they would become the parents of nations. But they found that wild promise a bit much. So God had to remind them that he who created the universe with a mere word would have little challenge opening the womb of a very old woman,

Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son. (Genesis 18:14)

When Jesus’ disciples challenged him with the human impossibility of being made right with God, he agreed. But he then added that the impossibility of eternal salvation was no challenge to God.

Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible. (Matthew 19:26)

In this story from 2 Kings 7, there is a devastating famine going on in Israel. The suffering is untold, the desperation of the people is unspeakable—parents actually eating the bodies of their own children. The king is so disgusted with God—he misplaces the blame on the Lord rather than on his and his own people’s abandonment of God, as rebellious people are wont to do—that he wants to kill the next best thing to God, Elisha the prophet.

But in a great act of mercy, God tells the wayward king that by the next day, there will be plenty to eat in Israel. In fact, there will be so much abundance that it will cause deflation in the economy like the world has never seen. Of course, neither the king nor his entourage believed this was possible. So they issued the one challenge to God that the Almighty loves to take:

That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven! (2 Kings 2:2)

In other words, “that’s impossible; that’s not going to happen. Not even God could do that!” “Oh yeah,” God says, “watch this.” And he does it, just as he said.

Now the point I want to make is this: If God will do that for evil, rebellious people, how much more will he move heaven and earth—not a big deal to him; he’s just rearranging the furniture—for you, his dearly loved child. Perhaps you are facing an impossible challenge right now. Just know this: What is challenging for you is no big deal for God. He thrives on challenges, which are no challenges to him at all.

How so? God has no challenges!

Going Deeper With God: Memorize this verse today—and then lean into it, for it is as true as true can be: O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! (Jeremiah 32:17)

Never Alone—Not Even in the Minority

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

There is no area of weakness and struggle in your life where sin is guaranteed a victory. No sin is too big, too powerful, too overwhelming. It might be tough, but there is always a way to win! And furthermore, God stands at the ready to offer his help to give you that victory—even over the toughest temptation!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 6:16-17

“Don’t be afraid,” Elisha told his servant. For there are more on our side than on theirs.” Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

I love this story! What a great reminder for Elisha’s servant, and for you and me: There is more on our side that on theirs! You see, when you have the Lord in your life, you are never alone—you are not even in the minority. You plus God always equals a majority!

Like Elisha’s servant, you would be amazed if your eyes could be opened to the spiritual realm all around you. What you would see is that the Lord of hosts is fighting your battles for you. While your enemy might be legion, they stand no chance against the armies of the Lord of Hosts. No matter what it looks like in the invisible realm, that is not the critical realm where victories are won or lost. That realm is the unseen world of spiritual warfare. And the good news is that in the unseen realm, you are on the winning team. Let me say it again: you are on the winning team, so you have nothing to fear!

What are you battling today? Are people opposing you? Are you on the losing end of an addiction? Are you facing an impossible situation in your family or your marriage? Are your finances going south? Is your job on the line? Are you expecting a bad report from your doctor? May the Lord open your eyes to the divine truth that there are more on your side than on the other. The Lord has put all of heaven’s resources at your disposal; His ministering spirits will fight on your behalf, for the battle is the Lord’s!

Facing overwhelming odds and certain defeat at the hands of the advancing Nazi war machine, on June 18, 1940, Winston Churchill stood before Parliament and rallied his countrymen in a speech in which he uttered these now famous words: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that [a thousand years from now] men will say, ‘this was their finest hour.’”

Whatever you are up against, take courage! Face your challenge in the strength of the Lord, knowing that he is on your side. Perhaps in retrospect, people will say of you that this was your finest hour!

Going Deeper With God: Join me in this prayer: Lord, open my eyes today, like Eilsha’s servant. May I see, even if it is just a glimpse, into the supernatural realm. May I see that all of my battles belong to you and that you have assigned your ministering spirits to fight on my behalf. May I face every enemy with renewed and unshakeable confidence in you. Lord, grant me victory in all of my battles, and may you be glorified in them. Amen.

Whatever The Cost To Follow God, Do It!

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God will ask us to surrender our dependencies and self-sufficiencies to him; he will need to crush our pride in order to build our trust. And once he has that—our trust—his blessings are freed up to flow down upon our lives. So whatever God asks you to surrender, in whatever way he asks you to demonstrate it, do it! Whatever it costs to follow God, do it! You won’t regret it!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 5:1-6

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

God doesn’t always ask people to do weird things, but he reserves that right. Of course, those things are only weird from our perspective, not God’s. But whenever we obey God’s commands, blessings follow—always!

God asked Noah to build an ark because it was going to rain, neither of which had happened before—neither an ark nor rain. God asked Joshua to have his troops march around Jericho once a day for six days, then on the seventh, march around it seven times with the band playing the fight song—and the rest is history. Jesus made mud out of spittle and put the mixture on a blind man’s eyes, and he was healed—not a precedent setting act for eye-healing, thankfully. God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the son of promise in one of the greatest tests of faith ever—and with that came the greatest preview of the sacrifice of God’s Son of promise.

