I have been thinking lately how people throughout time have given so much for their faith. I know for myself, it’s easy to get “soft” at times and forget that my trials come as a way to sanctify my wayward heart. That choosing to follow God doesn’t mean that life will always be perfect, often it’s just the opposite. We are told that we will (not might or may) have trails in this life (John 16:33). But praise the Lord, when our trials come, God is there to walk us through them and teach us as we go!

As Christians today we have an “amazing cloud of witnesses” of those who have come before us and ran the race well. Think about this, throughout the history of the Bible, God has asked, commanded, ordained, and orchestrated the lives of ordinary people so that they could do extraordinary things. Most of these “extraordinary” things God called them to do were not easy. And only some of these ordinary people called to do extraordinary things ever got to see the results of their obedience.

Consider just a few of the men and women we are told about throughout the pages of the Bible...

1. God called Abraham to leave his homeland and kindred to become a wanderer and a pilgrim in a strange land. God called him to be the father of many nations, but made him wait until he was almost 100 to father this child of promise of his blessed lineage.

2. God watched as Joseph was sent to prison for several years for a crime he didn’t commit, knowing that through this trial Joseph would come out stronger and fully equipped for the great role He had prepared for him in saving his family and the Egyptians from starvation.

3. Moses had to live apart from his kindred for 40 years in the wilderness to be prepared for God’s call to go back to Egypt to free his people from slavery. For another 40 years Moses had to mediate, listen to, stress over, pray over an extremely rebellious group of people who tried God and Moses endlessly; only to eventually loose his temper and have to die outside of the promised land that he had labored so hard to get himself and the Israelites into.

4. Job was allowed to be tried almost to the point of death by the devil, with God’s main goal to prove that Job would remain loyal to his Heavenly Father despite the extreme tests and trials he had to endure. He lost all of his children, his livestock, his fortune, his friends, his health and was only left with an unsupportive wife and three less than supportive “friends.”

5. Jeremiah was told by God that he would never marry, nor have children, but would spend his life in the pursuit of turning the Israelites back from their sins, even though God told him his messages wouldn’t be heeded. He lived one of the most trial-filled lives among the Old Testament prophets, so much so, he is commonly referred to as “the weeping prophet.”

6. Ezekiel was commanded by God not to mourn when God took “away the desire of his eyes” (his wife) with a massive stroke; so his life could be used as an object lesson for the punishment that would fall upon the Israelites for their sins.

7. Hosea was commanded to take a prostitute as his wife to show the children of Israel how they had been playing the whore going after other gods. His life and marriage stood as a painful reminder to others of their own sinful actions.

8. John the Baptist, lived a life of self-denial in the solitudes of the desert, only to have a brief ministry and an even briefer moment of meeting his Savior before being placed in jail and being beheaded.

9. Many apostles and disciples were stoned, imprisoned, beaten, ridiculed, and some ultimately killed for their faith. Yet, they would not have even considered choosing a different path.

10. And the greatest example of all. God sent His one and only son to this sin-stricken earth to ultimately die an inglorious, horrendous and humiliating death in order to save ALL of mankind from eternal destruction.

Does God still call men and women to do extraordinarily difficult tasks for His sake today? Consider again a few examples, this time from the last 1000 years of history...

1. For the cause of sharing and exposing the lies of the church in their day, the Waldenses of France, were forced to hide in the hillsides of the alps in freezing temperatures and were hunted and persecuted by the church almost to extinction.

2. During the Protestant Reformation, John Huss, along with many whose names we may never know, were burned alive at the stake when they refused to denounce their faith in Jesus Christ and the true words of the Bible alone. They would not back down from calling out the heresies that existed in the Roman Catholic church of their time.

3. The many souls (estimated in the millions) who were tortured and executed at the hands of their inquisitors during the dark ages for their faith.

4. Christians in the last 100 years or more living in communist countries or restrictive countries who have been persecuted for their faith, even unto death.

