Self-Protection

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:1-4

Paul called the Philippians to value others above themselves. He called them to a humility that looked to the interests of others rather than just their own interests. But he starts by reminding them of what they already have in Christ. They already have encouragement from being united with Christ. They already have comfort from His love. They already have a share in the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul’s argument is essentially, “Because you already have all of this, you don’t have to act from a place of selfishness.”

I think that so often what looks like selfishness is actually rooted in self-protection. We do selfish things and say things in an effort to protect ourselves. We are afraid of being destroyed. We are afraid that people will use us or take advantage of us, and we are convinced that we are our only protection. We live as orphans thinking that we have to be the one to do it all ourselves. We think, “If we don’t look out for our own interests, no one will. If we don’t protect ourselves, no one will.” But this self-protection is so damaging.

In the Christian life, self-protection is self-sabotage. The very acts that we think will protect us end up burning down the bridges that we need for support. When we “look out for number one” we end up doing damage to ourselves. Self-protection is self-sabotage because we are called by God not to look just to our own interests but to the interests of others.

When, in humility, we value others above ourselves, we are operating as children of a God who will care for us. He will be our protector and provider. We can give our life away because He is the unending source of our life. Jesus said it like this, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven“(Matthew 5:45).

Laying down our rights to self-protection is like laying down a gun pointed at ourselves. At first it may feel like we are sacrificing something but the thing we are laying down is actually something that would do us harm. If we can lay down our tendencies toward self-protection, we get to pick up God’s protection and provision. We get to pick up a life of trusting our Good Father to look out for us. We get to pick up His love and compassion for us. We get to live a life that is dependent on Him rather than one that is dependent our own ability to scrap and scrape for ourselves. As Jesus said:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

Matthew 16:25

Jehovah-Jireh

“…Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:12-14

This is one of the most famous moments in the Bible. Isaac was the son Abraham and Sarah weren’t able to have for years. After decades of infertility, God blessed them with Isaac. All the promises of Abraham’s future, his legacy, his descendants and his inheritance from the Lord were contained in Isaac. And Abraham was willing to surrender it all to the Lord, leaving it all behind, for the sake of obedience.

The writer of Hebrews interprets the moment this way:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

Hebrews 11:17-19

It was this moment that gave us one of the names of God. Traditionally “Jehovah-Jireh” or “Yaweh-Yir’eh” has been translated, “The Lord will Provide.” In a moment of crisis, God provided Abraham with the ram. God provided the sacrifice that Abraham needed at just the right moment. This is a foreshadow of what God would do through Jesus, providing for us the perfect sacrifice.

In the Hebrew, the word “Jireh” or “Yir’eh” literally means “to see.” So the literal translation of Jehovah-Jirah is, “The Lord will see.” And instead of the phrase being translated, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided,” the literal translation is, “in the mountain of the Lord it will be seen.”

There is a connection in the Hebrew between God “seeing” and God “providing.” This same connection can be seen in English as well. When we say, “see to it” we aren’t talking about looking at something. We’re talking about action. And we have the word “provision” which literally contains the word “vision” in it. One definition of “pro-vision” means “to see beforehand.” It’s about preparing ahead of time with “provisions.”

So in this one Hebrew word, Jireh, we understand that God is our provider because He is the God who sees our need ahead of time. God’s name, Jehovah-Jireh, isn’t just about God giving us stuff. It’s about the nature of a good Father who knows His children, a Father who is not preoccupied but fully present, and loves to provide for His kids. He sees us. He sees our situation. He sees our need.

Sometimes we need to remember that God is enough because God is our provider. He sees us. And because God is enough, He makes us enough. If you want to hear an uplifting song that highlights God as Jehovah-Jireh, listen to this one. It is called “Jireh” by Maverick City Music and Elevation Worship.

