“Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
Have you ever heard God speak to you?
The Bible is full of stories of God speaking to people. God spoke to Adam and Eve in the cool of the day and instructed them to enjoy all the Garden of Eden except for the tree of the knowledge and good and evil. God spoke to Cain, warning him that he was in danger of making a bad choice. God spoke to Noah, instructing him to build an ark to save the human race. One day the voice of the Lord got Abram’s attention and told him to leave his country and people. God spoke to Jacob the night he was fleeing from his home, giving him a vision of heaven and promises for his life. Joseph was a young teen when God spoke to him powerfully in a dream that pictured the future. God spoke to Moses on the day he was caring for sheep, calling Moses to lead his people out of slavery.
Throughout the Old Testament – the first part of the Bible – we see again and again God speaking to people. Specific words on specific days. Men and women would be going through life living the average challenges of an average day and God would speak.
In the New Testament, we again see God speaks to specific people on specific days. God spoke to Mary and Joseph about being the parents of Christ. He let Joseph know that Herod was coming to kill Jesus. God spoke to Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist as Zechariah served in the temple. God told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Christ. God spoke to Peter about including the Gentiles in the Gospel. And, on a specific day God blinded Saul on the Damascus road, calling him to be a servant of Christ. As the church of Antioch was having days of prayer and fasting God spoke saying, “Set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them.” All through the Bible we see God speaking to specific people on specific days.
The Bible is solid on the fact that God speaks. It is also solid on the idea that we can hear God speak. “Today, if you hear his voice,” the writer says. The concern of the author is not to establish the idea that God speaks but that you and I respond wisely when he does. “Do not harden your heart,” counsels the writer.
Just as the Bible records God speaking it also records how people responded to his voice. Some people hardened their heart to God’s loving words. Adam and Eve resisted God’s voice and lost the paradise where they lived. Cain ignored God’s words of warning and ended up committing murder. The Nation of Israel ignored God’s voice and as a result wandered in the wilderness 40 years instead of enjoying their promised land.
Positively, many people heard God’s voice and heeded what he said. Moses listened and led a nation out of bondage. Joseph and Mary listened and escaped Herod’s plot to kill their child. Saul listened and was transformed. He became known as the Apostle Paul and led the spread of the life changing message of Jesus to the known world. Whenever God speaks the person who he speaks to can accept or reject the message.
How do you respond when God speaks to you? The most important matter God speaks to us about is his Son Jesus. Jesus came to earth to restore our relationship with God. All who trust in his death for their sin become part of God’s family and have an assurance of life with God after death. In our response to Jesus, spiritual life and death hang in the balance. Because of God’s great love for us, and because he does not want us to miss the great blessings that await, he speaks to us about Jesus. Has God ever put on your heart the need to accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord? How did you respond?
God also speaks to us about daily life. Our relationships with family and coworkers, temptations we face or decisions we need to make are matters within the scope of his care. He desires that we live lives guided by wisdom and is willing to help us.
So if God speaks to you today, don’t harden your heart. Heeding what he says opens the way to the life he desires you to have both now and in the world to come.
We recently had the privilege of hosting two men who serve the church in Ethiopia. They shared the remarkable things happening in that country for the gospel.
There is a great advance of God’s kingdom happening now. Thousands are coming to faith in Christ, hundreds of churches planted and the power of God is being visibly demonstrated by transformed lives and deliverance from evil forces. It was such an encouraging evening but it was also challenging.
The stories from that far away place caused me to wonder why the church in my culture seems to a large degree to be missing the authority now prevalent in that African country. It made me wonder if we are experiencing an “unnecessary powerlessness”.
We can come up with a variety of reasons to explain this difference. We can point to economic factors, educational factors or cultural matters. We can excuse ourselves in a variety of ways and no doubt at times need to consider new strategies. However an even wiser idea is to consider what Scripture teaches about unnecessary powerlessness. Such a teaching unfolds in Mark 9:14-29.
In this story the nine disciples who did not go with Jesus to the transfiguration are given opportunity to demonstrate the power of Christ by a man who brought his demonized son to them. Unfortunately the nine could not win the day. The demon remained lodged in the tormented boy, the father was frustrated and the nine disciples were embarrassed by their lack of authority.
