Monday, April 21, 2014

Pray for Discipline

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." - Hebrews 12:11

Have you experienced the discipline of the Lord? If not, you should worry.

God's discipline is His firm fatherly hand, allowing us to experience painful consequences for our sinful actions and choices. He brings suffering, difficulty, frustration, emptiness into our lives in order to sober us up out of our sin-induced stupor. He frustrates our sinful plans, He doesn't allow us to be satisfied with our sinful substitutes, He brings pain as a teacher. CS Lewis has said of pain, "it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." He shouts into our hard hearts, "Turn around! This is the wrong way!" drawing us to repentance and life.

But why should you worry if you're not experiencing discipline? Because God's fatherly discipline is a key evidence that you are truly born again, and a child of God. If there is no discipline in your life, if there is no restraint that God is bringing against your sin, that's an evidence that God has given you OVER to your sin. Paul speaks of this in Romans 1, about God's passive wrath; basically God allows you to live however you want, careening along the well-worn path to Hell. Hebrews 12:8 says "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." You should be VERY scared if you do not see God’s hand of loving fatherly discipline in your life in response to your sin against Him. If you are sinning with no consequence, no fear, no conviction of guilt, then this is a dangerous sign that you are not a son of God. He is allowing you to just wallow in your sin and let it consume you from the inside. That’s scary.

So WHY does God discipline us? What is the purpose and fruit? Hebrews 12:11 says we get a harvest of righteousness and peace.  Hebrews 12:10 says God does this "for our good, that we may share his holiness." Holiness: Being set apart from the corrupted filthy sin-sick world, we become weaned off of our sin, and this is one of the best things in the world! And we desperately need this holiness, as it says a few verses later in Hebrews 12:14, "Strive...for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." Do you want to see the Lord? Do you want to be in His presence? Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Then you MUST be holy. It is the holy ones that come to heaven (Psalm 24:3-4) and the pure in heart that see God (Matthew 5:8).

Holiness is necessary, and discipline is the means to attain it.

But discipline seems too HARD, it seems as though God hates us, has forgotten us, has abandoned us. Is this true? When Christians experience suffering and hardship, is this God forgetting us? Is He too busy? Far from it! God brings discipline because of His great LOVE for His children. Hebrews 12:5-6 quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." So His discipline comes from LOVE! Jesus Himself says in Revelation 3:19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." Discipline flows from God's love for us!

So how do we apply this? How does it change our mindset, our prayers, and our lives? Three applications to consider:
  1. Reinterpret Discipline: Be grateful, not bitter. Be glad, not sad. See the purpose behind it, don't lament how meaningless your suffering is. Use it to remind yourself of God's character and God's priorities. Holiness is vitally necessary, and He loves you. Be encouraged! 
  2. Pray for Discipline:  Ask for God to bring discipline into your life, like a child who DESIRES the boundaries and the discipline because she knows that it reflects the loving heart of her father to protect her. Pray for His discipline, press into it, ask him to grow and stretch you and chastise you for your rebellion and disobedience. Ask Him to help you see your sin, convict you of it, so that you would grow in holiness. It is worth it in the end! The peace that comes from mature righteousness is worth the pain of discipline! Scripture is replete with examples of those who have come to love discipline: 
    1. Psalm 141:5, "Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds." 
    2. Ecclesiastes 7:5, "It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools." 
    3. Proverbs 9:8, "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you."
  3. Encourage Others: We all get weary in the fight against sin, especially when we're stubborn and God has to increase the heat of discipline to get our attention. That's why the author of Hebrews ends with this encouragement in verse 12, "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed." Who do you know who is suffering and experiencing God's discipline? Give them the Hebrews 12 perspective. Encourage them. Help them to see God's love and care, His purposes of making them holy. Give them joy! 
Praying for discipline,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, April 14, 2014

Faith in the Haze

Have you ever felt like you were in a spiritual haze? It could be just a season, or maybe it's after a failure. Perhaps for months now you've been sad, depressed, melancholy... joy seems far and God seems farther. Or maybe it's right after a failure: you had drank deeply from the broken cistern of your favorite sin, and even though you've confessed and repented you still feel the familiar darkness and distance from God that lasts for days. Does that describe your experience?

Sometimes Christians go through these seasons, these "dark nights of the soul". We don't feel the same intimacy with God when we approach His Word. We don't feel closeness with friends. It could be a few days of wallowing in the feelings of guilt over your failure, shame over your weakness. It could be months and months of difficulty and dragging discouragement.

