BREAKING THE FAMINE IN YOUR HEART

By David Cannistraci

Times of famine may touch our spiritual lives, but confessing root issues will restore our harvest of joy.

The Great Irish Famine invaded Ireland between 1845 and 1849, bringing indescribable suffering to the brave island nation.  It’s estimated that over a million lives were lost as a result of starvation and disease, but the human suffering was greater than the numbers convey.  Families were torn apart, children languished in their mothers arms, and the cries of helpless masses went unanswered by a world ill-equipped to respond. 

What could have caused such devastation? The pages of modern history are filled with similar stories in China, Cambodia, Ethiopia and North Korea—each with their own cause.  But in the case of the Great Irish Famine, the suffering began with a tiny spore that silently multiplied and almost instantly destroyed Ireland’s potato crops.  Without warning, a nation’s food supply simply rotted, toppling its economy.  The lives and dreams of the Irish were traumatized for decades to come.

Sometimes hidden things unleash famine on our lives.  King David discovered this near the end of his long reign over Israel (2 Samuel 21:1-9, 14).  A mysterious and relentless famine had struck his people.  Year after year passed, and still the painful plague wouldn’t lift.  Rain didn’t fall, seed couldn’t take root, and the harvest never came.  God’s people were drowning in a flood of lack.

David inquired of the Lord, who revealed the root of the problem.  He reminded David of Saul’s injustice toward the Gibeonites.  Centuries before, Joshua and the elders of Israel had sworn a covenant to protect this minority people in exchange for their surrender and service (see Joshua chapter 9).  But Saul was blind to the value of relationships—even those sheltered by sacred promise.  To him, the needs of outsiders were irrelevant.  Saul gave the order to wipe them out, and in so doing, infected his nation with an invisible spore of sin that resulted in a tragic famine.

The Famine of the Heart

Naturally speaking, famines are extended times of lack.  They begin with a disruption of the food supply, often brought on by a period of drought or war.  The process of sowing seed and reaping for harvest is interrupted.  Malnutrition, disease and death come quickly.

Over my years of ministry, I’ve seen how times of emotional and spiritual famine can afflict good people. The famine of the heart is a season of distress, often the result of spiritual attacks or periods of dryness. The prophet Amos spoke of times when there would be a “famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.” (Amos 8:11).  We’ve all have bad days or weeks, but famines of the heart are longer and far more serious.  We run short of joy.  Our peace dries up, and we search in vain for a sense of God’s presence.  Nothing we plant seems to prosper.  

The suffering during these seasons can be devastating.  It goes deeper than the inconvenience of lack.  When our heart is famished, we grow more confused, hopeless and weary with each day.  The seeds of faith shrivel, and our hearts lack the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, and peace.  When long seasons pass without the Spirit’s refreshing rain, we are in a famine of the heart.  

Yet famines lift when we listen to God.  When David inquired of the Lord, it was the beginning of a breakthrough.  There is a brilliant openness about David.  He was willing to follow the truth, no matter where it took him.  He didn’t detach from God or blame Him for the pain.  He didn’t pass his suffering off as mere time and chance.  He was willing to ask the Lord about the cause.  Was it possible that Israel had become infected deep within?  What could break the famine and restore the harvest of blessing?

Root Issues and Hidden Causes

Root issues are critical.  It is useless for us to try to fix our famines by fussing around with surface things while ignoring the true causes deep inside.  A woman who has endured a lifetime of rejection may find antidepressants useful in numbing her pain, but until she is deals with her root issues, she can’t be free.  A man who struggles to commit to his wife’s needs may find an escape from his guilt and confusion in endless hours of television, but until he allows God to work on his root issues, his marriage will never flourish.

Israel’s famine was rooted in the issue of the broken covenant with the Gibeonites.  It was a sin problem that required a spiritual solution.  Understanding this, David asked them what could be done to heal the pain.  The Gibeonites sought neither the payback of revenge nor a payoff of money— they wanted Saul’s sin acknowledged and made right.  They wanted justice.

In a solution that might seem harsh at first, Saul’s descendants paid the price with their lives. This was no mob lynching—it was a remission of sin, sanctioned by heaven (2 Samuel 21:9).  The messy business of broken covenants had opened the door to famine.  Only a sacrifice could close that door and settle the sin-debt Saul had created.

Right now, the Holy Spirit is digging deep in our lives, helping us to understand root issues.  Because He loves us, He’s revealing the hidden causes of our lack and pain.  John the Baptist described times like this when he said, “And even now the ax is being laid to the root of the trees…” (Matthew 3:10).  It’s time to stop putting band-aids on tumors.  The Great Physician longs to do a surgical work that brings healing the root of our needs.

The Power of the Cross

The Bible is clear that sin can only be remitted by the sacrifice (Hebrews 9:22). Thankfully, the blood of our Deliverer-King was shed at the cross to satisfy divine justice and restore our famished hearts.   

Isaiah foresaw the sin-remitting power of Christ’s sacrifice: “…It was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering… After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied…My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isaiah 53:10-11, NIV)  Christ also understood His sacrifice as full payment for sin.  As He poured the wine, He told His disciples: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)   

The sons of Saul no longer have to die to end our famines.  Christ has settled our sin-debt forever, bringing us the promise that we can also be free from the spiritual famines of this sin-infected world.  

One day a broken woman stumbled in to our church office.  She had just been released from jail.  She was penniless, hopeless, and clueless of Christ’s desire to repair her tormented life.  She came to us because her car had broken down in front of our building, and she didn’t know what else to do.  Can anyone help me?  I have nothing left but pain.

As we ministered to her famished heart, she confessed her sins and accepted Jesus.  We dealt with lifelong roots of rejection, shame and fear.  Her hurts were washed away in a stream of tears, and we watched as her famine lifted.  Today she is happily married and leads a successful ministry in our church to emotionally broken people. 

To activate Christ’s famine-breaking power in our lives, we must be willing to confront our failures through honest confession. Like David, we must come clean with God.  Are we holding on to unconfessed sin?  Are we violating God’s Word? Are we perpetrating injustice? Have we withheld forgiveness, broken covenant, or given place to bitterness, pride, lust or greed?  Dishonesty and denial only shelter the spores that impoverish our hearts.  Coming clean with God connects us with the power of the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus, breaking the root of sin and releasing us back to our harvest of joy:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

Restoring the Harvest of Joy

Once Israel’s sin-root was cut, the famine lifted (2 Samuel 21:14).  What a release!  The rains fell again, watering and reviving the dormant seeds of blessing.  The nation’s anxiety lifted.  Prosperity returned, and David’s song rang out:  “[The righteous] shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied.” (Psalm 37:19)

This story speaks to our lives:  Hidden things create pain.  Root issues are important.  Sin creates suffering.  Confession brings healing.  But most importantly, because of Christ, there is hope for the famished heart.  He promises to “satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones.  He reassures us: “You shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:11)

If your heart is famished, run to these promises.  Don’t cut yourself off from God or blame Him for the pain.  Dig deeper and ask the Lord to lay His ax to the root.  Come to the cross, and let the rain of His presence restore you.  Your famine will end.  The once dead seeds of faith and hope will take root again, and your harvest of joy will return.

