A Highway in the Wilderness

Wandering in the strength of our own wisdom, we soon discover ourselves to be lost in a complex maze of our own decisions made without God’s leadership. Overwhelmed by the exhaustion of wilderness living, we lose heart and sink in despair. Do you know that feeling? Is there a word from God to those of us worn out by the wilderness of life?

The wilderness was a spiritual marker in the life of the children of Israel. The wilderness was a waterless, barren, exhausting place. From their perspective, the wilderness was an insurmountable obstacle.  It was the epitome of difficulty and danger, and it stood between them and their destiny.  Yet, in that place of testing, they learned much about themselves and about God.

Everybody has a wilderness that seems full of dangers and discouragements. Maybe you are walking through a wilderness time in your life.   It might be a time of fear and uncertainty. It might be a time of doubt and discouragement.  When you are in the wilderness, you find it to be a place where you have more questions than answers. How are you going to get from where you are to where God wants you to be?  

Does God have a plan? Does He have a plan in spite of your failures? Does He have a plan in spite of your disobedience? Does He have a plan to bring you to where He wants you to be, in spite of years of being out of His will? When I ponder my own journey of following God, I see that my life is also marked by seasons in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of wandering and searching for God’s will.  At times, I felt bewildered by the wilderness. With no guiding cloud and no pillar of fire, I was unsure whether or not I could find my way out.

Is there any encouragement from God for those of us who feel lost in the maze of some wilderness of life? There is! Please allow me to share some encouragement from Isaiah 35. It addresses God’s response to the needs of HIs people when they are overwhelmed by some wilderness of life. In those moments, God acts to make a way for His people.

When God Makes a Way in the Wilderness of Your Circumstances, It Is a Highway of Holiness.

A highway will be there, a roadway, and it will be called the Highway of Holiness.  The unclean will not travel on it, but it will be for him who walks that way, and fools will not wander on it. Isaiah 35:8

It leads only in one direction.  It leads to Him. That is God’s design in the wilderness. His purpose in the wilderness was to bring them to Himself. See Exodus 19:4 …I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.   That is also God’s design for you. In the process, He may allow you to be hungry. He may allow you to be thirsty. He may allow you to wander. But in those days of deprivation in the wilderness, you will learn to be dependent upon Him.

God’s Highway in the Wilderness is a Highway of Holiness because the One who made it is Himself Holy.  The Highway of Holiness is a way we can follow only with the clear vision imparted by a clean and holy life.  The unclean will not travel on it.  If you choose the way of sin, it will always lead deeper into the wilderness. The wilderness is the haunt of jackals.  The hounds of hell are there.  All you will see are mirages that promise happiness. If you move in that direction, you will find them to be nothing but a false oasis.  God’s Highway in the wilderness is the Highway of Holiness. Without Holiness no one will see the Lord. We will wander directionless in this life, and risk missing the glories of heaven.  Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification (holiness) without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14

In the mid 1990’s, my life was deeply impacted by the study Experiencing God. One paragraph from that study changed the way I viewed my life journey from that day forward.

When you get to the place where you trust Jesus to guide you one step at a time you experience a new freedom.  If you don’t trust Jesus to guide you this way, what happens if you don’t know the way you are to go?  You worry every time you must make a turn.  You often freeze up and can’t make a decision.  This is not the way that God intends for  you to live your life.   Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God

Jesus is the Highway in the wilderness of life.  Not only is He the way to God, but only by following Him can we make it safely through the wilderness of life.  He has promised that if we follow Him, we will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.

It is a Highway of Refreshment Amidst the Rigors of Wilderness Living.

Do you remember how simple life was when you were a child?  It seemed you had no stress and no worries. Then, one day, all that changes. Life can quickly become a grueling desert. The daily routine can become a mind wearing rat race.  The myriad difficulties that beset us from day to day, sap the vitality and enthusiasm from the best of us. 

Wandering in the strength of our own wisdom, we soon discover ourselves to be lost in a complex maze of our own decisions made without God’s leadership.  Overwhelmed by the exhaustion of wilderness living, we lose heart and sink in despair. Do you know that feeling?  Is there a word from God to those of us worn out by the wilderness of life?

Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you.”  Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.  Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.  For the waters will break forth in the wilderness and streams in the Arabah. The scorched land will become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, its resting place, grass becomes reeds and rushes.   Isaiah 35:3-7

Do you think God can do that where you are? Can He rescue you from your circumstances? Can He turn your wilderness into the refreshing oasis of His presence? How is that possible? When will it happen? It happens when the wilderness has accomplished its purpose in your life, by bringing you to an awareness of your own weakness and your great need for God.

He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength;  They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  Isaiah 40:29-31

Jesus said  “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. Matthew 11: 28-29  

The Highway in the Wilderness is meant to lead you to the refreshment of the Lord’s own Presence.

The Highway in the Wilderness is a Place of Protection From Wilderness Dangers.

Notice the promise God makes for those who travel this Highway of Holiness in the wilderness. Although the wilderness is described in verse 7 as a haunt of jackals, along the highway of holiness, No lion will be there, nor will any vicious beast go up on it; these will not be found there.   Isaiah 35:9

Our enemy the devil roams the wilderness like a roaring lion seeking whom he might devour.  His demons, like jackals, haunt every avenue of life seeking to lure us into one of his traps and deeper into the despair of the wilderness. 

The King Himself has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He has promised us that the angel of His presence will encamp around us.    See Psalm 91:1-12

I know what it is like to experience long periods in the wilderness.  All of us have to travel through some wilderness to get to the place God wants us to be. Some of us will even have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death.  But we need fear no evil.  For on this highway in the wilderness, we are promised protection from wilderness dangers. 

Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not”.  Isaiah 35:4 The Lord is sovereign over your wilderness journey. You are not lost to His presence. He knows where you are and how to get you to where He wants you to be.

That Highway is a Place Where You Can Receive Heavenly Joy in the Midst of Wilderness Sorrows.  

But the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return and come with joyful shouting to Zion, with everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.       Isaiah 35:9-10

There is sorrow in the wilderness of life.  I have experienced some of it and so have you.  All of us have left fragments of hopes and dreams lying shattered in the dusty sands of some wilderness. If we live long enough, our faces bear lines etched by wilderness sorrows. Nevertheless, the wilderness has a purpose. Its design is to bring us into our Lord’s presence. In the wilderness, there is a Highway that leads to His feet. The wilderness experience of the children of Israel lasted forty years. How long will your season of wilderness-living last? I don’t know. But I know this, in your wilderness, there is a highway that leads to His presence. There you will find gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. 

There is a sense in which this points to our rendezvous with Him in heaven. But there is another sense in which heavenly joy can be ours when we experience His deliverance from difficulty or the comfort of His presence in sorrow. 

I am assuming one or more of you languishes in some wilderness? Hear your personal word from the Lord. Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble.  Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold your God will come…

Photo by Francesco Ungaro

God’s Shaping Hand

God is the very reason behind your existence. You are where you are by His doing. Your life is not chance or random. You exist for reasons known only to God. God’s purpose governs your life.

My heart began moving in the direction of these verses just yesterday. As is often the case, a pastor’s heart is moved by his own circumstances, his own spiritual condition, his contact with others, and most importantly of all, the sovereign work of God’s shaping hand. 

The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord saying, “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.Jeremiah 18:1-10

Yesterday, I re-read an email I sent to a friend almost a decade ago. I saved that email because of the spiritual connection we have with one another. For a number of years, he was the iron that sharpened the iron in my life, and I think I was the same to him.

We often carried on discussions contemplating Lazarus as a picture of man in his many stages spiritually. My friend is an artist. He paints, and he also does sculpture. He has gifted hands and a gifted heart. 

I tell you that to set the stage for the email I am about to share which I sent to him yesterday. I sent it, in response to a nudging from God, that I can’t explain. I just sensed we both needed it. And after pondering it through the night and into today, I sense that you may as well.

“It seems to me someone should image the before and after of a man in the three states Lazarus was in. First, he was dead and putrid. Next, he was alive and bound. Ultimately, he was loosed to rejoice in the work Jesus accomplished in his life. As I ponder my own present state spiritually, I come to the realization that Lazarus was never in a position to help himself. He was not when he was sick. He was not when he was dead. He was not when he was bound. Only via the Lord’s word and work could anything happen in the life of Lazarus. You are a gifted man. You can imagine what the clay can become. Can the clay imagine itself? Can it shape itself? Can it willto be different than it is? No! But the Creator, by the work of His hand and the passion of His heart, can take something so ordinary as clay and shape it into whatever He wants it to be.”

“Shortly after we got married, we picked up a little wooden statue of a half carved man with a little sticker on the front. His head is the only thing that made him something other than a block of wood. The sticker said, “Be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” God was not finished with Lazarus when he was sick. He was not finished with him when he was dead in the tomb. He was not finished with him when he was alive but bound. He is not finished with me. He is not finished with you. Chafe under his shaping hand as we might, He who began a good work in you will continue to perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. Get ready for the chisel!”

When he responds, I will know if God met him in that moment. If not, perhaps He will meet you in the rest of what we will say about God’s role in shaping each of our lives. 

First, your life is a work in progress. 

God is making something, just as the potter was making something on the wheel before the eyes of Jeremiah. He has a purpose and a plan. Jesus said “My Father is always at His work to this very day and I too am working.” John 5:17 This is true in regard to your life. God is at work in your life. You may not see it. You may not believe it. You may have no recognizable sense of what He is doing. But God is working. He is making something. 

Second, like the clay in the hand of the potter, the Fingerprints of God are all over your life

But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8

This is true first in regard to His work as Creator. 

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place. Acts 17:26

God is the very reason behind your existence. You are where you are by His doing. Your life is not chance or random. You exist for reasons known only to God. God’s purpose governs your life.

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will? On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? Romans 9:19-21

The potter knows his clay. He knows whether this lump or that lump will respond to His shaping purpose. I always tremble before such a passage, as I consider whether or not I am allowing my life to be shaped according to the Potter’s purpose. God showed Jeremiah the responsibility of His people to remain pliable in the hand of the Potter until He accomplished His will.

God is making something. He is at work in and around your life. The fingerprints of God are all over your life. 

Third, He is shaping you with a purpose in mind. 

What would the fingerprints of God look like in a person’s life??   Your circumstances, your life experiences both good and bad, have all been tools of God in shaping you. If some of those have seemed especially severe, perhaps it is because God has been trying to get your attention. Perhaps you have been resistant to what God wants to do in your life. 

Fourth, as the Bible paints a picture of GOD as Potter, it reveals the incredible patience God has with His people through this shaping process. 

In Romans, Paul said He endured with much patience vessels of wrath. What does that mean? Could it mean what we see in Jeremiah 18, that the clay was often spoiled in the hand of the potter? Each time, God sought to remake it into a vessel He could use. How many times has God started over with you?? How many times has He given you another opportunity?

