Comfort in Crisis

Some of you have lost loved ones over the course of the last year. It makes things very hard. It brings a loneliness and an emptiness that makes it even harder to pass through this particular time of difficulty.

I think all of us are experiencing a general gloom in this climate of uncertainty. And that is all it is. It is uncertainty. It is uncertainty no different than that we face every day. The present situation just brings our uncertainty to the surface. I told someone the other day I felt a little like Pig-Pen, the character off Charlie Brown, who walks around with the dust cloud hovering all around him. I feel like I have a cloud of gloom following me through these days of contagion and economic calamity. But just the other day, I read back through the 27th Psalm. I hope it will help you like it helped me. Let me walk you through it, giving you the outline I penciled for myself on a notepad.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)

The Lord is My Light in My Darkness.

His presence alone can banish my gloom. That is not only true for me, it is true for all of us as we pass through this season of uncertainty. Remember, there is no uncertainty with God! He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

When I was a small boy, I came to know Jesus as my personal Savior. From that moment, many of the things that made me afraid, caused me fear no longer. The Lord was my light in whatever darkness that surrounded me. Still today, I have to remind myself of verses like these when darkness threatens to close in around me.  The Lord is my light in my darkness.

The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?   When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.( Psalm 27:1b-2)

The Lord is My Defender in Difficulty

This present crisis is causing difficulty for many people. But that may not be your only difficulty. As a result, your situation might be compounded by what is happening in our world. For many of you, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. But here it is. Difficulty added to difficulty. 

Do you think God is surprised by what is happening? Did He know your situation before COVID-19? Does He know your deadlines and the despair they bring to your life? I am convinced that God knows everything about my life! I have experienced His defense and His deliverance in difficulty. The word, defense, or strength, as it is is written in some translations, means a place of safety. In other words, there is no safer place to be amid the COVID-19 outbreak than simply trusting God for His protection. That is true in the midst of any other problemThe Lord is my defender in difficulty. 

Though a host encamp against me,My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me,In spite of this I shall be confident.  (Psalm 27:3)

The Lord is my Confidence in Calamity. 

Some years ago, Jeremiah 29:11 became a precious verse to me. I want to assure you that verses become precious to you when you read them for yourself from the pages of Scripture and God speaks them to your heart. This one became so special to me that I had it affixed to my office door where I worked for almost twenty years.  For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.That has always been God’s plans for His people. Yes, calamity does come. We face it from time to time. But in that calamity, the Lord remains our confidence.

David looked at his calamity and said: In spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,To behold the beauty of the LordAnd to meditate in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

As more and more time passes off the calendar of a person’s life, it becomes clear that we are very frail creatures. Our strength is so limited. But here, David reminds us: 

The Lord is My Focus in My Frailty.

I choose to keep my eyes on Him. When I see how Strong He is and how Glorious He is, it helps me not to focus so much on me and my weakness.

I realize that some of you are more afraid than others during this crisis. Try to keep your focus on the Lord and not on the news, and not on the slender thread of life itself. Life is fragile when we are at the zenith of our strength. Go back to that previous verse where David said: The Lord is the strength of my life. He has always been, and He will always be.

This is so because of this next verse:

For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;He will lift me up on a rock. Psalm 27:5

The Lord is My Shelter in the Storm. 

This is true because He is Lord of the Storm. In the New Testament Jesus proved to be able to calm the storm on the sea of Galilee and the storm in the hearts of His disciples. He got out of the boat that day and met a man filled with a legion of demons. He conquered the storm that raged in Him. He got back in the boat and crossed a calm sea to the other side, finding a man whose daughter was at the point of death. On his way to that man’s house, he was stopped by a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years and no one could help her. He healed her, calming the storm of sickness. In the meantime, the little girl died. But Jesus went to her room and raised her up, displaying his power over the storm of death. What, do you think He is not Lord over Covid-19 and whatever other storm might enter our lives? He is our Shelter in the Storm because He is Lord of every storm.

And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. (Psalm 27:6)

What circumstances join Covid-19 in becoming the enemy of your life. David said: 

The Lord is My Praise in the Press of My Circumstances

I don’t fear any enemy because my Lord is greater than any enemy who can come against me. I love to tell the story of my friend Greg Hardin, a deacon at a previous church, who one day made a discovery about God that shaped my life from that day to this. It is something you also need to remember. Greg said: “Now I know that God is not God. Almost. He is God Almighty.” That is the God we serve. He is our praise in the press of our circumstances.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,And be gracious to me and answer me.  When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:7b-8)

Because the Lord is my light in my darkness, my defense in my difficulty, my confidence in calamity, my focus in frailty, my shelter in the storm, my praise in the press of my circumstances, 

The Lord Will Also Be My Passion in My Peril.

Now is the time to seek His face. If you have needs, seek God. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given unto you, seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Ask the Lord, seek the Lord, and knock on the door of heaven. He should be your passion in your peril.

Some of you have lost loved ones over the course of the last year. It makes things very hard. It brings a loneliness and an emptiness that makes it even harder to pass through this particular time of difficulty. David even had something to say about that in this Psalm.

Do not hide Your face from me,Do not turn Your servant away in anger;You have been my help;Do not abandon me nor forsake me,O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me,But the Lord will take me up. (Psalm 27:9-10)

We lose people we love. But we do not lose the Lord. He will never leave us or forsake us. That is His promise. Therefore, David said, 

He Is My Lord in My Lonliness

The Lord will be present with you in your home tonight. Invite Him to sit at your table. As you drink your coffee, open your Bible. Talk to Him and let Him talk to you. He will be with you in trouble, now and always.