LEVIATHAN: THE SPIRIT OF SEPARATION

By David Cannistraci

It was one of the worst experiences of my life.  I felt like I was watching a train wreck in
slow motion—and I couldn’t do anything to stop it.   A great friendship was breaking up.

We had been close, but things were getting strained.  I couldn’t put my finger on it, but somewhere beneath the surface of our forced smiles and tense conversations, an
ominous influence was moving closer.  Words of peace became strangely warped.  Confusion and suspicion whispered lies.  Then suddenly, a firestorm of words, and it
was over. We had come apart, and I never saw it coming.

If you’ve ever experienced the pain of an unexpected relational meltdown, you’ve probably encountered the spirit of separation.  You are not alone.  Relationships in the church are under attack everywhere.  The last decade has set records for divorces and separations, even among Christian leaders in the midst of headline-grabbing revivals.

Thankfully, God is uncovering the way these spirits operate and how they can be shut down.  While their powers are real, spirits of separation are no match for an equipped, humble and prayer-filled Christian.  If you’ll read on, you won’t fall prey to its ploys.

LEVIATHAN: THE TWISTING SERPENT

To deal with this enemy, we must look to the Word.  Scripture describes the defeat of a
spirit called Leviathan:  “On that day the LORD with His harsh, great, and strong sword, will bring judgment on Leviathan, the fleeing serpent—Leviathan, the twisting serpent. He will slay the monster that is in the sea.” (Isa. 27:1, HCSB. See also Ps. 74:13-14 and 104:24-26). While there are a number of theories about what these verses describe, most scholars have linked Leviathan with the Nile crocodile.  

But Leviathan is clearly more than a crocodile.  Isaiah sees him as a spiritual enemy; a supernatural serpent that must be defeated.  Serpents and dragons embody the work of Satan throughout Scripture.  Leviathan’s crooked path can be traced from the serpent in Eden to the dragon of Revelation.  Thank God, we’ve been given authority “to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy…” (Luke 10:19).  In the end, Leviathan is slain.

Leviathan’s clear mission is to destroy the lives of God’s people by dividing them in subtle ways.  The name Leviathan comes from a root word that means “to twist”—one of his primary tactics.  Like the crocodile, Leviathan approaches its prey slyly, just under the surface.  When the moment is right, it strikes explosively with one aim: taking hold of its victims and twisting them apart.  

Ray and Susan came to NewLifeChurch with high hopes. Their first service was refreshing. They were warmly welcomed, and saw such love and humility in Pastor Peterson. Before long, Ray and Susan were heart-deep in their new church home. Ray was delighted: “I’m so glad we found this church.  It’s perfect!”

It was subtle at first, but something began to shift one Sunday.  Pastor Peterson was giving a report about a recent outreach. But it bothered Ray; he couldn’t put his finger on it, but he kept thinking, “He’s taking credit for what God is doing. He wants us to think he is responsible for these souls being saved.” 

This repeated itself in different ways until Ray was persuaded that Pastor Peterson had a spiritual problem. Susan disagreed, but Ray kept noticing problems until everything about the church that he had once loved irritated him. 

Ray set up a meeting with Pastor Peterson. He was intimidating, judgmental and harsh. The stunned pastor couldn’t reason with Ray no matter how he tried. Ray’s views were so twisted and disconnected.  Susan just looked down in shame.

Ray refused to pray with his pastor. “I think it is best for us to part ways,” He said. “I don’t know what we ever saw in this church.” 

Within a year of leaving, the same dynamics emerged in their marriage. Words were warped, communication was strained, and hearts grew hard. Ray and Susan separated, and eight months later were divorced.

Why does the enemy target relationships?  Our connections with each other are critical, delivering the love and power we need to fulfill our destinies.  Paul describes the joints in the Body of Christ as keys to our supply (Ephesians 4:16).  Dislocated spiritual joints are painful and disabling to our unity and growth as the church—a real coup for the enemy.

Word-twisting is central to Leviathan’s operation.  David complained of his enemies, 
“They are always twisting what I say…” (Ps. 56:5, NLT).  The serpent defeated Eve by twisting God’s words.  “Did God really mean that?  You won’t die if you eat of the tree…”(See Genesis 3:4-5).  Adam and Eve were quickly divided from God and each other, and
the fallout was devastating.

Separation attacks relationships subtly.  A wife wonders, “What did my husband mean by that?”  With the right amount of demonic spin, confusion and suspicion are sown between the best of friends. The enemy twists things just a little bit more each time, and if we don’t discern it, things can snap.  Even apostles can fall into to a spirit of division and part over unimportant matters (See Acts 15:36-40).  The rhythm is always the same: Twisting and separation, twisting and separation—and you never see it coming.

THE PRIDE THAT DIVIDES

The book of Job teaches us more about Leviathan. In the early chapters, Satan sought God’s permission to take Job’s wealth, health and family, bringing him into desperate pain.  Job was so devastated by his losses that he wished for “those who arouse Leviathan” to curse the day he was born (Job 3:8).  He’s referring to enchanters who worshipped the crocodile spirit named Leviathan, summoning curses and chaos.   Thousands of years later, Leviathan is still a presence in the literature and practices of the occult and Satanism.

Around the time Job spoke this unwise lament, his friends showed up to comfort him. They found him sitting on a pile of ashes, covered with boils.  Stunned by the sight, Job’s friends wept and couldn’t speak for days.  

When Job’s friends found the courage to speak, their pious words backfired and created a rift.  The problem was not just with Job’s comforters alone.  In his pain, Job had become self-righteous and irreconcilable.  Defending himself and overplaying his own righteousness, Job denied any sin in his life at all.  Then he brazenly demanded a hearing with God!  He had lost his spiritual perspective as well as his connection with those who came to show him love.

Near the end of the story, Job got his hearing with the Almighty, but He didn’t coddle or justify him.  In fact, the Lord rebuked Job:  “Where were you when I laid out the foundations of the earth?” (38:4) “Would you condemn me so that you can be justified?” (40:8) 

God wisely unmasked a trait that keeps people from being healed and restored after loss.  In our pain, we can become self-righteous.  “I didn’t do anything to deserve this, God! It’s you and your people that are wrong!”  This pride creates a wedge in our relationship with God and His people, just as it did with Job. 