We see in the story, that sadly, this powerlessness of the disciples was completely unnecessary. In fact, Jesus expresses great disappointment that the disciples were unsuccessful.
“Oh faithless generation, how long shall I be with you, how long shall I bear with you…” (NKJV).
Looking back in the Book of Mark we see that the disciples had indeed been granted authority over dark spirits and had been able to cast them out.
“He called the twelve…and gave them power over unclean spirits.” (Mk. 6:7 NKJV)
Yet in this case they were powerless. It was a story of authority lost.
The story continues as Jesus arrives on the scene. He responds to the father’s desperate request, demonstrates his authority over this very powerful demon and sets the boy free. The nine disciples, stung by their lack of power and failure to exercise their Christ-given authority, demand that Jesus tell them why they couldn’t cast out the demon. Jesus answered, “This kind can only come out by prayer.”
We don’t know why the nine disciples were deficient in their prayer life. Perhaps they had relied on past successes or were discouraged because they had not been invited to the transfiguration. Whatever the reason, they had moved away from prayerful dependence on God. As a result they were powerless before this evil.
I must say that I find is quite easy to identify with the powerless nine disciples. I too have faced evil strongholds or fears and have not won the day. Though I know I have been given authority that authority has not always translated into victory. So too, sometimes our churches have often drifted into a state of powerlessness. The stories of transformed lives and people being set free from the bondage of evil can be few and far between. Could it be that the answer for us is the same as the answer was for the powerless nine?
The Apostle Paul warned that in the last days people would have a form of godliness but deny its power. (2 Timothy 3:5) I sometimes wonder if Christians will fall into the last days powerlessness unintentionally by simply neglecting prayer. As a result we find ourselves unable to win the day over personal and corporate evils that torment us. Like the powerless nine, there is an identification with Jesus – a form of godliness – but a disconnect from his power. This helplessness may not be intentional but it happens through the neglect of prayer.
As I listened to my Ethiopian brothers they told me of the prayer life of the church planters who are leading the advance of the gospel in many remote parts of that country. They told me that it is not unusual for these men to spend hours in daily prayer, waiting on God for his grace, power and direction. From the place of prayer they move into their world with a great authority.
It is encouraging to note, that a good number of God’s people in our culture have recognized their powerless state and have begun to seek the Lord with a renewed focus on prayer. To all of you who are seeking him in a renewed way, be encouraged and persevere. Your lost authority is on the way back.
I recently returned from a mission trip to Brazil. It was my first time to South America and I enjoyed learning the different culture, food and customs of the people in the northeast part of that great country. Yet for all the differences from other countries I have traveled to, I found a common factor – unsung heroes.
It was my honor to spend four days with a group of missionaries who are involved in church planting and radio ministry. My first impression was that this was a happy bunch of workers. Yes the challenges are great, the work demanding, the spiritual warfare strenuous, but they were persevering. Their ministries may go long periods of time without tangible results. The weather is very hot, but the response to the gospel is often cold. It takes a special grace to persevere when there seems little to show for one’s efforts. Yet they have taken their stand at their places of assignment. Faithfully they share Christ as they seek to build His kingdom. It’s not glamorous work but it’s important work. It’s not easy work. But daily as they live the character of Christ before their neighbors a beachhead for the gospel is being established. We anticipate a greater harvest to come but right now most of the work is planting seeds. It’s the work of unsung heroes.
Much of the gospel’s strength is found in such workers. All over the world in remote and accessible places unsung heroes take their stand for Christ. They serve in quiet towns in Northern Alberta, the remote villages of Uganda, the squalor of impoverished settlements of Africa or the distant villages of South America. Having been touched by the love of our Savior Jesus, these unsung heroes share his love with others and serve to move God’s kingdom forward. They have said yes to his call and have put their life on the line to obey. This is not work that draws great adulation or medal ceremonies with adoring crowds, for the most part their efforts are largely unnoticed.
