The Israelites – God’s people living in slavery in the land of Egypt under the iron rule of Pharaoh. Until God speaks to Moses, an Israelite who grew up as an Egyptian Prince, and asks him to lead the campaign for Israel’s freedom. Moses asks Pharaoh to let his people go and when Pharaoh refuses God sends 10 plagues to sweep through the land.

  1. TURNING THE NILE INTO BLOOD.
  2. THE PLAGUE OF FROGS
  3. THE PLAGUE OF GNATS
  4. SWARMS OF FLIES
  5. DEATH OF LIVESTOCK
  6. THE PLAGUE OF BOILS
  7. THE PLAGUE OF HAIL
  8. THE PLAGUE OF LOCUSTS
  9. THE PLAGUE OF DARKNESS
  10. THE DEATH OF THE FIRST BORN

Now, I have learnt something interesting about these plagues: For every plague that was inflicted upon the people, Pharaoh and the land, there was an Egyptian god associated with it.

  1. there were Egyptian gods known as the guardian of the river source, the spirit of the Nile and for the god of Oasis the Nile was believed to be in his blood stream
  2. there was a frog goddess of Egypt and a god of fertility
  3. there was a god of the earth
  4. the fly god of Egypt
  5. gods associated with bulls and cows
  6. goddess of epidemic and healing
  7. the sky goddess, agricultural goddess and a god of the atmosphere
  8. a deity protector from locusts
  9. sun gods
  10. and lastly, Pharaoh himself.

For every plague Almighty God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Israelites – was showing that He is the God above all other gods.

“I execute judgements against all the gods of Egypt”. Exodus 12:12 (CSB)

When God led the Israelites out of slavery He was giving them more than just their physical freedom. He was setting them free from every power and authority of oppression and slavery – both from things that they could see with their physical eyes and from things that they didn’t even know they needed to be set free from.

I want to remind you today that you serve a God who wants to set you completely free.

And he wants to set you free from things you know you need freedom from and from things you are not even aware are holding you captive. His freedom for you goes so much deeper than just the promise of eternal life and salvation. He came to set you completely free.

“For freedom, Christ sets us free.” Galatians 5: 1 (CSB)

The Israelites didn’t realise their complete freedom. Once they had escaped Pharaoh they went on to develop a habit of continually grumbling and complaining. At every hurdle and every obstacle we see that their response is usually the same.

On the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left Egypt, the whole company of Israel moved on from Elim to the Wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai. The whole company of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron there in the wilderness. The Israelites said, “Why didn’t God let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You’ve brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!” Exodus 16: 1 – 3 (MSG)

The Israelites were physically free but they were still bound by their slave mentality. They were physically free from captivity and yet they were still held captive in their thinking. They were no longer slaves and yet they still thought like they were slaves instead of like they were beloved children of the Most High God.

The Israelites were like a bird whose wings had been clipped and caged. They had been freed from the cage but were still not free enough to fly.

I think many of us live like the Israelites, we are free, but only to a certain extent. We can be physically free from a past relationship but still plagued by bitterness and resentment. We can be free from our old life of sin but still held captive by shame or condemnation. We can be physically free from any danger and yet we can still be imprisoned and paralysed in our minds by fear, worry and anxiety.

We might be free but are we completely free?

What is it in your life that still holds you captive? What mindsets are you allowing to play ruler in your life that Christ has actually already set you free from?

“For freedom, Christ sets us free. Stand firm and don’t submit again to the yolk of slavery”. Galatians 5:1

What is Paul, the writer of this letter to the Galatian church saying? In chapters four and five we read as he urges them to not get caught back up in the slavery mindset that God has already freed them from. Don’t get caught up in the religious thinking and in the law that once bound you. He’s saying: You are free! Don’t enslave yourselves again!

So how do you live completely free?

 Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be  in the likeness of his resurrection.  For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin  might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin, since a person who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6:4-7 (CSB)

How do we have complete freedom? We walk in the newness of life. We can do that in a few ways. I want to give you three of them today.

Keys to complete freedom:

1. Establish a new way of thinking.

A little later on in Exodus 32 we read the account of when Moses was on Mount Sinai and God was communing with Moses and inscribing with his very finger the two tablets. Meanwhile Israel was building a golden calf to worship. Listen to what they say:

They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, ‘Israel, these are your gods, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’” Exodus 32:8 (CSB)

When you don’t understand your complete freedom, your past will try and tell you that your prison was actually your place of freedom. The enemy will speak lies to you about the brokenness that was in that place, Oh it wasn’t so bad was it…Isn’t it better than where you are now?

For every prison still holding you captive there is a lie you have believed that has kept you thinking like a slave instead of a Child of God.

Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2 (CSB)

Establishing a new way of thinking allows us to discern the barrage of thoughts that assault us daily. Have a renewed mind, Romans says, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God.

The NIV translation says, when you renew your mind you can test and approve. You don’t have to allow every thought access to your life. In fact, this passage states clearly that we are to test and approve anything trying to gain access to our thinking.

I love airports and I love travel. I even love watching those airport shows, you know the customs ones? It always astounds me what people try and bring into the country.

