I’m Surrounded!

Have you ever felt totally and utterly overwhelmed before? You try to keep your head above the water but your mind is just cramped full of details and questions. Try as you might to escape these thoughts, there just seems to be no way out. You are crying out for answers and all you experience is this oppressive sense of the entire room closing in on you! All too soon, you are surrounded and hemmed in by fear and anxiety.

That must have been how Gehazi, felt too when he went for a morning walk with Elisha, only to see the city entirely surrounded by the Syrian army! Immediately, he says to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” It must have been a scary sight! They were totally surrounded by horses and chariots. And it would only be a matter of time before the army closed in on them. However, whilst Gehazi saw and reacted in the natural, Elisha saw something else in the spiritual, and coolly replied, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16

Gehazi must have wondered, “Hello?! It’s just the two of us. Who else is with us? If we don’t start running, we are dead ducks!” At the request of Elisha, the Lord opened Gehazi’s spiritual eyes and the young man couldn’t believe what he saw … he was still surrounded, but this time, by a far greater number of the Lord’s army, horses and chariots blazing with fire! (2 Kings 6:17)

Whether you are an executive braving the corporate jungle, or a homemaker trying your best to keep your house and children in order, you know what I am talking about. There are just those days when you feel totally surrounded and overwhelmed by the ridiculous demands and pressures of life. You look at the “Syrian army” around you and are so tempted to say, “It’s no use! I’m totally surrounded. I might as well give up!” DON’T!

The enemy wants to keep you in the natural, but you need to understand that the battle is in the spiritual. If your eyes are continually fixed on the problem, it will appear larger and larger until it consumes you! Do you not see that this is the ploy of the enemy? He wants to surround you, to besiege you, to starve you, to weaken you and finally, to kill you.

“‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10

Instead, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see! Ask Him to reveal the truth of His presence and protection over and around you. In Psalm 125:1&2, the psalmist declares, “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (emphasis mine) In Zech 2:5, God Himself declares, “I will be a wall of fire all around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory in her midst.” YES, people of God, YOU ARE SURROUNDED … not by the enemy … but by the power, by the presence, by the abundance, by the grace, by the love of God!

I know it’s not easy when you are in the midst of a trying time and everything seems to be closing in on you. In the narrowness of that moment, call on the LORD and ask Him to open your eyes that you may have the right perspective to be strong in Him. Learn from the psalmist who said, “I called on the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6&7, italics mine.)

Indeed, if God is for you, who can be against you (Rom 8:31)? Do you not know that the battle is not yours to fight, but the Lord’s? Do you not know that the heavens have been opened over you, that every spiritual resource has now been made available to you in Christ? Do you not know that whatever the enemy throws at you, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God? If not, then ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see!

As God’s children, the safest and most secure place is in the Father’s arms, where we are constantly surrounded by His everlasting love.

My dear friend, no matter how tough a situation (or a person) may be, nothing is too difficult for the one who places his trust in God. Pray for the Lord to open your spiritual eyes to see Him for who He truly is and that you, being wrapped in Christ and His righteousness, are totally safe in His arms because He surrounds you completely. And then, walk in the freedom and victory He has already secured for you by the precious blood and through the completed work of Jesus Christ upon the cross!

Count It All Joy

We’ve heard it before, haven’t we? Whenever we hit a rough patch, or encounter some difficult people, a well-meaning brother or sister in Christ would proclaim, “Count it all joy!” Without doubt, this is totally biblical and a great reminder. However, it has also become yet another Christian slogan which everyone knows but few understand. And when glibly and insensitively dished out, it can be more of an irritation than an encouragement. That said, we all know to count it all joy, but do we know how to count it all joy? For sure, it is not some positive-thinking mantra that we are to chant, or a phrase that brings us into denying the severity of the moment or situation.

Firstly, what we want is the Joy of the Lord which gives us strength (Neh 8:10). Of course, we should have His joy all the time. But it becomes even more critical when we go through a trial for that is when our weakness becomes extremely apparent. It is the strength derived from the fullness of His joy found in His presence (Psalm 16:11) that sustains us, that enables us to bear through the challenge. This sounds good but don’t wait until you hit a bad patch before you learn how to practise the presence of God. By the same token, it would do you well to understand that getting into the presence of God does not just mean Quiet Time or daily devotions, important and useful as these are to help us draw near to Him. Determine, instead, to know how you can carry His presence with you and be in His presence wherever you are, whenever you need to.

