Out of Ashes

Perhaps there is no sorrow so deep and no trouble so traumatic as that which comes as a consequence of our own neglect or disobedience. Is there wreckage like that in your life? Are you walking through the rubble of hopes and dreams, or sifting through the ashes and memories of a life you lost? Maybe you lost it due to some stretch of sinful living. Or maybe you lost it through sheer neglect. Now you look at photographs and remnants of a period of life that just slipped through your fingers. It is all gone!

A widow sits weeping in the ashes of the place she called home. All her precious things now lie in ruin. Her children were also lost in the tragedy. As she sifts through the ashes of what remains, she can’t even find God. She says, “For these things I weep; my eyes run down with water; because far from me is a comforter, one who restores my soul.” Lamentations 1:16 This is the way the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah pictures the city of Jerusalem as it lay in ruins following the Babylonian invasion. 

These are also Jeremiah’s words. They reflect the raw emotions of a person’s heart in the aftermath of war. Standing in the rubble of his own life, walking through the carnage caused by the consequences of his own sin and the collective sin of God’s people, Jeremiah grieves! He groans! He suffers! Perhaps there is no sorrow so deep and no trouble so traumatic as that which comes as a consequence of our own neglect or disobedience. Is there wreckage like that in your life? Are you walking through the rubble of hopes and dreams, or sifting through the ashes and memories of a life you lost? Maybe you lost it due to some stretch of sinful living. Or maybe you lost it through sheer neglect. Now you look at photographs and remnants of a period of life that just slipped through your fingers. It is all gone! 

Is there hope in in the wake of such loss? As Jeremiah walked through the rubble and sifted through the ashes, out of the midst of deep personal sorrow, he pens these precious words:

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, To the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:19-26

The Hebrew word for the special love of God is the word Chesed. That is the word Jeremiah used in verse 22. It means the steadfast, faithful, loyal, lovingkindness of the Lord. The ruins, the wreckage,  and the ashes tell him God doesn’t love him anymore or love his people.  Is that where you are? Are circumstances causing you to question God’s love? It is while Jeremiah stands in the midst of national and personal hopelessness that he is reminded of God’s chesed.

The chesed of God, that loyal, faithful, unfailing, steadfast lovingkindness of God never ceases! He never stops loving. Even in his chastening, He never stops loving. I can never find myself outside of God’s love, even if I think my own actions have taken me to a place where He can’t love me. Even if my circumstances seem to be screaming He doesn’t love me, the chesed  of God remains. And it is because of that realization that Jeremiah says, “This I recall to mind, therefore I have hope.” 

You have hope in the most difficult and discouraging of circumstances, even if they are circumstances of your own making.  Even if they scream hopelessness, God’s love for you is steadfast. It is unchanged and unchangeable. It never stops, never rests, never ceases to pursue. The chesedof God is undaunted by your rebuff or your rebellion and is endless in its supply. Right where you are, and just as you are, God loves you. It is an undisputable, undefeatable fact that came as a ray of hope in Jeremiah’s hopelessness. 

How can such a thing be so? There is a one word answer to that. It is the word compassions or in some translations it reads mercies. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. Lamentations 3:21-22

This God we serve is a God of mercy. He is a God of compassion. This is not mercy singular. It is mercies. His compassions never fail. The Hebrew word translated ‘fail’ means to be complete, at an end, finished, accomplished, spent. God’s mercy is never spent. His well of compassion is never dry. When the father in the story of the prodigal son divided his living between his two sons, the prodigal went out and wasted his inheritance. However, when he came home spent and in need, the father, who had divided his resources, was still rich in mercy to a wayward boy.

That is why there is hope in the midst of hopelessness.  Regardless of who you are or where you are here, whatever chaos or calamity brings you to the end of your rope, and you think, the end of your hope, there is hope in God! That is true because His lovingkindnesses never cease and His mercy never fails.

In the former church I served, we had our own food closet. Almost every day, people came by the church looking for food. We handed it out. But sometimes the food closet was empty. Sometimes those people came by so often, seeming just to take us for granted, that our mercy failed, and we told them “no” because of some former experience we them. We dealt with them on the basis of yesterday’s need and yesterday’s mercy. But God doesn’t deal with us on the basis of yesterday’s mercy. His love closet is never empty. His mercy never gets tired, nor does the well of His mercy run dry. His mercy is new every morning.