So what do you do? How do you get through the haze? How do you respond when the darkness doesn't leave, and Satan is having a field day accusing you after your failure? How do you respond after a failure when you're spiritually groggy and unclear, without that fight in your belly? Or even worse: How do you respond when you're in a spiritual haze in general? Where there seems to be no good reason for the darkness?

Answer: Live by faith in the haze. That's how you make it. Remember the gospel, remember God's character, remember what's true, and BELIEVE it in a deeper way. Latch onto it and CLING to it with everything in you. Fight!

Three practical encouragements for living by faith the haze:
  • This haze will pass - Honestly, it will go away. God is faithful, and behind the dark cloud that hides Him, there is a smiling face. He LOVES you, not because of your good behavior, but because of Christ. He doesn't hate you for your sins, and He will not punish you. He has ALREADY punished Christ in your place. So be patient, and wait for the haze to pass. It may take a few days, it may take months, or it may take until you die and enter in the joy of God for all eternity... but it is temporary. Meditate on Psalm 27:14, and wait for the Lord. 
  • Believe God's promises, not your feelings - 1 John 1:9 says that if you confess, you are forgiven. But you don't FEEL forgiven!! It feels like a hollow promise. But you must BELIEVE that it is true, regardless of your feelings. Tell your feelings to take a hike. FIGHT. Get violent and LAY HOLD onto the promises of God. Scream them out loud. Believe them with force. The gospel still holds power even if you don't feel it this moment. Micah 7 is a fantastic anthem. 
  • Force feed yourself the Word - You may feel distant from God, and like the Bible is just black words on a white page. Nothing. Lifeless. But sober up, Christian, and read that Word all the same. Read it like it's the antidote to the poison in your veins. Don't wait until you get hungry to start eating the Word. Read it, like your life depends on it. 
Trusting in God in the darkness,
The Relentless Fight

PS: John Piper wrote a short book called When The Darkness Will Not Lift. It's free for PDF download, and it's an excellent encouragement.

Monday, April 7, 2014

God is Greater Than Our Heart

Please welcome guest author Melissa Cimbala! Melissa works on staff for DiscipleMakers and has a passion for seeing others grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. She also loves sunshine, breakfast, and silliness. For anyone who is weary in the fight and feel condemned by your sin, this post is for you. 

1 John 3:20 “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

Sin runs deep, the cross runs deeper
All people have sinned deeply and rejected God, professing Christians included. That is why we deeply need Jesus; we need a Savior who is bigger than ourselves. We need the cross of Christ with all of its facets and implications for our sin and redemption. One facet in particular stands largely in the face of sin…

You just did it again. Your words oozed with pride and disdain, you looked at porn, you skipped another meal to go to the gym, you went too far and failed to honor him or her physically. You know that it’s wrong, that it is sinful, and yet you keep on doing it. Satan seems to be cheering you on and his victory seems imminent.

Maybe it’s not a repetitive sin weighing you down. Maybe there was one defining moment that you wish you could take back. You can see how broken and evil it is. How much it influences your life and your relationship with God.

You need forgiveness, redemption, healing. You ask God for forgiveness, but you cannot seem to forgive yourself or to believe that God would forgive you either. It seems too big, too wrong, and too persistent. Where is the hope?

The hope is in the cross.
 Jesus’ death on the cross did something amazing. It not only atoned for our sins, but it also threw Satan’s schemes upside down. Satan WANTS you to despair at your sin and the “worse” the sin, the more he is going to guilt you and plague you and try to make you believe that you cannot be forgiven and redeemed.

BUT when Jesus died He covered it all. He “is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” He knows what is in your heart. He is bigger than what is in your heart. And knowing what is in you He still died, He still chose you.

What does this mean for Satan? What does it mean for us? It means that the more deeply you feel your sin; the more deeply you can know that Jesus loves you and died for you. No matter how bad and persistent the sin may be, Jesus already knew about it before He died and He still chose to pay the cost.

This actually reverses Satan’s schemes!! It means that the more and more entrenched in sin that you get, the more and more you begin to see your need for a savior and the more and more you realize how great He is and how much He loves you. The worse your sin seems, the more you should love your Savior, knowing what He has saved you from. Because of the cross, whenever Satan leads you into sin or guilt he actually eventually leads you to greater freedom and grace within the Gospel.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!" (Romans 6:1-2). BUT we can use our sin as a launching pad into greater relationship with Christ. Whenever you feel the weight of your actions hanging over you, whenever you fail again at what you promised you would never do… you GET to know Jesus more deeply. Instead of feeling guilty and too far out of forgiveness, recall that Jesus is greater than your heart and that He has not condemned you.

The devil wants you to wallow in guilt? Look at how deep your sin runs, laugh at Satan, and look to the deeper cross. Your deep sin will deepen your love for Jesus.