Friday, October 31, 2014

An Unusual Instruction

October is my birth month. A few years ago, I resolved to do something different during the month to enhance my relationship with God—devoting more attention to dwelling in the presence of God. A personal retreat—sometimes through extended period of praise and worship or a deeper and extended study of the Bible.

Last September, I started a 100-day Ministering Gratitude to God based on Ps. 119:164. So I assumed this was what God would want me to do during October but on October 3rd, God laid the message below on my heart.

“Write as an offering of praise and thanksgiving to Me.”

This was an unusual instruction. I was at a critical point in writing my book, which has been protracted for a long time. In September, God gave me a renewed resolve to complete this assignment. I was also at a crossroad in deciding how to divide my time between writing, beading (for income-generation) and the other activities demanding my attention. I had also just done a study of Leviticus; I understood from there that the offering we bring to God must be carefully considered and prepared, wholesome, choice and without defect. God deserves the best we can offer. So I needed to understand what God is asking of me.

How do I write as an offering of praise and thanksgiving to God?

I pondered on this question and posed the same to my husband as I sought his help in understanding this instruction. His response was that it is not about the quantity of time I spend writing but it is about my heart and motive. This helped me somewhat to address the conflict in my heart regarding spending time writing, and my desire to generate income by devoting attention to my beading business.

An Offering of Praise and Thanksgiving:
True offering of praise and thanksgiving must be in response to the works of God in our lives, that is, a spontaneous acknowledgement of the benefits we enjoy from God. True offering is expression of thankfulness, in obedience to God’s word, and with reliant prayer—relying on God to provide sufficient for our needs. It is an act of worship—giving to God the honour due to Him.

A sacrifice of praise is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge, confess and glorify God’s name (Hebrews 13:15-16). It is to be offered constantly and at all times, in proclamation of the power and might of God (Ps 68:34), with genuine trust in God, and with joy (Ps 27:6).

An offering of praise cannot be acceptable to God if it is offered with wilful disobedience in our lives (Hosea 14:2), compromise in our relationships, and corruptions in our speech (Leviticus 1:3).

 It has to be purposeful.  Not an empty ritualistic sacrifice. It has to be from the heart with reverence and awe of God. I am not doing God a favour bringing an offering of praise and thanks to Him. He is not dependent on my offering but He demands my heart—my motive must be to please God, to pay homage due to Him and to acknowledge His goodness. Therefore, my offering of praise must  continually spring from a thankful heart. It is confessing who God really is to me. A sacrifice of praise and thanks offered out of a sincere heart is acceptable to God.

We have been called to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God. We are also admonished that in all we do, we must do as unto God. It therefore means that my whole life must be an offering of praise to God. My writing is just an aspect of this.

Writing as an Offering of Praise and Thanksgiving:
I have no inkling of doubt that Writing is a ministry God called me to do. The ability to create with words is a God-given gift, which I am called to use for His glory. In understanding God’s instructions to write as an offering, I came to know that it applies to all my writings—the book and my blog are just channels through which I share the messages in my heart by the leading of the Holy Spirit, to inspire hope and encourage people.

It therefore means that I have to write with the following guiding principles:
-          In obedience to God. Whether in writing the book or writing the messages on the blog, it must be in response to the leading of God.
-          My writing has to be motivated by an appreciation of what God has done in my life. I must write with a grateful heart acknowledging God’s immerse goodness to me.
-          It has to be with compassion and sensitivity, and in response to the suffering of others. Therefore, I cannot write with calluses and hardness in my heart.
-          It will sometimes be at a cost. David said that he will not offer to God that which cost him nothing (2 Sam 24:4).
-          I will have to trust and depend on God to take care of my needs.

The last two posts on the blog “We Call, He Answers And He Reveals" and “Scars, Calluses And Hardness In The Heart" were the two toughest blog posts I have written since I started blogging. The decision to write these posts was very difficult.  Second only to the decision to be willing to share my personal life including my pains, trials, struggles and afflictions publicly on the blog, fully aware that it will not only make me vulnerable but also put my life and my family on display. And I had decided a long time ago never to be a subject of pity.