Three aspects of God’s character are highlighted in these verses. First, His chesed, His steadfast, loyal, unfailing love. Second, His mercies, abundant, fresh, and freely given. Third, His faithfulness. What is faithfulness? It is showing up. It is being there. It is constancy, stability, dependability, and trustworthiness. I can count on God, and I can count on Him in a big way. His faithfulness is altogether different from my own. His faithfulness is great! The word translated ‘great’ means abounding and enough. It is always so with God. That has been the experience of His people. It will be your experience, if you will reach out for His help in your circumstances. 

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” Lamentations 3:24

God gave His people manna it the wilderness. It was their portion. Like His mercy, it was new every morning. It was always enough. Is this what Jeremiah means, when He says that the Lord is my portion? Later, the land was allotted to each tribe. It was given as their portion. It was an abundance of territory. It was enough. But I think it means so much more. In the Old Testament, the priests were given no portion in the land. Here is why. Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land nor own any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the sons of Israel. Numbers 18:20

God was giving Himself to the priests. Jeremiah acknowledges that God is also His portion. God has given Himself to Jeremiah as His provider. We can claim the same privilege on the basis of God’s promise in Romans: He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Romans 8:32

David said in Psalms 16:5 Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. On that basis, Jeremiah clung to hope, even as he stood in the midst of hopelessness. 

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. Lamentations 3:24-25

What else do I need but God. He is my portion. He is my Hope. His goodness, his lovingkindness, His mercy is available to me in my need. What should I do in my present circumstances? Jeremiah says that I should wait for Him. I should seek Him. It is good that he waits silently For the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3:26

In Soviet Armenia, in 1988, a couple sent their young son off to school. The father bent down, looked his boy in the eye and said, “Have a good day at school, and remember, no matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” He hugged him, and off he went. It gives a child a great deal of confidence to know love like that. We should never miss an opportunity to pour that kind of confidence into the lives of our own children. We never know what might happen. Sometime later, during the course of the school day, a massive earthquake rocked that area of Soviet Armenia. There were tens of thousands of casualties. Loved ones struggled to locate survivors. That little boy’s dad headed for the school. It was one massive pile of rubble. Parents stood there weeping. But that dad began digging in the rubble. He moved one piece of wreckage after another in hopes that he might find his boy in the chaos of twisted brick and metal. Some of the other parents insisted he stop because the instability of the rubble. They tried to pull him away. But that dad just kept right on digging. A first responder also tried to dissuade the dad from his efforts. But his boy was in that rubble, and he would not be discouraged. All through the night and into the next day, he kept on digging even as other weeping parents placed flowers and pictures of their children on the ruins. He set aside one bit of debris after another and then, from the rubble, he heard a faint cry for help. He stopped. He listened. Nothing. Then he heard his son say, “Papa?” He accelerated the speed of his digging, until finally he could see his little boy. Fourteen children crawled out of that space where his boy was. When his boy was out, he told his dad “I told the other kids not to worry because you told me that you’d always be there for me!”  His dad was faithful. He didn’t give up. He didn’t quit.

Jeremiah told us that we could depend on God to be faithful. His love never fails, never stops, never quits, never gives up. His mercy is always new and His faithfulness is always abounding. Jeremiah said you can wait on God, even in the ashes and rubble of your circumstances. As David said, Lord, you are my portion and my cup of blessing; you hold my future. Psalm 16:5

Photo by Lee yan

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

Waiting for Jesus

Every time I read this story, I feel so sorry for this dad. Daddies fix things for their little girls.  But he couldn’t fix this.  He couldn’t kiss it and make it go away.  So that day, by the shore of the sea of Galilee, a dad at the end of his rope, fell down at the feet of Jesus.

And as Jesus returned, the people welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him.  Luke 8:40

I like to look at a verse from the Bible and put myself in the story. How would I have felt had I been there that day? Would I have been waiting patiently or anxiously? Honestly, I guess it would depend on my circumstances. So, if I am to put myself in this story and ponder what it would have been like to wait for Jesus, I need to put myself in the shoes of some of the people who were there.

One of the people waiting was a woman who had been sick for over a decade. Think of how long she had been waiting for help or hope in her circumstances. It might be easy for you to put yourself in her shoes. You may be going from doctor to doctor, and from clinic to clinic to try to find answers for your problem. You know what it is to wait. You know the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the hurt that can follow when your wait ends in disappointment.

 Waiting Involves a Degree of Anticipation.

There was anticipation in the crowd that waited for Jesus. Some of them waited impatiently. That group would wait—but only for so long.  They were the curious, the incidental onlookers, who were simply caught up in the anticipation of the rest of the crowd. But others waited anxiously.  They counted down the hours, the minutes, and the seconds.  They strained their eyes, looking across the water to see some sign of an approaching ship.  They were all waiting.

