A Defender in Difficulty

Do you stand in need of a fortress? Are you in danger? Are you vulnerable? Are you in that high risk group in danger from COVID-19? If you are one of the defenseless and vulnerable, how would you go about entering the fortress of God’s Presence?

O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress.  My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. Psalm 59:9-10 ESV

While looking through some old files, I found a few notes from my personal Bible study. Notes are precious to me. They take me back to moments when God spoke to me. These notes took me back to a time in 2009 when God spoke these words to my heart, showing me three very simple truths from His word.

I would like to share these truths with you and the verses that inspired them. When God speaks to me, He does so in very simple ways. After all, we are very simple people. We are like children. God gives us the basics. Then we take those basics to our everyday life. It is there He helps us live them out in the midst of our circumstances.

You would think that the older we get, that we would be so much wiser, and the deep things of God would enrich us. And yet, I find that the older I get it is the simple, basic, truths that tend to get lost in the forest of some difficulty. I will give you an example out of my practical experience. 

In 2016, after I had a knee replacement, I was having trouble walking. We had two grandchildren, six and seven, living with us at the time. They took care of me with a tenderness that touched my heart. But I was having trouble making the artificial knee work right. I was going to trained therapists who were trying to help me as well as my surgeon.

But then, one day, while holding my little seven-year-old granddaughter’s hand, she looked up at me and said, “Beep” (they all call me Beep) she said, “Beep, you have to pick your leg up like this.” And she showed me. It was the simplest little thing. But it was the thing only she had observed that I was not doing. It was basic. It didn’t take a rocket scientist or a surgeon to understand it. My seven-year-old granddaughter helped me walk again.

Let me help you walk through your time of personal difficulty by offering some precious truths a seven-year-old could share. These truths aren’t profound, but they may help you walk through whatever valley, whatever darkness, whatever forest difficulty you might be facing. You too can trust God to be your defender in difficulty.

First, To Know God as Strength, You Must Stand in a Position of Weakness.

Is that so hard to understand? No. You understand it perfectly. What kind of weakness has invaded your life? To you, the weakness has hindered you. It is holding you back. Yet, have you considered the weakness itself as an opportunity to experience God as your strength? Listen to what Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 

His power is made perfect in your weakness. His strength is perfect when our strength is gone. We have to get where we don’t know how to walk, before we will let a little seven-year-old girl teach us to walk. We also have to be weak before we are ready to depend on God’s strength.

How then can I access God’s strength?

First, acknowledge your weakness. Is it a physical weakness? Acknowledge that weakness to God. He is not surprised by it, though you might be. Is it a spiritual weakness? Do you not suppose that He also knows that weakness? The promise is the same regardless of the weakness. Simply acknowledge your need.

Second, ask God for strength. Did He not promise to have the supply which you were need? In Isaiah 40:29 God promised: He gives power to the faint,and to him who has no might he increases strength. He gives power to the faint.Are you just about to faint? Are you ready to give in and give up? God waits for you to realize your weakness and to ask for His strength.

Third, once you ask, anticipate the provision of God’s strength. Remember His promise that: they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;they shall mount up with wings like eagles;they shall run and not be weary; Isaiah 40:31

What God promises, He gives. Would you know His strength? Acknowledge your need. Request His strength. In faith, receive it.

By the way, God’s answer to prayer rarely comes with feeling. It comes by experience, as we walk in faith. David didn’t know God’s strength to face Goliath until He made the journey. Likewise, God’s strength is experienced in your weakness as you continue to walk by faith. When you receive it, against whatever enemy that comes against you, it will be obvious that the victory belonged to God and not you.

The fourth thing I would tell you is to personalize the promise. The words of David must become your words. “O MY strength I will watch for You.”

David also said: for You, O God, are my fortress.

2. To Know God as Your Fortress, You Must Stand Defenseless and Vulnerable.

Only those facing trouble and danger need a fortress. A fortress is not a place from which to fight. It is a place to hide. David also called God his hiding place.

Do you have a hiding place? The other night when our phones rang out a tornado warning, my wife and I went to our hiding place. We closed ourselves in, defenseless and helpless against whatever was coming.

Do you stand in need of a fortress? Are you in danger? Are you vulnerable? Are you in that high risk group in danger from COVID-19? If you are one of the defenseless and vulnerable, how would you go about entering the fortress of God’s Presence?

First, Surrender. Just as I was preparing this, I received a message from one of our members whose granddaughter was being taken to the hospital desperately sick. I know how he feels. He is helpless. Right at this very moment, his family needs God to be their fortress—their hiding place.

What can you do? Nothing! Surrender the battle to the Lord. 

Second, take up the position of prayer. You have heard it said that a man is never taller or stronger than when he is on his knees. But while you are there, let me encourage you to spend less time telling God about the size of your problem, and spend more time considering the greatness and majesty of the God you serve. He is a God who sees. He sees you in your hiding place. He sees you in your need. He sees your little granddaughter whether she is holding your hand or whether a doctor is holding hers. You are helpless. You are weak, but He is strong. Didn’t you sing that as a child. Then practice that on your knees.

Third, while you are there rest and trust. I know the panic of a distressed heart, distraught over weakness and helplessness. Not able to do what needs to be done in your own life or in the life of someone you love. Just today, I read another verse that means much to me. Let it speak to you as you ponder how to respond to your circumstances.  For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,“In repentance and rest you will be saved;in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

As you lay out the situation before the Lord, whatever it is, allow Him to carry it. Don’t try to carry it on your own. You’re not able to fight this battle. Surrender it to the Lord. Take up the position of prayer. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him.

Fourth, personalize the promise. Speak it out to God. You are my fortress. You ae my hiding place in times of trouble and uncertainty.

To know God as strength, you must stand in a position of weakness. To know God as your fortress, you must stand defenseless and vulnerable.

Third, In Order to Experience God as Love, You Must Stand Personally in Need of His Mercy.

David said:My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. Psalm 59:10

Let me caution you. When you come to God for help, helpless as you are, in your utter and absolute weakness, the enemy will tell you that you have no basis on which to approach Him. You are too sinful. You are not good enough.

In one way, your enemy is right. You are not good enough. But we never come to God on the basis of our goodness. We come to God on the basis of His steadfast love. We come as those in need of Mercy. 

The Bible tells me that God’s mercy is new every morning. It is not like some limited stimulus a government might give. It is not like some human affection that depends on who I am and what I look like in another’s eyes. God’s love is steadfast and unchanging.

So what should I do? First, affirm it, just as you did as a little child. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong. They are weak, but He is strong! Have you lost sight of God’s love in the forest of some difficulty? God is still your strength in time of weakness. He is your shelter in times of storm. He is your forgiveness in times of failure.

To know God as strength, you must stand in a position of weakness. To know God as your fortress, you must stand defenseless and vulnerable.To experience God as love, you must stand personally in need of His mercy.

There is a song I dearly love because it speaks of God’s greatness and my great need. It is called Made Me Glad. The chorus says this: You are my Shield, my Strength, my Portion, Deliverer, my Shelter, Strong-tower, my Very Present Help in time of need.

May He be all of that and more to you today! May it be your delight to depend on Him! May He shelter you in His fortress and comfort you with His love! May He be your Defender in Difficulty!

Photo by Gustavo Fring@pexels.com

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

One Hour with Jesus

Did you know that if you get 8 hours of sleep every night, you spend 4 months of every year sleeping? If you sleep that much who needs a vacation? If yo,u watch television three hours a day, you spend a month and a half of every year just watching television. If you work forty hours a week, or more, you spend about three months of every year working.  Check your screen time on your phone. I don’t know which side you are of average, but according to statistics, the average person spends about four hours a day on their phone. That translates into two months of every year.

So you spend four months sleeping, three months working, two months on the cell phone, a month and a half watching television. That is the way you spend  over ten months out of every year. If you goof off another four hours of every day that’s the other two months. And that is your life.

In regard to that, allow me to ask you a question, in all of the time that you spend—however you spend it—have you thought about spending one hour with Jesus? How you spend your time is none of my business. But the chances are good that there is a situation in your life right now that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus?  But you didn’t. You were too tired—or too sleepy—or too busy—or too interested in television—or too distracted by sin to spend one hour with Jesus.

And now you have this situation in your life—and you wonder—“If I’d only prayed more and spent less time surfing the web—if I’d only read my Bible more and spent less time watching sports—if I’d only thought about Jesus more than I thought about  _______!”

Consider these words spoken by Jesus to his disciples. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

First, It Was a Personal Question.

How many disciples were in the garden with Jesus? There were three—Peter, James, and John. But Jesus was especially disappointed with Peter.  So He singled Peter out with this question. Jesus asked the question to an individual. Perhaps He will ask that same question to you.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 

Did He single you out as you read it? Did He call your name? As soon as you saw the verse, did you somehow know that Jesus had put His finger on your heart?

