When Your Soul Has Had Enough

My soul has had enough! I have had all I can take and just about more than I can stand! I’ve had enough trouble, enough heartache, enough sickness, enough grief. My soul has had enough!

The book of Psalms is a study of the highs and lows of life. Many of those moments occurred in the life of David. We are privileged to know about them because David laid them before the Lord in prayer. Apparently, he often went to some quiet spot, where he could be alone with his harp and pour out his heart to the Lord. An old guitar has been therapy for me. Sometimes I sit down with one of David’s Psalms or with some other passage of Scripture and bare my own heart before the Lord. (In a spot where no one can hear me but Him, of course.)

But Psalm 88, is not written by David. This is one of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah, the singers of the Old Testament. I think it is normal that those assigned to sing might write a Psalm. But this Psalm is unique out of all 150. It is believed to be the saddest. Now does this mean that the guys who wrote it lost their faith or lost hope in God? If you had a chance to read my journal, you would find that there are some days that I seem deeply discouraged. I expect this is one of those times for these men—or perhaps just for the one man who retreated to some lonely place and wrote it. There is a sense of frustration. 

It seems whoever wrote it had been praying for some time, apparently in the midst of difficulties that left him spent both physically and spiritually. He is overwhelmed. His prayer is a cry of desperation, and an urgent plea for God’s intervention.

O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. Psalm 88:1-3 (The last word is variously translated, grave, death, and in The Message,the edge of hell.”)

Do the words of this Psalm meet you where you are?

My soul has had enough! I have had all I can take and just about more than I can stand! I’ve had enough trouble, enough heartache, enough sickness, enough grief. My soul has had enough!

That statement started me on a search through the Bible looking for similar expressions.  In Psalm 119:28 ,the psalmist said “My soul weeps because of grief.” It just reminds me that there are times when trouble goes soul deep.  Is some present crisis having an impact on your soul?

In Isaiah 38:15, as Hezekiah dealt with a life-threatening illness, he related his own bitterness of soul.  Experiences that sour the life can also sour your spiritual life.  Later,  in that same chapter, Hezekiah came to the realization God was Sovereign over his circumstances. So he prayed, “Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.  Isaiah 38:17

In Lamentations 3:17, in the rubble of what was left of war-torn Jerusalem, Jeremiah cried, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.”

Sometimes trouble sweeps into the life of a family, leaving them physically and financially devastated. Like a raging tornado, it took just a matter of seconds for their whole life to be in shambles. The emotional and spiritual trauma that follows leaves them feeling as if the storm is still raging.

Job describes what life is like for the person in bitterness of soul.  It is a continual misery.  It is one calamity right on the heels of another. I sigh when food is put before me, and my groans pour out like water. 25 For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. 26 I cannot relax or be still;I have no rest, for trouble comes. Job 3:24-26 HCSB

There are periods of life when trouble seems relentless.  It won’t stop coming.  Are you in one of those periods?  Has the strain taken a toll on your relationship with God? Five times, in the book that bears his name, Job describes himself as being in bitterness of soul.  

Psalm 88 is the cry of a man who has gone about as far as he can go under the weight of difficulty and discouragement. At the point of absolute despair, he cries: O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before Thee.  Let my prayer come before Thee, Incline Thine ear to my cry!  For my soul has had enough troubles…  Psalm 88:1-3

Mary was told that a time would come that she would endure a sorrow so deep that it would be like a sword that pierced her soul. Have you had a sorrow like that in your life?  Do you have one now? Have you experienced some soul piercing sorrow?

As we near Mother’s Day, I think about a woman in the Bible named Hannah. She was childless.  She prayed and prayed for a child, but no answer came. An adversary ridiculed her constantly because she was barren. Finallly, when she could stand it no longer, she cried out God. When Eli the priest saw her praying, he thought she was drunk. She replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.  1 Samuel 1:15 She was praying out of her great anguish and sorrow. Her soul had had enough.

Peter said that we should be alert to all the different passions and desires within us because they can wage war against the soul. Spiritual defeat can lead to spiritual despair.  When Jesus was in the garden, He prayed saying that His soul was very sorrowful, even to death.  Mark 14:34

If something can bring sorrow to the soul of Jesus, who am I to think that there are not times when my own soul will be overwhelmed. It is clear that the Lord understands when my soul has had all it can stand and teeters on the edge of collapse.

Two expressions in Psalm 107 describe the plight of a person overwhelmed by difficulty. Their soul fainted within them, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.  Psalm 107: 5b-6

Their soul melted away in their misery.  They reeled and staggered like a drunken man. They were at their wits end.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of their distresses.  He caused the storm to be still so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:26b-29

Is that where you are?  Is your soul about ready to melt and faint away? Are you at your wits end? The Psalmist cried out in Psalm 88:3  “My soul has had enough troubles.”  He was at his wits end.  He desperately needed the Lord’s intervention in his circumstances.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 31:7 I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul.  

