Allowing God to Redeem Your Past That He Might Sanctify Your Future

Do you have irreparable hurts in your life? Most of us do. Why do you think that is so? Why is some hurt of the past still fresh?  Why does it shape our lives and hinder what God is able to do, not only in the present, but in the future? It is because we have never committed that past hurt to God. Instead, we have chosen to nourish it and cherish it.

As we stand in the first hours of the new year, the past year casts its shadow across our lives. That shadow might be the shadow of past joys, or past sorrows, past hurt, past heartache, past failures, or even past moments of great success never to be repeated. 

The shadows of the past, that cast themselves across our present, can cloud the future or even shape the future in such a way that there is even more sorrow, more hurt, and  more failure.

How do we allow God to redeem the past that He might sanctify our future?

If I approach the past with my emotions or my passions, seeking to accomplish my purposes, I am sure to hinder the purpose of God for my future.

I’ve been talking with some of my friends this wee about the Field Goal Kicker for Ohio State who missed the winning field goal in the last seconds of the game against the Georgia Bulldogs. He will remember that for the rest of his life. No one was more disappointed than he was. And yet, he can’t change it. The shadow of that past failure may shape his life in a negative way. Or, he could determine that he will not allow that moment, that can be measured in seconds, to determine his future or to define his life.

Most of us, have responded very negatively to some small moment in the past so that it continues to shape our lives and our families in a negative way. We must allow God to redeem the past so that He might sanctify our future.

What does that mean? What would it look like in your life or in mine?

First, it would require me to commit my past to God. 

“Our yesterdays present irreparable things to us; it is true that we have lost opportunities which will never return, but God can transform this destructive anxiety into a constructive thoughtfulness for the future. Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ.” (My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers)

Where do we get the idea of committing the past to God? 

Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13, “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching toward what lies ahead…” What would it take for you to forget what lies behind? It would require you to commit the past to God. It would require you to let the past sleep on the bosom of Christ. The past is beyond repair, but unless you commit it to God, it can destroy your future. That is something that doesn’t have to happen.

If you will remember, when it came time to enter the Promised Land, the only ones of the past generation that were allowed to enter were Caleb and Joshua. They buried the past in the wilderness. The past would only hinder their future, defile it and destroy it. In order to reach forward to what lies ahead I must leave the past and move forward.

This week, my reading has taken me into the book of Deuteronomy where the Lord speaks to His people, saying to them: “You have stayed long enough at this mountain.” 

Of course that was Mount Sinai or Mount Horeb. It was a place they had known as the place of God’s presence. But even that past experience, though a good one and a blessing, was not to shackle them from reaching forward to what lay ahead! Paul committed his past to God by forgetting what lay behind and reaching  forward to what lay ahead.

Committing your past to God means leaving every part of the irreparable past at His feet.

This includes your failures. Isn’t it good to know that we can leave our failures there. We can let our past failures sleep on the bosom of Christ and His mercy, and we can, in faith, reach forward to what lies ahead?

Do you have irreparable hurts in your life? Most of us do. Why do you think that is so? Why is some hurt of the past still fresh?  Why does it shape our lives and hinder what God is able to do, not only in the present, but in the future? It is because we have never committed that past hurt to God. Instead, we have chosen to nourish it and cherish it. Paul said, “Forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” 

Unless I allow my past hurt to sleep on the bosom of Christ, I will wake up one night and find it fresh on my pillow with me as I try to sleep. I will find the anger from past hurt boiling up inside me. I will find myself still thinking of ways I can put my hands on that which caused my past hurt. As a result, the shadow of that past hurt will be forever cast over my future.

Perhaps the best example of one who discovered the true freedom of giving the past to God was that man of the Old Testament we know as Joseph. His brothers threw him into a pit, later sold him as a slave, and told his father he was dead. Joseph wound up in and Egyptian prison for years—but God was with him. God blessed him. God was able to sanctify his future so that He became second only to Pharoah. When Joseph’s first child was born, he named him Manasseh, saying, “God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” 

But did he forget them. No! He never forgot them. But he laid all that hurt at God’s feet. He committed his past to God—including his past hurt. And in God’s own time and in God’s own way, not only did God sanctify his future—God sanctified those relationships. He healed that hurt in their live and his.

