One Hour with Jesus

Did you know that if you get 8 hours of sleep every night, you spend 4 months of every year sleeping? If you sleep that much who needs a vacation? If yo,u watch television three hours a day, you spend a month and a half of every year just watching television. If you work forty hours a week, or more, you spend about three months of every year working.  Check your screen time on your phone. I don’t know which side you are of average, but according to statistics, the average person spends about four hours a day on their phone. That translates into two months of every year.

So you spend four months sleeping, three months working, two months on the cell phone, a month and a half watching television. That is the way you spend  over ten months out of every year. If you goof off another four hours of every day that’s the other two months. And that is your life.

In regard to that, allow me to ask you a question, in all of the time that you spend—however you spend it—have you thought about spending one hour with Jesus? How you spend your time is none of my business. But the chances are good that there is a situation in your life right now that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus?  But you didn’t. You were too tired—or too sleepy—or too busy—or too interested in television—or too distracted by sin to spend one hour with Jesus.

And now you have this situation in your life—and you wonder—“If I’d only prayed more and spent less time surfing the web—if I’d only read my Bible more and spent less time watching sports—if I’d only thought about Jesus more than I thought about  _______!”

Consider these words spoken by Jesus to his disciples. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:40-41

First, It Was a Personal Question.

How many disciples were in the garden with Jesus? There were three—Peter, James, and John. But Jesus was especially disappointed with Peter.  So He singled Peter out with this question. Jesus asked the question to an individual. Perhaps He will ask that same question to you.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 

Did He single you out as you read it? Did He call your name? As soon as you saw the verse, did you somehow know that Jesus had put His finger on your heart?

Why Peter? Why call his name? Why question him? Do you know the last thing that Jesus said to Peter before they went into the garden?

 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permissionto sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  But he said to Him, “Lord, with You I am ready to go both to prison and to death!” And He said, “I say to you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know Me.” Luke 22:31-34

This is not only a Personal Question, it is a Question About Prayer.

There was something Jesus knew that Peter didn’t know. Peter needed to pray because of a situation that was coming into his life. One hour spent with Jesus would make all the difference in the world in how He handled it.

Has the Lord called you to pray recently? Has He urged you to adjust your priorities so that you could spend time with Him? Now, I am not talking about time at church. Time at church is not the same as time with Jesus. Do you think Jesus called you to pray because of something He knew that you didn’t? There is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome.

This was a personal question, directed specifically to Peter. And it was a question about prayer. And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?”

Couldn’t you—of all people—you who I warned—you who I personally prayed for—couldn’t you have spent one hour with Me—rather than sleeping—rather than surfing the web—rather than talking on your cell phone—rather than….

Not only was it a personal question, not only was it a question about prayer:

It Was A Question About Priorities.

How would you like to take a two week all expenses paid retreat with just one other person? Those two weeks would make all the difference in the world in how you looked at life—in the way you handled your problems—in the way things turn out for you in the future.  Can you give up two weeks?  Can you spare the time?  Can you afford it?  Would you be willing to spend two weeks with Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, or some other financial or business entrepreneur who could give you business or financial insight? You might. But what do any of those people know about the needs that are going to arise in your life and family. How can one of them alert you to some impending crisis that is just around the corner of your life? 

The two week opportunity I am talking about is absolutely free. There’s no travel involved.  You won’t have to take a day off work or spend any time away from your family. All you have to do is to commit to spend One Hour with Jesus. One hour every day for 365 days. Do that and in the course of a year you will spend the equivalent of 15 days, 24 hours a day with Jesus.

Is Jesus asking you for that commitment? Remember, there is a situation that will arise in your life—and the time you spend with Jesus—the hour you spend with Jesus will make all the difference in the world in the outcome. So how do you need to adjust your priorities so that you can spend time with Jesus?  Why? Why is it so important? Why was it important for Peter?

Jesus said, “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

This Question Concerns the Protection Of Your Life And Your Family.

Jesus only recently warned Peter that Satan had demanded permission to sift him like wheat. Do you know what happens when wheat is sifted? The impurities come to the surface. Everything that is ugly and dirty comes to light. Is that what Satan has planned for you? Is that what he plans to do to your family? Could that be why Jesus has called you to spend time in prayer? Watch and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. Jesus knew what was around the corner in Peter’s life. He knew that a disaster was coming—a failure of Peter’s faith—an embarrassing, humiliating, heart-breaking failure.

But Peter didn’t have to fail! Peter could pray! He could spend an hour with Jesus. But Peter didn’t pray. He couldn’t stay awake. He didn’t adjust his priorities.