Finally, down in the last part of this psalm David said: 

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LordIn the land of the living.Wait for the Lord;Be strong and let your heart take courage;Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

In other words, there were times when he would have just given up had it not been for the knowledge of God’s Presence and love. Therefore, I want to leave you with one final point that David makes about God. In doing so, I use a word that has become very special to me over the course of the last couple of months: It is the word HOPE.

The Lord Is My Hope in My Hopelessness.

The Bible says that those who put their hope in the Lord will never be disappointed. Waiting on the Lord is an expression of Hope. Because of the Lord, we should never be hopeless. Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with us. He is with you right now in the midst of this present crisis. Who does David say the Lord is to Him through the words of this Psalm?

The Lord is my light in my darkness, my defense in my difficulty, my confidence in calamity, my focus in frailty, my shelter in the storm, my praise in the press of my circumstances, my passion in my peril, my Lord in my loneliness, and my hope in my hopelessness. He is not God Almost. He is God Almighty! I will trust and not be afraid!

Photo by Brian McGowan

The Vaccine for Fear

In the face of this present crisis, you may be thinking, “My resources are not enough.” Looking at your health situation, you tremble, worried that your strength is not sufficient to withstand such an illness. You are not sure if you will be able to cope with the trials the crisis brings.

The world is looking for a vaccine for the coronavirus. Until one is found, nations, economies, and the lives of individuals, grind to a halt. While there is not at present a cure or a vaccine for the coronavirus, there is a vaccine for the fear that spreads in its wake. Even if you are not in one of those “at risk” groups, you suffer fear related to the economy or some other calamity waiting in the wings.

Fear usually results more from what we don’t know than what we do know. Fear can freeze your faith. It can stop you dead in your tracks, hindering your obedience. It can keep you awake at night as you toss and turn, imagining the worst. Fear can cast the shadow of gloom over your life.Is there an answer—a solution to fear. Is there a medicine that you can take that will soothe your troubled mind? 

The answer to fear is not in a pill or a potion but in a Presence.

Allow me to introduce you to a single verse from the book of Isaiah. Personally, I don’t believe it is accidental or incidental when we encounter a word from the Lord. For that reason, I hope you will be alert to what God might be saying to you. In this single verse, you will discover God’s Promise, His Peace, His Power and His Presence.

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

In this present crisis, we need to look for God. We need to seek Him. Our one great longing should be to be in His presence. He is the answer to this present crisis that exists in our world as well as the crisis bells that ring inside our hearts. I believe being in God’s presence is the safest place that I can be, the richest place that I can be, as well as the happiest place that I can be. If I am with Him, I have all I need. Our greatest need is Him. We need His presence. 

In this verse, we have the Promise of His Presence.

Do not fear, for I am with you… Isn’t it strange how the presence of another person in the house at night diminishes fear? Alone, we imagine any creak of the house or rumble of the refrigerator as an intruder. But with someone in the house with us, those sounds don’t seem to bother us or unsettle us. The awareness of God’s Presence brings an end to fear. 

But have you ever wondered: “Is God really with me?  Does He care?  Does He know what I face?” God promises never to leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5) By faith, we accept the simple promise of God’s Presence, and in so doing we find great comfort.

Is that not what the Lord says to you as you look down the road that you travel?  “I am with you. I will go with you.” When Moses responded in fear at the assignment that God gave him, God assured by saying, “My Presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

But this is not just an Old Testament promise. In Matthew 28:20 it is recorded as the last promise of Jesus to His disciples: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

His Presence Brings Peace

In Isaiah 41:10 God whispers: Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. God knows the road ahead of you. Any journey you take at His command, will be a journey overshadowed by His Presence. Any step you take in Obedience to Him, will only serve to bring you nearer His Presence and deeper into His Peace and Rest. 

Our troubled minds grope for peace, finding only misery until they rest in Him. Claim the promise of His Presence, and you will know His Peace. The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds. He will surround you with His peace.

David, who himself knew what it was to experience His comforting presence wrote, “He will cover you with His pinions and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark. (Psalm 91:4)

We have the promise of His Presence. The awareness of His Presence brings a sense of peace.

Third, When You Have His Presence You Also Have His Power.

In the face of this present crisis, you may be thinking, “My resources are not enough.” Looking at your health situation, you tremble, worried that your strength is not sufficient to withstand such an illness. You are not sure if you will be able to cope with the trials the crisis brings. Is God able? Is this God of the Bible able to see you through the darkest night or carry you through the deepest valley?What is it that God offers you in the face of your fears and in the face of your need? He offers you Himself!

I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Whose hand is it that promises your deliverance? Who will cover you with His pinions, and whose very Presence is a shield and a bulwark? It is God Himself! When God is with you, you have access to His Power. You have the assurance of His Peace, and you have the great Promise of His Presence.

What is the vaccine for fear? It is God Himself.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

When God says “fear not” He always gives a reason to back up why we shouldn’t be afraid? “Don’t be afraid because I am with you!” Is that the assurance God is giving you? 

You are worried to the point of exhaustion. The news changes faster than you can change the channels to watch it. What is going to happen? What will we do? Those are all hand wringing, gut wrenching questions. You’ve worn holes in your sheets as you toss back and forth trying to figure out how.  But the answer will not be found in asking how but in asking WHO. Amidst your alarm, God whispers, “Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God.” God promises supernatural activity in your behalf. “I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

For those who are a little older or whose health situation makes them a higher risk as we pass through the eye of this storm, I offer this extra word of comfort from the book of Isaiah. I cling to this verse personally. 

