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

God’s Shaping Hand

God is the very reason behind your existence. You are where you are by His doing. Your life is not chance or random. You exist for reasons known only to God. God’s purpose governs your life.

My heart began moving in the direction of these verses just yesterday. As is often the case, a pastor’s heart is moved by his own circumstances, his own spiritual condition, his contact with others, and most importantly of all, the sovereign work of God’s shaping hand. 

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.Jeremiah 18:1-10

Yesterday, I re-read an email I sent to a friend almost a decade ago. I saved that email because of the spiritual connection we have with one another. For a number of years, he was the iron that sharpened the iron in my life, and I think I was the same to him.

We often carried on discussions contemplating Lazarus as a picture of man in his many stages spiritually. My friend is an artist. He paints, and he also does sculpture. He has gifted hands and a gifted heart. 

I tell you that to set the stage for the email I am about to share which I sent to him yesterday. I sent it, in response to a nudging from God, that I can’t explain. I just sensed we both needed it. And after pondering it through the night and into today, I sense that you may as well.

“It seems to me someone should image the before and after of a man in the three states Lazarus was in. First, he was dead and putrid. Next, he was alive and bound. Ultimately, he was loosed to rejoice in the work Jesus accomplished in his life. As I ponder my own present state spiritually, I come to the realization that Lazarus was never in a position to help himself. He was not when he was sick. He was not when he was dead. He was not when he was bound. Only via the Lord’s word and work could anything happen in the life of Lazarus. You are a gifted man. You can imagine what the clay can become. Can the clay imagine itself? Can it shape itself? Can it willto be different than it is? No! But the Creator, by the work of His hand and the passion of His heart, can take something so ordinary as clay and shape it into whatever He wants it to be.”

“Shortly after we got married, we picked up a little wooden statue of a half carved man with a little sticker on the front. His head is the only thing that made him something other than a block of wood. The sticker said, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God was not finished with Lazarus when he was sick. He was not finished with him when he was dead in the tomb. He was not finished with him when he was alive but bound. He is not finished with me. He is not finished with you. Chafe under his shaping hand as we might, He who began a good work in you will continue to perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Get ready for the chisel!”

When he responds, I will know if God met him in that moment. If not, perhaps He will meet you in the rest of what we will say about God’s role in shaping each of our lives. 

First, your life is a work in progress. 

God is making something, just as the potter was making something on the wheel before the eyes of Jeremiah. He has a purpose and a plan. Jesus said “My Father is always at His work to this very day and I too am working.” John 5:17 This is true in regard to your life. God is at work in your life. You may not see it. You may not believe it. You may have no recognizable sense of what He is doing. But God is working. He is making something. 

Second, like the clay in the hand of the potter, the Fingerprints of God are all over your life

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

This is true first in regard to His work as Creator. 

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. Acts 17:26

God is the very reason behind your existence. You are where you are by His doing. Your life is not chance or random. You exist for reasons known only to God. God’s purpose governs your life.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? Romans 9:19-21

The potter knows his clay. He knows whether this lump or that lump will respond to His shaping purpose. I always tremble before such a passage, as I consider whether or not I am allowing my life to be shaped according to the Potter’s purpose. God showed Jeremiah the responsibility of His people to remain pliable in the hand of the Potter until He accomplished His will.

God is making something. He is at work in and around your life. The fingerprints of God are all over your life. 

Third, He is shaping you with a purpose in mind. 

What would the fingerprints of God look like in a person’s life??   Your circumstances, your life experiences both good and bad, have all been tools of God in shaping you. If some of those have seemed especially severe, perhaps it is because God has been trying to get your attention. Perhaps you have been resistant to what God wants to do in your life. 

Fourth, as the Bible paints a picture of GOD as Potter, it reveals the incredible patience God has with His people through this shaping process. 

In Romans, Paul said He endured with much patience vessels of wrath. What does that mean? Could it mean what we see in Jeremiah 18, that the clay was often spoiled in the hand of the potter? Each time, God sought to remake it into a vessel He could use. How many times has God started over with you?? How many times has He given you another opportunity?

Here we discover two principles concerning God’s shaping purpose for each of our lives. 

God expects there to be challenges in working with my life. He has a design in mind. If I am resistant to one plan or one purpose, he will shape me for another, with the ultimate goal of my life becoming a trophy of His grace. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship…See Ephesians 2:8-10a

The word workmanship is that word from which we get our English word ‘poem’. It means something made.

David acknowledged this in Psalm 139: For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14

God made you. Not only so, He is making you. In His Sovereign purpose, even if your life has been spoiled in the hand of the Potter, He will remake you into a vessel of His choosing and for His glory. God was intimate with you before your birth. His fingerprints are all over your life. He desires that you allow His shaping purpose to continue.

Finally, it is important for you to remember that if you continue in your resistance, God will make you a castaway. 

Marred pottery went to the pottery junkyard. Marred souls have their own place in the judgment of God. Later, God told Jeremiah to purchase a finished jar from the potter. He was to take the people outside the city to the place for cast away pottery. 

“Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. Jeremiah 19:10-11

It is important that I understand the potter’s ultimate authority over the clay. If I fail to submit to God’s purpose, then I will be subject to God’s judgment. As I wrote to my artist friend, I reminded him, and God reminded me, that He is Sovereign over my life, just as the potter is sovereign over the clay.

Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

As you survey your own personal circumstances, you might question God’s wisdom or skill in making you. You might say, “As a Potter, You have no hands.” Does your personal frustration arise because you have resisted the shaping hand of the potter? Or could it be that you have failed to see God’s incredible patience with you as He shapes and re-shapes your life. 

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?  Romans 9:20-21

 My responsibility is to surrender to the hand of the Potter as He molds me into the vessel of His choosing. Yes, It seems to me someone should image the before and after of a man in the three states Lazarus was in. First, he was dead and putrid. Next, he was alive and bound. Ultimately, he was loosed to rejoice in the work Jesus accomplished in his life. As I ponder my own present state spiritually, I come to the realization that Lazarus was never in a position to help himself. He was not when he was sick. He was not when he was dead. He was not when he was bound. Only via the Lord’s word and work could anything happen in the life of Lazarus. Even ungifted people can imagine what the clay can become. Can the clay imagine itself? Can it shape itself? Can it willto be different than it is? No! But the Creator, by the work of His hand and the passion of His heart, can take something so ordinary as clay and shape it into whatever He wants it to be. Is it time to make a new surrender to God’s shaping hand?

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi

Trusting God with Your Future

In the journey of life, it doesn’t represent spiritual weakness to say I don’t know which way to turn. It is an acknowledgement of the truth that I face because of who I am and the limits of human knowledge. I am blind to the future. That is true whether that future is near or distant.

As the years pass, I realize more and more my own personal helplessness to chart a course for my future. There was a time I thought my life journey would cease to be one of change and reach a plateau of stability. However, after observing the lives of others, and six decades of personal experience, I understand life is in a constant state of change. There are some predictable passages. We pass from infancy to childhood, childhood to adolescence, adolescence to young adult, from young adult to middle age, from middle age to senior years. Yet none of us can predict what happens during those years or whether we will make it from one passage to the next. In every passage there are some easy choices. At other times, decisions are more difficult. The future is more uncertain and unsettling. 

Some years ago, I found myself crossing between two of those passages. With pen in hand, I wrote a poem/prayer. It represents a dialogue with God, where I was asking questions and God was whispering answers. There were things I couldn’t know, and I was struggling to trust God with my future. I’m sure you are also struggling. I will include the poem at the end of this message. The commitment I was able to make is based on a commitment God makes to guide the life of His people.

