Strengthening your Grip is a series of devotions by Pastor Jesse Horton, a retired bull rider who now pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Jonestown, NC.

Going through a hard time because of our faith can be evidence God has us where he wants us

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We all want to hear from God. We want to know that he exists, that he loves us, and we want to know what he has planned for us and what he wants from us. We know from these messages over the past several weeks that God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures, but that he also speaks to us through prayer and other people (especially other believers). We finish our discussion of communicating with God by noting how God communicates with us through circumstances and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout Israel’s history, God has communicated through circumstances that he is with his people. He has confirmed his power and his leading by sovereignly arranging the world he created to speak to his people who are listening closely for his still, small voice. God spoke to Jacob and Joseph through dreams (Genesis 28:10-17; 37:5-8). Joseph and Daniel even interpreted the dreams of others to lead God’s people and prove God’s sovereign power by foretelling future events (Genesis 40:1-41:36; Daniel 2:1-45). Abraham’s servant had Rebekah confirmed as Isaac’s future wife when God led both the prayerful petition of Abraham’s servant and the generous actions of Rebekah (Genesis 24:1-28). There are countless other times throughout both the Old and New Testaments where God directed his people and confirmed his will both through miraculous and mundane circumstances. The key to our ability to hear God’s voice in these things is our relationship with God. Apart from the disciplines of Bible study and prayer in humbly seeking a relationship with God, he could part seas and raise the dead (as he did with Moses/Pharaoh and Lazarus, Jesus/Pharisees) and we will still not hear what he’s trying to tell us. We all need to ask this question: Am I placing myself in a posture and position to hear from God?

It’s equally important to remember that followers of Jesus live in a world that actively rejects and fights against them. Therefore, some of the affirmations we receive will be hostility and opposition. Jesus reminded his disciples that because he chose us out of the world, the world hates them (John 15:19). That same world decided that Jesus was a threat to their self-importance and autonomy, and that Jesus needed to be killed for them to keep that which they believed to be most valuable to them. When we follow Jesus – truly follow Jesus – we can expect the same opposition. Unfavorable circumstances that are the direct result of faithfulness to God are often a confirmation that we are where God wants us – standing in the place of Jesus.

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Careful where your advice comes to be sure it’s of God

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We continue to consider how God communicates with us this week. We already know that God speaks to us primarily through the Scriptures. He also speaks to us through prayer, which includes us doing more listening and less talking. Today, I’d like to consider how God speaks to us through other people.

Rodeo cowboys and bull riders know what it means to give and seek advice. They do it all week long when it comes to decisions about what events to enter to how to set their saddle, how much reign to give or for a barrel racer, how to handle to ground at a particular venue. But even the smallest decisions shouldn’t be made without taking into account our need to hear God.

As a general rule, it’s always wise to seek the advice of trusted counselors before making any decisions that have potentially important alternative outcomes. Proverbs 12:15 tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” None of us has perfect or complete insight into any matter. We all have our own blind spots. That’s why we need to consider the wise and varied perspectives of others. To assume we have it all under control and forego the discussion of important decisions and the various possible outcomes is nothing short of foolishness. On the other hand, we need to be cautious when someone comes to us claiming to have a word from God for us that is not confirmed by Scripture, our prayer time, and the witness of the Holy Spirit. Not all the voices we hear are the voice of God!

Nevertheless, we need the advice of others, and we may need lots of it. In fact, there is great wisdom in seeking advice from several different people prior to making an important decision. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Our understanding is never perfect – not of the world around us, the circumstances we live in, nor of ourselves. The experiences and perspectives of many varied counselors can be important in increasing our understanding and leading us to make a better-informed decision.

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God wants you to know Him and His will for your life

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We’ve recently been studying the topic of how God communicates to us. We all want to know what God’s will for our lives is, but most of us are unsure how to determine what that is or if God will even communicate that to us. Let me assure you, God wants you to know him, and as you know him personally and intimately, his will for your life will become increasingly clear.

We’ve established that the primary way God speaks to us is through our study of and meditation on the Scriptures, and that the secondary way God speaks to us is through prayer. We conclude our examination of Jesus’s model prayer – called The Lord’s Prayer – today.

For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

This has given me such great comfort and perspective in my life over the past year or so. Why? Because it is so easy for me (and probably for you too!) to let my prayers be focused on either my needs or the needs of others. Someone is sick; we pray for them to get better. Someone is injured at the rodeo; we pray for their healing. Someone lost their job; we pray for them to find another one quickly. But couldn’t God be using some of these circumstances to achieve a more perfect faith for those affected? A person may be laid out in a hospital bed and on the couch for a few months, but God can bring about a lot of changes in that person’s life in that time. Jesus’s prayer began with an acknowledgment of the holiness of God and then moved on to the first request Jesus said we should make to God. Do you remember what it was? Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Let’s be honest. In my sinful, fallen, self-centered existence, I want to establish my own kingdom where I am sovereign, and everything works together for my personal definition of what is best…and you’re just like me because you’re a sinner too! The first request Jesus taught his disciples to make was that God’s kingdom would invade and overtake our world, which presently is the kingdom of Satan because Adam and Eve traded obedience to God for the lies of the devil. Now, at the end of this model prayer, Jesus teaches us to remind ourselves that everything we ask is in submission to God’s perfect kingdom rule.