Recovering from Discouragement

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1:9

Joshua had just been given the job of trying to fill Moses’s shoes. Anyone want that job? Joshua was assigned the task of leading the Hebrew people into the Promised Land. This land was flowing with milk and honey, but it was also filled with giants and armies. The Lord tells Joshua to be strong and courageous, to not be afraid and not be discouraged. The reason? God will be with them wherever they go.

And this reveals a secret to bouncing back from discouragement.

Have you ever hit the wall of discouragement? Maybe work became overwhelming. Or someone spoke a harsh word to you. Or you got into a fight with your spouse or family member or friend. Something was supposed to go right and instead it went horribly wrong.

Discouragement is like the brick wall that you don’t see coming. You’re just cruising along, enjoying life, and then you slam right into it unknowingly. Discouragement feels like a weight around your neck. It is demotivating and de-energizing.

So how do we recover from discouragement?

Sure, there are all the normal bits of advice. Exercise. Get outside. Go do something fun. Other people try to combat discouragement by using their favorite escape. They escape into video games, food, alcohol, etc. But I have found that these are only temporary in their relief.

Next time you feel discouraged, I want you to try this. Go to God in prayer. Describe to Him the situation that is so discouraging. Lay it all out. Then conclude with something like this: “Father, I feel discouraged right now, but I know You are with me. I know that I am Your son/daughter and You love me. I know what You say about me is true. And right now I need encouragement. Would You send me some encouragement today/this week?

That’s it! Ask God to encourage you. Have you ever done this? I know it sounds too simple, but, I am telling you, it is powerful! I have done this over and over again and watched as God brought encouragement to me in the most unique ways. After asking God to provide encouragement for me, I’ll get a random email or Facebook message. I’ll get what seems like a random word of encouragement from a source I wouldn’t expect. And I believe you will too.

The Lord commands us, “Do not be discouraged,” because He wants to provide encouragement for us. He doesn’t want us seeking our own methods of soothing our wounded soul. He doesn’t want us trying to escape life. He wants us returning to Him in our need and trusting that He is our ultimate provider of everything…even encouragement.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 

James 1:2-5, 17

Water in the Desert

While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha and he said, “This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water. For this is what the Lord says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord; he will also deliver Moab into your hands. You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones.” 

The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was—water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water.

2 Kings 2:15-20

As I mentioned in my last post, the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom were going to war against Moab. But on their journey, they find themselves in the desert without any water. So they ask Elisha to give them some guidance from the Lord.

Reluctantly, Elisha seeks a word from the Lord and he gets one. What God does is absolutely incredible!

God declares that right in the middle of an arid desert He is going to create pools of water. He tells them that He plans on filling the whole valley with water. In hearing this, the kings may have thought that God meant that He would bring the rains. Every so often, desert regions do have sporadic, torrential rains. Yet, as if He knows what they are thinking, God corrects their assumption before they have a chance to verbalize it. This flood of water will not come from a storm. They will not see any wind nor any rain. They will simply watch as the desert becomes a river. The icing on the cake is that God reminds them that this impossible thing is “easy” for Him to do.

We need this reminder more than ever in the midst of this pandemic. Many people are thinking about the economic repercussions of shutting down so many of the businesses for such an extended period of time. Many people are worrying, “How can small businesses survive? How will we recover economically as a nation?” We–like the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom–are faced not only with an enemy army (COVID-19), but also a desert in which to fight it (economic recession).

As we cry out to the Lord about our finances and the economy, we need to remember that it’s not hard for God to turn a desert into a river. And God doesn’t need to do it in the conventional ways (like rain and wind). God can bring the waters of refreshment in ways that don’t make any sense to us. He can bring flowing waters from a source that we wouldn’t have expected.

Oh, and as if it is an afterthought, God tells them that they will defeat Moab their enemy.

God is our warrior who fights for us in battle, and He is also our provider. So as we pray for the defeat of COVID-19, let’s also pray that a river of economic provision would come pouring into every place in our economy that is drying up. And let’s have eyes to see that it might not come from the normal sources of water but from a brand new and unexpected source.

Produce of the Land

On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan.