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

This is one of the most remarkable promises in the Bible. It is precious to those of us who have known it and needed it at various points in our lives.  I want to break it down and look at it phrase by phrase in an effort to discover the true riches of this promise that God has made us.

The Basis of This Promise Rests on God Himself.

This promise doesn’t depend at all on the one who claims it but altogether on the One who has made it. No less than five times in this verse, God affirms His determination to fulfill this promise.  I will lead the blind.  I will guide them.  I will make darkness into light.  I will do it.  I will not leave them undone.  

There are other promises that are conditioned upon our obedience.  However, this promise rests entirely on the grace of God.  He shoulders the complete responsibility of bringing it to pass. As I understand God’s work of salvation, that too is His work. A work he begins, He will continue to perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. We are, after all His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10). The Greek word translated workmanship is poiema. It is the word from which we get our English word poem.

This is a Promise Made to the Helpless.

The people to whom this promise is made suffer from a compounded helplessness.  It is absolute and utter.  He calls them “the blind”.  We might say that this is spiritual blindness, but it is also physical blindness.  It is the blindness faced by a person who is confronted by one of the passages of life or by some major life decision.  It is a blindness compounded by that which is unfamiliar.  A person who is physically blind can navigate in familiar territory.  But in new and unfamiliar territory it represents an almost impossible challenge.  

In the journey of life, it doesn’t represent spiritual weakness to say I don’t know which way to turn.  It is an acknowledgement of the truth that I face because of who I am and the limits of human knowledge.  I am blind to the future. That is true whether that future is near or distant.  I don’t know what is around the corner of my life.  Walking by faith, is so some degree walking blind. It is not something we accomplish using the best of our human senses. It is admitting our absolute and utter dependence on God.  

First, this is a promise that rests on God Himself. Second, it is a promise made to the helpless. Not only so,

This is the Promise of God’s Leadership.

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

But that is not the promise of God in this verse. Here, He promises to lead by a way that is new to us.  Not only is it new to us, it is completely unknown to us.  This is how God teaches us to depend on Him. Rather than leaning on our own understanding, we must look to God and wait on God. In my own experience, more often than not, God’s leadership comes in a way that is unexpected. It takes us by surprise. Moses didn’t expect to meet God at the burning bush. Apparently, Isaiah was surprised to meet Him in the temple. God knows where we are. He knows how we think and how we pray. Jesus saw Nathaniel under the fig tree before his brother approached him about introducing him to Jesus. Nathaniel didn’t plan his meeting with Jesus. Jesus arranged it for him.

How will you get from where you are to where God wants you to be?  You have God’s promise that He will lead you.  And when you have God’s promise, that is all you need.  You don’t need a road map, all you need is Him! 

First, this is a promise that rests on God Himself. Second, it is a promise made to the helpless. Third, it is the promise of God’s leadership. Fourth,

It Includes the Promise of God’s Presence

A leader may only point the way.  A guide is someone who walks with you in the way.   God affirmed the promise of His presence to Jacob in Genesis 28:15 “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

A leader points you in the right direction and leaves you to go there on your own.  A guide insures that you make it there safely by placing on Himself the responsibility for your journey.  How will you make it from where you are to where God wants you to be?  Wait on Him and His leadership.  Don’t worry or fret when you don’t know the way.  You don’t have to.  Your God is your guide, and He will not leave you until He has done what He promised you.  

First, this is a promise that rests on God Himself. Second, it is a promise made to the helpless. Third, it is the promise of God’s leadership. Fourth, it includes the promise of God’s presence. Fifth,

God Accepts Full Responsibility for the Risks Involved in Following Him.

There will be dark places, and there will be rugged places.  During those times it is not up to you to provide light in the dark or to make the rugged smooth.   Your responsibility is simply to keep walking when the way is dark and to keep trusting when the way is rough.  

God will be your guide in the darkness of difficulty. As you depend on Him, He will make a way where there seems to be no way. There will be times when you, like David, will say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night.”  But you will find as He did, that… Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the light is as bright as the day.”  Psalm 139:11-12 

The Father’s charge to His Son is found in Isaiah 42:  “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, and I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison.”  Isaiah 42:6-7

He will also hold you by the hand and bring you out of the darkness into the light of His presence.  First, this is a promise that rests on God Himself. Second, it is a promise made to the helpless. Third, it is the promise of God’s leadership. Fourth, it includes the promise of God’s presence. Fifth,  God accepts full responsibility for the risks involved in following Him.  Finally,

God Reaffirms His Promise.

“These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.” That doesn’t mean there will never be times of uncertainty. In fact, at every passage of life there is uncertainty. You won’t know which way to turn and you won’t see or sense God’s guidance.  You will be lost in the darkness of your own discouragement and unable to find your way. God will always bring you to the end of yourself before He brings you to an understanding of His will. In your blindness and in your darkness, He will shine the light of His presence!

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

Troubled Waters

The Holy Spirit stirs the waters
Deep within my soul.
God is calling to HIs servant,
And He doth require the whole.
What is this the Lord is saying?
How can I now know the way?
"Wait ye, wait ye at My Table,
And in stillness watch and pray."

O, but Lord, thoughts alarm
My sinful heart and clouded mind!
"Watch My child and walk behind Me,
Then thine eye the path will find."

Where in life will this path lead me,
Trembling now for loved ones dear?
"Pray My child, and walk behind Me,
I will make Thy future clear."

Looking t'ward that new horizon
With less days than those I've passed
What, O Lord, is my purpose
The Mission that shall be my last?
"If I will that you should be here
When the clouds My glory share,
I will always walk before you,
Where I am, you shall be there."


If that be a dark horizon
that forbids the slow of heart,
Give me grace to meet my trial,
For Thy glory do my part.
Waiting quietly at Thy table
for the portion called my own,
I am trusting as Thy servant,
O my Captain, lead me Home!

Eddie Davidson, October, 2005

Photo by Geran de Klerk

Songs in the Night

When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul

“But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

There is a night in every day. There are also nights in every life. The night to which I refer, is a period marked by grief or gloom, by questions or confusion, by discouragement or doubt. A night can last hours, or days, or months or years.

It can be a night of anxiety, or a night of alarm; a night of brokenness or, a night of bankruptcy; a night of confusion, or a night of calamity;  a night of depression, or a night of desperation; a night of emptiness, or a night of emergency; a night of frailty, or a night of failure; a night of guilt, or a night of gloom; a night of heartache, or a night of hopelessness; a night of illness, or a night of injustice; a night of being jobless, or a night in jail like Paul and Silas; a night of loss, or a night of loneliness; a night of misery, or a night of mockery; a night of need, or a night of news that crushes the soul! On and on we could go, describing those dark nights that engulf us—those nights that seem to never have a sunrise.

Job was in one of those nights. His night was made darker by friends and family who couldn’t understand his darkness. They came along and said, “If you would just look for God—if you would just ask God—God would give you answers.” One of them, Elihu, observed: “But none saith, Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?”—Job 35:10.

In his statement, Elihu was right, and he was wrong. He was wrong about Job. Job sought the Lord amidst the darkness of his circumstances. But God offered Job no answers. Elihu suggested that getting out of the darkness was as easy as breathing a prayer. “Just knock on God’s door, and He will answer.” But Job had knocked, and there was no answer.  Job had raised the question: “Where is God my Maker?”

