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Posts tagged ‘weaknesses’

If I Could Live My Life Over

SOURCE:  Discipleship Journal/Robert Boardman

During the early years of the Second World War, a young American Marine named Robert Boardman was beaten up in a drunken brawl in Australia, and wound up spending several weeks in a hospital.   In remorse he turned to prayer and to the pages of the Bible, and soon committed his life to Christ.

Later in the war, in the battle for Okinawa, an enemy bullet pierced his throat, and still today he can speak no louder than a husky whisper. Yet he prayed then that he would be able to return to Okinawa and serve the Lord there.

By 1953 he was back, ministering both to American servicemen and to the people of Okinawa. A few years later he moved to Japan, where he has been the Lord’s servant in leading the nation’s Navigator ministry for more than a quarter-century—years of lessons learned about the truly important things in life.

IS IT RIGHT to dwell on past weaknesses, failures, and needs? It could lead unnecessarily to resurrecting what would best be left alone—letting sleeping dogs lie is often the better part of wisdom. The apostle Paul spoke of “forgetting what lies behind me, and straining every nerve towards that which lies in front” (Philippians 3:13).

But the Bible is history, and it tells not only of successes but also of failures by individuals and by nations—failures that teach us lessons. We are to learn from the past.

So if I can tell you in a positive, constructive way about my own mistakes and failures, and thereby warn and challenge you not to repeat them, this article will be a valid venture. If I can help just one other person avoid one of my pitfalls, then I rejoice.

It is important to remember, however that God in his sovereignty has made each of us different in temperament, personality, emotional makeup, spiritual gifts, capacities, callings, and experiences. My areas of need and failure may be your areas of success. Nevertheless, I believe that many of my listed weak points are those we may have in common, at least to some degree.

If I could live my life again, I would seek to make these changes:

1. I would stand more boldly upon my God-given calling, and not be so fearful.

In September 1943 as a young Marine in the South Pacific, I became a Christian through reading a small Gideons’ New Testament. Six months later, after serving in the battle of Cape Gloucester on the island of New Britain near New Guinea, the God of all grace called me to serve him with my whole life. In subsequent years, he faithfully continued to reveal details of that call step by step, including sending me to Japan as a missionary.

I was not a heroic missionary volunteer to the land of my former wartime enemy, but rather a reluctant’ fearful candidate whom God had to “draft” into his service. I was much like Jonah, who resisted the Lord’s plans to send him to Nineveh, the great city of his enemy. My temptation is to be fearful—of the unknown future, of men’s reactions to certain ventures of faith I want to take, of real adversaries. Nevertheless, the gracious call of God to me in early 1944 has been the anchor of my soul when the storms of circumstances and my own limitations would resurrect the specter of fear.

I know that if my heart were more fully set on this calling from God I would be more Kingdom-minded, and therefore bold as a lion, remembering the admonitions and promise in Isaiah 54:17—

“No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

2. While they were young, I would spend more time with my children in worship, in spiritual disciplines, and in just enjoying life.

I have read that by the time a child enters the first grade, the basic direction of his life has already been determined. What you and I have done or not done before our children enter school has made them what they will be.

My temptation as a young, full-time Christian worker some years ago was to think that what I did with my little children was not so important. I thought when they grew older and could understand better then I would give them fuller attention. So I became busy in a ministry with young adults, waiting for my own children to grow up.

But such thinking is a fallacy. I foolishly took too much for granted, and gave my excellent wife Jean more than her share of the load in the children’s upbringing.

There is some consolation for me in seeing that the twelve disciples had the same limited outlook on the importance of little children. But to this Jesus responded, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14).

3. I would ask God for greater blessings and victories, claiming his mighty promises.

Salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ is a matter of believing and claiming his word in order to be saved from our sins. The subsequent, progressive steps of life are also a matter of continuing to believe God’s word—a belief that will determine our spiritual growth. Common people become uncommon as they stand on the promises of God.

Today I have mixed feelings as I think of portions of Scripture I claimed in the past that are now being fulfilled. On the one hand, I rejoice and am overwhelmed at how God works and blesses. On the other hand, I ask myself why I didn’t claim more of God’s amazing promises so that he could do more through this unworthy servant.

I came to the Land of the Rising Sun as a result of praying over God’s precious promises. One of these verses I continually claimed was Psalm 2:8—”Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for shine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” As an heir of God and joint heir with Christ I believed I could legitimately claim that portion of Scripture.

