I See Jesus Standing

Do you know what this year has done? It has captured our attention. We have fixed our gaze on a virus so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus. We have fixed our gaze on an election so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus. We have fixed our gaze on some sinful thing so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus.

It’s been a tough year. It’s not the kind of year you planned and certainly not what you needed. In a year like 2020, a person needs perspective. However, the perspective needed is the perspective of heaven. In an effort to help you see your circumstances with a bit more clarity, I would like to tell you about a man in the New Testament whose name was Stephen. On the worst day of his life, and on what seemed to the the worst day in the history of the church up to that point, Stephen saw his circumstances from the perspective of heaven.

Stephen was a great servant of God. He was one of the first deacons. He was said to be full of wisdom, full of the Spirit, full of faith, full of grace and power. In fact, through the hands of Stephen God worked signs and wonders among the people. His wisdom and handling of the Scripture was such that his enemies were unable to cope with the wisdom  and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

They secretly induced men to say that Stephen blasphemed both Moses and God Acts 6:11. They spread misinformation about Stephen in the community, stirring up the people against him Acts 6:12. The brought forward false witnesses who accused him of speaking against the temple and against the law Acts 6:13. And yet, through it all, Stephen’s countenance was like that of an angel Acts 6:15.

Things went from bad to worse that day. I’m sure Stephen had an idea of what would happen when the day began. Stephen’s powerful sermon is recorded in Acts 7:2-53. That sermon condemned his hearers, who were also his accusers, as lawbreakers themselves. That sermon pierced their hearts like a knife. But rather than convicting them and bringing them to repentance, it only deepened their hatred for Stephen and all he stood for. While his face was like that of an angel, they looked like angry demons, gnashing their teeth in murderous fury.

Suddenly, Stephen stopped preaching. It was as if had been interrupted. It was as if he no longer was the communicator, but as if someone was communicating with him. He turned away from the angry crowd, not in cowardice, but with an even greater confidence and conviction than that with which he was preaching. It was as if someone was there—as if someone was with him.

Consider the State of Stephen’s Relationship with God:

He was full of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember those moments when the Spirit of God came mightily upon men in the Old Testament. When the Spirit came mightily upon Saul, he was turned into another man. His life was changed from timid to confident, from a man of weakness to a man of power.

When the Spirit of God came mightily upon Samson, he performed feats of great strength.  Stephen had been preaching in the power of the Spirit, but now that Spirit filled him for a new purpose. He was filled with the Spirit to face death. God empowered him for that journey and whatever it brought. 

Here is a picture of a saved man dying. He is a man filled with the Holy Spirit. He has been empowered to live and serve, and now, full of faith, full of grace, full of wisdom, he is full of the Spirit given power to face the moment of his death.

His countenance that day was like that of an angel. There was a beam about Him. There was a presence that settled on him and around him. That day, as Stephen faced his accusers and as he faced death, he was not alone. You are not alone should you be facing your last days. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, a disciple whose life is characterized by the same traits as Stephen, you will not be alone when it comes your time to die.

Many times I have heard the story of someone very ill who had been talking with family, but just at the point of death, that person turned their face away, fixing their gaze elsewhere.

Second, Notice Stephen’s Focus.

But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

This is the focus of a believer in trouble. This is the focus of a believer facing death. His gaze was not fixed on his problem. His gaze was not fixed on the trouble. His gaze was not fixed on the crowd or on his accusers. Instead, he gazed intently into heaven. 

Where is your focus in your circumstances? Do you know what this year has done? It has captured our attention. We have fixed our gaze on a virus so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus. We have fixed our gaze on an election so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus. We have fixed our gaze on some sinful thing so intently that we have lost sight of Jesus.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed intently into heaven and saw something you and I can never see without our focus so fixed. He saw behind the scenes of his circumstances. He saw a prevailing providence overshadowing his life. He saw God’s glory!

Do you remember what Jesus told Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus—distraught as they were by their circumstances—discouraged as they were by their grief? He said, “Did I not say to you that if you believed you would see the glory of God.” They would see the glory of God in their circumstances. Stephen saw the glory of God in his circumstances, and you can see the glory of God in your circumstances, whatever they might be, if you will gaze intently into heaven.

