When Sharpening Stings

imageA powerful verse in the Bible declares, as iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). Although true, I admittedly once held a one-sided perspective to this proverb that assumed this “sharpening” process was primarily a pleasant and harmonious one. I now realize however that occasionally this refining can feel more arduous than harmonious. Obviously, two can sharpen each other with encouragement and support, but what about those times when believers conflict and/or challenge each other? Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily – for even though it might be awkward and uncomfortable at times, these less than harmonious encounters with other believers can prove to be quite positive for all involved and for several reasons:

Confronts: Imagine the amount of force and friction required for a piece of iron to sharpen another. It’s not delicate. Likewise, it may be another believer is placed in our life in order to scrape away our biases, insecurities and pride – and when this occurs, it’s not typically entertaining, or enjoyable (Matthew 18:15). Yet, the outcome, if we’re honest and in prayer about it, usually results in realizing the existing deficit in our character. Which, if left unchecked, could have resulted in significant damage to our witness and testimony.

Challenges: We are also sharpened when another believer challenges our judgments, prejudices and/or legalities. At first, we may jump to defend our ways, but when carefully considered and prayed over, we soon discover these encounters can serve to reveal hidden errors, that when corrected, improve both our witness and our walk (Luke 12:2).

Changes: Ultimately, as we are sharpened, we are changed (Ephesians 4:17). Our testimony becomes more potent and our witness grows more impactful. In addition, we may also discover the one God used to sharpen us has also been sharpened and changed for the better through their encounters with us.

Application: “Better By Two” – Ecclesiastes 4:9
Clearly, God’s children need not always fuss and fight to make progress, for we are called to love and serve one another. However, there are times, when believers may become the blunt tools God uses to better His flock. We see this when Paul and Barnabas disagreed over Mark and the disciples debated over who was greatest. These fellow believers were used to reveal the errors and the truth necessary to make the improvements desired by God for each individual – and thankfully, the same process can work for us today as we seek God in all our ways.

Worship At Work

imageWhen the birth of our Savior was announced to the shepherds, were they in the temple praying, relaxing on vacation, or out in the fields working? It’s interesting to consider they were busy watching over their flocks on just another seemingly ordinary night (Luke 2:8). None the less, it was during these extended working hours the angels paid their special visit to these faithful laborers – thus beginning the proclamation of our Lord’s birth. Likewise, it is during our seemingly ordinary days, when we posses some of the greatest opportunities to share our proclamations of faith:

Seen: When we show up at work, or any other place for that matter, what do others see from us and in us? Do we make situations and surroundings better, or worse? Obviously, no one is perfect and we will have bad days, but by-in-large how we conduct ourselves in various situations significantly impacts our testimony by either serving as stepping stones to our Lord, or stumbling blocks (Colossians 4:5).

Heard: Similarly, how do we use the influence of our words? It has been said the pen is mightier than the sword. If so, then how we use them, whether written, or verbal will serve to promote, or pollute our testimonies (Ephesians 4:29). This includes emails, texts, social media, as well as our choice of language and overtones. For we have all been witness to those whose talk does not match their supposed walk and vice versa. Therefore, may we always seek to submit to the Spirit’s filter before expressing ourselves.

Shared: If we choose to play it “safe” and never step outside our comfort zones to share our faith, we will be passing on one of the greatest opportunities and blessings in life – making disciples (Matthew 28:19). Ultimately, when we as Christians deny ourselves the opportunities to serve as Christ’s witnesses through our authentic, everyday actions and words, we are actually choosing to opt out of our kingdom work, and as a result, true fulfillment will allude us.

Application: “Joy Story” – Philippians 4:4
Just as the angels first heralded the arrival of our Savior to the shepherds, who in turn enthusiastically shared their experiences with all they encountered, may our hearts also overflow with the joy and glory of our Lord so that our proclamations and testimonies of Him never dull – Merry Christmas!

Reactions Of The Reliable

imageThere are times when opportunities might come disguised as challenges – which can make seizing them appear difficult. However, when we choose to rely on the faithfulness of God, rather than our feelings, we get to experience the faith-building blessings of God’s provision and protection. So, we need not get too discouraged when our first impulse to His divine callings are less than ideal. For it’s our final response that sets our course, not our initial reactions:

Question: The things of God can be challenging to comprehend at times and may seem nearly impossible to transpire. For example, it was initially difficult for Abraham, his wife Sarah and John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah to believe they would have a child in old age. Yet, they did and even though their disbelief resulted in some negative consequences, their continued reliance on God allowed them to be used in His divine purposes. Is there a dream, or promise God has planted in our hearts that’s hard to believe? May we always remember, all things are possible with God and never lose hope (Matthew 19:26).