Much of the gospel work is carried forward by unsung heroes. It has always been that way. Many references are made to such people by the Apostle Paul in his writings. “Onesiphorus…often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.” (2 Tim. 1:16) “Epaphrus…He is always wrestling in prayer for you.” (Col. 4:12) “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord…I am sending him to you…” (Ephesians 6:21,22)
These unsung heroes never wrote a book of the Bible or headlined big ministries but were essential in the Kingdom’s advance. This is still the case today.
Each time I travel, it’s an opportunity to be humbled by the loving dedication of those who carry the gospel to difficult places. It is inspiring to me to see that the gospel still is going out to those who don’t yet know Christ and it is being carried by those who simply serve with loving obedience.
So if you are an unsung hero, serving in a remote area or unrecognized ministry I salute you for your faithful love for Christ and I assure you that one day you will hear him say, “Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”
In January 2016 Lyndon Wall of Refresh Ministries travelled to Northeastern Brazil for ministry with Brazilian church leaders and missionaries from Avant Ministries. Lyndon led a three day seminar on expository preaching for the church leaders and conducted a three day spiritual renewal retreat with missionaries. In this video, Avant Missionary Ken Gustafson describes the time of ministry in Brazil.
“Lance Witt understands both the dynamics of church ministry and the interior landscape of the soul. He has written wise counsel that addresses directly and transparently those parasites that seek to feed on a church leader’s spirit.”
Pastors and Key Leaders are invited to Pastors’ Day With Lance Witt
Founder of Replenish Ministries (www.replenish.net) and author of “Replenish: Leading From a Healthy Soul.”
March 18th, 2016
Grande Prairie Alliance Church
9:30 am to 3:30 pm, doors open at 9 am
Get your ticket for the workshop and lunch at: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/pastors-day-2016-with-lance-witt-tickets-19918350322?aff=efbevent
Hello, friends. Let me encourage you to take a moment to pray for your pastor.
#1: Ask God to help your pastor discern and resist attacks in the powerful name of Jesus. Pastors face an almost constant barrage of spiritual attack. Discouragement, heartless criticism, and internal church conflict are some of the bullets in the evil one’s gun. These attacks wear pastor’s down and even lead them to leave their calling. You can help your pastor with your prayers. Pray they will be able to discern and resist the attacks of Satan in the powerful name of Jesus.
#2: Ask God to fill your pastor with wisdom and boldness. There are many pressures to compromise what God calls pastors to say. Some things are not popular in our culture or churches. It is easy to give into fear. It also takes great wisdom to stay true to God’s word and not be needlessly offensive. With the help of the Holy Spirit and your prayers, your pastor can speak with wise boldness. May God bless you as you pray.
#3: Ask God to fill your pastor with renewed spiritual vitality. The daily grind of dealing with emotional counseling situations, leadership decisions, teaching and preaching can drain your pastor’s spiritual and emotional energy. Pray your pastor will enjoy great moments of refreshing in the presence of Jesus and that Jesus would send encouragers to help with the work.
#4: Ask God to guard your pastor’s family. Among the great challenges your pastor faces is the matter of family. As the spiritual leaders of God’s people, it seems pastor’s families are often singled out for extra attention by spiritual forces. If the evil one can get just one family member off track, the pastor’s effectiveness can be diminished. Take a moment right now to pray for God’s protection on your pastor’s family.
#5: Ask God to bless your pastor’s leadership. Pastors are called to lead. Some lead with a team, others work mostly on their own. Whatever the situation, pastors are to equip the congregation to fulfill God’s plans. This takes great discernment, wisdom and perseverance. Your prayers can help your pastor be a wise, discerning and persevering leader
#6: Ask God to guard your pastor from loneliness. Loneliness can be one of the great challenges of pastoral work. Some studies have shown that the number one reason pastors leave the ministry is because of isolation. Facing the challenges alone can leave a pastor vulnerable to discouragement. Pray that your pastor will have strong friendships with trustworthy people. Good friends go a long way to helping your pastor succeed.
#7: Ask God to anoint your pastor’s prayer life. Friendship with God is one of the great privileges of Christians. This friendship is often enjoyed through the practice of prayer. Happy and meaningful prayer times refresh the soul and invite God’s strength and help for the challenges of each day. Pray that your pastor will enjoy a great prayer life; that his or her times with God will be meaningful and life giving. Ask God to meet them with his love and power in their times of personal prayer.