Why Peter? Why call his name? Why question him? Do you know the last thing that Jesus said to Peter before they went into the garden?

 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permissionto sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” Luke 22:31-34

This is not only a Personal Question, it is a Question About Prayer.

There was something Jesus knew that Peter didn’t know. Peter needed to pray because of a situation that was coming into his life. One hour spent with Jesus would make all the difference in the world in how He handled it.

Has the Lord called you to pray recently? Has He urged you to adjust your priorities so that you could spend time with Him? Now, I am not talking about time at church. Time at church is not the same as time with Jesus. Do you think Jesus called you to pray because of something He knew that you didn’t? There is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome.

This was a personal question, directed specifically to Peter. And it was a question about prayer. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?”

Couldn’t you—of all people—you who I warned—you who I personally prayed for—couldn’t you have spent one hour with Me—rather than sleeping—rather than surfing the web—rather than talking on your cell phone—rather than….

Not only was it a personal question, not only was it a question about prayer:

It Was A Question About Priorities.

How would you like to take a two week all expenses paid retreat with just one other person? Those two weeks would make all the difference in the world in how you looked at life—in the way you handled your problems—in the way things turn out for you in the future.  Can you give up two weeks?  Can you spare the time?  Can you afford it?  Would you be willing to spend two weeks with Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, or some other financial or business entrepreneur who could give you business or financial insight? You might. But what do any of those people know about the needs that are going to arise in your life and family. How can one of them alert you to some impending crisis that is just around the corner of your life? 

The two week opportunity I am talking about is absolutely free. There’s no travel involved.  You won’t have to take a day off work or spend any time away from your family. All you have to do is to commit to spend One Hour with Jesus. One hour every day for 365 days. Do that and in the course of a year you will spend the equivalent of 15 days, 24 hours a day with Jesus.

Is Jesus asking you for that commitment? Remember, there is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome. So how do you need to adjust your priorities so that you can spend time with Jesus?  Why? Why is it so important? Why was it important for Peter?

Jesus said, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

This Question Concerns the Protection Of Your Life And Your Family.

Jesus only recently warned Peter that Satan had demanded permission to sift him like wheat. Do you know what happens when wheat is sifted? The impurities come to the surface. Everything that is ugly and dirty comes to light. Is that what Satan has planned for you? Is that what he plans to do to your family? Could that be why Jesus has called you to spend time in prayer? Watch and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. Jesus knew what was around the corner in Peter’s life. He knew that a disaster was coming—a failure of Peter’s faith—an embarrassing, humiliating, heart-breaking failure.

But Peter didn’t have to fail! Peter could pray! He could spend an hour with Jesus. But Peter didn’t pray. He couldn’t stay awake. He didn’t adjust his priorities.

Why didn’t you pray? Why haven’t you answered the Lord’s call to prayer? Will you answer it today, before Satan sifts you and your faith fails, and things that are ugly and dirty come to the surface of your life for all the world to see?

The warning that Jesus gave Peter is a warning that most of us have turned into an excuse. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I know I ought to pray. The spirit is willing—but I just can’t seem to spare that hour of sleep—or give up that hour of television—or sacrifice that hour of spare time. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

How did Jesus know that ? Because He was flesh, just like you and me. He was flesh for forty days in the wilderness, and when Satan came to sift Him in His weakness, His spirit said no to Satan’s suggestion to turn stones to bread. And His spirit said yes to God.

He did that every day. Many times He sacrificed sleep getting up a great while before day to go out to a lonely place to pray. Jesus knew that Peter would have to say no to sleep to watch and pray. But he didn’t. He slept and didn’t pray. And just hours later, Peter was in a courtyard where Jesus was taken to be questioned. Satan was there waiting for him.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk ]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75

That was the situation that Jesus warned him about. That is why Peter needed to adjust his priorities so that he could spend one hour with Jesus. Now, what situation exists in your life that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus? What situation has caused things that are ugly and dirty to surface in your life—that might never have surfaced if you had spent one hour with Jesus?

What situation has entered your life that when it happened you felt as if you were looking squarely into the face of Jesus—and you—like Peter wept bitterly because you fully understood that it might have been different—it might never have happened—if only you had spent one hour with Jesus.

You must adjust your priorities so that you can spend ONE HOUR WITH JESUS.

Finally, This Is A Question That Probes The Heart Of Your Relationship With Lord Jesus.  

Jesus addressed Peter as representative of the group, and He said, why could you—you of all people—you men of all men—you who have I have shared so much of my life with—why could you not spend one hour with Me.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart concerning his personal relationship with Him. Let me ask you some final questions? When is the last time you spent even five minutes with Jesus? Maybe its been a while. Are things messed up inside you? Are there personal and spiritual disappointments that are directly related to your failure to spend time with Jesus? Only you can answer that question. 

Now let me ask you another question: Are things broken in and around your life? Relationships? People? Your Finances? Your home? Your job? Would those things be broken if you had spent time with Jesus instead of spending time_________? Last question: Could things be different, if from today you began spending time with Jesus? If what you have been doing is not working, why not try spending one hour with Jesus.

Photo by Agê Barros

How God Guides

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit? Is it audible?

How does a person go about discerning guidance from God? God doesn’t send out emails or text messages or newsletters offering His guidance. (I don’t get them. I don’t know about you.) So, how am I to recognize His guidance for my life.

I want to share an example from the life of Peter. In Acts chapter 11, Peter reported to the church in Jerusalem concerning his mission into Gentile territory. Christianity was in its infancy. The first believers were still wrestling with personal prejudices.  Initially, Peter’s mission created quite a controversy in the church in Jerusalem. They wanted to know who authorized such a trip. That is when Peter went into great detail concerning how God guided his journey. When we put together his explanation with the details of the story, we get a very clear picture of how God guides. 

Peter shares how it all began.  5“I was in the city of Joppa praying…Acts 11:5a

While there is no indication that Peter was specifically praying for guidance from God, that is when His guidance came. In prayer, we share our hearts with God, and He shares His heart with us. All the great men of the Bible, including Jesus, took time every day to pray.  If you will take time to pray, as you share the concerns of your heart with God, He will share the concerns of His heart with you.

In the previous chapter, where more details of the account are given, we discover Peter went up on the roof. He did this so he could be out of the hustle and bustle below where meal preparation was taking place.

Peter was just like us. He had no idea of what God was doing somewhere else in the world. Yet, what God was doing in Peter’s life had a direct connection to what God was already doing in another person’s heart. That man, Cornelius, was prompted by God to send to Joppa for a man he had never met. The man’s name was Simon Peter. Peter didn’t know that the men were already on their way. God set events in motion in two men’s hearts so that His purpose could be accomplished. That lets us know that God knew where Peter would be in advance. I have no doubt, the prompting to pray came from God. Peter went on to describe what happened while he was praying.

4But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision… Acts 11:4-5

I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what that meant? Some translations describe it as a visionary state. However the Greek word used to describe Peter’s experience is a word that refers to a mind so fixed and focused on the things of God that all else fades away.In that moment alone with God, his spiritual perception became exceptionally clear, and God communicated through signs or symbols that appeared very real.God used that opportunity as a teaching moment to prepare Peter for what was ahead. This happened in the context of prayer, and I think we can safely say that without prayer, Peter would have missed this guidance from God.

First, Peter’s guidance was received in the context of prayer.

Second, in the context of prayer, Peter received a witness in his spirit.

While Peter was praying, something happened, but it happened inside Peter. He describes that moment, and it must have been just a moment. You understand the process of dreams. Peter’s experience involved a question and answer session about this sheet that he saw that was filled with animals.  Why did God have to use such a symbol to get Peter’s attention?  It was because Peter had a major hindrance to receiving God’s guidance. Do you have any idea what that might have been? It was his own prejudice. Likewise, one of our greatest hindrances to receiving guidance from God is our own personal prejudice.  We already have our own mind made up before we go to God to ask.  Therefore, one of our biggest challenges is being willing to allow God to mold our mindset to his.  If I come to prayer with my mind made up about the guidance I want from God, that is the guidance I will probably get.  I will not allow God to move my mind from my will to His.  Watch this struggle take place in the life of Peter.

I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8“But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10“This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.  Acts 11:5-10

The first part of God’s dealing with Peter was to prompt him to give up his own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God for his life.  As God guides you away from your own will toward His will for your life, He may use lessons from life just like He used with Peter.  

God may have something for you to do that is different from what you have in mind.  You may want to serve Him but not as a missionary.  You may want to be a missionary but not with a specific people group whose race or customs you find repulsive.  So God may lead you through a process of discovery to teach you to give up your will in favor of His own. That also has to happen in the life of a church. Each person must give up his or her own will for the church in favor of the will of Christ, who is the Head. When He reveals it, we must follow without question just as Peter did.

Obviously, this didn’t happen immediately for Peter. Peter’s initial response was to tell the Lord, “No.” But the process continued, until after the third time, God had Peter’s attention.  

