There are times when believers feel as if they are standing completely alone. It feels like God is nowhere near to steady their wobbly knees. They hear creaking noises above their heads, as if everything is about to cave in on them. The floor looks as if it might give way at any moment, and the walls do not bring much comfort as the winds rise to a tornadic pitch. “Where is my faith?” The questioning begins.
Scripture tells us, “He hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this Word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Hebrews 12:26-27, KJV). While there is a broader application to this passage, we can take away one on a more personal level. Ironically, in order for us to stand firm in the Faith, the Lord has to shake out everything we put our trust in that is not connected to Him. Truthfully, there is only One place to put our faith, and that is in Him. It is only then that He is free to let His Faith flow though us, so we may walk by His Faith and not ours. When He does the impossible at the last possible moment, our confidence shifts. Meaning, we move from being self-confident to being confident in the One Who lives in us. Until a person puts all his confidence in God, he will never have true confidence. When it appears that God is missing in action, we have to remind ourselves that He is working behind the scenes.
When we stand or learn to stand alone, as it were, we are actually standing for others as well. While the faith of Jesus does strengthen us, it also strengthens others. In fact, the primary objective is to bless others. Just as those who triumph in hardship through Christ Jesus encourage us, others are encouraged by our victories as well. What does that mean? It means we never stand alone in the truest sense of the word. How many have you prayed for who has been going through the stuff? More than likely, there are unseen others standing with you in prayer. There is One Who most definitely stands with you. How else do you think you stand in rough times?
If we are honest with ourselves, we have all acted less favorably in negative circumstances than we would like to admit. How many of us have uttered words of exasperation toward God? Perhaps, something like this: “Really, God?!” It is a natural response in the heat of the moment; however, if we make it our default response, we will find those words rolling off our tongue more and more. Circumstances tend to get worse as we complain more. Joy eludes us while bitterness may begin to grip our hearts. When that happens, we lose our sense of gratitude and fail to offer up thanksgiving. An evil heart of unbelief may follow after, if this condition goes unchecked. We must return to rejoicing and give God thanks in everything.
When we are so entrenched in our current condition, it is easy to lose sight of what God has already done for us. Do you remember how you felt when Jesus saved you from your sins and the wrath to come? Do you recall the warmth of His Love for the first time, and how clean you felt as a result? Does God owe us anything? Reality check: the Lord is God; He can do as He pleases, and it pleased Him to save us. He did not have to; but He did, and the reason is He loves us. If you have difficulty with thanksgiving, start there.
1Thessolians 5:18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (KJV). Thanksgiving not only keeps our hearts immersed in gratitude, it keeps us in the Faith. It declares God is good, and He is good at all times. A hypocrite can sing praises to God when everything is good, but a true child of God will trust Him and sing praises in the worst of times. In our darkest hours, He will give us a song in the night, which reveals we are children of the Day. That is if we yield to Him in spite of our circumstances. One reason for our difficulty with offering up thanksgiving at the time of distress or mourning is the emotions can be so overwhelming. Nonetheless, if we offer praise in spite of them, our emotions will submit to the Spirit and peace will come. This is an act of worship.
When peace comes, so does clarity. When we are in a state of peace, the Holy Spirit is more able to speak with us. He can reveal things to us concerning our situation that we would not normally see. While in a state of peace, we will not grieve Him; we will yield to Him. If we allow our emotions to have their way and speak for us, we will resist anything the Lord might want say to us, or lead us in doing. For example, if I am overrun with anger, I will more than likely rebel against anything that looks remotely spiritual, because my flesh is having a field day. When we are in a state of rest, God can give us the creativity we need to deal with the situation at hand, because that is when we are the most teachable. Sometimes, the Lord will show us that in the string of events that took place, He was working behind the scenes the entire time. One event often leads to another. For example, a simple delay in traffic may set up the timing necessary to share the Gospel with someone searching for the Truth at the appointed time. Divine appointments sometimes come by divine interventions. Keep in mind that those things we endure are also meant to benefit others. If people can see us triumph in hardship, they may find hope for their difficulties. Ministries often come out of misery turned into joy.
Thanksgiving evokes blessing. When we bless, blessings come. We reap what we sow (see Galatians 6:7-9). The enemy loves to catch us in our weakest moments so we may agree with him. He only has as much authority as believers give him. Jesus stripped Satan of his power; therefore, he needs us to be in agreement with him in order for him to have any (see Colossians 2:9-15). If he can get us to speak words of cursing, our words become a destructive force. When we speak as the oracles of God, our words become Spirit and life (see John 6:63; 1Peter 4:11). Thus we read, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21 (KJV). Before anything difficult comes our way, we need to decide that we will offer thanksgiving long before we see it on the horizon. We must purpose to praise at all times!
Deuteronomy 8:2-3 And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every Word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live (KJV).
The wilderness is the divine proving ground in which the children of God are tested. It introduces them to the need of their Savior to interact with them. It is the place that believers discover their own frailty. The wilderness exposes anything hidden in the heart that is contrary to God’s nature, which in turn eradicates self-deception. It is deadly ground to the old man. This type of exposure eliminates hypocrisy. Show me a hypocrite and I will show you someone who has never gone through the wilderness. This is also where a person learns the difference between conviction of the Holy Spirit and the unholy counterfeit, shame.