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Three things to ask for in prayer

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We’ve recently been studying how communication between God and man happens. We all want to hear from God and know his will for our lives, but we’re unsure how that happens or even if it happens. I want you to be certain of this: God wants you to know him! He wants a relationship with you, and all relationships require time and communication.

The primary way God communicates to us is through the Scriptures. Spend time studying what God has said about himself, about humanity, and about his mission of reconciliation. Study deeply and intentionally. The second way God communicates with us is through prayer. We have recently been studying the model prayer (the Lord’s prayer) and have come to the point where we make petitions; that is, we ask God for specific things. But what should ask for?

“Give us this day our daily bread.” The book of Joshua records the conquest of the promised land by the nation of Israel as they moved from slavery in Egypt to a land known for its abundant resources. Such a drastic change in station certainly requires spiritual preparation, and that is precisely what we see in the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness prior to the conquest of the land of Canaan. Take a moment right now and read Deuteronomy 8:2-11 to see what God reminded his people of as they were completing their spiritual preparation for the land that flows with milk and honey. God wanted to remind his people that they are not independent or self-sufficient. No! Yahweh was their provider, protector, and conqueror; Israel had been completely dependent upon the goodness of God to survive those 40 years, and just because they were now entering a land of plenty did not mean they could forget their dependence or his provision. God is the one who provided the promised land. Each and every day, we should depend on God to provide the resources we need to live and serve him. Just as the Israelites in the wilderness, we can find God faithful to provide what we need, maybe not in abundance or excess, but certainly enough for this day.

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Big difference in making your own empire or welcoming God’s kingdom

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We’ve been trying to understand how to hear from God and know His will. We noted that studying the Scriptures and prayer are two of the most frequent and consistent ways that God communicates with His people. We continue our examination of The Lord’s Prayer this week with the purpose of hearing from God. This is the prayer that used to be recited in school, taken directly from the Bible. The phrase we will examine is “Your kingdom come.”

The gospel Jesus preached in his ministry is summed up in Mark 1:15. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Notice that there is no mention of what Christ did for us on the cross or the denial of self to follow Jesus; all this is true and very important, but it is the work of Christ and our response to his lordship that accomplish a specific goal: the fulfillment of God’s eternal and perfect kingdom. The grace extended to us by God through Jesus Christ is intended to capture us for a better kingdom–God’s kingdom. But when we don’t think about that first or understand it, we end up trying to get in the way

In Mark 9:30-37, Jesus told his disciples that he would soon be captured and killed. They didn’t respond with concern or remorse. Instead, they argued amongst themselves about who among them was the greatest.

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When we truly know God, what we do in life aligns with who He is

By Jesse Horton / Cowboys of the Cross

We all have questions about how to know God’s will for our lives. We recognize our need to hear from God, but we’re unsure how to communicate with him. With Father’s Day approaching, I encourage all the men with families to lead them well in this area and as individuals, to rise up to the challenge of digging in and learning how to follow God’s direction.

The primary way God communicates with us is through the Scriptures. By Scriptures, we mean the 66 books of the Bible – 39 books in the Old Testament (OT) and 27 books in the New Testament (NT) (the word testament literally means covenant or promise). The first 5 books of the OT (Genesis – Deuteronomy) are referred to as the Torah, the Pentateuch, and the Law (of Moses). They reveal how God began his work of creation, man’s rebellion against God’s authority, and God’s intention to redeem mankind through Abraham and the nation Israel. God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham to bless all nations through him, and a conditional covenant with the nation Israel to fulfill the promises he made to Abraham through the nation if they would obey his commandments (or his Law). Among other topics, we learn much about the unapproachable holiness and power of God from these books.

The next 12 books (Joshua – Esther) are Israel’s recorded history as they received in part the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. It also records their repeated distrust of God and their rebellion against him through the intermingling of their faith with the pagan nations around them which led them to worship idols rather than God. From these books, we learn many historical facts about the nation of Israel, but mostly we see God as faithful, patient, corrective, and redemptive toward his often-faithless people.

The next 5 books (Job – Song of Solomon) are called wisdom literature. These books often compare and contrast the flawed perspectives of mankind with the perfect wisdom of God. The Psalms do so in poetic and lyrical fashion while the Proverbs provide general truths for living a wise, safe, and successful life. It should be noted that these are not to be taken as commands that always have a good result but are the general precepts consistent with wise living that generally produce good results.

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