The Narrow Gate

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It was the Thursday before the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” was to be released, and I was having dinner with a group of women – some of them Christian and some of them not. The topic of the movie came up, and one of the women asked who at the table was planning on seeing it. Even among the Christian women at the table, the group was divided. I sided with the camp that would definitely NOT be seeing the sexually explicit film. In addition to not wanting to see it, the other more important reason for me to avoid this movie is because it glorifies and glamorizes that which offends the Lord.

When I was a new Christian, I still went along with much of what the world says is ok. But as God continues to prune me, I find the road getting narrower and narrower. Many of the thoughts and behaviors I never used to question now offend me as my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and direction becomes more acute. As I grow closer to the Lord, the more He reveals His holiness to me. And the more I experience His holiness, the more the unholiness of what I expose myself to and what arises from my sinful nature stands out in stark contrast.

Jesus often taught lessons that were difficult for people to accept, and He warned us that following Him is difficult. Jesus never sugar-coated what being His disciple requires. He knew that many would reject Him and choose the easier way, even though it is the way that leads to death:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (New International Version: Matthew 7:13-14)

When He taught about the narrow gate, Jesus was teaching about the way to heaven and that believing in Him is the only way to eternal life. I believe this teaching can also be applied to the Christian’s life on Earth: Followers of Christ walk the narrow road, and the road becomes increasingly narrow as we grow in our walk with Him. For example, it’s a good start for us as believers to not steal, not commit adultery, not murder, etc. But Jesus challenges us to abide by these commands not only with our actions but also with our hearts. It’s not sufficient for us to avoid committing murder; we must also be careful with anger or we “will be subject to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). It not enough for us to circumvent committing adultery: Jesus tells us that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). In other words, Jesus is concerned with not only our actions but also with the condition of our hearts.

I used to take various classes at my gym, and several of the instructors would play music that was very suggestive, that glorified drugs and violence, and that degraded women. I complained to the manager a couple of times and, though I was assured that the instructors in question had been advised to change their music, nothing changed. I realized that either I was the only person offended by the music or that no one else wanted to step up and complain. I chose to discontinue attending those classes, and now I enjoy most of my exercise in the great outdoors where I can listen to praise music or just be quiet with God. This is just one of many examples of how the road has narrowed for me.

The story of the rich young man in the Bible illustrates another example of the narrow road Jesus asks us to walk. The man approached Jesus with the question of how he might obtain eternal life. When the man proudly explained to Jesus that he had kept all of the commandments since he was a boy, Jesus presented him with this challenge:

Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. (Mark 10:21)

The young man went away sad because Jesus had exposed his love of money, the barrier that could prevent him from entering the kingdom. We all have potential barriers that could keep us from entering the narrow gate. For the rich young man it was money, but for others it may be something else – jealousy, lust, a desire for power and prestige, a love of pleasure, etc. Selfishness is definitely one aspect of my character that tends to tempt me to walk the broad road. Denial of self is hard for me, and the Lord consistently makes the road narrower for me in this area. Praise God that He is patient and merciful to me when I slip as it’s a daily occurrence! Some days the gate I’m asked to enter seems so narrow that I need to turn sideways and suck in my belly in order to squeeze through!

Valiant Warrior, when you don’t feel strong enough to continue walking the narrow road, I pray that Jesus’s words will encourage you. He has promised that we are His sheep, and He is the gate for the sheep (John 10:7). Furthermore, He is our good shepherd. He will not abandon us when the thief comes in to “steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10), and He will not run away when the wolf attacks. Instead, Jesus “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11b).

After Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man, the disciples were worried about the seeming impossibility of being saved. Their concern was understandable, for Jesus had just said to them “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24b-25). But we needn’t worry about whether or not we’ll make it through that narrow gate, for “with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God”. (Mark 10:27; emphasis mine)

I am blessed to walk the narrow road with you, fellow Warrior!

Enjoy this awesome song by Passion. It says it all!

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Battle Fatigue

“Is my sister-in-law’s birthday this month, or was it in October?” I asked my mom in my email. I added the comment, “I’m losing my mind!” In her response, she confirmed that my sister-in-law’s birthday is in October, and she reassured me that I’m not going crazy but that I’m suffering from a case of “battle fatigue”.

Battle fatigue – what a perfect phrase to describe what I’m currently experiencing! “Exhausted by life” is another appropriate term coined by my Bible study teacher. Over the last month I’ve felt increasingly weary, overwhelmed and incapable of living life on life’s terms. I’ve been on my knees begging God to let up on me, renew me, reinvigorate me and relieve me of what I perceive as the relentless, incessant demands on my life. Please, Lord, help me be a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7)! My sanity feels threatened, and because of my history with depression I have to be very careful with managing stress or risk triggering an onset. I try to remind myself “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men” (Holman Christian Standard Bible; Colossians 3:23), but I’m so tired and burned out!

I started this blog with the goal of encouraging my fellow valiant warriors out there striving to serve daily in the Lord’s army. But this time I’m the one who needs encouraging. Recently, in my study of 1 Kings, I found comfort in discovering that even the Prophet Elijah needed rest and refreshment from the Lord.

Elijah had just experienced two great spiritual victories: He defeated the prophets of the false Canaanite god Baal, and he demonstrated through a miracle that the Lord was the one and only true God. Also, God had commanded Elijah to present himself to Ahab the King of Israel during a severe famine, and the Lord promised to send rain on the land. Elijah obeyed God’s command, and after he and the people slaughtered the prophets of Baal a heavy rain soon started to fall. But when Ahab told his wife Jezebel how Elijah had killed all the prophets of Baal, she vowed to kill him.

Even after the numerous miracles Elijah had performed proving that the Lord was with him, Elijah was still afraid and “ran for his life” (New International Version; 1 Kings 19:3) when Jezebel threatened him. Upon arriving in the wilderness, Elijah “came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.” (1 Kings 19:4b-5).

Praise God that the Bible describes its characters’ moments of discouragement and readiness to give up and quit! I relate so much to Elijah at his breaking point, and I, too, have often cried out, “I have had enough, Lord!” I’m encouraged that God provided Elijah with what he needed in the depths of his weariness and fatigue:

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” He [Elijah] looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. There he went into a cave and spent the night.

The Lord refreshed Elijah with food, drink and rest. In fact, Elijah was strengthened and empowered so much that he was soon able to walk 40 days through the desert – a distance of over 200 miles – without any additional sustenance!

God’s Word promises that no matter what problems we face that make us want to lose heart and quit, our weakness is the perfect opportunity for Him to display His power (2 Corinthians 12:9). Scripture also reminds us that our circumstances are only temporary:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:7-12; 16-18; emphasis mine)

I know the Lord wants me to depend on Him for strength to do what He calls me to do. It’s been made clear to me time and time again that I can’t accomplish much in my own power. At the same time, sometimes I really need a reprieve from the stress, toil and strain of this world. During this busy time in my life when I don’t feel I have the option to slow down, Psalm 51 saves the day! It’s the perfect prayer for those of us experiencing “battle fatigue”, and it’s my prayer for you today, mighty warrior.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
(Psalm 51:10-12)

I recommend listening to “Worn” – an awesome song by Tenth Avenue North!