Why didn’t you pray? Why haven’t you answered the Lord’s call to prayer? Will you answer it today, before Satan sifts you and your faith fails, and things that are ugly and dirty come to the surface of your life for all the world to see?

The warning that Jesus gave Peter is a warning that most of us have turned into an excuse. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I know I ought to pray. The spirit is willing—but I just can’t seem to spare that hour of sleep—or give up that hour of television—or sacrifice that hour of spare time. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

How did Jesus know that ? Because He was flesh, just like you and me. He was flesh for forty days in the wilderness, and when Satan came to sift Him in His weakness, His spirit said no to Satan’s suggestion to turn stones to bread. And His spirit said yes to God.

He did that every day. Many times He sacrificed sleep getting up a great while before day to go out to a lonely place to pray. Jesus knew that Peter would have to say no to sleep to watch and pray. But he didn’t. He slept and didn’t pray. And just hours later, Peter was in a courtyard where Jesus was taken to be questioned. Satan was there waiting for him.

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk ]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Matthew 26:69-75

That was the situation that Jesus warned him about. That is why Peter needed to adjust his priorities so that he could spend one hour with Jesus. Now, what situation exists in your life that might have been different if you had spent one hour with Jesus? What situation has caused things that are ugly and dirty to surface in your life—that might never have surfaced if you had spent one hour with Jesus?

What situation has entered your life that when it happened you felt as if you were looking squarely into the face of Jesus—and you—like Peter wept bitterly because you fully understood that it might have been different—it might never have happened—if only you had spent one hour with Jesus.

You must adjust your priorities so that you can spend ONE HOUR WITH JESUS.

Finally, This Is A Question That Probes The Heart Of Your Relationship With Lord Jesus.  

Jesus addressed Peter as representative of the group, and He said, why could you—you of all people—you men of all men—you who have I have shared so much of my life with—why could you not spend one hour with Me.

Jesus was probing Peter’s heart concerning his personal relationship with Him. Let me ask you some final questions? When is the last time you spent even five minutes with Jesus? Maybe its been a while. Are things messed up inside you? Are there personal and spiritual disappointments that are directly related to your failure to spend time with Jesus? Only you can answer that question. 

Now let me ask you another question: Are things broken in and around your life? Relationships? People? Your Finances? Your home? Your job? Would those things be broken if you had spent time with Jesus instead of spending time_________? Last question: Could things be different, if from today you began spending time with Jesus? If what you have been doing is not working, why not try spending one hour with Jesus.

Photo by Agê Barros

When Your Soul Has Had Enough

My soul has had enough! I have had all I can take and just about more than I can stand! I’ve had enough trouble, enough heartache, enough sickness, enough grief. My soul has had enough!

The book of Psalms is a study of the highs and lows of life. Many of those moments occurred in the life of David. We are privileged to know about them because David laid them before the Lord in prayer. Apparently, he often went to some quiet spot, where he could be alone with his harp and pour out his heart to the Lord. An old guitar has been therapy for me. Sometimes I sit down with one of David’s Psalms or with some other passage of Scripture and bare my own heart before the Lord. (In a spot where no one can hear me but Him, of course.)

But Psalm 88, is not written by David. This is one of the Psalms of the Sons of Korah, the singers of the Old Testament. I think it is normal that those assigned to sing might write a Psalm. But this Psalm is unique out of all 150. It is believed to be the saddest. Now does this mean that the guys who wrote it lost their faith or lost hope in God? If you had a chance to read my journal, you would find that there are some days that I seem deeply discouraged. I expect this is one of those times for these men—or perhaps just for the one man who retreated to some lonely place and wrote it. There is a sense of frustration. 

It seems whoever wrote it had been praying for some time, apparently in the midst of difficulties that left him spent both physically and spiritually. He is overwhelmed. His prayer is a cry of desperation, and an urgent plea for God’s intervention.

O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You; Incline Your ear to my cry! For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. Psalm 88:1-3 (The last word is variously translated, grave, death, and in The Message,the edge of hell.”)

Do the words of this Psalm meet you where you are?

My soul has had enough! I have had all I can take and just about more than I can stand! I’ve had enough trouble, enough heartache, enough sickness, enough grief. My soul has had enough!

That statement started me on a search through the Bible looking for similar expressions.  In Psalm 119:28 ,the psalmist said “My soul weeps because of grief.” It just reminds me that there are times when trouble goes soul deep.  Is some present crisis having an impact on your soul?

