Category Archives: Spiritual Endurance

Are You Spiritually Fit? Part 1

“For, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  1 Timothy 4:8   (NRS)

For the last 90 days, I’ve been on a journey to wellness.  It began as a result of a minor physical irritation that eventually developed into a major restructure of my diet and exercise commitment.

One of the new tools I now use to assist me in developing a healthier lifestyle is my FitBit, a wireless, activity tracker that continually monitors and measures data such as the number of steps walked, heart rate, quality of sleep, steps climbed, and other personal health metrics.

Imagine if we had a “spiritual” Fitbit that would do the same.  What would be the data that could be gathered to indicate our spiritual fitness?

Fitness is defined as the state or condition of being “qualitied” for a specific purpose, physically or intellectually.  This is the definition we’re most familiar with seeing, however there is also an expansion of that definition to include “suitability and appropriateness”.

Spiritual is that which deals with the part of man that extends beyond the physical and is eternal in nature.  It exists forever, even when the physical body ceases to live (Heb. 9:27).

I’d like to use both definitions and put forth the proposition that in order to be spiritually fit, believers need to be both “qualified” and “suitable” for the purpose that God has designated for their lives (Ep. 2:10).  Spiritual fitness is the state or condition of being qualified and suitable for the purpose that God has identified for believers both individually and as the collective Church.  The disciple Peter was spiritually “unqualified” when Jesus identified him as key to the building of His future Church (Matt. 16:18); however, after the testing of the Calvary, the apostle Paul was more than “suitable” for the purpose of Pentecost (Acts 2:14).

Next week, we will discuss why believers should be concerned with spiritual fitness in the  21st century.  In the interim, I have a simple assessment to help you “check” your spiritual fitness.

(1) Do you feel spiritually weak and defeated in your efforts to walk holy?

(2) Do you find your choices and life style inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus the Christ?

(3) Is it becoming increasingly more difficult to living out your walk of faith?

If you answered yes to any of these three (3) questions, then it’s time to work on your spiritual fitness. See you next week.

Faith to Persevere: The Application

“All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

Hebrews 11:13 (NRS)

 

All the Faith Hall of Famers “died in faith” not having received the promises but having seen them afar were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth (Heb. 11:13). The word “promises” in this text from Hebrews speaks specifically to the promised Messiah and their future heavenly inheritance.

As “partakers of God’s glory”, we have begun to receive the promises of God on “this side” of eternity (2 Pet. 1.3-11) with the glorious assurance of eternal life on “the other side.”  Informed with that knowledge of God (2 Cor. 4.6) and empowered by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), we can move forward with that which God has set before us “being fully persuaded, that what He (God) had promised, He is able also to perform (Rom. 4:21).

Here are three (3) key principles we can adopt from the Faith Hall of Famers to develop persevering faith.

  1. We must believe that He who promises is faithful. This requires that we know Him “personally”. Our schedule should include daily communion and fellowship with Him to better understand His will and His ways (Col. 1:9; Rom. 8:27). Would you put your life in the hands of someone you don’t know personally?  Our confidence comes from knowing Him (Deut. 33:12).
  1. We must understand His promises for our life. This is not only those promises we want for ourselves but those He has designated in His Word for us.  Some scholars have cited 365 promises of God for His people—one for every day of the year. All the promises of God are “yes and amen” (2 Cor. 1:20).
  1. We must look past our experience here on earth. While we acknowledge our presence on “planet earth”, we must remind ourselves daily that we are “pilgrims” traveling through this temporary period called “time”.  “Seeing afar of” requires visual acuity beyond our natural sight resulting in seeing beyond what we can see.  (1 Cor. 2:14-16).

I close with these words from Oswald Chambers concerning faith that perseveres:

Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do—He reveals to you who He is. Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is! Let the attitude of your life be a continual willingness to “go out” in dependence upon God, and your life will have a sacred and inexpressible charm about it that is very satisfying to Jesus. You must learn to “go out” through your convictions, creeds, or experiences until you come to the point in your faith where there is nothing between yourself and God.

SELAH:  Meditate on Hebrews 11:13 and then ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what holds you to this earth and unable to “see afar off”.

Faith to Persevere

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off,

and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Hebrews 11:13   (NKJ)

To persevere requires one to continue despite difficulties, opposition, or discouragement. This requires not only spiritual power but also faith.  Our friends and family try to reassure us by telling us to “hang in there” or “tough it out” but unfortunately, encouraging words do not always succeed in moving us forward.

