We're nearly halfway there! The Road to Pentecost has already been rewarding for me and I hope it has for you all as well. Today we close out our last look at challenges on our journey to the outpouring of God by looking at the problems inherent with standing still. It might surprise you that a lot of times the challenge of staying still in God is the successes we have in pursuit of His Kingdom promises.
I want to take us back to my testimony from session 6 of this series. As I mentioned, I had zero caffeine withdrawals, but I couldn't overcome the desire to have a chocolate shake (P.S. the moment has passed-Thank God!). At the time, I knew I was succeeding in God. I was getting calls back from ministers who had not been able to call me, God had provided a great report for my youngest child, and my wife got a huge raise at her job. Plus, I felt closer to God and it had only been a couple of days! Isn't that what it's all about, drawing nearer to The Almighty? However, the feeling of temptation for something I was sacrificing overwhelmed God's blessings in my mind, and I couldn't find enjoyment with the growth I attained. All of the successes that came with starting my fast seemed cloudy with uncertainty going forward because I felt so weak and it was just the first part of my Road To Pentecost.
As I went through this, though, I found a scripture. I actually found it while I was writing Monday's session and almost included it then, but I felt I needed to chew on it a bit longer before I did and it fit perfectly into this session. I had to practice being still even with these devotions, you see. The scripture is from Joshua 7 and it details a moment that stole some thunder from one of God's most devoted followers.
Israel had come off of their biggest victory to date at Jericho and were ready to continue taking the Promised Land. However, Joshua only sent a couple thousand men instead of the entire army to take the city of Ai. The people of Israel were confident they could do anything with God behind them and Joshua agreed. The result of their hurried offensive was failure. Of course the reason for the failure was that Achan had sinned and so God had withdrawn himself from Israel. However, there was also a cloudiness of self-confidence in Israel at the time. They had not taken time after Jericho to examine themselves. There is not even a record of Israel giving thanks to God for the victory at Jericho. They had not taken time to acknowledge God and examine themselves, the tenants of stillness in God.
Thought for the day:
The enemy of forward movement is moving forward without prayerful examination and acknowledgment to God, our spiritual guide.
Israel was too busy moving forward they didn't see something they needed to correct first. Had Israel been still and prayed after their victory in Jericho, God would have revealed the sin. We know this because that's what Joshua did when Israel failed at Ai and God revealed the sin to him and what to do about it (v.7-15). He got mad at God and then God righteously admonished him. Luckily, Joshua did what we should do also when we forget to be still on this journey: he repented and returned to the practice of being still.
Israel was already in their Promise Land and were nearly wiped out because they didn't practice stillness. We risk the same thing unless take time to examine ourselves along the Road to Pentecost. We might be in the middle of receiving great blessings from God, but if we neglect the One who is providing them, we might find ourselves defeated amid our Promise. Let's take time this weekend to be still in God and examine where we have come the past two weeks. Is there still something we need to correct and align according to God's will? Is there something God wants to tell us so we can find our pathway forward? Israel, once they realigned with God, went on to defeat Ai one chapter later. We can reclaim our footing, too, if we will only turn to God and wait on Him to guide us forward. When we do, our victory will be assured and The Road To Pentecost will be clear again.
When we last talked about setting our path, we mentioned it as a precursor to a journey. We wanted to emphasize that anything we do in God must be done thoughtfully and with our complete focus on what God wants from us and for us along the way. This planning tactic continues as we find ourselves in the midst of challenges on our journey as well. We used the summer vacation example last time. Let's revisit it.
Being prepared for a trip with the best route, the most up-to-date information on the weather and traffic situations are great. However, all of that can be done in an instant when you get stopped because of a 15 car pileup on the interstate or a freak storm washes out a bridge. What do you do when the way to your destination seems blocked by an insurmountable task? Do you sit in your car fuming that the trip is now ruined because of the delay? Do you turn around and give up? Or do you take out your map and check the best alternative routes? The same is true for walking with God.
You didn't expect to get fired from your job the week after you gave that big donation to missions because you too want to be a missionary some day. You don't expect to have a child born full term at 5 pounds and unable to keep his weight up all after you had fasted progressively for over a month for his mother's and his health and also saving up to become missionaries. Now doctor's bills would replace mission funding. You didn't expect your wife to start getting sick every time you were about to make headway in a Bible Study. These are extreme examples, all of which happened to me and my family.
