In chapter 17, Jeremiah spoke of the sins of Judah. God had plans to give their wealth as spoil and would cause them to serve their enemies. “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:5). Jeremiah said anyone who trusted in man would be like a shrub in the desert, who would not see any goodness. The alternative was to trust God, and be blessed like trees planted by the water. They send down roots in the stream and do not fear when there is drought or heat. The person who trusts in God is always fruitful and their leaves are ever green.
Jeremiah said that the heart is desperately sick and deceitful. “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jeremiah 17:10). God compared a person who gathered wealth, which they did not earn as a bird gathering a brood that she did not hatch. Wealth gained through unjust means would not remain with the dishonest person. Jeremiah lamented for God to heal his people so that they could be saved. He asked God to be his refuge in the day of disaster. God would put to shame all who persecuted him and bring them destruction.
The essence of what Jeremiah was saying, is the need to rely on God first and not to look to other people for our salvation. God is the only one who can save us and although he uses people as destiny helpers, they are not the source. Sometimes we can knowingly or unknowingly put other people in the place of God. Whenever we start to look to other people to provide for us or to rescue us, we are making them out to be god. When we truly believe that God is able to meet our needs, we don’t need to manipulate others to provide for us.
Unresolved trauma can leave us in a position of victimhood. Sometimes people have been wrongly victimised through abuse or neglect. This is a sad reality which results from toxic relationships. Being victimised does not mean that a person needs to remain a lifetime victim. A victim mentality prevents people from taking responsibility for their choices and the resulting consequences. It is easy to sit around, feeling sorry for yourself and wishing for someone to come and rescue you. God alone is our salvation and we look to him first for provision, sustenance and to meet all of our needs.
God is able to heal the mind and emotions and we can unlearn unhealthy relationship patterns. We learn dysfunctional patterns from early childhood and negative parenting styles, create maladaptive behaviours. The good news is that helps is readily available. Many unhealthy behaviours can be corrected through counselling and therapy. There is empathy for anyone who has or continue to experience abuse. Healing is also possible when we seek support and guidance. We can overcome unhealthy coping strategies and replace these with healthy and wholesome habits. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
Isaiah prophesied of Jesus’s coming and gave ample descriptions, of the life that he would live. He grew up like a young plant, like a root out of a dry ground, with no form or majesty that we should look at him, or any beauty that we should esteem him. He was despised, rejected, sorrowful, grief stricken and people hid their faces from him. Jesus was pierced and crushed by our sins, he took on chastisement so that we can have peace and his wounds brought us healing. He was oppressed and afflicted, judged a sinner and cut off from the earth.
He was crucified among the wicked although he committed no sins. “Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus was made a public spectacle in front of people, a public display of martyrdom. He was not afraid to die, although he asked God if his cup could pass. His blood was poured out for for the guilty, although he was guiltless.
People hated Jesus although he went about doing good. The devil hates us and anyone who belongs to God. He will use circumstances to create dysfunctions and shame. Many communities historically used shame based forms of parenting styles to raise children. The idea is that the child would change their behaviour, through having negative thoughts and feelings about themselves. The reality is that this concept does not work and what it does, is to create low self-esteem and people with dysfunctional patterns. The alternative to shame based parenting is positive parenting. This is where a parent focuses on the positive attributes and strengths of a child.
My point in explaining this concept is that, many adults are walking around daily with feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy. These emotions were often generated in childhood, from negative parenting styles and have remained into adulthood. The good news is that our God knows what it feels like to be despised and rejected. He took quite a beating leading to his crucifixion. He was mocked, jeered, scorned and disdained. He can relate to our negative emotions and he died to set us free from guilt and shame. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).
Solomon spoke in Ecclesiastes 8, about keeping the King’s command. He said that a man’s wisdom makes his face shine and it changes the hardness of his face. He said to keep the King’s rules because of God’s oath to him. “Whoever keeps a command will know no evil thing, and the wise heart will know the proper time and the just way” (Ecclesiastes 8:5). There is a time and place for everything, although man’s trouble weighs him down. This is because he does not know what to do, as he does not know what lies ahead of him. Solomon later said that those who fear God will do well.He saw the burial of the wicked, who they were praised when they went in and out of the temple.