God said to the prophet Jeremiah, who often found himself spiritually exhausted, 25For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”  Jeremiah 31:25  (ESV) In The Message, that verse reads:  I refresh tired bodies; I restore tired souls.  

Is that what you need God to do for you? Your soul has had enough!  You’ve gone about as far as you can go and carried about all you can carry.  Now you just need God to carry you.  

I was two feet tall when I was born. Well, I was 24 inches long. In other words, I was a rather large baby. Before I reached elementary school, I was nearly five feet tall. I remember the day my dad told me that I had was just too big for him to carry. That hurt. I was a little boy on the inside. When life overwhelms me, I get that feeling all over again that I and my problems might be a little much for God to carry. After all, I am a grown man now! Doesn’t God expect me to be able to carry myself and my own problems?

Thankfully, I and my problems never get too big for God to carry. I love the promise God gave to Isaiah, “Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

If you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, find a quiet spot. Relax your body, and rest your soul into the arms of God. He knows when your soul has had enough before you do. He is willing and able to carry you.

Photo by Ali Yahya

Washing the Fence

In 2007, we bought an acre of land at the end of a cattle farm and built our first house. A few years later, a white vinyl fence was erected along the edge of our property. It looked so nice. But after that fence had been up for several years, it began to look pretty dirty. So, I set aside a Saturday morning to wash that fence. I wanted my property to look nice and the fence to be restored to its former glory. So, I got my hose and my bucket, some brushes and some bleach, and I went to work.

I learned some interesting spiritual lessons that day while I was washing that fence. That fence became a picture of my own life and my relationship with the Lord. Before I share what I learned, let me remind you of what Jesus said to the Pharisees.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish so that the outside of it may become clean also.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.    Matthew 23:25-28

As a pastor, I fall into the category of being a “religious leader”. I understand how easy it is for hypocrisy to creep into one’s life and take the place of a genuine relationship with God. I have a public life that everyone can see. There is also a part of my life that, other than myself, only God sees. That is true about us all. Now, let me tell you what God showed me while I was washing the fence.

First, the fence had two sides, and it was far dirtier on one side than the other. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about but the two sides of their lives. Of course, Jesus didn’t use a fence for his example. He used a cup and a tomb. Either of these can be clean on the outside and not be clean on the inside. An unwashed cup can easily happen. No one wants to drink from a dirty cup. But a whitewashed tomb is a deliberate effort to put a pretty appearance on something one knows to be filled with death and decay. My fence was a picture of my life. While the whole fence needed to be washed, one side was considerably dirtier than the other. I suppose there are times when that is true about you. However, it should be particularly concerning, when we knowingly polish the outside in an effort to hide what’s within. First, the fence had two sides, and it was far dirtier on one side than the other.

Second, when my Saturday morning fence washing project started, I had to ask myself a question. Did I want both sides of the fence to be clean, or just the part that the public could see? I could let the fence have the perception of being clean to the public, while leaving other parts, not so visible, to remain dirty. 

What about in our spiritual lives? There is the outside that people see and the inside that only you and God know. Do you want both sides to be clean or just the part the public can see? I had to make the decision about my fence. But I also had to make it about my life.

I know we shouldn’t be concerned so much about what other people think, but when you are a pastor, that is pretty important. That is your witness, your reputation, and your character in the presence of other people. First, the fence had two sides, and one side was far dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see.

Third, once I started that Saturday morning project, it took longer than I thought, because the fence was far more dirty than I knew.

I anticipated it would take me a couple of hours. But it took the whole day to wash both sides of that seventy-five-yard-long, three-rail fence. Likewise, there are depths of depravity within us that will go undiscovered unless we tackle the task of cleaning both the outside and inside of our spiritual lives. How long has it been since you washed both sides of your spiritual fence?  When you get down to the task of addressing the need for spiritual cleansing, you will discover that a simple rinsing will not wash way the filth that clings to your heart and soul. Your heart may be far more dirty than you know.  First, the fence had two sides, and one side was dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see. Third, the fence was far more dirty than I knew. 

It was so dirty, that washing that fence turned into an exhausting process. I was physically spent by the time I finished. I made the following commitment to myself at the end of that long day. The next time I wash the fence, I will ask for help.