I must admit though, I am thankful. I am thankful that we live in a nation that wants to protect us from nasty bugs, drugs and baddies. I am thankful for airport security and our shipping ports that test and approve anything and anyone entering our country. I’m thankful that they don’t just let anything and anyone in.

I wonder what might change if we were to use the same strategy with our thinking? When a thought enters could we begin asking questions? Do you have anything to declare? What is your purpose here and how long do you intend to stay?

Is there a lie I am believing? Is this thought here to bring me down or lift me up? Is this thought contrary to the word of God?

Test it. Discern it’s purpose before you give it approval to enter your mind.

Being completely free means you have to train yourself to think a new way.

Your freedom begins in your mind before it can take place anywhere else.

2. Teach yourself a new language.

It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken. ”Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 2 Corinthians 4:13 (NIV)

Complete freedom requires a language of faith.

When we are born again, as a child of God, when we enter Gods family we actually have to learn a new language. A language of faith says, while I may not see it, I am going to speak it. It is a language of hope and expectation.

We have all experienced the power that words can have over our lives. Words spoken by others over us, but just as important are the words you speak over yourself. What words are you saying about your marriage? About your family? About your business? About your financial situation? About yourself?

Your words have the power to frame your world.

3. Begin making different decisions.

You can change your thinking, and you can change your language but if you are still making the same debilitating decisions then you are still not free.

Making different decisions begins by changing your first response. Much of our lives are actually built on the patterns of behaviour that we begin developing from a very young age. These patterns of behaviour are what will end up guiding our decisions as we grow into adulthood.

Where the Israelites’ first response was to grumble and complain they needed to change their pattern of behaviour and instead of grumble and complain, turn to God for help, for provision and for the fulfilment of their need.

There is a quote that says,

Live less out of habit and more out of intent.

If your habits lead you toward decisions that continue to imprison you, can I encourage you to begin living your life with intent. Nothing left to chance. Mindful of your actions, your decisions, your responses and the habits that are out to trip you up.

If you want to begin making different decisions you need to begin creating some different intentional habits in your life.

I am going to remind you of the very thought I started this post with; we serve a God who wants to set you completely free. Not partial freedom or once in a while freedom – complete freedom!

Now, go out there and live like you believe it.

I can remember the days of visiting open homes every weekend when we were looking at buying a house. I can remember this one house we looked at and we both immediately loved it. It was the perfect home for what we were looking for. It was in a great area, had a great back yard. We had it all planned out. We fasted, we prayed, we heard from God and we had started making plans. But come auction day, we didn’t get the house.

We prayed for it, we had faith for it. We fasted. We even got scriptures about it. And still, we didn’t get the house.

Ever been there? Ever been in a place where the outcome you thought was coming, didn’t come? Ever been in the place where the answer you thought was coming, didn’t come? The miracle you thought was coming, didn’t come? The healing you thought was coming, didn’t come. The provision you thought was coming, didn’t come?

What does our faith look like in that place?

You see, many of us were presented with the concept of God when we were very young, at the same time as we were presented with the concept of Santa Claus. As we grew up we matured around our beliefs about Santa Claus but our beliefs about God never evolved. So then when things happen in our world that shake our faith we begin asking adult questions of our childhood God.

For many of us it is really hard to reconcile our current life circumstances with the God that we have been told about growing up. The God we begin believing about in Sunday School is a God who will protect us from bad things, the God who will respond to the fair and selfless requests of those He loves, and the God whose presence will always be felt.

But what happens when bad things actually do happen to good people and when God doesn’t answer our prayer and it feels like He is very far away?

I can remember sitting down the next morning talking to God about the house we missed out on. Feeling disappointed and discouraged. He lead me to this story in Daniel chapter 3. Let me give you a little bit of background before we start reading.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a nine foot golden statue of himself built and placed right in the middle of the land. 90 feet tall, 9 feet wide. He then called all of the officials and leaders and judges and magistrates, and governors and treasurers together. Nebuchadnezzar then made this announcement: Whenever anyone in the land hears the sound of a harp, and horn – any musical instrument they are to bow down to the golden statue. If they refused to bow down they would be thrown into the fiery furnace. At the time of this decree, there were three Jews – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – they loved God and God had shown favour on them and they had been placed in charge of all of the affairs of Babylon. When it came time, at the sound of the music, everyone in the land stopped and bowed down and worshipped the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar. All except Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Some of the astrologers came and reported this to the King.

We pick up our reading in verse 12:

“…there are some Jews—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—whom you have put in charge of the province of Babylon. They pay no attention to you, Your Majesty. They refuse to serve your gods and do not worship the gold statue you have set up.” Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him. When they were brought in, Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you refuse to serve my gods or to worship the gold statue I have set up?  I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments.[f] But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” Daniel 3: 12-18

But even if he doesn’t.

They are saying, our God is able to save us! They are also saying that our God will save us. He is both able and willing.

But then there is this famous line, and this is where a lot of people get lost in their faith journey.

God is able, God is willing, but what happens when God doesn’t?