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb;Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you!” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

The vaccine for fear is God Himself. You may access this vaccine by faith, asking God to help you, to hold you, and to carry you. I am praying that you will trust God’s Promise, experience His Presence, and discover His Peace.

Photo by Piron Guillaume

Crumbs of Mercy

What need exists that troubles your home and troubles your heart? Are you in need of a few morsels, a few crumbs of mercy from God’s table to deal with some need in your life?

There is a story in the New Testament of a woman who was unfit for God. If that sounds shocking or surprising to you in any way, then you should read further, because her story is your story and my story. In the gospel of Matthew, she is referred to as a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus in search of mercy for her little girl, who she described as cruelly demon possessed. In the story, it appears Jesus abruptly told her she didn’t qualify for mercy since she didn’t come from the right people. Then He said something that seems cold and cruel from our perspective. He said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” In just a few moments of conversation, Jesus spoke to a desperate woman, telling her she was unfit for God. If it troubles you that Jesus would say that about a woman in her position, then you need to hear the rest of the story because it has a wonderful ending.

This woman was a person who was distant from God. I’m convinced that Jesus’ approach was very tender, in spite of how it seemed to her in the beginning, or how it might seem to us as we read the story. Jesus is moving her to consider her standing before God. The Jews considered all Gentiles as dogs. It was a cruel term and a failure to understand the heart of the God they worshipped. There is no distinction among peoples or races. We are all equal before God. No person or people group is less important than another. 

However, in the presence of God, against His holiness, His greatness, and His glory, I am no more than a dog. That is to say, I am unfit for God. I don’t qualify for God’s help. I am undeserving and unworthy. That is why this story is not only the story of a troubled woman, it is your story and mine. She was unfit for God. She was distant from Him spiritually. She didn’t know the true God. She was a worshipper of false gods.

One of the great truths the Bible teaches us is that all of us, in spite of race, economic status, or religious standing are unfit for God. You were distant from him from the day you were born. That distance is evidenced by the thoughts and intents of your heart that are only evil continually. According to Jesus, it is what comes out of a person’s heart that pollutes them and renders them unfit for God.

This woman was unfit for God. She was unfit for God’s fellowship. She was unfit for heaven. As she sought help from Jesus, she was asking Jesus for something she didn’t deserve. Likewise, God owes us nothing. All of us are unfit for God.

She was at a point of desperation in her life. As Mark tells the story, he writes, But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Mark 7:25

Here was a woman who was unfit for God, and now, her little daughter had an unclean spirit that defiled her. She was distant from God, and now that distance from God was showing up in the life of her little girl. 

Emotionally and spiritually exhausted, she fell down desperate at the feet of Jesus. I’ve carried a limp and lifeless daughter in my arms into the Emergency Room. I know what it is to stand in the hospital with a child so sick I didn’t know whether she would live or die. So I feel her pain, even as I read this story. Some of you do as well. You know what it is for your child to have a demon; for the devil to get a hold of your precious boy or girl, and you would do anything to see them set free.

That is this mother. Are you desperate? Have you run out of options? Is there some need in your life that has reached critical mass? You want to talk to the Lord about it. You want to bring it to Jesus. But then you look at your own life, and you say, “But I’m like that woman. I am guilty of sin. I am distant from God. I am unclean. I am unfit for God.”  You see, this is your story, and it is mine!

She made a decision to make a move toward God. This woman had trouble in her home. When you have trouble in your home, I know by experience, you also have trouble in your heart. 

God created us all with a conscience. Your conscience tells you if you are right with God or guilty of sin. You may never listen to the voice of your conscience. You might shut it out and not even care until your child is sick or in trouble. The first thing your conscience does is to condemn you as guilty. It blames you for the problem or you blame yourself. As you stand in the middle of difficulty in your home and in your heart, you begin to feel an overwhelming need for God. You may have lived distant from Him all your life, denying His existence and running from His influence. 

This is your story. This is you. This is a picture of your life. This is a picture of your need. This is a picture of what you must do. You need to come to Jesus in your need and as you are. Your only help and only hope is at His feet.

What was that woman thinking that day in the moments before she ran to Jesus? Was she thinking, “I haven’t been living for the Lord. I can’t pray. I can’t ask God to help me. I’m not worthy. I’ve been living distant from God. I’m unclean. I’m unworthy. I’m unfit for God!”

If those were her thoughts, then certainly the Lord’s initial response reinforced them.  In the gospel of Matthew, we are told that initially, Jesus didn’t respond. The disciples were urging Him to send her away, considering her unworthy for His attention. When Jesus finally answered, He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Have you ever applied for some kind of special assistance and been told you didn’t qualify or that your child didn’t qualify or that you were the wrong kind of people or worse that you were a dog? Were you made to feel unclean, unworthy and unfit?

She might have just stomped her feet and walked away in anger. But she didn’t. She fell at His. She risked making this move toward God by coming to Jesus. She heard about Him. She thought: “He can help my little girl.”

In Mark, we see Jesus’ response to her request: “And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Mark 7:27

Two things here. First, Jesus is taking this woman through the process of evaluating her own relationship with God. Was she deserving of God’s help? No. Are you deserving of God’s help? No. You prove it over and over. Your thoughts that rise up out of your heart betray you as being just as unclean and unworthy and unfit as this woman here.

But second, Jesus did this a little more tenderly than it appears. The word He used was not for some mangy street dog, but for the puppy that might sit at your feet as you eat at your table. 

He was painting the same picture that I have painted for you, but He did it in a tender way. Here was a woman who came to Him for help. She made a decision to make a move toward God—even though she was unclean, unworthy, unfit for God. She did so because she was desperate.