A clean heart and life require the washing work of the Lord Jesus. You simply can’t do it on your own. You can give the appearance of being clean, if your concern is only what the public can see. But be warned, the filth on the inside has a way of making its way to the surface.  My mom has a problem at home. A fungus infected the wood on the underside of the house. It was not something we could see. Nor was it something the public could see. We first learned of it when the floor collapsed in one of the rooms. Hidden sin causes dry rot of the soul. Eventually, there will be a collapse that will show up in the outward life. 

Cleaning your heart and life will require the help of the Lord Jesus. In Psalm 51, David asked for God’s help to cleanse his heart. He said, “Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.” Only God could create a clean heart for David. Can your heart be restored to its former purity and glory? Not by your hand. You will need to ask for help.

First, the fence had two sides, and one side was far dirtier than the other. Second, I had to decide if I wanted both sides to be clean or only part the public could see. Third, the fence was far more dirty than I knew. Fourth, I made a commitment that the next time I cleaned the fence I would ask for help.

When we built our house on that acre of pasture, an electric fence kept the cattle out of our yard. A few years later, another owner purchased the cattle farm. One day, as he was passing by our house, he saw our grandchildren playing in the yard. Concerned that they might be hurt by the electric fence, he had the white vinyl fence built on the property line. He said, “It will be safer for your grandchildren, and it will make your property look better.” He was kind and generous to do such a thing, and I appreciated it a lot.

Now you understand one of the main reasons I wanted to wash the fence. It belonged to someone else. I wanted the owner of the fence to be pleased. That is the final lesson I learned. My fence belonged to someone else and so does my life. I have a responsibility to keep my life clean, not just because I want the public to see it. God is the owner of my life. I want my life to be clean to His eyes and pleasing to Him.

Is that true about your life? If not, what steps do you need to take to conduct a thorough spiritual examination? When you do, you will find that your spiritual fence has two sides and one will be dirtier than the other. You will have to decide if you want the whole fence to be clean or only the part that the public can see. Be prepared when you start the process, because it may take far longer than you know. Be willing to ask for help, because this is not something you can accomplish on your own. The cleansing you need will only be accomplished with the help of the Lord Jesus. And always remember, your life belongs to someone else. He has been gracious enough to give it to you, and He expects it to be clean.

Photo by Scott Webb

The Way Back to God

Perhaps the most evil couple in the Bible was a husband and wife named Ahab and Jezebel. They worshiped idols rather than the One True God. They hated God’s people as well as God’s prophets. As King and Queen, they sought to turn the nation away from God. The judgment of God came upon their lives in graphic fashion. Nevertheless, their legacy continued in the lives of their children and grandchildren. Wherever their descendants went, they were a contagious and contaminating influence. One example is their daughter, Athaliah. She married Jehroam, the king of Judah. Jehoram’s father was the godly king Jehoshaphat. However, Scripture records his departure from the ways of God due to the influence of his wife, Athaliah.

Her evil influence infected the king and the nation. It was likely due to her influence that Jehoram killed all his own brothers once the throne was secure in his hands. Jehoram and Athaliah reigned only eight years as king and queen. Then Jehoram died a horrible death due to the judgment of God that fell upon him. The Bible records that he departed with no one’s regret. 2 Chronicles 21:20

After his death, Athaliah continued to spread the contagion of evil. Her youngest son, Ahaziah became king in his father’s place, only because all her older sons were killed at the hands of an enemy. The Bible summarized Ahaziah’s life in this way, He also walked in the ways of the house of Ahab, for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly.  2 Chronicles 22:3

Later, Athaliah would lose some of her grandsons as a result of the continued outpouring of God’s judgment against her evil influence. Even her youngest son, Ahaziah, fell victim to God’s wrath. Nevertheless, her heart never skipped a beat in her devotion to evil.

Why was Athaliah so devoted to evil? Why was it that she had such animosity toward the Lord? Certainly, it was in part due to the influence of her wicked mother and father, Ahab and Jezebel. But perhaps it was also reflected in the name they gave her, the name Athaliah. It means, afflicted of the Lord.They raised her with a hatred for God built into her own name. Now, because of her great wickedness, her whole family was afflicted by God’s judgment.

Even then, Athaliah didn’t change. In 2 Chronicles 22:10 we read, Now when Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she rose and destroyed all the royal offspring of the house of Judah. She killed the remainder of her own grandchildren so that she could be the sole ruler of the land. For six more years, her wicked influence held sway over the land of Judah and over the lives of God’s people.

However, in the providence of God, there was one little grandson spared from Athaliah’s wrath. His name was Joash. He was hidden from Athaliah, and carried to the safety of the house of God. There he grew up under the protection, nurture, and influence of a priest whose name was Jehoiada.