Whats happens when rubber hits the road and your expectation doesn’t line up with your experience?

Shadrach, Mechach and Abednego said, “Even if he doesn’t we will not bow down”. We will not give in, we will not give up!

Even if the answer doesn’t come. Even if God doesn’t do what I want him to do. Even if the miracle doesn’t come as I think it should. Even if the Drs’ report isn’t what I was believing for. Even if my marriage is never restored. Even if my finances still aren’t adding up… I will continue to trust in my God. I will not give in and I will not give up!

Sometimes life requires an Even If faith.

Even If faith. Faith that stands regardless of the outcome. Faith that believes that even if the result wasn’t what you hoped, the best result is still coming.

I don’t know about you but I want some Even If faith today.

Now faith is being sure we will get what we hope for. It is being sure of what we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLV)

What are you believing for that you can’t see yet? Even If faith is living by the assurance that even if I can’t see Him, He is there. Even if I can’t feel Him, He is there. Even If faith is living by the assurance that despite my circumstances, my surroundings and my emotions, I can still trust in Him.

Even If faith says:

1.My circumstances do not alter His character.

We need to know today that the nature of our circumstances do not change who God is.

The nature of your circumstance does not change the nature of God.

It can be so much easier to acknowledge God’s goodness, mercy, love, power, faithfulness and patience in the good times; when the prayers are being answered how you want them to, when there is a miracle around every corner.

What we need to remember during our more difficult seasons is that our circumstances do not change any of those characteristics about God – He is still good, He is still loving, He is still faithful and He is still able!

Even If faith trusts in His character and not in your circumstance.

His character and his nature is not determined by your circumstances – it remains despite it!

2. My worries do not supersede His Word.

In seasons where, for whatever reason, I am neglecting the word of God, I find I worry more, I fear more and my mind is not at rest from trouble.

Philippians 4 tells us to allow Christ to displace worry from the centre of your life.

We can only do this through the Word of God. Even If faith allows the word of God to be our firm foundation.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” Matthew 7: 24- 27 (NLT) 

The word of God lays a foundation – a foundation for moments in life when your house is threatened. Moments where you know that if it weren’t for the solid ROCK beneath your feet, you would be in sinking sand right now.

Don’t build on worry – build on the Word. Don’t build on fear – build on faith!

3. My thoughts do not overthrow His throne.

Sometimes we allow our thinking to rule our response. We allow our thoughts to dictate and have authority over how we live out our circumstances rather than recognising the one who really sits on the throne.

One of our fellow Lead Pastors has the best outlook on life. The motto he lives by, for any difficult season or frustrating moment, regardless of how big or small is, “but Jesus is still on the throne”.

What that statement does is recognise that I may not understand this, I may not like this, I may not know why it is happening – but what I do know is that God is still in charge, He is still sovereign and He is still in control. He still sits on the throne.

When rubber hits the road, when the fire is roaring, what is going to be your response? Will you have a faith that says: Even if I go through the fire I will not bow down, I will not give in, and I will not give up.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo still went into the furnace, they still had to go through the fire. I think if I was God I would have stopped it all before it came to that. But no, in fact, the bible says that Nebuchadnezzar was so furious that he turned the furnace up seven times hotter!

I’d love to be able to tell you that obedience and trust in God will make all of your problems go away but the truth is that when we make a stand for God, it may mean things get hotter!

Let’s find out how this story ends.

Suddenly King Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in alarm and said, “Didn’t we throw three men, bound hand and foot, into the fire?” “That’s right, O king,” they said. “But look!” he said. “I see four men, walking around freely in the fire, completely unharmed! And the fourth man looks like a son of the gods!” Nebuchadnezzar went to the door of the roaring furnace and called in, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the High God, come out here!Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego walked out of the fire. All the important people, the government leaders and king’s counselors, gathered around to examine them and discovered that the fire hadn’t so much as touched the three men—not a hair singed, not a scorch mark on their clothes, not even the smell of fire on them! Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own. “Therefore I issue this decree: Anyone anywhere, of any race, color, or creed, who says anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be ripped to pieces, limb from limb, and their houses torn down. There has never been a god who can pull off a rescue like this.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the province of Babylon. Daniel 3: 24 – 30 (The Message)

Jesus was with them. How do we know that?

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name; you are mine.
I will be with you
when you pass through the waters,
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not overwhelm you.
You will not be scorched
when you walk through the fire,
and the flame will not burn you.
Isaiah 43: 1-2 (CSB)

We will journey through difficult circumstances but Even If faith trusts in the God who walks with you, who promises to never leave you.

Now, go out there and live like you believe it.

Do me a favour and watch this before you begin reading this post.

PLINKO!!!!! In a game of Plinko it doesn’t matter where you start the disk. You could start to the left, you could start to the right. You could start in the middle. It doesn’t matter what pathway the disk takes. It always ends up in the same place; at the bottom. Why? Because it is operating under a law of nature: gravity.

Gravity: The force that attracts a person or object toward the center of the earth.