#8: Ask God to guard your pastor’s peace. A pastor’s life can sometimes be like boating on a stormy sea. Winds of adversity and criticism join waves of relentless demands to threaten a pastor’s peace. Fear and anxiety can take over one’s heart. The sense of inner tranquility is easily lost. Take a moment to pray that God’s peace will guard your pastor’s heart. Pray that inner rest will be enjoyed despite the storms of life.
#9: Ask God to fill your pastor with a sense of God’s love for him or her. I recently visited with a man who told me of the intense ministry challenges he and his wife were going through. He told me that his wife said to him “if I know that you love me I can go through most anything.” This is also true for pastors. If they have a deep awareness of the love of God they can go through almost anything and persevere in the work God has called them to. Pray that your pastor will have a deep awareness of God’s amazing love. May God bless you as you pray.
#10: Ask God to fill your pastor with a fresh sense of joy. A survey of over 1000 pastors revealed that 71% battled depression “on a weekly or even a daily basis.” This survey was not unusual. Many studies of pastoral life reveal significant battles with discouragement. In this season of Joy, pray that joy will fill the heart of your pastor. Pray that his or her spirit would be lifted with a fresh revelation of Jesus and that despair would be replaced by a heart full of praise.
#11: Ask God to fill your pastor with the Spirit. As you pray for your pastor I encourage you to remember the verse of scripture found in Zechariah 4:6 it says, “Not by might nor by power but by my Spirit says the Lord.” Your pastor will be a strong and capable person, having gifts of ministry, yet without the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s work does not move forward. Ask God to fill your pastor with the Spirit. Pray that they would enjoy the Holy Spirit’s power giving them supernatural help in their important work.
#12: Ask God to fill your pastor’s heart with the sunshine of God’s word. During long cold winters, the darkness and weather starts to take it’s toll. With this in mind let me suggest a mid-winter prayer for your pastor. It goes like this “Lord, in this time of the long winter, I ask that the sunshine of your Word would shine joy into my pastor’s heart. May the sweetness of your presence lift shadows of doubt, reinvigorate faith, give joy in their calling and wisdom for the day. Thank you for your care. In Jesus name, Amen.”
#13: Ask God to remind your pastor of God’s past wonderful works. God does many wonderful things in our lives, yet our memory of what he has done can easily fade. We naturally focus our thoughts on present or future matters. So it is with your pastor. Memories of how God has worked in the past can easily slip away. This can lead them to think that their work has been in vain. Pray that your pastor would be reminded of what he has done through them in the past. This will be a great encouragement for their ministry today.
#14: Ask God to look to Jesus to work miracles. As you pray for your pastor this month keep in mind the story of Jesus first Miracle. There was a crisis at a wedding, the people had run out of wine. The Mother of Jesus brought to servants to him and instructed them to do all that Jesus told them. The servants wisely did what Jesus said and he turned the water into wine. Like the servants, pastors sometimes feel pressure to do miracles in crisis situations. Pray that your pastor would do all Jesus calls them to do but to leave the miracles to him.
#15: Give thanks to God for your pastor. Then thank your pastor! I recently met with a group of pastors who are doing great work, who love the Lord deeply and giving every effort to serve their church. They have a strong allegiance to God and their call to ministry. They are busy teaching, settling conflicts, helping mend broken marriages and leading people to God. They are wonderful people yet do not often hear that they are valued. Take a moment to thank God for your pastor, then send them a note and thank them too.
#16: Ask God to remind your pastor of God’s power to turn things around. Over the past while I have enjoyed meeting with pastors who have experienced great turnarounds in their work. Some were at the point of closing the doors and the pastor considering moving on. But things have changed. Now there is growth, impact and new life where things seemed dead. God has turned things around. If you pastor is facing a difficult situation pray that they would remember, God can turn things around. He brings life to what is dead, peace to what is turbulent, and hope to what seems hopeless.