Job 41 is God’s closing argument. He outlines Leviathan’s frightening arrogance and destructive nature.  Leviathan’s “scales are his pride” (v. 15).  His heart is “as hard as stone” (v. 24).  He is “the king over all the children of pride” (v. 34).  God is saying, “Job, look at your self.  Pride and pain are ruling you and twisting your perception.  Like Leviathan, you’ve become twisted, hardened and irreconcilable.”

That was all it took.  Job saw it, and it broke him.  In the next chapter, Job repents of his pride and is restored based on his willingness to reconcile with his friends:  “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”  (Job 42:10)

STARVING IT OUT

When pain and loss pierce us, wounds can settle in our souls.  The enemy plays off of these wounds and creates separations in our families, churches and networks.  He twists words, distorts intentions, and prompts us to react out of pain instead of love.  The result is always train wreck.
Pride is the problem.  When we justify ourselves, pride hardens our heart and deceives us (1 John 1:8).  If we buy the lie that we have no sin, the twisting has already begun, division has taken hold, and we never saw it coming.
Leviathan can only be defeated if we walk in humility.  When we let the Lord reveal our pride, we can turn and be free. Humility creates an atmosphere around our lives that is toxic to separation.  Leviathan can’t breathe the oxygen of grace.  If we refuse pride, even when we hurt, the spirit of separation will be starved out of our lives.

To Gary it seemed to come from nowhere. He had made what he thought was an innocent remark to Jennifer at their family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Jennifer exploded and ran from the table angry and crying. 

Pressures had been building in their marriage and Gary was becoming uneasy. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but somehow everything he said lately was misunderstood.  When he tried to reason with her, Jennifer was defiant. 

All of this goaded Gary to react in anger and self-defense. Instead, he asked his friends and family at the table to pray with him.  After a few minutes, they all felt a release. 

When Gary came to Jennifer she was crying, but the hardness was gone. They held each other tightly. “I’m sorry, Gary. I’ve been having such angry thoughts.  I’ve been so offended and it has made me miserable. But something lifted off of me just now. I feel peaceful.”Gary let out a sigh—part praise, part relief—as he realized he had his wife back.

If you are in a relational conflict, God may speak to you about pride, as He did with Job.  Repent and pray for those with whom you struggle.  Don’t feed separation with anger and self-righteousness; starve it out.  Let the Lord restore your losses and give you a double portion reward.

Since that relational train-wreck I suffered through some years ago, I’ve learned a lot about separation.  I have seen that pride born of hurt is fertile soil for Leviathan’s seeds.  I have also come to understand that we can protect ourselves from division with the clothing of humility (1 Peter 5:5).  Best of all, I’ve learned that God will restore when we get our hearts in order.

If losing a friendship was one of the worst experiences of my life, one of the greatest was seeing it restored. It feels good to be reconciled and to enjoy the laughter again. And while it’s not exactly the way it used to be, God has healed our hearts, and we are free from the grip of the spirit of separation.

DEVELOPING A PRAYER SHIELD

How to Pray for Your Pastor

1. Remember your leaders each time you pray.  Add them to you “short list” of prayer points, along with your family members and other routine prayer requests.

2. If your church has prayer meetings, make it a practice to physically surround your spiritual leaders each time they are present for a few minutes of intensive prayer.  Ask the Lord to bless them and shield them from every spiritual attack.

3. If your church does not have a functional prayer shield in place over your spiritual leaders, seek permission to create one.  Gather likeminded prayer warriors, study good materials on the subject, and make it your mission to pray over your church or ministry leaders.  Remember to include other spiritual leaders in your region as well.

4. When you pray for leaders, be sensitive to the issues they commonly face and pray accordingly.  Come against the attacks of the enemy in the areas of distraction, temptation, discouragement, burnout and physical sickness.  Pray for an impartation of faith, focus, wisdom, leadership and fruitfulness to remain upon their lives.

5.  If you sense God may be showing you something for them, offer to share it with them.  Once you have their permission, be positive, brief, discreet and humble.  Then leave it in God’s hands.  You may be a greater source of encouragement than you realize as you continue to pray for your leaders.

YOUR PASTOR NEEDS PRAYER

 

By David Cannistraci

I wasn’t feeling especially spiritual.  I was just trying to decide which carpet color I liked best, but God had other plans for me that afternoon.  

Jerry, a stout 60-year old flooring salesman, had come into my office to show me some carpet for our church.  We had never met before, so we chatted briefly about his business.  After a quick orientation on material and pricing options, I dove in to the bulky sample books he had plunked down on my desk.  I think I was considering the virtues of a soft geometric pattern when I looked up and was caught completely by surprise:  

Jerry’s broad shoulders were shuddering.  He was red in the face, trying hard to hold back his tears. 

“Are you okay?” I asked, feeling awkward. 

“I’m sorry…it’s just that this is hard for me.  I used to be a pastor like you.  Coming back to a church setting like this for the first time is difficult.”  

“What happened?” I inquired, trying to imagine what drove his pain. 

“The constant pressure in our church on top of the painful physical attacks my wife was having almost ate me up me emotionally.  I became a nervous wreck.   I got to the place that I knew if that phone rang just one more time, I’d lose it.  So my wife and I packed up and walked away after thirty years of ministry.  It tore us up.  We still love God, but the constant battles…” 

Jerry’s voice trailed off. His head tilted down and his hands covered his eyes in shame.  Before I knew it, I was on my knees beside this broken man.  He gripped my hand.  I asked the Lord to restore his wounded spirit and heal his broken heart.

PASTORS IN PAIN

Jerry is not alone.  In fact, nearly everywhere I travel, I meet pastors that are hurting.  A wave of trouble seems to have been unleashed against the church as a whole, and spiritual leaders are getting hit with the worst of it.  Many of God’s servants are facing cancer, money problems, lawsuits, and family tragedies of unimaginable scale.  

What is happening? The Bible warns that the end times would be stressful and difficult.  Yet many of us are discerning that something beyond tough times is in play.  I believe there is an all-out assault from the enemy against spiritual leaders.  Satan knows what we must be reminded of today: If you smite the shepherd, the sheep will scatter (Mark 14:27).  For that reason, I believe that unless we learn to provide our spiritual leaders with a protective shield of prayer, our churches and ministries will never be able to fully impact their cities.

It’s no secret that pastors and other spiritual leaders live with continual pressure.  Leaders have tougher paths to walk than those who follow behind.  The harvest fields they work in are often booby-trapped with spiritual and emotional landmines hidden there by the enemy. 