Simply because the law of gravity is at play, the disk that starts up high must end up down low. It can bounce from peg to peg, it can go left and then right, but it will always end up at the bottom.

There is a truth today that I want each of you to take a hold of and understand about the promises of God.  In a similar way to the way the Plinko disk must operate under the laws of nature (gravity). God’s promises must operate under the law of God’s nature.

Check this out:

God is not a man, that he might lie, or a son of man, that he might change his mind.
Does he speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19 (CSB)

One of the things we need to know about God’s nature is that he is immutable. Which is a fancy way of saying he is unchanging. Which means that we can trust that when He says something He is not later going to change his mind and not do it.

So, that means that if God has given you a promise, he has set you on a pathway toward His purposes for your life. It doesn’t matter where you start or what circumstances you were born into. It doesn’t matter if the journey doesn’t seem to go the straightforward way. He will, in time, get you to the promise. Because that’s the nature of God.

What is happening right now may not be part of your plan. You may be in a place that seems far off from the promise. You may have hit something along the way; broken marriage, addiction, betrayal, tragedy, discouragement, burnout.

Can I tell you,

If it’s not the promise then it’s not the end.

Joseph was a man with a delayed predestined promise. He was a man with a God given dream. God gave Joseph a dream in which he saw his brothers bowing down to him. It was a promise of leadership and Godly authority.

But while the promise was still in its most infant form he was taken by his brothers and, out of jealousy, he was thrown into a pit and then sold as a slave.

Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt. An Egyptian named Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there.  The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master.  When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, Joseph found favor with his master and became his personal attendant. Potiphar also put him in charge of his household and placed all that he owned under his authority. From the time that he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house because of Joseph. The Lord’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields. He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Genesis 39: 1 – 6 (CSB)

Here are a few things I have learnt from Joseph:

1. If God puts something on your life, it’s hard to keep it down.

Have you ever spoken to someone who is so passionate about something that it doesn’t matter what conversation you are having, they will find a way of bringing in the topic they are passionate about? I remember watching a dating show once and there was a young man on the show who was very passionate about cheese. It didn’t matter what the conversation was, he would always steer it toward cheese. He just couldn’t help himself!

It’s like that when it comes to the promise of God over your life. It will always have a way of turning up.

The call on Joseph’s life was leadership and it didn’t matter where he was, it didn’t matter what circumstances surrounded him, it didn’t matter how hopeless it all looked, what God put in him He caused to come out of him.

That is why you will find that out of your biggest mess can come your greatest message. It’s not just that the mess draws it out of us (although it does), it is that He predestined it in us and so even in the mess it will outwork itself through us.

Leadership was a promise over Joseph’s life and so it didn’t matter where life took him, leadership would be where he would end up.

There is a promise over your life – it doesn’t matter where life takes you, the promise is where you will end up.

When God speaks a promise over you, He can use any circumstance to fulfil what He predestined for you.

2. It is God who will.

Our story continues and we see Joseph falsely accused and thrown into prison. While Joseph is in prison he is asked by Pharaoh to interpret a dream.

Joseph answers Pharaoh’s request like this: “I am not able to, it is God who will…”

Now consider this moment with me.  Joseph has been given a dream, a promise, but at every turn his situation is going from bad to worse. He was probably wondering if he would ever see the day when all that God had showed him would come to pass. It’s really easy, in a moment when opportunity seems to strike, to try and push or strive to make it happen yourself. He was probably thinking, “this is my moment, this could be my day, I can’t mess it up, I have to make sure I get this right.”

But I love that Joseph acknowledges that if he succeeds, it’s not because of anything he has done, it has to be God who will do it. It has to be God who will open the door. It has to be God who will promote.

Joseph doesn’t push any doors he isn’t supposed to push, he doesn’t strive to grasp hold of something that isn’t his or isn’t in the right timing. He simply trusts that it is God who will.

I don’t know if you have ever felt like you have no idea how you are going to get yourself out of the mess your life is in. Let me remind you, it is not on you, it is God who will.

Don’t try and push for, manufacture, manipulate or strive for what God has already predestined you for, is preparing you for and has paid for.

3. God is with you on the way.

Joseph ends up, with God’s help, interpreting the dream for Pharaoh which lands him the job as Prime-Minister over Egypt. Joseph set up a plan that would see Egypt through a famine.

We are now at the point in the story where we see the return of Joseph’s family (remember the brothers that sold him and faked his death?). During the famine they fell upon hard times and came to Joseph for help, although they did not know it was him. After some time he revealed himself to his brothers.

 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt.  And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting.  God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God. Genesis 45:4-8 (CSB)

A number of years ago Steve and I were in England. One day we went on an adventure to find Stone Henge. On the way back from our day out, we stopped at a petrol station, but when we went to get back on the motorway we had to enter it via a complicated roundabout and we ended up getting on the motorway heading in the direction we had just come from. The most annoying thing was that it was 30 minutes until we got to another exit where we could turn around and get back on going the right way. That’s an hour of travelling and making no ground. Now, I was navigating and Steve was driving and look, lets be honest, we still blame each other today for getting it wrong. We were both shouting, both panicking and both adamant that the other was to blame!

