We as children of God are involved in a battle with the devil and our individual nature being different from one another, our reactions to these spiritual battle situations also differ. It is due to this that we slide into unbelief also due to different reasons and each one of us needs God’s Divine help to come out of unbelief. Fortunately, Lord Jesus, our Shepherd, is ever willing to come to our rescue, provided we seek Him.
The father of the deaf and mute boy cried out to the Lord, ‘I believe, help my unbelief’ (Mark 9:24). His condition is quite different but similar to many of us. The boy had been afflicted since childhood and he would have taken him to various doctors or Jewish occultists of that area and spent a considerable amount. The available details reveal that the evil spirit would throw the child into the fire or water to destroy him, thus necessitating a continuous day and night vigil by either of the parents, thus physically tiring them. The inherent social stigma about some unknown sin in the family would have been another reason for despair (John 9:1-2). They must also have been living in constant fear of their son’s future after them. On hearing about Lord Jesus he brought the child for deliverance but in His absence, the disciples could do nothing. The desperate cry of the father to the Lord, ‘if You can do anything, be merciful to us and help us’, reflected his fear of failure in this attempt also.
All believers have both belief and unbelief, both faith and doubt present in us at the same time. We see this in Abram when despite the fact that God promised to make him a great nation, he cries out for an offspring (Genesis 15:3). God had shown Abram stars in the sky and promised to make his descendents as numerous but at Sarai’s urging he impregnates Hagar, her maid for a child. We see this in Apostle Peter, who walks on water but starts sinking when doubt and unbelief set in (Matthew 14:28-31). We see this in Apostle Thomas who refuses to believe the testimony of other disciples about Lord Jesus’ resurrection without seeing the wounds in His hands and side (John 20:25-26). Though unbelief up to some level is common, it is spiritually dangerous and can lead us ‘in departing from the living God’ (Hebrews 3:12). We must fight this enemy vigorously. Surely the father and mother of the deaf boy must have prayed vigorously with no results and the father’s faith was affected after the disciples could not help and the Lord was not there. We always expect a response similar to the one that the Lord had for the leper when He gently touched Him and healed him (Mark 1:40-42). But instead some tiles we find a gentle but loving rebuke, ‘If You can! All things are possible for one who believes’ (Mark 9:43).
Does God feel about our unbelief in the same way? But the Risen Lord is ‘seated at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us’ (Romans 8:34). He consistently rebukes the doubters and unbelievers while affirming those who express faith, whether it is the leper or a rebuke to the disciples in the storm (Matthew 8:23-26). To overcome unbelief we turn to the Lord, for His rebuke is of love and mercy for faith is the channel for flow of God’s grace, sanctification and all spiritual gifts. Unbelief blocks the flow and our Lord being the good Physician brings the invisible disease of doubt and unbelief upfront to help treat it. We live in a deceitful and darkness filled world and we are in a battle which we must fight it well in faith. On the one hand it is impossible to please God without faith while on the other He is ever willing to help us fight unbelief for ‘He rewards those who diligently seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6).
King David prayed, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23-24). King Jehoshaphat was afraid when the armies of Moab and Ammon came to fight him. After declaring a fast and prayer before the LORD, he cried out, ‘Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land’. God’s word in answer was that ‘the battle is not yours but God’s’ and ‘that ‘you will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD’ (2 Chronicles 20:3,6-12,14-15 and 24-26). The Israelites on reaching the site of battle found that the enemy had fought each other and there were only dead bodies, for God did that and it took them three days to collect ‘valuables and precious jewelry’ that was more than they could carry’.
God is willing to fight our battles for us but only when we seek Him. He will expose the hidden unbelief and help in fighting that, for otherwise it will destroy a believer. It is better to face the rebuke and discipline of a loving God for it is the path to great joy.
Every believer daily faces the great challenge of striving to grow spiritually and ignites a fire in the soul. But suddenly finds himself being overtaken by anxiety, fear or an ugly thought which refuse to be destroyed in the high spiritual flame within. Right at the moment of most intimate, joyous spiritual experience during worship and prayer we face demons and dilemmas.
Moses saw on Horeb, the mountain of God, a flame of fire from the midst of a bush and ‘behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed’ (Exodus 3:1-14). But when he reached near to check, God revealed Himself to him, identifying Himself as ‘God of your fathers’, saying, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground’. There are three questions in this story, first, what was the symbolism behind the burning bush not being consumed? Second, why did God tell Moses not to approach the bush and what was wrong in his getting closer? Third, the burning bush was holy due to God’s presence therein but why the earth around?
The story of the burning bush represents the duality of every heart which on one side desires to be good and moral whereas while being careless, gets easily overtaken by animalistic tendencies, selfish and ugly emotions. Both of these desires exist in closeness to each other and the deep spiritual emotions get overtaken by fleshly desires reducing us to a petty, fearful, depressed and angry individual. This creates a doubt about the spirituality of the fire within, causing many to give up on living a meaningful and joyous life. What God is declaring is ‘I am God of your fathers and am in the bush, though its thorns are still present’.
