A Defender in Difficulty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How then can I access God’s strength?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Gustavo Fring@pexels.com

Comfort in Crisis

Some of you have lost loved ones over the course of the last year. It makes things very hard. It brings a loneliness and an emptiness that makes it even harder to pass through this particular time of difficulty.

I think all of us are experiencing a general gloom in this climate of uncertainty. And that is all it is. It is uncertainty. It is uncertainty no different than that we face every day. The present situation just brings our uncertainty to the surface. I told someone the other day I felt a little like Pig-Pen, the character off Charlie Brown, who walks around with the dust cloud hovering all around him. I feel like I have a cloud of gloom following me through these days of contagion and economic calamity. But just the other day, I read back through the 27th Psalm. I hope it will help you like it helped me. Let me walk you through it, giving you the outline I penciled for myself on a notepad.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1)

The Lord is My Light in My Darkness.

His presence alone can banish my gloom. That is not only true for me, it is true for all of us as we pass through this season of uncertainty. Remember, there is no uncertainty with God! He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

When I was a small boy, I came to know Jesus as my personal Savior. From that moment, many of the things that made me afraid, caused me fear no longer. The Lord was my light in whatever darkness that surrounded me. Still today, I have to remind myself of verses like these when darkness threatens to close in around me.  The Lord is my light in my darkness.

The Lord is the defense of my life; Whom shall I dread?   When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell.( Psalm 27:1b-2)

The Lord is My Defender in Difficulty

This present crisis is causing difficulty for many people. But that may not be your only difficulty. As a result, your situation might be compounded by what is happening in our world. For many of you, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. But here it is. Difficulty added to difficulty. 

Do you think God is surprised by what is happening? Did He know your situation before COVID-19? Does He know your deadlines and the despair they bring to your life? I am convinced that God knows everything about my life! I have experienced His defense and His deliverance in difficulty. The word, defense, or strength, as it is is written in some translations, means a place of safety. In other words, there is no safer place to be amid the COVID-19 outbreak than simply trusting God for His protection. That is true in the midst of any other problemThe Lord is my defender in difficulty. 

Though a host encamp against me,My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me,In spite of this I shall be confident.  (Psalm 27:3)

The Lord is my Confidence in Calamity. 

Some years ago, Jeremiah 29:11 became a precious verse to me. I want to assure you that verses become precious to you when you read them for yourself from the pages of Scripture and God speaks them to your heart. This one became so special to me that I had it affixed to my office door where I worked for almost twenty years.  For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not calamity to give you a future and a hope.That has always been God’s plans for His people. Yes, calamity does come. We face it from time to time. But in that calamity, the Lord remains our confidence.

David looked at his calamity and said: In spite of this I shall be confident.

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,To behold the beauty of the LordAnd to meditate in His temple. (Psalm 27:4)

As more and more time passes off the calendar of a person’s life, it becomes clear that we are very frail creatures. Our strength is so limited. But here, David reminds us: 

The Lord is My Focus in My Frailty.

I choose to keep my eyes on Him. When I see how Strong He is and how Glorious He is, it helps me not to focus so much on me and my weakness.

I realize that some of you are more afraid than others during this crisis. Try to keep your focus on the Lord and not on the news, and not on the slender thread of life itself. Life is fragile when we are at the zenith of our strength. Go back to that previous verse where David said: The Lord is the strength of my life. He has always been, and He will always be.

This is so because of this next verse:

For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;He will lift me up on a rock. Psalm 27:5

The Lord is My Shelter in the Storm. 

This is true because He is Lord of the Storm. In the New Testament Jesus proved to be able to calm the storm on the sea of Galilee and the storm in the hearts of His disciples. He got out of the boat that day and met a man filled with a legion of demons. He conquered the storm that raged in Him. He got back in the boat and crossed a calm sea to the other side, finding a man whose daughter was at the point of death. On his way to that man’s house, he was stopped by a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years and no one could help her. He healed her, calming the storm of sickness. In the meantime, the little girl died. But Jesus went to her room and raised her up, displaying his power over the storm of death. What, do you think He is not Lord over Covid-19 and whatever other storm might enter our lives? He is our Shelter in the Storm because He is Lord of every storm.