That is where “persevering faith” comes in.  Not “saving faith” that we associate with our initial salvation, but the ability to see through difficulties and press forward for the prize (Phil. 3:14).  I’m talking about “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).  Faith that perseveres looks to the future and visualize the promises of God, in all their fullness.  It was this “forward looking faith” that helped the Faith Hall of Famers to persevere.

“Having seen the promises afar off.”   The word “promises” is a metonymy—a figure of speech in which one word is substituted for another with which it is closely associated.  The word “promises” is a metonymy for the “things promised.” Literally, the Faith Hall of Famers “had received” their individual promises—whether it be deliverance from destruction, children to a barren couple, or a future homeland (vv. 10, 14,16). The “things promised” were the spiritual blessings of the Gospel dispensation and the future heavenly inheritance.  Each one died in the firm expectation of the promised Messiah and in believing views of the heavenly glory.  In their “mind’s eye”, they had an inner awareness of what the promises meant—in all their “fullness.”      

“were persuaded of them, and embraced them.” To be “persuaded” means to convince someone to believe something and to act on the basis of what is recommended. In this case, it is God who provided the promises.  The Hall of Famers confidently believed based on the veracity of God.  To “embrace” means to salute or greet.   Based on God’s assurance, they “eagerly welcomed” (versus acquiesced to) their destiny. They moved forward with full confidence.

confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  To “confess” implies expressing openly one’s allegiance to a proposition or person. The Faith Hall of Famers desired more than this world had to offer, especially after seeing the promises afar off.  They fixed their eyes on those things which are above where Christ is seated (Col. 3:1).  If they regarded themselves daily as earthlings, they would not have retained the vision of faith and may have been tempted to turn back.      

The order of the aforementioned verbs teaches us an important practical lesson on developing persevering faith.  First, we must envision the promises of God.  Then, based on the Giver of the promises, we confidently accept, believe, and rest on the reliability of God’s word. It is here that our faith becomes grounded.  Lastly, faith “sees” with understanding, is “persuaded” in the heart and “embraced” by the will.

In a society where instant gratification is the norm, faith that perseveres requires a daily commitment to “forward looking” faith.  This letter to the Hebrews was to press upon them and us, the critical need for a faith that would last, wear, overcome obstacles, and endure until the end.  Like the Faith Hall of Famers, the eyes of our heart must see the blessings God has promised and be persuaded that in due season, they will be ours.  We are to joyfully anticipate our future as opposed to present advantages.  Faith that perseveres single-mindedly looks to the future with an eye on the Provider who “according to His divine power has given us exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:3, 4). 

 

SELAH: Ask God to share with you His plan for helping you to persevere in your faith.  What does God want you to “see” with your understanding, be “persuaded” in your heart, and “embrace” in your will?

Power to Persevere

Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit,

and watching thereunto

with all perseverance and supplication for all saints. Ephesians 6:18 (KJV)

 

If you were to ask me what character trait is critical for spiritual growth and maturity, I would answer, “perseverance”; and if you were to then ask me which character trait is the most difficult to master, I would answer again, “perseverance.” Webster defined perseverance as the “act of continued, patient effort.” While many preachers and teachers typically stress the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) as traits worth nurturing, I’d like to spend time exploring a spiritual trait which also merits attention–perseverance.

The term perseverance communicates the idea of overcoming, energetic resistance, steadfastness under pressure, and endurance in the face of trial. To persevere means to be “constantly diligent and persistent”. Perseverance requires us to push through our pain and fear even when the challenge is daunting and difficult. It is more than “stick-to-it-ness” and calls for the believer to see past the current barrier, temptation, or persecution (1 Cor. 4:17-18).

Spiritual perseverance has its basis in two realities: (1) our hope and (2) the Holy Spirit. Our hope is based on confidence in God’s goodness and care–a sense that God loves us (Psalms 63:3) and that “He that began a good work in us is able to perform it (Phil.1:6). The Holy Spirit is critical in cultivating spiritual perseverance. Through His power and presence, we develop courage and boldness to overcome persecution and temptations (Acts 4:31). The Holy Spirit stands ready to empower us to meet the challenges we face (1 John 4:4). It is in His power that we are able to remain faithful to Lord and Savior in the midst of temptation and persecution (Rom. 14:4).

Stand firm on the hope of glory. Energetically serve God. Resist and overcome sin. Call upon the power of the Holy Spirit to help you live a life of personal holiness and service. Be diligent and steadfast in your walk of faith. You have the power to persevere.