No, God doesn’t always do that, but when he does, we best obey. Naaman, one of the King of Aram’s most effective and popular generals, had leprosy—a horrible disease that not only destroyed the body physically, but damaged people relationally in the most cruel way—through isolation. Naaman was a good man, and loved, so much so that servants and kings wanted to see him healed. That is why he was sent to the man of God in Israel. Elisha could heal him—through God’s power, that is. But when Elisha gave what Namaan thought were demeaning instructions, he got angry. Why should he wash in that muddy little creek, the Jordan, when he had beautiful rivers back home in which to take a therapeutic bath? So he left the prophet, angry, sullen, insulted—and unhealed.

Fortunately for Naaman, the cooler heads of his entourage prevailed, and he ultimately did as Elisha had instructed—he washed in the Jordan River, dipping seven times, and was completely healed:

But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed! (2 Kings 5:13-14)

Why did God give such strange instructions to Namaan? I don’t know; no one does for sure. God has his reasons, but I suspect it had something to do with Namaan’s pride. Namaan didn’t think he needed God, but until he surrendered his self-sufficiency and declared his dependence upon the Almighty, God’s hands were tied. Once he bowed to God’s commands, he not only got his need meet, he met the Great Need Meeter.

Now it will probably work that way for you, too, at some point in your life. That goes for me as well. God will ask us to surrender our dependencies and self-sufficiencies to him; he will need to crush our pride in order to build our trust—perhaps it is a strange way that will require ruthless obedience. And once he has that—our trust—his blessings are freed up to flow down upon our lives.

Whatever God asks you to surrender, in whatever way he asks you to demonstrate it, do it! Whatever it costs to follow God, do it! You won’t regret it!

Going Deeper With God: You don’t need to manufacture weird things to demonstrate your worship of God. But when God leads you to a strange step of faith, get confirmation of it through prayer and a trusted spiritual director, then do it. And watch blessings flow.

God’s Principle for Economic Growth

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

God’s suprarational laws apply to you as much as they did to the characters in the Bible. But like them, you have to trust. When he calls you to give—even if it is your last—give, and he will prosper you. Now you can’t manipulate his economic laws for your own purposes, but when you bring your needs and desires to him and he tells you to risk trust, do it, and his favor is guaranteed. Whenever, wherever and however he calls you to step out, do it in obedience, trusting God to bless you, and he will. That is his inviolable, universal, eternal law of kingdom economics.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Kings 4:1-6

One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.” Elisha asked, “What can I do to help you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She replied, “Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil.” Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.” So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. Soon every container was full to the brim! “Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons. “There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

God is not irrational. He has revealed himself so that we can understand him with our rational mind. And forever, we will be exploring the wonderful depth and breadth of God and his ways. Even into eternity, we will be pursuing the unlimited riches of who God is and how he acts within his created order. God is knowable, and for that we are and will be forever grateful.

But there is far more to God that we do not know than what we do know—and it will always be so. Even in eternity, with unlimited capacity for intellectual growth, God will be way ahead of us. By definition, we will never reach the full capacity of God’s brilliant mind. If we did, God would cease to be God and we would assume that role. And that is not going to happen. One of the things that will make eternal life so endlessly and indescribably exciting, purposeful and fulfilling is this very thing: the pursuit of the mind of God.

God is not irrational, but he is rationally knowable. Yet with the things of God that we cannot grasp, we might say that God is suprarational. That is, God is not understandable by human reason alone; he is beyond rational comprehension. And when we come into circumstances that fit into that category, we are asked to trust. And for those who put their trust in the wisdom and kindness of God in those beyond-comprehension-moments, there is a 100 percent guarantee of satisfaction and blessing:

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

That is the eternal testimony of the great heroes of our faith. Speaking for them all, the psalmist declared, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.” (Psalm 25:3).

Such is the lesson Elisha is teaching the desperate widow in 2 Kings 4. She had been married to a man who was a part of the school of the prophets, but his untimely death has left her and her children in dire straights. So she comes to Elisha for help with a creditor who is threatening to foreclose on her home. She will be left not only in grief over the loss of her husband, she will be destitute, evicted from her home, and at the mercies of a cruel economy.

So what does Elisha tell her to do: Take a risk and trust. She was to borrow as many jars from her neighbors as possible. Then she was to go behind closed doors and began to pour what little oil she had left into those jars. And trust!

Obviously, when she and her sons were told to go throughout the neighborhood to borrow the jars, they would have to explain this “irrational” concept to curious lenders. They would have to risk reputation; they would have to risk an investment of trust to obey God. Trust is exactly what they did, and then the miracle happened: Enough oil flowed from one small flask to fill all the jars they had borrowed. When they ran out of jars, the oil stopped flowing, but they had enough to sell at the market at a handsome profit. They risked faith, they trusted God, they acted in obedience, and in so doing, they unleashed God’s suprarational law for their economic growth—which met their need, and then some.

God’s suprarational laws apply to you as much as they did to the characters in the Bible. But like them, you have to trust. When he calls you to give—even if it is your last—give, and he will prosper you. Now you can’t manipulate his economic laws for your own purposes, but when you bring your needs and desires to him and he tells you to risk trust, do it, and his favor is guaranteed. Whenever, wherever and however he calls you to step out, do it in obedience, trusting God to bless you, and he will. That is his inviolable, universal, eternal law of kingdom economics.

That is God’s economy. And he desires for you to live within it!

Going Deeper With God: Do you have a need? Ask God for his direction, then trust him ruthlessly. Step out in obedience. Risk faith. Then wait for God to answer, because he will—and then some.