It was also challenging because I was calling not only myself but others to be vulnerable—be willing to open their pains and hurts up for healing, and to be willing to admit that there are scars, calluses and hardness in their hearts. And to willingly let go of those who have hurt and offended them. In sharing these hard truths, I was taking a risk as these persons may distant themselves from me in a reaction to this post. Following God’s leading had to come first before any other consideration if my writing is to be a sacrifice of praise to God.

Since I cannot exceed the truth in expressing the goodness of God, my offering therefore is genuine when it is about God's goodness. When this forms the foundation of my writing—the truth of God’s goodness—it makes my writing sincere and genuine.

It was, therefore, a joy on Monday, October 27th to read “Six tips For Christian Bloggers/Writers" on Imperfectly Perfect Lives.  It confirmed God’s instructions to me.

Unforgiveness, Holding to Hurts and an Offering of Praise: 
As soon as I wrote the above caption, I realised that unforgiveness and offering of praise to God cannot co-habit—the two words simply don’t go together in the same phrase.

The Bible says in Matthew 5:23-24:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.…”

From the foregoing, only reconciliation and forgiveness can co-habit with genuine offering of praise that is acceptable to God. Nothing else we do matters as long as we are harbouring unforgiveness, anger and malice, and holding someone—perhaps a child of God created in God’s image—bound in the prison of our hearts.

Simply put, our offering of praise cannot be acceptable to God if it is coming from an unforgiving and harden heart. We cannot truly offer praise with sincerity and in obedience to God out with unforgiveness in our hearts.

It means that I can forgive those who hurt me and be the first to make a move towards reconciliation and restoring a broken relationship as an acknowledgement and appreciation of the undeserved mercy God has shown to me. Though, it is never easy to let go of hurts and pain but when done in obedience to God, it becomes a sacrificial offering acceptable to God.

I received a novel titled, Burning Hurt, from a dear Sista in Nigeria last weekend. I read the book in five hours. It was the fastest I have ever read a book. Written by Unyime-Ivy King, Burning Hurt, confirmed to me in strong terms that hurting people hurt others and that we have to forgive to be free. We have to forgive to offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise to God.

In concluding this post, I want you to know that God loves the sinner but He hates sin. I am created to reflect the image of God, therefore like God, I can separate the offender from the offense, and give the offender a gift of mercy and forgiveness as an offering of praise to God. This way, I can deal with the suggestion that I am giving the offender a free-pass. It also means that I trust God to act on my behalf and vindicate me. Since Jesus, our Senior Advocate, has never lost a case we can assured that He will act in our best interest.

My dear Friends, you can stand on this truth.

God deserves the best in everything we offer to Him. If we are to live our lives for His glory as a 
living sacrifice acceptable to Him then we have to offer God our best in everything we do, starting with our heart.

I have a clearer understanding of God’s instruction now. I can write, and indeed live my whole life, as an offering of praise to God. What about you? Would you consider making every aspect of your life an offering of praise to God?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Scars, Calluses and Hardness In The Heart

Today’s blog is a continuation of last week’s: We Call, He Answers, and He Reveals. The purpose of this post is to spur us to do a heart check as we call out to God and await His answer. Perhaps, that sincere search will reveal to us our need for an open-heart surgery by God. God reveals to redeem. He does not leave His children who earnestly call out to Him in darkness. In the glorious light of His presence, the eyes of our understanding is illuminated.

Scars and Calluses:
The skin is a seamless organ but burns, injuries and other traumas such as surgeries can cause a scar on the skin. It is a mark that is left on the skin after the wound has healed. Scarring is a natural part of healing process after an injury. A number of factors however will determine its appearance. Scars don’t go away once formed. They are permanent but can be reduced in size and do fade over time.

Having been under the Surgeon’s blade several times in my life, I bear on my body several scars—some visible and some covered up. Some scars can form keloids due to an aggressive healing process and they tend to extend beyond the original boundary of the injury. I have some of those too. But I must confess I contributed to it. I learnt the hard way to keep my fingers off my wounds. The healing process was delayed and lengthened when I picked and scratched at the wound, and they formed big ugly scars. In instances when I exercised utmost discipline, the scars are thinner and have healed faster.