“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.” James 1: 12

 

SELAH:  Even the Apostle Paul had to learn to persevere.  Read his prayer found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.    Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal key areas in your life in which you need more power to persevere.

You Know Better!

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,

casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God,

bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV)

I was a very mischievous child and admit that every spanking I received was painstakingly earned.   But as I grew older, my mother transitioned me to a different technique for shaping my behavior.  I call it “verbal recounting”.  After recounting my infraction to me, she would retort, “you know better!” In her statement, she was reminding me of prior knowledge I had received and how I should have conducted myself.  Paul reminded believers in Corinth that they too were to “know better” as they responded to spiritual pressure from the “prince of the air” (Ep. 2:2).

In our text today Paul is dealing specifically with spiritual warfare.  The motif of the Christian life as warfare is a common one (Ep. 6:10-18; 1 Tim. 1:18; 2 Tim. 2:3-4; 4:7).  Strongholds would be understandable to the Corinthians since Corinth had a fortress in which its residents could take refuge.  Arguments and high thoughts represented barriers and barricades men used against God and the Gospel to maintain their sinful lives and influence.

As believers in Christ, we must recognize that we are at war with Satan and our battlefield is our current sphere of influence.  Our chief enemy, Satan, comes to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10)—to kill human life and spirit by addiction, brokenness, and bondage; to steal the single-mindedness of family through infidelity, enmity between parents, and the redefinition of marriage.  He comes to destroy moral and social order by elevating individual selfishness, indulgent living, and greed.  Only “knowledge of God” (versus human tactics) can bring down and thoroughly demolish Satan’s kingdom.

To discount Satan’s activities in the 21st century is as fatal as walking down the middle of a busy highway blindfolded.  Satan’s strategy for defeating God’s beloved creature (Col. 3:12) is dependent on our disbelief in his reality.  While we must take responsibility for our personal sins, Satan is intent on minimizing his role in our sinful behavior.  He is determined to “stay under the radar” like a stealth bomber on a mission to search and destroy.

“Knowledge” signifies to understand completely.  By understanding completely who God is, His truth and His grace, Satan’s fortresses will fall.  It is in the knowledge of God, His power and His presence, that those trapped inside damning lies can be set free.   As believers we can move forward with great confidence knowing that He that is within us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).  We dwell in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:13).  We need never to feel defeated or distressed.  We can claim victory over Satan because we know better!

SELAH:  Is there an area of your life where Satan has established a spiritual stronghold—an area which stops you from walking in the fullness of God’s will and blessings?  Get in a quiet place with Jesus and ask Him what He wants you to “know” about Him that will set you free.  Find a Bible verse that reinforces what Jesus says to you.

Spiritual Failures

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72 (NIV)

One of the most difficult things for believers to do is to recover from spiritual failure.  Instead of asking for forgiveness, repenting, and then moving forward, followers of Christ are tempted to simply give up and continue in their pattern of sin.    What believers need to do instead is to exercise more “personal compassion”.  Personal compassion is the practice of forgiving ourselves and acknowledging our “humanity.”   In a society where human error is deemed inexcusable, personal compassion moves beyond the actual mistake and begins to mitigate the negative emotions that follow them—this includes regret, shame, and guilt.    Once that occurs, the believer can be restored and continue their faith walk. Our text found in the Gospel of Mark, shares a familiar recounting of Peter’s spiritual failure prior to the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter finds himself in a precarious position as he observes from a distance the trial of Jesus after being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Interestingly, none of the other disciples were mentioned in this denial account—only Peter.  Peter was part of Christ’s inner circle with James and John.  He had experienced special moments with Christ—the transfiguration and walking on water—and was privy to key revelations about Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the promised Messiah.  After the feeding of the 5,000, it was Peter who proclaimed that Jesus was the true source of eternal life (John 6:69).   It was because of Peter’s confession of faith that he would become the “foundational rock” (petra) on which the universal Church would be built (Matt. 16:18-19) versus a “piece of the building” (petros).  So what happened to Peter in the courtyard that caused him to disassociate himself from Jesus?

It is easy to be critical of Peter because of our “unsympathetic bentness” from decades of Bible classes, Sunday school lessons, and Good Friday sermons.  But instead of condemnation, try-on a more compassionate approach.  Imagine what Peter felt that night?  What emotions did he experience in that courtyard?  Anger, fear, and confusion were probably racing through his mind.  Jesus had been arrested and now people around him were questioning, “Weren’t you with that Nazarene Jesus?” The young girl challenged him, “This is one of them.” They gathered around Peter, “You’re one of them because you talk like a Galilean!”  (Mark 14:67-70)  Peter had never been in a situation like this so how did he respond?  “I know not…I am not…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”   As he made his final denial, the cock crowed and he remembered the words of Jesus, “You shall deny me.”  What was Peter’s reaction?  He collapsed in tears.  His emotions vacillated between regret, shame, and guilt.   Peter responded in the only way he knew how—in his humanity. How would you have responded?

