Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life in the Valley Part 2

I don't think there is a worse feeling when one is on a journey than standing in front of an empty, moving baggage carousel and not seeing your suitcase emerge from the mysterious bowels of the airport's luggage transfer system. After losing a connection in London due to bad weather, losing a bag somewhere in transit, and arriving home a whole 14 hours after I had intended, it's 3am and I can't sleep because of jet lag. I'm tired all over, but if I lay down in bed I just end up staring at the ceiling, so I thought what better time to post the next installment of the teaching series on life in the valley.

Joshua 17:11-18, “And in Issachar and in Asher, Manasseh had Beth Shean and its towns, Ibleam and its towns, the inhabitants of Dor and its towns, the inhabitants of En Dor and its towns, the inhabitants of Taanach and its towns, and the inhabitants of Magiddo and its towns – three hilly regions. Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities, but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in that land. And it happened, when the children of Israel grew strong, that they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but did not utterly drive them out. Then the children of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘why have you given us but one lot and one portion to inherit, since we are a great people, inasmuch s the Lord has blessed us until now?’ So Joshua answered them, ‘if you are a great people, then go up to the forest country and clear a place for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and the giants, since the mountains of Ephraim are too confined for you.’ But the children of Joseph said, ‘the mountain country is not enough for us; and all the Canaanites who dwell in the land of the valley have chariots of iron, but those who are of Beth Shean and its towns and those who are of the Valley of Jezreel.’ And Joshua spoke to the house of Joseph – to Ephraim and Manasseh – saying, ‘You are a great people and have great power; you shall not have one lot only, but the mountain country shall be yours. Although it is wooded, you shall cut it down, and its farthest extent shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and are strong.”

In the last post we began talking about life in the valley, and how and why one ends up in the valley in the first place. Yes, God’s desire is that we always be on the mountaintop, always on fire for Him, always wholly devoted and committed to His work and His kingdom, but God also knew that there would be valleys throughout our journey, He knew that there would be times where we would feel as though we were of no use to the kingdom, of no use to the brethren, times and seasons of hardship and setbacks.

We serve an all knowing God, one who knows the end from the beginning, and knowing that we would have to traverse valleys once in awhile, He has placed encouragement, instruction, and direction in His holy word for us, that although we might find ourselves in the valley, we would endeavor to return to the mountaintop.

Today we go even further into this series of teachings, and tackle the topic of warfare in the valley. Yes, there is warfare in the valley; there is violent and unyielding warfare in the valley. I realize you may be thinking, ‘Brother Mike, but there is warfare in perpetuity. We are always at war with the enemy whether in the valley or on the mountaintop aren’t we?’

Yes, we are constantly at war with the enemy, but it’s one thing to fight the enemy on open ground when you are full of vigor and strength, when all of your energies are at maximum levels and you know the terrain, and it’s quite another to do battle against the enemy in the valley, where you are already weak and troubled, where the territory is unknown and the walls seem to be closing in.

Well, the children of the tribe of Manasseh came to Joshua and they were not at all pleased. Shortly after conquering the land, after crossing the Jordan, and taking Canaan, the topographers of the time got together and divided the land into twelve, for the twelve tribes of Israel. Each tribe was given a lot of land, and God was fully aware that there were smaller tribes among them, like the tribe of Benjamin who got a small lot of land somewhere in the midst of Canaan, yet He was also aware that there were larger tribes, such as the tribe of Manasseh. Manasseh received their lot, and their lot was in a valley beside a mountain. Manasseh was a large tribe, comprising of many people, and they came to Joshua, voicing their displeasure at the lot that they’d been assigned, informing him that they would like to have a larger lot, more land, since they were a large tribe.

Joshua, the newly anointed leader of the people, looked upon the children of Manasseh, and essentially told them, that if they were displeased with the lot they’d been given they should go up to the forest country and cut down the trees to clear a place for themselves. From there they could even take the mountain itself.

When the children of Manasseh heard this, they began to reason with Joshua informing him that the Canaanites who dwelt in the land had chariots of iron, thinking perhaps that Joshua would rouse the whole of Israel to go to war on behalf of Manasseh. Joshua however, refused their plea.

‘If you want to take the mountain, you must fight your own battle to obtain your own victory’ is the essence of what Joshua told them.

When you find yourself in the valley, no one can fight your battle for you. When you find yourself in the valley, you can’t have your pastor fight your battle, you can’t have your spouse fight your battle, it’s you and God against the enemy and you must stand your ground and march ever onward toward the mountaintop.

Whatever you do, don’t grow comfortable in the valley, I beg of you, for the sake of your eternal soul do not grow comfortable in the valley. The tribe of Manasseh had grown comfortable there, they had built cities, and after four hundred years of slavery, and forty years of wandering through the desert, even the valley might have looked good to them. However, they realized that the valley was not the optimum place to be, that there was yet a better place, a higher ground to which they aspired.

