A Surprise Gift From a Sovereign God

“For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Proverbs 1:32-33 (ESV)

Do you ever wonder where God is? What He’s thinking? Why He isn’t doing more to stop the spread of evil in our generation?

We love to blame God when bad things happen. We accuse Him of not doing His job and failing to protect us. Our anxiety leads us to doubt His goodness while our hearts tremble with fear.

I’d like to ask you to consider something with me.

What if God isn’t responsible for the increase of evil we see occurring? What if the blame lies a little closer to home? What if, in fact, you and I see one with the power to change things on this earth every time we look in the mirror?

I know the thought seems preposterous. After all, what can we do? Maybe we need to remind ourselves of Jesus’ words in Mark 9:23.

“All things are possible for one who believes.”

All things remain possible for the believer, and the impossible becomes possible through prayer.

God’s been teaching me a few things about the power of prayer, dear one. You and I have a role in holding back the tide of darkness. You see, here on earth that’s not God’s job. He entrusted that job to His church.

Jesus spoke some powerful words to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19.

“… on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Do you see it, dear one? Christ’s Church holds the power to prevail against the gates of hell. We have been given authority to bind the powers of darkness and loose the will of God on this earth. The problem is, most of us have no idea how to do it.

We’re going to spend the next several weeks unwrapping the gift God gave us in prayer.

Perhaps that doesn’t excite you too much. I’ll be honest with you. For a long time, prayer didn’t excite me either. It felt more like a burden than a joy.

I knew I was supposed to pray, but I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind it. Perhaps your thoughts have echoed the questions mine raised. If God is sovereign and is going to do what He wants anyway, why do I need to pray? Why should I spend my time in prayer if I can’t really change anything?

I have good news for you, my friend. God’s Word answers those questions. And I pray that what we discover together about prayer will not only move you to pray, but make you excited about it too!

Let’s begin by asking God why we should pray. After all, Ephesians 1:11 teaches that God works all things according to the counsel of his will. Psalm 115:3 echoes that sentiment.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Scripture clearly paints God as a sovereign ruler that does exactly what He wants to do. The enemy often uses that truth to convince believers it does no good to pray. But what if God’s sovereign will provides the very reason we need to?

You see, God is the Creator and rightful Ruler of all things, but when He created this earth, He did something unthinkable.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Genesis 1:26

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created man in His image, giving him a free will, and then He gave man the earth—not just to live on, but to rule over.

Think about the enormity of that statement. God chose to give man stewardship over His creation, entrusting it to his care. It pleased Him to give us a say in what happens here. And when God commits to something, He never goes back on His Word.

Check out what happened after God made the animals in Genesis 2:19.

Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.

The supreme Creator of those animals had every right to name them. Yet He chose to give that privilege to man because God had decided that earth would be his. Amazing.

Unfortunately, man didn’t keep his dominion for very long. A crafty serpent stole it and has been having his evil way on this earth ever since. I think it’s time we put an end to his reign.

You and I are about to learn how to claim the authority God intended for us and release the will of God through prayer. Are you ready to take back what the enemy stole and learn to release God’s blessing?

I hope so. As our opening scripture reveals, complacency only ends in our destruction.

Carry Your Cross

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23

I’m guessing that’s not one of your favorite scriptures.

I get it. Your flesh cries out in rebellion against such commands. Deny myself? We spend our lives trying to indulge the desires of our “selves.”  That goes against everything in our nature. And carrying a cross doesn’t sound very fun. No one likes a burden. So those first two make the last one seem pretty unpalatable.

Why would I want to follow Jesus if to do so I have to deny myself and carry a cross?

Why, indeed? I’d like to suggest something that perhaps you haven’t considered. What if the fact that we find those commands so unappealing confirms how very important they are to overcoming the enemy and experiencing abundant life?

Here’s the truth of the matter: The enemy of our souls likes keeping us under his thumb. He’s been governing our sin nature since man’s fall at the beginning of time, and he’s not keen on giving up control. He enjoys the chaos and destruction he generates in our lives as he bends our wills to bring about death, all the while convincing us we’re free and making our own choices.

Maybe you didn’t realize that. Yes, dear one. If you don’t choose to submit your will to God, you’re already submitting it to the prince of this world, the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Ephesians 2:2).

Your will is not your own. You only think it is.

In 2 Timothy 2, Paul challenges believers to call on the Lord out of a pure heart. He says this about opponents of truth in verses 25-26,

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

You see, beloved, your sin nature rebels so strongly against self-denial, because the enemy of your soul doesn’t want to lose his grip. He’s convinced you to believe that you’re free to do as you please. Meanwhile, he quietly pulls the strings. The “I” that you think is making your decisions actually has a master.

 “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. “ Romans 7:17

Precious one, allowing sin to continue to govern your “I” eventually brings about death.

For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. Romans 7:5

Because sin governs them, following our own passions and desires will always hurt us eventually. So can you understand, beloved, why the first step in following Jesus to new life must involve denying what your “self” insists you need?

When Jesus asks you to deny yourself, He isn’t trying to take away your right to choose. He wants to restore it to you! He simply wants to set your “I” free from the destructive rule of sin. Then the person He created you to be—your personality, your deep passions and sense of purpose—the real, unfettered you can emerge to step into abundant life. And your soul can soar with the joy that comes with it.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Not so bad, right?

But what about taking up that cross? We know what it meant for Jesus. Death.

Beloved, the only death coming to you through the cross belongs to the sin that binds you. Remember, even for Jesus, the cross became the means to resurrection life. It offers the same promise for you.

That cross represents God’s beautiful will for your life. Yes, Jesus carried an actual cross up a hill to Golgotha, bearing its shame and shedding His blood so that you and I could be free. He lived out God’s will for Him so that we could live redeemed. Now that cross remains a symbol of what God wants to see lived out in each of our lives. “ . . . not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

But we forget what else that cross represents. What became available to us through that cross?

Love … forgiveness… the Holy Spirit… mercy… grace … freedom… sonship… power

Beloved, when Jesus asks you to take up your cross, He invites you to take up all that comes with it. He wants you to take up God’s will for your life, just like He did. He asks you to believe that He intends to prosper you and not harm you, that He means to offer you hope and a beautiful future (Jeremiah 29:11).

He also welcomes you to take up everything He poured out for you through His cross to empower you to step into the abundant life He’s planned for you.

The question is: will you believe? If so, there’s one thing left to do.