Out of the Depths: Surviving the Dungeon of the Soul

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

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

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

David Was In The Depths

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

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

What Can You Do in the Depths?

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

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

To Whom Do You Cry in the Depths?

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

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

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

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

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

How Does a Person Come to Be in the Depths?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Does One Wait While in the Depths?

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

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

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

Can Anything Good Come Out of the Depths?

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alice Alinari

Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

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

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

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

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

The Problem That Confronts Us

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

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

The Challenge It Presents Us 

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

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

The Promise Laid Before Us

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

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

The Deficiency Within Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by lee junda

How God Guides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Robin Noguier

Seeking God’s Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Joshua Watson 

Is Your Hand to the Plow?

Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:61-62

When I was growing up, my grandpa and my dad did a bit of farming. I have fond memories of riding my grandpa’s mule between the fields. My family spent long hours with hand on the plow, preparing fields, and laying out rows. Great value was placed on the rows being straight, for as the crop came up, it had to be plowed again and again to keep it free of grass or weeds. As a young boy growing up in South Mississippi, I was blessed to have a few opportunities to hold the plow and do my best to keep in step with the mule. There is an art to guiding a mule. He will go where you want him to go, as long as you know where you are going. You can’t plow looking back over where you’ve been. You will plow a crooked row and perhaps damage existing plants. Once you put your hand to the plow of following Jesus, if you look back, you will live a crooked, tentative life. Plowing requires a single-minded focus, and so does following Jesus.

Since I was a young person, verse 62 has troubled me. It has been a plumb-line, hanging down beside my life, as a measure of my own personal commitment to Christ. I identify with this man’s own conflicts and commitments toward home. My life is not the only life measured by this verse. It measures all who hear the call of Christ to come and follow, or who have expressed some semblance of commitment to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I didn’t understand until recently that this verse is set in contrast to an earlier verse in the same chapter where it is said that Jesus’ face was steadfastly set to go to Jerusalem. He made that decisive decision to follow the will of God for his life, having counted the cost. He knew all it would mean, and he was making the journey. He refused to look back, even when facing the cross.

It was in the face of the divided commitment of a would-be disciple, that He contrasts it with His own absolute abandon to the will of God. But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

Jesus was not suggesting it was a sin to have an affection for home or an obligation toward those at home. These people were not asking for a moment to take care of what was necessary—they were putting forward an excuse that would not allow them to follow. That excuse could have been anything. It could have been family, it could have been treasure, it could have been pleasure. If you will notice, the way this would-be disciple worded it said it all, “But first…”

Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with having a priority higher than following Christ? YES! Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

This man had no intention of following Jesus. Saying “goodbye” meant finishing that phase of his life. In other words, he was saying, “Let me raise my children, then I will follow you.  Let me reach retirement, then I will follow you.” 

Is it not true that some of you made such a commitment? But now, time has come and gone since you made that promise. Since then, the children have been raised, and now there are grandchildren, and you still can’t follow. Retirement has come, and with it, other concerns, and you still can’t follow. Something always comes first. Something always will, until you determine that Christ will be first above all.

Jesus didn’t excuse this gentleman for his commitment to his family. He will not excuse me. He will not excuse you. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

Follow Me!  This is the first step of the Christian life. To say you believe, but never begin to follow, is to prove your unbelief. Once you do begin following Jesus, living for Jesus and putting His will ahead of your own, must remain the focus of your life. 

There is a story in our Bible that is  a perfect illustration of the kind of commitment our Lord requires. It is the story of a young man named Elisha, who was led of God to follow Elijah the prophet, so that he too might become a prophet of God.  He was plowing a team of oxen. He had his hand on one plow, but God was calling him to lay hold of another. 

The Bible says, “He (Elisha) left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he (Elijah) said to him, “Go back again, for what have ai done to you?” So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.  1 Kings 19:20-21

Didn’t he do exactly what Jesus found unacceptable? Didn’t he say goodbye to those at home?  Yes! But it was a real goodbye. He made sure he put his hand to the plow of serving God and that he would never look back to plowing the field again. He cooked his animals and burned his plows and followed the plan of God for his life. He took care of the excuse so there would be no turning back. 

As a 17 year old boy, I sat in the office of Dr. William Clawson, a Bible Professor at William Carey College, who took time to guide me about ordering my life to pursue God’s calling. He urged me to so order my life that I would never be able to look back or go back. That is what I did, and I don’t regret it. I cherish his counsel to this very day!

So it was with Elisha. He could be one or the other. He could be a farmer, or he could be a prophet. He could not be both. The Lord required him to follow with absolute abandon. He requires the same from you and me. “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9: 62

There are no exceptions to this rule. That is why Jesus always laid out the true cost of discipleship. “So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.” Luke 14:33None of you means you. It means me. 

This is true at the very beginning of the Christian life. There can be no excuse for me not following Jesus… no “but first.” The priority of my life, the focus of my existence from that day forward, must be to follow Him. But don’t fail to understand the Lord’s emphasis here. This is not only the requirement as I begin to follow. This is the journey of the Christian life. There should never be an excuse for a delay in my obedience. My priority is absolute abandon to the Lordship of Christ. 