From this point forward, there are three characters who will be our concern. First, there is Athaliah, whose name means afflicted of the Lord. She represents the influence of evil that often infects the life of God’s people. Is there an Athaliah in your life?  Is there some evil influence that spreads like a contagion in your life? That influence will seek to remove every connection to God you have in your life, seeking to be sole ruler. 

The second character that will concern us is this priest, Jehoiada. It is important for you to be aware of the meaning of his name. His name means “The Lord Knows.” So, let me say up front, if there is an Athaliah in your life, the Lord knows.

Third, there is the little boy Joash. Joash represents the rightful king who must be placed on the throne. His name means: The Lord has bestowed.

Every day that Athaliah ruled the nation, all she had to do was to look at the temple of God and think about the priest who stood there as the leader of God’s people. Every time she did, she would remember that Jehoiada meant—the Lord Knows.  The Lord knew every evil plan in her heart.  He knew how she and her parents had devastated His people and allowed His house to fall into disrepair.  But the Lord also knew that the tables were about to turn, and this woman, Jezebel’s daughter, whose name meant, afflicted of the Lord—would soon be deposed and destroyed by the sword of the Lord.

Jehoida was a man who remained faithful to the Lord during one of the most wicked periods in the nation’s history.  The first thing that this faithful priest did to lead these people back to God was to call the people and the king to a covenant of commitment.

Then Jehoiada made a covenant between himself and all the people and the king, that they would be the LORD’s people.  2 Chronicles 23:16

Remember, these were a people whose lives had been governed by Athaliah, that contagious influence of evil. Their own lives had been infected by that influence. Some of them, like the people of Elijah’s day, became unfaithful to the Lord. Now came time to make a new covenant and a new commitment.

This was a turning point in their history.  It was a day of decision.  The challenge of Jehoiada, for both king and people, was that they commit themselves to be a people of the LORD alone.  

Only then can we truly call ourselves His people. Is it time to renew that covenant in your church? Is it time to renew it in your life? We have a tendency to try to steer our lives in the direction of our own choosing. When that happens, we usually wind up in the ruts of the past because we always choose the path of least resistance. Not so with Jehoiada. In his mind and in his heart, the LORD was the only one qualified to lead His people. He was priest, Joash was king, but the LORD would be their leader.

There was a second step that Jehoiada took that set the people of God on a course to Revival.  And all the people went to the house of Baal and tore it down, and they broke in pieces his altars and his images, and killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars.  2 Chronicles 23:17

Can you imagine the contradiction that must have existed in that community? On one side of town was the house of Baal.  On the other side of town was the house of the LORD.  Without a doubt, there were people who were involved in both.  Jezebel took the holy things from the house of the LORD and began using them to facilitate worship in the house of Baal. Athaliah, like her mother, was a worshipper of the false god Baal. There were those among God’s own people who followed her lead.

Jehoiada sought to lead God’s people to a new commitment.  Remember, his name means “the Lord knows.”And the Lord did know!  He knew who spent more time in the temple of an idol than they spent in the temple of the Lord.  

For them to be the Lord’s people that temple of idols had to fall. Its presence needed to be removed from that community, and its hold over their lives needed to be broken.

But what about your life?  Is it your sincere desire to belong to the Lord?  Is it your sincere desire to be a person after His heart? Do you claim Jesus as Lord of your life, while at the same time holding idols in your hearts, having made your heart a temple of worship for idolatry?

There was a time when God confronted the people of Ezekiel’s day with the two-sided nature of their commitment.  Outwardly they gave all the appearance of being committed to the Lord. But God gave Ezekiel insight into the secret lives of God’s people.  And this is what God said:“Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?…. Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations.”’ Ezekiel 14:3; 6

Do you have a split-personality spiritually?  The time has come to choose which you will follow and who you will serve?  Idols have no business in the sanctuary of the Lord.  Your heart is that sanctuary. You see, the Lord knows!

Not only did Jehoiada lead them in casting down their idols:He led them in a return to true worship.

Moreover, Jehoiada placed the offices of the house of the Lord under the authority of the Levitcal priests, whom David had assigned over the house of the Lord, to offer the burnt offerings of the Lord, as it is written in the law of Moses—with rejoicing and singing according to the order of David.  2 Chronicles 23:18

When worship becomes routine, it faces the danger of becoming a ritual.  The people who are more apt to succumb to that danger than others, are those who are the most involved.  When worship becomes routine and ritual, the heart no longer has a part in what happens.  When you separate the heart from worship, that is the beginning of a great compromise.  

The first thing you compromise is the quality of your own commitment.  Whereas there might have been a time when you couldn’t teach or preach or sing or pray with the presence of sin in your life it comes to the point where it no longer stings your heart to do so.    