With that verse in mind, I learned from Dawson Trotman how to pray for the nations using a world atlas. He and I would kneel in his study and put our fingers on country after country, key city after key city throughout the world, praying, pleading, interceding.

As time passes, our temptation is to rely on our past experiences, on the knowledge we’ve gained, on new methods and ideas—on everything except God’s exceedingly great and precious promises. Yet these promises are as sure as if they were already fulfilled, if we will but claim and believe them.

4. By God’s grace, I would be quicker to turn from temptation and sin.

Our tendency is to play with fire as long as possible without getting burned, even though it puts us in constant danger of destroying all that is beautiful to us, including our own life and family.

We have an extremely clever enemy—much more clever than we are. He knows our weakest point, studies it, and works on it continually in his desire to ruin us. He is a master strategist at knowing where, when, and how to attack.

Each of us has a point of vulnerability, something referred to in Hebrews 12:1 as the weight and sin “that so easily besets us” or “which clings so closely.” It could be the love of money, the lust for power, an uncontrolled tongue, pride, lust for the opposite sex, sowing discord among brothers, procrastination, or just plain disobedience—refusing to do the clearly known will of God. Often, victory is ours only if we resist Satan and flee from our strong temptation, by God’s grace.

The couple who live across the street from us are acupuncturists and shiatsu specialists. Mr. Suzuki is gone in the daytime. One day during a period of extreme pain in my neck, Jean urged me to go see Mrs. Suzuki for treatment. My conscience clearly revealed that I would have risked too much by visiting alone such an attractive woman. It is far better to have a bad neck than a ruined moral life.

I want Jabez’s prayer to be mine: “that you would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me!” (1 Chronicles 4:10).

 5. I would be more systematic and single-minded in following a lifetime personal Bible study and Scripture memory program.

God has been gracious in helping me discover in the Scriptures some things about himself, about my own life, and about the needs of the ministry. Yet I feel I’m operating only on the fringes of his word, which is more powerful than any nuclear weapon.

The supernatural word of the living God melts and breaks our hard hearts! “‘Is not my word like as a fire,’ saith the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?'” (Jeremiah 23:29).

There are gaps in my life regarding the rich books of the Bible that I ought to have studied and mastered by now. But the temptation is to procrastinate and not redeem the time—to live and act as if I have all the time in the world.

Yet I am now fifty-nine years old. If the seventy years of a normal lifespan were squeezed into a single 24-hour day, it would now be 8:30 in the evening in my life. It is late; time is slipping by so rapidly.

If I were young, I would work out a tentative lifetime Bible study plan that I would review and revise as necessary each year. If you develop such a plan, make it flexible, so that it fits your lifestyle and ministry calling. Memorizing Scripture and reading through the Bible once a year ought to be a part of the plan. You must take the initiative in it, but get someone to help you.

I will delight myself in thy statutes;I will not forget thy word.

(Psalm 119:16)

6. I would be more determined in my one-to-one discipling ministry.

I would expect and demand more of people under my leadership, those whom I had responsibility for training. The temptation in this ministry is to underestimate men’s and women’s capacities and their desire to grow, to serve, and to accept challenge. Sometimes I have been fearful of offending them by asking too much, yet seldom have I met this kind of reaction.

The Master Challenger of all times, Jesus Christ, never hesitated to stretch men beyond their abilities, and over a period of time to bring them up to their true potential. His dealings with the unpredictable fisherman Peter are an example. It is a work that takes time, tears, failure, faith, prayer, trust, humility, love, responsiveness, perseverance, intercession—and clear objectives.

Waiting for the right time is important. There are various growth stages in a disciple’s life, and what can be taught to him tomorrow cannot be taught today. Jesus knew this: “I have yet many things to say unto you,” he told his disciples, “but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). God can reveal the right timing to the disciplemaker in answer to prayer.

So timing is important; yet in my life I may have been too cautious. We have wonderful promises for the men and women God has given us, and by active faith in these promises we can see God work, bless, and multiply beyond our expectations.

7. I would welcome trials and even failures as mends and as builders of my poor character.

This is in response to the command in James 1:2—

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance.

God always has his own special training programs for our lives: a physical injury or disease, a broken heart over a love affair, a potential disciple who becomes an adversary, relatives who harass us, fruit in evangelism that turns out to be false after testings, disunity on our ministry team, our own lack of personal consistency and discipline, financial struggles, career conflicts, and so on. These can bring us a sense of failure and low self-esteem, and a loss of confidence.