Scars can impair the function and vitality of the area it is located. For example, when the muscles of the heart are damaged, the heart tries to heal itself by changing the damaged heart muscle cells into scar tissue. Scar tissue is not like heart muscle tissue because it does not contract and cannot help the heart to pump. If enough scar tissue forms in the heart, it can result in a heart failure and sudden cardiac death.

A callus is a toughened area of the skin which has become relatively thick and hard in response to repeated friction, pressure, or other irritation. Since repeated contact is required, calluses will form on any part of the skin exposed to friction over a long period of time. While calluses are generally not harmful, they may sometimes lead to other problems. They can be reduced by softening the skin.

Emotional Scars and Calluses:
The deepest scars and worst calluses are not visible. They are the scars upon our hearts. Words that cut deep into the core of our being. Careless and thoughtless actions of others inflict wounds on our heart and damage the soft spots in our hearts. Deep-seated hurts from many offenses, unmet expectations and disappointments causes emotional wounds in our hearts. These wounds results in scars.

Dwelling on offenses will cause toxic thoughts to fill our heart. The longer these thoughts lingers, the more they take root in our hearts. We replay the hurts until they consume us and the wounds remain open. The longer the wounds are allowed to fester, the bigger and deeper the scars, often causing calluses and hardness in the hearts of the persons involved.

Often, the tendency is to harden our hearts to protect it from further assaults. People with calluses in their hearts will become callous, that is, showing an insensitive and/or cruel disregard for others—their hearts have become hardened. Other words for callousness includes cold-hearted, heartless, lacking compassion, and ruthless. Emotionally hardened, such individuals become indifferent to the suffering of others especially those to whom they have hardened their hearts.

Forgiveness is not optional:
Forgiveness is extending grace. It is extending the same mercy which we have received from God to those who have offended us. We, the objects of God’s mercy, are called to show mercy (Luke 6:36). Forgiveness is giving someone a gift of mercy, and wavering the penalty for their offense. It is also giving yourself, the offended, the gift of a grudge-free life.

When we withhold forgiveness, we not only refuse to offer what God freely gave us, but we also hurt ourselves. Unforgiveness poisons our soul. It weighs down on our heart. It also causes calluses to develop in our hearts thus hardening our hearts.

“Unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping another person will die.” 
- Joyce Meyer

Ripples of Scarred and Callused Heart
The rippling effects of the oceanic earthquake may have far more devastating effects than the original earthquake as evidenced by the devastation caused by the tsunami following the earthquake. So also when an issue for offense occurs, magnifying the issue and allowing it to fester will lead to far reaching consequences than the initial offense. It is usually the strategy of the enemy to perpetuate the hurt, anger, bitterness and resentment generated by the offense.

Scars in the heart prevents us from having a vital and thriving relationship with God and with others including significant people in our lives. It also impairs our sensitivity and our ability to respond appropriately with compassion to their shortcomings. When this relates to Christians, it results in even a more grievous outcome because it also prevent the word of God from taken root in such the hardened and stony heart (Matthew 13:5). Such persons rationalize their position and actions even when it contradicts the truth of the word of God. It therefore hinders spiritual growth.

Our hardened hearts will make us believe that the situation is gone too far to be redeemed. It causes us to close our bowels of mercy against the person to whom our heart has become hardened, and to consider such persons unredeemable. The Bible offered us several examples of situations that were far gone that God redeemed.

God is the Master of the impossible:
He turned Saul, a hard-hearted murderer of Christians, to Paul, one of the greatest Apostles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no heart He cannot touch. He is the God Who restored the decaying body of Lazarus back to life. He can restore broken or dead relationships. He caused dry bones to live again. He can restore life and vibrancy to every deadness and dryness in any sphere of our lives.

What this tells me is that there is no situation and no one that is too far gone for God to redeem and turn around. Therefore, we will be putting a cap on God’s infinite ability if we give up on anyone and on any situation or deem that person or situation unredeemable.

© Judykennamer |  (edited)
God is able to excise the scars and calluses that have developed in our hearts, and soften even the hardest of hearts. His word is like a hammer upon a hard rock. His word can break in pieces the hardness of our heart. We need to allow God’s word to cleanse us and wash away the bitter and painful experiences by being willing to let the word take roots in our hearts.