First, I asked you to consider Stephen’s State. He was filled with the Holy Spirit. Second, I asked you to consider Stephen’s focus. He gazed intently into heaven.

Third, Consider Stephen’s Vision

And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”He said, “I see Jesus standing….”

Jesus said in Luke 22:69:But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the Power of God. ” 

But Stephen said, “I see Jesus standing…” He saw Jesus standing sovereign over the affairs of earth and heaven. That is what we have lost sight of in 2020. We must regain our confidence in the fact that Jesus rules and reigns in heaven, and He stands victoriously triumphant in spite of our circumstances. In spite of Covid. In spite of the election. In spite of what is going on in my life or yours. 

That was a statement of Stephen’s faith. He saw Jesus standing!! On one level it was that and nothing more. We can make that same statement by faith in whatever circumstances we face. But we have to know that it is more than a statement of faith. 

For Stephen it was also a statement of fact. He saw heaven opened. Heaven was opened in anticipation of his arrival. But even more, it was open so that he could clearly see the response of Jesus to his injustice. He was standing. Jesus who said that after his crucifixion he would be seated at the right hand of God was standing!

He was standing as a witness to Stephens faithfulness and as his Advocate with the Father. But He was also standing as a swift witness against his adversaries.  He was standing with Stephen in his circumstances. he was standing ready to answer. He was standing ready to help. 

But Jesus was also standing because it was the end of Stephens life. Jesus was standing to welcome Stephen upon his entrance to heaven. Jesus promised His disciples in John14:3 “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto Myself that where I am, you may be also.” Jesus was standing in Stephen’s honor, in recognition of his service, and as sovereign over his circumstances.

Finally, Consider  Stephen’s Last Prayer.

But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord Jesus and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then, falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:56-60

What do we see here in his final prayer? We see a man praying in trouble.  We hear a man praying in acceptance of his trouble.  We find a man knowing he is about to die in his trouble. He dies with his hope in Jesus.  He dies with the name of the Lord on his tongue. He sees Jesus in heaven, and he prays that Jesus might receive his spirit upon arrival in heaven. 

This man was confident. This man was courageous. This man was in communication with heaven from before the trouble began and through the time of his trouble. He knew a presence and a power that some men simply will not know come their time to die.

Stephen died calling on the name of the Lord, humbly asking for a reception in heaven. Stephen died praying for the forgiveness of those who sinned against God, by sinning against him. He embodied the spirit of his Savior in his trouble. He embodied the spirit of His Savior toward those who brought him trouble. He died with bitterness toward no one in his heart. 

Is that how you will die?  Will you die filled with the Holy Spirit? Will you die with your gaze fixed intently on heaven or on some set of earthly circumstances.? Will your vision be one of Jesus reigning victorious over all your problems even when he chooses not to remove them or remove you from them?  Will you die having forgiven every man remembering that Jesus has also forgiven you?

Finally, what is it that you and I need to see today? What do we need to see as we near the end of 2020, looking into an uncertain beginning of this third decade of the 21st century? We need to see Jesus Standing! We need to see Jesus Reigning! We need to know that Jesus is in Control! He is at the right hand of God, but He is also with me. I challenge you to join me in releasing your future to Him, trusting Him as did Stephen on this darkest day of his life!

Eight Words That Can Change Your Life

Amidst the swirling confusion surrounding the coronavirus and the mounting madness of cultural chaos, these eight words can mean the difference between mental stability and mental breakdown. They can mean the difference between success and failure in your business. These same eight words can save your marriage or hold the potential of bringing revival to your life and to your church.

I am about to share eight words that can change your life. Amidst the swirling confusion surrounding the coronavirus and the mounting madness of cultural chaos, these eight words can mean the difference between mental stability and mental breakdown. They can mean the difference between success and failure in your business. These same eight words can save your marriage or hold the potential of bringing revival to your life and to your church. What are those eight remarkable words? The come from the last verse of Psalm 46. Be still and know that I am God.

Recently, the Lord has led me to return to a book that I first read more than two decades ago. It was written by Austin Phelps. It was published in 1859. The title of the book is The Still Hour. Today, we would come nearer referring to “the still hour” as a quiet time—a time of personal devotion. When I think of a quiet time, I think of the person whose quiet time made an impression on me. We were staff members together in the 1980’s. Jeff had a deep commitment to a personal, private, daily meeting with God. For him, it was an appointment. Nothing interrupted it. Nothing was more important. From my observation of his life, nothing ever had a larger and more lasting impact that those moments he spent daily with God.

