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It was a sweltering night in New York. My wife, Carol, and I along with a handful of others had gathered around the altar of our little church in Brooklyn. As we stood together in that rundown building, tears flowing freely and our voices lifted in prayer, we knew that our struggling church faced problems only God could defeat. If anything was going to change, if the church was ever going to reach its potential, one critical ingredient was absolutely required. We could not live one more day without breaking through to the blessing of God.
But what exactly was this blessing we sought? As the young pastor of that inner-city church, I was beginning to realize that the blessing of God is something very real and tangible. It can change a man's life, transform a neighborhood, invigorate a church, and even alter the course of history. Often it is given to the most unlikely people, like a friend of mine whose life seemed cursed from the start. He is a great example of the difference God can make.
Perched on a hill high above the village of Las Piedras was a house dedicated to the powers of darkness. Inside lived a family that earned its living through practicing sorcery, holding séances, and trafficking with evil spirits. The father, a large man who was feared throughout Puerto Rico, was known as "the Great One." His wife assisted in the work and bore him eighteen children-seventeen sons and a lone daughter. The house on the hill became a favorite lodging place for mediums and spiritualists throughout the island.
One of the children was especially affected by growing up in that house. He feared the sorcery practiced there and resented the lack of attention he felt as one among so many children. He got into trouble early and often. One day his father caught him stealing from his mother's purse. As punishment, the five-year-old was locked in a filthy little pigeon house. The boy tried frantically to escape but only succeeded in exciting the birds, who slammed into his little body as they flew around in the darkness. After his father released him, the boy cried hysterically for several hours. The ordeal caused him repeated nightmares.
This son, out of all the others, seemed marked for evil. When he was eight years old, his mother proclaimed that he was not her son but a "son of Satan, a child of the devil!" When he yelled back in anger, "I hate you!" she merely laughed in his face. He was a cursed child in a house of curses.
The boy grew quickly into an uncontrollable rebel. He tried running away from home on five occasions, and the hatred he felt for his parents turned into contempt for all authority. Unable to deal with their troubled son, his parents sent him to New York City at the age of fifteen. Upon arriving at the airport, he quickly disappeared into the streets for two days. Relatives there eventually enrolled him in school, but he was expelled after repeatedly threatening students, teachers, and the school's principal. Soon after that, he left his relatives' home and took up living on the street in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city.
The young man's life continued to cycle downward. What else could happen to a kid who had been cursed by his own mother, abused by a father who was a satanic priest, and dedicated to the devil?
Nicky Cruz soon became the warlord of a vicious street gang called the Mau Maus. The smoldering rage inside him found expression in violence, crime, and bloodshed. He was a twisted psychopath who frightened even his friends. (A police psychiatrist told him after an evaluation that he was on a fast track to the electric chair.)
Then one day God sent a street preacher, named David Wilkerson, who dared to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to him. Incredibly, the gang leader surrendered his life to Christ. The change was instantaneous. Instead of being full of tortured, self-destructive rage, the young man became filled with love and compassion for hopeless cases-kids like him who seemed bent on destroying themselves.
Before long, Nicky began attending a Bible school in California, where he met his future wife. Later, Nicky returned to Puerto Rico and witnessed the conversion of his mother. Over time, the Lord opened doors all over the world for him to share his story, and he became one of the greatest evangelists of his generation. Untold thousands of people have been led to Christ by this man once dedicated to the devil. Today his four daughters and their husbands and children are all serving the Lord.
The curse on Nicky Cruz was real, but God's blessing canceled the curse.
Unlike Nicky, Carol and I had been believers since childhood, but we were still desperate for God's blessing. Our breakthrough began in that sticky, uncomfortable, old church during a Tuesday night when a handful of believers were crying out in prayer. The Lord would indeed bless us beyond our wildest imagination, using us to reach out to thousands of broken people-drug addicts, drunks, homeless people, and criminals as well as many professional people who also desperately needed to experience God's blessing. Surprises were coming straight from God in heaven, and the surprises continue to this day.
BLESSING THE PEOPLE
Although God has richly blessed us over the years in some dramatic ways, I'm convinced that the kinds of blessings we enjoy are intended for every church and every believer who earnestly prays for them.
In the Bible we see, first of all, that God's blessing is a reflection of his incredible love for his creation. While it is invisible in its essence, his blessing is invincible, overcoming everything that earth or hell can throw against it. This blessing is rooted in the ancient instructions God gave to Moses to be carried out by the high priest of Israel:
The Lord said to Moses, "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."' So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them" (Numbers 6:22-27).
This practice of conferring a priestly blessing in the name of the Lord is what separated Israel from the people around them for all the centuries of its history. Only God's covenant people enjoyed the divine blessing. A nation favored and protected by the Lord, they knew that God had promised to listen to their prayers and be attentive to their problems. The God of the universe had turned his face toward them so that they could receive his supernatural grace. What a privilege to live under the Lord's favor, to daily experience his blessing! What enemy could intimidate them when God was with them in power?
The good news is that God is still a blessing God. In fact, the Bible could be characterized as a book revealing the Lord's intense desire to bless every man and woman he has created.
If this surprises you, you have only to consider the fact that love always desires to bless the object of its affection. I'm reminded of this every Christmas Eve as our family gathers to celebrate. Whenever we get together, I'm not thinking about what gifts I might receive. Like most parents and grandparents, that's the last thing on my mind. Instead, I'm thinking about my children and grandchildren, watching as they open the gift-wrapped boxes Carol and I have prepared for them. My joy comes from giving, not from receiving.
Ask yourself whom you most enjoy giving to. That will tell you whom you really love. Self-centered folks find their greatest delight in spending money on themselves, but when you love someone else, your heart is always going out to bless and help them.
