Tag Archives: scripture

The all important morning watch

Next to receiving Christ as Savior, and claiming the filling of the Holy Spirit, we know of no act attended with larger good to ourselves or others than the formation of an undiscourageable resolution to keep the morning watch and spend the first half hour of the day alone with God.
~ John Mott

I read these words during my devotion time this morning and was struck by their truthfulness.   I can testify that the greatest blessing or hindrance to my spiritual well being rests on how and with whom I spend the first moments of each day.

I can also testify that this truth is the easiest for the enemy of our soul to minimize, distort and steal.   If you are like me you have probably had that internal dialogue that says things like this:

I just don’t have time.

I’m not a morning person.

I will make up for the time I missed today, tomorrow.

I don’t feel like it.  I’ll do it when I feel like it.

I don’t know how to spend time alone with God.  It feels forced or fake.

All of these are excuses manufactured not from the Spirit of God but by the enemy who knows that if he can distract us from the first part of the day, he can have the whole day.

One of the things I have to guard against is the lie that I can bank up grace and spiritual fortitude.  I have thought at various times in my Christian walk that since I spent an hour with Jesus yesterday morning, and since I’m too busy this morning, I can coast.

But trying to stockpile grace when it’s convenient for me to do so, and expecting it to sustain me for the days ahead while I’m too busy works as well as collecting multiple days worth of manna worked for the Hebrew people seeking the Promised Land (see Exodus 16).

Why?  I am convinced it is because the One who created me and you knows better than we that with each setting and rising of the sun we must acknowledge our desperate need to abide in Christ today.   Apart from me, Jesus said, we can do nothing (John 15:5).   When I think that yesterday’s grace is sufficient for me today I presume upon the gracious gift of God, using it in vain (2 Cor. 6:1).

When I wake up and tend to a thousand other perceived needs besides spending time alone with God I am saying I have the power to manipulate yesterday’s manna to be good for today.  I am taking control of a gift that was never mine to begin with.

The quote above from John Mott reminded me of a few key things.    First, keeping a morning watch is an act of will, not emotion.   There must be an “undiscourageable resolution” to make the first part of our day the Lord’s part.   There will be plenty of times where we will not feel like it.  There will be plenty of times where other things, even good things, lobby for our time.    But if it is true that apart from Christ I can do nothing, than even these good things must wait until I have spent sufficient time alone with God today.

Second, this undiscourageable resolution is formed, not innate.   It will go against our nature to lay aside a morning watch with God.   It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.   Hopefully you can receive this as good news!  You aren’t a terrible person because you don’t feel like spending time with God this morning.   What is true, however, is that you are human and acting and feeling precisely the way God’s word says you will.   The will to spend time alone with God is something that must be formed in each and every one of us.   No human since sin entered the world has desired this naturally but every great man and woman of God who experiences the fullness and richness of God’s grace each day have been formed into such people over time.   You can be, too.

Finally, it’s of the greatest good to ourselves and others.  Our Father in Heaven who created the days, who proclaims that His mercies are new every morning, knows His children can’t experience the abundant life nor have the capacity to love others well if we don’t first rest in Him.   The greatest gift I can give to those I love, who may be demanding of my time and resources, is to rise early enough to spend time with my Creator and soak in His mercy.

During my time at Pure Life Ministries the first task I was given was to spend the first 20 minutes of each morning with God.  Ten minutes reading scripture and 10 minutes in prayer.   Over time that was increased bit by bit.    A year later those 20 minutes blossomed into 90 minutes of the most precious time of my day.   It is without question the habit formed which is most essential to my well being and my ability to love others well.  When I neglect this, I, and those I love, suffer.  Leaders at Pure Life tell me that the number one cause of relapse is when people minimize this morning time with God and begin to think yesterday’s grace will carry over today.   Setting a time aside to be with God each morning is as essential to our recovery as breathing is essential to life.

I want to encourage you today to determine to begin being formed in new ways.   Resolve to set a morning watch and then taste and see how God honors this with not only a greater capacity to love and be loved, but also changes your desires.    Please feel free to share with me how God shows up in your life over the upcoming weeks and months!

According to the Word of God

This morning in group, one of the men shared that he is thankful that God will never leave nor forsake him, according to the word of God.  

According to the word of God.

I was impressed with the way he stated this and told him so.  What impressed me is that his assurance that God was with him was not based on how he felt but rooted in the trustworthiness of God’s word.   God said he would never leave him and this young man believed it, regardless of his feelings.

No doubt this is why he is 20 weeks sober and continuing to flourish.