And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me,And I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy;I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. (Psalm 27:6)

What circumstances join Covid-19 in becoming the enemy of your life. David said: 

The Lord is My Praise in the Press of My Circumstances

I don’t fear any enemy because my Lord is greater than any enemy who can come against me. I love to tell the story of my friend Greg Hardin, a deacon at a previous church, who one day made a discovery about God that shaped my life from that day to this. It is something you also need to remember. Greg said: “Now I know that God is not God. Almost. He is God Almighty.” That is the God we serve. He is our praise in the press of our circumstances.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice,And be gracious to me and answer me.  When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You,Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.” (Psalm 27:7b-8)

Because the Lord is my light in my darkness, my defense in my difficulty, my confidence in calamity, my focus in frailty, my shelter in the storm, my praise in the press of my circumstances, 

The Lord Will Also Be My Passion in My Peril.

Now is the time to seek His face. If you have needs, seek God. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given unto you, seek and you will find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Ask the Lord, seek the Lord, and knock on the door of heaven. He should be your passion in your peril.

Some of you have lost loved ones over the course of the last year. It makes things very hard. It brings a loneliness and an emptiness that makes it even harder to pass through this particular time of difficulty. David even had something to say about that in this Psalm.

Do not hide Your face from me,Do not turn Your servant away in anger;You have been my help;Do not abandon me nor forsake me,O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me,But the Lord will take me up. (Psalm 27:9-10)

We lose people we love. But we do not lose the Lord. He will never leave us or forsake us. That is His promise. Therefore, David said, 

He Is My Lord in My Lonliness

The Lord will be present with you in your home tonight. Invite Him to sit at your table. As you drink your coffee, open your Bible. Talk to Him and let Him talk to you. He will be with you in trouble, now and always.

Finally, down in the last part of this psalm David said: 

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LordIn the land of the living.Wait for the Lord;Be strong and let your heart take courage;Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:13-14)

In other words, there were times when he would have just given up had it not been for the knowledge of God’s Presence and love. Therefore, I want to leave you with one final point that David makes about God. In doing so, I use a word that has become very special to me over the course of the last couple of months: It is the word HOPE.

The Lord Is My Hope in My Hopelessness.

The Bible says that those who put their hope in the Lord will never be disappointed. Waiting on the Lord is an expression of Hope. Because of the Lord, we should never be hopeless. Even if we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with us. He is with you right now in the midst of this present crisis. Who does David say the Lord is to Him through the words of this Psalm?

The Lord is my light in my darkness, my defense in my difficulty, my confidence in calamity, my focus in frailty, my shelter in the storm, my praise in the press of my circumstances, my passion in my peril, my Lord in my loneliness, and my hope in my hopelessness. He is not God Almost. He is God Almighty! I will trust and not be afraid!

Photo by Brian McGowan

The Vaccine for Fear

In the face of this present crisis, you may be thinking, “My resources are not enough.” Looking at your health situation, you tremble, worried that your strength is not sufficient to withstand such an illness. You are not sure if you will be able to cope with the trials the crisis brings.

The world is looking for a vaccine for the coronavirus. Until one is found, nations, economies, and the lives of individuals, grind to a halt. While there is not at present a cure or a vaccine for the coronavirus, there is a vaccine for the fear that spreads in its wake. Even if you are not in one of those “at risk” groups, you suffer fear related to the economy or some other calamity waiting in the wings.

Fear usually results more from what we don’t know than what we do know. Fear can freeze your faith. It can stop you dead in your tracks, hindering your obedience. It can keep you awake at night as you toss and turn, imagining the worst. Fear can cast the shadow of gloom over your life.Is there an answer—a solution to fear. Is there a medicine that you can take that will soothe your troubled mind? 

The answer to fear is not in a pill or a potion but in a Presence.

Allow me to introduce you to a single verse from the book of Isaiah. Personally, I don’t believe it is accidental or incidental when we encounter a word from the Lord. For that reason, I hope you will be alert to what God might be saying to you. In this single verse, you will discover God’s Promise, His Peace, His Power and His Presence.