Here we discover two principles concerning God’s shaping purpose for each of our lives. 

God expects there to be challenges in working with my life. He has a design in mind. If I am resistant to one plan or one purpose, he will shape me for another, with the ultimate goal of my life becoming a trophy of His grace. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship…See Ephesians 2:8-10a

The word workmanship is that word from which we get our English word ‘poem’. It means something made.

David acknowledged this in Psalm 139: For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well. Psalm 139:13-14

God made you. Not only so, He is making you. In His Sovereign purpose, even if your life has been spoiled in the hand of the Potter, He will remake you into a vessel of His choosing and for His glory. God was intimate with you before your birth. His fingerprints are all over your life. He desires that you allow His shaping purpose to continue.

Finally, it is important for you to remember that if you continue in your resistance, God will make you a castaway. 

Marred pottery went to the pottery junkyard. Marred souls have their own place in the judgment of God. Later, God told Jeremiah to purchase a finished jar from the potter. He was to take the people outside the city to the place for cast away pottery. 

“Then you are to break the jar in the sight of the men who accompany you and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Just so will I break this people and this city, even as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot again be repaired; and they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place for burial. Jeremiah 19:10-11

It is important that I understand the potter’s ultimate authority over the clay. If I fail to submit to God’s purpose, then I will be subject to God’s judgment. As I wrote to my artist friend, I reminded him, and God reminded me, that He is Sovereign over my life, just as the potter is sovereign over the clay.

Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Isaiah 45:9

As you survey your own personal circumstances, you might question God’s wisdom or skill in making you. You might say, “As a Potter, You have no hands.” Does your personal frustration arise because you have resisted the shaping hand of the potter? Or could it be that you have failed to see God’s incredible patience with you as He shapes and re-shapes your life. 

On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?  Romans 9:20-21

 My responsibility is to surrender to the hand of the Potter as He molds me into the vessel of His choosing. Yes, It seems to me someone should image the before and after of a man in the three states Lazarus was in. First, he was dead and putrid. Next, he was alive and bound. Ultimately, he was loosed to rejoice in the work Jesus accomplished in his life. As I ponder my own present state spiritually, I come to the realization that Lazarus was never in a position to help himself. He was not when he was sick. He was not when he was dead. He was not when he was bound. Only via the Lord’s word and work could anything happen in the life of Lazarus. Even ungifted people can imagine what the clay can become. Can the clay imagine itself? Can it shape itself? Can it willto be different than it is? No! But the Creator, by the work of His hand and the passion of His heart, can take something so ordinary as clay and shape it into whatever He wants it to be. Is it time to make a new surrender to God’s shaping hand?

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi

Waiting for Jesus

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

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

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

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

 Waiting Involves a Degree of Anticipation.

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

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

Waiting for Some, Involves a Sense of Desperation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting That Ends in Disappointment Results in Devastation.

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

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

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

An Affirmation of Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Simeon Jacobson

Seasons of Discouragment

Depression is a serious illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem, although it can result from spiritual problems or any kind of discouragement.  Depression is not a sin.  It is a disease and there is a way out. 

The days are getting cooler and shorter. Some people love it. Some people dread it, and they do for good reason. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. The drop in the amount of sunlight causes mood changes. For some, it brings the onset of depression that may not go away without treatment. I don’t like the change in seasons. Some years ago, I began to notice that I got depressed in the fall. I know why it happens now, and I can handle it better. I look forward to the winter solstice when the days start getting longer. I dread the summer solstice when the days start getting shorter. That’s just the way I am made.

Discouragement is not always connected to the season of the year. Sometimes discouragement is connected to the seasons of life. We all begin life with a great deal of optimism. We have dreams and plans. Those can be shattered by some season of disappointment.

Disappointments can bring discouragement.

The writer of Proverbs once said: Hope deferred makes the heart sick. We all face disappointment. Our plans fail. Dreams fail to materialize, causing us to face the fact that they never will. Our hopes crumble in disappointment, leaving us heartsick and forlorn. Unfortunately, that is life. People let us down. Circumstances don’t always work out. Yet, the Bible tells us that those who believe in Jesus will never be disappointed.

What does that mean? Is it true? Life is full of disappointments. The key to battling discouragement in the wake of those moments is to keep your hope in Christ.

The Life Path you travel can bring discouragement.

Have there been events along the way of your life that brought discouragement to you.

Did discouragement invade your life when you lost your spouse? Did discouragement descend like a cloud after you lost a child? Did discouragement sap your vitality after you or someone you loved was diagnosed with a serious illness? Did discouragement embitter your life after you went through a divorce? Each of us encounter circumstances across life’s journey that can leave us deeply depressed.

The Bible tells about the journey of God’s people through the wilderness. One sentence summed up the collective feeling of the entire body. The soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. Numbers 21:4 The path they travelled led them into a season of discouragement.

In the January of 1990, our thirteen-year-old daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes. One day our lives were normal. The next we were sitting in a hospital being told our daughter could never go barefooted again because a foot infection could cause her to lose a leg. We were told that in in the years to come she would have complications that could claim her vision, her kidneys, her legs or her life.  From that day forward, she would take three shots a day to just to stay alive. When I walked out of that hospital, the whole world had turned grey.  There were no colors.  Life lost its luster.  I cried every night for weeks and on and off for the next years, until a kind doctor invited us to his home and lovingly told me I was wasting her days with my grief. He told me that I should take each day as it came and not ruin today with tomorrows trouble.  Only then did my perspective change, and some of the gloom departed.  But neither my life nor my daughter’s will ever be the same as it was before January of 1990.