The statistics should disturb us.  For example, did you know that 1200 pastors in North America leave the ministry every month due to stress, burnout and failure?  Some other troubling numbers about pastors:  

  • 97% of pastors say they were inadequately trained for the challenges they face
  • 80% say pastoral ministry has had a negative effect on their children
  • 70% say they constantly fight depression
  • 70% feel underpaid
  • 71% say they are in financial trouble
  • 65% have thought of quitting the ministry within the last 30 days
  • 70% say they do not have someone they consider a close friend

 

If these figures are correct, we have a crisis on our hands that rivals the moral crisis in the Catholic Church.  And if these terrible trends hold true over time, the damage will be devastating.  

DROWSY DISCIPLES

In the midst of this enemy advance, where have all the watchmen gone?  The honest truth is that many of us are dozing.  Like the disciples who slept while Jesus faced His most difficult hours, too often we do the same with regard to those whose victory is so important to us.

Are you praying and fasting for your spiritual leaders? Others are, but not in the way you might think.  Many of us are now aware that witches routinely fast and pray for the downfall of our Christian leaders.  Spiritual warfare specialist Ed Murphy tells a shocking story of a conversation he had on an airplane with an occult leader who admitted that he and others were fasting in the hopes of seeing key spiritual leaders fall into sickness and disgrace.  

The truth is, all too often pastors go unsupported during these times of attack.  One significant pastor I know suffered a massive heart attack and then a stroke from ministry pressure.  Shortly afterwards over a hundred families left his big city church.  Their reason?  They made it clear that they felt his faith was not strong enough.  If he had been a true man of God, these things would not have happened.

We had better figure out whose side we are on, and keep our eyes open.  David made it clear that failing to properly protect your leader is a serious sin (1 Samuel 26:13-15).  Saul’s commanders were sleeping when they should have been shielding, and an enemy was able to slink in by cover of night.  We must avoid being drowsy disciples if our churches and ministries are to advance.

THE COMMAND TO COVER 

What can we do? God is calling believers to pray prayers of protection over their leaders so that the entire church can prevail against the enemy’s attacks, move forward and take our cities for God. Think of the old cowboy movies where the hero, besieged by relentless gunfire, calls to his companions, “Cover me, I’m going in!”  That kind of scene reminds us of a simple spiritual truth: Supporting a leader means protecting them from enemy fire so they can advance and make a way for us all to safely advance.

Scripture commands us to cover our spiritual leaders with protective prayers.  “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth…” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).Paul told the Philippians that Epaphroditus had nearly died for the cause of his ministry, urging them to honor him and care for him in light of that fact (Philippians 2:25-30).  This will require a high level of sensitivity in us as His people as to the difficult nature of Christian leadership (1Thessalonians 5:13).  

The people who respond to this call play an enormous role in the kingdom of God.  Pastors and leaders worldwide will attest to this.  In our own church, we are blessed with devoted intercessors that make it their aim to cover our pastoral team every time they gather for prayer, often fasting for days and then surrounding us physically, praying for our needs.  On occasion, they email us or drop us notes filled with loving and sensitive insight birthed through their hours of prayer.  This kind of support is invaluable to spiritual leaders because it empowers us to do what God has called us to do without endless demonic hindrances.  Emotionally, I can’t tell you how it makes me feel to know that my marriage, family, ministry and personal life are shielded with daily prayer by faithful intercessors that have responded to the command to cover.

If you are an intercessor, and you watch in prayer over your leaders, you are a vital part of the plan of God for your region.

WITH PRAYER, EVERYONE WINS BIG 

Leaders are not the only ones who benefit from this type of strong prayer covering. When leaders are properly undergirded, the entire congregation prevails in battle.  

The defining story of Aaron and Hur shows them supporting Moses’ hands as Israel fought against the Amalekites.  It is an unmistakable truth that Israel was victorious precisely because they were supporting divinely appointed leadership (Exodus 17:10-12).  As Moses’ heavy hands were lifted, the entire nation moved forward in victory, but when they let his hands fall, their battle automatically turned against them.  This principle is so significant that after that victory, God revealed Himself to all of Israel in a brand new way.  He became Jehovah Nissi, The Lord Our Victory Banner and instructed Israel never to forget what had happened that day.

I am convinced that we will see more reconciliation, financial provision, miracles of healing, and personal breakthroughs than ever if we will learn the secret of supporting those whom God has placed over us.  But that is just the beginning of what God can do when we walk in this truth.  The real payoff comes as we look at things on a more strategic level.

OPENING THE GATES OF THE CITY

There is a powerful link between this kind of prayer and the advancement of the Gospel (see 1 Timothy 2:1-4, 2 Thess. 3:1).  Intercession for spiritual leaders enables us to strip the enemy of territory and claim the harvest for the Lord in our cities.

Cities and nations can be taken when we support our leaders.  Take a look at what’s happened in the United States over the last few years.  After a painful division between Republicans and Democrats and a deeply divided presidential election in 2000, we were vulnerable as a nation.  In the midst of this national schism, terrorists struck at America’s heart.  But within weeks, as we shifted into unity behind President Bush, we rooted the Taliban out of Afghanistan and liberated its people.  

We cannot forget that when the early church prayed for the apostle Peter in a time of crisis, citywide revival was released.  Think about the story of Peter’s imprisonment in Acts 12.  Not only was Peter imprisoned in the midst of a huge persecution against the church, but the enemy had positioned four squads of soldiers to bind him personally.  Surely this is a prophetic glimpse of the overwhelming resistance that key leaders face.

But Scripture says that constant prayer was made by the church for Peter’s release.  After a glorious visitation by angels and a dramatic jailbreak in answer to a nonstop prayer storm, something incredible happened that we cannot miss: Peter was led to the iron gate of the city that opened of it’s own accord (Acts 12:10).  I believe this is a compelling picture of how intercession for leaders will lead to even the most stubborn gateways opening up in our cities.  

In the same way, the key to a prevailing church or nation is having the right spirit in place when it comes to prayerfully supporting leaders.  When we back our leaders, we are victorious and the gospel goes forth in new power.

WALKING IN BLESSING

Some time ago, a pastor friend went through a season of complete frustration and discouragement.  People were quitting, money was drying up, and times were hard.  He secretly decided he would call it quits and go back into business.  But his alert staff and intercessors were praying.  On three separate occasions, he determined to announce his resignation, but each time, something happened to interrupt this plan and he was forced to delay the announcement.  He never was able to resign!  Looking back on this time, we know that the prayers of the saints held him in his place.  Today, the discouragement is gone, and he is once again strong in the Lord.  As a result, the church is growing, and they have purchased new property for the future, and the people are walking in blessing.

Over the years, I’ve met a lot of wonderful Christian leaders that are working hard to build churches and take their cities for Christ.  Many are succeeding.  But I’ll never forget the look of desperation in Jerry’s eyes as he begged for my prayers that day.  I am grateful to have shared that moment with him, and moments like them with other pastors around the world.  

Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t help but feel that if Jerry had just had some prayer warriors around him that he and his wife would still be in ministry today.  One thing I know for sure:  It’s time for each of us to embrace the call to pray for our spiritual leaders to be released from the prisons of the enemy, for as we do, the gates to our cities will open, and the harvest will be won.

DEALING WITH OFFENSE

FIVE LAWS FOR RESOLVING OFFENSES

In Matthew 18:15, Jesus spelled out the clearest call in all of Scripture for us to walk in reconciliation:  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”  When it’s time to clear up a conflict, following these rules will keep us from falling:

1.  The Law of Sensitivity.    

 Jesus began by saying, “If your brother sins against you.” This is a call to assess if we’ve truly been sinned against, or are just being oversensitive.  Sin means someone has violated Scripture and offended God.  Just because we don’t approve of someone’s actions doesn’t mean they’ve actually sinned. Let’s let the Word set our sensitivity levels to the actions of others (Psalms 119:165).  

2. The Law of Honesty. 

 Jesus said “Go and tell him his fault” because we need to be honest with ourselves and those who have offended us.  It is both dishonest and dangerous to pretend that we are not offended.  If a valid issue has come up, we should approach our offender (Proverbs 27:5).  Ignoring them only creates a hot zone of pent up emotions where viral bitterness and an epidemic of unforgiveness can break out.

3. The Law of Privacy. 

 Jesus said the problem is to be solved “between you and him alone.”  We need to keep others out of it.  Gossip and tale bearing may masquerade as something more refined like “sharing” or a prayer request, but they’re both still sinful (2 Cor. 12:20).  Violating the law of privacy may be a greater sin than the original offense because it multiplies the problem throughout the Body and opens the door to division.

4.   The Law of Responsibility.

 The words “If he hears you”raise the issue of our responsibility to listen when we’re confronted.  Everyone’s healing depends on it. Ideally, forgiveness will extended between the parties and the relationship will be saved.  If your words are ignored, take it to God in prayer and try another approach.  But don’t forget: we are responsible to be active listeners in our relationships (Matt. 5:23-25).

5.  The Law of Victory.  

 Jesus defined a successful resolution with the words, “…You have gained your brother.”  The goal of honest confrontation is to regain the relationship, not further damage it.  Aim for win-win outcomes, where nobody walks away in shame or rejection.  Victory is not putting someone in their place, it’s winning them back as a brother by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).

WHY CAN'T WE JUST GET OVER IT?

 

By David Cannistraci

Offenses are connected with deeper emotional issues, but learning to refocus our faith will set us free.

This is the true story of two believers engaged in a life and death struggle with grief and offense, and the lessons that they learned as they overcame and reclaimed their joy.  It begins on a warm summer Saturday in 2003, when I received a call that I’ll never forget.  Trini and Al were joyful members of our church, but now they were hysterical and confused.  “The sheriff just called us, Pastor.  He told us Anthony is dead.”

Anthony was their bright and loving 16-year old son.  The natural athlete had been swimming in a lake in Northern California when, for some unknown reason, he slipped beneath the water and away from his family and friends forever.  

The news hit Trini and Al like a bolt of lightening.  It left them stunned, unable to process the words they were hearing, and powerless to bear the grief.  Within a few hellish hours, they would stand in a cold coroner’s locker to identify the lifeless body of their son.  The tailspin began, and the pain-struck parents spiraled uncontrollably downward toward the unforgiving surface of their new, unwanted reality.  Friends and family rushed in to soften the blow, but the impact was unavoidable.  

Unspeakable grief would not be the only source of Trini and Al’s pain.  It is with their encouragement that I relate the story of a secondary infection that raged through their shattered souls: the poison of offense had penetrated their wounds, and their spiritual condition became critical.

We had been very close to Trini and Al, so we cared for them like family.  But despite hours of prayer and counsel, meals and cards, flowers and visits, things just got worse.  They felt abandoned, that no one really understood or cared. Their pain became anger, bitterness and eventually deception. They were offended with God and His people.  No matter how we all tried, nothing could keep them connected.  Within a few months of Anthony’s memorial service, they were gone.

SET UPS AND SECONDARY INFECTIONS

In a world so filled with pain, God’s people often find themselves struggling under the weight of past hurts and broken expectations.  The difficulties of life often leave us emotionally drained and vulnerable to the infections of offense.  In our distress, we are set up for a fall by the enemy of our souls.

Being offended is an all-too-common experience.  It’s the feeling of being insulted, slighted or wronged by others.  It’s an emotional response to a perceived injustice or indignity that leaves us feeling hurt, angry and even outraged.  The Biblical word for offense means a stumbling block or a trap, hinting at the fact that offenses are unexpected and lead to a damaging downfall.  And is it just me, or do people everywhere seem to be more and more offended with each other?   Even in the church, instead of practicing greater love and tolerance for the mistakes of others, too many of us are finding new ways to feel violated and angry.
 
When negative things happen to us, why can’t we just get over it?  Why do we struggle so much with feelings of offense, blame and anger at others?  I’m convinced part of the answer is found in the increasing emotional strains of life.  When we are already wrung out, it’s hard to resist offense.  When hurt feelings push us to the edge, we face a critical decision:  Will we get over it and walk away clean, or will we enter into a contaminating cycle of pain, confusion and conflict?  The choice we make determines our destiny.

After two years of isolation, pain and emptiness, Trini and Al made a miraculous comeback.  It took some time to unearth the long buried foundations of their pain, but the Holy Spirit has taken them through a process of healing that has set them free. They understand the devastating role that set ups and secondary infections can play in our lives. When they contacted me to ask if they could “come home,” I knew they were free from the offenses that nearly suffocated their faith. 

So how’d did they do it?  

GETTING OVER OFFENSES

Overcoming offenses requires us to look beneath the surface of our day-to-day lives.  There are deep fault lines running through the human condition, and the increasing offenses of our time are the tremors of a distressed world struggling with its pain, sin and separation from God.  Ultimately, only the power of Jesus Christ can free us.  

Still, we have our part.  And from behind the scenes of Trini and Al’s heartbreaking story, a few life-giving principles have emerged to help us.  As we’ve talked, prayed and processed the pain, three important lessons stand out.
 
Lesson One:  Surrender past hurts to the Holy Spirit.  

Before they could be free of their offenses, Trini and Al had to find healing for the sore spots that were a part of their souls. Both of them had experienced the trauma of abandonment and rejection early in life.  Life had sent them a message: “You’re on your own.”  Unresolved hurts and anger helped create the emotional set up that sent them reeling when tragedy struck.  Losing Anthony took them back to the familiar script of abandonment, where they couldn’t recognize the loving role of God and their friends. 