The second thing you compromise is the character of the worship itself.  It is trivialized by your attitude and your actions.  Those most likely to be guilty, are those who are most involved.  That is exactly what had happened in the time of Jehoiada.

Jehoiada recognized that in his own life and in the lives of others.  So he made it a point to bring the service of God’s house back to the order God intended.  Jehoiada brought heart back to worship so that it would be more than empty ritual.  Jesus said, But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. John 4:23

Do you worship in spirit and in truth? Did you know that the Lord seeks that kind of worship from His people? Does your singing and your service and your praying spring from the passion of a heart that stands on tiptoe reaching for God, or is it ritual?

The reforms led by Jehoiada sought to address more than just form and function.  Because of his leadership there was a renewed emphasis on holiness.

He stationed the gatekeepers of the house of the Lord, so that no one would enter who was in any way unclean.  2 Chronicles 23:19

Are you in any way unclean? The absence of holiness excluded the people of the Old Testament from worship.  In the Old Testament, the idea of clean and unclean was more ceremonial and outward in nature.  In the New Testament, it is not related to what you touch or what you eat but who you are.  It is related to outward acts but also to the thoughts and intents of the heart.  

Because we no longer understand holiness of the heart, we no longer value holiness of the life.  My heart is to be the sanctuary of God.  I am not to allow anything into my heart that is in any way unclean.  Are you guarding the gates of your heart and mind?  

God’s people drifted far away, but there was still a way back to God.  Where are you in your relationship with the Lord? I remind you of the man who led this effort—the man Jehoiada.  His name means the Lord Knows. Does the Lord know where you are? Is there a way back for you?  In the book of Jeremiah, this is what God said to His people:Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.  Jeremiah 6:16

What if we followed the path by which Jehoiada led people back to God? What if you and I made a new covenant of commitment with the Lord?  What if we removed the idols that stand in the sanctuary of the our hearts?  What if we returned to a worship that sprang from the heart rather than from routine and ritual?  And what if we once again began to walk the path of holiness?  

One other thing they did that was key to what needed to happen. They placed the Rightful King on His Royal Throne.

Over a six-year period, Jehoiada quietly, but very deliberately, raised the little boy rescued from that family.  Rescued as a little one-year old boy, he was now seven.  He was not old enough to lead a nation, but he was young enough to listen and learn from Godly counsel.  The day came when they took this little seven-year-old boy, put the crown on his head, and set him on the throne of the kingdom. The same day he was crowned, Athaliah tore out in a fitful rage to take the life of this little grandson who was her only rival to the throne. 

There will always be an Athaliah who seeks to hold sway over the people of God.  An Athaliah is anything or anyone that influences away from God—who seeks to introduce us to idols that rise up to take the place of God in our hearts and lives. Some of you have an Athaliah in your life—something that for years has determined where you stand with God.  The time has come to deal with that Athaliah once and for all—to put that influence in its place so that your life is ruled by God and God alone.  

For this brief period of their history, these people had a king on the throne—but God was once again their sovereign. As a result, all the people of the land rejoiced, and the city was quiet.  For they had put Athaliah to death with the sword.    2 Chronicles 16:21

Is the King on the throne of your life? Isn’t time you placed Him there, allowing Him to have control of your life? These are the essential steps God’s people must take if we are to make our way back to God. We must make them individually and we must make the corporately. Whatever the situation is in your life, whatever it is that reigns on the throne of your heart, I remind you… the Lord knows. 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao 

Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

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

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

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

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

The Problem That Confronts Us

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

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

The Challenge It Presents Us 

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

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

The Promise Laid Before Us

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

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

The Deficiency Within Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by lee junda

Recognizing Moments of Spiritual Significance

Maybe you’ve never seen a bright, blinding light shining from the heavens. I don’t know that you should expect to. Allow me to explain why. Moments of spiritual significance are not the same for every person.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3As he was traveling, it happened… 9:1-3a

What happened was a moment of tremendous spiritual significance. This was a remarkable man, but up until this day his life bore no record of a significant encounter with God. Unfortunately, there are some of you here today who are just like Saul. 

First, I want you to think about who Saul was and what he was before he was converted.  Saul was a Pharisee.  That means he was very religious.  It means he attended worship services in the synagogue and in the temple.  It means he read from the Scriptures. It means he prayed. It also means that he was one of the most educated and articulate men of his day.  

3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said,“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Acts 9:3-9

 “Though his eyes were open he could see nothing.”  To me, that says as much about his previous spiritual condition as much as it did his present physical condition. All of Saul’s religion only blinded him to the truth about Jesus. 