God declares the ground on which we stand as holy and this forces us to change our approach to face the internal struggle forcing me to take the very place I stand as holy without waiting for me to achieve some unique spiritual status. A relationship with God, then, does not mean to be darkness free, thorn free or struggle free but to meet His holiness in the present situation itself.
A believer lives in two levels of consciousness, one, is the serpent brain that is self centered and insecure, focusing on survival and comfort. Second, is the Divine heavenly focused soul that is aligned with the depth and purpose of life and our life is a struggle between these two lives of self and the world.
Removing the shoes means never to doubt the power and sanctity of our inner holiness given by the cleansing by the ‘Blood of Lord Jesus’ and the sanctification process of the Holy Spirit. It is about dominating the evil thoughts and bringing them into obedience to the Lord and through this process we grow and become what God has destined us to be. God desires us to be transformed into the image and likeness of His Son. He never allows any trial to be beyond our God given strength and then in every situation He provides a way to enable us to bear it and reach greater heights to be true servants of God ((1 Corinthians 10:13).
A believer may not always be victorious but he is also not the one who is defeated and under the guidance and empowerment of the indwelling Holy Spirit, he rises after every fall, repents and strives again to walk in obedience in the fullness of the will of God. When God revealed His name to Moses from within the burning bush as ‘YHWH asher YHWH’ or I AM who I AM’, He revealed His Sovereign control over past, present and future. On the other hand He tells all human beings to focus on what they are rather than on what they are not. It is through this that the invisible God becomes as real as the material world and the Holy Spirit can then lead us on to the transformation process as well as empowerment for resisting the devil and his demons.
If we do not accept this then may be some like Apostle Paul and others continue reach a very high level of righteousness while others may feign this. We have to live with the thorns while rejoicing in the presence and control of God in the Holy Spirit. Then wherever we stand, we start from there in holiness of God and seek His Divine hand to overcome the thorns that are pricking every day. In that state we see that as real are the thorns, the same reality is also there in Lord Jesus given righteousness and holiness within me. As an ambassador of the heavenly kingdom it is not about first becoming holy but is the courage to fight for truth even while living in a world surrounded by the forces of darkness, the thorns that try to pull me down.
Like Moses we all want to be near the Holy Fire of God and become Divine by nature but God desires for us to see His holiness where ever we are. The great commission is about lighting a candle of truth and hope, in a world of darkness and hopelessness and that is only through transformation of one’s inner darkness. It is only when we realize this that we can truly surrender to the will of God and walk in obedience to His Word and escape being out of His protection, mercy and grace. Jacob left his father Isaac’s house and on the way had a dream while sleeping in a place called Bethel and saw a ladder reaching up to heaven and then received a promise of blessing from God. On waking up, he exclaimed, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place and I did not know it’ (Genesis 28:11-16). We want to know God with our effort but only when we stop thinking about self do we open ourselves to the Creator, for Him to reveal Himself to us.
Questions abound about prayer, does prayer make a difference? Does it change God’s plans and God’s outlook towards me? What really happens when we pray? Is not praying contradicting God’s will and our need to surrender to that rather than seeking to change that? Prayer has two dimensions, one mysterious and other absolutely clear. There are far too many instances of answered prayers that make a difference. King Hezekiah prayed to the LORD and the message of his imminent death was changed with fifteen years added to his life (Isaiah 38:3-6).
We cry out from the depth of our soul and something mysterious happens and changes occur. The second open dimension of prayer is that it changes us more than the world. Hebrew word ‘lehitpalel’ translated ‘to pray’ also means to ‘judge oneself’ by stepping out of self and then seeing the circumstances and self from outside. In this stage the ‘I’ falls silent for that moment, making us see that we are not the center of the universe but there is much more and only then transformation takes place. Then we see the infinitely complex nature of the universe and we receive the three dimensions of knowledge of God, creation (God in nature), revelation (God in Holy Scripture) and redemption (God in history or His story), the narrative being in His Son.
At a particular stage, we change our question from ‘what do I need’ to ‘what does God need from me? It is only then that we truly pray for then we start listening which is the command of the Heavenly Father (Matthew 17:5). When we create that silence within and realize that we are alone with God and understand that He has set a task for me that only I am supposed to do, it is only then that we emerge stronger and transformed. More than prayer changing God or the world, it must change us. Then we see beyond the ‘I’ of self and feel the presence of God and in the loss of self is the meeting and oneness of God. It is through that life of surrender that we are ready to face the thorns within and the giants without.
‘Yetzer hara’ our sinful nature is ever working to drag us into violating the will of God whereas our surrender to the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit points us towards closeness to God, our heavenly Father. It is only when we bring our works in compliance with the will of God that our circumstances start changing. As long as the disciples were with the Lord Jesus, they were struggling with their own positions in God’s kingdom and it is only after surrendering to Him could they boldly witness and preach the message of the Gospel. Nothing outside had changed but it was all within! Let us resolve to march on this path of reformation from this moment on, for it may otherwise be too late!