In Isaiah 38:15, as Hezekiah dealt with a life-threatening illness, he related his own bitterness of soul.  Experiences that sour the life can also sour your spiritual life.  Later,  in that same chapter, Hezekiah came to the realization God was Sovereign over his circumstances. So he prayed, “Lo, for my own welfare I had great bitterness; It is You who has kept my soul from the pit of nothingness, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.  Isaiah 38:17

In Lamentations 3:17, in the rubble of what was left of war-torn Jerusalem, Jeremiah cried, “My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.”

Sometimes trouble sweeps into the life of a family, leaving them physically and financially devastated. Like a raging tornado, it took just a matter of seconds for their whole life to be in shambles. The emotional and spiritual trauma that follows leaves them feeling as if the storm is still raging.

Job describes what life is like for the person in bitterness of soul.  It is a continual misery.  It is one calamity right on the heels of another. I sigh when food is put before me, and my groans pour out like water. 25 For the thing I feared has overtaken me, and what I dreaded has happened to me. 26 I cannot relax or be still;I have no rest, for trouble comes. Job 3:24-26 HCSB

There are periods of life when trouble seems relentless.  It won’t stop coming.  Are you in one of those periods?  Has the strain taken a toll on your relationship with God? Five times, in the book that bears his name, Job describes himself as being in bitterness of soul.  

Psalm 88 is the cry of a man who has gone about as far as he can go under the weight of difficulty and discouragement. At the point of absolute despair, he cries: O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before Thee.  Let my prayer come before Thee, Incline Thine ear to my cry!  For my soul has had enough troubles…  Psalm 88:1-3

Mary was told that a time would come that she would endure a sorrow so deep that it would be like a sword that pierced her soul. Have you had a sorrow like that in your life?  Do you have one now? Have you experienced some soul piercing sorrow?

As we near Mother’s Day, I think about a woman in the Bible named Hannah. She was childless.  She prayed and prayed for a child, but no answer came. An adversary ridiculed her constantly because she was barren. Finallly, when she could stand it no longer, she cried out God. When Eli the priest saw her praying, he thought she was drunk. She replied, “No, my lord, I am a woman oppressed in spirit; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.  1 Samuel 1:15 She was praying out of her great anguish and sorrow. Her soul had had enough.

Peter said that we should be alert to all the different passions and desires within us because they can wage war against the soul. Spiritual defeat can lead to spiritual despair.  When Jesus was in the garden, He prayed saying that His soul was very sorrowful, even to death.  Mark 14:34

If something can bring sorrow to the soul of Jesus, who am I to think that there are not times when my own soul will be overwhelmed. It is clear that the Lord understands when my soul has had all it can stand and teeters on the edge of collapse.

Two expressions in Psalm 107 describe the plight of a person overwhelmed by difficulty. Their soul fainted within them, then they cried to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.  Psalm 107: 5b-6

Their soul melted away in their misery.  They reeled and staggered like a drunken man. They were at their wits end.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he brought them out of their distresses.  He caused the storm to be still so that the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:26b-29

Is that where you are?  Is your soul about ready to melt and faint away? Are you at your wits end? The Psalmist cried out in Psalm 88:3  “My soul has had enough troubles.”  He was at his wits end.  He desperately needed the Lord’s intervention in his circumstances.

The Psalmist said in Psalm 31:7 I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul.  

God said to the prophet Jeremiah, who often found himself spiritually exhausted, 25For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”  Jeremiah 31:25  (ESV) In The Message, that verse reads:  I refresh tired bodies; I restore tired souls.  

Is that what you need God to do for you? Your soul has had enough!  You’ve gone about as far as you can go and carried about all you can carry.  Now you just need God to carry you.  

I was two feet tall when I was born. Well, I was 24 inches long. In other words, I was a rather large baby. Before I reached elementary school, I was nearly five feet tall. I remember the day my dad told me that I had was just too big for him to carry. That hurt. I was a little boy on the inside. When life overwhelms me, I get that feeling all over again that I and my problems might be a little much for God to carry. After all, I am a grown man now! Doesn’t God expect me to be able to carry myself and my own problems?

Thankfully, I and my problems never get too big for God to carry. I love the promise God gave to Isaiah, “Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you. Isaiah 46:4

If you are physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, find a quiet spot. Relax your body, and rest your soul into the arms of God. He knows when your soul has had enough before you do. He is willing and able to carry you.

Photo by Ali Yahya

Surviving the Storm of Difficulty

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

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

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

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

The Problem That Confronts Us

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

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

The Challenge It Presents Us 

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

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

The Promise Laid Before Us

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

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

The Deficiency Within Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by lee junda

How God Guides

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit? Is it audible?

How does a person go about discerning guidance from God? God doesn’t send out emails or text messages or newsletters offering His guidance. (I don’t get them. I don’t know about you.) So, how am I to recognize His guidance for my life.