Are you in one of those nights when God doesn’t answer? Are you in one of those seasons characterized by gloom rather than gladness, by fear rather than faith? Elihu was wrong! Answers are not always immediate, even when a man looks for God. But Elihu was right when he said, “God giveth songs in the night.”However, as of yet, Job had no song. Job wanted a song.  Job needed a song. Job was not guilty of failing to seek God. But God was yet to grant a song in his night of despair.

God promises to give a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But all Job had was heaviness and heartache.  All he had was weariness and woe! God’s songs come in His timing, but He does give songs in the night. He gives a song in the night of oppression and in the night of opposition; in the night of pain, and in the night of perplexity; in the night of questions, and in the night that quakes with dread;  in the night of regret and in a night of ruin. God does give songs in the night!

We see it in Scripture. Job’s life had no song. His life was all darkness. But God, in His timing, gave Job a song—and oh what a song Job sings from the pages of Scripture. Once God’s glory shined into the darkness of his circumstances, Job exclaimed:  “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of  Yours can be thwarted!”Job 42:2 Job’s sure song rings through the ages into your darkness and mine.

Two servants of God sat in a Philippian jail. Beaten and in bondage, God gave Paul and Silas a song to sing in their midnight. God gave Joseph a song concerning the darkness of his dungeon and David a song about the dark cave of Adullam. He gave Miriam and Moses a song as they came out of the oppression of an Egyptian darkness. Can God give you a song in the darkness of your personal despair?

We also see it in experience. How many of you have been through a time of darkness when you thought God was a million miles away, only to break through that darkness and discover thatGod was nearer than you ever imagined? Your soul still sings of that dark night when glory finally dawned!

Anyone can sing in the day. Anyone can sing when their cup is full and when their life is full of blessing.  It is quite another thing in the night of suffering, or in the night of sorrow; in the night of trial, or in the night of terror; in the night of urgency, or in the night of uncertainty; in the night of weakness, or in the night of worry; in the night of violence, or in the night of villainy!

It is easy to sing when there is light to read the hymal, but in the darkness, the words must come from the heart—they must come from inspiration. There are nights in life so black that it seems that there is no song! When you have your health and you have your wealth and you have your freedom and you have your hope—it is easy to sing. But should you find yourself in some dark night of the soul,  without a ray of hope—should you find yourself locked in some prison of despair—try then to voice a song. That is when it will take divine intervention to bring a song from your soul. You may mouth the words in church, but your soul will not sing until God stirs and writes the words on your heart amidst the darkness.

Habakkuk’s song in darkness of his circumstances was: Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. Habakkuk  3:17-18

One night, a young woman tossed in her bed, deeply discouraged. Her church was  was planning a full day of activity. But she was  sickly, and wouldn’t be able to participate. That night she struggled. She struggled with questions about her own life. She struggled with doubt and discouragement. Out of that night of despair, God gave her a poem. She wrote it that very night, never intending for anyone else to read it. The year was 1834. But in the providence of God, Charlotte Elliot’s words were published in The Invalid’s Hymn Book in 1836.  That prayer, penned in brokenness from her sickbed, has been used to touch millions of lives. Here are a few of the words of her song. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me, and that Thou bids’t me come to Thee: O Lamb of God, I come!” That was her song in the night!

Is it dark in your heart? Are you discouraged? Do you have doubts? What could God do with your sorrow if you surrendered it to Him? What could God do with your brokenness if you allowed Him to place His hand on the keyboard of your life, creating beautiful harmony out of your brokenness?

Perhaps you know the story of Horatio Spafford. He was a lawyer in Chicago during the time of the great Chicago fire. He was severely hurt financially by the fire as well as emotionally. Matters were made worse by an economic crisis that followed. Overwhelmed, and overworked, his physician advised the family to take a trip allowing them some time to recover from the trauma. They planned a trip to Europe. Just prior to time for the ship to leave, Spafford was forced to stay behind to tend to unexpected business. His family made the journey. He planned to follow. However, on the way to Europe, the ship on which his family sailed, capsized. He wasn’t sure what happened to his wife and four daughters until he received a telegram from his wife that began with these words: “Saved alone…” All four daughters perished at sea.

He arranged to board a ship to go and meet his wife. Near the scene of the tragedy, in the midst of his own heartache, Spafford penned these words: “When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot—Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well—It is well with my soul.”

God does give songs in the night! But until He does, you can’t pump it to make it sing. You can’t force something out of your darkness that isn’t there.! However, you can pray that God would plant a song in your heart. Only God gives a song in the night!

Why are you passing through a season of darkness and despair? I don’t know. You don’t know. But trust God to know! Trust God to have an answer. Trust God to come to you in your night of despondency. Do you remember the storm on the sea?  Jesus came, walking across the water in the dead of their night, and amidst the fury of the storm.  What time was it? It was in the fourth watch of the night. It was the deadest and darkest part of the night. As they struggled, they thought the Lord would never come. But come He did! Be assured, dear Christian, He will come to you in the stormy night of your circumstances. And when He comes, He will give you a song to sing from your darkness whose melody will touch the lives of countless more!

God does give songs in the night!

Photo by Victorien Ameline

Is He Still the God Who Sees?

Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?

Whether from circumstances beyond our control, or consequences resulting from our own sinful choices, life can become very complicated. It can become so complicated that we see no way out of our own personal hopelessness. That was the case for an Old Testament woman known as Hagar. Hagar enters the biblical story  as the maid of Abraham’s wife Sarah. There is no way we can know the exact circumstances in which Hagar lived. It doesn’t appear she was under any form of duress while living in the home of Abraham, until Abraham’s wife gave her the assignment of being his mistress for the purpose of becoming a surrogate mother. The child would become the child of Abraham and Sarah. It was a bad decision from the start for all parties. Once it was clear she was pregnant, Hagar felt superior to Sarah, since Sarah was barren. As a result, Sarah hated Hagar and began to treat her accordingly. Abraham, certainly not an innocent figure in the story, found himself caught between the ire of the two women in his home.

So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence. Genesis 16:1-6

It sounds like a modern day soap opera. It is hard to feel sorry for anybody. You can identify with Sarah and her animosity. After hearing the story, you might feel that Hagar ought to leave. Depending on your own personal perspective, you will either see her as the villain or the victim. However, it is not up to us to pass judgment. Instead, we need to look for the response of God. The focus of the Biblical story immediately shifts away from the main characters, Abraham and Sarah, as God turns His concern toward Hagar.

Hagar was running away. She was running away from a bad relationship. She was running away from her problems. She was running away from her past. Running away is not always the answer. Running away can make problems worse. When you run away, you don’t always know what you’re running from. Is it a person? Is it the problem? Is it something you are afraid might happen? Or is it something inside you. Hagar was running away. It is interesting to me that her name means Fleeing. Maybe that is how she dealt with things her whole life. She just ran away.

Hagar was running without purpose. She didn’t know where she was going. She was flailing her way into the future. She didn’t have a guide. She didn’t have a goal. She never considered where her steps might lead. Would things be better, or would they be worse? One bad decision often leads to another, especially when you are simply trying to run away from the consequences of the previous decision.

The Bible tells us that she stopped by a spring of water on the way to Shur. That word can mean a place of walls. She was looking for security. That sounds a lot like our word sure. In her mind, she was running toward SURE, but in fact, she was running toward uncertainty. She was running toward disaster. In fact, a later verse tells us that this well where she stopped was located between Kadesh and Bered. Kadesh means holiness and Bered means hail. In the Bible, hail is an emblem of God’s judgment. Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment? As you run away from your problems, are you simply moving faster toward disaster?