In all three I had a choice to make. Do I give up on God or find a path forward in relationship with Him? Thankfully, all of these occurred while I was living for Him and I made the right decision. However, these occurrences seemed to derail my pursuits in God. I didn't see a path forward to what God wanted for me and my family. I needed to rethink God's plan for us and what avenues He had available to us.
In all of those situations, all happening within 2 years of each other, I remembered to turn to God. I couldn't solve those problems by myself and the Word, prayer and fasting leading up to those catastrophes had revealed just how powerful and wonderful God was and is. That faith provided me with a pathway to continue in my pursuit of God rather than quitting and turning back to just getting by in His Kingdom.
Thought for the day:
The right path sometimes produces adversity. How you respond to adversity will determine if the path stays right or stops dead
This faith building process reminded me of Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. They didn't intend to get stuck at the shore of the Red Sea. Most likely, they thought they were going to follow the banks of the water around it and into the Promised Land. However, they didn't count on the 15 car pileup that was Pharaoh's armies bearing down on them. Instead of pouting or lamenting about his situation-even though lots of Israelites did-Moses showed his faith in God:
And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace. (Exodus 14:13-14)
While this scripture would be great for tomorrow's lesson, too, it shows what happens when you have built a relationship with God. In the middle of a complaining people with the world's largest and most proficient military bearing down on him, Moses had faith. He showed the people what happens when you give yourself to God in every area of your life. We see later that God speaks directly to Moses and gives him the path to deliver not only himself but all of Israel. God made a way where they could see no path.
Whatever challenges we face on this Road to Pentecost, we can know that God is going to find us a path to take so we can realize our promise in Him. If you look back earlier in Exodus 14, you'll see that God was guiding Moses and Israel to those very banks. He was wanting to showcase His power and authority to them. To test and build their faith. The same is true for us today. While the enemy, temptation or just life may be responsible for the attacks we find ourselves under, God is looking to see if our use of the tools of fasting, prayer and the Word have built our faith in Him. If they have, He will not just respond, but He will do so in a clear way that reveals His true power to us. Moreover, He'll do so while also helping us to keep up our pursuit of our promise. On this Road To Pentecost, let your faith in God grow. Believe on Him and see what great works He does to reveal the path you never knew was there.
We've examined the struggles that come with fasting and the distractions that crop up when we pray. Today we look at the Word. What negative attacks can happen to us when we commit to reading the Word of God? What measures can we take to ensure we don't fail when those attacks arise? Let's find out.
The Bible is full of answers for everything we face in this life. Stories of men and women who have faced similar issues as we do today litter the Word of God. Prayers aimed at situations that we go through are found in both Old and New Testaments. Wise and knowledgeable thoughts populate each book of the anthology of God' Word to us. So why is it that we find ourselves ignoring the Good Book when we most need it?
I've had it happen in the past where a situation crops up in my life. I'll pray about it. Sometimes, I'll even fast about. Of course, I'm going to try and put my two cents worth of thoughts into fixing it as well. However, I have found several times looking back that I neglected God's Word through the whole process. Those stories, prayers and words of wisdom and knowledge I talked about in the previous paragraph escape me because I'm too dialed in trying to fix it with my thoughts, my prayers and my actions both spiritual and temporal. It was about what I could do, not about what God wanted me to do. I didn't think to stop and read what God had already done, what he had already prescribed and what men and women had already prayed.
Now, don't get me wrong. I quoted scriptures that I knew. I have my select verses I go to when I get in a bind and i used to whip them out as I trudged along trying to control my situation instead of giving control to God by reading His Word. Scriptures I had never thought would aid me sat waiting in my Bible on the coffee table right in front of me. God was waiting for me to trust Him.
One day, I had just come through a really difficult time. I was emotionally and spiritually scarred up and felt physically weak from the trials I endured. Through the whole process I prayed and quoted my favorite scriptures and even fasted. Those elements saw me through, but I still felt like I missed something. I opened up my Bible to read through for a new devotion series I was going to write and the answer to that situation I languished over for weeks was staring me right in the face within the first verses I read. What took me weeks to solve could have been found in moments had I just looked to God's Word - His voice written out on paper. My prayer and fasting would have been more focused and my own actions would have been more tempered. From that day forward, I purposed to read God's Word daily, not just for my situations, but so I would continually grow in my understanding of who God is and what He is to me.
Thought for the day
If the answers to everything we face in life were found in one book, we would read it every day. They are. Why don't we?