But how long?  People today will camp out on the street for days to get a good seat at a rock concert or the latest version of an iPhone.  Those standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee may not have waited overnight, but surely, they waited for hours. They were waiting for different reasons. Some were there with others. Some were there out of curiosity, but they were all waiting. Are you waiting for something or someone? Are you looking forward to an event, a moment, or an opportunity? Are you waiting for an answer to a prayer or the solution to a problem? If so, you also wait with a sense of anticipation. But there is a second word that describes the mood of this waiting crowd.

Waiting for Some, Involves a Sense of Desperation.

Their hearts beat with an urgency related to some need or concern. Some brought their needs with them.  Others had needs too big to carry and too urgent to be kept waiting. When you are waiting, the minutes seem more like hours. I’m sure the minutes crawled by, while the boat on which Jesus travelled meandered toward the shore. This was especially true for one man. There was a desperate need in his life. The clock was ticking in his particular circumstances, and time was running out.

And there came a man named Jairus, and he was an official of the synagogue; and he fell at Jesus’ feet, and began to implore Him to come to his house; for he had an only daughter about twelve years old, and she was dying.  Luke 8:41-42

This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. First, because it is so real and so raw. I feel this man’s need as he made his way into the presence of Jesus. Every time I read this story, I feel so sorry for this dad. Daddies fix things for their little girls.  But he couldn’t fix this.  He couldn’t kiss it and make it go away.  So that day, by the shore of the sea of Galilee, a dad at the end of his rope, fell down at the feet of Jesus. Mark records the very words that this daddy spoke to Jesus.  He said, “My little daughter is lying at the point of death.”  Luke makes it clear that it was his only daughter. I have three daughters and six granddaughters. I know how precious little girls are to those who love them. I also know what it is to have a little girl who is sick, and I know the feeling of being helpless to do anything about it.

Jairus was an official of the synagogue.  I don’t know what it was like to be an official of the synagogue.  But I do know what it’s like to be a church official.  It becomes easy to follow the routine—to just go through the motions. But the actions of Jairus on that day were anything but routine.  These were the reckless reactions of a desperate dad. He had no watch to know how long he had been waiting, but he knew, as he waited, that time was running out.

Is time running out on something in your life? Is there an approaching deadline on the horizon? Do you find yourself waiting in desperation for some answer to prayer? If so, you know what it is to walk in the shoes of Jairus as he waited for Jesus. Are you desperate as you stand in the midst of your circumstances? How long have you been waiting for Jesus? The clock is ticking. The days are passing. As you wait with a sense of anxious anticipation, desperation mounts because you realize hope will be lost if help doesn’t come soon.

As the clock ticks here in my office, I remember several times when my family waited for Jesus. We desperately needed His help. There were moments of financial need when there seemed to be no hope. We waited in deep despair, sometimes feeling the Lord had abandoned us. The crush of the circumstances seemed more than we could bear. But those dark days afforded us glimpses of God’s glory we might never have seen had we not faced such despair. I can say from personal experience, God can take money from the mouth of a fish to provide for the needs of His people. Around thirty years ago, my wife and I paid in too little quarterly tax. At tax time, we found ourselves owing more than we could pay. I didn’t know what to do. In my desperation I reached out to a friend and mentor. I will never forget the prayer he prayed in response to our need. He said, “God, you once took money out of the mouth of a fish to pay Jesus’ tax. If you can provide for Jesus, I know you can meet the need in the life of this family.” About a week later, a deacon in our church, without any knowledge of the need in my life, walked in the back door of the church. He said, “I was in a fishing tournament this weekend. I promised God, that if I won any money in the tournament, I would give some of it to you. Every time I reeled in a fish, I said, ‘God, this one is for Bro. Eddie.’” He wasn’t there when the other man prayed! He didn’t know I owed money for my tax. But Jesus knew! The money he gave me wasn’t enough to pay my tax, but it was enough to let me know that God knew my need and was still my provider. I went to the bank and borrowed the rest of the money. I trusted God to provide for me month by month until I paid my debt.

I don’t know the need that has you waiting for Jesus. I don’t know how long you have waited or the degree of desperation that may surround your life. But Jesus knows! He knew the need that existed in the home of Jairus before that desperate dad ever fell at his feet. He also knows the need that exists in your life. That is true if you have been praying about it for months. But it is also true if you have never thought to pray before now.