#17: Ask God to strengthen your pastor through the emotional ups and downs of ministry. Being a pastor involves experiencing many swings of emotion. One hour you are helping people who are in deep grief, the next working with people who are in great joy. One day you feel like God is really working through you, the next it feels like he has abandoned you. All these swings of emotion can have a wearing affect on your pastor’s soul. Pray that your pastor will have a strong and steady faith to manage the emotional ups and downs of pastoral work.
#18: Ask God to fill your pastor with heavenly vision. Pray that they will have vision and tenacity. The power of vision is demonstrated in the life of the Apostle Paul who despite great hardships did not give up. Paul always kept in mind the calling for ministry God gave him at his conversion. This vision set the course for his life and gave him amazing perseverance. Pray that your pastors would remember the vision God gave them at their calling. It will strengthen them for the work.
#19: Ask God to strengthen your pastor as a gatekeeper for the loving truth of God’s Word. We live in a time when many false teachings are coming to the Christian church. These teachings are often subtle but very destructive. Pastors are the spiritual gatekeepers of their congregation. They are to discern what is to be allowed in and what is to be kept out of the church. Pray that they would be directed by the Word of God, the Holy Spirit and filled with courage as they carry out the ministry of protection. May God bless you as you pray.
#20: Ask God to allow your pastor to hear the Holy Spirit’s promptings in the midst of life’s distractions. God gives us his Spirit to be our guide, comforter and power source of our lives and ministry. Through his leadings we are kept from unwise decisions and led into effective service. Yet the daily demands and relentless schedule of a pastor can make it hard to hear the promptings of God. As you pray for your pastor this month ask God to give them a great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. Pray that they would hear His voice in the midst of daily pressures.
When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi.
Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the Lord, “You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. (Judges 15:17-19)
In my last four blog posts I’ve been commenting on the theme of “Surprises of Anointed Ministry”. In this last post of the series I will make a few comments about the surprising strain of anointed ministry.
Samson pictures for us a reality that people in ministry like to ignore or dismiss as unspiritual. The reality that anointed ministry can take a physical toll on God’s servants is often overlooked or discounted in Christian circles. Samson has just won a great victory over the Philistines. He had done so with the incredible empowering of the Holy Spirit. He was Spirit-anointed to fight the battle, yet at the end of the battle he is ready to die of thirst. His anointed ministry did not over rule his physical necessity. He still had a body to take care of. The battle, though Spirit-enabled, still wore him out. He needed water to be refreshed.
The toll of anointed ministry on the physical body is seen in other Scriptures as well. Elijah called fire from heaven, defeated the prophets of Baal and prayed down rain for his country all in one day. The power of God was running in and through him in extraordinary ways. The next day he is running from the threats of Jezebel and wanting to die. Interestingly God begins Elijah’s treatment with 40 days of rest, food and exercise before he speaks to Elijah. His servant’s anointed ministry had taken a physical toll and God addressed the physical need first.
One of the great surprises of anointed ministry is the depths to which we can fall physically, emotionally and spiritually after great victories or periods of time when God has been working through us in remarkable ways. It is not uncommon for pastors or missionaries to go through emotional and physical slumps after times of demanding service. Pastors sometimes refer to this as “Blue Monday.” The day after the demands and excitement of Sunday ministry is often a time of great vulnerability. It is on that day that many resignations are written and the experience of despair is real. Medical doctors have referred to this experience as “post adrenaline depression”. A time when the body comes down from the adrenaline rush of excitement or activity.
We do well to anticipate and prepare ourselves for the day after anointed ministry. Planning a less demanding schedule mixed with healthy doses of rest and activities we enjoy will do us much good.
The great news is that God knows our need and is able to respond to it. Samson cries out and God creates a spring of water for Samson’s refreshment. He brings water out of a hollow place to renew the strength of Samson, keeping him from falling into the hands of the Philistines. God brought refreshment to his servant from where there was no visible evidence of anything that could restore. Thus God is able to do for us in our times of depletion.
A further lesson I learn from Samson’s experience is that there may well be significant spiritual profit and advance for us in our times of depletion. This is the first time we read that Samson cried out to God. For the first time he looks to God for strength and renewal. This first cry was fostered by physical thirst after anointed ministry. Samson learns that God is the refresher. He realizes, perhaps for the first time, that he is dependent on God for his life. There is a spiritual advancement in his life that wasn’t brought on by the threat of thousands of Philistines; it was brought on by physical need.
