As I walked in the darkness

With a lone candle in my hand

I happened upon a haggard man

Stumbling as he wandered the land

When I neared he covered his face

My small light too bright to bear

I offered to help, show him the way

But he screamed he did not care

“There’s no need to stumble along,” I said

“No need to be lost in the night.

Let this lone light be your guide

This light will forever burn bright.”

But he rejected the eternal flame

Told me the darkness was alright

Then he turned and walked away

Stumbling along, lost in the night

But my care for him did not cease

I bowed and prayed he would see

Christ’s light releases the grip of darkness

And puts us on the path to be free

“God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1:5

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It hit me the other night that darkness in this world is not static, that evil is continually on the move. That means our prayers are not a one-time event; our prayers must be constant, continually praying for the Spirit of God to drive out the darkness with His light. We must remember that if we are not vigilant in our prayers, darkness can get a toehold in our lives and the church.

I think this is what Paul is telling the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-20. Paul writes in verse 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.” This reminds us that if we lose our focus on Christ Jesus and start grumbling about our circumstances, we leave a door open for darkness to move into our lives and the church. In verses 12-15 he cautions the church to guard against things that cause division. He urges the church to “live in peace with each other” and to “be patient with everyone.”

Continual prayer helps us to focus on Jesus Christ and the blessings he gives us. Prayer helps us to turn someone’s offense into an avenue of reconciliation. Prayer helps us to stop divisive actions and gives us the courage to pursue peace-making. Continual prayer, particularly as a body of believers, helps to stop darkness from seeping into our lives and the church. That is why Paul tells the church in verses 21-22 to “hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Our prayers help us to tap into the power of the Spirit of God so that the light continues to advance over darkness.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5

After looking at my lastest bank statement, I wondered how much faith I was putting in an account balance versus God’s provision. It’s easy to say that I trust God, but another thing to live it. There are too many days where I rely more on myself and the things of this world than God and his church.

In contemplating this dilemma, I was drawn to 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 where David orders a census of his troops. His advisor Joab warns David, “My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel (verse 3)?” Ultimately David is punished by the Lord for the act of counting the troops, just as Joab foretold.

The problem with the census was the reliance on numbers and earthly strength instead of obedience to God. When I read in verse four that David had 1.1 million men who could handle a sword, I was impressed by the sheer size of his army. It’s easy to see how knowing the size of the army could make you more confident in your own ability to engage in battles not ordained by God. Who wouldn’t feel like you could conquer the world with the size of that army?

The same can be true of us. Over-confidence in our own ability or resources can prompt us to make decisions without consulting God. But the Bible teaches us that being humble and obedient to God is more important than having an army of people behind you or a large account balance. Psalm 90:12 instructs us, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That is a much better number to focus on.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul provided a vivid picture of being prepared to do battle with “spiritual forces of evil” (verse 12). When we read these verses, it’s easy to picture ourselves putting on the “full armor of God” in preparation for battle; arming ourselves with the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. But how many of us read these verses and remember that Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus — that Paul is talking about equipping an army of believers with the full armor of God?

When we view this passage in this context, it is not just about the individual believer being equipped for battle, but it is also about the church being equipped for battle. If you take that a step further, it prompts questions about whether your church is properly equipped to do battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (verse 12).

Take a look at your church and ask yourself if it is equipped to act as one body, ready to wield the sword of the spirit as a unified force for the Kingdom of God. Do the believers in your church have confidence in their faith, salvation and righteousness? Are they prepared to use God’s truth to deflect the false truths and flaming arrows of the evil one? Are they ready to lay aside differences so that they can stand together as believers in Jesus Christ?

I once had a professor who commented on this passage and its context of equipping an army of believers. He asked the class to picture themselves surviving a horrific battle against the evil one. “As the dense smoke begins to clear you wonder if you are alone,” he said. “Now imagine the smoke clears and you see your fellow believers standing with you, locked arm and arm ready to defend the Kingdom of God.” This powerful imagery reminded me that the church must act as a unified army, suited up with the armor of God and joined together to defend God’s truth.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12

We sat together talking about faith in Christ and spiritual matters. As the hours passed I forgot where we were sitting and became absorbed in our discussion about what it means to be a committed Christian. But soon reality set in as a guard announced the end of visiting hours. We hugged and he returned to his prison cell and a guard escorted me to the visitor entrance.

As I walked through the metal detector and then watched the guard wand me, I thought about how as believers in Jesus Christ we are one in the Spirit. Even though my friend was paying the consequences for his poor choices, I was was no better than him. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

That is the beauty of the Kingdom of God. Despite our differences; despite our history; despite all our failings, we are one in the body of Christ (Romans 12:3-5). Galatians 3:26 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” 

As I drove away from the prison, I looked at the towering fence and razor wire that separated us. It was a blessing to be able to visit my friend. It encouraged me greatly to see how God was working in his life through other believers in prison and the prison ministry in the area. I left with greater empathy for his struggles and an understanding of how to better pray for him — a better understanding of what it means to be one in Christ.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. — Hebrews 13:3

In the last chapters of the book of Ezekiel, Israel is in exile and the prophet Ezekiel is given a detailed vision of the restoration of the temple and Israel (chapters 40-48). In 47:8 there is a description of water flowing from the temple into the Dead Sea. The result is that “the salty water there becomes fresh.” Verse 9 tells us that “where the river flows everything will live.”