The conclusion was that the sentence against an evil deed was not always executed speedily. As a result of this, people set their hearts to do evil. Although a sinner did evil a hundred times and continued to live, nevertheless it will be well with those who fear God. “But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God” (Ecclesiastes 8:13). Solomon’s conclusion is that man cannot know or predict the ways of God. He spoke of vanity taking place in the earth which is ‘excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements’ (OxfordLanguages).
As a result of this vanity, wicked people are affected by the righteous and the righteous are affected by the wicked. Solomon’s advice was that we find joy, because there is no way of knowing about all the things of God. David also said, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalm 73:2-3). We can see where Solomon got his philosophical nature from and his ability to observe the ways of people. David also observed how the wicked appeared, to have no trouble and seemed to live long lives. As he continued to observe, he soon understood God’s reward for the wicked.
“Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin” (Psalm 73:18). In the end, the wicked are destroyed like grass and cut off from the living. There is indeed a way that seems right to a man, but the end is death (Proverbs 14:12). There are people who are playing church and have lived a double life for many years. Many people are fooled into believing, that they are getting away with their unrepentant and presumptuous sins. God is not mocked, he is a jealous God and many sins are visited upon the children of the wicked, up to the third and forth generation. No sin goes unpunished and either people repent or they will reap the consequences. Presumptuous sins can lead to a lifetime in eternal damnation and can also create consequences for the next generation.
In Matthew 9, as Jesus advanced his ministry, he healed many people who were sick and restored others to life. He first healed a paralytic man who was brought to him on a bed. The scribes felt that Jesus had blasphemed, because he forgave the man of his sins. Around the same time, Jesus called Matthew who was a Tax Collector, to join his ministry. The Pharisees also criticised Jesus for eating at Matthew’s house. “But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12). The sickness which Jesus was referring to in this instance, was sin sickness which Matthew was delivered from.
Jesus then followed a man whose daughter was ill, in order to pray for her. On his way there, he was stopped by a woman with an issue of blood, who touched his garment and was healed. While he was delayed, the man’s daughter died. Nevertheless, Jesus went to her house, took her by the hand and commanded her to come back to life. As he went on his journey, two blind men called out to him for help. He touched their eyes and their sight was restored. As he continued on his journey, a man was brought to him who was demon possessed and mute. Jesus cast out the demon and the man spoke.
Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). The next thing that Jesus said to his disciples, was that the harvest was ripe, but the labourers were few. He asked them to pray for God to send labourers into the harvest. Jesus was making reference to the harvest of lost souls. On many occasions, when he ministered, his attitude was described as compassionate.
Compassion is having concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. It is also described as suffering with others. The bible teaches us to weep with those who weep, and to bear one another’s burden (Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:2). Our society has become individualistic and people are taught to ‘mind their own business’ and ‘don’t get involved in what doesn’t concern you.’ This was not Jesus’s way of ministry and he was not afraid of getting into other people’s business. The Acts church were together, shared everything and had all things in common (Acts 2:44). Compassion is a requirement for ministry, in order to meet the needs of others.
Your ministry will become powerful and impactful, when you develop love and compassion. You won’t reach people with your ministry if you don’t love them. Most people can see through pretence and can discern if someone really cares about them. Our ministries have to be driven by love and a desire to lead people to Christ, so that they can have everlasting life. Love isn’t easy and we sometimes have to pray to be able to see people through God’s eyes. Some of the people who are the hardest to love, are the people most in need of healing and deliverance.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he encouraged them to rejoice in the Lord at all times. Is it humanly possible to always be joyful and find a reason to rejoice? What about those times when we are hurting or going through trials and difficulties? Paul went on to say that we do not need to be anxious about anything. His encouragement was to pray about everything with supplication and thanksgiving. Why do we pray about everything with thanksgiving? So that the peace of God, which is not possible to explain with human logic, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7).
Peace is our ultimate pursuit which gives us confidence that God is with us. If we have peace with God then we have peace with ourselves and with everyone else. When we have peace then there is no reason why we cannot rejoice and be joyful in God. We can rejoice when we have surrendered our worries and cares to God because we know that he cares for us. For example, if you take your car to the garage, you are no longer worried about the car because you trust that it is in capable hands. You also know that the mechanics are trained to take care of it and to fix the fault with the car. Similarly, if we have approached God in prayer concerning a problem, we can rest assured that our problems are in capable hands and he will fix it for us.
