In our new series, STRONG CHALLENGE, we are Studying 2 Chronicles in our first service.  We’ll be going through STRONG book, STRONG playing cards, and 2 Chronicles together.   During this series we will be examining spiritual habits and disciplines.   All three services will be on this journey. Our first service will dig into these disciplines by studying the life of a king named Jehoshaphat from 2 Chronicles.  He brilliantly led the entire kingdom back to God by instituting the spiritual disciplines we will look at over the next 6 weeks.  Our first discipline is Play strong is about the discipline of celebration, joy and rest.

Everyone should practice spiritual disciplines for three reasons:

1) We must Get Strong to Be Strong.  

2) We Do what we Ought to do in order to Do what we Want to do.

3) Dedication leads to Celebration.
I. We Must Get Strong to Be Strong

2 Chronicles 17:1 Then Jehoshaphat his son reigned in his place, and strengthened himself against Israel. 2 And he placed troops in all the fortified cities of Judah, and set garrisons in the land of Judah and in the cities of Ephraim which Asa his father had taken.

One of the first things we notice is that Jehoshaphat began his new leadership by “strengthening” himself.  He knew he, and the nation needed to become STRONG.  He placed troops, he set garrisons in the “cities” and the land.  In other words, he knew he needed to do something to “strengthen himself” against his enemies. He needed to “get strong” to be strong.   Look at the verbs. “Strengthen himself” “Place troops” “Set garrisons”.   He put a plan in place in “strategic” areas of his kingdom.

Let’s look at a map to see where these areas are.

Jehosaphat strategically places troops in cities his father Asa had taken.  A little background on Asa might be helpful. Jehoshaphat took the throne at the age of thirty-five and reigned for twenty-five years from 873 – 849 BC. Jehoshaphat spent the first years of his reign fortifying his kingdom against Israel (2 Chronicles 17:1-2). The Bible lauds the king for overcoming sexual corruption (1 Kings 22:47), and for destroying the cult images or “idols” of Baal in the land. In the third year of his reign Jehoshaphat sent out priests and Levites over the land to instruct the people in the Law (2 Chronicles 17:7-9), an activity that was commanded for a Sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 31:10-13. The author of 2 Chronicles generally praises his reign, stating that the kingdom enjoyed a great measure of peace and prosperity, the blessing of God resting on the people “in their basket and their store.”

APPLICATION: In our strong Challenge, we need to specifically, intentionally, and strategically place “spiritual habits” into places in our lives in order to strengthen ourselves. We won’t BE STRONG, until we GET STRONG. Just as Jehoshaphat had to strategically place troops to guard and defend the kingdom, we as Christ-followers need to strategically place habits in our life where we can be strengthened by God for the battles of life: Temptation, Greed, Joylessness, Hurriedness, etc.

3 Now the LORD was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the former ways of his father David; he did not seek the Baals,

Notice what happens when he “Strengthens himself” in vs 1… By vs 3 the word “NOW” appears. NOW the Lord was with Him.    When Jehoshaphat chose to change he way he was living, God’s presence was unleashed in new ways into his life.   He turned from the Baals.

What is the Baal?  Baal is a false god. A god from the culture that God’s people had turned to for direction, for comfort, for guidance, and for direction. BAAL (B?? ?l) Lord of Canaanite religion and seen in the thunderstorms, Baal was worshiped as the god who provided fertility. He proved a great temptation for Israel. “Baal” occurs in the OT as a noun meaning “lord, owner, possessor, or husband,” as a proper noun referring to the supreme god of the Canaanites, and often as the name of a man. A Baal is anything you make your master, your comfort, your strength, or your purpose.

What are the Baals in my life?  What are the things you turn to for joy and peace and rest besides God?  Eating? Television? Working Out? Productivity?  Shopping? Alcohol?

Why does not seeking the Baal’s bring us closer to God, and result in STRENGTH?  This is a spiritual discipline. It’s intentionally turning to God as a regular habit to walk in His way and let him be our joy. Our rest. Our strength. Our source.
II. We Do what I SHOULD do frees me to do what I could do.

James 4:8 says, Draw near to God and He will draw near to You.   When you put yourself in certain situations to receive God’s grace… You… actually receive His grace and strength.   That’s not to say that we “work harder” as if by works we become Holy.

Think of this like a cup.  Imagine your life is a cup. You need to place yourself under the faucet. You can’t fill yourself, but you can place yourself in moments, places, and environments that “fill you up” and strengthen you.   This is what a spiritual discipline is. I place myself under the Faucet of these habits (doing what I ought to do) so that, I am strengthen to do what I want to do (Experience joy, know God, life, love, self-control).

4 but sought the God of his father, and walked in His commandments and not according to the acts of Israel.