5 Christians today facing persecution, beheadings, and threatenings of loss of life for their beliefs.

6. The numerous missionaries who willingly chose to lay down their very lives to follow God’s calling into the darkened corners of this world to spread the Good News of a returning Savior.

What about you and I? Are we still being called to do extraordinary things; at times even difficult things for the cause of Christ?

In Jesus’ day he said to a certain rich, young ruler: “if that wilt be perfect, go and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor; and you will have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” This wealthy, young ruler had the ability to heed Jesus’ call to do something extraordinary. But...instead, we are told that when he heard Jesus’ call, “he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” (Matthew 19:21-22)

Is that you? Have you been called to do something for God...but it seems to hard, the cost too high, too taxing, or maybe too consuming on your resources like the wealthy young man Jesus spoke about?

Many believe that God only calls some of His followers to give all, as He did this particular young man. But, in truth, God calls each and every Christian to give all, but only a few will answer yes. (Matthew 16:24-25: “...if any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life will lose it: and whosoever will loose his life for my sake will find it.”)

Jesus told his disciples after the encounter with the rich young ruler that “every one that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

So today, if you have chosen the path of self-denial; the path of living with less so you can bless others with more; the path of doing what’s right in the face of wrong; or have followed Jesus despite family and friends opposing your choice...take heart, Jesus sees your extraordinary heart, and will reward your faithfulness. You may never see the reward in this world, but you are promised one day if not in this world then the next—you will receive a hundredfold your efforts...and best of all you will inherit eternal life!

Have you been praying for sometime about something you want God to heal or change? Have you ever considered that God has already heard your requests and is waiting with anticipation for you to claim in faith the victory He wants to give you, and that this might be the very key to receiving your answer?

Nothing can uplift our hearts more than praising God in faith for His answer to our prayer even before we receive an answer. Always, if we are praying “thy will be done Lord,” can we expect God to answer our prayers. His answer may be no, yes or wait...but we can trust He will answer in His time and way...and for this we can praise Him! What better use of time on our knees than praising the One from whom all blessings flow and from whom all answers come?

Jesus gave us an example of this when He praised God for raising Lazurus from the grave before He ever saw the miracle. According to His faith, he believed it was possible and proved He trusted His Father by thanking Him before even receiving the blessing of risen life in His friend Lazurus. We too, even now, can say thank you God for hearing and answering our prayers!

“Whoever thinks of announcing a victory song as the army is just heading out to the battlefield? And where do we ever hear a song of gratitude and thanksgiving for an answer that has yet been received?

Yet in this scripture passage (Jesus raising Lazurus from the dead), there is nothing strange, forced, or unreasonable to the Master’s sequence of praise before the miracle. Praise is actually the most vital preparation to the working of miracles. Miracles are performed through spiritual power, and our spiritual power is always in proportion to our faith.” John Henry Jowett

Each and every time I am tempted to become weary in seeking an answer to something that seems long in coming, when I stop and reframe my prayer my faith increases that I will receive God’s best answer for my situation!

Try today instead of growing weary in asking, to reframe your prayer to say: “God I trust you have heard me, and I thank you even now for Your answer to my prayer. I praise You for the amazing ways in which you want to reveal your answers to me, and I praise You for knowing the end from the beginning and this includes my needs and requests, I simply praise You…”

If each time our heart fades, grows weary or dips low in faith, we can lift our heart in praise to the great healer, He is then invited to place a salve of healing on us that gives us the strength to keep pressing on in faith!

I have been thinking and thinking over one verse in the Bible this week. Matthew 26:11. It’s such a short verse, but it is so full of meaning that it has led to a much deeper study of the heart of God and His desires for us as His people in these last days.

Throughout the Bible, God commands Christians to take the focus off themselves and care for those that are less fortunate. Most often it refers to the less fortunate as the: “widows, orphans, poor and needy.”