When you pray, stay alert to see what happens next. You will notice that what happened next in Peter’s life was essential to him discerning the guidance of God.

Third, the witness in Peter’s spirit was confirmed by the witness of circumstances.  

11And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Acts 12:11

Can you put two and two together?  If you pray, and ask God for guidance, what is it when the phone rings and someone who had no idea you were seeking God calls to give you information that fits right into how you had prayed.  That is guidance, and it is likely guidance from God.  

Suppose you are seeking God’s guidance about surrendering to be a missionary.  When you pray, you inform God that if He wants you to go to the mission field, you first need to sell your home.  You struggle with that issue because you love your home and you don’t want to give it up. So, you continue to pray and ask God for guidance.  Then one day someone calls you and tells you they were looking for a house in your neighborhood and were wondering if you ever thought about selling your home. What is that?  That is guidance.  It is the witness of circumstances confirming the witness in your spirit—and it all grew out of the context of prayer.

Fourth, the witness of circumstances was confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.

The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.  Acts 11:12

These three events came for Peter in rapid succession.  First was the vision—this witness in his spirit. Then came the obvious providential circumstances.  And then like a bolt out of the blue came the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The time will come when God will make it very clear to you what He wants you to do.  He will show you the direction you should take.  The answer will come in the context of prayer.  It will come when you are willing to surrender your personal prejudices in favor of the will of God.  There will be a witness in your spirit.  There will be circumstances that take place that seem to confirm that witness.  But the ultimate authority is the witness of God’s Spirit who will say to you, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit?  Is it audible?  For me it has never been.  But I can tell you this, although that voice has always come in a different way, I always knew it when it when it came. When God speaks to verify His leading, you will know that it is God.  

How can you be sure? There is only one way to verify God’s guidance. When God shows you the way—walk in it.

Finally, Peter’s guidance was verified in the context of obedience.  

12“The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13“And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.  Acts 11:4-15

When Peter began to take steps of obedience, each one was verified by God.  He saw God’s activity.  He saw how God had been working to prepare the way for his visit to that home.  He saw God’s work in the lives of those to whom he preached.  But how would the guidance of God have ever been validated if Peter had not been obedient. There are some things that you will never know until you make the journey of obedience.  

Pray for God’s guidance.  As you listen for a witness in your spirit be sure that you are willing to give up your own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God. Watch for providential circumstances that God will use like signposts pointing the way.  Make sure that you have that vital witness of the Holy Spirit before you go.  Then when God shows you the way, walk in it and watch God work.

In the fall of 1988, I found myself in the small community of Camden, Alabama, being considered as the pastor of the church there. I didn’t know a soul. In many ways, it was like a foreign country to me. I was so apprehensive for myself and for my family. I needed some word from God about what to do.

I was alone in the back hallway waiting to enter the sanctuary. The instrumentalists inside began playing the prelude music. I recognized the tune. It was the familiar hymn, Trust and Obey. As they played, one of the verses of that hymn came clearly to my mind. “But you never can prove the delights of His love, until all on the altar you lay. For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for those who will trust and obey.” In that moment, I knew clearly what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to surrender my family and my future into His hands. The only way to confirm God’s guidance up to that moment was to obey. I did, and never once have I regretted the years I spent there. 

God’s guidance in one decision will not be a blueprint for another. However, these basic principles have helped me get a sense of God’s will for my life.  

Photo by Robin Noguier

Seeking God’s Guidance

Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you? Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God? Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction that you have already taken or are about to take?

The capital city was in shambles. People were hungry and homeless. I can think of cities around the world today who are experiencing the practical implications of such a calamity. However, these people were living in Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah. Foreign invaders, under the directive of the king of Babylon, captured the king. They murdered his sons before his eyes. Then they put out his eyes so that it would be his last visual memory. They burned the temple and every other house of size in the city, taking the best and brightest of the people captive. They did leave behind the poor, fearing no threat or reprisal from them. It is these, the poor and homeless, who stood in the rubble of what was once home, who came to an awareness of a need to seek God’s guidance. By the grace of God, Jeremiah was not taken captive and was allowed to remain in the land with these people.

Imagine the helplessness of these people. It was made worse by a power struggle going on behind the scenes in the chaos. A new leader was appointed by the invading king to govern these homeless poor. The new leader was murdered, along with many who gathered themselves around him, throwing these hungry, homeless poor into further chaos. Johanon, a leader who helped bring some order to the chaos, and personally rescued some of the people, felt things were about to get much worse. Fearing reprisal from the king of Babylon, these desperate people made up their minds to flee to Egypt.

In the calamity that swirled, confusion reigned in the hearts of God’s people. Perhaps your circumstances are not as dire, but you can certainly feel the desperation of these confused people as they grappled with decisions they needed to make in the midst of calamity. One of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity is: 

  1.  Confused People Tend to Follow Their Instincts and Feelings Rather than Following God. 

Their decision to return to Egypt was based on fear and on their perceived personal need. When God delivered His people from Egypt through Moses, He intended for them to never return.  Any return to Egypt was tantamount to abandoning their faith in the God who had planted them in the land.

Have you ever been flushed from your position of trust in the Lord by fear?  When you evaluate your circumstances from the eyes of fear instead of the eyes of faith, you will follow your instincts, your feelings, your fears, rather than following God? This is what these people were about to do. However, to their credit, they realized their need for God’s guidance. Therefore, these desperate people sought out the prophet Jeremiah. They asked him to pray for them, asking God for direction. The directions God gave them, as well as their response, can be found in Jeremiah 42.

Remember, one of the dangers of decision making in the midst of calamity, is that confused people tend to follow their instincts and feelings rather than following God. Consider the following request they made to the prophet Jeremiah.

Then all the commanders of the forces, Johanan the son of Kareah, Jezaniah the son of Hoshaiah, and all the people both small and great approached and said to Jeremiah the prophet, “Please let our petition come before you, and pray for us to the Lord your God, that is for all this remnant; because we are left but a few out of many, as your own eyes now see us, that the Lord your God may tell us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do.” Jeremiah 42:1-3

That request seemed, on the surface, straightforward and very sincere. Most of us are willing to quiz God concerning His guidance for our lives.  We believe, just as they did, that God’s guidance is good medicine and should be considered in our decision-making process. What we believe and what we practice are often quite different.

Jeremiah gladly agreed to their request to seek God’s guidance in their behalf.

Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, “I have heard you. Behold, I am going to pray to the Lord your God in accordance with your words; and I will tell you the whole message which the Lord will answer you. I will not keep back a word from you.” Then they said to Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with the whole message with which the Lord your God will send you to us.Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:4-6

However, these people suffered from the same basic problem we struggle with today when we seek a word from God.

2.  Too Often, God’s People Seek a Word from God that Will Affirm the Way They Feel.

There is a great deal of commitment on the surface of their promise in verse six.  There is also a great deal of truth in their understanding of the ways of God.  It will go well with us when we listen to the voice of our God.   Are you in the process of seeking God’s guidance about some set of circumstances that trouble you?   Are you sincerely seeking the mind of God?  Or, could it be that you are in the process of seeking Him to bless a direction you have already taken or are about to take? Always make your decisions based on God’s guidance and His knowledge of your circumstances, and not your own.  

3. When You Seek God’s Guidance, Make Sure You Abandon Your Personal Priorities in Favor of the Will of God. 

While that appears to be what they had done, as the story unfolds, it is clear they failed to abandon their own plans.  They were still leaning on their own understanding.  Do you trust God’s will over your own?  Do you believe God’s will is always best—that his directions are always right?  Until you do, you will not abandon your ways in favor of His ways. 

4. When You Seek God’s Guidance, You Must Be Willing to Wait for a Word from God.  

Now at the end of ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah. Jeremiah 42:7

How long did it take an Old Testament prophet to hear from God? The time varied—but it always required waiting.  Jeremiah waited before the Lord for ten days. Seeking God’s guidance does not mean making a decision—asking for God’s blessing—and then taking steps in the direction of the decision that you have made.  Seeking God’s guidance means praying, and making no decisions and taking no steps, until you have a clear word from God.

The greatest evidence of a person’s faith is not how quickly they make decisions but how long they are willing to stand still waiting for a word from God.  Circumstances often scream hurry.  Faith whispers wait.  These people were forced into seeking God’s guidance by the desperation of their circumstances.  What is the crisis that is prompting you to seek the Lord?

Then he called for Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces that were with him, and for all the people both small and great, and said to them, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition before Him: 10 ‘If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you. 11 Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand. 12 I will also show you compassion, so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your own soil.Jeremiah 4:8-12

This was a crisis controlled by God.  As they received God’s guidance, they learned their calamity was God imposed. It was sent because of their sins, and it was sent to prompt them to seek God.  It was a calamity from which they could bedelivered, if they responded in obedience to their word from God.  