What is a quiet time? Very simply, it is an appointed time each day that you set aside to meet with God to seek guidance, direction, and refreshing from His presence. It is a time of Scripture reading and prayer. It should include both, but after that, a time of quiet waiting before the Lord—a time to be still and know that He is God.

These eight words urge you to plan a time into your day when you come aside from the business of everyday affairs, setting aside all other concerns, that you might turn your heart toward God seeking to benefit from time in His presence. Be still and know that I am God.

Those Words Serve as a Statement of Faith

The most extraordinary faith that God may ever require will be in the privacy of your own quiet time. That is where God calls you to simply be still, leaving all the problems and complexities of life to Him. The NASB translates this verse: Cease striving and know that I am God. God is saying, “Don’t do anything. Trust Me to do it for you! Don’t make plans. Pray! Don’t run. Rest in Me!” In your quiet time, you will grapple with your fears and your failures, with your sins and your sorrows, your desires and your destiny, learning to release it all, placing it in the Hands of God.

The very fact that you take the time to “be still” will be a statement of your enormous faith in God. You will be still for a portion of every day because you trust God to do for you what you can’t do for yourself. When the children of Israel stood between the waters of the Red Sea and the crush of Pharaoh’s chariots, there was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to hide. Yet, what was God’s command through Moses?  And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. Exodus 14:13

It takes great faith and great courage to stand still in the face of great danger, choosing instead to leave matters in the hands of God. It was to Jehoshaphat that God sent this word: You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” 2 Chronicles 20:17 In essence, God was saying to Jehoshaphat, “Be still and know that I am God.

These Words Require a Sense of Expectancy

If you take the time to be still, God will honor your appointment. He will not interrupt you in order to meet with you, but He will have no trouble scheduling you onto His calendar if you will schedule Him into your own. If you set aside a time to meet with God, you can expect Him to meet you there. If you bring your Bible, you can expect Him to speak to you from His Word. You can expect direction for your life. You can expect hope for your heartache. You can expect strength for your weakness.

Some years ago, I was the pastor of a young couple who owned their own business. The wife managed the books with great precision. She managed her house with the same precision. She managed affairs at the church with the same precision as well as those at the school where her children were involved. If you wanted something done well, give it to Sally, and she would accomplish it! Sally’s car was graced with a personalized tag. The letters read: “TOO BUSY”. It was a good busy—and she needed to be, because just a few years later her life was cut short by an unanticipated bout with cancer. BUSY LIVES end too. Most of us have no plan for the unexpected. That is why we never need to be too busy to pray, or too busy to read God’s Word, or too busy to spend time with God.

The frenzied hurry of life rushes you toward many uncertainties for which you are unprepared. You have only navigated the past. You have no idea what lies ahead. But God does! Every day, you must leave the rushing current of life’s frenzy, and be still before God. You must seek His guidance and his direction. In 1 Chronicles 16:11, David said, “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek His face continually!” 

If you will seek God, you must of necessity be still! In the wilderness, as Moses led the children of Israel through their daily wanderings, life was slow and unhurried. But even in the days when life was slower—when it was still measured by hours and not by nanoseconds, there was a need for stillness to seek direction from God. To those wandering Hebrew people, Moses spoke these words: “Stand still, and I will hear what the Lord will command concerning you.” Numbers 9:8. Every day that you are too busy to be still before God, will be a day that you will miss His direction for your life. Be still and know that I am God.

Those Words Call for Confident Faith

In the O.T. book of Ruth, Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, gave her a bit of critical guidance. An important matter concerning both their lives was pending. Naomi urged Ruth not to fret, but to leave the matter in the hands of her redeemer. 

Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.” Ruth 3:18

In the KJV the word Wait is translated sit still. Her advice to Ruth was to simply be still and know that the matter was in confident hands. Can you rest your concerns confidently into the hands of your Redeemer?

T.W. Hunt was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He wrote a study called PrayerLife , The Mind of Christ, and also a book called The Doctrine of Prayer.