David’s words in Psalm 55 are liberating.  They describe the depth of his distress over the betrayal of a close friend.  He wanted nothing more than to run away and hide, just like Trini and Al did.  But by the end of his song, he was able to prophesy his own pathway out of pain:  “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you…” (v. 22)

It works. Trini and Al reclaimed their joy by allowing the Holy Spirit to free them of their abandonment and rejection.  This is an ongoing process that requires patience and faith, but it is paving the way for their journey out of grief as well. 

Lesson Two:  Let your expectations rest in God alone. 
In their pain and confusion, Trini and Al looked to people to stop the pain.  Without realizing it, they stumbled over their own unreasonable expectations of others.  In a letter, they confessed to me: “We placed our hurts and frustrations entirely on your shoulders and expected for you to perform a miracle. It was much easier to place the blame of unresolved issues on someone [like you] than to trust God to work it out.  But we had issues too deep for any man to reach.” 
Their brutal self-evaluation points the way for all of us.  Are we looking to others to complete us, or is Christ enough?  Jesus flatly predicted people would offend us (Luke 17:1).  He was saying, “Be realistic in your expectations of the imperfect.”  But He also said we’d have an abundant life if our focus was right (see John 10:10 and Matthew 6:33).

Trini and Al have regained their faith by redirecting their expectations.  They no longer saddle people with the job of making them whole.  They’ve placed their hopes entirely in Christ.  Let’s follow their lead.  If our expectation is in others, we’ll be devastated (Jeremiah 17:5-8), but if we trust in the Lord, as the psalmist did, we’ll never faint: “My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him.” (Psalm 62:5) 

Lesson Three:  Don’t resist the dealings of God.

The Lord may allow us to walk through times of offense because He wants to reveal something that needs to change in us.  Certain distresses are designed to turn us in a new direction.  Paul said “Distress that drives us to God…turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God…end up on a deathbed of regrets.” (2 Corinthians 7:10, Message Translation)

God may allow us to be offended in order to reveal an area of unforgiveness deep inside.
I’ve noticed that we all want forgiveness when we need it, but few of us really want to give it to others.  Passing along God’s mercy to those who have failed us is the ultimate anti-venom for offense, and the best protection from the enemy (Mark 11:25-26, Ephesians 4:32).  Don’t resist God when He reveals the issues that drive you into offense.

Trini and Al have learned not become discouraged or resistant if the Lord is correcting them.  They know that this is all a part of God’s loving interaction with us as His children (Hebrews 12:3-9). Their amazing victory over grief and offense has opened doors for them to minister to others who suffer.  “As tempting as it may be,” they explain, “blaming others, running from life, or getting mad at God can never free you from pain or grief. If we let God have His way, we can be free.”

One of my greatest joys lately is looking out over our congregation to see Trini and Al laughing, lifting their hands in worship, and embracing others again.  They still feel the loss of their son, but their shining faces remind me that despite life’s deepest distresses, if we’ll yield to God, we can bounce back stronger than ever.  If we’re willing to change, we really can get over it.

* The names in this true story have been changed.

WATCH FOR THE WOLF

 

By David Cannistraci

If you became aware that a wolf was stalking you or someone you love, what would you do?

Imagine this nightmare scenario: You are washing clothes beside a rushing river in the unforgiving frontier of the untamed West. Your only son is playing close by, but when you glance over, you can’t find him.  You call his name, but there is no reply. You rush to your cabin, anxious to find him, but he’s not there.  Desperate, you sprint outside and search frantically, calling his name. What you see next brings your whole world crashing down: Your son has been merciless mauled by a wild wolf. Devastated, you pick up his lifeless body, and carry it home. 

It’s difficult to think about, isn’t it? Yet this nightmare was a reality for one frontier woman that lived more than a century ago.  The 19th century American abolitionist and preacher Henry Ward Beecher related this tragic news to a transfixed audience, remarking, “Oh, how that mother hated wolves!”  

THE DANGER OF SPIRITUAL WOLVES

As believers, we face an equally ominous danger every day.  On Paul’s last day in Ephesus, he warned the leaders there to watch for the wolf: ”Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Paul knew that after his departure, “savage wolves” would come stalking that would seek to prey upon the flock (v. 29).  

The same kinds of spiritual predators abound in our day, and the tragic reality is that our friends and family are being targeted. There are too many lifeless victims lying around for us to be even a little distracted by our busy lives.  The Lord Jesus makes it clear that we will face the wolf, so we must watch: “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  

Watching for the wolf requires us to keep a few things in mind as we probe the wild frontiers in our spiritual journey: 

PEOPLE ARE SHEEP!

We must face the truth that people are like sheep.  The prophet declared, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).  Peter explained, “You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).

Why are we compared to sheep?  A friend of mine who grew up around sheep explained that our gentleness and inexperience leave us vulnerable to predators just like sheep.  Like sheep, we move in groups, become anxious in uncertain situations, and are prone to wandering if we think the grass is greener somewhere else. Though it may be hard to admit, facing these tendencies in our own nature is the beginning of reducing our vulnerability to spiritual wolves.   

THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEPFOLD

To reduce our risks against spiritual wolves, we need to come into proper alignment with dedicated shepherds in the context of local churches.  While it’s true that the Lord is our Shepherd, God has given us pastors to equip us so that we will not be vulnerable to spiritual the dangers of our times (Ephesians 4:11 and 14).  

Pastors have the awesome responsibility to protect and feed the people who Jesus has added to the church.  They care for the sheep and guide them when they are tempted to go astray.  They are a part of the healing process for the injured, and they establish others to help with the shepherding as the fold grows.  This involves laying down their lives for the safety of the sheep.   Pure motives are required here, as they are commanded to “Shepherd the flock of God…serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly...”  (1 Peter 5:1-3).  For their efforts, shepherds are promised an eternal reward (v.4).

Spiritual predators target those who stray from the flock.  They sniff out the wounded and the weak.  When this happens, a true shepherd grabs his club or slingshot and springs into action, just as the shepherd-king David did (1 Samuel 17:36).  Jesus viewed this protective response as the difference between a true shepherd and a mere hireling (John 10:12).

STAY CONNECTED, BE PROTECTED

We should not forget the importance of our connection with the local church as a place of divine protection.  No church is perfect, but God uses a healthy church as a spiritual sheepfold.   In Bible days, a sheepfold was a kind of corral surrounded by a good strong wall.  Sheepfolds were usually near a water source, and almost always had a watchtower for those who were watching for the wolf.

Are you a part of a local church? Do you have a shepherd?  Be aware that disappointments with the inevitable imperfections of a church can lead us to a cynicism and isolation that attracys the attentions of the wolf.  Don’t stray from your place of protection.  Instead, choose gratitude for God’s awesome provision of safety within a healthy local church, seek to strengthen it for the sake of others, and pursue reconciliation if offenses arise.

