Secret Sauce

Do you ever feel there is a secret sauce someone has not yet shared with you on navigating life and staying on the right track? Well, there is something, but it isn’t a secret. It’s laid out for us by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Among other instructions in His sermon, the word ‘seek’ has stuck out to me lately. Beginning in Matthew 6:33, Jesus says to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Most of us may leave it there and not read the next verse. (v 34) “Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” The word ‘therefore’ is significant. It’s like a hinge. If we are searching for the right thing (God), there is no need to worry. God will provide. If we seek God today-there is no need to worry about tomorrow. Keeping ourselves on the right path is enough for today- it is hard work, and we don’t need to borrow trouble that hasn’t come yet.

How do we stay on the right path, you may ask? Jesus tells us that too. Ask, seek, knock (Matt. 7:7-11, ESV). Ask: He instructs his disciples to come to God in humility and awareness of their needs. When we are aware of our needs, it keeps our pride in check. Seek: we continually pursue God’s will in our prayers. Knock: is about perseverance. Just like the disciples, we are to pray confidently and persistently that God will supply whatever is best, according to His gracious will (ESV Study Bible notes).

Eventually, it leads to life on a narrow road that few can find (Matt. 7:13-14, ESV). But why is it so hard for most people to see it if it is not a secret? That is because we tend to give up too quickly. We seek the wrong things and don’t ask because of pride. Humility means we are aware of our needs and will ask and seek God above all else. When we learn to do this, all we need is added to us (Matt. 6:33, ESV). It is easy to take the road that leads to destruction. We can sometimes drive a steamroller through life, taking others down with us. The route we must learn to maneuver and continually look for is the narrow path that leads to life. We can do that by making better choices and taking control of our lives, with God’s help, instead of allowing others to control us.

It is also important not to follow the wrong people. That is why Jesus continues His sermon to warn about false prophets and even disciples in the church who are like wolves in sheep’s clothing, which we can recognize by their fruits. Not all who confess Jesus have a repentant heart (Matt. 7:15-23, ESV). Their life and the results of their influence will show if they are living for the kingdom. We must always read the Bible for ourselves and pray for discernment.

The way is narrow because Jesus is the only way. It is hard because we look for the approval of men instead of God. What we believe matters; whom we follow is crucial. That is why Jesus gives further instructions on building our lives on the rock and His Word, a foundation that stands the test of time and does not shift with culture (Matt. 7:24-27, ESV). Bottom line: just like the people of His day, we are either with Jesus or against Him. Our hope in Jesus is the secret sauce that leads us to continually ask, seek, knock, and stay on the narrow road that leads to eternal life. Don’t give up.

God-Honoring Choices

Sometimes we can’t see a better life for ourselves or know our self-worth isn’t in another person, especially one who does not have our best interest in mind. God always has our best interest at heart. He always wants the best for us—the very best is God Himself.

If we are hungry and only have cheesecake—we will eat cheesecake. Even if we know it isn’t as healthy for us and that it will go to our hips. But if we see it as our only choice, we will eat it. We may like cheesecake, but it is not sustainable or healthy.

Don’t settle for the cheesecake when God offers a whole banquet at the palace of a King.

The same goes for a significant purchase. Let’s say you are in the market for a new laptop. You won’t just buy the first one you see. You will research and get better informed of all your options and the specs. We need to be informed to make the best decisions.

Don’t settle for anything less than God’s best. In other words, don’t compromise integrity for momentary pleasure.

If we aren’t in God’s word, learning about God’s character and the truth of what Christ says about us and what He wants for us, we will make ill-informed decisions based on what is in front of us. It’s like being in a desert, and we will drink anything put in front of us to satisfy our thirst.

Friend, don’t drink the devil’s Kool-Aid. God offers living waters that have eternal refreshment for our souls. There are other options. We can make better life choices the way God intended for us. We can reach our highest potential with God’s help. Life-giving decisions are made in the light of God’s truth about us and who we are in Him as image-bearers.

I was once given an ultimatum to do what another person asked of me or lose him. I didn’t know leaving was the better choice. He said if I loved him, I would do what he asked. That isn’t love. I stuck it out because I thought I had to make it work. But it was unhealthy, and I was not honoring Christ with my life or body. It wasn’t until many dark days later and an eye-opening wake-up call that I realized God is always the better choice. Learning to put Christ first in my life comes with a freedom I do not take for granted. I thank God for rescuing me every day.

