“He has made my chain heavy.”

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:31) But there can be times where it’s like what Jeremiah said, “He has made my chain heavy.” (Lamentations 3:7) Is there a contradiction? Not really. For those who are following the Lord, not just only believing in Him, there are certainly times when we can clearly see and experience what Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Let’s sadly face it: in this day and age, the vast majority of Christians are not really following the Lord, as He said there. They may be believers; they may be saved and will be in heaven.  But at best, they “follow afar off” (Matthew 26:58). On the other hand, for those who really have committed to a life of Christian service, who are determined and in the practice of following both the admonitions of God’s Word, as well as and equally following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, taking up our cross daily can definitely be what God calls for. And at times it can even be like a heavy chain.

But, almost strangely, there’s an incredible, utterly unearthly freedom in following the Lord to that degree. That may seem like a huge paradox. How could there be freedom in carrying a cross and being chained? I could use a military analogy or talk about James Bond or Jason Bourne. But to use something less sinister, think of successful sports stars or concert pianists for example. Those folks often go all over the world, they are famous, well paid and have the adulation of the multitude.

But what level of commitment is required of them? How many hours of practice, of sacrifice and denial were necessary for that goal scorer to get to the place where he could play at that level? Or that pianist to play that solo so amazingly. For those very few who are endeavoring to follow the Lord the way He wants and needs us to, there’s both this incredible freedom of experience but at the same time an incredible confinement (if that’s the right word) that is done by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the track and direction for Him. The apostle Paul certainly knew of this. He said once, “Necessity is laid upon me, yeah, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” (I Corinthians 9:16)

And if we follow that path, to attain God’s goals, He sometimes just waves the rules. In Acts 10, Peter was led of the Spirit to eat unclean meats, or at least it seemed so at the beginning of his experience. But it was a picture of what was about to happen, that the Spirit led him out of his Jewish training and restrictions into a new age of the gospel of Christ being open to the gentiles. I wrote about that here.

It seems Peter just barely obeyed because the leading of the Lord appeared so contrary to what he had thought was the will of God. Actually at first Peter just said no to God. Nevertheless he did obey, almost like with a chain about his neck since the Spirit was so clear and definite in what God’s will was right then. But he obeyed.

That’s the kind of following Jesus that changes the world. And it wasn’t just for 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as alive today; the needs are just as great, the freedom just as magnificent and breathtaking but also the cross and the chain just as real and necessary as it was in Biblical times.

When I came to the Lord when I was 21, the type of Christianity I was born into was a radical discipleship Christianity. It was about soul winning and forsaking all to go into all the world to follow Him to the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God. Eighteen months after I got saved I was across the Atlantic and out personal witnessing in places like Hyde Park in London or Vondel Park in Amsterdam. In some ways it was tough but also it was often extremely exhilarating. Thankfully some decades later now that life of Christian discipleship is still what I’ve been allowed by God to experience.

If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free in deed.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Brethren, you’ve been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.There’s been amazing liberty, incredible experience and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But if I ever use that liberty for “an occasion to the flesh”, the Lord may just lift off his blessing.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been having a life of thumb screws and aestheticism. He’s often given me many happy times, even in the physical side of this life. He’s very often “cast our lines in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) But His cause and instant obedience to the leading of His will has always had to be preeminent and paramount.

It’s a wonderful life, almost charmed. But you have to accept that cross and that chain as part of the bargain and contract.

“Let not your heart be troubled”

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You mean it’s up to us to keep a calm heart? We have some control and responsibility over the state of our heart? Yep. That might be a surprise to some. Because it seems that often people think that our thoughts and emotions are our masters, that we are in thrall to every whim that pops into our minds.

But we aren’t. Jesus was very clear about that and the Bible is full of examples where we are responsible for and even to rule over not only our emotions, but even conditions and circumstances around us, as strange as that may seem. So you don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to be swallowed up in despair, even though things may seem and even are very bleak and rough at the moment. This is another place where the miracle-working power of God commands us to do what seems to be the humanly impossible: to look at disaster or extreme despair in the face and to see “things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).

Maybe you’re wondering if I’m a little off the beam and “out there” on this one. So perhaps an example of this in the Bible might help. In the Psalms, King David could get pretty down and desperate at times. Psalm 77 is an incredible example of his being in despair and at wits end. At first he says things like, “My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You [God] hold mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:2-4)

So what does David do, go jump off a bridge? Go “postal”? Nope. Here’s what he says later in the same psalm. And I said, ‘This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.’”  (Psalm 77:10-12)

David got a grip on himself, on his heart, and then made a strong, conscious effort to “let not his heart be troubled”. This is all similar to what I wrote about in the blog post ”Keep your heart”. And frankly, “with man it is impossible but not with God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

I suppose this is somewhat a sequel to what I wrote about having a troubled mind in “God has given… a sound mind.” Like Jesus said, “Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:28) But when you’re really down, discouraged, despondent and in the depths of despair, one of the last things you want to hear or do is to be counseled to “let not your heart be troubled”. Usually you have gone beyond hope. Things look utterly impossible. But then, God teaches us that “it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle”.