In the fall of 1974, Hunt’s family went through a financial crisis. They were unable to pay their daughter’s tuition at TCU, even in monthly installments. Although they prayed desperately, the situation only seemed to get worse. During that same time they had outstanding medical bills. Ultimately, they began getting second notices from the University. In spite of continued prayer, the load of debt became even heavier.

One weekend, their daughter came home from college. She seemed unusually distracted. Hunt’s wife probed her to discover the problem. She confessed that that she had been suffering with an awful toothache for weeks. with a head splitting toothache for three weeks. Knowing their financial condition, she was trying to bear the pain without causing them further expense. Dealing with a tooth required a visit to a specialist. That bill was also more than they could pay, and they had no dental insurance.

Hunt was broken, not so much over his financial condition, as he was over the strange delay in answer to their prayers. He searched his own heart for something in his life that might be holding back God’s answer.

His wife suggested that since he taught students that the Lord was their Friend, perhaps he should talk to his Friend Jesus about their problems. He took his wife up on that suggestion. He took two cups of bouillon to their prayer room and invited his friend. He talked to the Lord just as if they shared the room together. There he poured out the details of his problems.

At the end of November, he received a letter from his daughter’s university stating: “This is to inform you that a friend, who wishes to remain anonymous has paid your daughter’s tuition for this semester.” The other bills were all paid before Christmas. Hunt’s needs were met because he responded to these eight words that we have been talking about. Be still and know that I am God. They call for confident faith.

Finally, Those Words Require Absolute Surrender to God’s Authority.

Your burden may involve more than just your family. You may the leader of a large corporation. Who leads you? Have you considered that the God whose Word is life to your soul, is success to your business? If you will allow Him, if you will trust Him, if you will be still before Him, He will guide you as you guide your business. He will guide you through an unsettled economy and an unsettled culture. Will you give Him the opportunity to lead you?

Be still and know that I am God. Those eight words that can change your life. Those words can mean the difference between mental stability and mental breakdown. They can mean the difference between success and failure in your business. Those same words can save your marriage or hold the potential of bringing revival to your life and to your church.

So what do you need to do? You need to find a place. You need to set a time. Go there, and be still and know that He is God. Cease your striving.  Surrender your fears and your failures, your sins and your sorrows, your desires and your destiny, releasing it all to Him.

Between the Little Whiles

Are you facing some uncertainty, some suffering, some sorrow? In the space between the little whiles, we don’t know what God is doing. But it is good to know God is doing something. He says so in His word.

Some of you are passing through difficult circumstances. Your night of difficulty is long. You, like me, know the Lord Jesus. You are a believer. But you are in one of those “in between” moments of life. You are in between the Lord’s promise, and the realization of His promise. You are in between crying out to God for deliverance, and waiting for that deliverance to come. You are in between the dark night of trial, and the glorious morning of being on the other side of that trial, where you can see how God worked all things together for good.

Some years ago, I grappled with a set of verses that left me wondering what they might mean. As a matter of fact, as I read them, I realized that even the Lord’s own disciples were having hard time understanding what He meant. He was talking to them about some “in between” moments in their lives.

16 “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.” 17 Some of His disciples then said to one another, “What is this thing He is telling us, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and, ‘because I go to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What is this that He says, ‘A little while’? We do not know what He is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wished to question Him, and He said to them, “Are you deliberating together about this, that I said, ‘A little while, and you will not see Me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.21 Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.22 Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. John 16:16-22

Seven times in four verses, we meet this phrase a little while. There are two distinct little whiles in this conversation between Jesus and His disciples. There is the little while before His departure, (that is between that moment and the cross) and there is the little while between His departure and His resurrection. He speaks of what will happen to them in between the little whiles and at the end of the little while.

The disciples were clearly confused by the little whiles and just what Jesus might be saying. But what was He saying, and is He still saying it to us? Is He telling us what to expect and how to live between the little whiles?

I will let you draw your own conclusion. But the matter peaked my interest some years ago. So I began to investigate. Here are the questions I asked as I began my investigation.

  •  How Long is a Little While?

I don’t think there is an answer to that, but on the other hand, we have several illustrations of periods the Bible refers to as a little while.

First, Jesus own life on the earth was referred to as a little while.

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. Hebrews 2:9

In light of eternity, the thirty-three-year life-span of Jesus, was just a little while. In fact, so is your life and mine.

Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. James 4:14

Of course, your age will determine how you relate to that verse. If you are a younger person, say in your teens to your thirties, you can’t see how life could be short. You have so much ahead of you. Yet, if you are older, you know how fast time passes, and how it seems to go by faster and faster. So you understand how an entire lifetime could be characterized as just a little while.

You might like to know that in each case the Greek word is the word from which we get our word Microscopic. It means very small. And yet, a little while, from the perspective of heaven, can cover many generations.

For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. Hebrews 10:37

How long has it been since those words were written? Well, in light of the verse itself, just a little while. But chronologically, it has been almost 2000 years. I share these things to show you how impossible it is to put a time on a little while. So what was Jesus trying to tell his disciples? He was preparing them for what was going to happen between the little whiles.

  • What Happens Between the Little Whiles?

He compared what happens between the little whiles to what happens to a woman in labor. There is pain between the little whiles. There is sorrow between the little whiles. There is weeping between the little whiles. Life happens between the little whiles.

For someone passing through one of these little whiles of sorrow or suffering, it can seem overwhelming. …even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials… 1 Peter 1:6

You might find yourself in the little while of suffering or sorrow. How long will it last? There is no way to know. God governs the days and hours between the little whiles. God has a purpose in these little whiles. That is what Jesus was telling his disciples. Life between the little whiles was going to be difficult. But God was working His purpose.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 1 Peter 5:10

The suffering, sorrow, pain, and weeping of the little while, falls under God’s sovereignty. Jesus was alerting His disciples to these things, that they might not lose faith between the little whiles.

  •  How Should I Live Between the Little Whiles?

In the Old Testament, we are told of the time the nation of Israel experienced a three and a half year drought. From the perspective of the people who endured it, it was agonizing. All through that little while, Elijah lived under the protection of God, who engaged the ravens to feed him until the brook ran dry, and then chose to provide for him at the home of a destitute widow. The widow was destitute because there was a famine in the land during the little while. Eventually, Elijah emerges from his God imposed hiding place and finds himself atop Mt. Carmel praying for rain.

But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 He said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” So he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go back” seven times. 44 It came about at the seventh time, that he said, “Behold, a cloud as small as a man’s hand is coming up from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.’” 45 In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower.  1 Kings 18: 42b-45a

I refer to this passage because I want you to see that Elijah endured the little while on Mt. Carmel the same way he endured the years of famine. He exhibited an absolute dependence upon God during that little while of waiting for answer to prayer. Between the little whiles, we wait in patient faith in God, who is sovereign over the little whiles.

In Isaiah, God’s people are in crisis. It is a crisis that Isaiah compares to the crisis of a woman in labor who can’t bring her child to birth. Listen to Isaiah describe it, and then listen as God instructs His people how to endure the little while.

16 O Lord, they sought You in distress; They could only whisper a prayer, Your chastening was upon them. 17 As the pregnant woman approaches the time to give birth, She writhes and cries out in her labor pains, Thus were we before You, O Lord…. 20 Come, my people, enter into your rooms And close your doors behind you; Hide for a little while Until indignation runs its course. Isaiah 26:16-17; 20

Here again, we see God calling for patient faith in the life of His people during the difficult days of the little while. Do you find yourself between the little whiles? Are you facing some uncertainty, some suffering, some sorrow? In the space between the little whiles, we don’t know what God is doing. But it is good to know God is doing something. He says so in His word. God showed me, just this week, how He was working during the little while of this COVID-19 crisis. Do you also need to see how God is at work during your little while?

Did you know that even the saints in heaven endure the little whiles?

10 And they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also. Revelation 6:10-11

How do the saints in heaven endure the little while? They rest themselves in God’s sovereignty. How long is the little while? Only God knows. God governs the days and hours in the little while. The little whiles serve His purposes in ways known only to Him.

  •  Finally, What Can We Expect on the Other Side of the Little Whiles?

…you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy.21 Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. John 16:20-22a

What can you expect on the other side of the little while?  There is a joy there—a joy that only be fully appreciated by those who have endured the little while. In the midst of the little while, those of us who keep our trust in God are…  protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:5-7

What is on the other side of the little while? A tested and approved faith, having passed through the fiery testing of the little while, and found to result in praise and honor and glory at the coming of Jesus. God has something for you on the other side of your little while. There is always something on the other side of the little while!