I have to pause here and ask you a personal question. Could the same thing be true about you? Saul was very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, but in his life, there was never a record of an encounter with the God who authored those Scriptures. Like many, who call themselves Christians today, he was familiar with the structure of the Scriptures and the standards of Scripture, making every outward effort to bend his life to fit that mold. No doubt, he believed some of the great doctrines of Scripture. He even believed in the existence of angels and spirits. Nevertheless, this man who was zealous for his religion, was lost. What does it mean to be lost? It means he was lost from God. It means he was lost in terms of his own life purpose. It also means he was on his way to being lost for all eternity, in spite of all his apparent religiosity. Why was Saul lost? He was lost because there had never been a moment of spiritual significance in his life!

What do I mean by a moment of spiritual significance? What was it that happened to him? Read a few of those verses again.

3As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said,“I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:3-5

Here was a man known for instructing others about God, who didn’t know God himself, until he met Him that day on that road to Damascus. Have you had such a spiritually significant moment in your life? Using Saul’s story as an example, I would like to give you some characteristics of a moment of spiritual significance.

  1.  Any spiritually significant moment will have a date attached to it

It will be connected to a date on the calendar. It will also be connected to some event or activity, which may or not be memorable in itself, but becomes so because it is forever attached to that significant moment.

It will happen at a point in time. The day on the calendar may be fuzzy. The hour on the clock may be ambiguous. However, you will never forget where you were and what happened. Saul’s encounter has no date and time stamp, but he remembered the event associated with the encounter. It was as he was travelling from Jerusalem to Damascus that IT happened.

2. Any moment of true spiritual significance will be transformational. 

There will be a night and day difference in your life. Allow me to illustrate that by referring to the man born blind who encountered Jesus in John chapter nine. Blind from birth, he never had the experience of sight until the day he encountered Jesus. The  religious officials,  attempting to downplay the significance of his experience as well as the reputation of Jesus, questioned him about how it could be that Jesus, who they considered sinful, could give him sight. It was then that the man they were questioning testified to the transformational nature of his encounter with Jesus. He said,“Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”John 9:25 The difference in his life was so great, even those who knew him weren’t sure it was the same man.

Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus was also transformational. Something happened that left him physically blind. His newly acquired physical blindness was an illustration of the deep spiritual blindness the pervaded his life. That blindness was illustrated in his hatred for those who were followers of Jesus.

This moment of spiritual significance on the road to Damascus resulted in the spiritual transformation of this man called Saul of Tarsus. He became the mighty apostle Paul. It happened on a certain day, at a certain time, and it had a transformational impact on his life.  

Have you had such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? Maybe you’ve never seen a bright, blinding light shining from the heavens. I don’t know that you should expect to. Allow me to explain why. Moment’s of spiritual significance are not the same for every person.

3. Any moment of spiritual significance will be unique to you.

The only man whose life has ever been changed at a burning bush was the life of Moses. That was his moment of spiritual significance, and it was unique to him and unique in Scripture.  To my knowledge, Saul’s life is the only life changed by an encounter with a blinding light from heaven. We could consider character after character in Scripture, and you would observe that each person’s encounter with God was unique to them. While their experience was unique, they clearly knew God had spoken. 

Isaiah had such an encounter with God in the temple. He said, “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” That is just another illustrated of an encounter that could be associated with a date on the calendar. It was something each individual never forgot and something that changed their lives from that moment forward? 

Have you experienced such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? It might not have been a burning bush or a blinding light or a vision of God seated on a throne, but something happened to you that you’ve never forgotten, and that encounter continues to shape your life.

4. Any moment of true spiritual significance will be preceded by the activity of the Holy Spirit. 

Jesus spoke to Saul in his physical blindness. He not only saw a blinding light, he heard a voice. Reflecting on that experience, Paul later took an opportunity to share what Jesus said to him. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Acts 26:14

Goads were sharp sticks that herdsmen used to prod specific their animals in a specific direction. Apparently, God had been at work in Saul’s life, pricking his heart with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, any moment of spiritual significance will be preceded by a trail of  other moments God uses to alert you of your need to change and to move you to that spiritually significant moment. That trail might be the trail of your own resistance to what God wanted to do in your life, until the point in time comes for your surrender.

Moments of spiritual significance are orchestrated by God. Such moments are planned onto the calendar of our lives and often involve other people who God uses to move us on to His agenda. In the case of Saul, God used a specific disciple whose name was Ananias.

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized. Acts 9:17b-18

As Saul was travelling, it happened! But it was not a happenstance. It was a moment of spiritual significance, carefully calendared onto his life journey. It was a divine appointment. 

Ananias was used of God to help Saul understand God’s new purpose for his life. Across the pages of Scripture, we meet men and women whose lives were transformed in some moment of spiritual significance. From that moment forward, God called them for some specific mission or purpose. That brings me to the next characteristic of these moments of spiritual significance.