What event changed your life? What caused a tidal wave of despair  to come crashing into your life? Sometimes I have to be reminded that my Lord will take care of tomorrow.  My tomorrows, although beyond my control, are all under His Sovereignty. Trusting Jesus from day to day will help you in your personal season of discouragement. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:34

There are times when the source of discouragement is our own separation from God.

I tell you these things by experience. I know what it is to know God’s peace. I also know what it is to be absolutely miserable because I am out of step with God. God warns us what will happen to our peace of heart when we walk distant from Him. See if the following words describe the present state of your heart. “…there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of the eyes, and despair of soul.  So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you shall be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.  In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you shall see.  Deuteronomy 28:65-67

Some of the most dismal moments I have ever experienced were during days when I was walking distant from God. Is that why you are discouraged? Is it because you have strayed from your Lord, and He has turned His face away?  There is no pill that will chase away that kind of discouragement. The only way to cure it is to come home to the Lord.

Discouragement can come when we get life out of focus.

Elijah was a mighty man of God, but a moment came when he walked out into the wilderness, lay down under a tree and prayed that he might die. Why was Elijah discouraged?  It was because Elijah had his eyes on his enemies—on his problems—and not on the Lord.

Looking to the Lord does not always make your problems go away.  However, as we keep our eyes on Him, He will give us strength to take another step forward. During days of discouragement, don’t ask to mount up with wings as eagles or to run and not be weary. Pray that God will just help you walk and not faint!

Sometimes, discouragement seems not to have a reason or a season. There are days when you know you shouldn’t be discouraged– but you are!  You know God is on your side and you shouldn’t be discouraged—but you are! You know God can help and you shouldn’t be discouraged—but you are!

Such was the situation in David’s life when he wrote Psalm 42: For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God, With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Psalm 42:4-5

David knew how he ought to feel—but he just couldn’t seem to get out from under the cloud of discouragement that had cast a shadow across his soul.

 What do you do when your discouragement won’t go away?

 It is estimated that one in ten people in the United States suffers from some form of depression. I don’t know what the statistics might be where you live. I am told that the number of people diagnosed with depression increases by 20% every year.  Discouragement can push a person over the edge into depression.   Depression is not a sin—it is a treatable illness that needs medical attention.

Rachel was one of the most godly women I have ever known.  She was the best Sunday School Teacher we had at our church.  Her husband was the author of God, If You’re Real, Let The Cow Be In The Pen When I Get Home.  She was the subject of many of his stories, and she worked tirelessly to help him market that book along with his second, Divine Appointments in the Master’s Vineyard.

Disappointment crushed her when her husband was stricken with cancer and died.  Not many months later, she lost her mother.  Rachel’s vibrant faith was rattled.  The couple lived about six miles out of town in a wooded area.  The nearest neighbor was almost a mile away.  Rachel was afraid to be alone.

Her growing discouragement gave way to depression.  She quit teaching her Sunday School Class.  This neatly dressed lady began to look unkempt.   All of these changes took place within a year of her husband’s death.  The weekend before the anniversary of her husband’s death, Rachel called her son and daughter and asked them to come home.  She prepared a meal in advance of  their arrival.  Shortly before the time they were to be home, she called a neighbor to come over to house.  She hung up the phone, took a gun, went out in her back yard to a place her neighbor would be sure to find her, and took her life.”

One year to the day after she buried her husband who died of cancer, Rachel died of depression.  Depression is a serious illness. It isn’t a spiritual problem, although it can result from spiritual problems or any kind of discouragement.  Depression is not a sin.  It is a disease and there is a way out.

In July of 2011 a dear pastor’s wife took her life. Depression is no respecter or persons or positions. It strikes the young and old. After suffering from more than one severe bout of depression, and nearing her 80th birthday, it overwhelmed her. Her husband was a godly pastor, and a strong leader. He weathered the storm outwardly, but after nearly a year of struggling with repressed guilt and the discouragement he suffered from losing his wife, depression pushed him to end his life. What did these godly people lose sight of that sent them over the edge? Maybe they forgot the one thing that kept David from falling completely apart.

 David believed that God was aware of his discouragement. 

How deep can discouragement go?  You know how deep! It can go deeper than bone and cut to the very depth of a person’s soul!  David’s did.  Maybe yours does too.  David’s hope was that God knew.  Does He know how you feel?  Yes!

If you are discouraged or depressed, it is important for you to understand that God knows.  He cares. He will act in response to your prayers. But as you pray, make sure and talk to somebody you trust. Tell them how you feel.  Ask for their prayers.  Keep your hope in God, and if discouragement comes and stays in spite of your faith and in spite of your efforts to shake it, it may be more than discouragement, it may be depression.  Remember, depression is not a sin.  It is a disease just like high blood pressure or diabetes or cancer. People die of those diseases if they don’t get medical treatment.   When discouragement pushes you over the edge into depression, you need to do more than just talk to your pastor, you need to talk to your doctor! Remember, this is a season. Hope is on the horizon. Help is on the way.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me.  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God. Psalm 42:11

Photo by rawpixel

 

Soul-Troubling Sorrow

I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside.

Following Christ does not insulate you from trouble. In fact, trouble comes to all believers. When troubles come, they vary in intensity. Trouble can impact us financially, it can impact us physically, and it can also impact us spiritually. Life brings seasons of soul-troubling sorrow. I have faced those seasons in my own life. I have a daughter who is a severe diabetic and wears an insulin pump twenty-four hours a day. I have another daughter who has epilepsy and suffers from dozens of seizures daily. On one hand, you might consider those their problems and not my own. However, if you are a parent, and your children have medical issues, you know the questions, the concerns, the helplessness, as well as the sense of hopelessness it brings. When I speak of soul-troubling sorrow, I speak from personal experience.

