by Mike Ratliff
Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother? (Genesis 43:5-6 ESV)
Unforgiveness is poison for the Soul as it ensnares those who refuse to forgive by binding them into the prison of bitterness. This world is not a peaceful, easy, benign place. It is fallen. The world system is the product of Man’s rebellion against God. There is war. There is crime. There is oppression. People wrong other people. They place their wants and desires and perceived needs ahead of the wants and desires of others. The world system is marked by people pursuing their own no matter who gets hurt. The Christian is called to respond to the hurts and wrongs done to them in a vastly different way from the ways of the world.
The fallen nature of Man is focused on self. It looks out for number one. Oh, people have loved ones and friends they care for, but when evil enters the lives of most people their focus is not on responding as Jesus said we should. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42 ESV)
God is in the business of placing each of us in points of contention. These points are decision points which have eternal consequences. We will encounter these points and will have to decide to take the right or left fork in our walk. The right fork is to respond by walking by faith and trust and believing God by responding to the pressure in self-denial. The left fork is to respond by walking by sight and unbelief by responding to the pressure in self-focus.
Ungodly focus is self-focus. All in Christ are enemies of Satan and the world system. He is the enemy of God and attacks each believer and the Church as a whole in an attempt to destroy the faith of believers and rob God of His glory. Believers either walk by faith or walk by sight. Those walking by faith use their armor and prayer to stand firm and not fall away when attacked. However, a believer not doing this has succumbed to the attacks of the enemy to be self-satisfied in their self-sufficency and spiritual arrogance. This is ungodly focus and those who have it are not in the battle at all. They respond to the pressure God puts on them at His points of decision from that focus.
Let us look at a Biblical example of one who had an ungodly focus and how he responded as God put the pressure on.
Now the famine was severe in the land. And when they had eaten the grain that they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go again, buy us a little food.” But Judah said to him, “The man solemnly warned us, saying, ‘You shall not see my face unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother with us, we will go down and buy you food. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, for the man said to us, ‘You shall not see my face, unless your brother is with you.’” (Genesis 43:1-5 ESV)
Remember, Jacob’s sons had hated their brother Joseph so much that they kidnapped him to kill him. Instead of killing him, however, they sold him into slavery. They then pretended to find Joseph’s coat covered in blood to make Jacob believe that he had been killed by a wild beast. God had worked to preserve Joseph though. He had given him the ability to interpret dreams and with this he was able to become the Prime Minister of Egypt. In this role he collected grain to store up for a coming 7 year famine. When the famine came, Jacob sent Joseph’s 10 older brothers down to Egypt to buy grain.
When they came to Joseph to buy grain he recognized them, but they did not recognize him. He accused them of being spies. In order to prove they weren’t spies he locked Simeon up in prison as a hostage and told them that the only way they would ever see him again was to return with their youngest brother, Benjamin. They returned to Canaan. Jacob would not let Benjamin go back with them. He seemed more concerned about Benjamin being with him than he did about Simeon in prison or the rest of his family having food in order to live. He would not let Benjamin go with them even when they told him that the only way they could buy more grain was if Benjamin was with them.
Weeks passed and the grain they had bought was used up. The famine was still strong in the land and this family was again out of food. Jacob tells his sons to go back to Egypt to buy grain. However, the brothers tell him that the only way they can do this is if Benjamin goes with them. Jacob has delayed their return. His concern should have been for Simeon, but he delayed making a decision. Now they are out of food again. An ungodly focus delays prudent action. Jacob’s decision seems somewhat irrational to us because it is. However, this is the nature of unbelief.
Israel said, “Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?” They replied, “The man questioned us carefully about ourselves and our kindred, saying, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ What we told him was in answer to these questions. Could we in any way know that he would say, ‘Bring your brother down’?” And Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I will be a pledge of his safety. From my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever. If we had not delayed, we would now have returned twice.” (Genesis 43:6-10 ESV)
Another aspect of an ungodly focus is that it denies personal responsibilities. Jacob is actually upset with his sons for telling the truth about the existence of Benjamin. Remember the name “Jacob” means “Deceiver.” Jacob’s name fit his nature. If he could come up with a way to get food without doing what is right, yet costly, then he will do so. In his irrational reasoning here we see him blaming his predicament on others. However, he is out of food and the only place he can get it is in Egypt and the only way he can get it is to send Benjamin with his sons and he is torn. Why? He is totally self-focused and self-absorbed. He is not concerned about his responsibility, only in not “losing.”
Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry a present down to the man, a little balm and a little honey, gum, myrrh, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the mouth of your sacks. Perhaps it was an oversight. (Genesis 43:11-12 ESV)
Here we see that an ungodly focus depends on pragmatic solutions. The self-focused Christian does not respond to crisis in prayer and seeking God’s will in it. Instead, he or she tries to come up with a pragmatic solution that has worked for them in the past. Jacob bribed Esau with a lot of livestock when he was reunited with him. It worked then, perhaps he can bribe “the man in Egypt” with gifts. Pragmatism is not of God. We are called to walk by faith, not by sight. We must depend on God and work to be in His will. We get there by being humble and accepting God’s solution. The self-focused believer does none of these things. Their pride rules them so they are spiritually blind.
Take also your brother, and arise, go again to the man. May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” (Genesis 43:13-14 ESV)
An ungodly focus doubts providential provision. Jacob has no choice. He has to send Benjamin to Egypt in order to have food and get Simeon back. Jacob appears to pray for the outcome he hopes for, but notice he does not trust that it will be so. Those in unbelief doubt God. Even though they will deny that they are in unbelief, those who are walking in self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency are walking in spiritual arrogance and that is an ungodly focus, which is unbelief.
