In my last post, Your thorns became His Crown I spoke about how the Israelites’ unbelief was the root of their failure to defeat all their enemies in the Promised Land. God had told them that if they did not expel all the enemies from the land they would become “barbs in their eyes and thorns in their sides” (Numbers 33:55). And that is what happened. Whenever they failed to drive them out, the Israelites would eventually suffer oppression at the hands of their enemies and it was always because they had not trusted in the Lord to help them. Well the devil today uses exactly the same strategy to keep us from enjoying the abundant life Jesus came to give us (John 10:10). He wants to fill us with fear, steal our peace and convince us that our problems are too big for our God! But in response Jesus says:
“Don’t be afraid; just believe.” Mark 5:36
In our day-to-day lives we face all sorts of problems. Jesus never said He came to take away all our problems, in fact he said that though we would have troubles, we could have peace despite them all because He had overcome the world:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”John 16:33.
And the apostle John encourages us that “…everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:4
So today I want to give us four biblical strategies to help us live a life of rest instead of stress!
First and most importantly we need to BELIEVE in Jesus.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. John 14:1
The experience of the Israelites in the wilderness and in the Promised Land gives us valuable insights about how to prevail in the battles we face in our own lives. The first generation of Israelites failed to enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief. They were afraid of the Canaanites who were already living there. They thought they were just too weak in comparison to them:
“We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Numbers 13:33
They did not trust God enough to overcome their fear and obey Him. The next generation did a bit better and took some of the Promised Land and drove out some of their enemies but they were put off from completing the task by the superior weaponry of the Canaanites – their iron chariots (Joshua 17:16, Judges 1:19). They forgot that the Lord their God was greater than iron chariots! But Judges 4 recounts how years later when the Israelites eventually turned to the Lord for help, they defeated Jabin the King of Canaan and Sisera his commander despite their 900 iron chariots!
When we struggle in our own strength and put our trust in sources of help other than Jesus (symbolized by the images, idols and high places of Numbers 33:52), we may get some degree of success but true freedom comes only through Jesus.
Jesus told his disciples “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)
And to the Jews who had believed in Him He said:
Secondly we ABIDE in Jesus’ word. He is the truth that will set us free
The Jews didn’t understand that Jesus was speaking about them being set free from their sin and so:
33They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:33-36, ESV)
The Son has made you a son or daughter of God, and set you free from sin! When we believed in Jesus He gave us the right to become children of God.
12Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
Being a child of God comes with the privilege of a great inheritance – if you are a child of God then you have inheritance rights because you are no longer a slave but are now a free son or daughter! And you have inherited righteousness! Paul explained that though we used to be slaves to sin, we have been set free from sin (because we are now children) and have become slaves of righteousness instead:
17But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.
Abiding is also fixing our eyes on Jesus – looking to Him intently – then we are able to “1…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
So in order to receive and walk in His freedom and run the race marked out for us we need to abide in Jesus’ word, to know the Truth and He will set us free.
Let’s just meditate on these truths for a while and allow them to set us free from whatever has entangled us:
We are children of God,
We are slaves of righteousness not sin,
Knowing the truth will set us free!
This is what Jesus means when He said if we “abide” in His word, we will know the truth and be set free (John 8:31). To abide in His word is to let it sink into our hearts until we believe it.
So today if you are struggling with any problem, even one that seems impossible, then fix your eyes on Jesus, feed yourself on His word (after all He called Himself the bread of life, John 6:35) and let His truth sink in, believe that you are actually a son or daughter and a slave of righteousness, freed from sin and its effects!
Thirdly don’t be anxious, REJOICE!
Because of their unbelief, the Israelites were constantly grumbling but Paul gives us some very practical advice that may seem counterintuitive when we are struggling:
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
He tells us to rejoice in the Lord always (for more about the power there is in rejoicing read What do you have in your right and left hand) and not to be anxious (because the Lord is near) but to pray in every situation with thanksgiving. When we pray with thanksgiving, we are actually declaring our trust in God to help us with whatever it is that we need. When we do this, God promises to guard our hearts and minds with His peace. This will ensure that any decisions we make are led by His Spirit and not by our own worldly wisdom (also known as our flesh). King Solomon who was given a gift of wisdom wrote:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23
So we must be very careful not to make decisions from an anxious heart but rather by prayer with thanksgiving allow the peace of God to guard our hearts and minds.
Paul also tells us to think about good things:
8…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
It’s hard to do this when we’re struggling but it is very good advice because dwelling on all the negative things about our situation will not help but will only make us more anxious and lead us into bad decisions!
Fourthly WALK by the Spirit
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells them to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16). In the original Greek the word “walk” in Galatians 5:16 is peripateitewhich comes from the root word peripateó (περιπατέω) which means to “walk around” or “conduct your life”. Paul tells us that the Spirit is in conflict with our human worldly wisdom (or our flesh). So he tells us to conduct our life (walk) according to the leading and direction of Christ’s Spirit within us. When we became believers, the Holy Spirit came to live inside us and we became sensitive to His voice (John 10:27) and partakers of His characteristics and His emotions. We can tell when we are walking in the Spirit because we will recognize His characteristics (or the fruit of the Holy Spirit), in ourselves and these are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If a situation is making us anxious or fearful, then the source of that is not the Holy Spirit and so we put Paul’s advice into practice and begin to pray with thanksgiving and allow the peace of the Spirit to flow through us instead. Similarly if we are feeling jealous or full of rage, bitterness or hatred then we also know that the source is our flesh or our human, worldly emotions, probably under demonic influence (like Canaanites residing in the Promised Land and oppressing us, the Israelites). Again we can remind ourselves of the truth that we are no longer slaves to these sinful feelings but have become slaves of righteousness! Often just reminding ourselves of that truth is sufficient to get rid of that enemy if we do it quickly enough but if it is a long-standing problem it may take us abiding in that truth for a while to be really set free.
Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
The fruit He was talking about was the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). So as we abide in (think about, remind ourselves of, believe) the truth of Jesus and what He accomplished for us on the cross, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit and we will walk (conduct our lives) by His Spirit!
Beloved, Jesus desires to make you a fruitful son or daughter, enjoying your life, full of His love, joy and peace, trusting in Him and bearing His fruit. An important thing to remember is that if you are a believer in Jesus, you already possess His fruit because He lives in you by His Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:9) and He has set you free to live as a child of God, under the guidance of His Spirit and not according to your human wisdom which is far inferior.
Now that you know these truths, believe them, abide in them, rejoice in Him and walk by His Spirit! And if you are struggling to believe, then like the man who brought his son to Jesus for healing just say, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) and Jesus’ love and grace will set you free!