Often when we find ourselves in unexpected places we try and find someone or something to blame for us being there. We blame the devil, our family, spouse, boss, parents or the person who hurt us. We even blame ourselves.

But Joseph realised something we all need to realise:

It’s not about who put you there, it’s about who’s with you there.

God is with you on the way; through every twist, through every turn, through every detour and reroute, He is with you on the way. Some of us are so busy blaming everyone for where we are in our lives that we have forgotten that God is with us.

At every stage in Joseph’s journey, whether he was in a pit, in shackles or in a prison, one thing was clear : The Lord was with Joseph.

Whether you are going through a divorce, through burnout or through a betrayal; the Lord is with you!!!

 For all of God’s promises find their “yes” of fulfillment in him. And as his “yes” and our “amen” ascend to God, we bring him glory! 2 Corinthians 1:20 (TPT)

If it’s not the promise, it’s not the end.

Now, go out there and live like you believe it.

There was a man named Elkanah who lived in Ramah in the region of Zuph in the hill country of Ephraim. He was the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, of Ephraim. Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not. Each year Elkanah would travel to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord of Heaven’s Armies at the Tabernacle. The priests of the Lord at that time were the two sons of Eli—Hophni and Phinehas.  On the days Elkanah presented his sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to Peninnah and each of her children. And though he loved Hannah, he would give her only one choice portion  because the Lord had given her no children.  So Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children.  Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat. 1 Samuel 1:1-2 (NLT)

I think it’s safe to say that Hannah had problems right? To be honest I think Elkanah had a problem or two of his own with those two wives but that’s another conversation.

Hannah had problems. She was childless, which in her culture was a big problem to have because children were a sign of God’s blessings toward you. She also had a rival who continually reminded her of everything she didn’t have. She was taunted, provoked and reduced to tears. And just to rub it in, in our very introduction to Hannah, she is defined by her problems. She was not defined by what she had or could do, or by the kind of person she was. She was defined by what she didn’t have and couldn’t do – she was defined by her lack.

Have you ever had a problem? A taunting, provoking problem?

I think we would all agree that on a daily basis we face problems. Rich or poor, good looking or not, short or tall, single or married, qualified or unqualified, employed or unemployed. None of us can escape problems. Even the person who causes you problems has problems. The person who you look at and think “I’d love their life”, guess what? They have problems too. Everybody has problems.

The question I want to ask today is, where do we go with our problems?

What I love in our story is that Elkanah built a particular habit into his family’s way of life. He was the habit of going to Shiloh a certain number of times a year. Shiloh means “place of rest”. Elkanah built such a habit in his family that in Hannah’s time of striving, pain, conflict and turmoil she had somewhere to go – she had somewhere to take her pain, her problems, her turmoil and her brokenness and receive rest and peace.

It is so important that we build the right habits into our lives. Because when our problems threaten us, taunt us and provoke us we will have somewhere to go and take our problems. What habits are you building now that will be your place of peace in the midst of your problems?

Are you building a habit in the Word? Are you building a habit of prayer? Are you building a habit of worship? Are you building a habit of getting to church – even when you don’t feel like it? Are you building a habit of offering? Giving? Sacrifice? Elkanah built a habit.

So what did Hannah do with her problem?

Once after a sacrificial meal at Shiloh, Hannah got up and went to pray. Eli the priest was sitting at his customary place beside the entrance of the Tabernacle. Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.  And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.” 1 Samuel 1: 9-11 (NLT)

1. Hannah gave her problem purpose.

In fact, Hannah turned her problem into her purpose. Hannah came to God saying, “Lord – I have a problem but I don’t want it to simply remain a problem, I want purpose to be born out of this problem”. From a position of brokenness and desperation Hannah was determined to give birth to purpose in a way that would glorify God!

Your problem serves a purpose.

Often when we have a problem we try and pray it away and we try and get God to take it away instead of realising that perhaps there is a greater purpose at work amidst the problem. Perhaps through the problem God might be trying to produce something in you that would, in time, give glory to him.

What is God trying to birth in you through the problem? What character is he trying to build? What story does he want you to tell? What does he want to teach you about himself?

“Give me a son, and I will give him back to you”. I have a problem, but may it have purpose.

2. Hannah took her problem into the presence.

While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence… 1 Samuel 1: 12 (CSB)

Let’s be honest, we love to talk about our problems right? We talk to our friends, our husbands or partner, our work colleague. We talk to the pastor, the doctor, the naturopath and the receptionist. We talk to our neighbour, the dog, we even tell the Uber driver about the problem but we fail to go to the one who can actually bring peace, rest, purpose and promise to our problem.

We too often take our problems to enablers – because it feels good to have our problems confirmed and justified.

We go to the enablers instead of going to the God who is able.

Hannah didn’t lash back at Peninnah and she didn’t whine to Elkanah. She took her problem and she went into the presence of God and she prayed.

Steven Furtick: “The presence of God will not fix your problems but it will clarify your perspective”.