This is a compelling picture of how God’s living water brings life to formerly dead things. Because of the water from the temple of God, plants bear fruit for food and “leaves for healing (verse 12).” As believers in Jesus Christ we can do the same for people in our lives. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).” 

In the course of our day we can let living water flow from the temple within us (1 Cor. 3:16)  to touch people we encounter with the Spirit of God. We can bring fresh water to people who are wading through the saltwater swamps and marshes of life (Ezekiel 47:9-11).

If I boil down the essence of obedience, it usually comes down to a battle of wills — a battle between God’s will and my selfish will. More times than I like to admit, my insistence that I have a right to do something drives me to disobey God. Yet so many of the people in the Bible teach us quite the opposite. 

This is what impresses me about Joseph in Matt. 1:18-24. He had his life planned out for the foreseeable future. He would marry this local girl Mary and they would live happily ever after. Except verse 1:18 tells us that before they came together “she was found to be pregnant.” Joseph responded as any Jewish man might have at that time and decided to act according to Jewish law which gave him the right to divorce her (Deut. 24:1). 

We get a sense that Joseph was a man who deeply desired to follow God. Verse 19 tells us he decided to quietly divorce her to prevent her from facing public disgrace. He planned to follow Jewish law yet he had empathy for Mary. But God had a different plan for Joseph.

In verse 20, an angel tells Jospeh in a dream, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Verse 24 tells us that when Jospeh woke up, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Joseph decided to set aside his right to divorce Mary and instead obey God’s command.

Joseph modeled for us what obedience to God looks like in practice. He laid aside his selfish rights, his plans, in order to follow God’s commands. We should be willing to do the same by letting the Spirit of God guide us instead of our selfish will.

There are times when we can feel overwhelmed by the demands of life. We seek solutions but they seem impossible to achieve based on what little resources we have available to us. This can lead us to overlook how God can take seemingly insufficient things and multiply them to meet needs in ways we never expected.

We see this in John 6:1-15, a well-known passage where Jesus feeds the 5,000. In verse five and six, Jesus tests his disciple Phillip by asking, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” These verses tell us Jesus already knows what he is going to do, but he wants to see how his disciples respond to the situation. The question is very revealing. Phillip answers like we do so many times to problems we face. We’re standing there surrounded by hungry people and all we can say is, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 

Phillip can only comprehend the cost to barely provide an appetizer for all those people. Andrew chimes in with a different answer. He seeks help from the crowd and brings a boy to Jesus with five small barley loaves and two small fish. Then he asks Jesus, “How far will they go among so many?” Phillip and Andrew can only see what’s in front of them as answers to the hungry crowd.

Jesus encourages us to look beyond our own abilities and resources and seek Him. Too often we respond like Phillip where we can only see the cost or like Andrew where we can only see what is in front of us. We shouldn’t just reluctantly turn to Christ pleading, “What can you possibly do with this small amount? How can we possibly get this much money to meet all these needs?”

Jesus wants us to bring what little we have, our doubts and all, and lay them before his feet. Through Him lives can be transformed, hunger can be satisfied and thirst can be quenched with living water. It is an opportunity to experience the life Jesus offers when we choose to trust Him. It is Jesus who does the multiplying through us with what he has given us.

Jesus is all about multiplying what little we have whether now or across generations. We need to come to Him with the faith of a mustard seed, planting it and nourishing it with the expectation that ultimately God will do great things. Note in verse 11 that Jesus takes the little that the apostles brought to him, gives thanks to God and then has it distributed to the people. It is after everyone has their fill that they see God’s provision. 

We should do the same. Give thanks for what God has given us and work with what we have. Then let God do the multiplying so everyone can have their fill instead of just an appetizer.

I have always been intrigued by the encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Here we have two people seeking Christ. One is seeking to serve Christ, the other is seeking to find Christ. It’s an instructive, God-ordained encounter that should encourage us to follow the prompting of the Spirit. It also shows us how God is preparing the hearts of those who don’t know Christ for such an encounter.

The passage opens with an angel of the Lord directing Phillip to go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He doesn’t know why, but he obediently starts down the road. He encounters an Ethiopian eunuch which verse 27 tells us was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (NIV).” The chariot must have been an intimidating site, but at the Spirit’s prompting Phillip walked along side the chariot and discovers the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53:7-8. 

The next verses show us how God had worked on this man’s heart, preparing him for the encounter with Phillip. The eunuch had been worshiping in Jerusalem and was now reading the prophet Isaiah. He was searching for Christ and Phillip was able to tell him “the good news about Jesus (verse 35).” Upon hearing about Jesus the eunuch stopped the chariot by a pool of water and remarked, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized (verse 36)?” Truly this man was ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

This passage is a good reminder to followers of Christ Jesus to be ready to follow the prompting of the Spirit as we go through our day. We may feel God nudging us toward an intimidating encounter, as Phillip and the official in the chariot, but we should remember that God has likely already been working on the person’s heart. Our job may be to sow more gospel seeds or to bring a person to Christ. Either way obedience to Christ can enrich our lives as well as the lives of those ready to hear the gospel.

A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop. 

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small. 

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

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