In the life of Jairus, a growing sense of hopelessness mounted with every passing moment. Can you identify with the sense of desperation in that dad’s life? Let me ask you a question. When do you give up? When is it time to write off your circumstances as hopeless? When do you stop waiting for Jesus and look somewhere else? If some of you were honest, you would admit you did that some time ago. You waited and prayed as long as you could. Instead of getting better, things got worse. You gave up. I understand those feelings. I’ve been there and done that. But perhaps no character in the Bible gave up more completely in His circumstances than Jairus. He had a little daughter at home who was dying. He had been waiting for Jesus. While he waited for Jesus to come to his home, someone arrived with awful news that caused his heart to sink like a stone.

…someone came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; do not trouble the Teacher anymore.”  Mark 8:49

It was too late! Is it too late in your circumstances? Obviously, I don’t know the Lord’s plan in your situation. However, I do know that even in our moments of devastation, we still need to wait for Jesus. I remember something Dr. Henry Blackaby said in his study, Experiencing God. He said, “You never know the truth about your circumstances until you have heard from the Truth.” Jesus is the Truth. Watch as He steps in and speaks to the devastation in the heart of Jairus.

Waiting That Ends in Disappointment Results in Devastation.

Sometimes our wait ends in crushing disappointment. We don’t understand why. We don’t understand why the Lord didn’t answer our prayer. We don’t understand why He didn’t come through as we expected. The end result is devastation. Our faith is crushed. We not only give up on our circumstances. We give up on God.

 That is exactly where some of you are. You are more than desperate.  You are devastated. You’ve been crushed by the calamity that has come into your life. When you were desperate, you at least had hope—but now even your hope has perished. Some of you don’t have to try to put your feet in the shoes of Jairus.  You have been there.  You watched a child die, or stood in the wreckage of some relationship. You know what it’s like for your heart to grow cold and dead inside you.   Is there a situation like that in your life?  Does it seem to you that your circumstances are so far gone that not even Jesus can help?

Then something happened that changed the trajectory of this story. A mom sat by the deathbed of her little girl waiting for her daddy to come back home. Her hope was gone. The messenger who came to retrieve Jairus knew all hope was gone. Any anticipation, any hope that rested in the heart of Jairus vanished at word of the death of his little daughter.

An Affirmation of Hope

But when Jesus heard this, He answered him, “Do not be afraid any longer; only believe, and she will be made well.”   Luke 8:50

For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” Romans 10:11 The quote comes from Isaiah. It occurs four other times in Scripture. In Isaiah, the word means to make haste or to act quickly. How many times have you acted quickly in some apparent disappointment. You thought the Lord let you down. So you let him down. You forsook your commitment. Then all at once, the answer dawned, and you were ashamed.

Was Jairus wrong to put his hope in Jesus? No. Jesus offered an affirmation of hope as he stood in apparent hopelessness. In the Psalm of the Cross, Psalm 22, Jesus uses the same expression in his hopelessness on the cross.  To You they cried out and were delivered; In You they trusted and were not disappointed. Psalms 22:5

With that affirmation of hope Jesus cancelled was Jarius’ fear.You don’t have to be afraid anymore.  I am sovereign over your circumstances.  I am sovereign over sickness.  I am sovereign over disease.  I am sovereign over death. Jesus cancelled fear.

The second thing that Jesus cancelled was discouragement. When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter and John and James, and the girl’s father and mother.  Now they were all weeping and lamenting for her; but He said, “Stop weeping, for she has not died, but is asleep.”  Luke 8:51-52

All of those voices were contradictory to the person and work of Christ. They were not the voices of faith. They were the voices of fear and discouragement. If you have a desperate need in your life, you also have the combined voices of fear and discouragement telling you not to trouble Jesus because He can’t help you.  Those voices tell you that your circumstances are too far gone and that it is too late for Jesus to do you any good.  But in the home of Jairus, Jesus cancelled the voices of fear and discouragement.

Now consider the third thing that Jesus cancelled. He cancelled death. And they began laughing at Him, knowing that she had died.  He, however, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Child, arise!”  And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately; and he gave orders for something to be given her to eat.  Luke 8:53-55

This is the first time that in Jesus ministry that He grappled with the powers of death.  Here was a little girl whose body was still warm having not long before taken her last breath.  And there in that room, in the presence of those parents, Jesus raised that little girl. He cancelled death.

The second time that Jesus grappled with the powers of death was as a coffin was coming out of the city of Nain on the way to a cemetery to be buried. A boy was in that coffin—the only son of a widow.  He had probably only been dead a day as the dead were often buried the same day that they died.  And as the pall-bearers went by with the coffin Jesus reached out and touched it and spoke to the man in it and he sat up.  And Jesus gave that boy back to his mother.