I want to share an example from the life of Peter. In Acts chapter 11, Peter reported to the church in Jerusalem concerning his mission into Gentile territory. Christianity was in its infancy. The first believers were still wrestling with personal prejudices.  Initially, Peter’s mission created quite a controversy in the church in Jerusalem. They wanted to know who authorized such a trip. That is when Peter went into great detail concerning how God guided his journey. When we put together his explanation with the details of the story, we get a very clear picture of how God guides. 

Peter shares how it all began.  5“I was in the city of Joppa praying…Acts 11:5a

While there is no indication that Peter was specifically praying for guidance from God, that is when His guidance came. In prayer, we share our hearts with God, and He shares His heart with us. All the great men of the Bible, including Jesus, took time every day to pray.  If you will take time to pray, as you share the concerns of your heart with God, He will share the concerns of His heart with you.

In the previous chapter, where more details of the account are given, we discover Peter went up on the roof. He did this so he could be out of the hustle and bustle below where meal preparation was taking place.

Peter was just like us. He had no idea of what God was doing somewhere else in the world. Yet, what God was doing in Peter’s life had a direct connection to what God was already doing in another person’s heart. That man, Cornelius, was prompted by God to send to Joppa for a man he had never met. The man’s name was Simon Peter. Peter didn’t know that the men were already on their way. God set events in motion in two men’s hearts so that His purpose could be accomplished. That lets us know that God knew where Peter would be in advance. I have no doubt, the prompting to pray came from God. Peter went on to describe what happened while he was praying.

4But Peter began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision… Acts 11:4-5

I don’t know about you, but I wanted to know what that meant? Some translations describe it as a visionary state. However the Greek word used to describe Peter’s experience is a word that refers to a mind so fixed and focused on the things of God that all else fades away.In that moment alone with God, his spiritual perception became exceptionally clear, and God communicated through signs or symbols that appeared very real.God used that opportunity as a teaching moment to prepare Peter for what was ahead. This happened in the context of prayer, and I think we can safely say that without prayer, Peter would have missed this guidance from God.

First, Peter’s guidance was received in the context of prayer.

Second, in the context of prayer, Peter received a witness in his spirit.

While Peter was praying, something happened, but it happened inside Peter. He describes that moment, and it must have been just a moment. You understand the process of dreams. Peter’s experience involved a question and answer session about this sheet that he saw that was filled with animals.  Why did God have to use such a symbol to get Peter’s attention?  It was because Peter had a major hindrance to receiving God’s guidance. Do you have any idea what that might have been? It was his own prejudice. Likewise, one of our greatest hindrances to receiving guidance from God is our own personal prejudice.  We already have our own mind made up before we go to God to ask.  Therefore, one of our biggest challenges is being willing to allow God to mold our mindset to his.  If I come to prayer with my mind made up about the guidance I want from God, that is the guidance I will probably get.  I will not allow God to move my mind from my will to His.  Watch this struggle take place in the life of Peter.

I saw a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it came right down to me, 6and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the air. 7“I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8“But I said, ‘By no means, Lord, for nothing unholy or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9“But a voice from heaven answered a second time, ‘What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.’ 10“This happened three times, and everything was drawn back up into the sky.  Acts 11:5-10

The first part of God’s dealing with Peter was to prompt him to give up his own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God for his life.  As God guides you away from your own will toward His will for your life, He may use lessons from life just like He used with Peter.  

God may have something for you to do that is different from what you have in mind.  You may want to serve Him but not as a missionary.  You may want to be a missionary but not with a specific people group whose race or customs you find repulsive.  So God may lead you through a process of discovery to teach you to give up your will in favor of His own. That also has to happen in the life of a church. Each person must give up his or her own will for the church in favor of the will of Christ, who is the Head. When He reveals it, we must follow without question just as Peter did.

Obviously, this didn’t happen immediately for Peter. Peter’s initial response was to tell the Lord, “No.” But the process continued, until after the third time, God had Peter’s attention.  

When you pray, stay alert to see what happens next. You will notice that what happened next in Peter’s life was essential to him discerning the guidance of God.

Third, the witness in Peter’s spirit was confirmed by the witness of circumstances.  

11And behold, at that moment three men appeared at the house in which we were staying, having been sent to me from Caesarea. Acts 12:11

Can you put two and two together?  If you pray, and ask God for guidance, what is it when the phone rings and someone who had no idea you were seeking God calls to give you information that fits right into how you had prayed.  That is guidance, and it is likely guidance from God.  

