Maintain Your Inner Circle

“Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20).

Jesus chose twelve disciples to mentor for the establishment of the great commission. Among the twelve he had a close inner circle of three, Peter, James and John whom he confided in. The hours approaching the crucifixion was a difficult time for Jesus where he struggled with the decision to suffer for mankind. In Matthew 26, he traveled to Gethsemane. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me” (Matthew 26:36-38).

There are people who will try to stay close to us because it meets a need for them. It is not wise to share your inner thoughts and deepest desires with acquaintances, but reserve your secrets for those closest to you who have earned your trust. Trust is not free, but has a currency which is earned with time and the demonstration of being worthy. Not everyone is worthy of trust and our discernment and a demonstration of loyalty will prove who you can trust.

We have to set boundaries in relationships and be careful in those seasons when you are most vulnerable. It is during these times when we need people around us who are safe. These people should also be able to hold us accountable, for decisions that we make and help us to stay grounded when times get difficult. Our inner circle should also challenge us to grow and bring out the best in us. Let us seek God about our relationships and close friendships and let God show us the people that we are able to keep close. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”
‭‭(Proverbs‬ ‭4‬:‭23‬).

A.P.-Y.

My Case is Settled in Heaven

Jesus spoke to his disciples about the power and authority given to us over things in earth and in heaven. His assurance is that we have power to allow or disallow certain things in earth and in the heavens. Earlier in Matthew 16:18-19, Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church and a similar reference was made to binding and loosing. At the start of this reference Jesus mentioned that he would give to us the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus’s teaching followed a discourse about dealing with conflicts and the need to speak the truth in love. He spoke about the need to try to resolve differences by having a discussion with anyone who had done wrong to us. Jesus taught that if after we had done all that we can to resolve a conflict and someone refused to listen, then it was ok to love them from a distance.

We have to try our best to be at peace with all men, but there are times when no matter what we do, this may not be possible. We take our petition to the throne room of God in prayer and be assured that our case is settled in heaven. When we take our petitions to God, we know that he is our adjudicator and High Priest who also governs the affairs of our lives. No wrong that has been done to us will go unnoticed before God and he will take vengeance and offer recompense. It’s similar to an earthly court where cases are heard and a sentence handed down to a guilty party and the person wronged is awarded a settlement.

While there are some prayers that we pray on our own, there are occasions when we need the agreement of other believers. Jesus also said that where two or three are gathered together and agree on anything that it shall be done for them by God in heaven (Matthew 18:19). This is why it is important to find a mature Christian to agree with us in prayer concerning some requests. In this way we guarantee that we are being objective in our request and also at times we need to be supported and strengthened by someone else.

God is in the midst of us and we will not be moved. God is with us and he is our refuge and fortress. He is present with us in trouble. “Be still and know that he is God because he will be exalted in earth and in heaven” (Psalm 46:10).


A.P.-Y.

Chasing After God

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Many of us pursue relationships with people that we deem to be of benefit to us. Our human need for love and affirmation means that we avoid loneliness and isolation. We have an innate desire for human contact and relationships. What we grow up desiring to learn is how to cultivate lasting and healthy relationships. At times our negative early childhood experiences, can hinder our ability to form and maintain healthy attachments. The good news is that in the same way that we can learn unhealthy relationship patterns, we can unlearn these behaviours and learn new healthy ways of relating to others.

God created us for relationships and we also have an innate desire for a relationship with a higher being. The crux is what will we use to fill that need for a relationship with a higher power. Either we develop and cultivate a relationship with God, where we allow him to control our lives, or we replace this desire with the love of money or material things. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God warns us that we cannot seek to serve him and money for example, for money is a master and we are likely to love money and resent God (Matthew 6:24).

It is a relationship with God that will last into eternity and we are advised to store up treasures for ourselves in heaven. We have an eternal reward beyond this life, so we have to live for a treasure that can outlast our earthly existence. We need a hunger for God to cultivate a relationship with him. We know for example, when people are genuine about wanting to be in a relationship with us and we reward this with an audience, when we sense a genuine care for our wellbeing. This has to be balanced against self interest and self seeking motives.

God knows our hearts and what is in our mind and our motives. He can sense either genuine commitment and passion to do his will, or a reluctant submission born out of guilt and shame. What God desires is our hearts, broken with our love for him because we know how much he loves us. A love for him which translates into a hunger and a passion to be close to him and a desire to pursue him into eternity.

“I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:14).

A.P.-Y.

God is With You in the Storm

“And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water”” (Matthew 14:28).

In Matthew 14, Peter and the other disciples travelled ahead of Jesus, after he had finished teaching the crowds. After Jesus dismissed the crowd, he went into the mountain alone to pray. When he was done praying, the disciples were far away by boat. They encountered a storm and the waves beat against the boat due to a strong wind. Jesus approached the boat by walking on the water towards them, in the early hours of the morning. The disciples did not recognise him and they also did not expect to see him walking on the water towards them. They cried out in fear thinking he was a ghost.

