Spiritual First Aid
“Surviving the Stretch”
Life happens in the stretch, so we have to learn how to survive it.
All of us have changed over the years, yet that which has made us unique still remains. We have all morphed in one way or another, like the hair on my head turning grey or leaving for places unknown, or while I’ve gotten older I’ve only gotten better looking! Go figure!
Yet even though we’ve changed physically, we’re still the same inside, which is why I still like to think of myself as that strapping young lad in an old overweight body.
It’s our spiritual lives, however, that God wants to change, transform, and stretch as the Bible says, “from glory to glory.” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
To stretch is to expand or extend something to a greater size or length. When it comes to life, being stretched means that we’re growing. God stretches us so we can grow more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Paul tells us we are to no longer to be tossed back and forth from one doctrine to another like little children, but rather we are to grow up in our faith, Ephesians 4:14-15.
God is out to stretch us!
In 2016 the Lord gave me a prophetic word of how He was preparing me. He was going to stretch me, but in the right way so He could strengthen and bless me, so I don’t get sidelined or delayed.
The prophecy was given where like the Apostle Paul I could say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 NKJV)
Now, while this sounds like a total blessing, which it is, it is also something that I was not looking forward too, because stretching involves resistance and pain.
We’ve all heard about “The stretch.” We stretch when we get up in the morning, or when we’ve been sitting a long time. In baseball we have the 7th inning stretch. There’s also the home stretch where a runner heads for the finish line.
Stretching is also something God wants to do in our lives as He stretches our faith.
No one, however, likes to be stretched. Therefore we go through all these gyrations, these mental tugs of war, because we don’t like to make decisions that stretch us, especially in our faith.
But to have our faith stretched means we need to learn in the spiritual how to be flexible and bendable in the hands of God.
One guy who understands what it means to bend and be stretched is Gumby. Sometimes he’s so bendable he’s been known to bend over backwards. No one, therefore, wants to be Gumby. There’s also another guy known for his stretching ability, and that is Mr. Fantastic from the Fantastic Four. He can stretch his body to incredible lengths.
But these are cartoon figures, because in real life no one likes to be stretched. But if we want to grow in our faith we must be willing to have our faith stretched.
If we want our patience to grow, God will have our patience tested. If we want to grow in leadership, God will put our leadership to the test. And since God wants to grow our love for Him and others, He will put some really unlovable people in our path.
Here’s the point, if God is stretching us it’s best to cooperate with Him in the stretch. A new paraphrase to an old axiom states, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape.”
For those who have played sports know the value of stretching. If we don’t stretch prior to the game then a serious injury is not far away.
God is stretching us because He knows what lay ahead, the challenges that are coming.
In the beginning they are small and limited stretches, like when our computer goes down, the car stops or gets a flat tire, or when a relationship ends. But in these stretches God is getting us ready for the challenges and setbacks that are on the horizon.
Maybe it’s a financial setback like the loss of a job, residence, or retirement fund. Maybe it involves our family life like a divorce or loss of someone we love. It also may involve our health like when we hear the word, “cancer,” or when we have a heart attack or stroke.
Therefore it’s important we learn how to stretch properly in the small tests of faith so we’re not blown away in the major ones.
We see this in Israel’s wilderness experience. They stopped stretching when they stopped worshiping God. They thought it was too big of a stretch to follow God’s lead. They thought it was too big of a stretch to trust Him for their food and water, or to go into and possess the Promised Land.
But when they learned their lesson and started to listen and obey, they became supple to the way and will of God, and when the bigger challenge presented itself to once again cross the Jordan River, they met the challenged and possessed God’s Promised Land.
But when they stopped being supple and flexible. When they stopped trusting God. When they started to play god in their own life by worshiping Him as they saw fit, they weren’t ready when the Assyrians and Babylonians came and take them away captive.
And we’re no different. We talk about how it’s too much of a stretch to get up on Sunday morning and come to church. It’s too much of a stretch to give the tithe. It’s too much of a stretch to read the Bible and pray every day.
But if we fail in these small stretches of faith, then we won’t be ready for the bigger challenges, and great injury will be done to our marriages, relationships, families, not to mention our faith and devotion to God.
We need to believe in God even when it doesn’t make sense, because when we believe God in the small stuff, then we can start believing God in the big stuff. And when the much larger trials come our way we’ll not only be able to handle them, but also have victory in them.
Our lives and faith is won or lost in the stretch. It’s in the final stretch that our destiny is determined, and like Israel if we haven’t properly stretched, then we will pull up lame and possibly never make it across the finish line.
There’s victory in the stretch
This was something Paul was well acquainted with. Yet, he still found the stretch hard. He said it was like a gigantic tug of war going on inside.
“For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do … For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice … O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 19, 24-25a NKJV)
I like how the New Living Translation interprets these last two verses.
“Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7: 24-25a NLT)
This tug of war is the stretch and it’s transforming us in to the likeness of Jesus Christ. But if we refuse and stop stretching because it’s too hard, then we’ll stop growing.
Maturity doesn’t come with age. Growing old is not the same as growing up. I’ve known 40 year-old kids, and 14 year-old adults. Our maturity happens in the stretch.
If we want to survive and have the victory, we therefore need to make Evan Roberts prayer our own. It was from this prayer that revival spread throughout Wales and the world. He prayed, “Bend me, O Lord.”
But when God bends us, He’ll not break us. When God stretches us He’ll not snap us. This is what the prophet Isaiah found out as God was stretching him.