How do we break out of this trap of bitterness? We must become broken before God. When those points of decision or contention come into our lives we must not choose the left fork, but instead, trust God and respond in faith and self-denial. All of us are in some form of this battle. There are some things in all of our lives in which we are bound in the prison of bitterness and we respond in unforgiveness because we have an ungodly focus. Whenever we find ourselves in the crucible at these points, God has placed us there. We are under pressure from Him to choose faith or unbelief. Which will it be? Don’t you want to break the chains of this prison? Don’t you want to be able to respond to the person who has wronged you as Jesus would? Then the answer is to have a Godly Focus instead of an ungodly one. How is this accomplished? The answer is to become Spirit-filled and to have the mind of Christ. How do we do this?
and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:17-20 ESV)
Ungodly focus is the focus that everyone has except for the Spirit-filled believer. This focus is oriented to self. Believers who are self-focused are either baby Christians or they have succumbed to Satan’s attacks against them. These attacks are designed specifically to render each believer powerless and without a Christlike testimony. He does this with temptations, fiery darts, that are designed to bring believers to be self-satisfied, self-sufficient, and spiritually arrogant. Of course, these are the marks of a Christian who is not humble, but whose pride is in control.
Satan, our adversary, is the devil. The word devil means slanderer. Here is one description of him by our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:41-47 ESV)
How do we fight against these attacks and have a focus that is Godly. The answer is that we must wear our armor, use our armor, and pray at all times. Victory over Satan and his hosts in the great spiritual warfare in which we are engaged demands unceasing and diligent commitment to prayer. Prayer is not merely another godly weapon; prayer is the very spiritual air that the soldier of Christ breathes. It is the all-pervasive strategy in which warfare is fought. Jesus urged His disciples to pray always and not to lose heart (Luke 18:1) in the struggle with Satan, it is either pray or faint. In the epistle of Ephesians, Paul begins by lifting us up to the heavenlies, and ends by pulling us down to our knees. Let us look at prayer and why it is the key to both spiritual maturity and stamina.
praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, (Ephesians 6:18 ESV)
The Greek word Paul used for prayer here refers to general requests. The Greek word Paul used for supplication here refers to those requests that are specific. We are to be involved in all kinds of prayer, every form of prayer that is appropriate. The New Testament, like the Old, mentions many forms, circumstances, and postures for prayer but prescribes none. We can pray wherever we are and in whatever situation we are in. (1 Timothy 2:8)
There is no time when we do not need to pray and no time when God will not hear our prayers, except when we regard sin in our hearts. He will not hear our prayers then until we repent. In many ways prayer is even more important than knowledge about God; in fact, only through a regular and sincere prayer life can God’s Holy Spirit add spiritual wisdom to our knowledge. To pray at all times is to live in continual God consciousness, where everything we see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to our heavenly Father. Our life becomes a continually ascending prayer, a perpetual communing with our heavenly Father. (Colossians 3:2)
To pray in the Spirit is to pray in the name of Christ, to pray consistent with His nature and will, to pray in concert with the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27), and to line up our minds and desires with His mind and desires, which are consistent with the will of the Father and the Son.
Be on alert with all perseverance and petition. To be steadfast, constant, and persevering (Luke 18:7-8) also involves praying specifically. (John 14:13) Because the greatest problems are always spiritual, our greatest prayer concern and concentration should be for spiritual protection, strength, and healing. The context of Paul’s call to prayer is that of spiritual warfare, and the Christian’s prayer should, above all, be about that warfare–winning the spiritual battle against Satan.
Paul is telling us that the focus or objects of our prayer should be on all the saints. It is only the saints, Christian believers, who are involved in the spiritual warfare for which God provides the armor Paul described earlier. Only believers are able to pray in the Spirit. Paul calls us to primarily pray for others rather than ourselves–the greatest thing we can do for another believer, or that he or she can do for us, is to pray. This is the way the Body of Christ grows spiritually as well as in love. The spiritually healthy person is devoted to the welfare of others, especially fellow believers.
and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. (Ephesians 6:19-22 ESV)
In these three verses, Paul gives us a specific illustration of his teaching on prayer. First, he asks for prayer on his behalf. When Satan tempted Paul to keep quiet about Christ, he wanted God’s help to be bold and faithful to proclaim the gospel. That he was in chains was incidental. His great concerns were for the mystery of the gospel, for which he was an ambassador, and for those to whom he was sent to proclaim it. He wanted fellow believers to pray for his victory in the spiritual warfare that this ministry provoked from Satan. Paul also needed the prayers of fellow believers because he was a leader. The more faithful and fruitful a Christian leader is, especially pastors, the more those whom are ministered to by them need to pray for his strength and protection. Even when he requested prayer for himself, Paul’s purpose and motives were selfless, to further the gospel, to encourage other believers, and to glorify his Lord. Paul provided information to the Ephesians believers through Tychicus so that they could pray specifically and intelligently, and he even sent words of comfort and encouragement. The man in chains sought to comfort others.
The only way believers can have a Godly focus is to be Spirit-filled. The only way they can be Spirit-filled is to be humble as they pray at all times. Those with a Godly focus have a God consciousness that sees everything in that context. All experiences, all good things and bad things are viewed and comprehended via this God consciousness that prays at all times. The opposite, of course, is an ungodly focus that is all about self. How do we accomplish this? If you deeply desire this then praise God because He has given you this desire. How do you start? It begins with repentance and goes from there.
You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:2-10 ESV)
Study this passage, line by line, verse by verse. Pray about what God shows you. In order to walk in the Spirit, to be Spirit-led or Spirit-filled, it starts right here. We must draw near unto God and we do that in His Word and in Prayer. It takes both.
Soli Deo Gloria!