“The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands” (Psalms 138:8). If we are being honest, we have to admit that we sometimes place a lot more faith in the things that we can see with our physical eyes, than we do in God. This is why faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of the things which we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). There are some areas of our lives that are easier for us to trust God with than others. Those areas where we lack faith are the areas that we most need to surrender. Oftentimes this relates to areas where we have experienced hurt or a deficit and it makes it harder to trust God.
Let us not miss out on the peace which is available when we fully surrender. Every new day that we live to see, brings a reason to rejoice. Gratitude is a powerful human emotion and a great antidote for stress. It is impossible to remain overwhelmed and burdened by our trials when we sing praises and rejoice in the Lord. “For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4).
Paul was expounding to the Galatians about christian virtues. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). When we consider self-control, we can get the idea that we have something to do with our ability to be good. There are many choices that are left to our free will and when we decide to discipline ourselves, the result is good fruit.
There are some traits however, that are harder for us to temper and we have to rely on the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us. “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 1:24). Our part in developing godly discipline is to listen and obey. This is obedience beyond what makes sense to our human reasoning. Often God will ask us to make decisions that go against our nature. His word to the person who is extremely proactive may come in the form of an instructionto be still and to wait for him to move.
Being asked to do what goes against our very nature can feel like a small death to parts of our natural selves. Very often God is saving us from ourselves because we sometimes don’t know our limitations. God will often challenge us in the areas where we need to grow. Left to our own devices, we would wear ourselves out trying to solve most problems on our own. There are things that we are responsible for. After we have done what we were told to do by God, we then have to surrender and wait. Wait for God to do what only he can do.
There is a strength beyond our strength; an understanding beyond what we can see; and wisdom beyond our human comprehension that only comes from God.
“Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).
Paul spoke to the Corinthians about his work in ministry. He made reference to the Christian journey being a race which each person runs to win. He made further reference to how athletes discipline their bodies in order to maintain the physical stamina for racing. “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
While it is important for us to maintain good physical health through diet and exercising, Paul’s reference relates to our spiritual well-being. As we live for God, we should grow in Christlike maturity and overtime lose the appetite for things that are contrary to the will of God. Similar to babies, Christians who are new to the faith need the word broken down in simple terms for them to understand. “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—” (1 Peter 2:2).
As we mature in God, there is an expectation that we grow in spiritual strength and develop the stamina for sound doctrine. Those who are mature in God should be in a position to not only read and understand the word, but to teach the word to others. Moreover, the mature have a responsibility to demonstrate behaviour which serves as an example to newborns and those who are unsaved to follow.
Paul also spoke about adjusting to accommodate those around him for the sake of the gospel. “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). God will continue to develop character in us and allow us to be tested in order that we will grow. Most parents don’t take pleasure in disciplining their children, but they are wise enough to understand that it is necessary to ensure that their children become valuable members of society.
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
In Mark 9, a father carried his son to Jesus’s disciples to ask that they would pray for his healing. The disciples prayed but they could not cast out the spirit which tormented the boy. When Jesus arrived, the father ran to tell him what had happened. “And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes”” (Mark 9:23). The father acknowledged that he had faith, but that there was still some doubt in his mind. “Lord I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24)!
This story teaches us that it is possible to have faith mixed with some doubt or unbelief. There are times when I have felt that I needed really strong faith in order for God to act on my behalf. Let us look at what Jesus told his disciples in Matthew concerning faith. “He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you”” (Matthew 17:20).
Mustard seeds are extremely small seeds and are perhaps one of the smallest seeds that I know of. While we think that we need giant size faith to gain a small victory, Jesus is saying that we can do major things with just a small amount of faith. What that means is that faith is such a potent antidote, that an extremely small amount can do major things.
We often speak of ‘strong faith’ and admire people who seem to possess this. Paul makes reference to each of us having a measure of faith which God has assigned (Romans 12:3). Faith increases through listening to the word of God and as we exercise faith, like a muscle it will grow. The final analysis is this, that I have not always felt strong in faith during the times when I have seen God move. What God needs is faith as much as a mustard seed and with that much faith we can move a mountain.