This explains why the Hebrew word barak and its derivatives are used more than 330 times in the Old Testament. It's the word for "bless" or "blessing," a word first mentioned in Genesis 1:22 regarding the creatures of the sea: "God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas.'" If God desired to bless crabs and tuna, just think of his interest in helping you and me, creatures who are made in his image! In fact, the very first words recorded after the Lord created Adam and Eve are these: "God blessed them" (Genesis 1:28).
God's blessing was also the secret behind Noah's escape from the flood. Scripture tells us that "God blessed Noah and his sons" (Genesis 9:1). The divine blessing also enabled them to face the daunting task of leaving their ark of safety and starting over. God blessed them first of all by delivering them from judgment and then by providing for them and making them fruitful as they built a new life together.
Like Noah, what stands out about every man and woman God uses for his glory is that they have the special favor of heaven resting upon them. The best words any of us could ever hope to hear from God are the same ones he spoke to Abraham: "I will make you into a great nation [that is, something beyond yourself] and I will bless you" (Genesis 12:2). There it is in its simplest form. God wanted to change Abraham into a great nation, and he wants to change each of us into something more wonderful than we are at present, showering us with his blessings. How could perfect Love ever want anything less for those for whom he gave his Son as a sacrifice for sin?
God doesn't just want us merely to enjoy a moderate amount of blessings. He wants to bless us abundantly. How else could the rest of his word to our father Abraham be fulfilled: "and you will be a blessing" (Genesis 12:2)? Like Abraham, we bless others when God's favor overflows in our lives so much that it affects the world around us. When that happens, the Lord's name can be praised throughout the earth.
But how can we bless others if we are barely eking out enough power to live our own spiritual lives? How can barren lives ever provide help for those who are searching for life and rest? One of the most important questions we face as Christians in the twenty-first century is the question of whether or not we are really living under the full blessing of God.
UNBLOCKING THE BLESSING
According to Scripture, God's blessing can rest on both men and women, because with God there is no gender bias. His blessing can rest on a family, a child, or even unborn offspring. It can prosper a local church in such measure that an entire city or region will feel the effect of God's favor on that congregation. God's blessing can rest on the labor of our hands, our personal finances, or our physical well-being. In fact, Moses told the Israelites that "the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do" (Deuteronomy 15:18). Think of the vast potential we have if we live under the blessing of God!
But then again, the blessing of God does not automatically rest on every person, family, or church. Some of us live out our years under a closed heaven. Because God doesn't smile on our lives, nothing seems to work as we struggle on year after year. This can be true even for those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ as Savior.
Likewise, Christian churches can live outside God's favor, becoming like the congregation at Laodicea that Christ warned us about: "So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:16). Doesn't exactly sound as if God's blessings were overflowing in that church! Just because "God is love" doesn't mean that all is well with everyone here on planet earth. In fact, it's possible to live life under God's displeasure, even to the point of bringing his curse down upon us. The Word of God speaks clearly about this subject as something that requires sober thought and honest investigation.
Perhaps no one in the history of Israel treasured the blessing of God as much as David, Israel's second and greatest king. Over and again, David proved the maxim that when the Lord's favor is on a man, he triumphs over his enemies no matter how many or how fierce. No wonder David penned this glorious promise: "They may curse, but you will bless" (Psalm 109:28). He was saying that God's blessing is invincible against all the powers of earth and hell.
Many of the new believers at the Brooklyn Tabernacle have come from countries filled with witchcraft and voodoo. These precious souls will sometimes make an appointment to see me or one of the associate pastors. Some are concerned about a former friend or disgruntled family member who is practicing voodoo against them. A sweet lady once nervously related to me that a witch who lived in her apartment building had placed a dead chicken in front of her door as part of a curse against her! You might be amazed to learn that such things still happen in this day and age, but thank God that we needn't fear them when we are protected by the shield the Lord has put around us. What God blesses, no demon in hell can curse.
How reassuring it is to know that no sorcery can undo the sure blessings of our Lord. There is no better illustration of this truth in the Bible than the story of Balak, king of Moab, and the mysterious prophet named Balaam. King Balak could see that God was with Israel as this numerous people moved toward the Promised Land. Realizing an army could not succeed against them, Balak decided to implement a more spiritual strategy by hiring a prophet named Balaam to curse Israel. This proved unsuccessful in the end, but Balaam's inspired prophecy in response to Balak's request merits our careful consideration.
Then Balaam uttered his oracle:
"Balak brought me from Aram,
the king of Moab from the eastern mountains.
'Come,' he said, 'curse Jacob for me;
come, denounce Israel.'
How can I curse
those whom God has not cursed?
How can I denounce
those whom the Lord has not denounced?" ...
"Arise, Balak, and listen;
hear me, son of Zippor.
God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?
I have received a command to bless;
he has blessed, and I cannot change it....
"There is no sorcery against Jacob,
no divination against Israel.
It will now be said of Jacob
and of Israel, 'See what God has done!'"
(Numbers 23:7-8, 18-20, 23)
In truth, nothing can overcome the blessing of God on our lives even though he permits us to face battles along the way. Even the permitted hardships and conflicts we endure against the enemy are part of his plan to bless us. But we need to learn to see them in this more spiritual light.
Excerpted from Breakthrough Prayer by Jim Cymbala Copyright © 2003 by Jim Cymbala. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted December 15, 2012
In searching for the reasons for the breakdown of the fellowship of believers in churches today, I found that Pastor Cymbala's "Breakthrough Prayer" gives good principles for getting back on track. It is good for personal growth in a relationship with God through prayer as well as a great group study source.
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