If there is a storm of calamity swirling around your life, you need a word from God.  You need to hear what God is saying to you in the midst of your circumstances.  As the stormy mists swirl around you, you might be tempted to look at your circumstances through the eyes of fear. If you do, you will be guided by your feelings.  Instead, ask God to show you your circumstances through the eyes of faith. In Experiencing God,Henry Blackaby wisely observed, “You never know the truth about your circumstances until you have heard from the truth.” What is God’s promise? What is God’s guidance? What is God’s perspective of your present calamity? Ask Him. Wait for an answer, and as you prayerfully wait, pledge to do whatever He tells you. Above all else, keep that promise and obey God!

5. God Waits for Our Obedience to Bring an End to the Crisis that Has Come into Our Lives!  

God’s word was “Stay in the land…”The situation that swirled around them was desperate. All their precious things had become a ruin. There was terror on every side.  But if they would hold their ground and trust God, He would work all things together for their good.

What is the word that God has spoken to your heart in the midst of your circumstances.? Has He whispered,“Wait, Stay, Trust?”  Or could the fear in your heart be because He has whispered, “Go to a land that I will show you?”Whatever God’s word is to your life, your obedience is critical.

When you are seeking God’s guidance, you must come to the firm conviction that you will do whatever God asks you to do. Unfortunately, their commitment to obedience was a commitment of the lips and not a commitment of the heart.  Is your commitment to obedience a heart deep commitment?  Are you ready to do whatever it is that God is calling you to do?

6. When You Receive God’s Guidance, It Will Require You to Act in Faith in the Face of Your Fear.  

13 But if you are going to say, “We will not stay in this land,” so as not to listen to the voice of the Lordyour God, 14 saying, “No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of a trumpet or hunger for bread, and we will stay there”; 15 then in that case listen to the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “If you really set your mind to enter Egypt and go in to reside there, 16 then the sword, which you are afraid of, will overtake you there in the land of Egypt; and the famine, about which you are anxious, will follow closely after you there in Egypt, and you will die there. 17 So all the men who set their mind to go to Egypt to reside there will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence; and they will have no survivors or refugees from the calamity that I am going to bring on them.”’”Jeremiah 42:13-17

Remember, these people had already set their mind to go to Egypt before they consulted God.  Does God know the true motives of our heart when we pray?  Does He know when we are seeking Him to bless our plans and when we are seeking to know the blessing of His plan for us?  He does!  We would do well to hear the warning He gave to the people in Jeremiah’s day and to hear it loud and clear.  

Please understand that the fears of God’s people were well founded. They had reason to believe the King of Babylon would retaliate because of the assassination of the governor he placed over them. But the King of Heaven was Sovereign over the affairs of His people. HE STILL IS! God is well aware of the dangers we face as we follow Him.  If you continue to allow your life to be ruled by your feelings and your fears, you will miss the activity of God.   The very things that we fear will hound our every step if we head in any direction other than the one assigned to us by God.  

Remember their commitment:Whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, we will listen to the voice of the Lord our God to whom we are sending you, so that it may go well with us when we listen to the voice of the Lord our God.”Jeremiah 42:6

Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.

19 The Lord has spoken to you, O remnant of Judah, “Do not go into Egypt!” You should clearly understand that today I have testified against you.20 For you have only deceived yourselves; for it is you who sent me to the Lord your God, saying, “Pray for us to the Lord our God; and whatever the Lord our God says, tell us so, and we will do it.” 21 So I have told you today, but you have not obeyed the Lord your God, even in whatever He has sent me to tell you. 22 Therefore you should now clearly understand that you will die by the sword, by famine and by pestilence, in the place where you wish to go to reside.Jeremiah 42:19-22

Their response to God’s word and warnings through Jeremiah is recorded in Jeremiah 43.

But as soon as Jeremiah, whom the Lord their God had sent, had finished telling all the people all the words of the Lord their God—that is, all these words— Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lordto stay in the land of Judah…. and they entered the land of Egypt (for they did not obey the voice of the Lord) and went in as far as Tahpanhes. Jeremiah 43:1-4; 7 

7. Never Take a Step that Will Violate Clear Guidance from God!

What a sad commentary on the faith of God’s people. They were walking by their feelings and not by faith. They were viewing their circumstances through the eyes of fear and not the eyes of faith.  They made their decision, leaning on their own understanding rather than the guidance of their God. If you are on the verge of violating clear guidance from God, don’t! Stop! Wait! Reconsider! It will go well with you if you will do what God wants you to do! If you disobey God, the very disaster you fear will overtake you. 

I don’t know your circumstances. I don’t know your calamity or how deep the chaos is that swirls around your life. However, I do know the God who spoke order out of the chaos of pre-creation, who spoke light out of darkness and life out of deadness. I know Him whose way is in the whirlwind and the storm and the clouds are the dust of His feet. He has the power to say to the storm in your life, “Peace, be still!” 

Don’t make decisions without God’s guidance. Seek Godly counsel to help you understand the will and ways of God. Don’t act on fear or instinct. Always act in faith based on God’s promises. Seek a word from God in the midst of your personal circumstances. Be willing to wait for it. Whatever God says to you, be sure to obey His counsel and follow His direction. 

What are the circumstances that stand in your face and scream for you to take matters into your own hands?  The situation screams hurry! But in your heart, a still small voice whispers “Wait!”  Which of those voices will you allow to govern your life?

Photo by Joshua Watson 

The Way You Should Choose

Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct Him in the way he should choose. Psalm 25:12

This is just one of many examples of God’s willingness to guide you in your life journey. Perhaps you are seeking God’s will for your life. How would you ever come to know what it is He wants you to do?

Early in my personal journey, I was tentative about following God. Not only was I not sure I knew how to discern the will of God, I was genuinely afraid of knowing what it was. What if God wanted me to do something that made me unhappy? What if His guidance was in direct opposition to my own personal goals?

Down through the years, I lost my fear of following God. I learned that God always has my best interest at heart. My moments of greatest fulfillment have been moments when I acted in obedience to the will of God. Now, instead of being afraid to follow, my greatest fear is of missing God’s guidance or making decisions without His direction. I trust God to know what lies ahead. Make no mistake, there will always be some cost in following God, but the cost of disobedience is far greater.

Each of us comes to a moment I call The Crisis of Decision.You will inevitably come to a crossroad in your life when you will have to choose which way to go. You may be choosing between two roads or trying to figure out which road of many is the road God wants you to travel. A person facing the crisis of decision needs guidance from God. Human wisdom will not answer this question. Human counselors can offer no insight or guidance in the face of this decision.

You might be on the front end of your life trying to discern God’s guidance in the matter of a career. You might be in mid-life struggling to know God’s leadership about a job change. You might be a retired person seeking God’s guidance about relocating to be near your children. You might be faced with a decision about treatment options regarding your health. All of these decisions bring a person to a moment of crisis. How will you know the way you should choose?

A person facing the crisis of decision is also facing the Crisis of Direction. A person who fears the Lord has a sincere desire to know the right way. Here it says the Lord will show him the way he should choose.

I found it interesting that this particular word translated choosecan refer to either a divine choice or a human choice. In every decision, God gives you the freedom to choose your own way. He will never force His will upon your life. However, a person who fears the Lord, leaves this decision to the Him. God has given me the freewill to choose, but if I am wise, I know that my life will be better if I choose God’s choice over my own. Jesus struggled with God’s direction in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he prayed there, He realized the agony of the cross was just ahead. He prayed that God might release him from that assignment. However, He also prayed, “yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Luke 22:42

God gives you the freedom to choose, but He wants you to choose the way of His will. How do you know God’s will? It will not be immediately apparent. It will not simply unfold in the course of living. The person who experiences the crisis of direction is the person who fears the Lord. The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant. Psalm 25:14

God’s will for your life is a divine secret. That secret is not within my power to know. It is up to the Lord to make it known. God’s will is hidden from the viewpoint of the natural man and the natural mind. But God reveals His will to those who fear Him.

The crisis of direction is that moment you come before God asking for His wisdom. Like Jesus, you are surrendering your own will in favor of His plan for your life. Many years ago, my life was impacted by the story of one man’s effort to know the will of God. His name was Everette Howard. He sensed that God might have a plan for his life. He went inside the church where his father was pastor. He took a pen and paper and knelt at the altar of the church. On his paper, he wrote promises of all the things he was willing to do for God. It was his list. He signed his name at the bottom of the paper and laid it at the altar. I suppose he expected thunder or lightning or some other sign of approval from God. Instead, there was only silence. After a time of waiting, God impressed upon his heart to do something different. So he tore up the paper he had written. Then he took a blank sheet of paper and signed his name at the bottom. From that moment forward, He trusted God to fill it in. That is the crisis of direction. It is that moment when you surrender up your life to the will of God even without knowing what it is. Are you willing to offer your life to God as a blank sheet of paper, allowing Him to write the story of your life?

