Take Nothing for the Journey

The show “Naked and Afraid” is a popular television series. Not only because of the unknown, but also the level of competition between the contestant and the unknown. It consists of two individuals (male and female) dropped in a remote location for twenty-one days to survive in the wild. Combatting elements and nature, each individual without food, water, clothing and only one survival item is left to fend for themselves. Those that make the twenty-one-day trek receive a grand prize of five thousand dollars for their troubles. That does not seem like very much money to put yourself through such a grueling obstacle course with a stranger for almost a month. The participants do this not for the tangible compensation of cash, but for the challenge.

Over these twenty-one days, I can only imagine what they endure and the level of mental toughness necessary to make it. I don’t mind camping out in my backyard for a night, but we are talking about three weeks in the wild. I wonder where along the journey they realize, it will take more than just physical strength, mental toughness or experience to get them through. There is a level of preparation that they must have before embarking on such a challenge.

I have never watched an entire season of the show, but I have seen a few episodes. A lot of what they are up against is a mystery until they find themselves face to face with nature. Just like in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is preparing the disciples for a journey. The disciples have no idea what they will encounter. However, he tells them to take nothing for the journey and they obey. The difference between the show and disciples is that one is dependent on self and the latter is dependent on an Omnipresent God.

Calling the twelve to Him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions, Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust of your feet as a testimony against them.

~ Mark 6:7-12 NIV~

Preparation for any journey is hard work and requires much discipline. It will require their faith and trust. The Messiah is not only summoning but is commissioning them with purpose.  Today, we also have been commissioned and purposed with a challenge to reach places and people we have never seen before.

To reach these accomplishments there are a few things that we can learn from Jesus and the disciples.  First, the commandments of God always lead to stretching moments. Stretching means learning how to be bendable, flexible and refined in the hands of God. This does not always feel good. I can imagine the disciples as Christ is summoning them. Jesus never asked them their qualifications. He just sent them out in pairs and gave them authority. This encourages us to be ready to step out into new territory if the Lord is calling.

Unlike the contestants on the show who prepare for the twenty-one-day challenge, we must rely on Jesus Christ as our guide. I wonder, are we prepared? Do we follow the commandments? There have been times where I have said, God what is the point of this? The Lord leaves us to ourselves only to realize our dependency is solely on Him. And only when we are willing to do it His way, do we find and fulfill purpose.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.

~ Matthew 6:33 NASB ~

As I reflect on the disciples and how they lived their lives, I see that they weren’t concerned with the latest cellphone or the how many followers they had on social media. They were not worried with their 401(k), account status or if they were aggressive enough or too conservative with their portfolio. They lived focused lives. I wonder is it safe to say living by faith means leaving the extra behind? Including our thoughts, concerns, anxieties, worries and fears. I think about what Jesus gave the disciples. He freed them to go forward without anything holding them back. He told them take nothing for the journey except a mere staff. (v.8) Here is a question for us. How are we living? Have we exchanged faith for the familiar or fancy?

In Christ we learn the importance of provision on the journey. This begins when we accept the Lord leading us in a faith-based life. The disciples took nothing for where they were going. They simply rely on provision as they enter the nearby towns. There was no salary or benefits package, just the lifetime guarantee of heaven and the gratification of becoming a vessel for Jesus Christ. Talk about crazy faith at work.  Provision in the natural is what most live for, but the disciples relied solely on those whom they testified too.

It is recorded in Matthew’s gospel, when the disciples left a home if it was worthy, they were instructed to give it a peace blessing in Hebrew, Shalom. Shalom was a sign of peace but not just any peace. This peace represents a sense of wholeness and well-being. It identifies all in one’s life balanced and working as should. This peace was not constructed from outward things but internal priority. This was learned behavior and we too can experience this inner peace-no matter what occurs around us. I would say this is one of the priceless gifts we obtain on this journey with Jesus that unless you experience it – we won’t understand the blessing.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

~ Philippians 4:8 NASB ~

Friends, significance is not in things that feed our flesh, but in the things that fulfill the plan for our lives. Can we stop looking for stuff to gratify us in the moment and look for our purpose in Jesus? Make the choice to accept the best life that one can only find in Jesus Christ. Not in things that excite for the moment or the latest challenge to be conquered. But when we take the step to take nothing for the journey, except Christ – we open ourselves to the greatest and most rewarding challenges ever.

The Power in a Trial

The proverbial phrase, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, is one I am sure we all have heard a time or two.

 It is easy to hear and even smile about but did you know it is biblical? If we follow this essential thinking. What it is saying is, instead of being victims, become victors. No matter what we face, perhaps the trial on the outside or the temptation on the inside, we can experience victory through our faith in Christ.