Running away was not the answer. Running away would only make her problems worse. She was running away, but she didn’t know what she was running away from or where she was going. She was running away from her fears. Have you ever had that feeling of being followed—that something or someone was behind you? If Hagar continued to run, she would spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder. What will the rest of your life be like? Will you spend the rest of your life fearing the future or in fear of the past catching up with you?

Something wonderful happens in the middle of Hagar’s journey. Now the angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. Genesis 16:7

The Angel of the Lord found her. This is one of the most mysterious figures in the Bible. In every case where the Angel of the Lord appears, He always turns out to be more than an angel. Whenever this figure appears, the person who encounters Him realizes it was an encounter with God. Some theologians believe this to be an appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. Think of that! Consider who found Hagar. He intercepted her on our journey of running away. He found her! He knew where she was. He knew her name. He knew where she had been and where she was going! He knew what was going on inside her and around her. He knew what she was running from, and what she needed to do instead of running away.

Is this the moment God has chosen to intercept you—to speak with you about where you are, where you have been and where you are going. He knows your name! He knows what you need, what you face, and what you need to do!

What are you running from? Are you running from your past? Are you running from something you see looming in the future? Jesus knows all about it. He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from and where are you going?” And she said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.” Genesis 16:8

Was Hagar worthy of a visit from the Angel of the Lord? No! She was not worthy! None of us are worthy! This is God, in His grace and mercy, reaching out to a woman to express His love, to offer His direction, and to spare her from further heartache. God also reaches out to you and to me, even though we are unworthy of His attention and affection.

This turns out to be one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. God reveals His love to Hagar. He speaks promises over her life, offering her a certain future made firm by the power of His hand. What if God is at work to do the same thing for you in your circumstances? God told Hagar to stop running. Instead, she needed to rest secure in His love, even though she would continue to face the wrath of Sarah. God was working His plan. This wouldn’t make all her problems go away, but it would allow her to experience His providential care across the journey of her life.

Out of that experience, Hagar gives God a new name. Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God who sees”; for she said, “Have I even remained alive here after seeing Him?” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.Genesis 16:7-14

This often happened in the Bible when someone encountered God in such a surprising way. She called God, “El-Roi”. It means, the God who Sees.She named the well the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me. Hagar is the first woman at the well. Remember what the woman at the well in the New Testament said about Jesus. “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done.” John 14:29

She also declared Him to be a God who sees! “He could See my past. He could See into my heart. He could See where I had been and where I was going. He could See that I was thirsty. He could See that I was lonely. He could See what I needed. He could See all the wrong in me. He is the God who Saw me and yet loved me!”

He is still the God who sees! He sees you right where you are. He sees you in the midst of your need. He sees you as you deal with the consequences of bad decisions and sinful living. He sees you, and yet He loves you! He has chosen to meet you in this moment, that He might intercept your journey, and re-direct you toward a better and brighter future. The only sure thing in life is the certainty of His Sovereignty. Would you give Him the opportunity to speak His promises over your life and wrap you in the shelter of His love?

Are you running from something? Are you are running from something you can see, or something you can’t see? Are you running from some fear from the past, or from some fear of the future? Are you running from one relationship into another relationship?

The God who Sees is watching you. He knows where you are. He knows your name. He knows where you have been and where you are going. He is still the God who sees.  He is still the God who seeks to rescue us from our own decisions, from our own dilemmas, from the dread of the past, and from the dread of the future.  Hagar was, without knowing, running away from God. Is that where you are? Are you somewhere between holiness and judgment?

The God who Sees is a God who loves us so much that even when we are walking with our back toward holiness and our face toward judgment, He intercepts us on our journey, and redirects us, speaking His promises over our lives, and offering to swaddle us in His sovereignty.

Photo by Alexander Mils

 

Seasons of Discouragment

Depression is a serious illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem, although it can result from spiritual problems or any kind of discouragement.  Depression is not a sin.  It is a disease and there is a way out. 

The days are getting cooler and shorter. Some people love it. Some people dread it, and they do for good reason. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The drop in the amount of sunlight causes mood changes. For some, it brings the onset of depression that may not go away without treatment. I don’t like the change in seasons. Some years ago, I began to notice that I got depressed in the fall. I know why it happens now, and I can handle it better. I look forward to the winter solstice when the days start getting longer. I dread the summer solstice when the days start getting shorter. That’s just the way I am made.

Discouragement is not always connected to the season of the year. Sometimes discouragement is connected to the seasons of life. We all begin life with a great deal of optimism. We have dreams and plans. Those can be shattered by some season of disappointment.

Disappointments can bring discouragement.

The writer of Proverbs once said: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. We all face disappointment. Our plans fail. Dreams fail to materialize, causing us to face the fact that they never will. Our hopes crumble in disappointment, leaving us heartsick and forlorn. Unfortunately, that is life. People let us down. Circumstances don’t always work out. Yet, the Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus will never be disappointed.

What does that mean? Is it true? Life is full of disappointments. The key to battling discouragement in the wake of those moments is to keep your hope in Christ.

The Life Path you travel can bring discouragement.

Have there been events along the way of your life that brought discouragement to you.

Did discouragement invade your life when you lost your spouse? Did discouragement descend like a cloud after you lost a child? Did discouragement sap your vitality after you or someone you loved was diagnosed with a serious illness? Did discouragement embitter your life after you went through a divorce? Each of us encounter circumstances across life’s journey that can leave us deeply depressed.

The Bible tells about the journey of God’s people through the wilderness. One sentence summed up the collective feeling of the entire body. The soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. Numbers 21:4 The path they travelled led them into a season of discouragement.

In the January of 1990, our thirteen-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. One day our lives were normal. The next we were sitting in a hospital being told our daughter could never go barefooted again because a foot infection could cause her to lose a leg. We were told that in in the years to come she would have complications that could claim her vision, her kidneys, her legs or her life.  From that day forward, she would take three shots a day to just to stay alive. When I walked out of that hospital, the whole world had turned grey.  There were no colors.  Life lost its luster.  I cried every night for weeks and on and off for the next years, until a kind doctor invited us to his home and lovingly told me I was wasting her days with my grief. He told me that I should take each day as it came and not ruin today with tomorrows trouble.  Only then did my perspective change, and some of the gloom departed.  But neither my life nor my daughter’s will ever be the same as it was before January of 1990.

What event changed your life? What caused a tidal wave of despair  to come crashing into your life? Sometimes I have to be reminded that my Lord will take care of tomorrow.  My tomorrows, although beyond my control, are all under His Sovereignty. Trusting Jesus from day to day will help you in your personal season of discouragement. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:34

There are times when the source of discouragement is our own separation from God.

I tell you these things by experience. I know what it is to know God’s peace. I also know what it is to be absolutely miserable because I am out of step with God. God warns us what will happen to our peace of heart when we walk distant from Him. See if the following words describe the present state of your heart. “…there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of the eyes, and despair of soul.  So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.  In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see.  Deuteronomy 28:65-67

Some of the most dismal moments I have ever experienced were during days when I was walking distant from God. Is that why you are discouraged? Is it because you have strayed from your Lord, and He has turned His face away?  There is no pill that will chase away that kind of discouragement. The only way to cure it is to come home to the Lord.

Discouragement can come when we get life out of focus.

Elijah was a mighty man of God, but a moment came when he walked out into the wilderness, lay down under a tree and prayed that he might die. Why was Elijah discouraged?  It was because Elijah had his eyes on his enemies—on his problems—and not on the Lord.

Looking to the Lord does not always make your problems go away.  However, as we keep our eyes on Him, He will give us strength to take another step forward. During days of discouragement, don’t ask to mount up with wings as eagles or to run and not be weary. Pray that God will just help you walk and not faint!