In such trials and testings I am tempted to complain, and to not trust in God’s sovereignty. I may want to give up, or to fight against God’s special purposes. I may murmur against my spiritual leader or against others who I feel are conspiring against me. Or I am tempted to think God has forgotten and forsaken me.

But with the reflection that comes from a faith rooted in God’s word, I know he has my best interests at heart. He is a loving Father who chastens me because I am his son. He is purging out the dross, and only the heat of the fire of trials can bring the impurities to the top. So to these trials I must say with fear and trembling, “Welcome, friends!”

8. I would be more considerate, kind, tender, and communicative toward my wife, my children, and my fellow workers.

God has given me an unusual and wonderful wife. Jean and I have been married thirty years. Yet it took me the first ten of those years to learn to praise her. In Proverbs 31 we read that the woman of virtue is praised by her husband and her children. If I, as her husband, praise Jean, my children will also. If I don’t, they won’t. They learn from my example.

In the early years of pioneering the Navigator ministry in Japan, there were times when I made major decisions affecting staff members and their families. Sometimes I made these decisions with little consideration for their feelings, and with little discussion. They were not always bad decisions, but the manner in which they were made was not always thoughtful. Looking back, in certain cases I would certainly have done things differently. Scripture admonishes me to walk in my calling “with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3).

Over the years the Japanese have taught me much about this kind of thoughtfulness, contributing more to me than I have ever contributed to them in the area of decision-making.

9. I would seek to develop a hobby earlier in my life.

Christian workers are often hard-driving, hard-working people with little recognition of their need to slow down—for a diversionary hobby, for example. I’m not sure anyone could have convinced me in my early adulthood that I needed a hobby, and not until I was 46 did I begin to discover some hidden talent in woodcarving.

Since then I’ve learned that a hobby can relieve tension and pressure by diverting my thinking and attention from the ministry. It also brings out the creativity that is within me waiting to be released, and gives me opportunities to use my mind and hands in a new sphere. It leads to a new circle of friends, and involves the whole family in wider horizons of experience. And it also teaches me much about the wonders of creation and about the Creator—the One who made us, and who is still at work within us; “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

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Scripture quotations are from the Twentieth Century New Testament, the New International Version, theKing James Version, the Revised Standard Version, and J. B. Phillips’s The New Testament in Modern English.

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Our Soul Enemy

SOURCE:  Tom Eisenman/Discipleship Journal

The first rule of war is to know your enemy.

When the satellite TV company offered us—their “preferred customers”—a three-months-free package of movie channels, my wife, Judie, and I said, “Sure, sign us up.” If nothing else, we’d save a bundle on movie rentals while the kids were visiting us over the holidays.

What were we thinking?

Judie and I had known we’d need to make discerning choices about what we watched. But we totally underestimated the tsunami of violence, nudity, bad language, and unabashed affronts to a godly lifestyle that would flood our home once we got hooked up. Two days later, we called and cancelled.

This experience brought to mind again the Apostle Peter’s warning: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). In this case our relationship with God was at risk of being devoured with each image and sound bite.

Devilish Tactics

The Bible clearly teaches that a powerful evil being called Satan rules over dark powers in this world and also over forces of evil that inhabit the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:12). He appears to be motivated largely by anger and envy; he was banished forever from the very paradise to which we, as God’s children, are now heirs. And so he aggressively opposes both the people of God and the work of God (1 Thess. 2:18,Mt. 13:37–39).

Satan’s aliases suggest the typical strategies he employs against us. He is called the tempter (Mt. 4:3), the father of lies (Jn. 8:44), and the accuser of God’s people (Rev. 12:10). He is always looking for ways to wreak havoc in a believer’s life and will employ any or all of the above tactics—tempting, deceiving, accusing—to diminish or demoralize God’s people. Knowing his tactics will help us stand against him.

How tempting! First, let’s look at Satan’s role as tempter. How does Satan entice us? James describes the evil process this way: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (Jas. 1:14).

James leans heavily on fishing imagery in this verse. We are like hungry fish, lured by the bait. The evil fisherman knows us well: our appetites, our obsessions, the potentially dangerous power in our suppressed angers. His lure will be personal and powerful. Whatever our particular desire, he will dangle it in front of us to entice us and drag us away from God.