Suppose you are seeking God’s guidance about surrendering to be a missionary.  When you pray, you inform God that if He wants you to go to the mission field, you first need to sell your home.  You struggle with that issue because you love your home and you don’t want to give it up. So, you continue to pray and ask God for guidance.  Then one day someone calls you and tells you they were looking for a house in your neighborhood and were wondering if you ever thought about selling your home. What is that?  That is guidance.  It is the witness of circumstances confirming the witness in your spirit—and it all grew out of the context of prayer.

Fourth, the witness of circumstances was confirmed by the witness of the Spirit.

The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings.  Acts 11:12

These three events came for Peter in rapid succession.  First was the vision—this witness in his spirit. Then came the obvious providential circumstances.  And then like a bolt out of the blue came the witness of the Holy Spirit.

The time will come when God will make it very clear to you what He wants you to do.  He will show you the direction you should take.  The answer will come in the context of prayer.  It will come when you are willing to surrender your personal prejudices in favor of the will of God.  There will be a witness in your spirit.  There will be circumstances that take place that seem to confirm that witness.  But the ultimate authority is the witness of God’s Spirit who will say to you, “This is the way!  Walk in it!”

What is it like to hear the voice of God’s Spirit?  Is it audible?  For me it has never been.  But I can tell you this, although that voice has always come in a different way, I always knew it when it when it came. When God speaks to verify His leading, you will know that it is God.  

How can you be sure? There is only one way to verify God’s guidance. When God shows you the way—walk in it.

Finally, Peter’s guidance was verified in the context of obedience.  

12“The Spirit told me to go with them without misgivings. These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. 13“And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; 14and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning.  Acts 11:4-15

When Peter began to take steps of obedience, each one was verified by God.  He saw God’s activity.  He saw how God had been working to prepare the way for his visit to that home.  He saw God’s work in the lives of those to whom he preached.  But how would the guidance of God have ever been validated if Peter had not been obedient. There are some things that you will never know until you make the journey of obedience.  

Pray for God’s guidance.  As you listen for a witness in your spirit be sure that you are willing to give up your own personal prejudices in favor of the will of God. Watch for providential circumstances that God will use like signposts pointing the way.  Make sure that you have that vital witness of the Holy Spirit before you go.  Then when God shows you the way, walk in it and watch God work.

In the fall of 1988, I found myself in the small community of Camden, Alabama, being considered as the pastor of the church there. I didn’t know a soul. In many ways, it was like a foreign country to me. I was so apprehensive for myself and for my family. I needed some word from God about what to do.

I was alone in the back hallway waiting to enter the sanctuary. The instrumentalists inside began playing the prelude music. I recognized the tune. It was the familiar hymn, Trust and Obey. As they played, one of the verses of that hymn came clearly to my mind. “But you never can prove the delights of His love, until all on the altar you lay. For the favor He shows and the joy He bestows are for those who will trust and obey.” In that moment, I knew clearly what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to surrender my family and my future into His hands. The only way to confirm God’s guidance up to that moment was to obey. I did, and never once have I regretted the years I spent there. 

God’s guidance in one decision will not be a blueprint for another. However, these basic principles have helped me get a sense of God’s will for my life.  

Photo by Robin Noguier

Seeking God’s Guidance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah warned them about doing otherwise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Joshua Watson 

Praying When You Are in Trouble

Do you need the Lord to intervene in your circumstances? Do you need Him to step into the midst of your turmoil and bring order out of the chaos that rages in and around your life? Do you need a second chance?

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary. (Psalm 107:1-2)

Have you ever needed a second chance? You needed it. But maybe you didn’t deserve it.  In this Psalm, the redeemed of the Lord are the saved, the spared, the delivered. The redeemed of the Lord are those who cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He intervened. He gave them a second chance, even though they didn’t always deserve it.  

Do you need the Lord to intervene in your circumstances? Do you need Him to step into the midst of your turmoil and bring order out of the chaos that rages in and around your life?  Do you need a second chance?

You may find yourself in this Psalm.   It will seem as if the Lord took an artist’s brush and painted your life on the canvas of His word.  I want to point out four occasions when God intervened in the life of His people. In each case, God gave them a second chance.

Now, let’s look at these four occasions when others prayed when they were in trouble. Under each major heading, I urge you to pay special attention to the verses that follow. 

First, you should cry out to the Lord when your soul is fainting in the wilderness of discouragement.  

They wandered in the wilderness in a desert region; they did not find a way to an inhabited city.  They were hungry and thirsty; their soul fainted within them. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He delivered them out of their distresses.  He led them also by a straight way, to an inhabited city. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!  For He has satisfied the thirsty soul, and the hungry soul He has filled with what is good.  (Psalm 107:4-9)

They wandered. They couldn’t find their way. They were in a wilderness where they experienced hunger and thirst. It was a time of deep physical and spiritual distress.