We don't want to waste life flailing with situations to which God has already given the answer. Reading God's Word gives us insight into our situations and understanding of what we face and even why we face it. Moreover, it gives us a clearer picture of God and what He desires for us. By diving into God's Word at least once a day, we come to understand God better, His plan for us and what we can do to achieve a better relationship with Him that also reveals our purpose in Him.
By the way, the scripture I found was Psalms 37:4-6. I'd like to share it with you because it has become a huge part of my life, giving me the big picture so that I don't get sucked down by the trivial things of this life.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
What scripture has God led you to that helped you through a situation you went through? Write it in the comments below so as to encourage all of our readers.
Last time we looked at the challenges faced when we fast. We looked at how these challenges can steal our progress on The Road To Pentecost if we aren't careful. However, if we can go to Christ for strength, we'll find the endurance to overcome the attacks of the enemy and soldier through our fasting struggles. Today, we look at the challenges that occur when we pray, especially on a journey like The Road To Pentecost we are currently following.
Have you ever sat down to pray to God and found every form of distraction immediately flood in at you? The phone starts ringing, your to-do list comes to mind, random thoughts pop up. These are just a few things that can happen and they definitely happened to me so far along this journey. I started to pray and a random thought will pop in my head (I can get distracted within my own head at times). I get activities that pop up in my head all the time and I have found myself unknowingly gravitating away from prayer to do them. These activities (work and recreational related) can easily wait until I'm done praying, but their seems to be something pulling me towards them.
The flesh has a way of doing this. It doesn't want to pray because prayer feeds the spirit side of us and the flesh is naturally selfish and ego driven. It's not that the activities or thoughts I have are sinful. They are just distracting and that takes me away from Christ. Imagine if every time you had a conversation with your spouse or loved one, you got lost in an activity or thought or phone call. We'd probably be in the dog house pretty quickly. That's what is happening when we try to pray to God, though. We are ignoring our intimate conversation and relationship time with Him and that tells Him that He isn't important to us.
Luckily, we serve a merciful God who doesn't make us go the couch the next time we want to head to the prayer room (note: my wife has never forced me to sleep on the couch because of my mindless thoughts. She is a wonderful and amazingly merciful woman). God doesn't tell us to leave His house of worship. Rather, He welcomes us back in and encourages us to relate with Him. He won't refuse our prayers, but there are consequences to distracted prayer:
1. We don't grow closer to God
2. We don't achieve the blessings God has for us.
God wants us to grow closer to Him, but we cannot do so if we don't communicate with Him clearly. Christ wants to bless us, but we cannot receive if we aren't focused on Him and His words to us. The only way to get these two items is to pray to God with a focused mind and heart.
Thought for the Day:
The cloudier you make your time with God, the less clear things will be when you are done praying.
Jesus said it best when he taught us exactly how we should pray in Matthew 6:6:
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
Christ was letting us know that in order to get into connection with God and receive that which He wants for us, we must get away from the world and all of its distractions. We must decloud our minds, hearts and lives before we even come into his presence. How can we do this, though? Here's some tips to get you through:
These are by no means the only things we can do to fight distractions in our prayer time, but they can definitely help us to focus our minds when facing the enemy of distraction. Once we soldier through these distractions, we'll find ourselves in a supernatural conversation with God. Remember, conversations are both ways so let God have His say when you pray, too. However, having your prayer time proceed without a successful distraction will allow us to draw nearer to God and open us up to the blessings He has for us as we travel down The Road To Pentecost.
Last week we identified 3 tools (fasting, prayer and the Word) and 2 tactics (planning and being still) that will aid us on the Road to Pentecost. We identified these tools on their basic level in relation to our pursuit of an outpouring of God's Spirit and encouraged everyone to pursue them passionately during the lead-up to Pentecost Sunday. Today, we turn our attention to the challenges that come with using these tools and tactics in our journey to God's blessings and plan for us. We begin with fasting.
Have you ever decided to give up something for God and immediately begin to notice that very thing all around you. I began my fast last week by giving up sweets and coffee. Coffee is something very dear to me. It's not just something that gets me going. It's a part of who I am. Dessert, on the other hand, is something that is not too big of a deal to me. I felt I would be balancing my fast well at the beginning by giving up something I really liked to begin the fast with something I can live without. I was fully prepared to face the barrage of caffeine withdrawals and lamentations for lack of coffee. However, what happened was not what I expected.