In my personal experience in both my own recovery and being a coach for others I have learned that the extent to which we flourish in our recovery – and life! – is the extent to which we have utter reliance on God’s words over any other words.  Those who continue to preach the gospel to themselves, who consistently chew on and digest scripture, who replace the voices of this world with the voice of the Holy Spirit are those who get and remain sober and are less likely to allow the troubles of this life to knock them off the wagon.

It’s imperative for us to daily remind ourselves that we are in a war and there is an enemy that wants to destroy us.  His name is Satan, which literally means “The Accuser.”   The bible says that he is a liar and is the father of lies (John 8:44).  Ever thing that is untrue finds its genesis in Satan, The Accuser.  He lives to accuse those who belong to Christ (Rev. 12:10).  He lives to sow lies into us meant to harden our hearts towards the truth of God, inspire bitterness in our hearts towards others and make us feel unworthy of the abundant life Jesus promised.

And he’s crafty. He has been doing this from the beginning and knows our weak points.  He knows how to whip us into a frenzy of anger or lust or pride or self-indulgence.  He knows how to inspire in us the justifications to seek our own way and defend our rights and put ourselves before anyone else.  He knows how to cause us to doubt the faithfulness of God or the kindness of others.

Your best defense against this liar is a good offense.   My counselor, when he talks about the way Satan works his lies into my head, will get very animated and jump up and scream,

Damn him!

It reminds me that I’m fighting someone very real who is playing for keeps.  My best defense is a good offense.  I need to be in the word. I need to replace the lies with the truth so that my mind can be renewed (Rom. 12:1-2).

I’ve written extensively on this blog about how to do that.   Three very practical ways you can begin today are these:

1.  Get into the word and begin by reading Psalm 119.  It will, if you open yourself to it, nurture in you a love for God’s words.   If you commit to the reading I outline HERE, you will find in a few months a hunger for God’s truth that you’ve never known before.

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2. Pray for people instead of think about them, including yourself.  The Mercy Prayer (click the link) is a prayer that changed my life and my thoughts towards God, myself and others.  Commit to this prayer for the next 3 months and I promise you that your inner world will do a 180.

3. Finally, ask yourself this question often:  Is this feeling, emotion or response I’m about to give one that is produced by the Spirit of God or by some other spirit?  My counselor reminds me that it will always be one or the other.  Recalling this again and again helps me to take every thought captive for Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  If it’s not from God, renounce it and replace it with truth from God’s word.

According to God’s word, you are a beloved child of God (1 John 3:2).  You were worth dying for even while an enemy of God’s, thus proving God’s love for you (Rom. 5:10)!    Nothing, NOTHING, can separate you from God’s love, neither death nor life, not even angels or demons – including The Accuser – nor the present or future nor any other kind of power (Rom. 8:38-39).   Let that soak in.   Let those be the words that shape you.

Let it be so, according to the Word of God.

Living by a better script

You’re a lousy father!

I wish I had married someone else.

You’re a worthless friend.

You are just an addict and will always be one.

Perhaps you have had these words or similar ones directed towards you.  Perhaps you have said them.   Words are powerful, aren’t they?  They have the power to build us up or tear us down.  James 3 speaks of the tongue as a small thing but one with great power, able to set an entire forest on fire with a spark.   I’m sure all of us could testify to this truth.  How many times have the sharp, hot words of another set us ablaze with anger, fear, shame, guilt or feelings of worthlessness?

There are times in my life where the words of others have more power over me than other times.  When I reflect back on those seasons – seasons where my world can be set on fire by the words of others – I recognize something that is true 100% of the time: I’ve taken my eyes and ears off of the One who speaks words of life 100% of the time.

I am listening to the wrong script.

The other day the Lord made this clear to me.  I had heard some words that were hurtful.   My response was to live into those words.  To accept them as true and be that person.  Have you ever done that?   Someone tells you that you are an inattentive father, for example, or that you are a lazy worker, or a boring wife, or a miserable friend, and you take that inside you and choose to live down to that script.

When that happens to me I usually retreat.  I will feel sorry for myself and shut myself off from others because I feel ashamed of what others think of me.  Maybe you do the same. Maybe you lash out in anger or get defensive.  Maybe you say to yourself something like, “Fine! You think I’m a terrible wife?!  I’ll show you how terrible I can be!”

Well the other day I was having a moment where I was closing myself off and wanting to hide because of the words of another.  It’s then that I heard the Lord say to me,

Son, why are you so willing to live into the ideas that others have of you rather than Mine? Why do their words about you matter to you more than My words?

As is often the case when the Spirit speaks to me I didn’t have a good answer.   It was true.  I was living by the wrong script.

I’m learning that when someone’s words cut me down I have a choice in that moment.  I can choose to live into their assessment of me or God’s.  I can choose to live down to their low expectations of me or I can live into Christ who lives through me.