The third time was a little more difficult.  For this time the man had been dead for more than a day and more than two.  His name was Lazarus, and he had been in the tomb for four days. His sisters were hesitant to have the stone removed, knowing the body to be in an advanced state of decay. Certainly, Lazarus was too far gone even for Jesus.  But Jesus had them roll away the stone and He cried, “Lazarus, come forth.”  And a man who had been dead for four days walked out alive.

Of course, the greatest of all of Jesus’ victories over death was his own resurrection. And the Bible speaks of a day when all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29

No situation is too hopeless for Jesus. That same Jesus, who spoke an affirmation of hope to a daddy’s heart and cancelled his fear, is speaking to your heart today to cancel yours.  That same Jesus, who walked into that home in the midst of weeping and wailing and cancelled the voice of discouragement, is here today to cancel yours.  That same Jesus, who stepped into that home and cancelled the circumstances that faced that family, is here today to cancel yours.

Now we go back to where we started. How was it that Jairus secured Jesus to step into his circumstances? He had been waiting for Jesus. Will you, or will you act quickly in your despair and disappointment? Will you judge Jesus to by what appears to be the truth of circumstances, or will you wait for a word from the Truth?

Photo by Simeon Jacobson

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

Photo by rawpixel

 

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

The Valley of Sorrow

Some experience of life will inevitably leave you “deeply emptied” and passing through the valley of sorrow. In that experience you will come to the end of your own strength. It may come at the hands of some trial or trouble, or some personal physical weakness, or even some spiritual calamity that leaves you face down in defeat after some battle with the enemy of your soul. In that valley of sorrow, you will come to know and depend on God alone.

A few days ago, a twenty-two-year-old young man lost his battle with cancer. His dad sent me a message telling me he died a “good and glorious death” with his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But he leaves behind a grieving family that somehow must continue to walk through life in spite of their sorrow. This week, I have another friend who is beginning his own battle with cancer. He is sixty-seven. Both of these families have a strong faith. They model that faith in their valley of sorrow.

The road that passes through the valley of sorrow is a very old road. For millennia, people have passed that way. Their experiences are all different. However, families of faith who pass through that valley, leave behind a legacy for others who will follow.

In the Old Testament, one such valley is mentioned. It is called the Valley of Baca. Baca means weeping. The verses themselves describes the experience of those who pass through that valley.

How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion! Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring; The early rain also covers it with blessings. They go from strength to strength, every one of them appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7 (NASB)

 First, we are not able to face sorrow in our own strength.

How strong are you? I know how strong I used to be—or thought I was.I prided myself on my ability to endure—to outlast. But I have learned that time takes a toll on a person’s strength. With every passing year you are less the person that you were. Circumstances also take a toll on a person’s strength. With every problem laid upon your shoulders, your load becomes heavier and heavier, until finally your strength buckles under the load. Likewise, Sorrow takes a toll on a person’s strength. Your emotional muscles can only handle so much, and then you reach your breaking point when you can handle no more. Sin takes a toll on a person’s strength—weakens you—infects your life– until it eats away your spiritual self-confidence, and you learn your heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick. Life takes a toll on a person’s strength until you find you have no strength at all. That is why the Psalmist wrote: “How blessed is the man whose strength is in You.”

“I am bold to say, from Scripture and from experience, that no man ever felt or ever knew, spiritually and experimentally, what it was to put his trust and confidence in God, who had not been deeply emptied, one whose strength had been turned into weakness, his wisdom into folly, and his loveliness into corruption.” J. C. Philpot 1846

Some experience of life will inevitably leave you “deeply emptied” and passing through the valley of sorrow. In that experience you will come to the end of your own strength. It may come at the hands of some trial or trouble, or some personal physical weakness, or even some spiritual calamity that leaves you face down in defeat after some battle with the enemy of your soul. In that valley of sorrow, you will come to know and depend on God alone.

Second, the sorrows we face in this life, though a part of our journey, are not our destination.

 This verse has reference to those who were walking the long road to Jerusalem. They were pilgrims on their way to worship. It was not always an easy journey. Baca may refer to a location passed through during their pilgrimage. Perhaps it was a place of great difficulty and great danger, but in this Psalm, Baca refers to the tears shed by those who pass through perilous times. They were on their way to an earthly city, but their hearts were aimed heavenward. They possessed a hope beyond this life. Like Abraham, they were looking for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God for He has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16 (NASB)

Zion is an earthly place. Zion is also a heavenly place—a place to which we have never been, but the road there is marked in our heart. That road to heaven begins at the foot of the cross of Jesus, and the way from there is simple. We simply follow Jesus who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh to the Father but by Me. John 14:6 (NASB)

Are the highways to Zion in your heart? Have you set your heart on a pilgrimage? People of faith are, as the old hymn says, “marching to Zion.”  In your heart, you are marching to Zion, even though your feet may be locked behind prison doors. In your heart, you are marching to Zion, even though you may be trapped in a crippled body. You travel the roads to Zion when you pray, when you worship, when you open the pages of Scripture. Your heart is on pilgrimage. Jesus is the True North of your soul, and your heart, like a compass, always turns toward Him.