Secondly, with a right perspective of trials, we can then understand the Joy of Participation. Let me remind you: if you are determined to live a godly life that counts for Jesus, you will face persecutions and tough times (2 Tim 3:12). If you consider yourself a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, you enter into the fellowship of His sufferings (Rom 8:16,17). In other words, you should expect many opportunities to “count it all joy”. In Acts 5, Peter and the other apostles were arrested and beaten for preaching in the name of Jesus and performing great signs and wonders! When the authorities had no other reason to detain them, they were released. Acts 5:41 records that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus! This joy of participation keeps us going, knowing that all that we do for Him will never be in vain.

Thirdly, lest you have a wrong picture from the above two points that Christians must always be laughing and joking, we need to understand the Joy of Expectation. The joy of the Lord will strengthen you through the most trying times. The joy of participation will keep you in the right perspective as you trudge through the trenches. But truth be told, it is still really tough. You need something to look to, and the joy of expectation will keep you going until you finally overcome. Think about this … did Jesus have the joy of the Lord and the joy of participating in the Father’s work? Of course He did. But did He go skipping and dancing along the Via Dolorosa? Did He display great mirth when He was nailed to the Cross? I think not. For sure, the obedience of Jesus to the mission kept Him going forward. But the writer of Hebrews provides another detail … that Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despised its shame and overcame (Heb 12:2). We can and must have that same expectation of joy set before us that we will hold on and not give up, however dire the situation may be. As we suffer with Him, so we shall be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17). Jesus says “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Rev 3:21 What great expectation! What great joy!

The next time you need to “count it all joy”, I hope that these three points would serve you well and keep you in good stead. Indeed, in the context of James 1:2-4, we are to consider it all joy because our faith is being perfected. My firm conviction is that it is only as we grow in spiritual maturity that we can more fully appreciate and appropriate the joy of the Lord, the joy of participation and the joy of expectation.

Holding On

I didn’t intend to write a song that afternoon.  It was just me with my guitar, strumming and worshipping on my own.  Then, without realising it, I began singing a line, “You see me, in a quiet place, crying out to You.”  Then I went on, “You see me, tears upon my face, crying out to You.”  Before I forgot the tune, I whipped out my phone and recorded these lines.  From that day on, the melody and the words haunted me.  Over the next weeks, in between extremely heavy and demanding family and ministry schedules, this song was written, with Isaiah 40:8 as the key verse, “The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Yesterday, on 11 Sept 2011, I had the opportunity to share it with our congregation at Covenant Vision Christian Church.  How apt to share it on a day when the world remembers the tragic bombing of the twin towers in New York 10 years ago.  Truly, especially when we don’t understand why things happen as they do, we can only hold on to Jesus.  Special thanks to the CVCC Worship Team who helped me bring the song to life.

No matter how dire a situation may be, how tough a challenge you are going through, how alone you may be feeling, remember to always hold on to Jesus and His Word, right to the very end.  May you be blessed and encouraged as you listen to this song.

You see me, in a quiet place
Crying out to You
You see me, tears upon my face
Crying out to You
Pain in a heart that is broken
Yet to the words You have spoken

Chorus:
I am holding on, I’ll cling;
I am never letting go
I will worship and I’ll sing;
Deep inside me this I know
The flowers will fade, the world pass away
Your Word, Your truth, Your love remains
I am holding on to You, Jesus
Right to the very end

You see me, when I’m on my own
Crying out to You
You see me, lost and all alone
Crying out to You
Still in my heart, I am certain
You’re always with me, I’m not forsaken

Bridge:
Yesterday, today, forever; Jesus, You’re the same
Send Your Word that brings salvation; Healing in Your Name

The Other Glory School

It been quite a few years now where “glory” has been mentioned by various visiting speakers.  Quite a few books have also been written on this topic.  And it seems everyone now wants to get on the “glory” bandwagon.  No longer is it sufficient to just know Jesus, to be in God’s presence, or to be baptised with the Holy Spirit; these are all considered old buzzwords.  Today, you have to visit third heaven, to move in the glory realm.