James 1:2-5 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (KJV). While the wilderness does expose our weaknesses, God does not use it to shame us. Rather, He uses it to teach us to ask for wisdom. The Father does not employ methods that push His children away. Shame disenfranchises people, while conviction leads to repentance and reconciliation. God humbled the children of Israel in their wilderness experience, however, ours teaches us to humble ourselves so He does not have to humble us. James 4:10 says, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He shall lift you up” (KJV). Jesus humbled Himself long before going into the wilderness (see Philippians 2:5-8; Matthew 4:1-11). Likewise, we must learn to submit in such a fashion, so God may do His perfect work in us.
When the devil tried to tempt Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus used the Word of God against him. Jesus already knew the reliability of God’s Word before going in. Of course, Jesus did not fall prey to the enemy because there was no evil in Him by which He could be tempted. For us, we learn the reliability of the Word while there. Even though we believe Scripture to be true before going to that solitary place, it becomes His Word to us as we transition through. A hypocrite is an actor who reads or recites his lines without any real depth. One purpose of the wilderness is making the Word become the Abundance of our heart, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34, KJV). It becomes so rooted in us; we do not have to pretend anymore, we truly believe it.
Another wonderful thing about the wilderness is we discover how precious we really are to the Father. Even though we may find unpleasant things about ourselves, we do discover that we truly love God. Before entering in, we tend to question whether we truly love Him. We wonder about our motives, and whether we truly believe. It is here the Lord shows us that we really do love Him. He uses it to purify our motives and bring us into true faith.
While in the thick of it, we may not recognize all that God is doing; however, when we get to the other side, He clarifies much of what we experienced. That does not mean we know everything He did with us, but the Father will reveal what we need to know in the course of time. Some things we learn almost immediately, while other things require time to be unpacked. Just know the package is precious. While at times the experience itself may frankly be unpleasant in our sojourning, the benefits outweigh the discomfort. In fact, those trained in their wilderness experiences are grateful for them.
Thanksgiving is crucial for a successful experience. While going through it, it is a time to rejoice in the Lord. Murmuring and complaining is a destructive force that must be vacated (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Philippians 2:12-15; Hebrews 3-4). The quicker we submit to God in the wilderness, the quicker He is able to bring us through it. Please understand, the wilderness is not a “one and done” process. God will continue to work in us all the days of our lives (see Philippians 1:6).
Matthew 16:24-25 Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (KJV).
The walk of faith leads through the strait gate while journeying on the narrow road leads to eternal life. The principle that Jesus lays out before us in our opening passage is vital to living by faith. Without embracing it, faith will elude us. Each component is necessary for enduring to the end. If a person will not deny himself, he will not take up his cross, and if he will not take up his cross, it will be impossible to follow Jesus. Take to heart what it means to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him. Until you do, will not enter in at the strait gate or walk the narrow road.
The word “deny” means to disavow, disown, refuse, or renounce. It has a number of applications found throughout Scripture, however, in relation to the self it means that we refuse the self-nature. It is an act of humility, which leads to the total destruction of the old man. It is the utter rejection of self-exaltation which leads to pride, ego and arrogance. Deny the self says, “I love God more than my own reputation.” At the same time, it refuses to allow our selves to say or do anything that takes away from being made in the image of God. Meaning, we will not give the self the right to think or say things that are contrary to what God says about us. Speaking badly about our selves is self-denial, which is the counterfeit of deny the self. It is false humility and has no place in the life of the believer. It is also used as bait in order to get someone else to exalt us. For example, a person may say, “I’m such a loser,” in order to hear someone else respond, “Oh no, you are wonderful.” Denying the self gives God total Ownership in our life. Instead of us, determining what is righteous, evil, good, bad and so on, we let Him define all these things. It is a place where we cease from insisting on our own way. It allows our crucifixion on His terms.
When we take up our cross, we come to a place of complete submission to God. We give up total control, just as Jesus did at Gethsemane where He allowed Himself to be taken, beaten, falsely accused, mocked, and crucified (see Matthew 26:36-27:54; Mark 14:32-15:39). The word “Gethsemane” means oil press. It is a place of pressure where He submitted to the will of the Father. At the Cross, Jesus redeemed us from the curse of the law (see Galatians 3:13). His Blood satisfied the requirement of the law. The cross was the Romans’ favorite tool used for the execution of criminals and slaves. It was the worst form of humiliation anyone could endure. At the Cross, Jesus identified with us, as we were slaves to sin that made us criminals in the sight of God. He not only identified with us, he identified Himself with all our weaknesses, including our humiliation and shame. Now it is our turn to identify with Him, and stop asking Him to identify with us. We are called to be Christ-like. Our crucifixion means death to everything that is contrary to God’s nature, which enables us to be conformed to the Image of Jesus. Romans 6:3-7 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of His death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin (KJV). Often it is said that baptism is “an outward sign of an inward work,” but it is more than that. To be “baptized into,” means to be immersed into, much like immersing a piece of cloth in dye. It means to identify with, and in our case, being baptized into Jesus Christ means that we identify with Him, His character and all He stands for, along with His death and resurrection. It signifies ownership—the One we are identified with has complete ownership, and rule. Furthermore, baptism is a vow to continue in Christ Jesus and to take on His character, which includes the concept of “I die daily.” This goes along with Matthew 16:15, “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (KJV). “Lose” means to destroy utterly, or put to death. Taking up our cross means the death of our flesh, which hinders our relationship with God. Ironically, death is the key to life, which ties in with “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way” (Matthew 7:14).
Galatians 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me (KJV). Once we are crucified with Christ, He is free to live in us, whereby we follow Him. With ourselves counted as dead with Christ, we are free live by His faith and walk as sons and daughters of God.