The person who fears the Lord trusts God’s wisdom above his or her own. I am always amazed by the story of Abraham and Lot as they parted company. Abraham allowed Lot to choose the part of the land he wanted. In so doing, Abraham was releasing his life to God’s choice for him. Whatever God wanted for him, was what he wanted for himself and his family. Can you leave the choice up to God?

Finally, comes the Crisis of Discovery. How can a person truly know the will of God? This may especially concern you if you don’t consider yourself to meet the qualifications. You may feel unworthy to ask God for direction or to receive it. You feel disqualified from discovering the will of God. In the wake of that, this psalm has some good news for those of us who may feel disqualified or in some other way inhibited from being in a positon to know the will of God

If I am to know His will it must be by His Grace. “Good and upright is the Lord, therefore He instructs sinners in the way.”  Psalm 25:8 The very next verse says, “He teaches the humble His way.” Psalm 25:9

Never should you approach God with any sense of deserving His guidance. All of us are unworthy. We are the blind groping for His hand to lead us. Should He so choose to show us the way of His will, it will be by His grace. Acknowledge your personal sinfulness before the Lord. Admit your former rebellion against His will and His way. Repent (tell God you are sorry) and offer up your life to God in absolute surrender, with no strings attached.

Let me give you this word of wisdom. If you come to know the will of God, it must come by a way of His choosing. In Psalm 25:12, the Hebrew word, translated instruct, comes from a word that means to shoot as an archer would shoot an arrow. When I discovered the root meaning of that word, I immediately thought of Jonathan’s signal to David that it was time to leave the house of Saul. How did he let him know?  He shot an arrow. The arrow was a signal, a sign. (I Samuel 18:20ff)

God will instruct you, but it will be by way of God’s choosing. He will show you, but you will not know until you see that arrow of direction that God shoots your way. Something will transpire that will serve as your sign, your signal. I can assure you, you will know that moment when it comes. For Moses, the crisis of discovery came at a burning bush. For David, that moment came when Samuel showed up at his house to anoint him king. Many times, my discovery of the will of God came at a simple moment that turned into a Divine Appointment when I clearly knew that God was speaking to me. 

In your quest to know God’s will, be assured of this: Who is the man who fears the Lord? He will instruct Him in the way he should choose. Psalm 25:12

Photo by Vladislav Babienko

Receiving Spiritual Vision

God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight. Will you allow God to guide you with His eyes, or will you walk only in the path of the familiar? Dare we entrust ourselves to His eyes? Can we trust His leadership? Those who refuse to walk by faith, will never experience true spiritual vision and will miss much, if not all of God’s activity in and around their lives..

I love the stories of Jesus’ interactions with people in the New Testament. Every encounter with Jesus is unique, but this one so unique that it prompts us to take a step back and see if there are principles we might discover about receiving spiritual vison.  After his initial encounter with Jesus, the Lord’s work in his life was incomplete.  Is His work incomplete in your life? Is something missing or lacking or unfinished in the work Jesus stared in your life? That is true about me. And although I can’t speak for you, I think it is true about us all. While Jesus saves to the uttermost not to the almost, most us experience that work as a process. Yet, if there is a short circuit in you spiritually, if your spiritual vision is cloudy, it is not due to any flaw in our Lord or His work! The flaw is in you and in your own willingness for Him to complete His work in you. 

Consider the story as it appears in Scripture, and then we will try and apply some principles that relate to receiving spiritual vision.

22 And they *came to Bethsaida. And they *brought a blind man to Jesus and *implored Him to touch him. 23 Taking the blind man by the hand, He brought him out of the village; and after spitting on his eyes and laying His hands on him, He asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” 25 Then again He laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. 26 And He sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.” Mark 8:22-26

There are some fundamental principles here in this story that apply to us all. These principles that mean the difference between spiritual sight and spiritual blindness 

There can be no spiritual vision apart from the intervention of the Lord Jesus. 

This man lived all his life, up until the moment he met Jesus, in utter darkness. As such, he becomes a symbol of all who are without Christ. They  live in darkness and walk in darkness and work the works of darkness—because that is all that they know.  Spiritual hearing and spiritual sight come about only by God’s activity—only by the touch of His hand.

Could I ask you the question that Jesus asked this man? Do you see anything?  I raise that question because Jesus raised it in the life of this man. The work of Christ in His life had a beginning, but it was incomplete. Light was dawning in His darkness, but His vision was not what he prayed it would be or what God wanted it to be. Is yours?

This story begins with this blind man being brought to Jesus. He was led through the darkness by the hand of another. Who were these people who led him to Jesus? Whoever they were, they were people he trusted. He trusted their leadership. He had confidence in their ability to lead him safely through the darkness that engulfed his life.

Did he use a cane and tap his way or feel his way through the familiar streets of Bethsaida? Blind people are comfortable with familiar surroundings. Outside of that which is familiar, they need to trust someone else to lead them. That is due to no weakness in courage or their character. It is a fundamental need.

Some years ago, my sister-in-law was involved in raising miniature horses. They had one of those small horses they cherished more than all the rest. That horse was blind. They made sure that it always stayed in a familiar enclosure. That horse trotted around a familiar place just as if it could see. But if you put it in unfamiliar surroundings the little horse became tentative and afraid.

This man might easily tap or feel his way around Bethsaida. But in order to find Jesus, he needed some measure of assistance.  But for finding Jesus, he could find everything else in Bethsaida. He could find the well, or the market, or his home. On the familiar streets of Bethsaida, he could function as if he had eyes to see, even though he was blind.

But notice the first thing Jesus did when He encountered the blind man. He took him by the hand and brought him out of the village.

Here is the second principle of spiritual vision.

This blind man had to be content to let Jesus be his eyes before He himself could see. And this is true for all of us.

I have come to the point in my life when I trust the eyes of Jesus more than I trust my own. I have stumbled enough. I’ve wandered enough. I have decided that I will trust Jesus to guide me. That man had to make a similar decision early in his encounter with the Lord Jesus. 

When God called Moses and the children of Israel to leave Egypt, they began a long journey through the wilderness. God was bringing them to the place of His presence, and it required them to leave all that was familiar in Egypt, depending on His leadership.

That is the way God intends for us to function. We are to trust Him to be our eyes and lead us. Unfortunately, they didn’t get very fa, before Moses decided they needed a wilderness guide other than God. So, he enlisted the assistance of his brother-in-law,  Hobab. He must have been an expert survival guide. Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the desert, and you can be our eyes.” (See Numbers 10: 29-32) It is hard to imagine Moses being willing to depend on any leader other than God to guide them. But for a time, Moses was more willing to depend on the substitute guidance of Hobab. 

God was the one who wanted to guide them through the unfamiliar wilderness. And He did! Consider the promise God made in Isaiah 42:16 “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.

Isn’t that exactly what Jesus was doing in this story, as this blind man trusted Him to be His eyes.  There was a level of trust and confidence he had to place in the Lord Jesus Christ, while he was still in darkness. Jesus was leading him away from the comfortable and familiar and He had to trust the eyes and heart of Jesus to lead him safely.

The way of God’s leadership will always be unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable. That leads me to a third principle of Spiritual Vision.

There can be no spiritual vision apart from the intervention of the Lord Jesus.You must be content to let Jesus be your eyes before you can see. 

You must risk walking by faith before you will ever walk by sight.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way in which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,Psal. 32:8-10

The blind man had no idea where Jesus was taking him or what He was about to do. He could have refused Jesus leadership. He could have resisted leaving the comfort of the familiar. He could have demanded sight before following Jesus. But he followed the leadership of the Lord Jesus while he was still a blind man!

God calls us to walk by faith and not by sight. Will you allow God to guide you with His eyes, or will you walk only in the path of the familiar? Dare we entrust ourselves to His eyes? Can we trust His leadership? Those who refuse to walk by faith, will never experience true spiritual vision and will miss much, if not all of God’s activity in and around their lives..

Where are you in your relationship with Jesus? Are you allowing Him to lead you? Are you trusting Him to lead you? Or, are you still clinging to the familiar and more than a little afraid to step out in faith? If you never do, you will never see anything spiritually. Your spiritual vision will always be cloudy, and you will fail to experience God.

Helen was a little Alabama girl. She was the darling of her parent’s heart and the joy of their lives. She was only two-years-old when sickness invaded their home and threatened her life. Her parents prayed desperately that God would save her life. God heard their prayer, and Helen’s life was spared. But little Helen was left deaf and blind as a result of her illness. Soon, in her world of silent darkness, she lost the precious words she learned as a toddler. 

In those days, the deaf and blind were considered mentally impaired. There were times when Helen’s parents thought this might be true of her. How do you raise a child who can’t see or hear or respond with intelligence? Five years passed before a single soul made contact with Helen’s mind. Her parents brought into their home, a tutor from Perkin’s Institution for the Blind, in Boston. The tutor’s name was Anne Sullivan. The little girl’s name was Helen Keller. 