Are you ready to make such a step toward God today? Is there some need in your life that presses you to fall at the feet of Jesus and plead with Him for help that only He can give?

What was it that she wanted? What was it that she needed? Matthew tells us that when she initially approached Jesus, she came crying out,“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” Matthew 15:2

When Jesus told her that dogs didn’t eat bread from the children’s table, she replied: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:28

There is the deep desire of her heart! She wanted crumbs—crumbs of mercy. Whatever He could spare! Whatever He could give.! Whatever drop of mercy He could provide, she believed it would help her little girl. Like that other woman who had the issue of blood who said, “If I could just touch the hem of His garment, I could be healed,” this woman wanted just a few crumbs—a few drops of His mercy.

She was saying, “Lord, I know I’m unworthy. I know I am unclean. I know I don’t deserve anything from you. I know I am unfit. I know who I am. But I also know who You are. All I am asking for you is for a few crumbs of mercy!”

Would that do for you today? Would you settle for a crumb of mercy that fell from the table of Heaven? I believe most of us would. I believe most of us would say, “Lord, I don’t deserve anything from You, but I beg you for mercy.” Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe you too have a son or a daughter or a spouse who you believe could be delivered with just a few crumbs of His mercy.

So how do you get that process started? Do what she did. Make a decision to move toward God. Place yourself by faith at the feet of Jesus. Tell Him that He’s right about you. Tell Him you know who you are, but you also know Who He is. Believe that He is willing and able to help you!

Did Jesus give her the deep desire of her heart? He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Mark 7:29

What was so special about her answer. First, it revealed that she understood her own spiritual condition before God. She was distant. She was unworthy. She was unfit. It revealed that she understood her own need for God. She proved that by coming to Jesus. Second, it revealed what she believed about Jesus. She believed He could meet the need in her life as no one else could. Third, in placing herself at His feet, she was coming in surrender, not based on her own worth, but simply on her need for mercy. And fourth, in coming to Jesus for help and hope she was placing her faith in His person and in His power.

So Jesus said, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”  Mark 7:29 It’s done. It’s over. I’ve done it. I answered your prayer. I met your need. Instantly. Miraculously. Just what you asked for because of your answer. The demon is gone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could exercise the faith of this woman. She knew who she was and what she was. She didn’t come to Jesus based on her worth. She came as she was, and in her need, looking for just a crumb of mercy. And when she went home, look what she found.

And going back to her home,  she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.   Mark 7:30

Imagine the joy in that mother’s heart when she went home and found her little girl no longer tormented by that demon. Her little girl delivered. Her little girl whole.

What need exists that troubles your home and troubles your heart. Do you need to put yourself and that need at the feet of Jesus? Do you have a need like that? Are you in need of a few morsels, a few crumbs of mercy from God’s table to deal with some need in your life? Are any of us worthy? No. But all of us are needy!

How desperate are you for the Lord’s blessing? Are you desperate enough to come to Jesus? This woman was so desperate that she came publicly. Her need was so great that she clamored for just a crumb of His blessing. How about you? Are you willing to identify yourself as the person whose need and faith moves you to come to Jesus? All of us are unworthy. Jesus wants all of us to know that. He also wants us to realize that all of us are needy! Ultimately, He wants us to know that He is the One who can meet the deepest need of every heart!

Photo by Monika Grabkowska

Out of the Depths: Surviving the Dungeon of the Soul

The lowest spot on earth is the Dead Sea.  Geologists tell us that it sinks a little lower every day.  Some estimates say it is sinking at a rate of thirteen inches per year. But in the ocean is a place even darker and deeper. No light has ever penetrated its darkness.  The deepest part of the ocean is called the Mariana Trench.  If you dropped Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on the surface of the earth, into this part of the ocean, the top of Everest would be more than a mile below the surface.  The pressure at that depth is eight tons per square inch. That is like trying to hold sixteen thousand pounds with just two fingers, while an equivalent amount of weight is bearing down upon every square inch of your body.

Have you ever felt like you were living in the lowest spot on earth? Like the Dead Sea, you sink a little more every day.  Like being in the depths of the Marianna Trench, the pressures are almost more than you can bear. Is that what life is like for you? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? If so, you can understand the feelings of David when he wrote these words.

Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.  If You, O Lord should mark iniquities, O Lord who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.  Psalm 130:1-41    Out of the depths I have cried… Psalm 130:1

David Was In The Depths

Was it the depths of sin?  Was it the depths of despair? Was it the depths of danger? Was it the depths of poverty? Was it the depths of sorrow? The depths have been described as that point in your life where: “Earth is hollow,  heaven empty, the air heavy, every form a deformity, every sound a discord, the past a gloom the present a puzzle, the future a horror.” C. H. Spurgeon:  The Treasuries of David

The depths describes the very bottom of your circumstances, the very bottom of life.  It is as low as a person can go. That’s where David was. He was in the depths!

What Can You Do in the Depths?

You can cry. And most people do. The depths is the lowest of all places in life. But it is more than a place. It is an attitude—an outlook—one of the most intense hopelessness and despair.  It is the dungeon of the soul.  How does a person survive such a place, such a period, such a season of life?

Even strong men cry in the depths, for in the depths, a man realizes that he has come to the end of his own resources—that he has nowhere to turn. So in the depths you cry.  You weep secretly, sometimes silently, sometimes invisibly to those around you. David was in the depths, and there in the depths he cried.

To Whom Do You Cry in the Depths?