Could you be at a point like that in your life? You feel you are wandering aimlessly. You don’t know which way to turn. You don’t know what to do. A discouraged person has hundreds of thoughts passing through their mind every minute, but their mind is a confused wilderness in which they find no maps or markers with which to find their way.  That person is lost in the desert of his or her own discouragement.

They found no city to dwell in. In other words, there was no place to rest. There was no immediate resolution to their wandering. Wherever they went, they walked with the burden of their own discouragement weighing them down. It clouded their minds like a fog. The Bible says they walked till their souls fainted. They were overwhelmed by a tidal wave of despair. When you are discouraged, you carry your discouragement with you to work. You eat with it.  You take it to bed with you every night. You come to church with it hanging like an albatross around your neck. What do youdo when yoursoul faints in the wilderness of discouragement?  

They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. (Psalm 107:6) He brought them out of the wilderness of despair, to a place where they could lay their burden down. He will do the same for you.  When your soul faints in the wilderness of discouragement, cry out to the Lord.

Second, you should cry out to the Lord when wrong choices leave you flat on your face.  

There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains because they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.  Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; They stumbled and there was none to help.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their bands apart. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men! For He has shattered gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder.(Psalm 107:10-16)

Have you ever been trapped by the consequences of previous decisions?  These verses paint a picture of a person in a dungeon.  The person is shackled because of rebellion against the word of God and ignoring His counsel. It is easy to become victim of one’s own choices, to be held by the cords of one’s own sin and tormented by the consequences. Is that where you are? Are you trapped in a mess of your own making? Are you there because you didn’t ask for God’s direction or acted against His direction?  If you step outside of God’s will, He will send His discipline into your life until you are ready to be obedient.  Look at how this works out in these verses: Therefore He humbled their heart with labor; they stumbled and there was none to help. (Psalm 107:12)

To humble the heart describes breaking a rebellious spirit.  Just as a man can break a horse, God can break a man.  But that breaking process is no party.  Some frustration has a divine design. When you launch out without God, He will let you fall flat on your face. He will leave you there until you cry out to Him. There are moments when God lowers us into the dungeon of difficulty. He allows us to fall flat on our face. When our hearts are set on departing from Him, He complicates our circumstances until we cry out to Him in our trouble. 

What do you do when wrong choices leave you flat on your face?  Do you live with it?  Must you be a prisoner of your decisions for the rest of your life?  No.  God will shatter the gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder. (Psalm 107:16) He will set you free to live in the liberty of His grace and forgiveness. When wrong choices leave you flat on your face, cry out to the Lord.  They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses.(Psalm 107:13)

Third, you should cry out to the Lord when you have followed your sin to the brink of disaster.  

Fools, because of their rebellious way, and because of their iniquities were afflicted.  Their soul abhorred all kinds of food; and they drew near to the gates of death.  Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses, He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.  Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!  Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful shouting.  (Psalm 107:17-22)

How far from God can you go and still come back? They drew near to the gates of death. (Psalm 107:18b)The Bible says there is a sin unto death. There is a path you can take that will take you to the grave, and God will help you on your way. Their afflictions were from the Lord. God sent severe discipline into their lives in order to bring them to repentance.  They were headed for absolute and total disaster. That may be where you are at this moment. Your sin has you and your family on the brink of disaster. Your world is beginning to fall apart. Will God help you?

Consider the story of the prodigal son. He treated his father as bad as a father can be treated. He went as far away from his father as he could go.  He wasted every blessing his father gave him. He almost wasted his whole life. He came to the end of himself, and he turned his heart toward home. When he arrived, he found his father’s outstretched arms. This is a picture of how God responds to us when we hit rock bottom and there decide to return to Him.  

How far are you from God? How close are you to the brink of disaster?  Is it too late for you?  Listen to God’s promise in Deuteronomy to those who He knew would one day wander from Him, finding themselves in deep trouble. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there theLord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. (Deuteronomy 30:4)

Look how God responded to the people in this Psalm.  They cried out to the Lord in their trouble; He saved them out of their distresses, He sent His word and healed them. (Psalm 107:19-20a) That is exactly what God will do for you!  When you follow your sin to the brink of disaster, cry out to the Lord.

Fourth, you should cry out to the Lord when you are at your wits end and the wind is still blowing.  