In one of my seasons of soul-troubling sorrow, my heart was touched by the story of a woman who lived in the days of the prophet Elisha. He was a man whose character separated him from the ordinary men of his day.  His life was marked by the miraculous. In the Old Testament, the presence of a prophet brought a person a special connection with God. Therefore, a person seeking God, or direction from God, would seek God’s prophet.

In the little town of Shunem, lived a precious couple who opened their home to Elisha. He passed their home often while on assignment for God. The woman of the house had a strong sense of spiritual discernment. Whenever Elisha passed that way, she always provided him a meal. She realized there was something special about Elisha. So, as an act of kindness, they added a little upper room to their house as a resting place for Elisha from his journeys. In that room, they placed a bed, a table, and a lampstand.  Whenever he came, the woman of the home prepared him food. By opening their home to Elisha, they opened their home to the blessing of God.

For her service to God through ministering to God’s prophet, she became a recipient of a very special promise from God.  2 Kings 4:11-17 tell us of that promise and its fulfillment.

 11One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. 12Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13He said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?’” And she answered, “I live among my own people.” 14So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son and her husband is old.” 15He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.”  17The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.  2 Kings 8:11-17 (NASB)

 God rewards faithfulness, and He rewarded this faithful woman with the blessing of a son.  Across the years, Elisha came to know and love this family, as well as the child God brought into their home.

As time passed, the child grew from a babe to a young boy.  Then came a tragic day when a season of soul-troubling sorrow came into the life of this mother.  In her response to that sorrow, I find some principles that help me grapple with seasons of soul-troubling sorrow in my own life.

18When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died.  2 Kings 4:18-20 (NASB)

In those three short verses, we learn of the sorrow that crushed the heart of this dear servant of God.  In those days, the only medicine a sick child often received was the love of a mother.  When a child is very sick, you can sometimes feel the fever rise as you hold it in your arms. I can imagine her feelings of helplessness as she rocked back and forth with this boy in her arms, sensing, as only mothers can do, that his life was about to slip away.

Down through the years, I watched godly men and women as they struggled through their own seasons of sorrow.  In that moment when circumstances are beyond your control, and when the solution is out of your reach, the character of a person’s faith is revealed.   Observe how this dear, broken-hearted mother grappled with her sorrow.

21She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out.  2 Kings 4:21 (NASB)

What was it about the bed of Elisha that made this mother choose that spot rather than the bed of the child or that of her own?  It is likely that this woman spent many nights in her own bed, listening to Elisha, as he made his bedside an altar where he called on the Lord.  She claimed that bed in the prophet’s chamber as an altar of her own, and she laid the body of her son before the Lord. Thus we discover our first principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

Lay that trouble before the Lord.

 She laid her son on the bed of Elisha, and she shut the door behind her.  She was not closing her eyes to the trouble that invaded her life.  She was committing it to the care of the ONLY ONE she knew who could help in her hour of need.

This was the first thing she did.  Before she made steps to do anything else, or made requests of anyone else, she laid the body of her son on the bed of the prophet and shut the door. She laid her trouble before the Lord and committed her broken heart, as well as the body of her boy, into His care.

Unless you have faced the heart-throbbing crush of some tremendous crisis, you can’t fully enter into the next verses.  They reveal an urgency, concealed by a composure, designed to protect others in that home whose faith might not be as strong as her own.

22Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” 23He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.”  2 Kings 4:22-23 (NASB)

She approached her husband and requested a servant and a donkey that would provide her the opportunity to run to the man of God and return. Apparently, she never shared with him that their son was dead.  And so, when he quizzed her about why she needed to go without the presence of some special occasion, she soothed his concern with “It will be well”.

Those words reflected a deep faith in her own heart, as well as a desire to protect the heart of her husband from the distress that raged within her.  It is from those words, that I draw a second principle on dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:  First, you lay it before the Lord. Second:

Wrap That Trouble in a Cocoon of Faith and Hide it from the World.

 I have learned this from some great saints of God who were passing through periods of intense sorrow.  I have seen them wrap their sorrow in a cocoon of faith, so that if you met them on the street or if you stood beside them as they faced their tragedy or their trouble, you would never know the pain in their heart.  They become to all around them what this woman was to her husband. The influence of her faith was a calming influence, even though a storm was raging in her heart. She said to her husband. Everything is all right.  It will be well.

I have a dear friend who is a pastor. On one occasion, a grandbaby died. The little couple was crushed, as were the grandparents. I watched my pastor friend preach the funeral of that little baby. He consoled his family and the community, even as his own heart was breaking. I have a vivid memory of walking with the family into the cemetery. The tiny coffin that contained the body of the baby was cradled in the arms of that grandfather and carried to the graveside. He also shared words of comfort for the rest of us that day. He was telling us that all would be well

As this dear mother spoke those words, it was as if she was reminding herself, as well as those around her, that in the midst of her sorrow and heartache, God was in complete control. She laid her trouble before the Lord and left it in His care.

24Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel.  2 Kings 4:24-25 (NASB)

She left the presence of her husband, in whose presence she was been calm and collected, and entered the presence of the servant with an intensity that exemplified the urgency in her heart.  There was no time to waste!  Every ounce of energy must be given to get to the man of God!  When she found him, she would be in the presence of one who could represent her before the Lord.  In her moment of soul-troubling sorrow, she sought the Lord.