Your journey of following Jesus may take you through the Valley of Baca. Some people experience trial and judge God by the fact of their trial. I have a burden, so I must not have His blessing. I have a sickness, so I must not have His spirit. I have a problem, so I must not have His Presence. Others experience trial comforted that they have the promise of God’s presence. Even though they pass through difficulty, even though their soul is pressed by problems and their eyes are filled with tears, they look for God’s presence, for God’s providence, and God’s peace in the midst of that trial.  And they find it!  I should say they find HIM!

Third, people of faith, though passing through the valley of sorrow, leave their mark on that valley, making it easier for others who pass that way.

 Their testimony is that even though they experienced trial, trouble and sorrow, they also experienced God’s Presence. As bitter as their trouble was, the comfort they received from God was sweeter and more precious, so that the valley is to be remembered not so much as the place where they met trouble, but the place where they met God. My friends, who I mentioned earlier will meet God in their valley of sorrow. In the days ahead, I will hear the story of God’s incredible strength that enabled them to pass through that valley. Are you in that Valley?  Are you looking for God there?

The Psalmist said that these people who travel through the valley of sorrow make it a place of springs. How is that so? When pilgrims passed through this difficult valley on their way to Jerusalem, sometimes it was made difficult from scorching heat or blowing dust. At other times, when passing through that valley, they faced sickness or sorrow. They were forced to stop there. Out of necessity, they dug a well in this dry, parched valley. Time after time, pilgrim after pilgrim, trial after trial, they dug well after well, until the time came when that desolate place became a place of springs. Those who travelled that way after them would find refreshment there, because a brother or a sister had travelled that road,and while there, dug a well.

If you are walking through a dark valley, and if in that valley the Lord meets you, and refreshes you, are you not equipped to come to someone else in that same valley and offer them the refreshment that you received from God? That has been true in my own life. There have been moments when I faced a season of difficulty that seemed to me as dark as midnight. It seemed to me as if I would never find my way. Then, some person would come alongside me and say, “Brother, I’ve sat where you sit.” And they told me of their own time in that dark valley and how God brought them out. And though their light brought only a spark to my darkness, it was a spark from the heart of God. And though it was only  a small, weak, refreshment, I was so thirsty for a single drop of His mercy that I found myself grateful beyond words!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NASB)

In my bondage, He is my Deliverer! In my weakness, He is my Strength! In my sickness, He is my Healer! On my deathbed, He is the Resurrection and the Life! In my sorrow, He is my Comfort! In my darkness, He is my Light! In the guilt of my sin, in Him is Redemption through His blood the Forgiveness of my sin! In my lostness, He is my Savior! In the face of my greatest fears, He is my Hiding place! In my storm, He is my Shelter! In my poverty, He is my Provider! At my wits end, He is my Hope! When I am not who I ought to be, He is still I AM WHO I AM! He is the God of all comfort—the God who is always there and always cares!

These are the people who the Psalmist says are blessed. Their  strength is in God. They passed through the Valley of Baca and found God’s refreshment there.  They become a fountain of refreshment for others.

 “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” Isaiah 41:17-18 (NASB)

At one time or another, all of God’s children will pass through the Valley of Baca—the Valley of Sorrow.

As I pray for my friends today who are passing through the valley of sorrow, I also pray for those of you who may read these words. Remember, all of the experiences of this life are transitory. Whatever it is you face, God will bring an end to it.  There is another side. There is a brighter day. If you are passing through the valley of sorrow, even that valley is the place of God’s presence.I know that it is a place of darkness. I know it is a place of discouragement. But it is also holy ground. The desolate wilderness is where Moses met God at the burning bush. The lions’ den became the home for angels in the time of Daniel.The fiery furnace, where three Hebrew children thought they would meet their end, is where they met one like unto the Son of God standing with them in the fire.

May God be with you as you pass through the valley of sorrow!

Photo by Madhu Shesharam

 

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

Principles of Trusting God’s Leadership

When God calls us to follow, the way isn’t always easy. God has His reasons for taking us down the road of difficulty. When He does, we must obediently follow. If we are to follow Him, we must trust Him. We must trust Him at all times and under all circumstances. 