THREE KINDS OF WOLVES

How do you spot a spiritual wolf?  I have noticed several kinds of wolf prowling around the church.  Like the frontier mother in Beecher’s story, I have come to hate their menacing presence in whatever form they take.

The Financial Wolf wants to get his paws into your provision.
Jesus warned us of false prophets who camouflage themselves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15).  He referred to them as “ravenous” – a word that is linked with financial extortion. Recently, some high profile “Christian” businesspeople—some preachers among them—have been exposed for bilking believers of millions of dollars in an elaborate ponzi scheme disguised with prayers and promises. 

All too often, financial wolves are found in the clothing of a minister.  Nothing should anger us more than those whose “ministry” is to skillfully separate us from our money through pressurized offerings and manipulative schemes. These financial flim-flam men are among today’s wildest predators.  Their only concern is fleecing the sheep and lining their pockets by twisting Scripture.  We need to drive them away from the sheepfold where they will have no one to devour but themselves.

Financial wolves count on our greed and gullibility.  Don’t take their bait.  If someone comes calling with an opportunity that promises quick gains, run.  Be patient and believe that God will provide for you as you obey biblical truth, get good advice, and steer clear of the wolf.  Remember the old saying, “A fool and his money are soon parted.”  If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.

The Sexual Wolf is determined to sink his teeth into the emotionally vulnerable.Emboldened by the prospect of the lonely, insecure and naïve, the sexual wolf stalks his victim when he senses they will be easy pickings.  At first, he may limit his methods to flattery, attention, and suggestive words. Over time, he may attain the necessary approvals to be in a position of leadership or even employment in the church, but eventually his lust drives him toward the kill.  If his seduction is successful, the results are devastating. Sexual wolves come in to our churches and ministries burning with lust and intent on robbing the purity of men, women and even children.  We need to watch as never before. Oh, how we should hate that wolf.

Sexual wolves fear being discovered more than anything. Every so often, a man will come through our church with a special burden to counsel and spend time with our young ladies.  Each time our pastors will confront him and explain that our church is not a place where they can operate that way.  Invariably, they find the nearest exit and never return.  A spiritual wolf desperately seeks a place where no one is watching.

The Division Wolf comes to cut the sheep off from the safety of the fold. 
They smell the unhealed wounds of a believer’s past, counting on a vulnerability to the bait of resentment and bitterness.  Their ploy offers struggling believers a misguided way to justify themselves through separation, or to heal by finding fault in others.  This is when we need to watch for the wolf.

These wolves are determined to deceive.  In Acts 20, Paul warned some would arise from within the church and “speak perverse things.”  He called them “savage,” which means oppositional and determined to lead astray.  We must guard ourselves against those whose seductions lure us into bucking the system and moving toward elitist philosophies and spiritual smugness.  It is a fatal mistake for anyone to allow a wolf to deceive them.  Just ask Little Red Riding Hood.

The best way to deal with a division wolf is to send him packing.  A man once attended our church and began making agitating statements to those around him while I preached.  Despite my warning, he continued in that pattern, so I invited him to find another church where he’d feel more satisfied.  My people appreciated it.  Watching for the wolf means we must repel without apology those who endanger the flock. As he left, I hoped the next church would also be watching.  

YOU CAN BE SAFE IN A WILD WORLD

If a spiritual wolf threatens you, what should you do to protect yourself? Again, Paul’s speech to the Ephesian elders reveals the incredible protection the Lord has given us.  The best defense believers have when confronted with a spiritual wolf involves the Word, watching and warning.

The Word of God will keep you alert.  
Paul was moved to remind the Ephesians that his confidence was in God and “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32).  Knowing God and His Word will plant an automatic wolf-detection system deep in your Spirit.  Like a spiritual Geiger counter, it will go off in the presence of predators.  The Word will build you up and give you an inheritance among God’s people (v. 32), so be careful when some suggest that shepherds and sheepfolds are unimportant.  The Word of His grace will guard you against the errors that distract you from your inheritance.  

Watching in prayer will keep you safe.  
Jesus encouraged the disciples that watching was the key to avoiding the enemy’s traps (Mark 13:33 and 14:38).  Understanding this as a matter of spiritual life and death, Paul pled with the Ephesian elders to "Take heed" (v.28)and “be alert” (v. 31). For three years he“never stopped warning everyone night and day with tears.”Whether we are leaders or followers, if our sheepfolds are going to remain secure, we must stay in our watchtowers. The renewed emphasis on watching among many prayer leaders in our nation needs to be heeded as we move forward into the wild frontiers of our future. Remember, the poor mother in Beecher’s story only took her eyes off of her son for a moment.  

Warning others will keep everyone informed.  
It takes more than simply discerning a wolf’s presence to keep us all safe.  We must be willing to lift up our voice and become a clear signal to those who are in peril and don’t know it.  Watchmen need to cry out when there is a wolf, and leaders need to listen when the sheep sound unsettled.  Paul was even willing to name those he saw as a danger.  We must keep everyone aware when peril is present.   

In times of both danger and opportunity, we can be grateful that God has placed His protection around us.  Though the wolves are roaming, God has provided places of safety and victory for those He calls His own.  Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and He is passionately committed to His sheep.  He calls us to be alert, watch over one another and confidently align ourselves in the places He has assigned us to in the kingdom.  Nothing can defeat us on the frontiers of faith if we are wise enough to watch for the wolf.

GOD'S GOT YOU COVERED

Terrorists, weather disasters and financial uncertainty have many people worried today.  Here’s how you can live under the covering of God’s protection while avoiding the confusion of erroneous teachings.

We live in a world that seems ready to burst under the rising pressures of natural and spiritual threats. Beyond the strains of terrorism and natural disasters, our age-old adversary is relentlessly leveraging his dark forces against us, knowing that his time is short (Revelation 12:12b).  Make no mistake: In these last days, the enemy is targeting your family, your health and your spiritual life as never before.  

Despite the dangers, God’s people can live with an unshakable confidence in the safety of His protection.  Psalm 91:4 reassures us, “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge…” And Deuteronomy 33:12 declares, “The beloved of the LORD shall dwell in safety by him; and the LORD shall cover him all the day long...”   If we’ll connect with His covering, we’ll never have to fear the turmoil of our times.

“CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER”

Unfortunately, making sense of the issue of spiritual covering isn’t easy.  After studying the Scriptures on the subject, I spent some time searching the internet.  My head is still spinning!  Controversy and confusion have become attached to this issue like few things I’ve ever seen.  I was left feeling a bit like Alice trying to make sense of Wonderland:  Things just seem to be getting curiouser and curiouser.

So what’s going on out there in the Christian world on this topic?  Prepare to be disturbed, and perhaps a little embarrassed.