In Helen Keller’s own words, she shared her feelings of those early days. 

“Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped its way toward the shore—and you waited with beating heart (expecting any moment to run aground)? I was like that ship before (Anne Sullivan), only I was without compass or sounding line—I had  no way of knowing how near the harbor was. ‘Light! Give me light!’ was the wordless cry of my soul.”

Anne Sullivan conquered the wild and restless soul of a little blind girl in Alabama. She made contact with her mind through her sense of touch by spelling words into her hands through the use of sign language. One day, one of those words spelled into Helen’s hand became real, and the chains of silent darkness were released from her soul. But it would not have happened without her tutor Anne Sullivan. She could not give sight to her eyes, but she could give sight to her mind.

A person without Jesus is as blind as the man of Bethsaida. You are as blind as Helen Keller. Your mind and your heart and your soul are as dark and deaf to spiritual truths as hers was to physical truths. You can see with the eyes of your head, but you have never seen with the eyes of your heart.

Some of you are yet to allow Jesus to be your eyes. You are spending all your life walking by sight and not by faith. You want your church to walk by sight and not by faith. As long as we do, as long as we resist God’s leadership for sake of the comfort of the familiar. we will never experience the wonder of what God can do.

In the 1870’s and 1880’s a flurry of new hymns were being written. They were also being sung and with great effect. They were so effective in fact, that many of them are still sung today. Some of those hymns were “Redeemed How I Love to Proclaim It” “He Hideth My Soul” “To God Be The Glory” “Rescue the Perishing” “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” and “Pass Me Not O Gentle Savior”. Thank God, somebody was willing to sing a new hymn!

One of the reason people were open to these songs is because of who wrote them. They were all written by Fanny Crosby who was blind. She was blinded at six weeks old by a mustard plaster used as a treatment for a cold. The rest of her life she would be led by the hand of another. But because Fanny Crosby let Jesus be her eyes I am have been blessed and you have been blessed by her hymns. She wrote over eight thousand!

One of them expresses the great confidence she had in the leadership of Jesus. She lived blind from six weeks old until her death at 95. But this hymn expresses her trust in His leadership.

All the way my Savior leads me; What have I to ask beside Can I doubt His tender mercy, Who thro life has been my guide Heavn’ly peace, Divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell; For I know what’er bfall me, Jesus doeth all things well.

Is it true? Then let Him lead you. Trust His leadership. Trust Him to lead you, and trust Him to lead your church!

There can be no spiritual vision apart from the intervention of the Lord Jesus. You must be content to let Jesus be your eyes before you can see. You must risk walking by faith before you will ever walk by sight.

You often need more than one touch from Jesus before you can clearly see.

It always helps me to picture these stories in my mind. Jesus and this blind man walk out of town hand in hand. What kind of conversation did they have as they walked along the way? The blind man walked in darkness, and Jesus was to him instead of eyes. Then came the moment to bring him out of darkness. Why was this a two-stage healing? After the first touch he had only partial sight.

What was Jesus trying to teach this man? And what is He trying to teach us by placing this story in His word?

Should we see in this story an indication that our contact with Jesus is far too casual. We are in a terrible hurry. We want our blessing from the Lord now! We have no time for the hand in hand walk amidst our darkness. We want answers now. We want blessings now. When we have been touched by Jesus, we tend to hurry away, rather than to wait in His presence for the second touch. eE run into His presence for guidance and then run away at the first glimmer of light rather than linger in His presence for a second touch.

That is my great concern as I look over the church today. One touch is all it took for you. You got touched when you were nine and you haven’t been touched since! Because of it, your vision is cloudy and your heart is cold. You need a fresh touch from Jesus. 

Let Jesus touch me as often as He wishes. Let him touch me again and again and again until my eyes be opened, my sin defeated, and my soul made whole!

Some of you need his touch desperately. You’ve heard of him, and read of him, and sung of him, but you have never experienced the touch of His hand. You are spiritually blind, and today Jesus would touch the eyes of your spirit that you might believe and be saved!

Some of you encountered the Lord many years ago. He touched you then. He saved you then. But since then your spiritual experience has been mundane. Routine and ritual have droned a numbness and paralysis into your soul. You need a fresh touch from the Lord Jesus today. Your eyes have developed spiritual cataracts from sin and complacency. You need a fresh touch that the scales might fall from your eyes and your spiritual sight and vitality be restored.

There can be no spiritual vision apart from the intervention of the Lord Jesus. You must be content to let Jesus be your eyes before you can see. You must risk walking by faith before you will ever walk by sight. You often need more than one touch from Jesus before you can clearly see.

PHOTO BY JOSH CALABRESE

Making Your Difficulty God’s Opportunity

Have you ever taken such a step of faith, with confidence you did exactly what God wanted you to do, and then wake up the next morning flooded with second thoughts? Did I do the right thing? Did I act in the emotion of the moment? Did I make the worst mistake of my life?

Are you standing in a position of difficulty? Has something hard come into your life? Is your world falling apart?  The prophet Jeremiah found himself in such a place. Jeremiah didn’t record all his thoughts or all his conversations with God. But he records this one with some precision. In my prayer journal, I put a date at the top of the page. If there are significant events that need to be noted, I also include them to set the tone for my conversation with God. In the 32nd chapter of Jeremiah, he notes the time and circumstances of his conversation with God. It was the tenth year of Zedekiah. Jerusalem was on the verge of destruction. The Babylonians had the city under siege. Jeremiah was locked in the court of the guard because he continued to warn the city of the coming destruction. It was in that period of difficulty that God spoke to Jeremiah. It left such an impression on his life that he recorded the moment in his journal.  

God revealed to him that his first cousin, Hanamel, was about to offer to sell him a piece of property. All of Jerusalem was about to become the personal property of the king of Babylon. Deeds of ownership were soon to be worthless. Buying a piece of property anywhere near Jerusalem at that time would have been like buying a melting iceberg in the Gulf of Mexico as investment property. Isn’t it just like your first cousin to sell you some property just days before the property is condemned? Nevertheless, God told him that when his cousin came, he should buy the land. Sure enough, good old first cousin Hanamel shows up to cash in on Jeremiah. When Jeremiah saw him and heard his request, it simply confirmed his word from the Lord. There was no customary haggle about price. Jeremiah just quietly stepped out in faith and bought the land, in obedience to God. 

Jeremiah called in witnesses to sign the deed certifying he bought the land from Hanamel.  Then he had the deed placed in a sealed jar so that the documents would last a long time. The process was an expression of Jeremiah’s faith in God’s promise of a future restoration when He would bring His people back to the land. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.” Jeremiah 32:15

That was quite a step of faith on the part of Jeremiah. Have you ever taken such a step of faith, with confidence you did exactly what God wanted you to do, and then wake up the next morning flooded with second thoughts? Did I do the right thing? Did I act in the emotion of the moment? Did I make the worst mistake of my life?

Remember, these were the worst of times in the history of Jerusalem and its people. It was an especially difficult time for Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s world was falling apart. The economy was about to crash. All was about to be lost—including the land he just bought. Maybe you have experienced one of those moments when a wave of suffocating anxiety came crashing down upon you. This appears to be what happened to Jeremiah immediately after he made this step of faith. 

Jeremiah Makes a Statement of Faith from the Position of Difficulty.

Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You. Jeremiah 32:17

Do you believe that?  You believe that on a good day. But do you believe it on a bad day? Can you make a statement of faith in the face of your worst problem and in the middle of your deepest difficulty?

Jeremiah said, “Nothing is too difficult for you!” 

In the gospel of Mark, we find Jesus making a statement of faith from the position of difficulty. He was praying in the garden of Gethsemane. His disciples were asleep. He was about to be betrayed, and arrested, and beaten, and crucified. In the face of all that Jesus said, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet now what I will, but what You will.” Mark 14:36

Both Jesus and Jeremiah were making their difficulty God’s opportunity. Their prayers are almost identical. Jeremiah affirms that nothing is too difficult for God. Jesus affirms, that with God, all things are possible. With a simple statement of faith, made in a position of difficulty, each surrendered his future into the will of God, making his difficulty God’s opportunity.

Jeremiah Needed A Confirmation of Faith in a Position of Doubt

Can the two coexist—faith and doubt?  Well, Jeremiah’s did! Have you ever bought anything and then had buyer’s remorse—that sick feeling that tells you that you have just made the worst decision of your life. Jeremiah had a sinking feeling. Surveying the political situation, and his own personal circumstances, his position of difficulty suddenly became a position of doubt. 

Doubt surfaces because he doesn’t understand what God is doing or how He will work things out. Are you in a place like that in your life? God called you to take a step of faith in the darkness of difficulty, and right now, it just goes against the grain of human logic. Listen to him as he reasons with God about his recent divinely appointed purchase of property. 