Sometimes, discouragement seems not to have a reason or a season. There are days when you know you shouldn’t be discouraged– but you are!  You know God is on your side and you shouldn’t be discouraged—but you are! You know God can help and you shouldn’t be discouraged—but you are!

Such was the situation in David’s life when he wrote Psalm 42: For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Psalm 42:4-5

David knew how he ought to feel—but he just couldn’t seem to get out from under the cloud of discouragement that had cast a shadow across his soul.

 What do you do when your discouragement won’t go away?

 It is estimated that one in ten people in the United States suffers from some form of depression. I don’t know what the statistics might be where you live. I am told that the number of people diagnosed with depression increases by 20% every year.  Discouragement can push a person over the edge into depression.   Depression is not a sin—it is a treatable illness that needs medical attention.

Rachel was one of the most godly women I have ever known.  She was the best Sunday School Teacher we had at our church.  Her husband was the author of God, If You’re Real, Let The Cow Be In The Pen When I Get Home.  She was the subject of many of his stories, and she worked tirelessly to help him market that book along with his second, Divine Appointments in the Master’s Vineyard.

Disappointment crushed her when her husband was stricken with cancer and died.  Not many months later, she lost her mother.  Rachel’s vibrant faith was rattled.  The couple lived about six miles out of town in a wooded area.  The nearest neighbor was almost a mile away.  Rachel was afraid to be alone.

Her growing discouragement gave way to depression.  She quit teaching her Sunday School Class.  This neatly dressed lady began to look unkempt.   All of these changes took place within a year of her husband’s death.  The weekend before the anniversary of her husband’s death, Rachel called her son and daughter and asked them to come home.  She prepared a meal in advance of  their arrival.  Shortly before the time they were to be home, she called a neighbor to come over to house.  She hung up the phone, took a gun, went out in her back yard to a place her neighbor would be sure to find her, and took her life.”

One year to the day after she buried her husband who died of cancer, Rachel died of depression.  Depression is a serious illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem, although it can result from spiritual problems or any kind of discouragement.  Depression is not a sin.  It is a disease and there is a way out.

In July of 2011 a dear pastor’s wife took her life. Depression is no respecter or persons or positions. It strikes the young and old. After suffering from more than one severe bout of depression, and nearing her 80th birthday, it overwhelmed her. Her husband was a godly pastor, and a strong leader. He weathered the storm outwardly, but after nearly a year of struggling with repressed guilt and the discouragement he suffered from losing his wife, depression pushed him to end his life. What did these godly people lose sight of that sent them over the edge? Maybe they forgot the one thing that kept David from falling completely apart.

 David believed that God was aware of his discouragement. 

How deep can discouragement go?  You know how deep! It can go deeper than bone and cut to the very depth of a person’s soul!  David’s did.  Maybe yours does too.  David’s hope was that God knew.  Does He know how you feel?  Yes!

If you are discouraged or depressed, it is important for you to understand that God knows.  He cares. He will act in response to your prayers. But as you pray, make sure and talk to somebody you trust. Tell them how you feel.  Ask for their prayers.  Keep your hope in God, and if discouragement comes and stays in spite of your faith and in spite of your efforts to shake it, it may be more than discouragement, it may be depression.  Remember, depression is not a sin.  It is a disease just like high blood pressure or diabetes or cancer. People die of those diseases if they don’t get medical treatment.   When discouragement pushes you over the edge into depression, you need to do more than just talk to your pastor, you need to talk to your doctor! Remember, this is a season. Hope is on the horizon. Help is on the way.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me.  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 42:11

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The Process of Hearing From God

So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.  I Kings 19:8 (NASB)

There are moments when God re-directs our journey. Some sudden, shocking, change shifts us in an unexpected direction. From our perspective, it may seem chaotic or hurtful. But from God’s perspective it is a Divine Appointment. Such a moment came in the life of Elijah, when from the spiritual high of Mount Carmel, he found himself on spiritual rock bottom at Mount Horeb. God, who was sovereign over the life of Elijah, was using circumstances, which included Elijah’s discouragement, to guide him to the place of His presence. However, although Mount Horeb had been the place where Moses experienced God at the burning bush, when Elijah arrived, there was no indication that God was present.

Hearing from God is not automatic. Just because you find yourself in a place where others testify of their own experience with God, does not guarantee you will encounter God in that place or in the same way. God is also sovereign over your journey. He will use your circumstances, including distress, discouragement, and disappointment, to guide you to the place of His presence. The timing of an encounter with God is according to His calendar and planning and not our own.

The Old Testament Temple was built on Mount Horeb, where Moses experienced God.  Horeb is where Moses received the Ten Commandments. That was also the very place God led Abraham to offer up his son, Isaac. David watched fire fall from heaven in response to his worship there, and when the foundation of the was laid on Mount Horeb and the Temple dedicated, Solomon experienced the glory of God filling the house.

During the time of Jesus, there were many things happening there, but men were not hearing from God.  Mount Horeb had been a place of God’s presence. Earthquake, fire, smoke, as well as the sound of thunder and the blast of a loud trumpet all signaled the presence of God. But when Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb, even though others experienced God there, Elijah struggled to make sense of what God was saying.

God gave Elijah no bush that burned. There was fire, but God was not in the fire. There was a mighty wind, but God was not in the wind. There was even an earthquake, but God was not in it. Initially, he had no sense of God’s guidance, direction, or even His presence.

The way of God will be unique with you. He will speak to you in His time and in His way.

First, you must make the journey into God’s presence. It took Elijah forty days and nights to get there. It will also be a journey for you. That journey might not be one of physical travel, but rather a spiritual process, by which He brings you to an awareness of His presence and guidance.

The process of hearing from God will be a process of self-examination. 

Then he came there to a cave and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:9-10 (NASB)

 He will cause you to examine your priorities in light of His call upon Your life.  Elijah’s focus became centered on Himself and not on God.   Though this question, God was calling Elijah to consider the real reasons for his downward spiritual spiral. “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

The first step in Elijah hearing from God was to realize his problem. What is your problem? What took you from where and what God wanted you to be, to this place and this point in your life? Elijah’s first sense of God’s voice came by way of conviction.

Elijah’s first answer to God’s examination was an excuse. It was self-pity and presumption. It was a failure to consider the providential protection God provided through his years of service.  He presumed that he alone had been through difficulty and that he alone was left a servant of God.

Make no mistake, it was not Elijah’s commitment and faith that brought him to this place. That was not the reason he was hiding in a cave. For more than forty-days, this great man of faith had been a man of doubt. This great man of courage, at least for a season, became a coward. His journey began outside the will of God, and had it not been intercepted and interrupted, it would have led to ruin.

If you expect to hear from God clearly and powerfully, you must first answer the probing question God sends to your heart concerning your own personal disobedience, your sin, and backslidden condition.  What are you doing there? Why have you come to that place in your life? Why have you done those things? Why have you deserted the assignment, the great work God gave you, and descended into bitterness and self-pity? Before I can clearly hear from God, I must answer this probing question.

The process of hearing from God will require time in God’s presence.

 That is a simplistic statement, but it is anything but simple. Many people want instant answers. If you are looking for a microwavable devotional moment in which you can pop in a question and have an answer in three minutes or less, you will be greatly disappointed. God seldom gives instant answers. It didn’t happen for Elijah, and it won’t happen for you.