In the depths, that deep, dark, depressing dungeon of the soul, one can conclude that all is utterly hopeless. A person might decide that there is nowhere to turn, that there is no place to cry, that there is no ear that will hear. We can even decide that God’s shoulder is not available to cry on. But David said, Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Psalm 130:1

Not only so, but in the depths, a person might detest himself or herself, and so, feel that even God loathes them and their condition. But listen to what Paul said when he asked, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

The depths can’t separate us from our Lord’s love or His presence. David was in the depths.  And there he cried, but not just into his pillow. He cried to the Lord! C.H. Spurgeon said, “Prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places.  Deep places beget deep devotion.  Depths of earnestness are stirred by depths of tribulation.” 

It was out of the depths of slavery in Egypt that the children of Israel began to groan earnestly.  “They sighed by reason of their bondage, and they cried out..” Exodus 2:23b  But while their souls were chained in the dungeon of the depths, their prayers took flight. Their cry for help rose up to God, and God took action to initiate their deliverance!

Out of some pit of life, whether despair, or sin or sorrow—out of those depths, David cried to the Lord. Could it be that you are the person in the depths—that deep, dark, depressing, dungeon of the soul?  Are your eyes weak from sorrow?  Is your pillow wet with your tears?  Then turn those cries heavenward.  Your situation may be desperate, but God’s love, compassion and salvation reach even into the depths.  

How Does a Person Come to Be in the Depths?

When I find myself in the depths, I usually get there as a result of my own folly.  In my own personal experience, I have found that sin will take you to the depths! It will take you deeper in the depths  than you want to go. It will keep you longer in the depths  than you want to stay. The depths of sin will cost you more than you ever wanted to pay.

When I find myself in the depths, I am never there alone.  Satan is always there to assault me and to remind me of my faults and failures.  He is there heaping sorrow upon sorrow and discouraging me from calling on my God who is mighty to save. The same is true of all of God’s people. The enemy not only accuses us of being unworthy to call on God, He accuses God as either weak or unwilling to save us from our despair. He reads in our hearing the record of our sins. The devil keeps a detailed record of our sins against God so that he can accuse us, and dishearten us, and accuse us before God, pointing at our sin list with his crooked finger. The devil keeps a list. But listen to what David said about God.

David said, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,  O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You,  That You may be feared.”

If God held a grudge—if my sins were kept in His heart all would be hopeless. Make no mistake, there is a record, but against that record stands the promise of full and free forgiveness. Peter preached, “Repent ye therefore and be converted that your sins may be blotted out.” And Paul wrote in Colossians 2:13-14 that he has “forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

Yes—there is a record!  But there is also a Redeemer!! So, when in the depths, it is not necessary to plead your merit when pleading for God’s forgiveness.  You have no merit.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of God’s mercy and grace.  The ground on which to stand is the ground of the Cross! No dungeon is so dark or deep that the Savior can’t see and save!  David was in the depths.   He cried to the Lord—daring not to stand on his own character—but on the grace and mercy of the Lord.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

Where Does One Wait While in the Depths?

David waited in the depths.  Bombarded by his doubts—bludgeoned by his fears—there he cried out to God—hanging on precariously as he waited for God’s deliverance and hoped for God’s help. There in the depths, he cried for God’s mercy, while clinging to God’s word.

Sometimes, that is all that we have in the depths. We have just one precious promise, just one verse to cling to.  Tell me what else is there—when your money is gone—when your health is gone—when your wife has told you that tomorrow she’ll be gone—when your hope is gone—what is there to hold on to?  David held on to the promises of God!

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,  and in his word I put my hope.  My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6

Can Anything Good Come Out of the Depths?

Can any lesson be learned in the depths of distance from God, in the depths of disobedience, in the depths of discouragement? Remember Jonah. How deep did Jonah sink in the depths? Jonah described his circumstances as having sunk to the belly of Hell. He prayed, The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains.nI went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God.When my life was fainting away,  I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. JONAH 2:5-7

God delivered even Jonah from the depths. In the throes of the desperation that you now experience, you may be wondering if any good could come from it.  It seems right now that it will destroy you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But in the depths, David learned to call on God. He was forced to look to God.  He was forced to pray. And he was forced to wait. Listen to his testimony:

O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love  and with Him is full redemption.  He Himself will redeem Israel from all their sins. 130:7-8

What David might never have known in life’s noon, he discovered in life’s midnight.  The depths is a place where a person can meet God!What secret is God teaching you as you travel through the tremendous soul-crushing pressures of the depths?  Do you feel as if you are living through the lowest spot of life? Like the dead sea, do you feel like you sink a little more every day? Like being in the depths Marianna Trench. do the pressures seem almost more than you can bear? Do you find yourself so far down, that you feel like you have to reach up to touch bottom? Then cry out to the Lord. He plumbs the depths and the darkness. Neither height nor depth can separate you from his love.  

Photo by Alice Alinari

Decisions

The root word from which we get our English word “decide” comes from the latin cis. It originally meant to cut or kill. Isn’t it still true? When I have to make a decision, I realize one has to die. I have to reject one and embrace the other. For that reason, decisions are hard for me. I prefer to be presented with two choices, not ten from which to choose one. More than once I had to make a decision that would impact my future and my family. The bigger the decision, the more tentative I become. In Isaiah 42:16, God gives the promise of His guidance. I choose to trust God’s guidance over my own in the decision making process.

I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them, I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains.   These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.  Isaiah 42: 16

This is one of the most remarkable promises in the Bible. It is precious to those of us who know it and have needed it at various points in our lives. Consider with me the precious riches of this promise.

First, the basis of this promise rests entirely on God Himself. 