I should never be found saying: “Lord, I will follow, but first…” ” Lord, I will serve, but first…” “Lord, I will go be a  missionary, but first…” “Lord, I will forgive, but first…” The “FIRST” in your life is always to be following Christ. To excuse your way out of the obligations of following Him, at any point along the way, is to lose fellowship with Jesus from that moment forward.  

He is to be Lord of my heart and Lord of my home. He is to be Lord of my actions and Lord of my attitudes. Should I offer Him an excuse as to why my will, at some crossroad, cannot bow to His Own, then I will hear him say to me what he said to this gentleman in the book of Luke.“No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62

The standard, the plumb-line of my commitment, is my Lord’s commitment to go to the cross for me without looking back. He steadfastly set his face to follow God’s will for His life. I am to steadfastly set my face to follow His will for mine.

I understand this means something different for everyone who might read this. The cost of full surrender to Christ for you may be far different than it is for me. You may risk being excluded from your family. You may face physical suffering or imprisonment. You may lose your job or even your life! Nevertheless, the plumb-line remains: “No one, after putting HIs hand to the the plow and looking back, is for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62

I conclude with a final challenge from the author of the book of Hebrews, who, after he finished a list of those whose lives exemplified such absolute abandon, wrote the following:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1, 2 NASB)

Put your hand to the plow, keep your eyes on Jesus, and never look back!

Stages of Faith

I love the stories of the Bible. They are simple and straight to the point. They often illustrate greater truths that require us to spend time thinking about the story and its application to our lives. I would like to introduce you to one of those simple stories. It is about a man who had both money and power, yet he was helpless to help his own son. Having discovered that Jesus was in His area, he sought out His help. His encounter with Jesus reveals the stages or stations that lead to a mature faith. First, read the story from the Bible. Then take some time to walk with me through the stages or stations of that father’s faith.

Then He (Jesus)  went again to Cana of Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine.  There was a certain royal official whose son was ill at Capernaum.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and pleaded with Him to come down and heal his son, for he was about to die. John 4:46-47

The story reveals the man’s dire need. It also reveals the first stage or station of his faith. At this point, he had only a crisis faith that pressed him into the presence of Jesus. He travelled twenty miles to find Jesus. He was desperate. Maybe you are walking in that dad’s footsteps today.  A similar feeling of desperation presses you into the Lord’s presence.  

Truthfully, had there been no crisis, this man might never have turned to Jesus.  For the moment, the only kind of faith he had in the Lord Jesus was this crisis faith.

CRISIS FAITH

Crisis faith prays when there is trouble. Crisis faith seeks out the Lord’s presence when there is a problem. Crisis faith opens the Bible only in emergencies. That may be where you are, and that may be the kind of faith you have.  When you get in trouble you cry out to the Lord.  When the situation is desperate and there seems to be no way out, you ask Jesus for help.  

There is  nothing wrong with that, unless that is the only time you need the Lord.  If you live the rest of your days without Him and make the rest of your plans without Him, then your faith is merely a crisis faith. Crisis faith is an inferior faith.

For that reason, Jesus sought to bring that desperate dad to a deeper faith. Not only did this dad exhibit crisis faith, apparently his faith was a conditional faith. This is another station or stage on the journey toward a mature faith. 

CONDITIONAL FAITH

Addressing that desperate dad, Jesus said, “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe.”In other words, his faith, up to that moment, was strictly conditional. We all have a conditional faith at some point in our faith journey. Conditional faith responds to God only if He meets certain conditions set by the potential believer. Conditional faith says, “I will believe if or when.” It reflects a lack of confidence in the power and promises of God. As Jesus probed this father’s heart, He sought to move him beyond a faith based on conditions, to a faith that realized the greatness of God and the might of His power. 

At that point, we cease demanding God meet our conditions before we believe or obey. We realize that God is the one who establishes the conditions of our deliverance. I am the one who is to adjust my life to Him and not He to me. If I stop at the station of Conditional Faith, my faith will never reach maturity. It will be inferior.

“Sir,” the official said to Him, “come down before my boy dies.” John 4:49

I don’t want you to think this dad understood everything there was to understand about Jesus.  He did have some mistaken notions.  First, he thought it was necessary for Jesus to be present in his home in order to heal his son.  Some of us are hindered from asking the Lord Jesus to help us because we are under the same mistaken notion.  I’ve said myself, “If Jesus were only here, He could….”     But He is here, and He can!  Even if the Lord was on the other side of the universe occupied with some crucial business about maintaining His creation, His ears would hear my cry, His heart would perceive my need,  and should He choose to speak to my circumstances, they would respond to His command.