Then those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters; they have seen the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.  For He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They rose up to the heavens, they went down to the depths; Their soul melted away in their misery.  They reeled and staggered like a drunken man, and were at their wits end.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad because they were quiet; so He guided them to their desired haven.  Let them give thank to the Lord for His lovingkindness, and for His wonders to the sons of men!  Let them extol Him also in the congregation of the people, and praise Him at the seat of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32)

Is there a storm in your life? Does your soul melt in the face of its ferocity? Storms of life are like weather related storms. They vary greatly in intensity. You might not fret in the face of a thunderstorm, but you might faint in the face of a tornado. What do you do when you are at your wits end dealing with what you thought was only a thunderstorm in your life, and it turns out to be a hurricane?  The sailors mentioned in these verses reached their wits end, and the wind was still blowing.  All hope was lost. What did they do?  

They cried out to the Lord.  When they did, He brought them out of their distresses. He caused the storm to be still, so that the waves of the sea were hushed. (Psalm 107:28-29) Can Jesus still say, “Peace, be still”  to the storm that rages in your life? He can! But if He chooses not to still the storm, He will guide you safely through it.  

He guided them to their desired haven.(Psalm 107:30)  There may be no safe harbor here. The sea may toss, and the winds may blow, but if you put your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the ship of your soul is anchored securely in heaven. In ancient times, the reefs would keep the large ships from harbor.  They put the anchor in a smaller ship, a forerunner, and carried it to the harbor. There, they would drop the anchor. When the tide rose, the anchor would pull the ship within the safety of the harbor. This seems to be what the writer of Hebrews meant when he wrote these words: The hope we have in Jesus is an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

Do you need the Lord to intervene in your circumstances? Do you need Him to step into the midst of your turmoil and bring order out of the chaos raging in your life?

When your soul faints in the wilderness of discouragement, cry out to the Lord! When wrong choices leave you flat on your face, cry out to the Lord!  When you have followed your sin to the brink of disaster, cry out to the Lord!  When you are at your wits end and the wind is still blowing, cry out to the Lord. He will anchor your soul in a harbor of safety, and in His providence, the tide will rise, and He will draw you safely home!

Photo by Joshua Reddekopp 

The Purpose of the Wilderness in the Lives of God’s People

If you are at a wilderness place in your life, you may find it to be more puzzle than purpose. You might be overwhelmed and confused. You might find yourself questioning God’s wisdom—or maybe even your own.

I want you to think for a moment about being in the center of God’s will. What does that mean?  What would it look like?  Would it be a time of happiness and fulfillment? Is there ever a time that the center of God’s will might be a place of discouragement and difficulty? What about the children of Israel? God called Moses to bring them out of Egypt and into the center of His will.  The center of His will for them would eventually be Canaan, but for a time, the center of God’s will was a great and terrible wilderness.

Has God’s will for you included a period of time in the wilderness? Time in the wilderness means facing wilderness struggles, and wilderness hardships, and wilderness questions.  It can be a place of problems, and at the same time, a place of purpose.  The wilderness is a puzzle from our perspective, but from God’s perspective, it is His perfect plan for our lives.  

If you are at a wilderness place in your life, you may find it to be more puzzle than purpose.  You might be overwhelmed and confused.   You might find yourself questioning God’s wisdom—or maybe even your own.  Did you get to that place by God’s guidance, or did you get there by misreading of God’s guidance?   

We have said enough about wilderness questions. What can we know for sure about the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people?

The Wilderness is a Place of Separation

God carried them into the wilderness so that they could be apart from the influences of Egypt.  The uncertainties of the wilderness create a need for God and a dependence upon God.  God lets you do without, so you can come to know Him as your provider. God lets you be lonely, so that you can come to know Him as your friend.  God lets you be frightened and worried, so that you can come to know Him as your peace. God lets you be weak, so that you can know His strength.

In the wilderness, God reveals Himself.  In the darkness of the wilderness, He is your light.  In the confusing maze of the wilderness, you learn to let Him be your guide. In the wilderness, He separates you from the influences of the world, as well as the things and people that you have learned to depend on, so that you will learn to depend on Him. God will be faithful to you in whatever wilderness you are facing, just as He was to the people He led out of Egypt. 

The Wilderness is a Place of Preparation.

Looking back on those years in the wilderness, this is what God said to His people as they came to the Promised Land.  5“I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot. 6“You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink, in order that you might know that I am the LORD your God.  Deuteronomy 29:5-6

What has been your God appointed wilderness?  Are you there right now?  What do you suppose God is trying to teach you? Are you learning the lessons that God wants you to learn?