Confusion: Other times, we may be confused by what God is doing. Like when we face challenges in areas we know God has called us to. We might begin to question why. However, like Mary, may our final response to those things that appear confusing be the same as hers when she was told of her miraculous conception – “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as He has said” (Luke 1:38).

Praise: Thankfully, there are also those times when our faith empowers us to respond in praise to those opportunities that may be wrapped in challenge. Just like Paul and Silas burst into song and praise after being flogged and imprisoned for doing God’s work, may we too optimize moments of challenge with complete trust and reliance on our Lord and Savior (Acts 16:25).

Application: “Tried To Be True” – 1 Peter 1:7
A preacher once asked his congregation if they could be trusted with trouble and remain faithful to God. Can we? No doubt, we will face hardship and trials in this world, but as Christians we are not without hope. For we have an amazing promise from our Lord and Savior that in all things He works for the good of those who love Him and are called to His purposes – and that’s great news! For the goodness of God is so profound it too surpasses all understanding.

Backsliding Believers?

imageThe dictionary defines backsliding as “relapsing into bad habits, or undesirable activities” – and unfortunately, every believer is prone to this misfortune. However, we do not have to be victims. After all, is anything greater than Christ? In addition, being sensitive to some of the primary triggers of backsliding can help us guard against temptations in the first place:

Drifting: As a friend recently described it, backsliding is much like floating on the ocean’s tide. If we’re not paying attention and working to stay aligned with our spot on the beach, we eventually discover we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Likewise, may we never allow ourselves to become distracted from our prayer, active church fellowship & study of God’s word (1 Corinthians 16:13). For as believers, if we choose to neglect these desires, we may soon realize we’ve allowed ourselves to drift farther from our Lord than we ever need to be.

Doubting: We all face bouts with doubt, but if we permit ourselves to drift and aren’t anchored in our relationship with Christ, our spiritual guard is weakened and we become more vulnerable to acting on our temptations (James 1:14). God can handle any doubts we may have and when we investigate them through His word, we find His truth overpowers any doubts Satan and the world may be trying to throw our way.

Doing: We may have drifted. We may have doubted, and we may have found ourselves then “doing” the exact things we know we ought not do, but that doesn’t have to remain our story (Romans 7:21-25). For even though we are all prone to stumble, as Christians, we are also all recipients of God’s grace, and it’s never too late for His redeeming power to heal a repentant heart.

Application: “Hope For The Prodigal” – 1 Corinthians 10:13
No matter if it’s a loved one, or even ourselves, there is hope for those who may have strayed. For as His children there is nothing that can snatch us from our Father’s hand. We are His and even though it may take time, trials and tribulations, if we persevere in our prayers and rely on His promises and providence, there is always hope that the prodigal will return home to the open arms of Jesus.

Power Of Prayer

imageTo be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing“. These words express a deeply held belief by Martin Luther, and no doubt is shared by many believers today. Thus, should it be any surprise that a vibrant prayer life is also one of the primary targets Satan seeks to destroy? Whether it be through our busy schedules, hoarded leisure, various distractions and/or physical exhaustion, the objective is the same – to keep us from consistent communion with God. And the reasons are obvious, for how impactful can a believer be without prayer? However, when our prayer life is vibrant and consistent, we get to experience its benefits in at least three powerful areas:

Helping: We were not created to be an island unto ourselves. People need people (Genesis 2:18).  Even though some of us may be more comfortable with people while others tend to be more guarded, ultimately, God enjoys using His people to help meet both the physical and spiritual needs of the world.

Healing: We often think of healing in physical terms and no doubt this can occur, but we also experience healing in other ways. For even if our physical ailments aren’t healed, this doesn’t mean our prayers have failed. For God heals our spirit (Psalm 30:2) and in doing so we experience restoration from spiritual death, loneliness, sorrow, doubt, worry, fear and anger – just to name a few!

Holy: What separates us from the spiritual greats like Elijah, Abraham, David, Daniel, Moses, Paul and others mentioned in the Bible? For they were people just like us with failings and flaws. Yet, they were also people with vibrant prayer lives and in constant communion with God. What might God be waiting to do in and through us if we simply made ourselves available and invested, rather than rushed, our time with Him (1 Peter 2:9)?

Application: “A Life-Way” – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Our prayer life directly influences our way of life. For without it, we are prone to wander and squander. However, when we make God the priority of our life, our prayers and praise will reflect it. As a result, we become more available for Kingdom impact and begin to experience His residing peace – despite the various circumstances, challenges and conquests we encounter in life.