Behold, the siege ramps have reached the city to take it; and the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans who fight against it, because of the sword, the famine and the pestilence; and what You have spoken has come to pass; and behold, You see it. You have said to me, O Lord God, “Buy for yourself the field with money and call in witnesses”—although the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans.’” Jeremiah. 32:24-25

Jeremiah took that step of faith. He bought the land and recorded the deed in the presence of witnesses, so it would be seen that he had complete faith in the promise of God. But in the quietness of his own heart, he was wrestling with second thoughts. Did I do the right thing?

Are you having second thoughts concerning your obedience to God? You stepped out in faith. Now you wonder if God will take care of you. Will God be true to His word? Can God pull off what He promised? Is it true that all things are possible with God?

Those are questions God alone can answer. As Jeremiah momentarily stood in a position of doubt, in his place of difficulty, God answered Jeremiah’s questions with a question.   Then the word of the Lordcame to Jeremiah, saying, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jer. 32:26-27

God was saying, “Think about it, Jeremiah. Do you remember Who I am? I know I have asked you to take a step of faith in a time of difficulty.  “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”

What about you, as you stand in your position of difficulty. Has that place of difficulty grown into a position of doubt? If so, you need to look away from your difficulty for a moment and catch a vision of the greatness of God. Momentarily, Jeremiah lost sight of God and could only see his circumstances. Thankfully, he remembered who God was.

Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You. Jeremiah 32:17

A young girl also found herself standing in a position of doubt. She was told that she was going to have a baby, but she was not married. She was an innocent young teenager who never had relations with a man. How could something like that possibly happen? In Luke 1:37, the angel Gabriel gave Mary a Confirmation of faith. He told Mary to leave the outworking of God’s promise in the hands of God. While standing in her position of difficulty and her position of doubt it seemed that it was surely impossible, but Gabriel reminded her: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1:37

Is that still true today? Is it true in your difficulty? Is it true even as your knees tremble with questions and doubt?  Yes.  

Jeremiah’s  Difficulty Can Become God’s Opportunity!

In fact, human difficulty is always God’s opportunity. It is His opportunity to show you there are things that only He can do. Do you have such a difficulty in your life?  Maybe that difficulty is directly related to what needs to be done in the life of someone else. 

Jesus had been talking with the Rich Young Ruler. The guy sincerely wanted to follow Jesus. But Jesus told him he would have to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and then follow Him. But he just couldn’t do it. Then Jesus said, and I paraphrase:  “Wow is it hard to get one of these folks into heaven. In fact it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God. Luke 18:24-25

The disciples said in reply: Then how will anybody ever get saved? It is impossible!

In response, Jesus made a statement directly related to issues in the life of people that keep them from God. Maybe there is an issue in your life that is keeping you from God. Maybe there is an issue in the life of someone you love that is keeping them from God or keeping them from you. That is the difficulty weighs heavy on your heart. You’ve done all you know to do. You’ve said all you know to say. You’ve prayed all you know to pray. It is impossible. You’ve tried!

Do you know what Jesus would say to you? He would tell you that your difficulty—even this difficulty manifested in the life of somebody you love—is God’s opportunity. Even as the disciples looked at the Rich man walking away and said, “This is impossible.” Jesus said, The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Luke 18:27

Impossible with people? Yes. You can’t. But it is possible with God! God can!  Your difficulty can become God’s opportunity!

How Can I Make My Difficulty God’s Opportunity?

A dad was just about to give up. His boy was possessed by a demon. It caused him to have terrible seizures, and it often threw him into the fire in an effort to destroy him. He carried his boy to Jesus’ disciples, and they couldn’t help him. It was impossible. 

For years he stood helpless in a position of difficulty, and by now he was standing in a position of deep doubt and despair. Then Jesus showed up. Jesus asked about the problem. The father told him the whole story, and then said pitifully, and with a measure of doubt in his voice: “If You can do anything, help us.”

Sensing the doubt in his voice, Jesus said, “If You can?”Are you asking me if I can? Is that what you are asking God as you stand in the face of your difficulty? Have you begun to wonder if God can?

Do you know how Jesus told that father he could make his difficulty God’s opportunity? He said in Mark 9:23 “All things are possible to him that believes.” 

Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You. Jeremiah 32:17

“Abba! Father! All things are possible for You… Mark 14:36

Then the word of the Lordcame to Jeremiah, saying,“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” Jer. 32:26-27

For nothing will be impossible with God. Luke 1:37

The things that are impossible with people are possible with God.” Luke 18:27

“All things are possible to him that believes.”  Mark 9:23

Perhaps your prayer needs to be the pitiful prayer of the father, who standing in a position of difficulty and a position of doubt prayed, “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief.”

I make my difficulty God’s opportunity by placing my trust in the One with whom all things are possible. If my place of difficulty becomes a place of doubt, I need to admit that to God, asking for the faith necessary to keep believing. Wherever you stand and whatever you face, I pray the day will soon come when Jeremiah’s personal statement of faith becomes your own! 

Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You. Jeremiah 32:17

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi

A Highway in the Wilderness

Wandering in the strength of our own wisdom, we soon discover ourselves to be lost in a complex maze of our own decisions made without God’s leadership. Overwhelmed by the exhaustion of wilderness living, we lose heart and sink in despair. Do you know that feeling? Is there a word from God to those of us worn out by the wilderness of life?

The wilderness was a spiritual marker in the life of the children of Israel. The wilderness was a waterless, barren, exhausting place. From their perspective, the wilderness was an insurmountable obstacle.  It was the epitome of difficulty and danger, and it stood between them and their destiny.  Yet, in that place of testing, they learned much about themselves and about God.

Everybody has a wilderness that seems full of dangers and discouragements. Maybe you are walking through a wilderness time in your life.   It might be a time of fear and uncertainty. It might be a time of doubt and discouragement.  When you are in the wilderness, you find it to be a place where you have more questions than answers. How are you going to get from where you are to where God wants you to be?  

Does God have a plan? Does He have a plan in spite of your failures? Does He have a plan in spite of your disobedience? Does He have a plan to bring you to where He wants you to be, in spite of years of being out of His will? When I ponder my own journey of following God, I see that my life is also marked by seasons in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of wandering and searching for God’s will.  At times, I felt bewildered by the wilderness. With no guiding cloud and no pillar of fire, I was unsure whether or not I could find my way out.

Is there any encouragement from God for those of us who feel lost in the maze of some wilderness of life? There is! Please allow me to share some encouragement from Isaiah 35. It addresses God’s response to the needs of HIs people when they are overwhelmed by some wilderness of life. In those moments, God acts to make a way for His people.

When God Makes a Way in the Wilderness of Your Circumstances, It Is a Highway of Holiness.

A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness.  The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. Isaiah 35:8

It leads only in one direction.  It leads to Him. That is God’s design in the wilderness. His purpose in the wilderness was to bring them to Himself. See Exodus 19:4 …I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.   That is also God’s design for you. In the process, He may allow you to be hungry. He may allow you to be thirsty. He may allow you to wander. But in those days of deprivation in the wilderness, you will learn to be dependent upon Him.

God’s Highway in the Wilderness is a Highway of Holiness because the One who made it is Himself Holy.  The Highway of Holiness is a way we can follow only with the clear vision imparted by a clean and holy life.  The unclean will not travel on it.  If you choose the way of sin, it will always lead deeper into the wilderness. The wilderness is the haunt of jackals.  The hounds of hell are there.  All you will see are mirages that promise happiness. If you move in that direction, you will find them to be nothing but a false oasis.  God’s Highway in the wilderness is the Highway of Holiness. Without Holiness no one will see the Lord. We will wander directionless in this life, and risk missing the glories of heaven.  Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification (holiness) without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

In the mid 1990’s, my life was deeply impacted by the study Experiencing God. One paragraph from that study changed the way I viewed my life journey from that day forward.

When you get to the place where you trust Jesus to guide you one step at a time you experience a new freedom.  If you don’t trust Jesus to guide you this way, what happens if you don’t know the way you are to go?  You worry every time you must make a turn.  You often freeze up and can’t make a decision.  This is not the way that God intends for  you to live your life.   Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God

Jesus is the Highway in the wilderness of life.  Not only is He the way to God, but only by following Him can we make it safely through the wilderness of life.  He has promised that if we follow Him, we will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.

It is a Highway of Refreshment Amidst the Rigors of Wilderness Living.

Do you remember how simple life was when you were a child?  It seemed you had no stress and no worries. Then, one day, all that changes. Life can quickly become a grueling desert. The daily routine can become a mind wearing rat race.  The myriad difficulties that beset us from day to day, sap the vitality and enthusiasm from the best of us. 

Wandering in the strength of our own wisdom, we soon discover ourselves to be lost in a complex maze of our own decisions made without God’s leadership.  Overwhelmed by the exhaustion of wilderness living, we lose heart and sink in despair. Do you know that feeling?  Is there a word from God to those of us worn out by the wilderness of life?