The “Covering for Cash” Approach:  There is a growing trend in many ministries toward paying for spiritual protection.  One well-known ministry offers your choice of “three levels of covering” in exchange for monthly tithes and offerings.  I can become a “spiritual son or daughter” if I just send in a check!

The “He’s All I Need” Camp:  Some decry “the myth of spiritual covering” as unbiblical.  Citing examples of past abuses of authority, they contend there is no need for any additional protection if Christ is in your life.  I’m hoping that means I won’t have to pay my health insurance premiums much longer.

The “Keep the Women in Their Place” Club:  A few seemed alarmed by an epidemic of error-prone women running around “uncovered.” I hadn’t noticed, but was relieved by how simple the solution was: wearing veils, keeping silent in church, and obeying one’s husband.  Lord, help us.

 The “Safety in Numbers” Networks and Fellowships:  Others seem sincere in their desire to bring leaders together for fellowship, mentoring and outreach.  In essence, these ministries offer to be a relational safe harbor in stormy times.  And judging by their number of people seeking covering through them, the need is felt by many.

The muddled message out there seems to be, If you believe the right revelations, join the right group, and do the right things (especially with money), you’ll be spiritually covered.  

But is any of this Biblical?  What does God think of the idea of spiritual covering? 

CHRIST IS OUR COVERING

The moment we receive Christ, a canopy of protection is stretched out over our lives.  We see this pictured in the Passover (Exodus 12:21-27).  As the children of Israel prepared to flee Egypt, a spirit of death was released against the firstborn of the land.  The only protection for Israel was the shed blood of a spotless lamb on the doorposts of their dwellings.  With the blood in place, they were spared.  

Today, Christ is our Passover Lamb (see 1 Corinthians 5:7). His blood keeps us safe and secure.  This is the glorious work of the cross in our lives, and the inheritance of every believer.

We get another glimpse of the covering power of the blood in the amazing story of a harlot from Jericho (Joshua 2:6-25). Rahab knew it was inevitable that Israel would prevail against her own lost city.  So with legendary faith, she requested and received protection during the invasion.  The key to her protection was a red cord hanging from her window which speaks again of the blood of Christ. Though Jericho was destroyed, her family was spared through the provision of the crimson cord.

THE POWER OF PROPER POSITIONING

But there’s a common thread of truth we cannot overlook in these examples of Christ’s provision:  Spiritual protection for God’s people depends completely upon proper positioning.  Even though the promise of safety was made, nobody was safe unless they were in place. Had the Israelites left their homes during Passover, or had Rahab been anywhere but behind the crimson cord, they would not have been covered.  The same is true of Noah and his family during the flood.  

Position is important.  The Psalmist wrote, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1).The best umbrella is useless in a rainstorm unless you are positioned under it. 

Today, it’s essential for us to know how and where to come under the full protection of Christ’s sacrifice.  Our faith in Christ saves us, but our cooperation with His provision is the key to everything else.  God is under no obligation to protect us when we resist His direction, but He will guard those who are surrendered and in place.

CONNECTING TO GOD’S COVERING SYSTEMS

My wife and I recently took a drive in a nice convertible.  The top was down, the sun was shining and we were heading for the coast.  As we stopped to get a couple of coffees to go, rain clouds gathered and it started to sprinkle.  We were disappointed, but not concerned for our comfort because the car had a built in system to move the top into place.  

Spiritual covering works much the same way.  Scripture reveals that while God’s protection is present and available in Christ, it is carried to us through the delivery systems He has set up.  Here are two delivery systems we need to be aware of:

Prayer is a Covering System.  We’re encouraged to use constant intercession with the shield of faith to quench the attacks of Satan (Ephesians 6:16, 18).  There is nothing like a prayer shield to provide covering over the life of a believer. All of us should continually pray for each other, our nation and its leaders.  Prayer activates the heavenly host (Psalm 34:7), erects a hedge of protection around us (Job 1:5, 9-11) and seals the gaps through which the enemy tries to gain access to our lives (Ezekiel 22:30).  With the covering system of prayer in place, we can move forward in our lives without being continually knocked back by the enemy. 

Divinely Appointed Relationships are a Covering System.  Isaiah prophesied of our day: “The Lord will create above every dwelling place of MountZion, and above her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day and the shining of a flaming fire by night. For over all the glory there will be a covering…for shade in the daytime from the heat, for a place of refuge, and for a shelter from storm and rain.” (Isaiah 4:5-6).  The covering over every home speaks of family relationships.  The covering over every assembly speaks of the local church.  Don’t miss this:  God’s covering is released to us when we are rightly connected in our families and churches.  Those relationships are the joints that supply us (Ephesians 4:16).  Right relationships have always been key to our safety (1 Corinthians 11:11-12, Ephesians 5:21-16, Hebrews 10:24-25, 13:17).

KEEP COVERING IN BALANCE

Still, whenever the word covering comes up, a lot of us want to run and hide under a pew. We’ve seen the tragic abuses of authority and control that can surface when we fail to view of all this correctly.  

Let me offer some advice:  Don’t allow anyone to control you or make you fearful by twisting Scriptures that relate to covering.  Beware of top-heavy leadership structures that overemphasize tithing, authority and headship. Think twice when you hear legalistic messages about submission that rob you of your freedom in Christ.  Be cautious when you see an overuse of titles and holy hierarchies that keep you dependent on spiritual “big shots.”  Don’t play into the unhealthy control of those who desperately seek importance in your life.  These imbalanced arrangements grieve the Holy Spirit and hurt people.
            
For sure, abuses of authority, legalism and ignorance have attached themselves to the subject of covering.  But does that mean we should banish it as revelation altogether?  The accountability and care I’ve enjoyed by being a part of a believing family, a praying local church and a dedicated network of friends and ministries has been an indispensable part of my growth and success.  So in my view, it’s far better to stay covered and connected, if we can keep it balanced.  

Allow the Lord to guide you into the blessing of divinely appointed relationships at home and in the local church.  Whenever Satan seeks to divide, strive to stay united in love and order, knowing that Christ has shed His blood for us all.  Position yourself to both offer and receive continual prayer.  Let His precious blood anoint the doorposts of your life, and the crimson cords of His love protect you in the day of battle.

There really is a safe place for each of us in God.  The threats out there are real, but we should never be afraid.  When we’re positioned in Him, and connected to His provision, the canopy of His protection rises high and strong over us.  The next time you’re caught in a storm, or you sense the attack of the enemy, settle it in your heart that things will be okay.  Just stay in faith and remember: God’s got you covered.


David Cannistraci is the Senior Pastor of GateWay City Church in San Jose, California.  He travels internationally as a speaker and has written Apostles and the Emerging Apostolic Movement(Regal, 1996) and God’s Vision for Your Church (Regal, 2000).  For more information, go to davidcannistraci.org