I’m also learning that as Christ lives through me, my words to others ought to be words that build up and encourage rather than tear down and belittle.   God’s words to others are not only those written on the page, but can sometimes be those words we who are His ambassadors speak.   So speak life, not death.

Which script do you live by most of the time?  If you are not in God’s word daily you will not know the truth about you, nor be able to resist the temptation to live down to the words of others.  If you are a slave to shame and self-pity, to living into the self-fulfilling prophecies of others who don’t know any better, then maybe it’s time to feast on God’s words to you.  His words are pure and true, and will lead you to life, not death.

Here are just a few of the things God thinks about you. The next time someone’s words threaten to spark a fire in you, allow these words to speak louder.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. (Psalm 139:17-18)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37).

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he browses among the lilies. (Song of Solomon 6:3).

Sweet Jesus, give me the will to live into Your thoughts and words about me rather than those of this world.  Enable me by your grace to live deeply into the script You are writing for my life.  Amen.

Just a word and I am clean

My devotions this morning had me in John 15.  In verse 3 Jesus says something (again) that changes my world.

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Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you (John 15:3).

What an amazing thing it is to learn that just a word from Jesus can obliterate a lifetime of self-seeking, sin, brokenness, waste, shame and guilt.  Just a word can take these filthy rags that I have made of my life and turn it into something beautifully pure, fit for a bride to wear on her wedding day.

The words of God are pure (Proverbs 30:5; Psalm 12:6).   They slice through the heaviness of our world and the baggage we carry and set us free.

IF we will abide in them.  

Keep reading in John 15 and we find the secret of lasting freedom:  Abiding in his words.

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch that withers (15:6)

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done (15:7)

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love (15:10)

You are my friends, if you do what I command you.

The words of God are full of if/than statements such as these.   If you will do this, than this will occur. 

Just a word from Jesus can make you clean.   And yet, how often do we run to the “words” of this world to find our nourishment?  How often do we turn to the compulsion of our choice, or the praise of our friends, the words of our family, the advice from the media, or any number of other words in order to get through the day?

If we would but only abide in the pure words of God, the only words which have the power to make us free, we would know life and life abundantly (John 10:10).

What words are you abiding by today?   Whose words are you abiding in?  When we realize that the bible is not full of old words written by dead men but the very words of Life which promise to heal, it will no longer be a chore to read, but a gift we can’t live without.

Just a word and you will be clean.   Read them, and be clean.

Overcoming Addiction; Becoming More Than A Conqueror

This post is part II of my reflections from this past Sunday’s sermon on addiction.    You can read Part I HERE, which addresses the problem of addiction.   Today we will consider the solution.

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Before going further I think it’s important to note that addictions come in all shapes and sizes.   We can become addicted to anything.   Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they find their rest in Thee.”   How true this is.   When God is not on the throne of our hearts any number of suitors will take his place.

Equally important to note is that addiction is not the problem.   Addiction is merely the symptom of a deeper issue.   Jesus said that it is out of the heart that good or evil flow, so if you find yourself habitually returning to the same sin over and over again then you don’t need a new program or method or counselor to help you get your life straightened out.   You need what Jesus said you – and I – need:  A new heart.

The good news here is that God is still in the business of turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.  He delights in breaking the chains of a sinner whose will is chained at the altar of addiction and idolatry, setting them free “to both will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). 

I know first-hand how difficult it is to come to this realization that our heart’s are desperately wicked and that Jesus wants to make us new, not just better.    If you grew up in the church it is especially hard.   Working against me was a history of being a pastor’s kid, an undergrad degree in bible and theology, a seminary degree, and a number of years serving as a pastor.   With so much religion in my life it was easy to fall prey to spiritual pride, which convinced me I was essentially a good person, that my service to God and others counted for something, and that I just struggled with this “one thing,” but hey, everyone has their “thorn in the flesh,” right?

All of that is a lie which serves to keep us from experiencing the power, freedom and hope that Jesus promises we can have in him.   That power is freely offered to you but will not be fully realized until you accept God’s reality of things.   You are not a good person who occasionally (or often) does bad things but a sinner with a bad heart incapable of ever pleasing, or seeing, God (see Isa. 64:6 and Heb. 12:14).

We need new hearts, and thanks be to God, he is willing and able to give us what we need!

So the first step towards freedom from sin (addiction) is letting go of the pride in us that tries to justify ourselves before a holy God and reckon ourselves as that which God’s word says we are:  A sinner in need of a new heart.

Pastor Tim, in his sermon on Sunday, shared a story from Scripture that has much practical value for us here.   It is Matthew 17:14-21.  The first half of the story is about a man beseeching Jesus to heal his demon-possessed son.  He brought him to Jesus’ disciples first but they were unable to drive it out.   Before healing the boy, Jesus exclaims,

O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?