One Sunday, I sat down on the platform of my church in panic mode. I was anxiously flipping through my Bible. I wasn’t looking for a sermon. I was looking for a word from the Lord for me. That Sunday morning, I felt like the whole world was crashing down on me. I opened my Bible to the first Psalm I could find and began to read. My eyes fell on Psalm 62:8.  Trust in the Lord at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him.

That verse sank deep into my heart. Trust in the Lord at all times. I was to trust Him in the good and in the bad. I was to trust in the calm moments and even when my heart was in panic mode. That morning, I poured out my heart in desperate silence, as a whole congregation looked on. I had to preach, but I wanted to just run.

When God calls us to follow, the way isn’t always easy. God has His reasons for taking us down the road of difficulty. When He does, we must obediently follow. If we are to follow Him, we must trust Him. We must trust Him at all times and under all circumstances.  The key to recognizing God’s leadership is confident trust and step by step obedience. The moment you fail to trust Him, is the moment you will fail to follow.

Allow me to share with you some principles of trusting God’s leadership. As a biblical basis for these principles, I refer you to the experience of the Israelites as they fled Egypt.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea…  By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.  Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.  13:17-18a; 21-22 (NASB)

Did God lead the children of Israel to leave Egypt?  Yes! It was clearly a directive from the Lord! They were powerfully delivered. God’s hand was all over their journey. But that journey was not without difficulty. In fact, God led them into difficulty.  He also steered them away from other difficulties He knew their hearts were not ready to face.

There was no denying the fact of God’s leadership, and He purposefully directed them to the Red Sea.  Has your journey of following God brought you to a Red Sea place in your life?

The only thing that will keep you following God when your way grows difficult, is the absolute certainty that you followed God to that place. You must know, as you stand in the face of difficulty, that you are standing in the center of His will.  Therefore, on the front end of any decision you make, you must:

Establish firmly in your heart the fact of God’s leadership.

Before you begin your journey, there are some very important questions you must settle up front.  Can you trust God’s leadership?  Will He lead you wisely and safely and securely?  Is it safe to follow God?  Can you travel with confidence the road He has marked for you to travel?

That God does lead His people has been established.  But can YOU trust His leadership?  You will never go with God until that question has been settled! The way God leads you will not always be a way of success, or prosperity, or comfort. It may be a way of great difficulty. Because of the trials you face as you travel that road, you may be tempted to abandon your journey.

As you look down the road God is asking you to travel, you may envision some of those difficulties. When God called the children of Israel to go forward by faith into the Promised Land, a group of men came back with a report of certain difficulties that would make their obedience impossible.  The result of their disobedience cost the entire nation forty years in the wilderness.

This brings up another important consideration:

Never base your decision to follow God on what you know up front.

 God’s leadership is based on His foreknowledge.  That means that there are some things God knows that you don’t.  When God calls you to do something, every factor that needs to be taken into consideration for you to answer His call has already been taken into consideration.

The Bible clearly says that God didn’t lead them by the shorter route because He already knew how they would respond should they encounter war.  He knows what we can handle and what we can’t!  God also knew in advance how Pharaoh would respond.

Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’  And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them… Exodus14:3-4a (NASB)

 When God speaks to you about an assignment you must trust His foreknowledge over the difficulties you see as you consider your obedience. An example of this comes from the New Testament when Jesus asked Philip where they would get bread to feed thousands of people.  Jesus asked, “Where are we to buy bread that these may eat?”  Philip was at a loss!  He knew they would never be able to afford that much bread, and he said so.  But the Bible said Jesus was testing him because He Himself already knew what He was intending to do.  (John 6:5-6)

When the Lord gives you an assignment, don’t ask questions! Obey!  Don’t ponder the difficulties!  Take a step of faith. Never base your decision to follow God on what you know.  Follow God’s leadership even if it defies your own logic.  God knows something that you don’t.

Camped at God’s command between the armies of Pharaoh and the Red Sea, the children of Israel appeared helpless.  But God was on a mission.

I will gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.  14:4 (NASB) God knew exactly what He was doing.

Let’s review our first two principles of trusting God’s leadership. First, establish firmly in your heart the fact of God’s leadership. Second, never base your decision to follow God on what you know up front.