While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her mouth.  Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk  and said to her, “How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!” “No, my lord,” Hannah replied. “I am a woman with a broken heart. I haven’t had any wine or beer; I’ve been pouring out my heart before the Lord.  Don’t think of me as a wicked woman; I’ve been praying from the depth of my anguish and resentment.”  Eli responded, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request you’ve made of him.” “May your servant find favor with you,” she replied. Then Hannah went on her way; she ate and no longer looked despondent. The next morning Elkanah and Hannah got up early to worship before the Lord. Afterward, they returned home to Ramah. Then Elkanah was intimate with his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her.  After some time, Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, because she said, “I requested him from the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:12-20 (CSB)

I love that Samuel’s name means “Asked of God”. Designed to continually act as a reminder of God’s favour to her in answering her prayers. Upon every mention of his name – it gives God the glory!

The story goes on to tell us that Hannah waited until Samuel was weaned from her (we can’t be sure at what age but commentaries place him to be at about pre-school age somewhere between two and five). She then takes Samuel back to the place of her desperation and she dedicates him back to the Lord. She gave him back!

 “Please, my lord,” she said, “as surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  I prayed for this boy, and since the Lord gave me what I asked him for,  I now give the boy to the Lord. For as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” Then he worshiped the Lord there. 1 Samuel 1:26 – 28 (CSB)

It’s one thing to have faith and believe for an answer and receive it. It is another thing to receive what you have been believing for and then let it go again, giving it back to God.

Luke Brough: “The true test of faith is not in the praying, believing and receiving of what you are asking for. The true test of faith is, can you give it back to God?”

You might be asking for a job, but are you willing to tithe? You might be asking for a home, but would you be willing to make a commitment to build God’s house? You might be asking for purpose but will you go wherever God sends you?

So often we make promises in our desperation that we forget about once we have our answer. The question is, when God delivers on his side of the bargain can we honour our commitment? Can we give it all back to God and still have faith and believe that God is good?

The beautiful part about this story is that we know from 1 Samuel 2:21 that God gave Hannah five more children after Samuel. Because you can’t out-give the God of Heaven’s Armies.

Now, go out there and live like you believe it.

Relationships are hard! 

Wherever and whenever you find yourself, you have to work with, get on with, live with, do church with or co-exist with other people. It is inevitable that you are going to run into some kind of relational conflict.  It’s bound to happen! I have noticed that when it comes to conflict, different people respond and react to it in different ways.  

Here are a few types of people I’ve come across along the way:

Bulldozer Barry – He loves to smash into conflict and will leave a trail of rubble behind him.

Avoider Anne – She will sidestep the problem and avoid engaging in the conflict at all costs. Avoider Ann pretends it never happened or simply just ignores the issue entirely.

Revenger Rosie – Watch out, any conflict is highly personal and will come with pay back.

Passive Aggressive Pete – Snarky comments and bitter undertones are his favourite, he’ll tell you it’s fine, but believe me, it’s not.

Apologetic Ange – Always takes the blame, says sorry over and over, wants to make it all better but doesn’t address the real issues.

Blame Shifter Beth – Puts all the blame on others, it is never her fault. Be careful, if there’s a bus coming, you’re likely to be thrown under it.

Emotional EmmaCries, gets over emotional and any sign of conflict equals a melt down.

The truth is that no matter who you are, whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, you will have relational conflict. The challenge is resolving it and dealing with it in a healthy way.

In the book of Proverbs 23:23 Solomon gives us this advice: “Buy truth and do not sell it, buy wisdom, instruction and understanding.”

In all our dealings, these four things are what we should pursue. Truth, wisdom, instruction and understanding.

Truth

In any conflict the goal is to attain truth.  What has happened? Why has it happened? How can we see this for what it is and be better for it? TRUTH. Truth is what we want to get a hold of. We have to buy it, it will cost us something if we want to possess the truth. Go after it and do not let go of it.

In order to get to truth we need to also pursue the other three things mentioned in this scripture.

Wisdom

You’ve probably noticed that young people are prone to doing dumb stuff.  To be honest, I’m surprised that I lived to see my 25th birthday.  I did so many dumb things when I was younger. Things that I would never do now that I’m a little older and a little wiser.

The reason young people do dumb things is because they haven’t gained wisdom yet, because gaining wisdom takes time! In order to resolve conflict, you are going to have to be willing to invest time to figure out what’s going on.

Wisdom is about trying to remove the emotion.  Wisdom doesn’t have emotion. Wisdom speaks slow. It is not in a rush.

In the book of James, he instructs us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.  That’s wisdom.

There has never been a moment where I have sent a quick email in a moment of frustration or anger and it worked out well.  Never.  It always goes badly. I regret it every time and it doesn’t achieve anything. 

Slow down, take time to process.

In our marriage, Becs and I have spent countless late nights sitting up talking until two and three in the morning trying to sort out an issue or a conflict.  Why? Because wisdom takes time.  It’s not often resolved quickly, sometimes you have to invest the time to gain wisdom.

Wisdom is also about going to the right place for advice.  For many of us our default place of advice and processing are places of gossip, not wisdom.