But that would never have happened if Joseph had not laid left that hurt with God. Later, he would tell his brothers, “You meant it to me for evil but God meant it to me for good.” I have come to love that little expression “BUT GOD”. 

Imagine what God can do with your past—your past failure—your past hurt—your past heartache—if you give it to Him. That hurt is real. That heartache is real. 

BUT GOD can sanctify your future.

It hasn’t happened yet for some of you because you are still holding on to the past—still clinging to your hurt and your heartache. Do you suppose that if you laid all of that at the foot of the cross, if you let the past sleep on the bosom of Christ that He might be able to sanctify your future the way he did that of Joseph? Forgetting what lies behind requires me leaving my past at the feet of Jesus.

Reaching forward to what lies ahead requires me to take a step of faith. 

I can’t stand there waiting to see what Christ will do with what I have given him. I can’t wait and wonder how he will work it out or whether he will. I must walk forward by faith expecting Him to work in ways that I can’t see and to do things in my life and in the lives of others that I could never do.

Is God asking you tonight to allow Him to Redeem your past that He might sanctify your future? Is there something that this very night needs to be laid at His feet? Once for all? 

Once for all, place it at His feet, and walk away from that hurt, allowing Him to do with it what He will for His glory—trusting Him to carry it—to understand it—to Redeem it—So that one day you look back and say, “There was a time when I had all this hurt in my life from the past. I carried it for so long. It cast a shadow across my life. BUT GOD spoke to me one day asking me to surrender my past to Him. I don’t know how He did it BUT GOD redeemed my past and He sanctified my future so that who I am today and where I am is all to His glory?”

What lies ahead?  Do you know? Would you know? Are you ready to reach for it, to long for it, to see what God can do in and around your life? Then here on the first day of 2023 you need to allow God to redeem the past so that He might sanctify your future.

13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:13-14

Things You Won’t Hear on the Nightly News

Where do you get your perspective of world events? Some people follow the threads on Facebook. Your perspective will depend on the perspective of the thread you follow. Others watch the nightly news. Some watch CNN, or CBS, or FOX, or some internet news source that interprets world events for them. Obviously, there are a variety of rumors and rumblings and perspectives. 

But is there another perspective?

I call your attention to an event out of the seventh chapter of Isaiah. The nation was in crisis. The crisis was so severe that the leader of the land lost his nerve. The leader’s name was Ahaz. He was the king whose perspective came from rumors and rumblings concerning a pressing problem facing his kingdom. When he heard these rumors the Bible says, “His heart and the hearts of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” Isaiah 7:2 The panic spreading through the social media of the day disrupted the peace of the nation. 

If the only perspective you have on life and world events is the perspective you glean from the news or from Facebook, you will have some of those heart shaking moments. Yet in the midst of the chaos outside and the rumors swirling within the kingdom, Ahaz received this word from the Lord. ‘Take care and be calm, have no fear and do not be fainthearted because of these… ” Isaiah 7:4

From the context of this crisis in the life of Ahaz and his kingdom, I want to share with you some things you won’t be hearing on the nightly news. What I share with you is not news. It simply outlines what God said to Ahaz as he faced his own personal and national crisis.

First, God Is Present in the Present Crisis.

In the face of all the rumors and rumblings, Isaiah the prophet gave Ahaz the perspective of heaven concerning current events. “Thus says the Lord God: “It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass.” Isaiah 7:7 God was in control of current events in the time of Ahaz. God is in control of current events in the present day. God is present in the present crisis, whether that be a crisis in politics or a the Covid crisis or some personal crisis that rages in and around your life.

In the middle of the crisis of that day, it was essential that Ahaz put his trust in God. There were dangers in his world and dangers to his kingdom. But it was important for Ahaz to shut his ears to the rumor mongers spreading concerns of what might happen, and instead to listen to his word from God.

How would Ahaz know that God was present? How would he know that there was nothing to fear? It was essential for Ahaz to walk by faith. The greatest danger facing him and his nation was failing to walk by faith. It was in failing to realize that God was present in the present crisis. The Lord said, “If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.” Isaiah 7:9

The second thing you will not hear on the nightly news is a further word that God gave to Isaiah concerning the fires of fear spreading across his kingdom.