This leads me to the third principle of dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap it in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third:

 Seek God With Great Earnestness and Urgency.

 Her faith was reflected in the presence of men with a calm and collected confidence. But the faith of her feet was reflected by the great earnestness and urgency with which she sought the Lord.

 When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26“Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.”  2 Kings 4:25b-26 (NASB)

 Once again, attempting to hold her composure against the great burden that weighed heavy on her heart, she approached the prophet.  She repeated the words she had spoken earlier to her husband. This was not a lie because she laid her trouble before the Lord. She placed her child on that bed that where Elisha had prayed and wept before the Lord.  Now, her own tears had been poured out upon that altar, and the love of that mother’s heart lay there in the keeping of the Lord. Her spirit was willing to keep all that grief contained within the cocoon of faith, but when she saw Elisha she could contain herself no longer, and she fell at his feet.

 27When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”  2 Kings 4:27-28 (NASB)

 This leads us to our fourth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow: First, lay that trouble before the Lord. Second, wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Third, seek the Lord with great earnestness and urgency. Fourth:

Cling in Faith to the Feet of your Savior.

 By coming to Elisha she was coming to God. By clinging to the feet of Elisha, she was throwing her arms around the feet of her Savior.  All her hopes were in God.  She knew that her only help was in God. She didn’t need to go all over town spreading her sorrow from place to place and person to person.   There was only One who could help.  There was only One who could bear the deep sorrow of her soul! By coming to Elisha, she was coming to gain the help of God!

Sensing what happened, Elisha dispatched Gehazai with his own staff in his hand.

29Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” 30The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her.  2 Kings 4:29-30 (NASB)

 Gehazi is not who she came for! She didn’t want the help of Elisha’s servant.  She wanted Elisha!  This leads us to our fifth principle for dealing with soul-troubling sorrow:

 Settle for no Substitutes.

 In the Old Testament, you turned to God’s Servant the prophet to turn to God.  Gehazi was the servant of God’s servant.  He was not God’s representative.  The woman needed God, not a substitute! In sorrow, you need more than a minister. You need Christ Himself!  Lay your trouble before Him.  Wrap your trouble in a cocoon of faith and shield it from the world.  Seek the face of your Lord with great earnestness and urgency.  Cling in faith to the feet of the ONE who alone is a very present help in time of trouble.   Like Jacob of old, cling to Him, and don’t let Him go until you find the blessing you need.

 31Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.”  2 Kings 4:31 (NASB)

 Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff which was the symbol of his own authority.  Gehazi was going in the name of Elisha, but Gehazi’s  going produced no results.  This was not Gehazi’s assignment.  It belonged to Elisha.  Some assignments are yours alone.  You can’t be represented by another.  God has a mission for you.

32When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.  2 Kings 4:32-35 (NASB)

This was an assignment that couldn’t be completed by sending a representative.  Elisha had to go!  Elisha had to shut the door!  Elisha had to pray!  Elisha had to touch the dead boy’s body!  Elisha had to enter into the woman’s grief! And there beside that bed, where he often prayed for God to do the miraculous, Elisha asked God to do what only He could do!

The lad was dead! The little boy, who made that home all the more delightful to Elisha, was dead!  Could Elisha raise the dead?  No! But as he prayed, he tried every method that he knew.  Elisha’s efforts represent his own earnestness to help this boy by whatever method he could, even if it meant somehow imparting life to him from his own body. Elisha’s efforts and his patience point to the persistence of his own faith in seeking God to do what was beyond the reach of any man.

The story has a wonderfully happy ending.

36He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.  2 Kings 4:36-37 (NASB)

Here is a woman who laid her trouble before the Lord, wrapped it in the cocoon of her faith, sought her Lord with great earnestness and urgency, who clung with faith to the feet of her Savior, neither seeking nor accepting any substitute.  She found her Lord to be able and faithful.  We learn from her one final principle of handling soul-troubling sorrow:

Regardless of the Outcome Find an Occasion For Worship.

Once again, she fell at Elisha’s feet. It was an expression of her deep gratitude to God for what He had done. All of life’s sorrows don’t have fairy tale endings. Our fortunes are not always restored. The sick are not always healed. Sorrow is not always turned to joy. But whatever the outcome, saints of God down through the ages have been able to find an occasion to honor and worship God in the midst of their deepest sorrow.

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer in Chicago. His finances were devastated by the Chicago fire in 1871. A poor economy in 1873 made things even worse. After that, he and his family planned a trip to Europe. Business concerns kept him from making the trip with his family. He planned to join them later. However, the ship on which they travelled sank. He learned by telegram that four of his daughters died. On his way to meet his wife, the ship on which he sailed came near the spot where his daughters perished. He wrote the following words: When peace like a river attendeth my way; When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, It is well with my soul.”

The words and actions of the Biblical character Job after he lost all he had, including his children, were these:

 Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said :  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  Job 1:20-21 (NASB)

Even in his sorrow, Job found an occasion for worship. Now, how should you handle the soul-troubling sorrow that has invaded your life? Lay your trouble before the Lord. Wrap that trouble in a cocoon of faith and hide it from the world. Seek God with great earnestness and urgency. Cling in faith to the feet of your Savior. Accept no substitutes. Finally, regardless of the outcome, find an occasion for worship. May the God who proved Himself to this dear woman also prove Himself to you!

Photo by Samuel Martins

Principles of Trusting God’s Leadership

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This brings up another important consideration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where, in spite of all you can do.

