“Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness” (Isaiah 58:9).
The reason we pray, fast and study God’s Word is to be heard in heaven. But the Lord attaches a big “if” to this. He declares, “If you want me to hear you on high, then you have to look at the issues of your heart. Yes, I will hear you — if you quit pointing a finger at others, if you stop speaking about them disrespectfully.”
It's a great sin in God’s eyes for us to speak in ways that tarnish someone else’s reputation. Proverbs tells us, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than silver and gold” (22:1). A good reputation is a treasure that is carefully built up over time. Yet we can quickly destroy it with a single defaming word from our mouth.
David made a conscious determination to watch his tongue: “I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” (Psalm 17:3). “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
Again, David exhorts, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
You may wonder, “Is it really possible to control the tongue, to purpose not to sin with the mouth?” Again, David answers with this testimony: “I said, ‘I will take heed my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me’” (Psalm 39:1, KJV). He is saying, in essence, “Every time I mount a horse, I have to put a bridle in its mouth. And as surely as I do that with my horse, I have to do it with my tongue.”
Beloved, not one person reading this message is too holy to heed it and make a change. We have all misjudged people, whether knowingly or unknowingly, and spoken in ways we should not have. But there’s good news! If you repent before the Lord, in his love and graciousness he will give you a renewed heart and strength to put away all evil speaking.
The story of Job and his calamitous suffering is well known. At his deepest point of despair, Job stated, “He laughs at the plight of the innocent” (Job 9:23). In so many words, Job was saying, “It doesn’t pay to be holy or walk uprightly. God treats the wicked and the pure the same. We both suffer, so why labor to be upright?”
The example of Job’s suffering should be a great comfort to all of us. That may come as a surprise to some, but Job represents the latter-day believers who will undergo fierce trials in the days ahead. Indeed, multitudes of God-fearing Christians are going to face the same fires that Job experienced. And we need this suffering man’s example in order to draw hope for ourselves.
Our nation has entered a time of suffering and calamity. As we survey the troubles mounting all around us, looking into the future can be a frightening prospect, as all we may be able to see are more uncertainties, fears and crises. Like Job, our hearts cry out, “What are we going to do? Why is all this happening to faithful servants of God? Why doesn’t the Lord intervene and stop it?”
This flood of trouble has a personal entity behind it: Satan. The fact is, the devil was Job’s troubler, and he is still the troubler of God’s people today. Once again, the enemy is standing before the Lord, making great accusations against his church. He’s challenging God, saying, “You have no true body in this last hour. Just take a look at your people, God. They’re materialistic, self-centered, grasping for riches and the good life, preoccupied with making life better for themselves. They’re all spiritual wimps.”
It could be that the furnace of
your affliction is meant to bring you into a life-changing revelation. This is exactly what happened with Job. In the midst of his suffering, Job made an incredible discovery: despite his pure knowledge of God, he didn’t truly know the Lord. He confessed, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I … repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
Look to God right now and remember that he always has everything under his control. He is going to harness everything Satan means for evil and turn it into your good. Encourage yourself with these words: “My God can do anything! He loves me and I know he has not forgotten me.”
Right now people are unhappier than ever. That may sound surprising because of all the progress humankind is making. Economists tell us we are the wealthiest generation in history. We have more leisure pursuits and entertainment than at any other time. We also have more modern conveniences than ever. Medical advances multiply year after year.
Yet, in spite of these advancements, we’re told by leaders in virtually every field — psychiatry, sociology, medicine, education — that this is the unhappiest generation that ever lived. And this is not restricted to secular society. The same statistics apply to the family of God — people who are saved, sanctified, filled with God’s Spirit, know God’s Word and are active in Christian community. Young people speak of being bored, even with thousands of digital entertainments within their reach. At the end of the day it all leaves them with an internal angst.