For thus the Lord spoke to me with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people, saying, “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ In regard to all that this people call a conspiracy,and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. “It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread. “Then He shall become a sanctuary…” Isaiah 8:11-14a

Fear the Lord and Not the Future!

Listen to the nightly news, but keep your eyes on God. The government has never been your guard or your guide or your God. Trust the Lord. Don’t fear the future. Don’t fret about events over which you have no control. Trust God to guide the course of history as He has in the past. Remember His word to Ahaz during this time when his knees shook like the trees of the forest shake with the wind. 

There may be a crisis. But leave the crisis to God. Keep your eyes on Him and trust Him to control world events including the climate. We live in a universe filled with terrifying fury beyond our wildest imaginations. Yet the Bible says that God upholds all things by the word of His power. The planets and stars hold their place in keeping with His sovereignty. You can’t control the movements of planets and rouge space rocks that zoom through the universe. You trust God that the sun will rise tomorrow. In that same way, you must trust him in the midst of whatever dark cloud of crisis that shrouds the present day.

Fear the Lord and not the future. No one on the news will tell you that. It is their job to generate fear. That is the news. That brings them business. There are dangers in this world in which we live. But God is present in whatever present crisis we face and we must fear the Lord and not the future.

There is a third thing you won’t hear on the nightly news. The news only updates us on the progress of the crisis. We hear the statistics. We hear about the sick and the dead. We hear about the efforts of science to bring an end to the crisis. The resources of every nation are being levied against the storm of this present crisis. Here is that third word from God that you won’ t hear on the news. It is also a word that God sent to Ahaz.

Preserve the teaching of God; entrust His instructions to those who follow me. I will wait for the Lord, who has turned away from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my hope in Him. Isaiah 8:14-16

Instead of Seeking an End to the Crisis, Seek a Return of God’s Favor.

Implied, in these verses from Isaiah, is the fact that the crisis itself is God appointed, or at least God allowed, because people have turned away from Him. If you follow the news, you will hear a variety of reasons for the spread of Covid. This week, I heard a new one. The idea has been floated by some that the virus is a result of climate change. For all I know it might be. Or it could be that what we interpret as climate change is an expression of God’s own displeasure toward a world that has turned from Him.

In the time of Isaiah, Ahaz was told the shortest route to the solution for his personal and political crisis was a return to God and faith in God. God is present in the present crisis. The most important thing we can do is look for him and fear him and not the future. But no one on the nightly news is going to suggest that option as a possible solution to your crisis or any other crisis. 

In the Bible, God often allowed conditions to become extreme so that people would realize their need of Him. How many more people will have to die of Covid before national and world leaders will look for more than a vaccine and begin to look for God?

Of course, the wisdom of today tells us to follow the science.

If you have noticed, there are many branches to the tree of science lately. All of those branches seem to be going in different directions. I don’t want to suggest that scientists could in any way be biased or blinded by their own agenda or by the political leanings of one of the benefactors of their research.

In the time of Isaiah there were also branches of science. In fact, it was quite popular to seek out those wizards of science in that day who could predict the future. Some of Ahaz own political advisors suggested he follow the science. Consider God’s response in the verses that follow.

Someone may say to you, “Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.” But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead? Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark. They will go from one place to another, weary and hungry. And because they are hungry, they will rage and curse their king and their God. They will look up to heaven and down at the earth, but wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness. Isaiah 8:19-22 

Let me share one final bit of advice that you won’t hear on the nightly news.

Trust God’s Word and not the World’s Apparent Wisdom.

The nightly news will dissuade you from following God or His Word. Instead, you should follow science and the trends of popular culture. But popular culture walks in the deception of the world’s wisdom and not God’s.

There are well-meaning leaders of our own day who lean on human wisdom alone to know the future. But you have a word from God. You have an assurance from God. He is present in this present crisis. Look for Him. He is Sovereign over coming circumstances. Trust Him. Fear the Lord and not the future. Instead of merely seeking an end to the present crisis, seek a return of God’s favor. That may well be what brings an end to this present season of gloom and darkness. But you will hear none of this on the nightly news.

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

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