The verses where God commands or speaks about Christians caring for the needy are plentiful; they fill the pages of the Old and New Testament...Psalm 72:12, Mark 14:7, Isaiah 1:17, Job 29:16, Isaiah 58:6-7 & 9-11, Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 21:13, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:9-11, Matthew 19:21, Matthew 25:31-45, James 1:27, Jeremiah 22:16, Proverbs 28:27...and these are just a few.

Inside these verses are blessings for the Christian who follows God’s command to care for the poor; and cursings for the Christian who turns a deaf ear and blind eye to the poor. In these verses, Jesus says that what we have done to the least in this world--it was as if we did these acts unto Jesus Himself! There are promises here that tell us if we will take up this work we will be given treasure in heaven, and when we pray God will hear us. He even tells us if we don’t do these things our “religion is [in] vain,” because “pure religion is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction.” James 1:26-27

These are mighty verses showing the heart of God. God loves the broken hearted, the poor, the fatherless—and He will fight for them!

Even so, despite how many times we are commanded to care for the poor and needy, there is a curious encounter in Matthew chapter 26 that at first glance would make us think Jesus is contradicting God’s Word.

The disciples see a woman with an alabaster box full of costly ointment, then she proceeds to pour the oil on Jesus’ head. The disciples were incensed. How could this woman waste so much money on ointments when there were so many needs; so many poor to feed and care for...that money could “have been sold for much, and given to the poor!” (Verse 9)

And in another gospel account in the book of John; we are further told the motives of one of the disciples hearts...the true concern for this disciple was not the poor, but that Judas was a thief who would have easily taken that money for himself and not the poor. (There is certainly a modern day “side note” many professed preachers of God’s word are like Judas? Wolves in sheeps clothing-truly only concerned for growing their own pockets and not for doing God’s will. As Christians we have to “be wise as serpents and gentle as doves” to discern who are the true preachers of God’s word!) But, curiously, despite Jesus’ own deep love and concern for the poor, He doesn’t agree with their outrage over this perceived “waste.”

Instead, he says: “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a good work for Me. For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always.” (Verse 11)

....And there it is! Again, the heart of God.

He does want us to take care of those less fortunate; to put ourselves aside and to serve the widows and the orphans—-but He wants something else to come first.

What He was telling His disciples is that they needed to put their first focus on Him—the Savior. He wasn’t saying the poor didn’t need help, or for the disciples to wait for a convenient time to help. He was saying to them the same message He is saying to us today. Before we can go out to a dying world, we have to spend time at the feet of the Great Physician and learn from Him. Then...and only then, would we truly be able to care for the less fortunate. Then and only then would we have anything to offer them. We cannot present a Savior to a dying world-if we don’t know Him ourselves.

To know the Savior. This is our first work as Christians.

Spending time in God’s word, spending time in prayer connected to Jesus, and pausing to consider His great sacrifice...daily—these are the first callings on a Christian’s life.

We will never know the will of God for our own life, or for our service as a Christian, or be able to effectively help the less fortunate if we don’t spend time with Jesus. What better way to know the Saviors heart, than to read His own thoughts throughout the pages of the Bible.

I believe a day is coming, and coming soon (and has already come for many around the world) that we will not be allowed to have our Bibles. What sits on many shelves today collecting dust, will soon become a privilege to possess (if we get to have one at all). What will Christians do then? Now, is the time to hide the precious words of Christ in our hearts.

Then after we have spent time with Jesus...very clearly we are not called to just sit in a pew once or twice a week and give a few amens to the entertaining sermons. Quite the contrary, once we have sat at the feet of Jesus and allowed Him to fill us, God begins calling us—no, He commands us—no, it’s still even greater— He pleads with us that we are to go out into a dying world and share this Savior we now know and love.

Many are dying to know the beautiful truths you are privileged to have learned. Many are dying for a helping hand, a healing word—don’t hold back “life” from those who are desperate and dying in this world without it!

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