The second mistaken notion of this dad was to thinK that Jesus power was limited by death.  Notice he said, “come down before my child dies.” He didn’t know, as we do, that Jesus is Lord over distance, over disease, and over death.  Yet even without that knowledge, this father’s faith moved station by station from a crisis faith  and a conditional faith to the next stage or station on the journey of faith.

CONFIDENT FAITH

“Sir,” the official said to Him, “come down before my boy dies.” “Go,” Jesus told him, “your son will live.”  The man believed what Jesus said to him and departed. John 4:49-50

Can you put yourself in the shoes of this dad? Can you feel the desperation in his heart as he pleaded with Jesus to come to His house? Suddenly, Jesus abruptly said, “Go, your son will live.” 

Now here was this dad who was pressed into Jesus presence with a crisis faith. Even worse, his faith, at its root, was no more than a conditional faith. What was it about his encounter with Jesus that transformed his understanding of who Jesus was and what He could do? Was it the look in Jesus’ eye? Was it the tone of His command? Was it some feeling that swept Him as the Spirit of God moved in his heart? Whatever it was, he left the presence of Jesus with a conviction that when he got home, things would be better. He placed a confident faith in the promise of the Lord Jesus.

Many people claim to have a confident faith in the Lord Jesus, but it is something less than that.  They claim to have confidence in God, but they are afraid to stand upon His promises.  While claiming to have confidence in His word, they are reluctant to obey. They are not convinced Jesus can do what He has promised, because they fail to realize who He is.

Confident faith always leads to obedience. Obedience leads to the next stage or station of faith. 

The moment Jesus spoke the word, the little boy was instantly made well. How do we know that?  We know that because at the same time the father left Jesus to return to his home in Capernaum his servants left his home in Capernaum to come to give him news of his son’s miraculous recovery.  They met somewhere between the two cities, and his servants gave him the wonderful news. To make sure that it was not just a coincidence this dad asked them the hour that his son began to get better. They said that it was the seventh hour.  So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives.” John 4:51

His crisis, conditional faith became a confident faith. On the basis of his confidence in the word of Jesus, he obeyed, leading to his arrival at the next station or stage of faith. His faith was now:

CONFIRMED FAITH

He knew!   His questions were answered and  all his doubts erased!    He knew!

Some of you have only a crisis faith in the Lord Jesus. You pray when you are in trouble. Others of you have no more than a conditional faith.  You follow after signs and wonders.  You seek signs and not the Savior.  But others of you have a confident faith that obeys the word of Jesus without question and without delay.  Confident faith steps out on the promises of God and experience His faithfulness again and again.  You know by experience that He is able!  You know that nothing is too hard for Him!  You know that He is not God Almost, He is God Almighty!  Your faith is a confirmed faith—not because somebody told you what Jesus can do—but you know it by your own experience.  This dad knew!

As exciting as it is to experience confirmation of the trust that you have put in Jesus—a confirmed faith is still not a full grown faith. This dad’s faith grew even beyond that! His faith became a:

COMMITTED FAITH

Think about it! This father got what he came for. His son was healed! He was obedient to Jesus and responded with confident faith to His word. Wasn’t that enough? Couldn’t the story have ended there with a happy ending? It could have!  And unfortunately, it does with many people.  They begin by coming to Jesus in a moment of crisis. They plead for His help with confident faith.  He responds! Their need is met.  Their faith is confirmed!  But all too often their life returns to normal.

But not this dad! His life was never the same again. And he himself believed and his whole household!You see, this father knew! And because he knew—he went all the way with Jesus.  He responded with committed faith!

How so? What was different about the man’s “faith” after his experience with Jesus? 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. John 4:53

He was a believer. His experience was so powerful it impacted his entire family. Jesus was not present in the home, but the father’s testimony of his experience with Jesus had a transformational impact on his entire family.  Their faith was no longer a crisis faith, or a conditional faith, but a confident, confirmed, committed faith in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Where are you along these stations of faith?  Some of you have a confirmed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You know by experience the power of the Lord. You’ve experienced fulfillment of His promises. You’ve received answers to your prayers. You have a confident faith and a confirmed faith, but yours is not a committed faith! You still come and go on the basis of your needs. Your faith is still based on what Jesus can do for you and if He does it. 

Does your faith need to advance to the next level? I remind you, advancement along the stages or stations of faith demands obedience. Once I obey, I see God do things I would never see Him do if my faith is conditional. My faith in God must not be conditioned upon what God gives me or whether or not He answers my prayer. My faith is expressed by my obedience in spite of my difficulty and in spite of my failure to understand how God will keep His promises. When I obey, I experience God in ways that confirm His promises to me and mine. I come to know Him and experience Him in new ways and with a new intimacy. Those with a committed faith experience in God in ways others never will.

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. Colossians 1:9-10

Photo by Alessio Lin

Receiving Spiritual Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the second principle of spiritual vision.

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

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

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

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

God was the one who wanted to guide them through the unfamiliar wilderness. And He did! Consider the promise God made in Isaiah 42:16 “I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do, and I will not leave them undone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PHOTO BY JOSH CALABRESE