Consistent application of the Word of God upon a hardened heart can either soften it or break the hardness of that heart like the hammer shatters a rock into pieces (Jer. 23:29b).

You have a choice:
We have to be careful not to retain malice and deep-rooted bitterness in our heart. One of the ways to prevent scars from extending beyond the boundary of the wound is by not allowing the wound to fester—immediately cleaning out the dead tissues from the wound. Also it is important not to keep scratching, peeling and picking at the surface of the wound.

“…but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the devil that kind of foothold in your life.” – Ephesians 4:26-27 (The Message).

We give the devil the opportunity to build calluses in our hearts and harden it further when we go to bed angry and offended.

You were not called to be a prisoner of bitterness, malice and unforgiveness. When we allow bitterness to take root in our hearts, it holds the heart bound and defiles us. You can choose break down these prison walls. God is able to cut a path through the wilderness created in our hearts by the scars and calluses, and He can open rivers through the wasteland to revitalise our hearts if we choose to let go of the hurts.

We have the responsibility to guard our hearts with all diligence and vigilance from becoming callused and hardened.

“Get rid of the garbage and its offensive stench, and the rats that  feasted there will leave.”

Will you take the persons who have hurt and offended you off the hook in your heart today? Will you release your pains and hurts into God’s hands and let Him avenge for you?

If and when you do, you will not only become free of the pain but you also open the door to God to do a spiritual surgery on your heart to remove the scars and calluses built up there.


Thank You Lord for caring about how much my heart has been deeply hurt and has become scarred, callused and hardened. I release my pain and hurts into Your hands right now. Thank You for showing me mercy when You gave Your only Son Jesus Christ to die for me on the cross. Thank You for forgiving me all my sins. I choose to extend the same grace, mercy and forgiveness to (name the person/s). I refuse all thoughts of revenge and ill-will towards _______. Thank You for giving me the grace to forgive and to let go. I ask You, dear Lord to heal and restore my heart to wholesomeness. Restore the vitality of my relationship with You and with all those who have been affected by the scars in my heart. Thank You for hearing and answering my prayers, in Jesus name I pray. Amen

Thursday, October 16, 2014

We Call, He Answers, And He Reveals

“Call unto Me, I will answer, and show you great and hidden things that you do not know.” (ESV).
“...I’ll tell you marvellous and wondrous things that you could never figure out on your own.” (MSG). – Jeremiah 33:3.

It has been several weeks since I planned to write this blog post but I did not get a release in my heart to do so. It was held back. And I did not have any inclination to write on another topic over the last couple of weeks. The Lord illuminated some truths in my heart on Wednesday morning, which gave me the impetus and much needed release to write this post.

I will share with you in this post my understanding of the scripture quoted above from Jeremiah 33:3 and how I have applied it to some seemly knotty and intractable issues in my life and in the lives of several persons in my sphere of influence who I have been standing in the gap for. I will also share some of the truths God illuminated in my heart as I asked for the revelation of the hidden things. These include how deep-seated anger and offenses cause scars, calluses and hardness in our hearts, and how these can impair the vitality of our relationship with God and with significant people in our lives.

The Call: “Cry to Me”

“Call Upon me” is not a plea. It is not a request. It is an instruction.

These were the words of Pastor Mayokun Oreofe, a dear Sista I met at the ROTH 2014 Conference in Lagos last July. These words caught fire in my spirit and have been resonating in my heart since then.

“Call upon Me in the day of trouble (distress);” (Ps. 50:15)
“Is there anyone in trouble? Let them pray.” (James 5:13)
“In my distress, I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.” (Ps. 18:6)

In August 2012, I wrote Unravelled. It was about intractable situations we sometimes face in life. Situations that are as complex as the Gordian knot—inextricable, challenging, complicated, convoluted and multi-faceted. Some are a tangled mess, defying understanding or solution. According to Charles Spurgeon (1908), it is God alone Who can untie the Gordian knots we try to unravel in our lives.

That is why we are instructed in the Bible that when we are faced with seemly intractable challenging situation, our only and best option is cry to God in fervent prayer.

My life’s story gave me several opportunities to acquire some experience in crying out to God. There have been instances when I had to open my mouth and cry out with a loud voice to the Lord of my salvation; “O God, help me,” I screamed at the top of my voice in my closet. “Father, intervene in this situation,” as I intercede over a burden concerning someone in my sphere of influence.