If you are captivated by sex, Satan will make certain that opportunities to satisfy your fantasies are readily available. If your battle is with envy or jealousy, you will meet people at every turn who have more than you do or who have succeeded in areas where you have failed. If you are susceptible to anger, you will struggle to forgive a person who has offended you, finding it nearly impossible to get the incident out of your mind.

Weapons of mass deception. One can visit the Garden of Eden for a revealing picture of Satan’s next role: deceiver. The entire entrapment of Adam and Eve is a network of lies, deception, and half-truths (Genesis 3).

Satan asks Eve what God said about the tree in the center of the garden. She says God warned them not to eat of it or they would die. Satan responds,

You will not surely die…For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God.

—vv. 4–5

In two brief lines he calls God a liar and implies that God has ulterior motives for withholding His best from the first couple. Further, Satan deceives Eve by suggesting that she can gain equality with God by taking things into her own hands.

Satan will similarly engage each of us. He will subtly invite us into dialogue about what God actually said or, more slippery yet, what God might have meant by what He said. We may find ourselves rationalizing why something we’ve always considered to be wrong might be acceptable in this particular case. Or an inner voice will convince us to indulge in something that will ultimately deliver only grief and pain. I deserve it, we reason, as hard as I’ve been working lately. Besides, everybody else is doing the same thing, and it doesn’t seem to be hurting them.

Remember, the devil has been around aeons longer than we have. He has been studying human nature and behavior from the beginning. He knows what lies we are most likely to believe. And he will not hesitate to use them against us.

I stand accused. Accusation is Satan’s third attack strategy. He uses this tactic to demoralize us and make us feel unworthy of a relationship with God.

Satan moves to the “accuser mode” after he has succeeded at tempting and deceiving us. In his roles as tempter and deceiver, the evil one whispers how sweet sin will be. “After all,” he reminds us, “God is a God of grace, mercy, and love. Nothing to worry about! You can always repent. Forgiveness will be easy.”

But once we take the bait, Satan changes his tactics. We’ve sinned, the glow has dimmed, and now reality hits. In that moment when the shame and emptiness of sin strikes, we’ll likely also hear a sneer within: “And you call yourself a Christian!” Now Satan is all over us about what losers we are, how unworthy we are to name the name of Christ, how undeserving we are of His costly love.

Have you noticed the common thread in these three strategies of the enemy? Whether he is acting as tempter, deceiver, or accuser, all these assaults are launched as attacks on our minds.

Messing with Our Minds

Let’s look at some specific ways Satan may try to invade the territory of our minds.

Commandeering our imaginations. Imagination is a wonderful gift from God. I believe it is given to us so that we can envision all we might do and become according to God’s power at work in and through us. But our imaginations are also vulnerable to Satan’s enticements, lies, and accusations.

Consider Eve. Satan shrewdly set her up to fantasize about grasping equality with God. The image was powerful, exciting, irresistible; any thought of following God in obedience and devotion paled in comparison. She ate, and then she became the devil’s advocate by inviting Adam to join her.

Fostering obsession. Another common strategy Satan employs to keep us off-balance is to feed our tendency to obsess. He will do anything to get our focus off of God and onto ourselves or our problems.

For instance, one person’s obsession might be guilt. As Satan keeps the image of her failures vividly alive, a healthy, active conscience is usurped by obsessive thoughts about how bad she has been. Remember, Satan is the accuser. His barrage of condemnation locks her inside herself and blinds her to the light of God’s forgiving grace.

One of my weaknesses is out-of-control worry. When my concerns are infected by the evil one, it’s like I have a video tape in my mind that won’t shut off. Over and over I replay an ugly list of what-if’s: What if this happens! What if that happens! Satan is playing on my fears, and fear always takes my focus off of God and places it on myself.

We are all vulnerable in some area. The evil one is prowling around, looking for host cells in which to plant one of his powerful obsession viruses.

Confusing our sense of what’s right. As we have seen, the deceiver loves to convince us that taking an action that is against God’s will can actually produce something good.

A person may conclude that it makes perfect sense to murder the doctor at the abortion clinic to save the lives of unborn children. Another might slip into a sexual encounter with a coworker, thinking that a temporary fling is just what’s needed to recharge the romance in a lackluster marriage.

Supersizing the initial pleasure. Satan also messes with our minds by ensuring that a first foray into sensual sin yields the greatest possible pleasure. By supersizing that initial experience, he hooks us into a pattern of committing the sin again and again in an attempt to recapture that first-time intensity. When indulging in the same experience doesn’t do it any longer, we up the ante.