Five times God affirms His determination to fulfill this promise. I will lead the blind. I will guide them. I will make darkness into light. I will do it.  I will not leave them undone. There are some promises in the Bible that are conditioned upon our obedience. This promise rests entirely on the grace of God. He shoulders the complete responsibility of bringing it to pass. That gives me confidence that God will help me when I don’t know which way to choose. He will show me which way needs to be dead to me and the way that He wants me to take, even if that way seems difficult and fraught with danger.

Second, this is a promise made to the helpless.  

How helpless were those to whom the promise was made? He calls them the blind. We might call this spiritual blindness, but it is also physical blindness. It is the blindness we face when confronted by one of the passages of life or by some major life decision. I find it is not failure to say, “I don’t know which way to turn.” It is an acknowledgement of the truth that we all face because of who we are and the limits of human knowledge. I am blind to the future, whether it is the near or distant future.  I don’t know what is around the corner of my life.  Walking by faith is essentially walking blind, admitting our absolute and utter dependence on God.  

Third, this is the promise of God’s leadership.

The question in my mind, more often than not, is: “How will I get from where I am to where God wants me to be.”  The more I ask that question, the more I begin to look down the familiar roads of God’s leadership.  I begin to think, “Well this is how God worked before.  Perhaps this is the way God will work again.”  I look for God’s activity in ways that I have known it in the past—ways with which I am comfortable—because of prior experience.

Here, God promises to lead but by a way that is new to us.  Not only is it new to us, it is completely unknown to us.  More often than not, God’s leadership comes to us in ways we don’t expect. It takes us by surprise.

How will you get from where you are, to where God wants you to be?  You have God’s promise that He will lead you. When you have God’s promise, that is all you need. You don’t need a road map. All you need is Him! In the study Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby said, “If you follow Jesus one day at  a time, you will always be right in the center of His will. For me, that was one of the greatest discoveries of my life. However, I still must trust Jesus and His wisdom over my own.

Fourth, it includes the promise of God’s presence.

A leader may only point the way. A guide is someone who walks with you in the way.  A leader points you in the right direction and leaves you to go there on your own. A guide ensures you make it there safely by placing on Himself the responsibility for your journey. How will you make it from where you are to where God wants you to be? Wait on God and His leadership. Don’t worry or fret when you don’t know the way.  God is your guide and He will not leave you until He has done what He promised you.  

Fifth, God accepts full responsibility for the risks involved in following Him.  

There will be dark places, and there will be rugged places.  During those times, it isn’t up to you to provide light in the dark or to make the rugged smooth.  Your responsibility is simply to keep walking when the way is dark, and to keep trusting when the way is rough.  As you face these difficulties with your trust in Him, God will make a way where there seems to be no way. Remember, Jesus promised, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20

If you are standing on the verge of some life-changing decision, it is my prayer that the God who made this promise will reveal His plan in the midst of your circumstances. I pray that you might know His presence with you, even as you read these words. Trust Him! I have followed His leadership for over forty years. Many times I have failed Him, but He has never failed me!

Photo by Daniele Levis Pelusi

Healing the Hole in Your Soul

25A woman who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years, 26and had endured much at the hands of many physicians, and had spent all that she had and was not helped at all, but rather had grown worse— 27after hearing about Jesus, she came up in the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak.28For she thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Mark 5:25-28

Is there a hemorrhage in your life?

A hemorrhage is a loss of blood.  It can happen slowly over time and make one weak and sickly as it had this woman.  Or it can happen suddenly and massively as when a vessel ruptures, causing loss of life. If there is a hemorrhage in your body, you are in trouble physically. But it may be that there is another kind of hemorrhage in your life.

A rupture can take place in your marriage relationship, and you discover the love that was holding you together is oozing away. It might take place in your spiritual life.  Sin, deadly spiritual cancer that it is, eats its way into the fabric of your soul, until ounce by ounce, your spiritual vitality has slipped away.  That hemorrhage can take place in a relationship between you and another brother or sister in Christ, so that you can no longer stand to see them coming.  Once you were close. But now that relationship is so bitter, you sit on separate sides of the church and shop in separate stores.  Because of it, the joy of your salvation is ebbing away.

Is there a hemorrhage in your life? There was in the life of this woman.  And it had lasted twelve years. How many years has it been going on in your life? How many years has sin been sapping your vitality and draining you physically, spiritually and emotionally? How long?

In this dear woman’s life, it was chronic, but it was also cumulative.  Year by year, it grew worse and worse instead of better and better.  So it is with a hemorrhage of any kind.  You either cure it, or it kills you.  It’s just a matter of time. What sin is festering in your soul, that if you allow it to go on and claim your heart, it will claim your home and your health and your hope?  

Where Are You Looking For A Cure?

No one looks for a cure unless that person can acknowledge being sick.  This woman endured many things of many physicians. She did so because she was desperate. How desperate are you?

Let me give you a description of her plight in the words of the great preacher Dr. G. Campbell Morgan.  

“On account of the peculiar form of physical disease from which she was suffering, she was excommunicated from the temple, not allowed to mingle with the worshipers.  By that selfsame law she was divorced from her husband, not allowed to live with him. By that same law she was ostracized from society, and in appalling loneliness, she had lived for twelve years. Twelve years of a disease that weakened her day by day, until all her physical powers were feeble.  Twelve years shut out from the fellowship of the saints as they went up to the house of God.  Twelve years shut away from the comradeships of home and the fellowship of her husband.  Twelve years shut out from all the circle of her friends and acquaintances.  Twelve years of suffering and weakness.  Twelve years in which she had done all she knew for healing, and spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but grew worse.” (The Westminister Pulpit, volume 8, 239)

How have you been dealing with the hemorrhage in your life? Where have you turned for help?  Have you become so desperate that you spent all your energies, and all your ideas, and all your hope, leaving you more helpless and more hopeless than in the beginning?