11 So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind.         And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  12 After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 1 Kings 19:11-12 (NASB)

 Elijah was there on the mountain where many others experienced God. But Elijah had trouble making sense of what was happening and what God was saying. Although wind, fire, earthquake and shattered rocks left him impressed, they also left him bewildered. First, Elijah had to endure the terror of uncertainty. He had to wait it out. He had to pray it through.

Life is like that. You start seeking God, and the first thing you know there will be some tumult in your life you don’t understand. There will be events that shake you and frighten you—that leave you more bewildered than you were when your journey started. God’s word, God’s will, God’s way, will not be immediately clear. You must wait in uncertainty, until God sees fit to speak.

In all of this, the Lord was passing by, but His servant had no sense of what God was saying or doing. All of us, at one time or another, will be faced with the challenge of the mysterious. We sought out the presence of God and found instead the presence of trouble and trial. Elijah listened for God’s direction in those things, but God was in none of those things. Had he discerned them as a series of signs that affirmed his journey away from his assignment, he would have been wrong.

God had a word for Elijah, but receiving that word required him to wait through the storm. It will be the same for you. You must wait through the trial. You must wait through the long night of uncertainty, until you clearly and powerfully hear from God.

The process of hearing from God will be a time of self-examination. The process of hearing from God will also require time in God’s presence.

 The process of hearing from God will bring you to rediscover your life purpose.

 …and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19: 12b-13 (NASB)

 Our tendency is to look for the spectacular. That is the temptation of our enemy who would tell us that we should expect to jump from the pinnacle of the temple and have God catch us. He would deceive us and make us believe that God has not spoken unless there has been an accompanying spectacular event like fire or earthquake. But there in that place known for these things, God chose to speak in a different way. Instead, Elijah heard from God in a still, small, voice. My Bible reads “a gentle blowing.” Other translations read, “A gentle whisper.”

One of the ways we know we are hearing from God is that it will be consistent with what He said to us in the past. What was it Elijah heard when he arrived at Horeb?  He heard the question of self-examination: “What are you doing here Elijah?”  And what was it he heard in that voice of gentle whisper? He heard that same question again! God asked him the same thing. “What are you doing here Elijah?” This time, God was prompting Elijah to grapple with his life purpose.

“Why was it I called you?  What was it I sent you to do?”  Is God asking you those same questions? You too have a place in God’s purpose. The still, small voice of God will not allow you to forget what He called you to do.

Not only was the question repeated—but Elijah’s answer is repeated in verse 14, this time in a humbler way as Elijah recalls his passion.

14 Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” 1 Kings 19:14 (NASB)

 The process of hearing from God will be a time of self-examination. The process of hearing from God will also require time in God’s presence. The process of hearing from God will bring you to rediscover your life purpose.

Finally, the process of hearing from God will demand a return to your former passion.

In giving his answer to God, Elijah recounts his passion. He reminds God, as well as himself of the man he had been. He remembers the man of faith and courage he once was. He was at Mount Horeb because he abandoned that mission and would rather die than return to it. But God intercepted and interrupted his journey outside the will of God, bringing him to the place of His presence, and causing him to grapple with the sin of his departure in order to bring him back in touch with the true song of his soul.

With two words God sent him back to his role as a prophet. They come in verse 15.  The Lord said to him, “Go return.”With those words came a new mission and a reminder that however alone he felt in this sinful world, he was not alone. It was not Elijah’s job to salvage the Jewish faith. It is not our job to salvage the Christian faith from the jaws of paganism. God preserves a people committed to Himself. You will never be alone.

If Elijah was faithful to his mission, God would be faithful to provide others to stand with him in his journey. It was through this journey, that God gave him a new disciple, Elisha, who loved him more than he loved his own parents, and so looked up to him that he prayed for a double portion of the spirit that God had placed on Elijah.

The same God who was sovereign over Elijah’s downward spiral, engineering his return will work in a similar fashion in your life. Has chosen to use this message as His gentle whisper to your heart? Perhaps reading this is part of the spiritual process by which He is bringing you to an awareness of His presence and guidance.

What are you doing here Elijah?

Photo by Nastya Maxymova

From the End of the Earth

Where is God when you are in one of those end of the earth moments? Can He hear you? Can He see you? Does He know? Does He care?

Have you ever been away from your own country—on the other side of the world—distant from friends and family, with no way to call home? In 1981, I travelled to the jungle of Ecuador. There were no phones. Finally, we found a ham radio operator who was able to help us connect with home. That was such a lonely feeling. In a place like that, it is easy to get overcome with a feeling of homesickness and an overwhelming uncertainty about those you left behind. You can be surrounded by people and at the same time feel as if you are at the end of the earth.

You don’t have to be far from home to have a sense of being at the end of the earth. We often use that expression to describe how we feel when pressed by some crisis or difficulty. While reading Psalm 61, I found that David used that very expression to describe his feelings to God.

Hear my cry, O God; Give heed to my prayer.  From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.   For You have been a refuge for me, a tower of strength against the enemy.   Let me dwell in Your tent forever; Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. Psalm 61:1-4 (NASB)

It is easy to tell from David’s words that He is praying. Prayer can be a very spiritual thing. You can go on a prayer retreat. You can go to a prayer meeting. Or you can just bow your head wherever you are and ask for God’s blessing or guidance.

David was praying, but he was not at a prayer meeting. . David was praying. He was not praying because he had the opportunity. David was praying out of necessity.

There is an earnestness and an intensity about the way David approached God.. But it was when I read the words, “From the end of the earth I call to You” that I identified with David. I was facing circumstances of my own that left me feeling as if I was at the end of the earth.

David is not giving God his location. He is crying out to God concerning some problem or difficulty. Maybe you know what it is like to feel that you are at the end of the earth emotionally or spiritually.

To be sure, “the end of the earth” describes a place that is far away. But David means more than that. He is not pinpointing his location physically. He is not talking about geography. He is talking about something else.

Geography is not a problem with God. You don’t need a cell phone or a ham radio to contact Him. He is never so far away that He is not able to hear your prayer, even if you are at the end of the earth.  But David is not talking about his location.

For David, the End of the Earth was a Place of Deep Desperation.

He was in some kind of trouble. He had some kind of problem. Perhaps he was dealing with discouragement.  Whatever it was, it left him feeling like he was at the end of the earth.

I will never forget receiving word that a man’s daughter had been in a serious accident. Her two boys were in the car with her. She and the youngest boy were killed instantly. The oldest boy received head injuries so severe, he would never be the same. What I remember most about that day is going to her sister’s home. I was in my early twenties and really didn’t have the skills that I needed to know what to say in a time like that. I don’t know that I do now decades later. I did my best to comfort her, but I said the worst thing I could have said in the horror of the moment. I said, “It’s not the end of the world.” And then she said, “Oh, but it is… oh but it is!” And  it was. She was at the end of the earth. It was a place of helplessness, hopelessness and loneliness. Grief leaves us feeling at the end of the earth, or as she said that day, “the end of the world.”

That is the way David uses this expression. David was praying. But he was praying from the end of the earth—from some set of extreme circumstances that made him feel like it was the end of the world. Is that where you are today? Has something happened, or is something going on that makes you feel like it is the end of your world? Then you can identify with David when he cried, “From the end of the earth I call to You!”

I did a little research to see how many times this same expression is used in the Bible. One of the things that became clear to me as I researched that phrase, is that God is concerned about all the ends of the earth, whether that be a geographical location and a people group that lives there, or a place of personal distress.