More than just simply “not chasing the Baals anymore”, Jehoshaphat “sought the God of his father.” This is a spiritual discipline. “God I am seeking you today.”  I want to know you more. I want to know your commandments and walk in them.  I’ve seen others (i.e. Israel) walk out of your will and it’s not pretty.   Let’s remember that “we aren’t seeking spiritual habits… we are seeking God.”   But these spiritual habits are things that lead me to know God better. The “discipline” or putting habits in my life may feel like an “ought to do” but they lead me to what I want to do -which is to know God better. TO be strengthen by God. To have a deeper connection to Him.

As you think about the next six weeks’ STRONG CHALLENGE, this is a chance to say to God, “I want to seek you in ways I haven’t before.”  I want to 1) Attend Church 2) Join a Group  3) Take 3-5 cards a week from my STRONG Journal, do them, and write about it.    We are using these cards to “walk” in his commandments. To DO something.

There’s nothing “magic about these (Strong) cards.”  This week I began by taking out some of the STRONG PLAY cards.  But many of them didn’t “hit me”, so I made up some new ones.   What I love about the STRONG journey is that you can use it for your whole family to go on a spiritual challenge together.  With my kids, as I drive them to school each morning, I picked out the “Grateful Card”. The kids and I spent the 10-15 minutes between the house and school describing something that we are thankful for. Something we want to be grateful for.   This week, we must have gone around 6-7 times with each of us mentioning specifically something about God, or our lives that God has given.  I wrote in my journal how refreshing it was to spend 10-15 minutes being thankful.  I can’t remember the last time I prompted myself or the family to spend an extended time in celebrating what God has done for us.   SO, I’d encourage you to also use the PLAY CARDS THIS WEEK TO REST, TO CELEBRATE..  But if the cards don’t hit you, steal one from another category; or make up your own.   Now you might think this is lame (unless you’re a pastor!) and I would never do this with my kids.  Well that’s OK too.  Just do it privately, to yourself.

Here is the promise from God: when we seek him, when we draw near to him. Well, guess what happens with Jehoshaphat? The same thing that will happen to us when we draw near to him.   God strengthens us, God increases our Confidence in Him.  He establishes us.

5 Therefore the LORD established the kingdom in his hand; and all Judah gave presents to Jehoshaphat, and he had riches and honor in abundance. 6 And his heart took delight in the ways of the LORD; moreover he removed the high places and wooden images from Judah

Notice that the first word is “therefore”   God responded to Jehosaphat’s decision to seek Him, and walk in his ways, by “establishing Him,”  by strengthening him and his kingdom.    And as Jehosaphat did the things he “ought to do”  (seeking, walking, removing idols), he experienced things he’d “want to do” (established kingdom, riches, honor, and delight of God).

There are two things I want to highlight here:

1) His Heart took delight in the ways of the Lord.

2) Judah gave presents to him.

To make it easy to remember, lets use two words, 1) DEDICATE and CELEBRATE!

III. Dedication Leads to Celebration

1) Dedicate

When you begin to see spiritual discipline as “doing what I ought to do so that I can do what I want to do” your whole perspective changes. Rather than, I have to read my Bible, pray, study, celebrate, fast, meditate, I move to the place I “want” to pray, study, meditate.  I become delighted in God, delighted in His ways. I am delighted to be closer to God.

Working out.  If you work out or want to, you know that the “disciple” of exercise and better eating is rarely enjoyable. But you Are Delighted to be thinner.  Delighted to feel healthier. So I work out. I do the things I “ought to do” by dedicating myself so that I can do the things I “want to do.”

If you want to be a great musician, you have to “give up” time by dedicating yourself to your craft… so you can celebrate the skills that will allow you to make beautiful music.  All of us who love music and play an instrument know that it took years of “dedication” to reach the point of “celebration.”

If you want to be generous, you will not be extravagantly generous and joyfully giving until you FIRST, dedicate yourself to a plan to give. Until you make a plan, you won’t work the plan. Until you dedicate yourself to giving, you won’t celebrate the joy of giving. Your may dedicate yourself to writing a check as an act of worship before you leave on Sundays. You may set up an auto debit monthly as your plan. You may annually evaluate your generosity.  Dedicate before you Celebrate.

Give up time to start habit of being in God’s word and then you are more strong, less knocked over by waves of life. Able to be more grateful, positive, and others focused.  You dedicate yourself to making time to pray, study, think His thoughts, fast, etc…because you are delighted with the idea that you and I can feel closer to Him, know He is with us.

Usually we want to celebrate before we dedicate, and the opposite is usually true. We need to dedicate before we celebrate.   We dedicate in order to allow God to brings us/fill us with what we need to Celebrate.
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