Sometimes we become so exasperated with our situation that we decide not to fight it anymore?  We decide to give in to our sickness and let it have the best of us. We decide to give in to our sin and let it run whatever course it chooses to take in our lives.  We are spent and hopeless and have no where else to turn.

This woman had heard about Jesus. But she wasn’t there that day just to hear a story. She came seeking a Savior, a Helper, who had the power to deliver her from her circumstances. 

What Do You Believe About Jesus?

Can He deliver me? Can He deliver you? That is the question that needs an answer. If He can, then Christianity has relevance.  If He can’t, I am wasting my time writing, and you are wasting your time reading what I have written.

Mark tells us that after hearing about Jesus, this feeble, frail, fragile woman began to push her way through the crowd in order to make her way into Jesus’ presence. What was it that prompted her to make this journey? What clicked inside her mind and heart, making her sense that He was the One. Many of you have heard stories about Jesus, but it has never clicked inside you that Jesus is the One you need. He is the One who can heal that hemorrhage in your life.

I will never forget the testimony of one dear woman as she shared how that connection was made in her heart.  There was a hemorrhage in her marriage relationship.  The relationship itself was near death. They were newcomers to America. Yet,  every day she expected him to tell her he was divorcing her, abandoning her alone half-way around the world.  But one day, as she prayed, she caught a glimpse of the greatness of God.  Her spiritual understanding was opened, and she saw a God who was great enough to save her husband and save her marriage. In that brief moment, she reached out to God in faith, asking Him to do what she in all of her efforts and energies had not been able to do.   God work a mighty miracle in the life of that family. The husband was saved and so was the marriage!

Is something beginning to click inside of you?  When the connection was made in her heart, she pressed through the crowd and touched His cloak, for she thought, “If I just touch His garments I will get well.”

Have You Touched Him and Has He Touched You?

29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. 30Immediately Jesus, perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth, turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched My garments?” 31And His disciples said to Him, “You see the crowd pressing in on You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” 32And He looked around to see the woman who had done this. 33But the woman fearing and trembling, aware of what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth. Mark 5:29-33

Do you know why she touched Him? She touched Him because she had a need. She touched Him because she believed He could meet that need. There were two blind men who asked Jesus to heal them. Do you know what He asked them before He touched them? He said, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”  

You might answer “yes” without batting an eye. But that means nothing! Why? Because you are yet come to that conclusion in your heart. You are saying “yes” with your head only.  When Jesus asked these blind men if they believed that He was able, although they were blind, they had an internal vision of a God with whom noting was impossible. When they said, “Yes” then Jesus touched their eyes.

Do you believe that He is able to seal the hemorrhage that is sapping the life from your soul? I tell you that there were hundreds in that crowd that day who would have said ”Yes” with their heads. And all of them were touching Jesus too. But there was only one woman who was healed, and she was healed immediately.

Jesus said that it was because of her faith that she was healed. It was a faith that was expressed—not just by her head—but by her hands and her feet and her heart. When she reached out to touch just the hem of His garment, a connection was made that tapped the power source of heaven. There was such a surge of power that Jesus said, “Who touched My garments?”

Have you eyes been opened to Jesus as the ONE and ONLY ONE who can help you? He wants to be your Savior and your Deliverer. He wants you to be able to testify to  a time when you touched Him and He touched you?  

Something changed in that woman’s life that day. 29Immediately the flow of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Twelve years of sickness came to an end in that moment.Twelve years of suffering came to an end in that instant.Twelve years of hopelessness vanished like a vapor.Twelve years of hurt and heartache was erased.

But something more significant than that happened in her life.

This Woman Experienced a Transformation in Her Relationship with God.

 Let me tell you why. Did you know that Jesus said a word to her that he never said to anyone else in all the stories of the New Testament? Never—not even to His mother or to His friends Mary and Martha.

Before I tell you that word, let me remind you of where and what this woman had been for twelve years. For twelve years, she had been abandoned by her society. She was an outcast from the community of faith. If she was married, the law would have demanded that she live apart from her husband for all of these twelve years. She was an orphan of hope and happiness. But in the instant that she touched Jesus, He looked down into her eyes, and this is the word that He spoke to her orphaned heart. HE called her “DAUGHTER.” He would use that title in reference to others. But it was never bestowed by Him on any woman but this one. When He called her daughter, she knew, not only that she was healed of her sickness, but also of her separation from God. She was accepted. She was adopted. She was His own!

That very thing can happen to you in your circumstances. If you reach out in faith to this same Jesus, you will find His power to be effective in your life. You will also find that it is both His passion and pleasure to make you His child. In an instant, you would no longer be an outcast. You would no longer be an orphan of hope and happiness. You would be adopted as His very own!

She thought, “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” Mark 5:28 She did, and she was, and the same thing can happen to  you!

Photo by Nathan Dumlao

Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

“What in the world are we going to do?”

I am sure you’ve experienced one of those moments or some of those days when you sat with your face in your hands wondering, “What in the world are we going to do?” All of us have been to one of those “wits-end” moments when it felt like the walls of our personal world were falling down. When was the last time circumstances prompted you to ask that question to someone in your family? 

It always encourages me to discover that similar questions were raised by Biblical characters. They found themselves in situations that brought them to the end of their rope. An example can be found in the life of the Old Testament character Elisha. Elisha was so successful in predicting the military maneuvers of the king of Syria, that he shifted the focus of his wrath and the force of his army against Elisha personally. He sent horses and chariots and a large army, and they surrounded the city where Elisha was during the middle of the night. Elisha’s servant woke up early the next morning, only to discover they were overrun by the Syrian army. 