Jesus diagnoses their generation (and no doubt our own) as “unbelieving” and “perverse.”   Because of these two things, the disciples lacked the power to free this man’s son.  What does it mean to be unbelieving and perverse?

  • Unbelieving is to be not connected to God.

If you are addicted to something then you have something else on the throne of your heart other than God.  God is a jealous God and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can treat his temple (our bodies) casually (1 Cor. 6:19-20).   This is related to the second point…

  • Perverse is to be too connected to the world.

If Jesus’ generation loved the world how much more might that be of us today!   We love the comforts and thrills this world offers us and take little notice of how much of a hold it has on our spiritual lives.  Scripture teaches that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4).    God calls us “adulterers” when we put the things of this world before our connection with Him.

And so, Jesus says, it is because we are not connected with God and are too connected with this world that we lack power in our lives to be the victorious, over-coming Christians we are called to be.

The disciples came to Jesus privately in the second half of our story above and ask Jesus why they could not drive out the demon.   Jesus tells them that they lack faith, but also tells us how we can make right the problem of being unbelieving and perverse.  If you are having a hard time driving out your demon of addiction, Jesus says,

This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting

Jesus calls prayer and fasting essential, so lets consider each.

  • Prayer connects us to God

I am ashamed to admit that I was once someone who scoffed at those who advised me I needed to pray more.  They were the sort of people I deleted from my life (mentioned in part I).   Our cynicism towards prayer and it’s efficacy is just one more symptom of our lack of faith and validation of Jesus’ claim that we live in an unbelieving and perverse generation.

However, there is some truth to the critics of “praying more.”    It’s not so much the “more” but the “how” and “why” that matters.   A person can pray 24 hours a day but if they cherish iniquity in their heart (as most addicts still do) or, for you husband’s, if you do not honor your wife and treat her as God commands, then nobody is listening on the other end of the line (see Psalm 66:18 and 1 Peter 3:7.  Also, you may be interested in a post on this blog titled “When God Doesn’t Listen”).

Most of my prayers as a habitual sinner (addict) were about God removing the painful circumstances that my sins have caused rather than submitting to a holy God whom I knew would demand radical heart surgery on me.   When our prayers are motivated by “worldly sorrow” rather than “godly sorrow” we are praying from a place of pride and the result will be further death, not life (2 Cor. 7:10).   The Puritan William Gurnall says of prayer,

Prayer is the main line that leads straight to the throne of God.  By it the Christian approaches God with a humble boldness of faith, takes hold of Him, wrestles with Him, and will not let Him go until he has His blessing.  (The Christian in Complete Armor Vol. I).

We can be assured that the blessing which God desires to bestow upon us is victory over every sin that besets us, including the most pernicious of addictions, for His will for us is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3).

  • Secondly, fasting disconnects us from the world.

One of the great benefits of my time at Pure Life was that it forced me to disconnect from the world.   In doing so I realized just how much the love of this world had a hold on me.  I also learned that I would not die without watching TV!   For 7 months I was without radio, TV, internet, magazines, etc.  I fed myself with a steady diet of Scripture, Prayer, Worship and Christian books.

I also took on a weekly habit of fasting for 24 hours from food, something I had never done before that time, nor did I understand it’s benefits.   God used that time where I denied myself food to teach me that I could, in fact, say “NO” to the desires of my flesh.   Without really realizing it at the time I was strengthening my spiritual “muscles.”   Since I knew I could say no to food when my stomach growled I became increasingly confident that I could also say no to lust when it beckoned.   The fruit of the Spirit which includes “self-control” began to take root in my life from the discipline of fasting.

I’ve been home from Pure Life now for over 7 months and have continued my practice of fasting in order to be less connected to the world.   We don’t have a TV in our home save one in the kids room for Ava’s Mickey Mouse episodes.   We listen to Christian music in our home and read Christian books.   My time on the internet is guarded, filtered, and used as needed.   As a family we always went to the beach for summer vacations but this year we opted not to go, as it was a source of temptation.

Jesus said to be radical with sin that threatens to destroy us – to go as far as cutting out the eye or the limb.   If you find yourself being constantly defeated by the same habitual patterns or sins, I can testify that cutting out the many inroads the world has in your life, while adding prayer for the right reasons from a right heart, will destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and you will be more than a conqueror, (Rom. 8:37) just as God said you would be.

*Thanks to my good friend and pastor, Tim Paul, for supplying the bullet points above.   Your sermon really spoke to me, and I pray my reflections upon it serve as a testament to that.