I never had one caffeine withdrawal. I didn't see a bunch of coffee advertisements or even a lot of people carrying and sipping on coffee. I was even in a coffee shop for a brief time this past week and went unfazed. However, I can't tell you how many shake and ice cream commercials and ads I saw. I was at a wedding this weekend and they had four different types of cake. There was even cake being passed around at my office and donuts were out at Sunday School with no offerings of fresh fruit as an alternative (of course, I missed breakfast because my wife and I have 2 kids and getting to church on time is a miracle enough. Breakfast on Sundays is like seeing the Red Sea parted). It was so strange, but I was being tempted by that which I thought wouldn't give me trouble.
Thought for the Day:
The hardest thing from which to abstain is that for which you have least prepared
The devil doesn't want you to succeed on the Road to Pentecost. He wants you to be defeated and he'll hit you where he thinks you are weakest. I was fully prepared to face the coffee pains, but had not prepared for my sweet tooth to crop up. The devil saw this opening and he jabbed it time and time again. Thankfully, I knew I could rest in God and pop a couple grapes and that would see me through. Those grapes weren't the chocolate shake I wanted, but I felt rewarded that I faced a challenge and God saw me through. I also thought of the scripture in James 1:12:
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
I am facing temptation, not from God, but from the world and the enemy. I know that by enduring temptation by standing firm to my commitments to God and the faith and trust I have put in Him, I will receive something great from on high and so will you. Don't give up when the hunger pangs hit or temptation rears its ugly head. Don't fall prey to the attacks of the devil. Endure by remembering God is with you and will never leave or forsake you. This fast that we have sanctified ourselves for is going to bring forth something great. Believe and continue on the road.
We've found what tools we will need for the road ahead and understand there is a plan-a God plan-that must be implemented if we are to be successful on our Road To Pentecost. Today, we look at one more item as we go into the weekend and meditate on the week's devotions. This item is one that we have alluded to several times in the past four devotions, but it is one that will be key if we are to embark. The item in question: to be still in God's presence.
When we watch a movie or read a story involving a long journey, there are many moments that require the person or party to be still in their journey. This happens most notably in The Lord of The Rings series. As most of us know, the series is about Frodo, a hobbit of seeming insignificance, being tasked with the difficult task of saving the earth by casting the ring of power into the fires of Mordor. Along that dangerous and overwhelming journey, Frodo has several moments that require him to be still. If he were to move on his own, he would be cut down by the forces of Mordor or be captured by somebody else looking for the ring of power. However, when he is still and waits on the right time, he is rewarded for his efforts with clear and safe-sometimes clearer and safer-passage.
As we journey on the Road to Pentecost, we can learn a lot from this story. Even before we begin in earnest the difficult task of our journey (which we will go into greater detail next week), we must be still and listen for God. Maybe even at the beginning of our journey but especially along the way we don't know what our next step will be. It's important not to rush, but to be still and listen for the leading of God. Psalms 46:10 tells us what will happen when stand still:
Be still, and know that I am God:
All to often when we go on a journey for self development or finding greater purpose, its easy to forget that its God who has called us to this journey. We start relying on our own senses and feelings. In doing this we get frustrated and lost and risk never finishing the journey to our outpouring. However, when we slow down and remember who God is to us, we will be encouraged in our journey. Also, to be still and know who God is means that we acknowledge Him and and all that He is to us. In that moment of worship, we can listen to Him for guidance on our journey.
Take this thought with you into the weekend:
Stopping to acknowledge the One who sent you on this journey - the One who set the path on which you stand - will provide the answer of where to go next.
God has a great outpouring waiting for us on the Road to Pentecost. Along the way there will be plenty of opportunities to get sidetracked and forget that it is He who sent us. If we will remember to be still in the difficult moments of the journey, God will guide us to exactly what we need to do and where we need to go.
We've laid the groundwork for fasting, prayer and the Word on our Road to Pentecost. These three tools will assist in our attempts to find what God is looking to pour into our lives. Today, fully equipped with the knowledge of these tools, we look to start the journey to that outpouring from God. The first step to Pentecost isn't a great leap or a tactical maneuver, though. It's setting your path forward.
Whenever we are setting out on a journey, we can easily get caught up in getting to the destination, we don't take time to think about what's ahead of us. An example is going on a family vacation in a car. We are so geared up for trip, the only thing going through our head is getting to the destination and not considering the journey that lay before us. Because we focused so much on what we were going to do once we got to our vacation spot, we didn't check for updates on weather or road closures. The delays caused by our lack of planning result in us losing hours and sometimes a day or two of our vacation, our designated goal.