It looked really, really bad for King David there. But he’d grown in the Lord and in His wisdom enough to know that he could, by the power of God, turn away from his despair by making a conscious effort of his heart to, if nothing else, start remembering all that God had done in the past for him. He just kept saying to himself, “I will remember…” all the good things that God had done for him before that time. For us in these times, a similar thing to this would be to just quote comforting, strengthening Bible verses to ourselves in times of greatest difficulty.

This is one of the miracles and secrets of a Godly life, that you can and even must have dominion over your heart and mind. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions or circumstances and conditions. In the case of Jesus and His disciples, He said that to them that they should not let their heart be troubled, just hours before He was to be captured and led away to His trial and crucifixion.

It’s almost unfathomable and incomprehensible the grace, depth and love that Jesus must have had to be counseling and consoling His disciples at a time when He certainly knew that His excruciating death was less than a day away. But He did that so that we could have “rule over our spirits” (Proverbs 25:28), so that we can have victory through Him over, not only outside enemies, but the enemies within own hearts: our fears, our prejudices, our foolishness, our weak human emotions.

Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1)  “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) “I will remember the works of the Lord. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12) These are things we can and even must do in order to survive the terrors, traumas and vicissitudes of this present evil world. Granted, it can seem almost impossible. But then we know it really isn’t. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

 

God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

How to say no to Satan

If we’re honest, we know there’s a lot about us that isn’t as it should be or the way we want. Admittedly, it can get to be discouraging. And then, often, along comes the devil.

It may surprise you to know that the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself that’s horrible, not to mention all the lies. So it can happen like this. You’re already a little down and then the devil points out some weakness you have. The devil is “the accuser of the saints” (Revelation 12:10) but often it starts out with something that you even know is true or at least partly true.

So in your heart of hearts you know you have a problem with lying, or gluttony, or violence, or some form of sexual deviation, or something. And sometimes you’ve tried to resist it. It’s not really what you want to do or be most of the time. But then the enemy pulls out his big guns and best sales pitch. “Go ahead!” he says. “It’s there in your heart! It’s what you really are! You want it!” If you don’t watch out, it’ll almost make sense.

But…, but, my friends, this is where a knowledge of God and His ways is a matter of life and death. Here’s just one verse, a really good one, that can trounce all the drool of Satan. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James 4:7. Folks, there is so much crucial veracity in those few words that I can’t do the subject justice.

Even if the devil has a point, even if you have a tendency or a proclivity to be a certain way, it does not mean you HAVE to be that way. Back years ago you’d hear people say, “The devil made me do it!Nowadays it’s more popular to say, “I was born this way!” I wrote a blog article about that one. Well, to hell with both of those ideas from hell. The devil can’t make you do ANYTHING unless you COOPERATE. And no matter how you were born, the grace of God brings salvation and freedom “from all sin” (I John 1:7). Jesus said to be “born again.” (John 3:3) That’s what happened to me and I was delivered from a whole host of sins, foolishness, iniquities and vanity that had virtually ended my life before I was even 21.

So the first step in these things is to resist the devil. Just know and understand that simply because you have a tendency to some form of sin or evil does NOT mean you have to actually do it. Someone said one time,temptations-and-doubtsYou can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s the truth, isn’t it? Well that’s how sin can be. Temptations can be like birds flying over your head. But you can keep shooing them away. You don’t have to let down your guard and let them settle and nest on your head. All of us know this. And it’s a real analogy to how sin is.

But Mark, I’m so weak! I have so little strength to resist!” OK, I know how that can be. For one, are you saved? If not, I can tell you, sin will “have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14), as it did for me. Here’s the truth that clinched it for me. “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did. I received Jesus into my heart and I strongly experienced receiving inward, supernatural power against sin that I didn’t have before.

But Mark, I just hardly believe any of this. I have so little faith.” Virtually everyone starts out like that; you’re not alone in this. How can you increase your faith? Again we go back to the Word of God.The-Word-of-GodSo then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) It’s the Words of God that will grow your faith. It IS possible. You CAN resist the devil. You don’t have to give into temptations or even the things you know are in your heart but you don’t want to participate in. Read the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, try the gospel of John.

Like I said, if you aren’t sure you’re a saved, born again child of God, start with that. Jesus died on the cross to take our sins, to free us from sin and to defeat the devil. If you have Jesus, then you have that power to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). So don’t give in to discouragement or some perverse form of fatalism that says you’re doomed to be some way you know is not right and not what you want to be.

Call out to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Put your will, heart and mind on the Lord’s side. I know this works because this is what happened to me. If you keep up your resistance, the enemy HAS to flee. But also make sure you’re getting filled up with the things of the Lord and turning away from any activities or lifestyles that expose you to the dark side. The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)