I will be the first to say it is a challenge to endure some tests and temptations. I believe that the Father knows this beforehand, which is part of the reason He allows the stretching. Jesus’ omniscience has no boundaries and His love for us, in the trial or when we are up against a temptation again. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to solve problems with a smile on my face because sometimes they are hard.

The standard definition of a trial is a process of testing or investigation to prove innocence or guilt in a court of law. If anyone has ever sat through or been the center of a trial, then you know it can get intense. Just the thought of being on trial is stressful from a mental perspective but do me a favor. I want you to think about a trial from a spiritual perspective to test our faith through different ways used to build our inner man.

James 1:2-6 gives some imperatives for us to think on. If I did not know any better, it appears that James (one of the four brothers of Jesus Christ) is coming across a bit testy and so sure of himself but what he is explaining is the blueprint for how to go through the difficult times.

The truth is we are going through some tough times now as humans, a nation, and a world. There are four simple statements I want to point out that James has reminded us all of to stay encouraged through these times.

The first is to count a joyful attitude. Stop and think about this statement, Outlook determines the outcome, and attitude determines action. I had heard this statement from a professor when I was in college, and it stuck with me. Can I tell you something? We cannot expect everything to go our way. Jesus said to us in John 16:33, In the world, ye shall have tribulation. Some trials come because we are human- sickness, accidents, disappointments, even some tragedies. Sometimes this is hard to fathom and understand because God takes care of us through some pretty rough times.

This leads to my second point; some trials come because there is a test that we need to pass.

I know there were some that I failed, and I am not broadcasting or happy about these, but I might as well be transparent with you. Some of the simplest tests that the Lord placed before I failed because I did not study or thought I could handle. Such arrogance and thank God for deliverance and grace.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials. James is telling us the importance of thinking carefully about a thing or evaluating it correctly. Do you know we are to assess our problems in the midst of what we value? Our values determine our evaluation. In other words, if I value comfort over character or if I value material and physical over spiritual, I cannot consider it all joy because what I value is more important than what I cannot see right now.  

The second James tells us it is when you encounter various trials. I know this probably not a new revelation for us, but let us take a look one more time. What James is informing us of is we will; trials are inevitably a part of life, and they are like mosquitos; they keep coming. Some translations may say, fall into. When you least expect and want them, they will appear out of nowhere, but guess what? They are building our inner man. A trial is like lifting weights. The more weight you take on, the stronger you become; the process consists of ripping the very thing you are trying to build (from the inside) first before the growth can appear outwardly. The muscle tissue stretches, and then it repairs, but when it restores, it is that much stronger. Did you catch that?

Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2

“To know” means that we are to have an understanding mind. We must know faith constantly is tested. Testing helps to prove something. Remember when we take examines of various sorts, well tests are taken to approve a thing. I watch the show Gold Rush sometimes, any fans reading this? Well, the show’s premise is they are searching (excavating land for gold) and when they find what they call “pay dirt,” they run it through a dredging machine that separates it from the dirt. The separation is necessary to relinquish the gold. The process is not easy and requires endurance. They put in some serious work that sometimes appears to be for naught. After a while, the prospectors reap the benefit of their work, gold ore. The gold prospector brings his ore sample into an assayer’s office for approval. The purpose of the Assayer tests a metal to see how pure it is. 1 Peter 1:7 is the scripture reference of this testing of faith. Endurance is not attained by reading a book, listening to a sermon, or even praying. They help but only going through the difficult situation life presents for us; trusting God and obeying Him is the point. James reminds us not to waver or have any doubt in who or what our responsibility should be.

And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.

The word “let” means a surrendered will or to relinquish control. God cannot build character without cooperation in the trial from us. Letting go of control is hard, especially when the trial appears to be intensifying, whether Covid, political and social injustice of any kind, or perhaps individually the problems we face. This word is for all of us; let endurance have its perfect result. Say that a few times to yourself or write it down today, but remind yourself that God is building our character and strength in the trials we continuously face. I think about times before when something has come up out of nowhere (it seems), and at the moment, it breaks me, but upon closer inspection, God is with me. And he is with you too.

James gives us insider information letting us know God desires to build our character before He calls us into service for Him. That is why the surrendering of ourselves to His will is essential. Ephesians 6:6 tells us we are to be surrendered not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as God pleasers, doing the will of God from the heart. There is the perfect and complete, lacking in nothing because when connected to our Lord, just like a caterpillar to a cocoon, we are equipped and built up for the journey ahead. The trial that we find ourselves in today, tomorrow, or yesterday is all perfecting us, friend.