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

In this present crisis, we need to look for God. We need to seek Him. Our one great longing should be to be in His presence. He is the answer to this present crisis that exists in our world as well as the crisis bells that ring inside our hearts. I believe being in God’s presence is the safest place that I can be, the richest place that I can be, as well as the happiest place that I can be. If I am with Him, I have all I need. Our greatest need is Him. We need His presence. 

In this verse, we have the Promise of His Presence.

Do not fear, for I am with you… Isn’t it strange how the presence of another person in the house at night diminishes fear? Alone, we imagine any creak of the house or rumble of the refrigerator as an intruder. But with someone in the house with us, those sounds don’t seem to bother us or unsettle us. The awareness of God’s Presence brings an end to fear. 

But have you ever wondered: “Is God really with me?  Does He care?  Does He know what I face?” God promises never to leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5) By faith, we accept the simple promise of God’s Presence, and in so doing we find great comfort.

Is that not what the Lord says to you as you look down the road that you travel?  “I am with you. I will go with you.” When Moses responded in fear at the assignment that God gave him, God assured by saying, “My Presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

But this is not just an Old Testament promise. In Matthew 28:20 it is recorded as the last promise of Jesus to His disciples: “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

His Presence Brings Peace

In Isaiah 41:10 God whispers: Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. God knows the road ahead of you. Any journey you take at His command, will be a journey overshadowed by His Presence. Any step you take in Obedience to Him, will only serve to bring you nearer His Presence and deeper into His Peace and Rest. 

Our troubled minds grope for peace, finding only misery until they rest in Him. Claim the promise of His Presence, and you will know His Peace. The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds. He will surround you with His peace.

David, who himself knew what it was to experience His comforting presence wrote, “He will cover you with His pinions and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark. (Psalm 91:4)

We have the promise of His Presence. The awareness of His Presence brings a sense of peace.

Third, When You Have His Presence You Also Have His Power.

In the face of this present crisis, you may be thinking, “My resources are not enough.” Looking at your health situation, you tremble, worried that your strength is not sufficient to withstand such an illness. You are not sure if you will be able to cope with the trials the crisis brings. Is God able? Is this God of the Bible able to see you through the darkest night or carry you through the deepest valley?What is it that God offers you in the face of your fears and in the face of your need? He offers you Himself!

I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Whose hand is it that promises your deliverance? Who will cover you with His pinions, and whose very Presence is a shield and a bulwark? It is God Himself! When God is with you, you have access to His Power. You have the assurance of His Peace, and you have the great Promise of His Presence.

What is the vaccine for fear? It is God Himself.

Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.  (Isaiah 41:10)

When God says “fear not” He always gives a reason to back up why we shouldn’t be afraid? “Don’t be afraid because I am with you!” Is that the assurance God is giving you? 

You are worried to the point of exhaustion. The news changes faster than you can change the channels to watch it. What is going to happen? What will we do? Those are all hand wringing, gut wrenching questions. You’ve worn holes in your sheets as you toss back and forth trying to figure out how.  But the answer will not be found in asking how but in asking WHO. Amidst your alarm, God whispers, “Do not look anxiously about you, for I am your God.” God promises supernatural activity in your behalf. “I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

For those who are a little older or whose health situation makes them a higher risk as we pass through the eye of this storm, I offer this extra word of comfort from the book of Isaiah. I cling to this verse personally. 

“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb;Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you!” (Isaiah 46:3-4)

The vaccine for fear is God Himself. You may access this vaccine by faith, asking God to help you, to hold you, and to carry you. I am praying that you will trust God’s Promise, experience His Presence, and discover His Peace.

Photo by Piron Guillaume

Waiting for Jesus

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

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

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

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

 Waiting Involves a Degree of Anticipation.

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

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

Waiting for Some, Involves a Sense of Desperation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting That Ends in Disappointment Results in Devastation.

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

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

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

An Affirmation of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Simeon Jacobson

Is He Still the God Who Sees?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Alexander Mils