Our joy is being stolen from us! The Bible says, “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). This is not just a warning for people about addictions or gross sins. The enemy of our souls wants to rob us of all that God has in mind for us, including joy, peace, contentment, vibrancy of life — and according to the Bible, that includes happiness.
The Bible tells us, “Happy are the people who know the joyful shout; Yahweh, they walk in the light of Your presence” (Psalm 89:15). “I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief” (Jeremiah 31:13).
How do followers of Jesus in other parts of the world endure horrifying attacks? How do imprisoned Christians in countries hostile to their faith maintain hope? They have within them a joy and happiness that sustains them through it all. The Bible they look to renews their minds, stirring within them what the Spirit has already placed in their hearts: that true happiness — given by God — is a reality in our lives.
When your head is filled with negative thoughts — when you begin to doubt God’s love for you and his pleasure in you — remember that you are a child of your heavenly Father who takes pleasure in you. His Word makes this a reality, so believe it and find true happiness!
After Saul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9:1-8), he moved around a bit, making a short visit to Jerusalem with the apostles before returning to his hometown of Tarsus. Later Barnabas went there and persuaded Saul to join him in helping the church at Antioch where God’s grace was so evident (Acts 11:9-26). The two of them joined other gifted prophets and teachers, and ministered there for many months, strengthening the believers’ faith in Jesus.
As the leaders of the church in Antioch were purposely drawing near to God (worshiping and fasting), God drew near to them as promised (see James 4:8). Luke tells the story in a matter-of-fact manner, which gives us some insight into the spiritual practices of early Christian leaders.
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:2-3).
The believers heard the Spirit instruct them to “set apart Barnabas and Saul” so they could be sent out to do some new, specific work for God. No one seemed particularly surprised by the Spirit’s directive for Saul and Barnabas to give themselves to this rather vague calling.
What was so significant about that moment? That was the beginning of Saul’s first missionary journey, and his travels changed the entire course of the Christian church. In fact, it was during his first trip that Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he stepped out to take the lead as God used him in even greater ways than his older compatriot, Barnabas.
When God’s Spirit moves, a continual process of setting believers apart and sending them out to work for Christ is set in motion. And it is not reserved only for those in formal ministry. You may be asked to go down the street and encourage a hurting neighbor. Maybe he will call you to go on a short-term mission trip or give yourself to intercessory prayer. When the Holy Spirit is moving and you yield to his influences, life becomes both exciting and filled with challenges only God can meet.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
“So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians … Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord, and spoke, saying, ‘I will sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously!’” (Exodus 14:30; 15:1).
God wants you to come out of your storm a worshipper! He had made a way for you in your dark night and he has a plan to bring you out as a shining example to the world of his faithfulness to his people.
Most Christians are familiar with what happened to Israel at the Red Sea and how God miraculously delivered his chosen people. Yet, you may wonder what this incident has to do with making you a worshipper.
Here’s the scene: Israel encamped by the sea and the people were rejoicing in their newfound freedom. After four hundred years of bondage, God had led them out of the iron furnace of Egypt. As they reveled at their first taste of freedom, they were filled with the hope that freedom brings, singing and crying, “We’re free at last!” They were so excited by the promises God had given them.
This scene poignantly represents the Christian who has been delivered from sin — he rejoices in his newfound freedom from past bondages and he has a holy melody in his heart because he’s living out God’s promises. But then an attack comes! In the case of the Israelites, Pharaoh’s army attacked suddenly and unexpectedly, sending shockwaves throughout the camp. At the hour of Israel’s greatest peace, the enemy sought to devour them; at the very height of their freedom, during their hour of greatest hope, Satan tried to take them out.
“The children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold … they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord” (Exodus 14:10). In spite of their fear, the Lord supernaturally protected Israel and brought them through in victory (see Exodus 14:31).
When Satan comes at you and tries to defeat you, just as Moses told the Israelites, the Lord would say to you, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today … The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (14:13-14). And like Israel, you can come forth as a worshipper and sing aloud in triumph!