5. A moment of true spiritual significance will require radical adjustments to your life purpose.

Abraham was required to leave to leave his father’s house. Moses was required to leave the wilderness and return to Egypt. Peter and Andrew left their nets. Saul abandoned his hatred for Christians and became one because of God’s activity in His life. No encounter with God scheduled onto the calendar of our life will come like a lightning bolt out of the blue. God will be at work in ways you don’t see or understand to prepare you for that moment. That single moment of spiritual significance was peppered with many previous pricks from the Holy Spirit. 

Yesterday, I sat in the sanctuary of the church where I served for nine years. I adjusted my life to go there at God’s leading. I spent nine years there. Those years seemed so lonely to me. But yesterday, as I sat there, I recognized that is where God befriended me. He shaped my heart. He taught me many things about myself and Himself. A moment of spiritual significance will not require a single adjustment to your life purpose. It will prepare you for a string of adjustments, all of which God will use to bring you closer to Him.

That leads me to my final observation about moments of spiritual significance. 

6. A moment of true spiritual significance will be a spiritual marker you share with others in an effort to explain who you are and why it is you do what you do. 

If you read the book of Acts, you will hear Paul repeat this story of that day on the road to Damascus when he had that encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a spiritual marker. Every time he shared it, it refocused his life on the purpose to which God had called him.

Many of you who read these posts are spiritual people. You are religious people. You may read your Scriptures or mine. But let me ask you, for all your connection with religion and religiosity, have you had such a moment of spiritual significance in your life? Has this God of the Bible, who reveals Himself in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, scheduled such an encounter onto the calendar of your life? If not, would you be willing to ask Him to reveal Himself to you. I remind you, it is not your life mission to find God. God’s passion is to find you and reveal Himself to you. Jesus said, “I am come to seek and to save that which is lost.” Please consider praying this simple prayer: 

“Jesus, I have read about You. I have heard about You. But I have never encountered You. Would you reveal Yourself to me in a way of Your own choosing? Allow me to know that it is You. Please prepare my heart for that moment of spiritual significance. Amen”

Photo by JOHN TOWNER

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

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

When Feelings Lie

Zion said, the Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me. “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16a

Do you feel forgotten by God? Do you feel as if He abandoned you in a moment of crisis, leaving you to deal with it all alone? Do you feel as if God doesn’t love you or that He doesn’t care? 

Those are terrible feelings to have. I suppose we all have those feelings at times. There have been times when my faith has been shaken by my feelings. Consider the feelings David expressed in Psalm 13, when he asked, “How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” Psalm 13:1David’s feelings shook his faith, prompting him to question God and to doubt His goodness.

The mighty Elijah once crawled up under a juniper tree and prayed he might die because he felt alone and abandoned by God. His faith was also shaken by his feelings. It happened to Joseph. It happened to Jeremiah. It happens to us all! Some crisis comes along, and we feel forsaken and forgotten by God. But life has to be lived on something more concrete than feelings, because feelings can lie. A good example of that comes from the experience of God’s people during the time of Isaiah the prophet. They vented their feelings about God. They expressed what they felt, but as is often the case, what they felt was simply not true. They said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” Isaiah 49:14 Please allow me to walk you through God’s answer to their feelings. It is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. 

Our Feelings Often Contradict God’s Promises.

What is God doing in your life? Do you have a pretty good idea, or is it fuzzy sometime? Honestly, we don’t always have a clear picture of God’s activity. Neither did these people who were moaning about being abandoned by God. Pay careful attention to God’s purpose for His people.

Listen to Me, O islands, and pay attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called Me from the womb; from the body of My mother He named Me. He has made My mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of His hand He has concealed Me; and He has also made Me a select arrow, He has hidden Me in His quiver. He said to Me, “You are My Servant, Israel, in Whom I will show My glory.” Isaiah 49:1-3

This wonderful plan for God’s people looked forward to the coming of the Messiah as their Deliverer. But the collective feelings of His people are expressed in the next verse.   But I said, “I have toiled in vain, I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity; Isaiah 49:4

When God outlines His activity in your life and mine, He traces it back to before we were born! God shaped you for a purpose! You have also been concealed in the shadow of His hand! He has a special purpose for you! He wants to display His glory in and through your life! However, His people often lose sight of God’s activity, feeling as if they have toiled in vain and spent their strength for nothing.