Let's turn this back towards our Road to Pentecost. When we have in our minds what we want to receive from Christ, we can sometimes get so caught up in what life's going to be like once we get that outpouring that we forget about the journey ahead. The disciples did not do this when they were in the upper room. They knew they needed a 12th man to fulfill scripture (Acts 1:15-16, 20). Even though they were in the midst of ardent prayer and seeking the power from on high to fall, they knew there were still some steps to accomplish along the journey. By not rushing towards their destination, they ensured they met all the requirements to reach it.
Thought for the Day:
Before starting any journey, we must consider the path we will walk for all the trials and triumphs it might bring us.
By examining the road we must walk down to receive the outpouring God has for us, we will be properly equipped and positioned to handle what we will face and receive along the way. The stories in the Word of those who have faced similar situations will give us that preparation. The prayers to God will embolden and strengthen us in our own unique journey. Our fasting will break down our fleshly vision and open up our spiritual eyes to see all that lay before us. Using the three tools God has placed in our hands, we will be able to see the path to our outpouring clearly. Then, the journey truly begins.
As you fast, pray and read the Word for your Road to Pentecost experience, consider your life. What areas of your life need to be shored up before Christ can come and pour out His Spirit on your life.
If you've never received God's Spirit, one thing you can do is examine your heart and repent of anything that is sinful towards God. The Bible even has several lists of things God doesn't want you to have in your life if you need help identifying sinful behavior. For everything else, just ask God to reveal the sin and to forgive you of it all as you turn your life to Him. Once you've done that, consider being baptized in the name of Jesus. Christ proclaims that we must be baptized to be saved (John 3:5, Mark 16:16) and baptism in the early church is only done in the Name of Jesus (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16) and we are to follow the acts of the apostles in our own walk. After all, these were the men Christ trained for over 3 years and then commissioned to spread the gospel. Shouldn't we take the testimony of God working through them as a model for our lives?
We talked about fasting and adding prayer to it in our previous two lessons. You can read those here.
Today, we add the third primary element into any walk with God: the Word. We must have the voice of God guiding us as we travel to Pentecost Sunday or any other great pursuit in Christ.
While prayer and fasting can work to position us in our pursuit of God, the Word shows us the way clearly. Without the Word, we risk darting out towards our goal in Christ and missing the mark. Prayer connects us to God, but teaches us how to hear and communicate with God. Fasting humbles us to the cause of Christ, but the Word works to build us back into Christ's image.
Throughout the early church, followers of Christ from all levels used the word of God for their ministry. Steven and Phillip were young men, but each showed an understanding of the scriptures that only comes from devotion to the Word. Peter quoted prophetic scripture in his sermons regularly and shared how those scriptures related to Christ, a true understanding of the Word on display. We must have that same Word knowledge if we are to see the harvest Christ wants in each of our lives and communities.
Take this thought with you today:
The Word is a map to your blessing, deliverance and redemption and salvation. Use it every time you feel lost or unsure and you'll be sure to find your way.
Today, we challenge our readers to open up the Bible and begin reading for answers to whatever you are pursuing on your Road to Pentecost. Look at what God says and what good men and women of God do in similar situations and pursuits. Mark those scriptures down and pray them as you fast these remaining days.
Last time we talked about sanctifying ourselves for a fast on our Road To Pentecost. We used scriptures from Joel 2 that showed what fasting can do. Some of those scriptures were even quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost. As we saw in those scriptures from Joel, the act of fasting will get God's attention when it is done with a right spirit. The act of sacrifice goes up to God the same as a burnt offering would have on the altar of repentance. Just as with the burnt offering, though, fasting requires more than just an action. It requires prayer.
Today, read Acts 1:13-14. The term supplication there means to desperately ask for something. Look at the roll call of important people in the early church. Imagine being in the same room with them with a focused mind and focused heart like they had. Note that the term supplication means to desperately ask for something. Those 120 faithful servants were all desperately calling out to God for the same thing: His power to fall.
Take this thought with you as you further meditate on the segment of scripture for today:
The mighty acts of God are often preceded by the desperate prayers of unified believers.
God wants to do great things in our lives. There are times, though, that he looks and listens to see who is truly desiring after Him. If we will come after God with our whole hearts and minds on this fast, He will respond in kind and we will see the power of God fall like He wants it to on Pentecost Sunday.
Chris Farris is the author of The Way, a manual detailing how to implement the Beatitudes into your life. He review events and other media and offers other insights into writing and working for the Kingdom of God.