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

There is no other way but  through?

Then wait on the Lord with a trust secure

Till the night of your fear is gone;

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

When He says to your soul, “Go on.”

Annie Johnston Flint

Photo by Kevin Wolf

The Prayer of the Sorrow Maker

Words out of the mouth of a mother shape a child or break a child. She can build self-esteem in the heart of her children, or she can rip it to shreds. Words can build. Words can destroy.

What is the impact or your influence? Have you been a help or a hindrance, a blessing or a burden, a bringer of joy or a bringer of sorrow into the lives of others.

We find a man in the Bible who, for no fault of his own, was known by all who knew him as the sorrow maker. That was the label he carried all his life. That was his reputation in his family and among his friends. In fact, that was all his mother ever called him—a little sorrow maker.

Perhaps she said it lovingly, or perhaps there were other occasions when she said it in one of those hurtful tones only a mother can use in her anger. She called him Sorrow Maker.

Words out of the mouth of a mother shape a child or break a child. She can build self-esteem in the heart of her children, or she can rip it to shreds. Words can build. Words can destroy. Whatever this mother meant when she poured out her frustration on this little boy and named him Sorrow Maker, it followed him through the rest of his life. It shaped his self-esteem, and a day came when it even shaped his conversation with God.

Sorrow Maker would have been his English name. His name in his native tongue was Jabez.

Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother named him Jabez saying, “Because I bore him with pain.” Now Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that You would bless me indeed and enlarge my border, and that Your hand might be with me, and that You would keep me from harm that it may not pain me!” And God granted him what he requested. (I Chronicles 4:9-10 NASB)

She bore him with pain. His birth caused her grief, and she would never allow him to forget it. Sorrow Maker. That’s what the whole family called him—affectionately or not—in anger or not—it became the way he viewed himself for the rest of his life.

I remember my mom and dad would arguing when I was growing up. Somehow, I felt it was always my fault. I don’t know how I drew that conclusion, but I did.

It’s easy for a child to feel the burden of problems in the home. Little heart’s assume blame for the parent’s problems, the financial difficulties, as well as the friction in the parental relationship.

Children feel that keenly. So here was Jabez—little Sorrow Maker. Whatever he saw in the life of his family—whatever difficulty they endured during his early years—he may have sensed he was the one who had caused it all.

He was the Sorrow Maker.

If you have been the victim of verbal abuse, you know the devastating impact in can have on your personality. Those words are repeated over and over in your mind, even as you come to adulthood. The devil can take those words and project them as God’s own words about you when you fall or when you fail. Remember that name your mom or dad called you in anger? When it happened, you heard it as if they were saying, “That is what you are, and that is how I feel about you.” Now, you still hear that voice in your head and in your heart, because that is the way you feel about yourself.

We don’t know the specific circumstances in the life of Jabez. The only insight we have into his home life is this name his mother called him. But a closer look at his brothers suggests brokenness in their own lives. The little we know about them simply says that Jabez—the sorrow maker—was more honorable than his brothers.

The difficulties these children endured growing up sent them in different directions. Jabez grew up to turn to God. His brothers turned elsewhere. I believe it is against such a background that Jabez pours his heart out to God. Jabez—
the sorrow maker—wanted something better for his life and family.

Can God redeem the life and circumstances of a sorrow maker? Maybe that is not your name, but maybe it is true about you. Maybe things you said or did brought sorrow into the life of your family. Maybe you broke someone’s heart.

Will God hear the prayer of a sorrow maker? Will God help a person who has lived a hurtful life? Is it possible for God to love a sorrow maker? If it is possible for
a sorrow maker to pray, it is possible for God to hear and answer.

We assume Jabez’ self-esteem was damaged by this name his mother had given him. By calling out to God, he is praying he will not live up to this reputation that had followed him all the days of his life.

As he prayed, he sought the blessings chosen for him by God. Literally the verse reads, “that blessing, you would bless me.” In other words, “in the process of blessing others Lord, please include me. As you go on Your way to work good in the lives of others, please work good in my life.”

His problems from the past moved him to prayer. Hardship humbled his heart, bowed his head, and bent his knees before the Lord. While his brothers looked elsewhere for hope and help, Jabez, the sorrow maker, looked to God.

Where are you looking for help in your problems as sorrow reigns supreme in your life?

The Devil is the real Sorrow Maker. He sows the seeds of sorrow into marriage relationships. He sows the seeds of sorrow into the hearts and lives of children— because that is what he wants them to know—sorrow and calamity. The Devil is the real Sorrow Maker. But the Lord Jesus is the Sorrow Breaker, and He can break the cycle of sorrow in your home and in your life.

Jabez, the sorrow maker, simply sought the blessing of God—the Sorrow
Breaker. He wanted the touch of God upon his life. “Oh, that THOU would’st bless me indeed!” He was content to allow God to choose the blessings He sent. He trusted God’s wisdom, and he trusted God’s heart.

All of us have been sorrow makers to the heart of God through our sin and disobedience. As a result, we also brought sorrow to the hearts and lives of others. Maybe you’ve been a sorrow maker in your own home. Now, you can to ask God to reverse that. Ask Him to help you live a life pleasing to God. Ask God to open doors of opportunity where you might be an agent of blessing in the lives of those to whom you have brought sorrow. You should also consider asking God to help you forgive those who brought sorrow to you.

Jabez was not a sorrow maker. The family sorrow had been shifted upon him. It was a burden of responsibility he need never have carried. But still, Jabez,
the sorrow maker, asked God to make him a sorrow breaker in the life of his own family. What would that look like in your life?