Last but surely not least, James tells us But if any you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. Why did James say this? Does not he know if we are human, we lack wisdom in many areas? To some, the book of James is a guide for following the path to life, avoiding the way that leads to pain and heartache. And in doing so, it offers us something more, a consideration of the nature of faith. It can only be found in the Son of God and only when we truly desire wisdom or insight to be our goal. Insight helps us understand how to use these trials for our good and to bring God glory. Wisdom is the qualitative factor determining if we have evaluated the trial we are in, just came out, or about to enter correctly. Only when we seek God’s wisdom of handling or approaching even the trial are we able to win.

Maybe you are like me, that I have to remind myself of this very thing. James opens the book hot off the press with the power in a trial. Having to ask God for help, I believed, showed a lack of growth but no friend; that is the wisdom that Jesus wants to give when we ask. That is the accurate measure of our development- when we stop attempting to go through these circumstances alone and depend, even throw ourselves in the arms of Jesus. He knows what to do and will always bring us out more robust than when we went in.

Be encouraged.

Keep the Receiver off the Hook Ephesians 6:18

Lately, I have been distracted by what is going on in the world. The climate of the world’s events saddens me. No matter what side of the coin you’re on regarding what has transpired over the last year, (a global pandemic, political unrest, social injustice) one thing we can agree on, it has been a lot. When I find myself watching the news, scrolling through social media and hearing all the rhetoric, I have to step away and regroup because from my perspective, this is overwhelming. The truth for me and maybe for you too is that anything that we look from our view has the propensity to be overwhelming. Am I right about it?

Some of the events that are unfolding before us, I never thought I would see in my lifetime. Wait, probably those before me have said the same thing in the past. All of the occurrences we are experiencing now, have been here before.

That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 NASB

To some this is discouraging, but I believe this gives us hope amidst uncertainty. These times let us know that we can endure and get through anything, because these troubles have come before and we have been victorious. Victory does not come without work or loss. Despite what is happening in the world, we do not lose hope because the Lord is still in control. When I wake up in the morning, I have to remind myself of this and breathe again. The other morning, while in God’s Word, I was reminded of my real responsibility while here on earth. My time here is not just for me to live and enjoy the good life, but what we all that proclaim to be followers of Jesus Christ should do, is pray. In Ephesians 6, we are reminded that to put on the full armor and that prayer is our greatest weapon. Friend, when I read this proverbial truth, it reminded me of what, we that call ourselves disciples of Christ, should be doing during these seemingly dark days.  

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints,

Ephesians 6:18 NASB

Prayer is our greatest defense in these times. Prayer is the key that can turn the lock opening doors to change. When we hear and see all that is happening around us, it causes emotions to arise. The feelings that we try to control on our own are reminders that prayer is needed. Prayer not just for individual’s or for those in our circle, but for all humanity. Where in the Bible does it say, pray for certain political parties, cultures, economic status (you get the point), it does not. In fact, the Bible instructs us, in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, to pray without ceasing or in other words, always be in communion with God. Before cell phones, there was time that if you were on a landline and forgot to place the receiver back on the hook, the person on the other end could still hear your conversation. This is the essence of what I mean, keep the receiver of the hook so the Lord can always hear you.   

With all prayer and petition, pray at all times.

In Ephesians 6:18, Paul tells us that we should be consistent in prayer. There are prayers to intercede for others, prayers for thanksgiving, prayers to petition God for something, prayers of supplication, all these we should do constantly with God.

Pray in the Spirit.

When we pray, are we praying in sincerity or just because we should? In my home office, I have a scented wax burner. I enjoy the way it disperses the fragrance into the atmosphere. However, if it is not plugged into the source of power the wax will just sit and not melt as it should. Just because I have the wax and the burner, but no source of power-my atmosphere will not smell any different. This is the same in prayer, just because I know what I am purposed for and look the part but have no connection to the source, nothing will change.

Pray with your eyes open

I am not saying keep your eyes open when you are praying, that may be a little strange to some. What I am saying is stay alert. Stay alert to what is around you and focus. Let us not get caught up in the schemes and distractions that interfere with God’s plan. I will be the first to admit that it is tough to not get caught in smaller, emotionally driven areas. Where it is tough, we need to ask God for His help and guidance

So here is the reflection: Are we doing what we know to do? Are we praying constantly for all humanity or are we selective in who and what we pray for? Prayer is not like going to a store and picking up milk, based on the type that fits my taste. God did not instruct me to pray for those that are likeminded or make me feel special. He gave the body of Christ a specific instruction of how to pray. This is the challenge.

May we not lose our sight being so closed to God in darkness that we miss His wonderful light. 

Be Encouraged.