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.  Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.  For the waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes.   Isaiah 35:3-7

Do you think God can do that where you are? Can He rescue you from your circumstances? Can He turn your wilderness into the refreshing oasis of His presence? How is that possible? When will it happen? It happens when the wilderness has accomplished its purpose in your life, by bringing you to an awareness of your own weakness and your great need for God.

He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength;  They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  Isaiah 40:29-31

Jesus said  “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28-29  

The Highway in the Wilderness is meant to lead you to the refreshment of the Lord’s own Presence.

The Highway in the Wilderness is a Place of Protection From Wilderness Dangers.

Notice the promise God makes for those who travel this Highway of Holiness in the wilderness. Although the wilderness is described in verse 7 as a haunt of jackals, along the highway of holiness, No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there.   Isaiah 35:9

Our enemy the devil roams the wilderness like a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour.  His demons, like jackals, haunt every avenue of life seeking to lure us into one of his traps and deeper into the despair of the wilderness. 

The King Himself has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He has promised us that the angel of His presence will encamp around us.    See Psalm 91:1-12

I know what it is like to experience long periods in the wilderness.  All of us have to travel through some wilderness to get to the place God wants us to be. Some of us will even have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death.  But we need fear no evil.  For on this highway in the wilderness, we are promised protection from wilderness dangers. 

Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not”.  Isaiah 35:4 The Lord is sovereign over your wilderness journey. You are not lost to His presence. He knows where you are and how to get you to where He wants you to be.

That Highway is a Place Where You Can Receive Heavenly Joy in the Midst of Wilderness Sorrows.  

But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.       Isaiah 35:9-10

There is sorrow in the wilderness of life.  I have experienced some of it and so have you.  All of us have left fragments of hopes and dreams lying shattered in the dusty sands of some wilderness. If we live long enough, our faces bear lines etched by wilderness sorrows. Nevertheless, the wilderness has a purpose. Its design is to bring us into our Lord’s presence. In the wilderness, there is a Highway that leads to His feet. The wilderness experience of the children of Israel lasted forty years. How long will your season of wilderness-living last? I don’t know. But I know this, in your wilderness, there is a highway that leads to His presence. There you will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. 

There is a sense in which this points to our rendezvous with Him in heaven. But there is another sense in which heavenly joy can be ours when we experience His deliverance from difficulty or the comfort of His presence in sorrow. 

I am assuming one or more of you languishes in some wilderness? Hear your personal word from the Lord. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come…

Photo by Francesco Ungaro

The Purpose of the Wilderness in the Lives of God’s People

If you are at a wilderness place in your life, you may find it to be more puzzle than purpose. You might be overwhelmed and confused. You might find yourself questioning God’s wisdom—or maybe even your own.

I want you to think for a moment about being in the center of God’s will. What does that mean?  What would it look like?  Would it be a time of happiness and fulfillment? Is there ever a time that the center of God’s will might be a place of discouragement and difficulty? What about the children of Israel? God called Moses to bring them out of Egypt and into the center of His will.  The center of His will for them would eventually be Canaan, but for a time, the center of God’s will was a great and terrible wilderness.

Has God’s will for you included a period of time in the wilderness? Time in the wilderness means facing wilderness struggles, and wilderness hardships, and wilderness questions.  It can be a place of problems, and at the same time, a place of purpose.  The wilderness is a puzzle from our perspective, but from God’s perspective, it is His perfect plan for our lives.  

If you are at a wilderness place in your life, you may find it to be more puzzle than purpose.  You might be overwhelmed and confused.   You might find yourself questioning God’s wisdom—or maybe even your own.  Did you get to that place by God’s guidance, or did you get there by misreading of God’s guidance?   

We have said enough about wilderness questions. What can we know for sure about the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people?

The Wilderness is a Place of Separation

God carried them into the wilderness so that they could be apart from the influences of Egypt.  The uncertainties of the wilderness create a need for God and a dependence upon God.  God lets you do without, so you can come to know Him as your provider. God lets you be lonely, so that you can come to know Him as your friend.  God lets you be frightened and worried, so that you can come to know Him as your peace. God lets you be weak, so that you can know His strength.

In the wilderness, God reveals Himself.  In the darkness of the wilderness, He is your light.  In the confusing maze of the wilderness, you learn to let Him be your guide. In the wilderness, He separates you from the influences of the world, as well as the things and people that you have learned to depend on, so that you will learn to depend on Him. God will be faithful to you in whatever wilderness you are facing, just as He was to the people He led out of Egypt. 

The Wilderness is a Place of Preparation.

Looking back on those years in the wilderness, this is what God said to His people as they came to the Promised Land.  5“I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot. 6“You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.  Deuteronomy 29:5-6

What has been your God appointed wilderness?  Are you there right now?  What do you suppose God is trying to teach you? Are you learning the lessons that God wants you to learn?

When God takes you to the wilderness, He withholds that which you have come to depend on other than Him.  Maybe you came to depend on your job to provide.  God removes the job for a time, so that you will learn to depend on Him.  Maybe you came to depend on your own strength or stamina.  Then God brings weakness into your life, so that you will learn that your strength is in Him.  You see it as deprivation.  God sees it as preparation.  

“You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3“He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. 4“Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5“Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6“Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.  Deuteronomy 8:2-6

The Wilderness is a Place of Revelation.

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and howI bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Exodus 19:2-6

When the center of God’s will is the wilderness, what is God’s purpose? Did you see why God brought them to the wilderness? He brought them into the wilderness to bring them to Himself.Why do you suppose that God brings you to Himself?

I read again today about Jesus calling the disciples.  He called unto Him the twelve.  And why did He call them?  Did He call them to Him to give them an assignment? Yes?  But the preparation for that assignment came out of being with Him.  He called the twelve to Himself, that they might be with Him and that He might send them forth to preach. Mark 3:14

Part of the preparation for what God wants you to do will grow out of the revelation of Himself that He gives you.  For most of us, the only place we can be readied to receive that revelation is in some wilderness, where God separates us from what we have learned to lean on, in order that He can show us that we need to lean on Him alone.

Where are you right now? Do you find yourself in the midst of some God-Appointed wilderness struggling to know God’s will and God’s way?  Do you feel alone there?  Do you feel abandoned there?  I know how you feel.  I have been to the wilderness.  I have lived in the wilderness.  I felt alone. I felt discouraged.  But I came to understand that the wilderness was the place of God’s presence.

If you are in the wilderness, you might be angry at God.  You may have considered abandoning God.  In your discouragement, the wilderness can even become a place of sin.  Where is God then?  How will God respond to you when you have proved to yourself that you are not worthy of His love.

Sometimes God takes us to the wilderness not only to show us Himself—but to show us ourselves.  The truth about who we are and how we trust God surfaces in the wilderness.  There, we are proved to be worse sinners than we knew ourselves to be.  How does God respond then?

Consider this passage from Nehemiah. “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.  You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.  In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,  even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.  You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.  For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen. Nehemiah 9:13-21

Why do you suppose God takes you into the wilderness to show you yourself so that you can see what a sinner you are? God takes you to the wilderness and shows you what a sinner you are so that He can show you what a Savior He is! In spite of the rebellion of His people, He remained faithful.  He still gave them water for their thirst.  He still gave them their daily bread.  He still guided them on their journey.  He never left them.  

God will be faithful to you in whatever wilderness you are facing, just as He was to the people He led out of Egypt. “In the wilderness … you saw how the LORD God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place. Deuteronomy 1:31 

Do you suppose God might also be carrying you? I am sure you have asked God some of the same questions that I ask from time to time.  “God, am I a castaway?  Can you still use me?”  “Do you still want me?  Do you still love me?”

The very words I write were born in one of those moments in my life. I will never forget the day I was in my office working on this message. I was preparing it for me, because I keenly felt everything I have shared with you. I had allowed a deadline to pass that seemed to me to be critical to my future. I let it pass because I had no word from God. God was silent. As a result of His silence, I saw my future slip away. My despair grew deeper by the day. It reached a zenith on a Wednesday in December of 2006. I was preparing this message for my church, but I was really describing what was going on in my own life.

God must have been watching as I paced around in my office that day. I was a desperately discouraged man. As I typed away at this message on my computer, the phone rang. Within an hour of that phone call, all my questions were answered. My future seemed to be restored. I had been called by God to the assignment I thought I had missed.

When that day started, I was convinced I missed God completely.  I was lost in the wilderness.  I felt abandoned and forgotten, and I felt I deserved to be.  But that day, I met God in the wilderness, and it altered the direction of my life.  Six months later, I shared the same message with my church on a Sunday night. The next day, I would be stepping through the door God had opened. This is what I said in closing: “Tomorrow I set foot on the road that God called me to travel. It may not lead out of the wilderness—but I am convinced that it will lead me to Him.” That is, after all, the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people. He brings us into some great and terrible wilderness, so that He might bring us to Himself.

Photo by POOYAN ESHTIAGHI