The bible says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom!  Wisdom comes from the fear of the Lord.  If I want wisdom on a situation, I need to go to someone who fears God!

Instruction

I hate following instructions.  I hate it with a passion.  I don’t like flat pack furniture, there are too many instructions.  I don’t like following recipes to make dinner, again…instructions. Let me be free from the tyranny of your rules Mr Instruction Manual!

Dealing with conflict requires a lot of grace and even more humility. Many conflicts don’t get resolved because we can’t take instruction.  We believe that all the blame lies with the other person and none with us.

Seeking instruction involves a willingness to put your need to be right aside and accept that in every relational conflict, you had a part to play in it.  Even if you don’t see it or agree with it!

If you want to be able to deal with conflict then you will need to be ok with correction.

Always be teachable, always be correctable, always seek instruction. Own your bit. Say sorry. 

Understanding

Don’t insist on being right.  You don’t have to be right.  In fact, if you need to be right then, relationally, something will always be wrong. The goal is not necessarily to discover who is right or wrong, the goal is understanding.

If there is a winner and a loser then there will be two losers. 

When facing a conflict, here is my advice: Seek first to understand, then to be understood!

I hope that something of what I have shared gives you some tools to grow and further develop healthy relationships – even in the more difficult seasons!

Steve.

The stretch zone. A place we so often find ourselves. Stretched to the max and yet called to stretch some more. In Part One we looked at a story in 1 Kings about a widow who had nothing left to give and was asked of God to keep on giving. Her act of giving despite her limitations saw a miracle in her life she never expected. God supernaturally supplied her every need.

Today we will look at the second woman who found herself not just in the stretch zone but inviting the stretch in. We find our story in 2 Kings 4.

One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat. She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God.  Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.” One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest.  He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared,  Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’” “No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”  Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?” Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.” “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!” “No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said. 2 Kings 4: 8-17

What strikes me about this women is that she went after the stretch. She invited it into her world. She knew that she needed to make some room for God to move. She knew that the man of God, would bring something of God into her life so she literally made a room for him – she stretched to allow God room to do whatever He needed to do.

What did this woman know that we need to know today?

There is enlargement in the stretch.

“Don’t get comfortable in the space you are in, the space you are in does not have enough room to do what God wants to do”. Christine Caine

Sometimes we are believing for God to do something in our lives. We want Him to bring breakthrough. We want to see miracles. We want Him to change us and be active in our lives. Yet we haven’t got space for Him to come and if He were to come we wouldn’t have space for Him to bring the growth He has for us.

You see, whenever God is present and working and moving He will bring change and growth to us. Not only does the stretch make room for Him to come and bring the supply but it is also about making room for the growth that it will bring.

We need to make some room, we need to grow something on the inside of us, enlarge ourselves, so that there is room for God to bring the miracle, breakthrough and growth that He has for each one of us.

This woman made room for God and she made room for growth.

God can’t bring growth to your gifting and talent, when your character is too small to house it.

God can’t bring growth to character when the vessel is too small to contain it.

It is in the stretch zone that God is building in you the capacity to hold all that He has for you.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4

It is in the stretch that we are tested. Through the testing we build the character that is needed for the growth that God wants to bring to you.

I said this in the first post:

The stretch zone will build character in you that the comfort zone never could.

I can tell you now that if we had been asked to lead our church 8 years ago we would not have been able to do it. We would not have had the experience, the character building, the growth, the tough lessons, the tests that we have faced throughout our journey. Those experiences have given us what we now need to do what God is asking us to do, to carry what He is asking us to carry. As I have grown in my faith I have become more and more thankful that God’s timing is not aligned with mine. I am so grateful that He did not answer all of my prayers when I asked him to. If He had, I definitely wouldn’t have been ready.

God first needs to send us from our comfort zone into the stretch zone, where we can grow and become bigger on the inside. A God enlargement that prepares us for a future assignment.

Both of the women in our stories stretched, both received growth, both saw a miracle (one of supply/provision, one of multiplication/a son) but that wasn’t the end of the stretch.

Both had no idea that God was actually enlarging them, stretching them and preparing them for an even greater miracle. A miracle that would require an even bigger stretch. This is the bit I’ve been bursting to tell you!!!

You see, both of these women had sons who suddenly became very ill and died. Both sons were taken to an upstairs room and both were prayed for by a man of God. Elijah in our first story, and Elisha in our second. Both boys were raised to life.

You see so often we limit God to what He does in our immediate circumstance, and if we don’t see results immediately we write Him off as an absent, detached God. But God is more interested in the process than the problem. He is more invested in your character than your comfort.

Where are you feeling stretched? Remember, the stretch that you are experiencing right now will not just bring supply and enlargement for your today, it is growing and developing an even greater miracle in your tomorrow.

God is building in you a capacity to hold all that He has for you.

Now go out there and live like you believe it.

I have never really enjoyed being pregnant. I think God might have missed me when he sprinkled that pregnancy glow on at the three month mark. I’ve heard about it but didn’t experience it.