Jabez asked for God’s hand to be upon his life. In so doing, he is asking for the presence of God, the blessing of God, the power of God, and the guidance of God to rest upon His life.

After graduating from college, I began to seek God’s guidance about attending seminary. I reluctantly prayed “God, if you want me to go to seminary, have someone I respect greatly come and lay his hand on me and tell me I should
go.” One night as I sat with my family at a restaurant, my Jr. High football coach, Robert Pepper, came and stood behind me. He laid his hand on my shoulder and simply said, “Isn’t it about time you went to seminary?” I know that was from the Lord. His hand was the Lord’s hand on my life.

God’s hand of affirmation gives you comfort. It gives you courage. It gives you direction. The sorrow maker needed the hand of the Sorrow Breaker to give direction to his life.

Isn’t that what you need? You need the hand of the Sorrow Breaker to wipe away the pain of the past, the tears of today, and give you hope for the future. Lord, bless me according to Your desire. Open doors of opportunity for me to live apart from the sorrow that has shaped my life. Place Your hand upon me. Lead me, and guide me!

There are two ways to read the last part of verse 10. In the NASB Jabez prays that he will not know the pain of the past. “That it may not pain me.” But in the HCSB it reads, “That I may not cause pain.”

The sorrow maker no longer wanted pain in his life. He was ready for the painful days to be past. But neither did to be a source of pain in the lives of others. He asked for deliverance. And who did He ask? The sorrow maker turned to the Sorrow Breaker. And what happened? God granted him what he requested. God answered His prayer!

Is there hurt in your life? Have you been the source of hurt in the life of someone else? Who can fix the pain of the sorrow maker? Only the Sorrow Breaker. He understands our sorrow. In fact, he carried it. Consider the description of the Sorrow Breaker from the New Living Translation of Isaiah 53:3-6

He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment

for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:3-6 NLT

Would you, the sorrow maker, consider allowing the Lord Jesus to be your Sorrow Breaker?

Photo by LoboStudio Hamburg

Where Can I Carry My Shame?

Shame is something we all carry. Because we do, it impacts our lives. It impacts our self-esteem. It impacts our relationships with others. It limits our relationship with God.

David’s son Amnon was attracted to his half-sister, Tamar. He and a friend came up with a scheme for how he could be alone with her. In that vulnerable moment an awful thing happened.

He took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.”  She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing.  As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.”  But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.  Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”  But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.  He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.”  Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her.  And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. 2 Samuel 13:11-19 (NASB)

One haunting question shadowed her steps. Where can I carry my shame?

Shame can come as a result of something done to us—as it did for Tamar. Or it can come as a result of something we did that dishonored God and caused us to dishonor ourselves.

Where can I carry shame? Is that a question that troubles you? Shame occurs when something happens that causes us to be dishonored in our own eyes. It causes us to think less of ourselves—and whether it is known or unknown—we believe it would cause others to think less of us.

Where can I carry my shame? Shame is something we all carry. Because we do, it impacts our lives. It impacts our self-esteem. It impacts our relationships with others. It limits our relationship with God. We hold ourselves at a distance because of shame.

Tamar was a princess. Once she was violated, she felt she could never be that again. She lost so much because of what was done to her. It could never be recovered. Her purity was gone. Her position was gone. Her hope was gone.

Do you find yourself in a similar position? Is it because of something you did that dishonored God and dishonored your own soul? Or is it because of something done to you? You still carry the shame of that moment. Where can you carry your shame?

The Hebrew word here translated shame means to be despised. Of course, shame causes us to despise ourselves and sense that we are despised in the eyes of others—including in the eyes of God. We know we have done things to dishonor Him. Tamar knew such an act would not only bring dishonor to her—it would bring dishonor to her father Sin is an insult to God. It is also an insult to our own soul. What was done to Tamar was a reproach to God that brought shame to her own soul.

Perhaps you wear a robe of shame today. Don’t you wish you had an answer to the question of Tamar? Where can I carry my shame?

There was no answer to Tamar’s question. In the Old Testament world of Tamar’s day, there was no remedy. She could never regain what she lost. I suppose Tamar carried her shame to her grave. But you don’t have to!

There is an interesting verse in Psalms. Paul tells us in Romans 15 that this verse is a direct reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. John also relates it as a direct reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9

The word reproach, in each occasion of its use, is the exact word used in 2 Samuel 13:13 for the word shame. God planned a way to deal with Tamar’s shame, my shame and your shame before it ever happened. All of us carry the shame of something we did that dishonored God and caused us to be dishonored in your own eyes and perhaps in the eyes of others. Where can I carry my shame?

Allow me to replace the word reproach in Psalm 69 with the word shame. For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the shame of those who shamed You have fallen on me. Psalm 69:9

Where can I carry my shame? Where can you carry yours? Dear brother, dear sister, the Lord Jesus carried your shame on the cross. The dishonor you brought to yourself, and the dishonor you brought to God-all your shame and sin was laid upon Him. Jesus Christ bore your shame on that cross. He saw that hurtful thing long before it happened, and through the suffering and shame of the cross, He took your sin and shame.

David, struggling with guilt and shame in his own life, wrote these words. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Psalm 32:5 (NLT)

Where can you carry your shame? Go to the cross. By faith, turn your eyes upon Jesus. God laid all your sin and shame on Jesus, and He nailed it to His cross. Carry your shame to the cross of Jesus and there find release from the shame and guilt of whatever you might have done–or even the shame you carry for something that was done to you!

Photo by Ashton Bingham