So too with us, our physical exhaustion can result in spiritual gain if we like Samson cry out for the help of God. We love to live on the mountain of spiritual anointing when our greatest advance often takes place in the valley of physical depletion.
Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.(#)
This post is the fourth in a series of five on the theme of Surprises of God’s anointed servants. The fourth surprise is the surprising ways God provides victory.
As I carry out my assignments from God and observe others who are doing the same, I am continually amazed at how he uses surprising instruments to accomplish his purposes. Not only does it surprise me that God uses imperfect people such as myself, but he also gives us surprising instruments to carry out his purposes. Samson is a perfect case and point of this encouraging truth. We are surprised that God chose Samson, with all his imperfections, to be a deliverer of Israel. We are perhaps even more surprised the instrument Samson used to win a great battle – the jawbone of a donkey.
I learn some awesome things about God in this story. I learn that with the Holy Spirit, common things are sufficient to achieve the purposes God has for us. Too often when faced with immense tasks or callings we look for spectacular answers and help. Yet God is not limited by the lack of great resources. A common thing used in the power of the Spirit can bring the victory. This happened a lot in scripture, Moses’ shepherd staff was the instrument for parting the Red Sea and bringing water from a rock (Ex. 14,17), Gideon used trumpets, pitchers and torches to win the day (Judges 7), and Jehoshaphat used a worship band to lead the way to victory (2 Chron. 20). However, common things does not necessarily mean conventional. The donkey’s jawbone was a common thing but its use as a weapon was unconventional. If you have to fight a thousand men, a donkey’s jawbone does not sound like a great weapon. A sharp two edged sword or a fine tipped spear would have been suggested by the conventional thinkers in Samson’s day but God had other plans. Samson had no time to run home to get his sword, he had to work with what was at hand. What was at hand was unconventional but more than sufficient. God is able to use what we can pick up around us.
Another lesson I learn is that overwhelming enemies can be defeated when we are on track with God’s calling and purpose. Samson, though a reluctant deliverer, was called to begin the deliverance of Israel. In his desperate circumstances he was forced to act against the Philistine oppressors and God is with him. One against a thousand is bad odds to say the least, yet with the power and weapon God provided, a great victory was won. There are times in ministry where it seems that we are fighting a thousand enemies. The demonic hoards come against us with shouts of triumph but with the Lord enables us to overcome. If we find we are not standing up against the odds perhaps we should take some time to make sure we are on track with our God-given purpose. There was another time in Scripture when this was clearly the issue. God spoke to King Asa saying “the Lord is with you when you are with him…” (2 Kings 15).
We do well to pause from time to time to ask the Lord if we are with him, with this assurance we can move forward in victory, even if the odds are 1000 to 1.
In this second post in our series on the Surprises of An Anointed Life I want to discuss the experience anointed people have with the enemy of their souls. This experience is pictured in the life of Samson as it related to his experience of the Philistines. In a nutshell, we see that the oppressor is surprisingly enticing and cruel.
We hear too often of people who have served the Lord for many years (and often with distinction) who become enticed by the oppressor, and then feel the stab of his cruelty. Such was the case with Samson.
Samson was set apart, even before his birth to be a deliverer for Israel. He was to lead Israel to freedom from the oppression of the Philistines. Yet we see Samson was not so clear on this calling, in fact he found the enemy rather desirable. This attraction to the enemy first came immediately on the heels of the Lord’s call to duty. The last verse of Judges 13 states, “And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him…” The first verse of chapter 14 states, “Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’
As the Holy Spirit began to stir in Samson, another passion began to began to burn in his heart. It was a forbidden passion which meant compromise with the enemy. This fascination with the Philistine ladies carried on through life with Samson and ultimately led to his death. Though Samson was anointed by God, he was enticed by the enemy in powerful and destructive ways. We are wise to take heed to this lesson.