It’s such a dangerous thing for a Christian to grow comfortable or comfortably numb in the valley. It’s such a dangerous thing for a believer to talk himself or herself into believing that they’ve achieved what most other believers call normalcy.

“Well, I don’t pray as much as some, but others pray less than I do, so that puts me in the normal range. I don’t read my Bible as often as some do, but I do open it from time to time, unlike others, so I’m still ok.”

And so we lower the standard, and we try to get away with the barebones minimum we can do. Sure, if there’s any time left out of our busy day, we might think if God in passing, but whose got the time?

You see, there is no such thing as Christian normalcy. We must always be striving for more of God, we must always be striving to climb higher, and get deeper, to grow and mature in Christ Jesus.

We grow tragically content with not seeing miracles in the church any more, we grow tragically content with not seeing people coming to Christ anymore, we grow tragically content with not preaching the Word of God anymore, and we grow tragically content with trying to give God only half our hearts.

The motto of the tragically content is always, ‘well, I know someone who’s worse than me, I know someone who doesn’t go to church as often as I do, I know someone who doesn’t pray as often as I do.’

Since when are we to compare ourselves to other people? Since when are we to have other men as our standard and not Jesus? Do not be content in the valley; do not grow comfortable in the valley, because it is a dangerous, dangerous place.

The enemy loves to keep us in the valley until we become accustomed to it, until we get comfortable with it, until we begin to think there is no higher ground.

Yep, this is as good as it gets: No power, no Holy Spirit, no miracles, no words of prophecy, no impacting preaching, yep, this is as good as it gets.

You see, there are two very important things the enemy wants to take away from you while you are in the valley. The two things the enemy desires to nullify in you while you are in the valley is your identity, and your mentality, your attitude, your outlook or your way of thinking.

The enemy’s singular desire is for you to forget that you are a child of God, to forget what your attributes are, to forget the power that you have access to in the Holy Spirit, and to forget that God is omnipotent. He wants to nullify this burning truth in your heart that you are royalty, a child of the most high God, redeemed by the blood of His beloved Son Jesus Christ.

“What can I do? I’m a nobody. How can I contribute? I have nothing. What can I say? No one will listen anyway.”

This is the attitude of those who have forgotten who they are. This is the attitude of those who have forgotten that they are sons and daughters of God.

Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget that a price was paid for you. Remember always who your Father is; remember always that your soul was redeemed.

Never be ashamed of who you are, never be ashamed of being a follower of Christ, a believer in Jesus, one who was plucked from the mire of sin, and washed clean in the blood of the lamb.

The tribe of Manasseh was aware of the danger that came with residing in the valley, they were aware of the danger of not being on higher ground, and this is why they came to Joshua in the first place. The only problem is, the tribe of Manasseh did not want to face the Canaanites because of their iron chariots. In this reaction we can see the attitude of the defeated believer, a believer who has forgotten who they are, and has shifted their attitude from one of victor, one who is victorious in Christ, to one of defeat. A defeated Christian always makes excuses for not confronting the enemy; a defeated Christian always makes excuses for not standing his ground. A defeated Christian thinks that he can strike a truce with the enemy, that he can live peaceably with him, not realizing that no truce can be had, that the enemy will not honor any agreement, that his desire is nothing less than their destruction. You cannot reason with the enemy, you cannot bargain with the enemy, you cannot give in to the enemy and still retain any semblance of relationship with God. Satan never takes prisoners. He doesn’t just want to keep you in the valley; he wants to kill you in the valley.

Before you react to the enemy’s chariots of iron as the children of Manasseh did remember the chariots of fire that surround you. Before you grow fearful of the enemy’s chariots of iron, remember that by faith you ride in a chariot of fire, with God by your side.

This spiritual apathy that has overtaken so many in this generation, makes many believers look at the mountain, and think to themselves they will never make it to the top.

These are difficult days, who can be that spiritual? These are hard times, who can pray, who can fast? And so we remain in the valley, looking up to the mountain, thinking of what could be.

Before we go further, I want to focus on this subject, and identify the iron chariots that the enemy attempts to distract us with. Yes, the enemy does have iron chariots, and countless souls get distracted by them.

The first iron chariot the enemy attempts to overtake us with, is the iron chariot of abundance. Look, it’s not a sin to want a nice house, it’s not a sin to want a nicer car, it’s not a sin to want to get a raise, but all these things become sin when they become your obsession, it’s a sin when they become your entire focus. Abundance leads to comfort, and comfort often times leads to spiritual apathy. I’ve heard of many Christians getting closer to God in times of great trial, but I’ve heard of very few that drew closer to God in times of great abundance. Don’t let the enemy overtake you with the iron chariot of abundance, know in your heart that whatever you have, is not yours but God’s, and whatever He gives you is good.