Joshua 5:10-12

If we are in a desert season–a season of trial, testing, development and dependency–God will drop manna from heaven. He will bring His provision to us. He will often encounter us despite our pursuit (or lack thereof) of Him.

Yet, when we begin to step into the promises of God for our life, the manna will stop. The expectation from God is that, now that we are in the good land, we will learn to cultivate that which will sustain us. We will eat food that is produced by the land.

This is why some people talk about how close to God they felt when they were going through a hard time, yet when things got better, they lost that intimacy with God. Why would that happen?

Essentially, people expect to live off of manna in the Promised Land. And when the manna stops, they don’t know what to do. Just because the manna stopped doesn’t mean the sustenance has to stop. It doesn’t mean intimacy has to stop. It just means the intimacy that was once pure gift now has to be pursued. It has to be cultivated.

Practically speaking, this means that while God’s presence felt so close during that hard season without you having to do anything, when you step into the promise God has for you, you may have to get up early to spend time with Him. The Presence is still there. The intimacy is still there. But you may have to be more intentional about cultivating time with Him in order to experience it. You may have to engage with God in ways that remind you that you are just as dependent on Him as before, even if the immediate crisis has passed.

People sense that the manna has stopped and think God is now distant. Not true. The manna stopping is an invitation toward cultivation. It is an invitation to maturity. It is an invitation to move beyond desert living and into a life of stewarding God’s provision and promises in your life.

We must learn to live in the desert and in the Promised Land. We have to learn how to do both. The apostle Paul put it this way:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:11-13

Did you feel God so near in a crisis but now it seems as if the manna has stopped? What can you do now to cultivate intimacy with Him? What does it look like for you to eat the produce of the land?

Comfort and Mystery

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth…

Isaiah 51:12-13

So often we comfort ourselves by using the tool of “comparison.” We feel like we are struggling financially and so we compare ourselves to someone with less and say, “At least I’m not that poor.” We feel like our career has stalled and so we compare ourselves to someone who got fired and say, “At least I have a job.” This is often how we comfort ourselves when we are facing a hard time.

But using comparison to bring comfort has an ugly side to it. When you are the one completely broke, when you are the one who lost their job, when you are the one with a terminal illness, comparison only leads to more despair. Far from bringing comfort, comparison brings feelings of deep pain and hopelessness.

God makes it clear that He alone is our comforter. We need to take our pain to Him and let His presence exchange our sorrow with joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “…you will fill me with joy in your presence…” It’s in the presence of “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles“(2 Corinthians 1:3-4) where we find comfort and a lasting joy that can’t be taken from us by hard circumstances. Comparison can never do this!

The Lord recently revealed something to me in regard to mystery. We humans tend to be hypocrites when it comes to what mystery we’re comfortable accepting. We ask questions regarding the mysteries of pain and suffering but never ask the same questions about our blessing and provision. We don’t wrestle through why we were born into a country with freedoms, a strong economy, job opportunities, clean water and sanitation. We know it is a mystery as to why we were born here and others were born into countries with none of these things. Yet, we accept this mystery often without a second thought.

However, we love to ask “why me” when we get an illness, or have a financial crisis, or troubled relationships. We embrace the mystery of blessing just fine but can’t bear to embrace the mystery of suffering. If the answer to the question “why was I born into a middle-class family in the one of the greatest countries in the world” is above my pay grade, then certainly why my friend got cancer is above my pay grade. Both are mysteries and both are beyond my understanding. To accept one as mystery and demand answers for the other is hypocrisy.

The healthy response to suffering in our life is to take our grief and our pain to the Lord. We take it to Him and allow Him to comfort us. When we think we have to make sense of it and figure it all out, we step out of our role as trusting sons and daughters of the Father. Embracing mystery and trusting the Lord with things that are beyond our understanding is a part of living in a broken and fallen world.

What mystery in your own life is the Lord asking you to trust Him with?

What do you need to take to the Lord to receive His comfort?