PRINCIPLES OF CHANGE: PROFITING FROM OUR SUFFERINGS PART 2

INTRODUCTION

Even as Christians, we are still an imperfect people. We make mistakes.

  • Sometimes, the mistakes are unknowing or unintentional: we didn’t know what we were doing at the time. We were just plain ignorant.
  • Sometimes, the mistakes are a weakness of the flesh. While we have the best of intentions and spiritual desires, we were caught off guard in a temptation and, in a moment of weakness or passion, we gave in to sin. Afterwards, we really grieve over what happened, we condemn ourselves for it, because we knew better. We lament and regret our weakness.

Sometimes, however, the mistakes are willful and knowledgeable. We knew what we were doing. And we did it willfully and deliberately because we wanted to do it. We were, at that point, willfully rebelling against God’s law. We did what we wanted to do. And we didn’t care what anyone—including God—said about it. We sinned because we wanted to sin!

FOR A TRUE CHILD OF GOD, SIN DOESN’T MAKE OUR LIFE BETTER. IT DOESN’T PROFIT US. IT DOESN’T DO US ANY GOOD. In fact, sinning makes things even worse. WE’LL SUFFER FOR THE CHOICES WE MAKE. SIN BRINGS SUFFERINGS AND MISERY. AND WHEN WE DECIDE WE’RE GOING TO SIN WE’RE ALSO DECIDING AT THE SAME TIME THAT WE’RE GOING TO SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF THAT SIN.

We don’t like hearing it and we don’t want to hear it. So let me say it once again. Sin has consequences. It brings us suffering. And the root cause of this sin and suffering is a selfish, self-willed, stubborn, rebellious, desire to do something we know is wrong and displeasing to God. It is this sinful desire that the Lord wants us to get  rid of.

Unfortunately, we’re not going to get rid of this sinful desire on our own choice or initiative because we love the sin too much that we’re not going to give it up or let it go on our own. God is going to have to force us to give up this sinful desire. He’s going to have to bring us to a point where we finally admit and decide that this one sin isn’t worth all the suffering and grief we’re going through. This is the change that the Lord wants to produce in us.

LETTING CHASTISEMENT CHANGE US

This theme of suffering brings me to our next principle of change. And the principle is this. IN ORDER FOR US TO CHANGE WE NEED TO LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES AND PROFIT FROM OUR SUFFERINGS.

Now there are many different kinds of sufferings. There are many different reasons why God’s people suffer. But the one reason and cause for suffering that I’d like to look at today is the suffering that is the result of sin. It’s called chastisement or chastening. When we sin God chastises us. Hebrews 12:6-8 puts it this way, For the Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes each one He accepts as His child. (7)  As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as His own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father?  (8)  If God doesn’t discipline you as He does all of His children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really His children at all.

God loves His children. He loves you by name! And when you disobey Him He chastens you. GOD’S CHILDREN ARE CHASTENED AND DISCIPLINED WHEN THEY SIN. It’s definitely not fun or enjoyable. In fact, we hate it and we don’t want it. But God lays it on us because He loves us. Chastening is proof that God still loves us and we’re still His children!

Why does chasten us? Because CHASTENING IS MEANT TO CHANGE US. TO MAKE US MORE RIGHTEOUS. MORE OBEDIENT. It will do this if we submit to the suffering, learn from our sin, and choose next time to be righteous instead of sinful.

Hebrews 12:10-11 tells us,  Our human fathers correct us for a short time, and they do it as they think best. But God corrects us for our own good, because he wants us to be holy, as he is.  (11)  It is never fun to be corrected. In fact, at the time it is always painful. But if we learn to obey by being corrected, we will do right and live at peace.

Let’s look at how chastisement changed a stubborn, hard-headed fellow named Jonah who, not surprisingly, was a spitting image of us. 

JONAH

Jonah was a prophet in Israel. And as a prophet, it was Jonah’s job to go to whoever and wherever God sent him to speak the message that God gave him to speak. On this particular occasion, God wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach a word of warning and destruction (Jonah 1:1-2).

Now Nineveh was the capital city of Assyria. And Assyria was, at this time, the dominant world power. You could say that they were the rulers of the world. And it just so happened that Assyria and Israel were mortal enemies at this time. Assyria was Israel’s hated enemy #1. They fought several wars. And, within fifty years of Jonah’s ministry, Assyria would invade Israel and pretty much destroy Israel as a nation.

So when God told Jonah to go to Nineveh He was, in effect, asking an Israelite to go into the very heart of the heathen enemy and, as an enemy of the Assyrians, give these heathens a threatening message from a foreign God. It was, in the natural, a life-shortening recipe for disaster and death. Without God’s intervention, the prophet would never make it out of Nineveh alive. He would never see Israel again. His life was as good as dead and done. So what do you think Jonah did? Like a lot of us today, Jonah disobeyed God and ran for his life (Jonah 1:3).