15 Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  2 Kings 6:15

The Problem That Confronts Us

How is it Elisha was so successful in predicting the previous locations of the Syrian army? Why did God allow this particular predicament? But the key concern of Elisha’s servant was, “What shall we do?”

That question, should you find yourself asking it, always relates to some problem that confronts us or some difficulty that besets us. In this case, it was significant, it was overwhelming, and it left Elisha’s servant at a mental and spiritual loss in the face of his circumstances.  Is there a problem like that in your life? You don’t know what to do. You find yourself overcome with anxiety and foreboding in the face of the problem that confronts you.

The Challenge It Presents Us 

The problem itself is only one part of the difficulty. The other side of that difficulty is the challenge it presents us. How will you handle it? What decisions will you make in the face of it? What steps do you need to take, and how will you know when to walk forward and when to stand still?

Whenever we face difficulty, one of our first reactions is to panic. What shall we do?  Shall we melt with fear, or shall we exercise our faith in God. Shall we seek our own solution, or shall we seek God and His wisdom? This challenge will always confront us in the face of difficulty. We will respond in fear or in faith—in self reliance or in dependence upon God?

The Promise Laid Before Us

The servant delivered the bad news to Elisha. There was a significant contrast between the reaction of the two to the same set of circumstances. One was at His wits end, the other was ready to lay claim to the promise of God.He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”   (2 Kings 6:16 ESV)

This was the promise laid out before Elisha’s servant. That promise is also ours in the face of our difficulty. Whatever resources our enemy has—God has more. However great our problem is; God is greater. This is true in every set of circumstances.

The Deficiency Within Us

Our greatest problem is not the difficulty that surrounds us but the deficiency within us. Elisha had something his servant did not have. He had spiritual vision.

I was preaching in an African-American church in 1997. The community was racially divided. No white preacher had been asked to preach there in many decades, and rightfully so. Not everyone at my church was happy I had been invited. Not everyone at the church where I was preaching was happy that I was there. I was more than a little nervous. 

One of the families in my church accompanied me to the church that Sunday along with their little six year old son.  Just before the service started, he sat down on the front pew beside me and said, “God has bookmarked my Bible for me.  It opens up to Two Kings six.”

I was amused by his voice and the way he gave the reference.  So I asked, “What did God say to you from ‘Two Kings six?’ He replied, “I don’t know. God hasn’t bookmarked the verse yet.”

His little words began to haunt me while I sat up on the platform before that sea of black faces. So for  a few moments, I blocked out all the activity around me, and the Lord and I went on a journey to Two Kings six.

My eyes immediately fell on verse 17. Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:17 ESV)

God got his word across to me that morning by bookmarking a little boy’s Bible.  As a result, I had no problem preaching. I was in the center of God’s will. My life journey was under God’s protection from animosity that might arise from any direction.

There are going to be times in all of our lives when we are faced with circumstances that cause us to ask:  What Shall We Do?  Elisha’s response to the circumstances give us the five keys that will enable any of us to survive some storm of difficulty. 

First, He Prayed for Restored Spiritual Vision for His Servant.

I suggest you do the same. Simply pray that God would restore your spiritual vision as you stand in the midst of your circumstances. Ask Him to give you the perspective of heaven and guide you through the present difficulty. 

I have a problem with cloudy vision. The doctor tells me I will have it from now on. I am supposed to put ointment in my eyes every night before I go to bed. It helps my vision to be clearer. In Revelation 3:18, Jesus encouraged us to acquire eye salve from Him so that we can see. He will give clarity to our spiritual vision so that we can better understand ourselves and our circumstances.

The Second Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Recognize the Reality of God’s Presence.

Once God opened the servant’s eyes, his new spiritual vision enabled him to recognize the reality of God’s presence.  In my personal experience with difficulty, what I need most is just to know God is with me. I need an assurance of His presence.  If God is with me, I can cross any bridge of fear in my path. That will also be true for you. 

Elisha prayed for spiritual vision for his servant. His servant’s eyes were opened, and he came to a new awareness of God’s presence. Knowing God’s presence, enables us to exercise our faith, putting our hope, not in ourselves, but in God.

The Third Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Rely on God’s Mighty Power.

Consider the servant’s initial question in the face of difficulty. It was, “What shall we do.” Once God restores our spiritual vision, enabling us to recognize the nearness of God’s presence, we are able to place our confidence in God’s mighty power. The question is no longer, “what shall we do?” The question becomes, “What will God do.” We learn to rely on God’s mighty power to calm the storm of our circumstances and bring us safely through. We may not always be able to answer that question with specifics. But because we have placed our faith in God, we know what He will do something. We know that He is at work behind the scenes to help us in our difficulty.

The Fourth Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Remember God’s Promise.

In verse 16, Elisha offered his servant a very simple promise as the both of them faced difficulty. That promise simply stated that God’s presence and power was more than sufficient in the face of their present difficulty. Is there ever a time when that is not true? No. That will be true in the face of any difficulty, even the one you are facing today.

The Fifth Key to Surviving the Storm of Difficulty Is to Rest in God’s Peace. 

You will not always see horses and chariots surrounding you in the storm of difficulty. But you do have this promise. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5b-7

The New Testament was originally written in Greek. The word guard originally meant to protect by a military guard. The picture we are intended to see is not that our hearts are surrounded by horses and chariots of fire, but by the impenetrable wall of God’s peace. We know that He is in control of our present circumstances and any future peril that may befall our lives. 

Photo by lee junda