The Bible offers a filter to sift our relationships through to see if they are God-honoring:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends” (I Cor. 13:4-8, ESV, Emphasis mine).

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17, ESV, Emphasis mine).

A TIMELY BLESSING

I am aware of generational cycles that can destroy lives and lead to sin that we are sometimes unaware of. One of the things that I teach other women through the support group I lead is how to recognize the red flags of abuse and co-dependency in the hope of breaking those cycles. Yes, our bad choices play a part, but abuse is never the victim’s fault. When we are aware of the cycle, we can do something to change it.

Once we learn how to recognize these factors from our childhood, there are ways to break the cycle through repentance and prayer. I am reading a Bible plan entitled “Freedom for Ladies” (GJF Ministries, Jamye Lane) on the YouVersion Bible app, which is very timely and helpful. The logic can be applied to anyone, not just women. The plan outlines the steps in breaking off things from the family line and replacing it with blessings from God.

The morning I read the steps, I decided to use one of my favorite verses as the blessings from Scripture to pray over myself and my family. It is also one of my favorite songs, “The Blessing,” with the lyrics taken directly from the Bible. Aaron’s blessing in Numbers 6:24-26 is a priestly blessing showing God’s will to bless every Israelite. The ESV Study Bible denotes that this blessing engraved on a silver amulet is the earliest archaeological discovery, having the covenantal name of God (Yahweh), which was found in a Judean tomb dating back to the seventh or sixth century B.C.

(V24)“The Lord bless you and keep you; (v 25) the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; (V 26) the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” (Emphasis mine)

Let us look at the meaning of each verse: The Lord blesses us by giving good harvests, peace, children, and his own presence (Lev. 26:3-13). ‘Keep’ means to guard or protect. His face shine upon you in God’s presence, like sunshine (Ps. 19:1-11). A shining face is a smiling face, a pledge of God’s good favor (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19, ESV). The countenance is the expression on one’s face. The study Bible says that for God to lift his countenance involves treating people with favor. Peace or shalom means total well-being.

This led me to Daniel 9, which provides the same model of repentance and prayer along with this blessing. Daniel prayed a prayer of adoration, then a confession on behalf of himself and his people (9:4). Daniel asked God to show favor and make His face shine upon him and bring exile to an end. Not because of his righteousness but because of God’s commitment to glorify His own name (9:17). If we read further, Daniel received an answer from God through an angel named Gabriel. Still, I want us to pay attention to this: he confessed his sin and the sin of his people, presenting a plea to God and asking for His blessing.

This mirrors the steps in the plan first to praise God, then repent for the sins committed in our generation, then break them off our generation, in Jesus’ name, and next wash the generations on both sides of the family with the blood of Christ, as far back as the sin got in; close the doors in Jesus’ name. Take authority over the sin in Jesus’ name, and then bless yourself and the next generation with applicable biblical blessings. If you have anything in your family that needs to be broken off and replaced with a blessing, I encourage you to try it. Just as awareness is critical to change, Lane points out repentance is key to freedom.

LAMENTS

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a lament is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow. Synonyms include wail, moan, weeping, sobbing, or crying. One can also lament by passionately singing praises to God. We can turn to the Psalms for comfort in times of suffering and pain.

Many laments in the Psalms are prayers or hymns by David during times of desperate need, like Ps. 142, a prayer, or Ps. 57, a hymn of praise. Both are related to the same incident in I Samuel 22 when David hides from Saul in a cave. Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22 reflect a song of deliverance David sang when God saved him from Saul and all his enemies (ESV).

I don’t know about you, but I have done my share of lamenting in both desperate pleas and grateful praises to God. Sometimes I find myself face down on the floor, sobbing with a grateful heart for something God has shown me or helped me through. In all of David’s story and his pleas to God, we know he wasn’t perfect. He was a sinner, just like you and me. He made mistakes. But he learned how to put all his trust in God, look to Him for protection, and praise Him for all the times he rescued him. We can do the same thing.