Jesus reassured them that they did not need to fear as it was him walking towards them. Peter being as impulsive as he was or in a manner which some would describe as faith, said to Jesus, “Lord if it is you, let me come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus said, to which Peter stepped out and walked on the water toward him. What happened next was the true test of Peter’s faith. He asked Jesus to give him permission to step out and on His word he did, but the wind did not cease. Fear is what overcame Peter and he started to sink and cried out to Jesus to save him. “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus said, grabbing hold of Peter.

Peter had enough faith to recognise that it was Jesus on the water and stepped out to meet him. Stepping out did not calm the wind and Peter’s doubt caused him to sink. We sometimes imagine that if we are sure that we have heard from God and we take a step of faith, that things will automatically be calm.

Dear friends, stepping out on faith often requires maintaining that faith, even when there are winds of doubt and fear around us. It won’t always be calm when God gives us the go ahead to take that first step. But if we continue to walk in faith and do not doubt then Jesus will help us to safety. God is with us and he will guide us and keep us safe, so that no harm can come to us. We have to maintain our trust and confidence in him to help us make it through the storm.

A.P.-Y.

Hide in God

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him” (Psalm 91:1-2).

The defence against constant bombardment is saturation in the word, to hide ourselves in God while the storm rages. That way God will shelter and protect us and be our shield and guide. “But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:15-16).

In order to remain full of the spirit of God, in order to be able to minister to others, Jesus knew the answer to prevent burnout. He often withdrew in order to pray and to connect with God in the wilderness. Sometimes we become bombarded by the cares of life and constant exhaustion and distractions can drain all of our energy. This makes it easy for the enemy to attack our minds and filter in fears, anxiety and depression. In order to reconnect with God, we have to pull away to be alone with God, to communicate with him and to be refilled.

God is our hiding place and the only way to shelter from the storms and cares of life is to find rest and shelter in him. He is never far away and it is the noise and chaos of life that drowns out the voice of God. He will not compete with our busy schedules or overly saturated minds in order to speak to us. We have to make time for God and seek him to find refuge in him.

“God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1). Take yourself away from the daily distractions of the noise and the crowd to pray and communicate with God. He will comfort and shelter you and protect you from the attacks of the enemy.

“You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).

A.P.-Y.

Strength for Battle

“For by thee I have run through a troop; And by my God have I leaped over a wall”
‭‭(Psalm‬ ‭18‬:‭29‬).

David wrote Psalm 18 as a song to glorify God, after he was delivered from his enemies. The description in the Psalm mentioned him being delivered from Saul who was King at the time. Saul had relentlessly pursued David and tried every strategy that he could find to kill him. Despite Saul being King and having all of Israel’s army at his disposal, God protected David and kept him safe.

Saul’s hatred and resentment for David, grew out of his strength in battle and David’s ability to slay more enemies than Saul. “And the women sang to one another as they celebrated, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands”” (1 Samuel 18:7). This made Saul angry and intimidated by David, because he knew that God had rejected him as King. This was due to Saul’s disobedience and God anointed David as King (1 Samuel 16).

Although David’s anointing was done in private, Saul could see the skill and strength which David displayed on the battlefield. And to add insult to injury, the women made songs about him after the battle, which seemed to exalt him above Saul. Despite Saul’s hatred and many attacks against David, he never retaliated but trusted in God to come to his defence.

In the end Saul came under the attack of the Philistines, was badly wounded and then took his own life (1 Samuel 31). David did not even need to lift his sword against Saul, which he refrained from doing because of his respect for his anointing as King. Today we do not fight with physical weapons, but we fight in the spirit, using weapons mighty through God to pull down strongholds. And when we pray, we expect God to win every battle on our behalf.

“the God who gave me vengeance and subdued peoples under me” (Psalm 18:47).

A.P.-Y.

Increased Discernment

“So from now on we regard no one from a human point of view [according to worldly standards and values]. Though we have known Christ from a human point of view, now we no longer know Him in this way” (2 Corinthians 5:16).

Have you ever felt misled by someone, or duped into accepting someone to be something which they were not? Some people are skilled at deception and can pretend to be something that they are not, in an effort to gain from others, through the means of deception. We often judge people by their outward appearance but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When John spoke to us about false prophets, he warned us to test the spirits to see whether they are from God or from the Devil (1 John 4:1). He stated that whoever confesses Jesus Christ is from God. James goes a bit further to remind us that even the demons believe in God and tremble in fear (James 2:19). So even people who profess Jesus Christ and claim to be Christians, can operate with wrong motives.

I always remind people, that Judas ate bread from the same dish with Jesus and that still did not stop him from betraying him (Matthew 26:23). I am not suggesting that we spend our lives being paranoid and mistrusting of everyone. We cannot lock ourselves in a cage, or build a wall around ourselves to stay safe from others. On the contrary, what I am suggesting is that we sharpen our spiritual senses and grow in Christlike maturity, in order to be able to discern good from evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Paul told the Corinthians that discernment is a spiritual gift, given to the church for edification. “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10). As children of God, he encouraged us to desire the gifts of the spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31). If we struggle with discernment, we can pray for God to increase this gift in us. That way we will be able to distinguish between the different types spirits, operating in other people and make better decisions about who to trust.