For David, the End of the Earth was a Place of  Deep Personal Weakness

He said, “From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint…

Have you ever wanted to give up? Have you ever wanted to go to sleep and not wake up? Have you ever been so tired and so discouraged you thought you couldn’t make it through another day? Then you understand the heart of David. David described his heart as faint. It means to be overwhelmed. Have you ever received a phone call with bad news? Do you know what it is to have your heart sink or to feel weak from grief or shock? This is the feeling David describes. It was the end of the world. He was overwhelmed. Is that where you are?

Where is God when you are in one of those end of the earth moments? Can He hear you? Can He see you? Does He know? Does He care? Yes! David also believed that! From the end of the earth, he called out to God when all his strength was gone!

Perhaps you know the story of what happened to the Biblical character Jonah. Jonah disobeyed God. As a result of his disobedience, Jonah found himself in one of those end of the world moments.  He ran from God’s will for his life. He was determined to get as far away from God as he could. He boarded a ship that was bound for the edge of the known world of that day. He wound up a little farther away from God than he expected. He was tossed from the ship and swallowed by a giant fish who took him on a trip to the bottom of the ocean. What David, in his prayer, called the end of the earth, Jonah called the Belly of Sheol or the Belly of Hell.

 Then Jonah prayed to the Lordhis God from the stomach of the fish,and he said, “I called out of my distress to the Lord, And He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. “For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. “So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ “Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. “I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars wasaround me forever, But You have brought up my life from the pit, O Lordmy God. “While I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, And my prayer came to You, Into Your holy temple. Jonah 2:1-7 (NASB)

This was one of those end of the earth moments for Jonah. It was the end of the world. The end of the earth can be the most far away place I can think of. It can and often does refer to geography. It can be a place of deep desperation—an end of the world moment. It can be a place of deep personal weakness—when a person has had about all they can stand and is ready to give in and give up.

In the Case of Jonah, the End of the Earth Was a Place of Great Distance from God.

 Jonah was about as far away from God as a man can be and live to tell about it. Because of his disobedience he was in a place of God appointed difficulty. Has that ever happened to you? In fact, aren’t some of you at an end of the earth place in your life because of your sin? Isn’t it true that God has brought difficulty into your life because of your sin and you know it. You are not just at the end of the earth—not just at wits end—like Jonah you feel as if you are in the Belly of Hell with no escape.

David and Jonah have one thing in common. That place of dark despair became a place from which each of them took opportunity to seek God. They prayed. David prayed from his predicament and Jonah prayed from His. The good news is that God was listening. Do you suppose He will listen to you?

If you look back at David’s prayer in Psalm 61:2 you will find that he made one simple request. He prayed: Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!

This is a very simple prayer, but it is full of dependence on God. David asked God to lead him to the Rock. It was obviously a place David couldn’t find on his own. He needed to someone to lead him. Would you be willing to admit your personal need for God’s guidance in the midst of your circumstances?

Both David and Jonah realized that they were in circumstances they couldn’t escape on their own. They needed God’s help. One of the greatest moments of a person’s life is the moment the person begins to realize he or she needs God. As David prayed, he was acknowledging, “God, my only way out is You.” Can you admit that to God today?.

The Rock, to which David prayed to be led was a place of safety and security David could not provide for Himself. He needed the help and protection of God. He needed to be saved. David needed to be saved from his circumstances. Jonah needed to be saved from his sin.  Both David and Jonah found themselves sinking. They were in desperate need of the solid security of God’s own saving presence. It was God Himself that Both David and Jonah Needed.  Jonah said, “I have been expelled from Your sight, Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.  Jonah 2:4  (NASB)

That is repentance. That is turning to God from the end of the earth. David said, “From the end of the earth I call to You.”

The end of the earth is the most far-away place I can think of. It can be a place of deep despair. It can be a place of deep personal weakness–a place where a person is ready to give in and give up. It can also be a place of distance from God or even a place of difficulty designed by God because of our sin.

I assume if you are still reading, you also identify with David’s words. You are at some end of the earth place feeling out of God’s reach yet desperate for God’s help. What is God saying to you?

Allow me to share with  who are at the end of the earth  the following words from the book of Deuteronomy.

If..you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. Deuteronomy 30:2-4 (NASB)

Now pray, and prepare to be delivered!

 

Photo by Frederik Löwe

 

Soul-Troubling Sorrow

I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside.

Following Christ does not insulate you from trouble. In fact, trouble comes to all believers. When troubles come, they vary in intensity. Trouble can impact us financially, it can impact us physically, and it can also impact us spiritually. Life brings seasons of soul-troubling sorrow. I have faced those seasons in my own life. I have a daughter who is a severe diabetic and wears an insulin pump twenty-four hours a day. I have another daughter who has epilepsy and suffers from dozens of seizures daily. On one hand, you might consider those their problems and not my own. However, if you are a parent, and your children have medical issues, you know the questions, the concerns, the helplessness, as well as the sense of hopelessness it brings. When I speak of soul-troubling sorrow, I speak from personal experience.

In one of my seasons of soul-troubling sorrow, my heart was touched by the story of a woman who lived in the days of the prophet Elisha. He was a man whose character separated him from the ordinary men of his day.  His life was marked by the miraculous. In the Old Testament, the presence of a prophet brought a person a special connection with God. Therefore, a person seeking God, or direction from God, would seek God’s prophet.

In the little town of Shunem, lived a precious couple who opened their home to Elisha. He passed their home often while on assignment for God. The woman of the house had a strong sense of spiritual discernment. Whenever Elisha passed that way, she always provided him a meal. She realized there was something special about Elisha. So, as an act of kindness, they added a little upper room to their house as a resting place for Elisha from his journeys. In that room, they placed a bed, a table, and a lampstand.  Whenever he came, the woman of the home prepared him food. By opening their home to Elisha, they opened their home to the blessing of God.

For her service to God through ministering to God’s prophet, she became a recipient of a very special promise from God.  2 Kings 4:11-17 tell us of that promise and its fulfillment.

 11One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. 12Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13He said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?’” And she answered, “I live among my own people.” 14So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son and her husband is old.” 15He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.”  17The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.  2 Kings 8:11-17 (NASB)

 God rewards faithfulness, and He rewarded this faithful woman with the blessing of a son.  Across the years, Elisha came to know and love this family, as well as the child God brought into their home.

As time passed, the child grew from a babe to a young boy.  Then came a tragic day when a season of soul-troubling sorrow came into the life of this mother.  In her response to that sorrow, I find some principles that help me grapple with seasons of soul-troubling sorrow in my own life.

18When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died.  2 Kings 4:18-20 (NASB)

In those three short verses, we learn of the sorrow that crushed the heart of this dear servant of God.  In those days, the only medicine a sick child often received was the love of a mother.  When a child is very sick, you can sometimes feel the fever rise as you hold it in your arms. I can imagine her feelings of helplessness as she rocked back and forth with this boy in her arms, sensing, as only mothers can do, that his life was about to slip away.

Down through the years, I watched godly men and women as they struggled through their own seasons of sorrow.  In that moment when circumstances are beyond your control, and when the solution is out of your reach, the character of a person’s faith is revealed.   Observe how this dear, broken-hearted mother grappled with her sorrow.

21She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out.  2 Kings 4:21 (NASB)

What was it about the bed of Elisha that made this mother choose that spot rather than the bed of the child or that of her own?  It is likely that this woman spent many nights in her own bed, listening to Elisha, as he made his bedside an altar where he called on the Lord.  She claimed that bed in the prophet’s chamber as an altar of her own, and she laid the body of her son before the Lord. Thus we discover our first principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

Lay that trouble before the Lord.