When God takes you to the wilderness, He withholds that which you have come to depend on other than Him.  Maybe you came to depend on your job to provide.  God removes the job for a time, so that you will learn to depend on Him.  Maybe you came to depend on your own strength or stamina.  Then God brings weakness into your life, so that you will learn that your strength is in Him.  You see it as deprivation.  God sees it as preparation.  

“You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3“He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. 4“Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5“Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6“Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.  Deuteronomy 8:2-6

The Wilderness is a Place of Revelation.

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and howI bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. ‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  Exodus 19:2-6

When the center of God’s will is the wilderness, what is God’s purpose? Did you see why God brought them to the wilderness? He brought them into the wilderness to bring them to Himself.Why do you suppose that God brings you to Himself?

I read again today about Jesus calling the disciples.  He called unto Him the twelve.  And why did He call them?  Did He call them to Him to give them an assignment? Yes?  But the preparation for that assignment came out of being with Him.  He called the twelve to Himself, that they might be with Him and that He might send them forth to preach. Mark 3:14

Part of the preparation for what God wants you to do will grow out of the revelation of Himself that He gives you.  For most of us, the only place we can be readied to receive that revelation is in some wilderness, where God separates us from what we have learned to lean on, in order that He can show us that we need to lean on Him alone.

Where are you right now? Do you find yourself in the midst of some God-Appointed wilderness struggling to know God’s will and God’s way?  Do you feel alone there?  Do you feel abandoned there?  I know how you feel.  I have been to the wilderness.  I have lived in the wilderness.  I felt alone. I felt discouraged.  But I came to understand that the wilderness was the place of God’s presence.

If you are in the wilderness, you might be angry at God.  You may have considered abandoning God.  In your discouragement, the wilderness can even become a place of sin.  Where is God then?  How will God respond to you when you have proved to yourself that you are not worthy of His love.

Sometimes God takes us to the wilderness not only to show us Himself—but to show us ourselves.  The truth about who we are and how we trust God surfaces in the wilderness.  There, we are proved to be worse sinners than we knew ourselves to be.  How does God respond then?

Consider this passage from Nehemiah. “You came down on Mount Sinai; you spoke to them from heaven. You gave them regulations and laws that are just and right, and decrees and commands that are good.  You made known to them your holy Sabbath and gave them commands, decrees and laws through your servant Moses.  In their hunger you gave them bread from heaven and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock; you told them to go in and take possession of the land you had sworn with uplifted hand to give them. “But they, our ancestors, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and they did not obey your commands. They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them,  even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the wilderness. By day the pillar of cloud did not fail to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take.  You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.  For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out nor did their feet become swollen. Nehemiah 9:13-21

Why do you suppose God takes you into the wilderness to show you yourself so that you can see what a sinner you are? God takes you to the wilderness and shows you what a sinner you are so that He can show you what a Savior He is! In spite of the rebellion of His people, He remained faithful.  He still gave them water for their thirst.  He still gave them their daily bread.  He still guided them on their journey.  He never left them.  

God will be faithful to you in whatever wilderness you are facing, just as He was to the people He led out of Egypt. “In the wilderness … you saw how the LORD God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place. Deuteronomy 1:31 

Do you suppose God might also be carrying you? I am sure you have asked God some of the same questions that I ask from time to time.  “God, am I a castaway?  Can you still use me?”  “Do you still want me?  Do you still love me?”

The very words I write were born in one of those moments in my life. I will never forget the day I was in my office working on this message. I was preparing it for me, because I keenly felt everything I have shared with you. I had allowed a deadline to pass that seemed to me to be critical to my future. I let it pass because I had no word from God. God was silent. As a result of His silence, I saw my future slip away. My despair grew deeper by the day. It reached a zenith on a Wednesday in December of 2006. I was preparing this message for my church, but I was really describing what was going on in my own life.

God must have been watching as I paced around in my office that day. I was a desperately discouraged man. As I typed away at this message on my computer, the phone rang. Within an hour of that phone call, all my questions were answered. My future seemed to be restored. I had been called by God to the assignment I thought I had missed.

When that day started, I was convinced I missed God completely.  I was lost in the wilderness.  I felt abandoned and forgotten, and I felt I deserved to be.  But that day, I met God in the wilderness, and it altered the direction of my life.  Six months later, I shared the same message with my church on a Sunday night. The next day, I would be stepping through the door God had opened. This is what I said in closing: “Tomorrow I set foot on the road that God called me to travel. It may not lead out of the wilderness—but I am convinced that it will lead me to Him.” That is, after all, the purpose of the wilderness in the lives of God’s people. He brings us into some great and terrible wilderness, so that He might bring us to Himself.

Photo by POOYAN ESHTIAGHI