Life should not be measured by the little while of suffering. We look beyond the present life, which is, at its best, a vapor, only a little while. And instead we look to things eternal, although we see them only through the eyes of faith.

Between the little whiles we live by faith and not by sight. We rest in the knowledge of God’s unseen presence and in the comfort of His love. Meanwhile, God is sovereign over the little whiles, working His purpose for our good and His glory. God will bring an end to this present crisis. He will do it in His own time and in His own way. For this little while, let’s keep encouraging one another to put our trust in Him.

Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

A Defender in Difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How then can I access God’s strength?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gustavo Fring@pexels.com

Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

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

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

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

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

The Problem That Confronts Us

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

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

The Challenge It Presents Us 

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

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

The Promise Laid Before Us

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

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

The Deficiency Within Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by lee junda

Seeking God’s Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Joshua Watson 

Making Your Difficulty God’s Opportunity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah Needed A Confirmation of Faith in a Position of Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah’s  Difficulty Can Become God’s Opportunity!

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Can I Make My Difficulty God’s Opportunity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi

When Feelings Lie

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

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

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

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

Our Feelings Often Contradict God’s Promises.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by JK

Where is Jesus in Our Grief?

Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” John 20:11-13

This is part of John’s account of how some of Jesus followers reacted to the empty tomb of Jesus. John chooses to tell the story from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.Mark also records Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb. Both Mark and Luke tell us that she had at one time been possessed of seven demons before she met Jesus. This trip to the tomb was very personal for her. Was she the sinful woman in Luke chapter seven of whom Jesus said, “She loves much because her sins which are many are all forgiven?” I think she was.

If so, her deliverance from demons and her wonderful experience of forgiveness resulted in a deep personal commitment to the Lord Jesus.  That is revealed at the cross, when she was one of the only disciples left with Mary. The rest ran away. Her presence at the tomb was prompted by her love for Jesus and the grief she experienced following His death. Her initial experience at the tomb was confusing. She ran to Peter saying, “They have taken away the Lord, out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2b  

Imagine the agony she endured watching Jesus die! Sudden, tragic death often leaves loved ones in some degree of shock. Overwhelmed by the events of recent days, as well as by her own emotions, Mary Magdalene made the pre-dawn trip to the tomb in the grip of grief. I want to examine her grief and relate it to the experience of grief that comes to us all. In a recent search for definitions of grief, I found the following explanations.

Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind. Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior. It is defined as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss. It is described as sharp sorrow or painful regret. I’m sure you understand. Most of us have been pierced by one of the painful arrows of grief. Grief comes as a result of losing someone you love. Sometimes we grieve the passage of a stage of our life—unrecoverable days that we wasted or lost. We can grieve a disability that comes into our lives or grieve over a great disappointment or personal loss. Grief comes in many ways.

My purpose will be to examine the grief of Mary. In the midst of her grief, Mary was looking for Jesus. Can you and I find Jesus in the face of our grief?

Mary Was Weeping at What She Knew to Be True.

At first, to Peter she said, they have taken away the Lord and we… Later she said to the angels, “They have taken away my Lord and I…” John 20:13b   This was deeply personal for Mary. She was grieving over the basic facts of what she knew to be true. This is the first way we approach grief. We deal with the heart-breaking facts. We face the hard and cold fact of death, of loss, of pain, of sorrow, of suffering that accompanies grief.

Mary Was Weeping on the Basis of Things She Assumed to Be True. 

I have heard many people state the truth of how they feel in the midst of their grief. Many of those feelings are based on assumptions made in the pain of the moment. From the personal perspective of sorrow, both the present and the future are clouded by the fog of grief.

“They have taken away my Lord.” Was that true? No, but in that moment, it appeared to be true to Mary, and it deepened the grief of the moment. Be careful about assumptions you make in the midst of your grief. Be careful about decisions you make while in the throes of grief. Be especially careful concerning conclusions you make about God in your sorrow. 

God often sends us comfort in the midst of our grief. Thankfully, most of us have friends or family or a minister who will help us walk through our personal sorrow. Have you ever noticed how hollow such comfort sounds when coming from someone not standing in your shoes? The words are often true and sincere. If you will notice, not even the testimony of angels countered the faulty assumptions Mary Magdalene made by Mary in her grief.