Like I said, if you’re a true child of God, God isn’t going to let you get away with disobedience. You can run from Him and hide from Him. But God knows exactly where you’re at, where you’re going, and what you’ve got planned up your sleeve. And God goes right to work, making sure your plans don’t succeed. This is where your life starts to fall apart and one thing after another goes wrong for you.

Jonah 1:4-17 details how fearsome and awful God can be when you mess with Him:  But the LORD made a strong wind blow, and such a bad storm came up that the ship was about to be broken to pieces.  (5)  The sailors were frightened, and they all started praying to their gods. They even threw the ship’s cargo overboard to make the ship lighter. All this time, Jonah was down below deck, sound asleep.  (6)  The ship’s captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep at a time like this? Get up and pray to your God! Maybe he will have pity on us and keep us from drowning.” 

(7)  Finally, the sailors got together and said, “Let’s ask our gods to show us who caused all this trouble.” It turned out to be Jonah.  (8)  They started asking him, “Are you the one who brought all this trouble on us? What business are you in? Where do you come from? What is your country? Who are your people?”  (9)  Jonah answered, “I’m a Hebrew, and I worship the LORD God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”  (10)  When the sailors heard this, they were frightened, because Jonah had already told them he was running from the LORD. Then they said, “Do you know what you have done?” 

(11)  The storm kept getting worse, until finally the sailors asked him, “What should we do with you to make the sea calm down?”  (12)  Jonah told them, “Throw me into the sea, and it will calm down. I’m the cause of this terrible storm.”  (13)  The sailors tried their best to row to the shore. But they could not do it, and the storm kept getting worse every minute.  (14)  So they prayed to the LORD, “Please don’t let us drown for taking this man’s life. Don’t hold us guilty for killing an innocent man. All of this happened because you wanted it to.” 

(15)  Then they threw Jonah overboard, and the sea calmed down.  (16)  The sailors were so terrified that they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made all kinds of promises.  (17)  The LORD sent a big fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish for three days and three nights.

Well, Jonah was pretty set and stubborn about not doing what God wanted him to do. But suffering and chastisement have a way of changing a  guy’s  heart and making him whistle a different tune. Jonah gets swallowed by a whale or something really humongous. He should have died. But God miraculously kept him alive because He had a job for Jonah to do.

When Jonah saw how precarious his circumstances were the very first thing he did was pray (Jonah 2:1). In the midst of his sufferings and chastisement Jonah had a change of mind. He vowed that if God ever got him out of this fix he would obey Him, go to Nineveh, and preach to those heathen enemies of Israel (Jonah 2:9).

Jonah got things right with the Lord and, once he did,  God brought the suffering and chastisement to an end. The fish vomited Jonah out and the relieved prophet found himself on dry ground once again (Jonah 2:10).  

What was it that got Jonah to change his mind? What brought him to repentance and obedience? God’s chastisement.

Brethren, God’s out to change you. To change your heart, mind, affections and desires for sin. If you will not do that on your own, God will take over and force you, or get you, to change your mind about sin. How’s He going to do that? By chastising you and making you suffer quite miserably. Intolerably.

Do you have your mind bent on sin? Are you sure you want to disobey God and do things your own way? If so, then be ready to suffer for your selfish, sinful, stubborn mindset.  I guarantee you, like  Jonah,  it  won’t be pretty. You can be stubborn all you want right now. But I guarantee you, if you want to live you will eventually change your mind about sin and cry out to God for mercy, help, and salvation.

So do you find yourself in the whale’s belly right now? Is life falling apart for you? Like Jonah, turn back to God and pray. Apologize to Him and ask Him for forgiveness. Ask Him to give you a change of heart. To cleanse you and rid you of your sinful desires (1 John 1:9).

God still loves you! It may not seem like He does. But He still loves you. That’s why He’s made things miserable for you. But He doesn’t want you to be miserable for the rest of your life! He doesn’t want to kill you! He’s not against you! He just wants to teach you a lesson. If you learned your lesson, humble yourself and go penitently to God in prayer. I guarantee you you’ll feel better, you’ll find yourself standing on dry ground, and life will be sweet once again. God’s grace be upon you, dear friend, to abhor what’s evil and cling to what’s good and Godly.

GETTING ANSWERS TO PRAYER PART 4

To get answers to prayer (1) there are things God wants us to do BEFORE we pray; (2) there are things God wants us to do WHEN we pray; and (3) there are things God wants us to do AFTER we pray.

We’re looking at the things God wants us to do BEFORE we pray. We said IF YOU WANT GOD TO ANSWER YOUR PRAYERS YOU’VE GOT TO BE RIGHT. There are five aspects of being right. (1) Being right with God. (2) Being right with people. And now, (3) being right yourself.