 She laid her son on the bed of Elisha, and she shut the door behind her.  She was not closing her eyes to the trouble that invaded her life.  She was committing it to the care of the ONLY ONE she knew who could help in her hour of need.

This was the first thing she did.  Before she made steps to do anything else, or made requests of anyone else, she laid the body of her son on the bed of the prophet and shut the door. She laid her trouble before the Lord and committed her broken heart, as well as the body of her boy, into His care.

Unless you have faced the heart-throbbing crush of some tremendous crisis, you can’t fully enter into the next verses.  They reveal an urgency, concealed by a composure, designed to protect others in that home whose faith might not be as strong as her own.

22Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” 23He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.”  2 Kings 4:22-23 (NASB)

She approached her husband and requested a servant and a donkey that would provide her the opportunity to run to the man of God and return. Apparently, she never shared with him that their son was dead.  And so, when he quizzed her about why she needed to go without the presence of some special occasion, she soothed his concern with “It will be well”.

Those words reflected a deep faith in her own heart, as well as a desire to protect the heart of her husband from the distress that raged within her.  It is from those words, that I draw a second principle on dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:  First, you lay it before the Lord. Second:

Wrap That Trouble in a Cocoon of Faith and Hide it from the World.

 I have learned this from some great saints of God who were passing through periods of intense sorrow.  I have seen them wrap their sorrow in a cocoon of faith, so that if you met them on the street or if you stood beside them as they faced their tragedy or their trouble, you would never know the pain in their heart.  They become to all around them what this woman was to her husband. The influence of her faith was a calming influence, even though a storm was raging in her heart. She said to her husband. Everything is all right.  It will be well.

I have a dear friend who is a pastor. On one occasion, a grandbaby died. The little couple was crushed, as were the grandparents. I watched my pastor friend preach the funeral of that little baby. He consoled his family and the community, even as his own heart was breaking. I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside. He also shared words of comfort for the rest of us that day. He was telling us that all would be well

As this dear mother spoke those words, it was as if she was reminding herself, as well as those around her, that in the midst of her sorrow and heartache, God was in complete control. She laid her trouble before the Lord and left it in His care.

24Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel.  2 Kings 4:24-25 (NASB)

She left the presence of her husband, in whose presence she was been calm and collected, and entered the presence of the servant with an intensity that exemplified the urgency in her heart.  There was no time to waste!  Every ounce of energy must be given to get to the man of God!  When she found him, she would be in the presence of one who could represent her before the Lord.  In her moment of soul-troubling sorrow, she sought the Lord.

This leads me to the third principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap it in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third:

 Seek God With Great Earnestness and Urgency.

 Her faith was reflected in the presence of men with a calm and collected confidence. But the faith of her feet was reflected by the great earnestness and urgency with which she sought the Lord.

 When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26“Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.”  2 Kings 4:25b-26 (NASB)

 Once again, attempting to hold her composure against the great burden that weighed heavy on her heart, she approached the prophet.  She repeated the words she had spoken earlier to her husband. This was not a lie because she laid her trouble before the Lord. She placed her child on that bed that where Elisha had prayed and wept before the Lord.  Now, her own tears had been poured out upon that altar, and the love of that mother’s heart lay there in the keeping of the Lord. Her spirit was willing to keep all that grief contained within the cocoon of faith, but when she saw Elisha she could contain herself no longer, and she fell at his feet.

 27When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”  2 Kings 4:27-28 (NASB)

 This leads us to our fourth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third, seek the Lord with great earnestness and urgency. Fourth:

Cling in Faith to the Feet of your Savior.

 By coming to Elisha she was coming to God. By clinging to the feet of Elisha, she was throwing her arms around the feet of her Savior.  All her hopes were in God.  She knew that her only help was in God. She didn’t need to go all over town spreading her sorrow from place to place and person to person.   There was only One who could help.  There was only One who could bear the deep sorrow of her soul! By coming to Elisha, she was coming to gain the help of God!

Sensing what happened, Elisha dispatched Gehazai with his own staff in his hand.

29Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” 30The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her.  2 Kings 4:29-30 (NASB)

 Gehazi is not who she came for! She didn’t want the help of Elisha’s servant.  She wanted Elisha!  This leads us to our fifth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

 Settle for no Substitutes.

 In the Old Testament, you turned to God’s Servant the prophet to turn to God.  Gehazi was the servant of God’s servant.  He was not God’s representative.  The woman needed God, not a substitute! In sorrow, you need more than a minister. You need Christ Himself!  Lay your trouble before Him.  Wrap your trouble in a cocoon of faith and shield it from the world.  Seek the face of your Lord with great earnestness and urgency.  Cling in faith to the feet of the ONE who alone is a very present help in time of trouble.   Like Jacob of old, cling to Him, and don’t let Him go until you find the blessing you need.

 31Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.”  2 Kings 4:31 (NASB)

 Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff which was the symbol of his own authority.  Gehazi was going in the name of Elisha, but Gehazi’s  going produced no results.  This was not Gehazi’s assignment.  It belonged to Elisha.  Some assignments are yours alone.  You can’t be represented by another.  God has a mission for you.

32When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.  2 Kings 4:32-35 (NASB)

This was an assignment that couldn’t be completed by sending a representative.  Elisha had to go!  Elisha had to shut the door!  Elisha had to pray!  Elisha had to touch the dead boy’s body!  Elisha had to enter into the woman’s grief! And there beside that bed, where he often prayed for God to do the miraculous, Elisha asked God to do what only He could do!

The lad was dead! The little boy, who made that home all the more delightful to Elisha, was dead!  Could Elisha raise the dead?  No! But as he prayed, he tried every method that he knew.  Elisha’s efforts represent his own earnestness to help this boy by whatever method he could, even if it meant somehow imparting life to him from his own body. Elisha’s efforts and his patience point to the persistence of his own faith in seeking God to do what was beyond the reach of any man.

The story has a wonderfully happy ending.

36He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.  2 Kings 4:36-37 (NASB)

Here is a woman who laid her trouble before the Lord, wrapped it in the cocoon of her faith, sought her Lord with great earnestness and urgency, who clung with faith to the feet of her Savior, neither seeking nor accepting any substitute.  She found her Lord to be able and faithful.  We learn from her one final principle of handling soul-troubling sorrow:

Regardless of the Outcome Find an Occasion For Worship.

Once again, she fell at Elisha’s feet. It was an expression of her deep gratitude to God for what He had done. All of life’s sorrows don’t have fairy tale endings. Our fortunes are not always restored. The sick are not always healed. Sorrow is not always turned to joy. But whatever the outcome, saints of God down through the ages have been able to find an occasion to honor and worship God in the midst of their deepest sorrow.

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago. His finances were devastated by the Chicago fire in 1871. A poor economy in 1873 made things even worse. After that, he and his family planned a trip to Europe. Business concerns kept him from making the trip with his family. He planned to join them later. However, the ship on which they travelled sank. He learned by telegram that four of his daughters died. On his way to meet his wife, the ship on which he sailed came near the spot where his daughters perished. He wrote the following words: When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, It is well with my soul.”

The words and actions of the Biblical character Job after he lost all he had, including his children, were these:

 Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said :  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  Job 1:20-21 (NASB)

Even in his sorrow, Job found an occasion for worship. Now, how should you handle the soul-troubling sorrow that has invaded your life? Lay your trouble before the Lord. Wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Seek God with great earnestness and urgency. Cling in faith to the feet of your Savior. Accept no substitutes. Finally, regardless of the outcome, find an occasion for worship. May the God who proved Himself to this dear woman also prove Himself to you!

Photo by Samuel Martins