In Her Grief, She Failed to Recognize the Presence of Her Lord.

Have you found it to be true that it is hard to see the Lord through your tears? As we read the story, we raise all kinds of questions about why it was that she failed to recognize Jesus. But mainly, it was her grief and the resulting shock and despair that followed the recent loss of someone she loved. Those of you who have walked the road of grief know that this period of grief can last a long time.  There seems to be no sense of God’s presence. There seems to be no word from God. There is an overwhelming emptiness and sense of being abandoned, not only by the person you lost but also by God. Mary, for a brief moment, experienced a dark night of the soul when, although her Lord was there, she was not able to know it.

Jesus Was Present in the Midst of Her Grief.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking? ”Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” John 20:11-15

He was right there in the midst of her grief, even though she did not recognize His presence. Do you suppose that in spite of how you feel, that He might also be present in the midst of yours? In the loss of someone you love, you might have no sense of Him, but He is there!

Passing through some particularly difficult season of change, you might  have no sense of Him, but He is there! Maybe you lost your job or your sense of purpose, and you have no sense of Him, but He is there! Jesus is present in the midst of your grief.

Jesus Spoke to Her in the Midst of Her Grief.

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” John 20:16a   He called her name. He spoke to her. He asked her the same question asked by the angels. “Why are you weeping.” I wonder if He was helping her process her grief. Processing your grief doesn’t make it go away. But it causes you to grapple with what happened and what must happen next. Why was she weeping? Who was she seeking? She was weeping because she lost Jesus. But in her grief, Mary came there to look for Jesus. Yet, He was right in front of her and she failed to recognize His presence.

Is Jesus speaking to you in the midst of your grief, in the midst of your loss, in the midst of your change? Is He saying something to you that you need to hear! Yes, but to hear it you must recognize who He is.

His first question was, “Why are you weeping?” What is your loss? What is your disappointment? What is the sorrow that brings you to this point in your life. But His next question is key. “Whom are you seeking?” Who was Mary looking for? She came there looking for Jesus. Have you looked for Jesus in your grief, or have you looked for relief in other people or in other places? A person with grief over an illness might be seeking a physician, as did the woman with the issue of blood, until she sought Jesus. Who are you seeking?

A person who lost their sense of purpose might be seeking for something to fill that void? So Jesus asks you—Who or what are you seeking?  What did Jesus offer Mary? He offered her Himself. Is He speaking to you in the midst of your grief? Is He calling your name? Is He offering you the strength of His presence and the comfort of His love? Is He reminding you that you have not been abandoned by your Lord? He revealed Himself differently to various of His disciples after His resurrection. He will choose the time and place to make you aware of His Presence. 

In The Midst of Her Grief, Mary Was Afraid.

Why was she afraid? Maybe she was afraid of the same things you are. She was afraid of being hurt again. She didn’t want to lose Him again. Perhaps she was afraid of the future, or even afraid of the past, fearing that the demons who once tormented her might return. She was afraid to go on, and because of her grief her life was without purpose.

In the Midst of Her Grief, Mary Called Jesus Teacher.

She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Most of us, who have been so unfortunate as to experience grief, have learned something along the way. We learn things about ourselves. We also learn things about the Lord. Do you suppose there is something the Lord is trying to teach you in the midst of your circumstances?

Jesus Gave Her a New Sense of Mission as a Result of Her Grief.

Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her. John 20:17-18

I am often amazed at the people who come through some tragic loss with a vision of something God wants them to do. How many times have you heard of a parent who lost a child to some rare illness, who out of that pain, becomes an advocate for other families in similar circumstances. How many cancer survivors have taken up the cause of making sure other cancer victims have adequate support? What about you? What grief changed your life? How did God use that moment to teach you and redirect you and re-purpose your life?

Some of you can identify with Mary. On the other hand, some of you are still looking for answers. You are still looking for Jesus in the midst of your grief. I pray that you will experience His presence in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will speak to you in the midst of your grief. I pray that He will be your teacher as you as you walk through the grief process. I also pray that out of the heartache of your grief, He will lead you to discover a new sense of mission and direction for your life.

Photo by Ksenia Makagonova

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