Hey, I’m all for the glory of God.  But more recently, in my preparations for a sermon series, I came across a few passages which also spoke of the glory, just not in the way these “glory” people have been teaching.  The emphasis is totally different and I can fully understand why not many like to talk about this aspect of the glory.  Consider the following passages and you will see why …

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” 2 Cor 3:18

From this verse (and you should read the passage for context), we see that the glory is not merely something for us to experience, but a destination for us to move towards.  This is the glory of the image of the Lord, and we can only be changed towards this image by the Holy Spirit.

And how is this done and achieved?  By merely asking for His glory or moving in the glory realm?  Read on and we shall find Paul’s answer in the next chapter.

“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” 2 Cor 4:17–18

Afflictions?!  Trials and tribulations?!  Difficult and challenging times?!  For a better idea of what Paul was referring to, he makes mention of these in 2 Cor 6:4-10 and with even more detail in 2 Cor 11:23-27.  For sure, not for the faint-hearted.  Yet, these are the tools that work deep in us to produce the glory!  Hey, these are not my words, but Paul’s!  Note that Peter says the same thing albeit with different words.

“If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.” 1 Peter 4:14

There it is again … if you are reproached for the name of Christ … the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  Who changes us from glory to glory? The Spirit of glory.  How does He change us?  Through trials and sufferings, through difficult times, through afflictions, for the sake of Jesus.  In 1 Peter 1:6&7, we understand that trials reveal the genuineness of our faith.  Through these tests, our faith is refined and purified like gold.  Can you see the brightness of the purity of the gold?  That’s the glory of the genuineness of our faith, much more precious than gold, revealed through the fire of trials!

As we grow from faith to faith, we move toward maturity in the image of the Son with whom we are co-heirs when we are glorified together with Him … if indeed we suffer with Him (Rom 8:17).  And Paul writes in the next verse:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Rom 8:18

Not exactly the kind of glory school one would readily enrol for, is it?  What happened to the promise of basking and soaking in the glory?  What happened to the claims of the manifestation of the glory through gold dust and precious gems?  None of that at all!  Just plain, good ol’ suffering for Jesus.

Well, just in case you think I am all raring to go, to get into some wonderful trials and tribulations, I assure you I am not!  But if it is the image and character of the Lord that I am after, if I desire to be conformed to none other than the Son of God, I need to know how to embrace and accept this other school of glory.

Caught this shot at Bishan Swimming Complex. Don't miss the dark cloud on the right as it makes way for the glorious cloud!

Just the other day, a brother asked me, “How do you stay sharp?  What keeps you sharp?”  It was at the tip of my tongue to say the predictable things like fast, pray, read the Word, be in God’s presence.  But somehow, in my spirit, I couldn’t bring myself to say it.  Instead, I said, “Trials.”  Even I was surprised with what came out of my mouth.  But it’s so true!  I can study and know much about God and the ministry.  However, it is through trials and tests that what I know is tested and proven.  Is it just intellectual head knowledge? Or is it real faith that will hold on regardless the situation or the outcome.  Is it all about declarations and claims?  Or is it an acknowledgement of weakness through which His strength is made perfect?

The other glory school.  Register now!  Any takers?

God Is In Control

A couple of evenings ago, I went to the kitchen to fix myself a drink.  I reached for my trusty, old coffee mug and noticed something odd about it … the handle had fallen off! I couldn’t help but notice the powerful message that was right there in my hands.  I couldn’t resist taking a shot of it.  As I’ve often remarked, God is a great communicator and sure has a wonderful sense of humour.  If our spirits would be open to hear His voice, He desires to speak to us through symbols and pictures.

Through this beautiful object lesson, I was reminded (yet again) that God is in control regardless the brokenness, the pain, and the seeming hopelessness we may experience in life.  No matter what we go through, God is in control.  We may not fully understand the reasons and it’s ok to question.  But in the end, it’s not in circumstances or feelings that we put our trust, but in God and His unchanging Word.  We must stand resolved and convicted that nothing escapes our God and nothing surprises Him.  His allowing of a certain challenging (even devastating) situation does not mean He is no longer there, or that He no longer cares.  The handle of my mug may be broken, but it does not mean that it cannot be filled anymore. Remember, our brokenness is no indication of our capacity to receive!  Because Jesus came that I might have life to its fullest (John 10:10b), my cup can and will still run over (Psalm 23:5)!

May this little message encourage you … whoever you are, whatever you are going through, however you are feeling at the moment.

“Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labour of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls — Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.  The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” Habakkuk 3:17-19