3. YOU’VE GOT TO BE RIGHTEOUS

You can’t be hypocritical. You can’t be a Christian on Sunday morning, then live the rest of the week acting like a heathen. You may like living like a heathen. You might enjoy a heathen lifestyle. But that kind of lifestyle doesn’t get you answers to prayer. YOU’VE GOT TO BE RIGHTEOUS TO GET ANSWERS TO PRAYER.

Psalms 34:15-17 puts it this way,  The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.  (16)  The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.  (17)  The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. Look at verses 15 and 17 once again. Who does the Lord hear? Whose prayers does He answer? The righteous.

Listen everyone. I’m not for being self-righteous or being holier-than-thou. But no matter how you cut it, Christians are supposed to be different from everyone else. They’re supposed to be right. They’re supposed to live right. Right by the Book.

Yes. We’re all fallen and none of us is perfect. We make mistakes and we’ll continue to make them as long as we’re imperfect and alive. But being imperfect is not an excuse to be unrighteous. You can’t use your imperfection as a reason, incentive, or justification to not be righteous. To not rise about human frailties and live nobly with integrity.

God is very concerned about how we live. No matter what you call it—you can call it rules, laws, commandments, exhortations, admonitions, principles, guidelines, suggestions, opinions, or whatever else suits your fancies. I don’t care. The point is, the Bible is chock full of God telling us how to live. A lot of us don’t like that. But God’s got every right to do that. He’s God. We’re not. He’s the sole Master and Lord of the Universe. He has every right to tell us what to do. It doesn’t bother me because God isn’t a heartless Tyrant or Dictator.

He’s a loving Parent. Everything He does, everything He says and requires, is done because He loves me more than everyone else put together. And everything He says and does is for my good. He’s watching out for me. He has my best interests in His heart and mind. He knows what I don’t. That’s why I don’t have problems listening to Him. I trust Him. I love Him. I owe Him my life. I owe Him my full, unquestioning, unreserved obedience.

At some point in life we’re gonna need God to help us. To be there for us. To hear us. And answer our prayer. A lot of people get along just fine without God or His help. But you can be absolutely sure that one day each one of us will need God in a serious way. And when that day comes, don’t you want to have God’s ear? I do.

God’s telling us here in Psalms 34 how we get His ear. Righteousness gets prayers answered. Unrighteousness doesn’t. It’s as simple as that. WE CAN’T LIVE ANY OLE WAY WE PLEASE AND EXPECT GOD TO HEAR AND HELP US.

James 5:16 repeats the Psalmist’s refrain, The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. That means WHEN YOU’RE RIGHTEOUS YOUR PRAYERS WORK. YOU GET ANSWERS. YOU GET MIRACLES. Your prayers make a difference. That’s because your prayers have power. That’s what availeth means. You know how a muscle man has power or strength in his muscles. That’s what you have in your prayers when you’re righteous: you’re a spiritual muscle man. You’ve got spiritual power. The kind of power that gets things done.

Have you ever listened to a dead, lifeless sermon? Yeah? Lots of them? You ever listen to a sermon that just set your pants on fire, brought you to tears, got you on your knees, and brought you to the altar? Back to the Lord? You remember that sermon well, don’t you? You’ll never forget it. What’s the difference between a lifeless sermon and a soul-stirring one? You can call it power. Soul. Anointing. The Spirit.

Like sermons, prayers can be so dead and lifeless. People quit praying because they don’t get answers. They don’t make a difference. They don’t change anything.

It doesn’t work that way for righteous folks. God made you a promise, dear friends, and He doesn’t lie. If you’re righteous your prayers have muscle and power with God. They get answered. God Himself sees to that. You can count on it. Expect it. When you’re righteous.

1 Peter 3:12 repeats the now-familiar refrain, the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. Who does God hear? Who has His ears? The righteous. If that’s you,  IF YOU’RE RIGHTEOUS, YOU HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO EXPECT GOD TO ANSWER YOUR PRAYERS.

It’s not a demand. It’s not a pride thing. You ought not be proud or demanding when it comes to God because God doesn’t owe you a thing. God isn’t beholden to anyone. No one’s bossing God around and telling Him what to do.

The expectation of answered prayer is a calm peace and assurance that you have as a righteous person.  God gave you His Word and God, being the Righteous God that He is, will keep His Word. It’s not a demand. It’s an assurance from God Himself.

So you want answers to prayers? Do you have God’s ear? Be right. And God’ll be there for you every time.

What if you need help NOW? What if you’re not right right now? Friend, why don’t you get right right now? Now’s a perfect time and it only takes a minute. Tell Him you’re sorry for what you’ve done. Ask Him to forgive you. Give your life to Him and let Him call the shots. Then call out to Him and ask  Him for help. God will answer you and show you just how loving and merciful He can be. He’d love to have you and help you! Guaranteed!

Coming Up On My Next Blog In This Series. Asking for the right things. You mean there’s some things we can’t ask for? Drop by and find out. I’ll leave the light on for you.