Just because we have been set apart for God, anointed to ministry it does not mean that the oppressor will be unattractive. If you are anointed by God, it does not mean that you will not have any attractions to the enemy. We have weaknesses for things we ought not to have weaknesses for. We have temptations we know ought not to be temptations. Anointed servants are not free from temptations that are common to man. We would do well to be on special alert after times when the Spirit of God has been stirring in our life. This was true in the life of Jesus. After his baptism when the Spirit came upon him, he was led into the wilderness where the Evil One tempted him severely. We seem vulnerable to the enemy’s attraction as the Spirit of God has been stirring in our hearts.
This attraction however pays bitter dividends. As Samson gives into this attraction he places himself in the hands of Philistine cruelty. Reading the Bible account of his life reminds me of the prize fight. There is a punch-for-punch feel to Samson and his battle with the Philistines. There is a rhythm. Samson strikes, the Philistines strike back, Samson strikes, the Philistines strike back. The rhythm that runs through the story, the cruelty of the enemy rises to stop any of Samson’s deliverance activity. So it is with those who have been anointed to minister for the Lord. As God works in us and through us to advance his kingdom, Satan with strike back and often will do so viciously.
If he can’t entice us he utilizes cruelty. We may find ourselves feeling like we are in a heavyweight prize fight and we are taking as good as we give. There are times when the enemy will bring overwhelming forces against anointed servants. The enemy pulls out all the stops when it comes to bringing down anointed servants.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing and discouraging factors in this battle with the enemy is that he finds willing accomplices among those we are called to serve. They work together to bring an end to anointed ministry. Judges 15:9-14 chronicles the deal the Israelites made with the Philistines in an effort to bring to an end Samson’s ministry. Samson’s own people willingly tie him up and hand him over to their and Samson’s oppressors. This dynamic is a reality for many of God’s servants. The very people who would be expected to stand with them and cheer them on become the people who tie them up and hand them over to the enemy. This experience has severely tested many of God’s servants, some have been broken by this reality and have turned back from their calling.
In my years of ministry, I have had days when I was astounded at the evil one’s dirty tactics. Satan will stop at nothing to derail anointed servants of the Lord. I have mistakenly thought that Satan was our enemy but that he would play by certain rules of decency. I thought there were some strategies too evil for Satan. I have found out differently.
As you carry out your calling be aware that your enemy is surprisingly enticing but also cruel. You may have times when you are powerfully drawn to the enemy through his ideas or rewards, yet remember that the sweet enticements come with a cost. They are a doorway to the enemy’s cruelty and efforts to stop your ministry.
In my next few blog posts I will be talking about surprises that anointed servants of Jesus experience as they serve the Lord. I take my inspiration from the life of Samson who, like us, had imperfections but yet began the deliverance of Israel because of the Lord’s gracious working in his life.
The first surprise we see is that God is surprisingly in charge. In our world it often seems like God is not involved. We see the chaos and the oppression of people, we experience the consequences of our own brokenness yet God seems distant. So must it have seemed to the Israelites as they laboured under the oppression of the Philistines, yet the Scripture tells us that there was an unseen reality to their situation that told a different story. God was orchestrating things behind the scenes.
His control of the situation was shown in several ways. First he orchestrated the times of Israel’s bondage and release. Judges 13:1 states “Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” We see his sovereign hand guiding national events. He delivers Israel to their enemies, at the same time he begins preparing a deliverer to release them from their enemies. His hand is on the clock of Israel’s history. He is surprisingly in charge of big picture happenings.
Yet he not only has his hand on the big picture, he has his hand on the local and individual level as well. He sovereignly prepares a couple who will be happy to raise the deliverer in the needed way. He chose a childless couple who would be longing for the joy of children and willing to give their son to God’s service without reservation. Manoah and his wife were not only people of faith but they were willing to raise their son in the disciplines of the Nazarite lifestyle. So God was orchestrating the national events but also at work in specific, individual lives to prepare a deliverer for Israel. Samson, the man who was endowed with supernatural strength was to be their son.
God also orchestrated the timing of Samson’s ministry. Judges 13:25: “and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.” (NIV). Manoah and his wife raised Samson as the Lord commanded, however his ministry did not begin until the Spirit of the Lord began to stir. Manoah, his wife or Samson did not decide when his ministry was to begin, this timing was also chosen by the Lord. God is surprisingly in charge.