“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (James 1:5).

A.P.-Y.

Jesus Intercedes

“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died–more than that, who was raised to life–is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34).

God cares about your worries and struggles more than we think. Jesus can relate to our weaknesses and has been tempted in every way that we experience, and because He can relate, He sits next to his father daily making intercession for us. Imagine that, Jesus is praying for us, that we remain strong and overcome our struggles.

In Luke 22:31, he cautioned Peter that the devil was after the disciples to sift them as wheat, but that he had prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail. Jesus asked Peter to strengthen his brothers once he was restored.

Satan’s lie is that God does not care, that he does not see or understand our need, but this is far from the truth. He will not cause us to be tempted more than we can bear and he has attached to every trial and temptation a way of escape.

Look for that escape because there is a way even when you don’t see it. God is able, He loves you, He cares for you and we will overcome when we keep trusting and believing. Often we pray to overcome challenges, to escape trials and difficulties and this can cause us to feel far away from God. Nothing can separate us from a God who is acquainted with our sorrow and it is when we are being tested when God looks after us the most. In fact, Jesus is constantly calling our names to the father.

Stay in the word of God and in his presence, knowing that he is nearest to you when you feel your heart is breaking. And those times when you are so deeply burdened with anguish, that you do not know what to pray, God understands tears and Jesus is constantly calling your name to the father.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

A.P.-Y.

A Fortified City

“And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land” (Jeremiah 1:18).

The word fortified relates to being provided with defensive works, as protection against attack. Jeremiah’s call came at a time when he was young, insecure and worried about his ability to influence his people. God encouraged Jeremiah of the strength and authority that he had invested in him.

God spoke to Jeremiah concerning what he was called to do. God touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gave him the power to proclaim his word to the people. “See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10).

Jeremiah’s battle was not against flesh and blood, but against systems and structures which stood against the laws of God. The Israelites had transgressed against God and so they would be taken into captivity. God anointed prophets who were his messengers to the people, to warn of impending danger and judgment. The prophets were often held in high esteem, because of their relationship with God. At other times they were hated, because they had to relay messages of judgement, which the people didn’t always want to hear.

Jeremiah was one of those prophets, who faced much prosecution from those in authority and also false prophets. These prophets prophesied lies to the people and were angry, when Jeremiah’s message contradicted theirs. At the start of his ministry, God warned and encouraged Jeremiah about what he would experience. “They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:19).

God needed Jeremiah to be assured, that the word which he was sending him to proclaim, would not cause him to be a favourite of Kings, officials and even Priests. God wanted Jeremiah to know that he would protect him against their attacks. The attacks were sure to come, but would not prevail because God would deliver.

A.P.-Y.

How the Gospel Spread to Africa

“And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship” (Acts 8:27).

At the time after Jesus’s death and resurrection, the disciples were zealous for God and travelled the region, spreading the gospel to different parts of the world. Phillip preached in the regions of Samaria and one day an angel instructed him to travel to the south towards a road that goes down from Jerusalem towards Gaza (Acts 8:26).

When Phillip got there he saw the Ethiopian eunuch, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, returning in his chariot while reading the writings of the Prophet Isaiah. The Holy Spirit prompted Phillip to join the eunuch and on approaching he heard him reading. Phillip asked if he understood what he was reading. Phillip proceeds to explain to the eunuch that Isaiah prophesied about Jesus Christ. Of his birth, ministry, crucifixion and his ascension into heaven (Acts 8:27-35).

The eunuch is so excited about hearing the good news. “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptised”(Acts 8:36)? The eunuch was baptised and went on his way rejoicing, having received the good news of Jesus Christ.

The eunuch’s position within Ethiopia was strategic, given his influence and ability to spread the gospel within the northern regions of Africa. At that time in the gospels, we saw the disciples being sent to strategic people, with influence within their own societies, who could proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Many people have the erroneous perception that Christianity originated in Rome or in Europe. The paintings of Jesus by Michelangelo and other European artists did not help matters. For many years, drawings, paintings and television shows have depicted Jesus as European.

This may not seem like a big deal for some people, however the issues of identity and visible representations of different cultures is a historical issue. Many children have grown up with identity crisis as depictions of beauty have wrongly emphasised European features and standards. Persons who fall outside of these ideals, have felt inadequate or pressured into meeting these standards. Physical appearance is one dimension of this argument. The other important aspect is the spiritual significance and the need that people have, to be able to identify with a spiritual figure.

God created us in his own image and he made us all equal in his sight. Man made inventions and systems have created race, class and other divisions. This has negatively associated some people with superiority, while ascribing an inferior status to other people. These systems were created by the devil himself and need to be dismantled through the blood of Jesus Christ. My point is to highlight God’s love for all people from different ethnicities, cultures, languages and countries. God was so concerned for his people, that he allowed the apostles to share the gospel with people, who could through their influence, spread the gospel to the world. Through Phillips meeting with the eunuch, the gospel spread to Africa.

A.P.-Y.