Never question your sense of God’s Leadership due to difficulties you may encounter along the way.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his servants had a change of heart toward the people, and they said, “What is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?”  So he made his chariot ready and took his people with him;  and he took six hundred select chariots, and all the otherchariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.  Then the Egyptians chased after them withall the horses and chariots of Pharaoh, his horsemen and his army, and they overtook them camping by the sea, beside Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.  As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD.  Exodus 14:5-10 (NASB)

While following God’s leadership, nothing ever overtakes us to the surprise of God.  God sees it coming and has a plan to deal with our difficulty before we ever become aware it exists. Does God know the difficulties that you face today? Did those difficulties come as a result of following His leadership? Can you trust that He saw those difficulties before He sent you?  Then don’t question God’s leadership because of your difficulties. Trust God in the face of them.

The children of Israel weren’t ready to do that.  They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have brought us to the desert to die?  What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to  you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone’ let us serve the Egyptians’?  It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert. Exodus 14:11-12 (NASB)

Is it ever better to stay where you are than to follow God?  Even though they were in a period of great difficulty they were right in the midst of God’s activity!  You may be following God, and you suddenly find yourself face to face with some great trial, all because you followed Him. Is God able to handle the difficulties that we encounter as a result of following Him?  This is one of the questions that you must settle your mind before you begin the journey.

There are three questions that you need to settle about the situation that you face today:  First, did God lead?  Are you where you are as a result of following God? Second, does God know? Was He fully aware of this difficulty when your journey began? Third, is God able? Can He handle what you are facing? Difficulties arise even when we are following God and standing in the center of His will. For that reason you must:

Always seek a word from God in the face of your difficulty.

Moses and the people faced an impossible situation that arose as a result of following God.  How were they to respond?  What they needed was a word from God. That word came in Exodus 14:13-15.  They received three commands.

But Moses said to the people, “Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever.  “The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.”   Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the sons of Israel to go forward.  Exodus 14:13-15 (NASB)

Allow me to isolate those three commands. The first two came from Moses. He had a very clear sense of God’s leadership. Therefore, he was able to encourage his people.

The first command was “Fear Not!” C. H. MacIntosh, a Bible Scholar who lived in the 19th century, wrote: “Fear leads us to interpret God in the presence of the difficulty, instead of interpreting the difficulty in the presence of God  Faith gets behind the difficulty and there finds God, in all His faithfulness love and power.”

The second command was “Stand Still!” Standing in the midst of difficulty, your heart will say run, but the Spirit will say wait.  The God who brought you to this point will not abandon you!  The problem you face may be beyond your ability, but it is not beyond His. He is able!  You established that fact when your journey began.

Did God lead? Does He know? Is He able? Then stand still, and the Lord will fight for you while you keep silent. I have to admit that my heart often goes into panic mode. When it does, God always whispers the same word. For thus the LordGOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said,  “In repentance and rest you will be saved,  In quietness and trust is your strength.”  Isaiah 30:15 (NASB)

To stand still means to maintain your faith.  It means to keep your eyes glued on God and your ear tuned to His voice. Trust His leadership.  Wait for a word from Him, and when you hear it…

The third command came from God Himself. That third command was “Go Forward!” The “go forward” was issued before the sea was parted.  The command called for faith.  It called for faith that God would make a way when there seemed to be no way.

There are some things we will never learn about God until we stand with Him in the face of difficulty. If you run from the difficulty, you will never discover what God can do.  If you find yourself in an impossible situation, it is the perfect situation for God to show you what only He can do.

Never forget that the God who sent you is with you to protect you along the way.

The angel of God, who had been going before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel; and there was the cloud along with the darkness, yet it gave light at night. Thus the one did not come near the other all night. Exodus 14:19-20 (NASB)

God knows the road that you are traveling. He knows the circumstances that you face. If you will stand still, if you will trust Him in the midst of your circumstances, He will show you His power in a way that you have never seen it before.

There is no way I can know the circumstances you are facing as you read these words. But I know this, the promises of God are true. God is faithful. God is saying to you as you stand in the midst of your difficulty: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”Hebrews 13:5 (NASB)

The difficulties God allows you to face, and your ultimate deliverance from difficulty, will bring honor to God’s name in your eyes and in the eyes of a watching world.

16 As for you, lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst of the sea on dry land. 17 As for Me, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and I will be honored through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 Then the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I am honored through Pharaoh, through his chariots and his horsemen.”Exodus 14:16-18 (NASB)

Have you come to the Red Sea place in your life,

Where, in spite of all you can do.

There is no way out, there is no way back,

There is no other way but  through?

Then wait on the Lord with a trust secure

Till the night of your fear is gone;

He will send the wind; He will keep the floods,

When He says to your soul, “Go on.”

Annie Johnston Flint

Photo by Kevin Wolf