The problem with pregnancy is that you get fatter (we are going to new levels of revelation today). You grow. Your stomach grows and grows. You get to a stage about four weeks out from your due date where you are feeling as big as a house and you actually feel like you could not get any bigger. You are sure that if you got any bigger you would burst. Your skin feels so thin that the little alien baby inside you is sure to break through that skin. Then there are all of those lovely, well meaning people who tell you that your baby will do nothing but grow in these last few weeks and he is only going to get bigger and bigger. Great! That is just what I want to hear. Surely my skin can’t stretch any further. But miraculously, it does!!!

It will stretch and more growth will come.

Many of us can relate to that feeling in our lives I am sure. That feeling of being stretched to capacity – you feel like you couldn’t do anymore, take anymore, give anymore, reach anymore, stretch anymore!

Maybe you are facing an opportunity that seems scary or daunting – it’s going to take some stretch. Perhaps you are praying for something and it’s not happening as quickly or as easily as you had hoped – its going to take some stretch in your prayer life.

What you are facing could be causing a testing of your faith – it’s going to require some stretch. There are times when an area of our character is being tested; patience, endurance, trust. It is demanding more stretch from you.

Whether you are mid-stretch, full stretch or you are avoiding the stretch altogether, know this; it is uncomfortable, it’s not easy, it will be difficult, it might be painful and it will require more stretch from you. But here is what we need to keep in mind:

In the stretch zone you learn things that the comfort zone can’t teach you.

For the next two posts I am going to take a look at two women in the old testament whose stories run parallel and find common ground along the way.

We will start with the first woman in 1 Kings 17.

To set up our story, we need to know that at this time God had spoken to the prophet Elijah. Elijah prophecies that for the next few years there will be no rain and no crops will grow.

Then the Lord said to Elijah, “Go and live in the village of Zarephath, near the city of Sidon. I have instructed a widow there to feed you.” So he went to Zarephath. As he arrived at the gates of the village, he saw a widow gathering sticks, and he asked her, “Would you please bring me a little water in a cup?” As she was going to get it, he called to her, “Bring me a bite of bread, too.” But she said, “I swear by the Lord your God that I don’t have a single piece of bread in the house. And I have only a handful of flour left in the jar and a little cooking oil in the bottom of the jug. I was just gathering a few sticks to cook this last meal, and then my son and I will die.” But Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go ahead and do just what you’ve said, but make a little bread for me first. Then use what’s left to prepare a meal for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There will always be flour and olive oil left in your containers until the time when the Lord sends rain and the crops grow again!” So she did as Elijah said, and she and Elijah and her family continued to eat for many days. There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah. 1 Kings 17: 8-16

Here is a woman who is stretched. She is stretched to her limit and then this man of God comes along and asks her to stretch some more. She is stretched with her provisions, she is saying “I have nothing left, this is all I have to give and you are asking me to give more? I can’t do what you are asking me to do”.

One thing we need to know in the stretching seasons:

There is supply in the stretch.

Her moment of stretch, a difficult and uncomfortable time, became an opportunity for God to bring a miracle into her world.

Her miracle came when she stretched. God supplied her need.

When you choose to allow God to stretch you, when you choose to step out of your comfort zone and start living in the stretch zone, it brings opportunity for God’s miracle working power to be present in your life.

In the comfort zone it’s easy. You know what to do in the comfort zone. You know how to respond in the comfort zone. You have all you need in the comfort zone.

The stretch zone however, requires more from us than we feel we have to give. The stretch zone brings us to a place of realising we can’t do it on our own. The stretch zone is where our competencies end and God’s provision begins.

It is when we step into the stretch zone that we need His strength, His power, His authority and His presence in our lives. There is supply in the stretch.

In the stretch he supplies not just for our needs, He also supplies strength when we think we can’t keep going. He supplies his power when we feel like we are facing the impossible. He supplies his presence when we feel alone, hopeless and fearful.

When Steve and I were pastoring the church in Whangarei we were living in the stretch zone. We were leading the church through a difficult season. There were issues that were bigger than us. Let’s be honest, we had no idea what we were doing. There were so many meetings that Steve and I would go into and before going we would pray, “God, you had better turn up because if you don’t we are all in trouble!” I can honestly say that in every meeting God provided. He provided wisdom, he provided words, he provided strategy. I remember sitting in awe so many times as I listened to the words coming out of my husband’s mouth. I would often say to him after the meeting, “Where did you get that? How did you know to say that?” The answer was always the same, “I have no idea, the words just came, it was as if I was listening to someone else’s words coming out of my mouth.” In our stretch He supplied just what we needed for just the right moment.

What stretching season are you facing today? Are you feeling completely out of your comfort zone? What is it that you need from God? Maybe it is time to let go, and let God provide.

Stop striving to achieve in your own strength what God has already secured for you through His Son.

Rest, comfort, peace, provision, love, wisdom, grace, freedom, acceptance. These are already yours through Christ.

Now go out there and live like you believe it.

Next week I will be introducing you to the second woman. This woman didn’t just experience the stretch, she invited it! I am also going to throw in a killer conclusion – it’s the best ending, I promise.