Other times, like Ps. 139:23 and Ps. 19:14, we see David asking God to search his heart. This is a vital part of our relationship with God. In Luke 6:45, Jesus says, “the good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person produces evil, for out of the heart his mouth speaks.” How we live will manifest from what we treasure most. What is your heart’s desire? What are you treasuring in your life other than God? It takes time, but we can learn to want God over everything else. It is this type of intimate relationship that God wants with us; our part is to seek Him and the kingdom of God above all else (Matt. 6:33, ESV). Be still before God this week and ask Him to search your heart and reveal any areas you need to change or forgive someone.

You may be a person who speaks to God first thing in the morning, or you might say a prayer last thing before going to sleep at night. My challenge is that we all learn to think of Him in those times and between. The stuff in the middle of those can trip us up. Try to make it a point to thank Him or pause and pray, even for a moment, throughout your day and see how it affects your attitude and daily interaction with others. Not to mention how much closer your relationship will become with God as you begin to lean into Him more and more. God’s desire is you; our desires should be Him. Then we can experience wholeness, hope, and healing that only comes from Christ.

PREPARATION

After John the Baptist baptized Jesus, He was taken to the wilderness, where He fasted and spent the next forty days and forty nights tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:2, ESV). The devil focused on three areas: desires and physical needs, possessions and power, and pride (Matt. 4:1-10, NLT). Things that often trip us up. Each time Jesus used the Word of God to defend Himself by quoting Deuteronomy, which links His experience to Israel’s forty years in the desert. Israel failed, but Jesus did not.

TemptationVerseJesus’ AnswerVerse
Hunger: turn stone into breadMatt. 4:4; Luke 4:4Depend on GodDuet. 8:2-3
Power: jump; the angels will protect youMatt. 4:7; Luke 4:12Do not test GodDuet. 6:16
Pride: offered a shortcut to His future reignMatt. 4:10; Luke 4:8Do not compromiseDuet. 6:13

When we are hungry and tired, we are more susceptible to giving in to the wrong things. In those times, we can learn to depend on God even more. The devil used manipulation and lies by twisting Scripture and taking Psalm ninety-one out of context to convince Jesus to jump and use His divine nature to display His power, knowing that the angels would protect Him. But Jesus says we are not to tempt God. Lastly, the devil offers Jesus a shortcut to reign over the world, but this would only bypass the most critical piece of Jesus’ mission; redemption of sins for His people, which is precisely what Satan hoped he could deter. Jesus is the perfect example of not comprising to please the flesh.

All the time spent in the wilderness was preparing Jesus for His ministry. He became fully human and took time to understand as a human what we go through each day on this earth. He learned obedience through what He suffered, and so can we. Our testing and temptations come first to prepare us for living a life of faith and obedience to God. It is by His strength, not our own, and because Jesus knows what we are going through, we can look to Him for strength during times of temptation and trials.

We can also use the sword of the Spirit as our weapon (Eph. 6:17-18) to rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). To use it effectively requires faith in God’s promises. We must stay alert to the devil’s tactics; he also knows Scripture and will twist it to suit his purposes. The Chronological Life Application Study Bible notes that obeying is more important than memorizing or quoting a verse. Reading the Word daily and applying it to our lives is the only way to keep our sword sharp and not give in to the devil’s lies.

There is another type of wilderness we sometimes spend time journeying through. In the life of John the Baptist, we read that he knew his purpose. He was to pave the way for Jesus the Messiah. The Bible doesn’t tell us much about his childhood or how he spent his time before his ministry began, but it does tell us he waited in the wilderness until God’s appointed time to start his ministry (Mark 1:3-4, ESV). Can you imagine knowing your purpose and waiting for God to tell you the time is right? At a time when I was at rock bottom, God whispered a sweet message for me to think positively because great things were happening in my life. It was hard to see then, but He has certainly done great things, and I know He will continue to do so. He reminded me of that again recently during a ‘wilderness’ moment.

Just a few short years ago, I would have never seen myself where I am now. He is always working in our lives even when we cannot see it. I am learning to wait expectantly for God’s perfect timing. Time spent in the wilderness of our lives also has a purpose and is a time of preparation, and we cannot skip ahead. After we stand the tests and rely on God’s strength and Word to get through, we are more prepared and ready to be sent out to do kingdom work for God.