That can happen to a fine Christian leader. It can happen to a minister. It can happen to a Christian spouse who is praying for the salvation of his or her mate. It can happen to you. It can happen to me. In fact, it has happened to us all. Our feelings are often set in contrast to what God is doing within us and around us. In our discouragement, we can easily conclude our time and efforts in the service of the Lord are wasted. Perhaps your circumstances leave you feeling God has abandoned you. You feel He has withdrawn His hand of blessing from your life. 

Feelings are not a sin. It is a sin when you begin to live and act on your feelings instead of your faith in God. Feelings can shake your faith. What we need is a faith strong enough to shake our feelings.

Our Feelings Often Contradict God’s Activity in and Around Our Lives.

Thus says the Lord, “In a favorable time I have answered You,
and in a day of salvation I have helped You; and I will keep You and give You for a covenant of the people, to restore the land, to make them inherit the desolate heritages; 
Saying to those who are bound, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ Along the roads they will feed, and their pasture will be on all bare heights. 10 “They will not hunger or thirst, nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water. 11 “I will make all My mountains a road, and My highways will be raised up. 12 “Behold, these will come from afar; and lo, these will come from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim.” 13 Shout for joy, O heavens! And rejoice, O earth! Break forth into joyful shouting, O mountains! For the Lord has comforted His people and will have compassion on His afflicted. Isaiah 49:8-14

This was good news! These verses also point to the coming work of the Messiah. It is like reading from the book of Revelation here in the Old Testament. It is the story of God’s purpose in the lives of these people among whom He was working. God was working powerfully in their behalf! But that is not how they felt.How about you? Do you feel like shouting for joy because of the clear evidence of God’s activity? Or do you feel forgotten?

God said, “I have answered!” But they said, “God isn’t listening.” God said, “I have helped!” But they said, “God doesn’t care.” God said, “I will keep you!” But they said, God threw us away.” God said, “In you I will show my glory!” But they said, “We’ve wasted our time telling His story.” God said, “Shout the news!” But they said, “All we can do is sing the blues.” They said what they felt, but it was not true.

I have been in the middle of some problem when I felt like God walked out on me. I have been weighed down with heartache when I felt like God didn’t care. I have been down on my knees when I felt like God was not listening to my prayers. I felt this, only to learn later that God was working powerfully in my behalf. My feelings were false. I allowed my feelings to shake my faith. What I needed was a faith strong enough to shake my feelings. Our feelings are often contrary to the activity of God around us.

God once put Moses in the cleft of the rock and covered him with His Hand. He did so to protect Moses from the overpowering brilliance of His glory. In fact, it was when God was closest that it was darkest for Moses. Those were the moments He was covered with God’s hand. Sometimes, we feel under a dark cloud when we have problems. We feel God has hidden His face from us. We feel God doesn’t know where we are or what we are going through. Then God comes to our aid and the darkness is past. But like Moses, we didn’t see Him coming. We only saw the results of where He had been. Could it be that some of those dark, gloomy days prior to God’s deliverance are the real glory days when, if we were allowed to see the full picture of God’s activity, we would be devastated by the awesome glory of God!

Don’t let your feelings shake your faith in God. It might be dark in your circumstances, but that may be because God is just outside, and you are covered with His hand. Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Don’t listen to your feelings. Feelings can lie!

Our Feelings Run Counter to the Investment of God in Our Future.

They felt forsake and forgotten. But these next two verses reveal their feelings to be the farthest thing from the truth.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Isaiah 49:15-16a

You may feel God has forsaken you. You may feel God doesn’t care. You may feel God doesn’t love you. You may feel God doesn’t know what is going on in your life. You may feel God is far away. You may feel God never thinks about you and doesn’t even know your name!

That’s what these people said. But that is not what God said! The rest of this chapter speaks of a glorious deliverance. These verses speak of a God who bears in His hands the concern He has for His people. And whatever God means when He says, “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” I see in that promise the nail scars from the cross.

Zion said, the Lord has forsaken me and the Lord has forgotten me. That may be what Zion says and what Zion feels but it is contrary to all of God’s promises. For God has promised: I will never desert you nor will I ever forsake you. Hebrews 13:5

God has promised:But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. “For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3a

Thomas, that doubting disciple, had some feelings that made him question Jesus. His feelings deepened his doubt. His feelings shook his faith. But suddenly, Jesus appeared in the presence of all His disciples, and said to Thomas. “Behold my hands…”

All Thomas had to do was see those hands. and his feelings melted into oblivion. Can you see what God is doing? Do you know where God is headed with your life? Do you know all that God is doing within you or around you or for you or in response to your prayers?

No we don’t. But we know what Zion did not know from their perspective in Old Testament times. We know He died on a cross. We know the scars in His hands testify to the investment He made in the our future, and they serve as constant reminders to Him of what we need.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” Isaiah 49:15-16a

Photo by JK