A friend of mine started down this road when she tried marijuana. Over time she wound up addicted to heroin, which gave her the rush she could no longer get from other drugs. Finally clean after years of struggling with the addiction, she described her experience to me as “one big high, and the rest was killing pain.”

This is the nature of bondage to Satan: He works to produce in us a greater and greater appetite for a steadily decreasing pleasure. In the end, there is no pleasure at all. Only the raw hunger remains.

Encouraging isolation. In another mind-messing tactic, Satan tries to convince us that we can deal with our struggles on our own. Once we buy into this deception, we are less inclined to seek help and prayer support when we need it most. So we fail, and fail again, and fail again—and tell no one. Ashamed, we slip away altogether from fellowship with other Christians. Finally, isolated and alone, we pose no threat to the evil one’s deadly devices.

Distorting the truth about the reality of evil. The most effective mind trick of all is to downplay the truth about evil. If we don’t believe we have an enemy, we will spend no time preparing for spiritual battle. The truth is, as soon as we name Jesus as our personal savior we pick up enemies—all those evil beings pitted against the purposes of God. A spiritual battle is raging, and we are in the thick of it. If we refuse to believe it, we play into Satan’s hands.

Master Minds

Though these tactics may sound harrowing, we haven’t been left defenseless. Following are a few biblical strategies for defending ourselves against these attacks on the mind.

Guard your thought life. The Apostle Paul was apparently no stranger to assaults on the mind. He wrote,

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

—2 Cor. 10:5, emphasis mine

In Phil. 4:8, Paul urges us to fill our minds with those things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. This is strong encouragement to make choices that strengthen and guard the territory of our minds.

This strategy helped me recently with a man I have struggled to forgive. He pretended to be my friend but behind my back was spreading rumors about me that helped advance his career. The evil one loves to use a situation like this to plant anger and bitterness. Yet I remembered Jesus’ admonition to love and pray for our enemies (Mt. 5:44). Praying for an enemy is a powerful way to stake out the territory of our minds for the Lord.

Every time ugly thoughts about this man popped into my head and I felt anger rising again, I chose to pray for him. More than once, right after praying for the man and his family, I ran into him in a store or saw him drive by. Encountering him in person helped me sense immediately and thankfully how my thoughts had changed for the better.

Remember who you are. Often we don’t realize the full range of spiritual resources that has been passed on to us. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays that Christians will

know the hope to which [God] has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

—vv. 18–19

If we know the truth about our victory in Christ, nothing the evil one does can steal our hope. A growing knowledge of our heavenly inheritance will sustain us when Satan loads on the doubt or tempts and accuses us. And if we know and really grasp the fact that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to each of us, we will not fear the enemy’s attacks.

I have found it helpful to fill my mind with the truths in Ephesians 1. I’ve not only read this chapter repeatedly, I’ve also committed it to memory so I can carry it with me at all times. When temptations, doubts, or accusations assail me, my immediate response is to choose to remember who I am in Christ and all the heavenly resources that are at my disposal through my relationship with Him. When compared to the reality of God’s truth, the counterfeit pleasures of Satan grow dim. Instead of a one-time supersized thrill at the front end, the pleasures of true intimacy with God keep growing through time.

Give and receive prayer. Nothing will keep our minds more focused and actively engaged against evil than intercessory prayer. Prayer for one another was the mainstay of the early church. For instance, Paul mentions Epaphras, saying, “He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Col. 4:12). Intercession is the primary ministry through which the community of faith can stand shoulder to shoulder with each other while joining with Jesus in our mutual struggle against the powers of evil.

Never give up.

It is important to remember that, no matter how much we learn about Satan’s strategies, we will not be victorious in every struggle against temptation, deception, or accusation.

As I wrote this article, I was often aware that I had—again—fallen short in some area. As always the evil one was right there to accuse me: How can you write about guarding your mind? Look what you’ve done. Yet I did not stop writing.

Yes, I’ve sinned. Yes, I still sin. But I get up, dust myself off, and keep going because I know my security does not lie in a perfect record. I take comfort in God’s promise through Paul: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Ro. 8:1). The Spirit gave Paul this breakthrough insight as he was lamenting his own repeated failures (Ro. 7:14–25).

So yes, it is wise to know the tactics of our enemy. This knowledge will help us stay in the fight and make headway. But the enemy should never be our focus. Our focus needs to be on Christ, who saves us and in whom we have our victory. We finally and fully rest our minds and hearts in the truth that “the one who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

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