“A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench.” (Isaiah 42:3a NKJV)
Isaiah found out that God will not crush those who are weak, nor will He put out even the smallest flicker of hope.
Often times when we’re being stretched we think God has abandoned us. We say, “Well if this is what it’s like then I’m doing my own thing and going my own way.” But there’s a purpose behind God’s stretch.
To think that God wants to hurt us is the furthest thing from the truth. Therefore, rather than move further away from God in the stretch, we need to move closer in.
Isaiah knew this, He knew he didn’t know it all, but he knew God did as the Lord shared with him this truth.
“‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’” (Isaiah 55:8-9 NKJV)
Since God knows what’s best, isn’t the smart move to join with Him?
Growing In The Stretch
God is going to stretch us. That is no longer up for debate. We can therefore cooperate with Him and move forward, or we can resist and come up short of God’s intended goal.
The question becomes, “How can we survive and grow in the stretch?”
This question can best be answered by looking at the life of a rubber band, which is known for its stretch-ability.
Like rubber bands we’re not effective unless we’re stretched. What is it about a rubber band that can help us survive the stretch?
Know who’s doing the stretching
A rubber band cannot stretch itself. It needs someone to stretch it so it can fulfill its purpose.
The Bible says,
“It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13 NKJV)
As believers we want the Lord stretching us. But we also need to know that not every opportunity is from God. Satan is a deceiver and the father of all lies, John 8:44, and he knows exactly what we’ll bite on, so he baits his hook appropriately.
We need to know and identify with God in the beginning and let Him stretch us so that we don’t fall for the lies of Satan and follow His path.
Satan’s stretch, however, isn’t really all that hard nor is it difficult. It more like a little tug making us think we’re super Christians by how easy it was.
But when God stretches us He will do so in accordance to His word, where hard and possibly life-threatening choices have to be made.
Consider four young Jewish men, Daniel, Shadrach, Mishach, and Abed-Nego. They had been taken from their homes in Judah and made to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
Early on they were stretched by God when presented with the dilemma of eating the food given to them from the king’s table. It would be an insult to refuse and could even lead to their deaths.
But they knew God and identified with Him early on in this test, in this stretch, knowing that to eat the king’s food would violate God’s law. They accepted the stretch and won.
“As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” (Daniel 1:17 NKJV)
Soon a bigger stretch was coming where God would receive the glory, which would then set the stage for greater influence by His people in Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar had built a huge golden statue of himself telling everyone to bow down to it. Everyone bowed except Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Mishach, and Abed-Nego.
Because they knew God and had been stretched previously, they were victorious.
When the king said bow or burn, they said, “We don’t even need to think about our answer, it’s no, because our God is able to deliver us from your hand.”
But they didn’t stop there but went on to say, “But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18 NKJV)
God was so delighted He not only protected them from the heat and flames, but He also walked with them in the midst of the fire.
When Nebuchadnezzar saw these three young men walking around with a fourth, whom he identified as “the Son of God, he said,
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king's word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.” (Daniel 3:28-29 NKNV)
It then says,
“Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego in the province of Babylon.” (Daniel 3:30 NKJV)
God is delighted when we know and follow Him and His word during these times of stretching.
Therefore, know who’s doing the stretching, and allow God’s stretch to occur. This brings us to our second point.
Don’t resist the stretch
If the rubber band is not used and stretched from time to time it will dry out, rot, and loose it’s elasticity. It no longer is able to be what it was created for.
There’s nothing easy about being stretched, but if we don’t allow God to stretch us, then we’ll never be what He has created us for, because our life with God is lived in the stretch.
Jesus dealt with this lack of stretching on the part of the Pharisees. More literally they resisted and refused the faith stretch.
When Jesus healed the man with the paralyzed hand in Mark 3:1-6, He said to the man, “Step forward.” The Pharisees, however, were watching at a distance to see if Jesus would heal on the Sabbath and find a way to accuse Him.
They weren’t ready to have their faith stretched beyond their religious rules.
Jesus asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”
But they kept silent. Angered over their hypocrisy and hardened hearts, Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
As the man stretched out his hand his hand was completely restored.
The man was ready for the stretch and was healed. If we want God’s promises then we’ve got to stretch out our hand and receive.
The key is learning to pull or stretch in the direction of God. If we don’t then we’ll be pulled apart.
How can we pull or stretch in the direction of God?
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33 NKJV)
Upon hearing these words some people say, “But what if I don’t want to stretch in that particular way or direction? This doesn’t fit my plans for life.”
Please understand, God will never make us into who we’ve not been created to be, nor will He take us where He has not created us to go.
God stretches us into what He has designed for us, so we need to cooperate with Him by making those conscience choices to walk in His ways, to seek first His kingdom, and become everything He has created for us to be.
Once we have surrendered to Jesus Christ, becoming serious about serving Him, we’ll find it possible to stretch and adapt in ways we never thought imaginable.
God is out to stretch us, but if we refuse, then ultimately not only will we lose out, but so will all those who are around us.
This continual stretching on God’s part is so that we can cover more ground and be a blessing to others.
“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; do not spare; lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes.” (Isaiah 54:2 NKJV)
Paul likewise tells us to stretch out, which can only happen when we let loose of the past and that which is holding us back.
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.” (Philippians 3:13 NKJV)
The phrase Paul uses, “reaching forward,” in the Greek literally means, “to stretch oneself out toward.”
It is only when God is in the stretch that we will survive and prosper. God is stretching our hearts and vision to be more in line with His.
And so if we want to be everything God has created us for, we need to stretch ourselves out toward God so we don’t pull up lame and unable to finish the race.