If we are honest, we will admit that like Peter, we might experience “spiritual failure”.   While we may not be in a palace courtyard, we may experience spiritual failure in the corporate boardroom, when we “support” policies or practices that are outside Christian conduct.  We might deny Christ when we “quietly accept” ideas put forth that are contrary to God’s will and Jesus’ teachings, i.e., all religions lead to heaven.  We may even “curse” others when we fail to stand firm in our profession of faith and instead follow what’s “politically correct.”  God has warned us (much like the crowing cock) that we too may be tempted to “deny” our Lord.  Our identification with Christ’s comes with consequences.  We must remember who we are and whose we are.  Expect to be challenged! (John 15:18)

So what is the invitation God is offering us in this account of Peter’s denial?  First, this narrative invites us to understand our humanity with its frailties and weaknesses.  We should acknowledge the potential for spiritual failure (1 Cor. 10:12) knowing that God uses our failures to strengthen and shape us (James 1:2-4).  Second, it is critical that we recognize the source of our strength is the Lord—His Word (Ps. 19:11) and His indwelling Holy Spirit (Ep. 3:16).  Peter made the mistake of depending on his own personal commitment (Mark 14:29) rather than Jesus’ words to him (Luke 22:31-32; Mark 14:30).  Lastly, and most importantly, we must exercise personal compassion if and when we fail.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was the beginning not the end of his becoming the promised “Rock.”  Jesus restored Peter after the Resurrection (John 21:15-19) and greatly used Him at Pentecost (Acts 2) and beyond.   God alone is both able and willing to restore us after our spiritual failures.  Let the Lover of your soul restore it (Ps. 23:5).

 

SELAH:  Read the account of Peter’s denial in Luke 22:54-62.  Imagine yourself to be Peter and write down the emotions you might feel.  Then ask God to reveal the places where you might be spiritually vulnerable and how to avoid it.

 

 

Hold Fast to the WORD

“Preach the Word…” 2 Tim. 4:2 (NKJ)

The Word of God is the truth by which believers are to successfully navigate this world.

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right.  It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do”   (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT).

As believers operate in these end times, it is critical that they are able to stand fast in their faith and boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word.

Current worldview has created an atmosphere where biblical principles and practices are continually challenged, if not totally ignored.   The demand for social and moral freedom has set the stage for denial of biblical truth and authority. The Bible is seen as neither God speaking nor the actual Word of God. Instead, it is seen as an inhibitor to self-determination and self-gratification.

In 21st century vernacular, the Bible is a “buzz kill” taking the “edge of people’s fluff.”

  • College students relegate the Bible to the status of “glorified fairy tales” with little substantive value. (Lord, help them!) These individuals will be our future workforce, leaders, and yes, our Church.
  • Gen Xers and Millennials, seeking answers on how to live purposeful lives, discount the Bible as “irrelevant and inadequate” for the challenges they face.

These generations are a formidable influence in the shaping of not only our current political and social policies but also in determining the religious beliefs of generations to come.

And who will direct these groups to the “light of God’s Word”?   (Ps. 119:105)   Current believers and the Church? There is little difference between them and the aforementioned groups. They seldom read their Bibles, let alone use it as the final authority on truth with their families or in their personal life. They look no different than the rest of the world.

These patterns of disbelief should not come as a surprise. Paul in his letter to Timothy exhorted him:

“Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear. They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.”  ( 2 Timothy 4:2-4, NLT)

The Word of God will continue to be challenged by the World and yes, even the Church. It is because of this fact that believers are to stand firm based on the power, sufficiency, and authority of the Word of God. 

Paul’s instructions are still pertinent for believers today.  We are to boldly proclaim, without excuse, the supremacy and sufficiency of Scripture over the worldview.

How do we prepare for this challenge? Read books to help you defend your faith. Listen to Christian teachers who can help you answer frequent questions people have about God and His Word.

Finally, ask the Holy Spirit (your Personal Teacher) to help you respond to challenges and push back you might receive. Remember, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4).  Hold fast to the Word!

[1] Urbandictionary.com