The second iron chariot the enemy attempts to overtake us with, is the chariot of lack of spiritual discipline. A spiritually undisciplined Christian is easy prey for the enemy. When we lack spiritual discipline, our prayer life becomes nonexistent, our reading of the word becomes irregular at best, and our relationship with God is but a distant memory. The enemy loves spiritually undisciplined Christians, because they pose no threat to him, and they are readily dispensed with when and how he desires.

Our view of what Christianity is must be in line with what the Bible tells us it is, and we must view ourselves in the context of God’s word, being ever ready, ever disciplined, faithful soldiers of Christ prepare to stand and fight the enemy and the forces of darkness, prepared to stand in the gap.

The third chariot the enemy attempts to overtake us with, is the chariot of fear of failure. If we read the passage that served as a backdrop to today’s teaching, we come to realize that the children of Manasseh had fought the Canaanites before and lost, being unable to drive them from the land, and now they were fearful that they would lose yet again.

Joshua 17:12, “Yet the children of Manasseh could not drive out the inhabitants of those cities, but the Canaanites were determined to dwell in the land.”

Their fear of failure due to past experiences, kept them from engaging the enemy again. Many times, fear is closely tied to how we view a certain challenge in our lives. A good example of this is Goliath, and how David viewed Goliath as opposed to Saul and the people of Israel. As Goliath stood before the people of Israel in all his imposing stature, fear welled up in the hearts of the Israelites, and they thought to themselves that there was no way any of them could defeat such a giant. David comes along, takes a look at Goliath, and thinks to himself that there was no way he could miss with his slingshot.

How we perceive a situation can be the difference between fear or boldness, between flight and courageously standing our ground. Israel saw Goliath’s size as something to be feared, David saw it as something to be exploited.

We cannot look at our current lot, we cannot look at our shortcomings and allow them to blind us to the reality that when we are weak, God is strong, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness. We cannot be moved or shaken by what the naked eye sees, but in faith step out of the valley of doubt and unbelief, in faith step out of our present circumstances, and draw ever closer to our heavenly Father.

There was one among the people who had faith, one who saw beyond the present circumstance of the children of Manasseh, one who believed, and that was Joshua. It was Joshua that gazed upon the children of Manasseh, and said: ‘the mountain country shall be yours. Although it is wooded you shall cut it down and its farthest extent shall be yours; for you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have iron chariots and are strong.’

The enemy might have chariots of iron, the enemy might be strong, but the mountaintop will be ours if we persevere, if we trust in the hand of almighty God, and stand our ground against the enemy.

There is good news today. The enemy can be defeated. There is good news today. The mountaintop can be yours. There is good news today. In God you are more than the sum of all that you are, or ever hoped to be. There is good news today. In Christ we are more than victors, more than conquerors. Take hold of this truth dear friend, and do not be content in the valley. Do not be content with looking at the mountaintop and thinking there is no way to get through the enemy lines and advance onward. With God, in God, and through God all things are possible.

Joshua saw the need the children of Manasseh had, to ascend from the valley to the mountaintop, and gave them practical solutions to their problems. First, it was for them to fight their own battles. No one can fight your battles for you; you must stand, and set your face like flint. You must be ready to confront the enemy. The second practical solution Joshua offered the children of Manasseh was to cut down everything that stood in the way of their goal of taking the mountain. If the forest stands in your way, cut it down, and press forward. Don’t let the forests in your life keep you from seeing the mountain beyond. Cut them down, and get a better view of the glory of God.

Hebrews 12:1-2, says it this way, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

The last practical solution that Joshua offered the children of Manasseh was that they be united. Yes, they were a great people, yes they had great power, but they had to be united in order to achieve their objective.

Be as one, in your family, with your spouse, with your loved ones, be as one. There is strength in numbers. Pray together, read the word together, and have the singular purpose of ascending to the mountaintop.

It is not easy, and those who say it is have never really faced down the enemy, but by the power of God, the battle is winnable. We can’t hope to grow in God if we are unwilling to make the effort, to strive, to agonize, to seek His face, and love Him with all our hearts.

With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.


wendyworn said...

That was really an amazing post and i'm sorry about your luggage. This message was very timely for me because i have been in a valley in my life - and feeling very discouraged, fighting the flesh while only wanting to live in the spirit. Thank you for this great teaching!

Anonymous said...

Well said!

What an encouragement you are. I pray that God will bless you.

Mrs pugh said...

Thank you, Brother Mike,
Wonderful words of inspiration and a timely reminder of who we are and what's at stake.
May God bless you in mighty ways as the time of trouble draws ever nearer.

Love in Christ,
Mrs. Pugh