“Is there anything too difficult for You to do?”
“Can a heart be so hard that You cannot touch and soften?”
“Is there a situation too far gone that You cannot resolve and restore?”

It is at such times that I thank God for the thick walls of my house. No one but God could hear me crying out. And there have been instances when I have cried out to God in my heart yet not a sound came out of my lips. I had tracheotomy tube in my throat connected to the machine that was helping me to breath. I had no voice. I could not make any sound, yet in agony I cried out in my heart. I clenched my fist as tight as I could in that state of sheer weakness and exhaustion. I closed my eyes, and my heart wept before God. My soundless cry went before Him, into His ears.

Calling upon God is not a passive asking or a by-the-way making of request. It is akin to crying out to Him with a loud voice even if soundless. It is active. It requires effort. It requires consistency and diligence.

The Answer: “I will answer…”

“...I shall rescue (deliver) you, and you will honour Me. (Ps. 50:15)
“From His temple, He heard my voice; my cry came to before Him, into His ears.” (Ps 18:6)
“The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.” (Ps. 145:18)

The Bible assures us that God is gracious to hear us when we cry out to Him for help. Because our cry brings us into His presence—granting us a private audience with Him (Ps18:6, MSG). As soon as He hears, He will answer us (Is. 58:9). We are also assured that His ears are ever open to our cry. He will listen to us. He will rescue. He will deliver. He will save. This is the guaranteed assurance that we have. When we come close to God, He comes close to us (James 4:8). He is near to those who call upon Him in truth.

When we call on God with the intensity that is described by crying out, God’s response is also intense. The Bible noted that in response to David’s cry of distress, God responded with anger and indignation. To the extent that the earth quaked and rocked like aspen leaves, and the foundations of the mountains trembled. God bowed the heavens and came down. He thundered from heaven and flashed like lightning against the cause of David’s distress to rout them. Then, He reached out from on high and drew David out of his troubles and delivered him from his strong enemies. This is the intensity of God’s response when we cry out to Him. He answers with thunder from heaven.

This gives me great confidence that God most assuredly responds to our cry for help and in His own time and in His own way, He brings us an answer.

The Revelation: “…and show you hidden things which you do not know.”

The instruction is to Call Unto God. The guaranteed assurance is that He Will Answer. The promise is that He will reveal hidden and secret things. My understanding of this is that when we heed God’s instruction and we cry out to Him in prayer and supplication, He will answer. Not only will He answer, He will reveal those things which are fenced in and hidden from our sight that will lead us to the answer He has guaranteed us.

“… From now on, I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you” (Isaiah 48.6).

We also know from Deuteronomy 29:29 that the secret things belong to the Lord but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow His word. God promised to take care of the hidden things but the revealed things are ours.

I knew with all my heart that I needed to know these hidden, fenced and secret things that will lead me to see the manifestation of the promised answer to my cry to God on behalf of my family, friends, church and nation. So I stood on the authority of this promise, and beseech God to reveal to me what we need to know. It is only in the place of prayer that secret and hidden things are revealed—in the place where we call upon the name of the Lord.

These are remarkable secrets we do not know about things to come. The Bible says that they are mysterious, incomprehensible and difficult to understand by the human mind in itself. They are things we do not know about. They are marvellous and wondrous things that we could not have figured out on our own. That is why they need to be revealed. Because they make huge impact on our lives.

God sees the complex situations we find ourselves in today just as He saw the misery of His people in Egypt as recorded in the Book of Exodus. He hears our cry today just as He heard the people of Israel crying because of their slave drivers. And as He declared then, so even now He is concerned about our situation. God see, God hears and God acts on our behalf. It gives me such great joy that we have a High Priest that is moved by our feeling of infirmity, by our distress and by our afflictions. One of the ways God acts on our behalf is to reveal those things we need to know.

In response to my cry, God in His faithfulness did reveal some of these hidden things and illuminated His truth brilliantly in my heart. I will share with you in the concluding post coming next what I have learnt about how scars, calluses and hardness in our hearts impairs the vitality of our relationship with God and thus hinder the answers to our prayers.