This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

A Bucket of Tears

Have you ever cried or found yourself especially hurting over something that in itself really wasn’t big enough that it should have caused such an intense response? The recent death of a friend brought me pain that was surprisingly intense and difficult to bounce back from. As I wondered why, God gave me some helpful insights.

Our hearts are like a bucket. Each painful event puts water into the bucket. Past events can still cause some pain when we are reminded of them. When those events first happened, they may have contributed half a bucket of water; now it is only a few drops. The water evaporates as we allow God to bring healing, so that by now the combined hurt from decades of our lives has been reduced to a tablespoonful of water, not even enough to notice. More recent hurts, however, and current situations add water to the bucket, sometimes a cup, sometimes a gallon or more, depending on the magnitude of the event. There are times in life that our buckets are very nearly full; any additional event, though it may not be huge in itself, is enough to make the bucket overflow.

When there is too much pain for our hearts to contain, there must be an outlet for the excess. There are options for handling that overflow. We can choose not to acknowledge the pain. If we do acknowledge it, we can either accept it or fight against it. There are then three basic responses: ignoring, fighting, or accepting.

Someone who ignores the pain responds with stoicism, pretending not to be affected. In his self-reliance, he suggests that nothing bothers him. In terms of the bucket illustration, he tries to make the sides of the bucket higher, perhaps by taping a piece of cardboard around the top. The soggy, dripping cardboard shows his plan to be ineffective. The pain of life does have an effect, and pretending otherwise hinders both our ability to properly deal with the event and our ability to minister to others.

The second response acknowledges the pain, but fights against it. In order to avoid the flow of excess water, the person hardens the water into ice cubes. He becomes angry, bitter, or resentful. He converts all of the extra emotion into those dangerous responses which can poison the soul and alienate him from God. This reaction can have devastating effects on his current and future spiritual welfare.

The third response recognizes the pain and accepts it as such. This response allows the excess water to flow over the sides of the bucket and soak the ground around it. The response of acceptance often leads to tears, sometimes in abundance. While perhaps uncomfortable or even frustrating, the tears are not wrong. Being willing to cry is saying, “God, I accept this hurt as by Your design. I will respond to the pain with a submissive spirit rather than fighting. My tears recognize the reality of pain, but by choosing tears instead of anger, I am saying that I am willing to hurt within Your plan.”

This submissive response is possible as we recognize God’s truth. First, each contributing event is within the sovereign control of God. Neither the reality, the timing, nor the combination of the events is wrong. On the contrary, each aspect is very right and good within the plan of God (Dan. 4:35, Rom. 8:28).

Second, the fact that these events hurt is not wrong. I Pet. 1:6 speaks of the inevitable heaviness brought by a variety of trials. In II Cor. 4:8-9, Paul talks of the pain and confusion of trials. In II Cor. 1:3-6, God Himself recognizes that affliction is hurtful enough to require His comfort.

Third, pain may linger. In heaven all pain, tears, and sorrow will be abolished forever (Rev. 21:4). On this sinful earth, however, there will always be pain (Jn. 16:33). Because some situations have ongoing effect or intermittent reminders, the pain of those situations may continue to some extent.

Fourth, God gives grace to bear the pain (II Cor. 12:9). He also tells us in I Cor. 10:13 that He knows our limitations and will not exceed them. While it may seem that too much is happening, God says that cannot be. The situation is never too much when accompanied by God’s grace.

Fifth, God does heal pain. He does that in part by putting boundaries on the pain to keep it from being overwhelming (II Cor. 4:8-9). The Bible also makes it clear that God’s work through pain is never over until He gives the healing (I Pet. 5:10, Job 5:18).

Sixth, God heals through love. I am unaware of anything else that has power to heal. The loving words and gentle hug of a friend help the healing process. Whether or not anyone else is available, God Himself, whose very nature is love, ministers to us in a way that no one else can. He talks of things like folding us under His wings and carrying us in His arms (Ps. 61:4, Is. 40:11). He is the God of all comfort (II Cor. 1:3), He loves us with everlasting love (Jer. 31:3), and He heals the broken-hearted (Ps. 147:3).

Seventh, God uses the pain for greater purposes. Through the painful situations, God is continually molding us to make us more like Christ (Jam. 1:3-4), but the greater purposes are bigger than us. When our weak human vessels survive past the breaking point, it becomes clear that the power is God’s and not our own (II Cor. 4:7, I Pet. 1:7). Our victory through pain brings glory to God.

When our bucket of pain is full and overflowing, we can choose to ignore the pain in self-reliance, fight against it in anger, or accept it in submission. The painful events, within the sovereign plan of God, do bring pain, and tears of acceptance are an appropriate response. It is not then unreasonable to think that tears and even the pain itself are part of God’s molding process. The bucket is overflowing because God intends it to be that way for the work that He wants to accomplish. Pain and tears, therefore, are okay. I would rather cry from now till the rapture in acceptance of God’s sometimes painful plan than to fight against it.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.”  II Corinthians 4:7 (NASB)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Seven-Day Challenge

My previous post talked about the importance of thinking Biblically. Spending time in the Word, both for specific timely issues and as a regular foundation-building habit, is critical to development of this skill. Other things can help (or hinder). In short, we curtail our ability to think Biblically when our mind is too full of other things.

While there may not be anything wrong with other materials we might read, a significant diet of fiction, Christian romance, magazines, political writings, newspapers, etc., will take up valuable space and focus in our minds, thereby limiting what we have available to devote to the Bible. Frequent reading of these other materials can introduce subtle errors (even in Christian writing) and can dull our spiritual sensitivity.

Even more dangerous than written material is the audio and video input from the entertainment world. Whether by choice or unavoidably as we go about our day, we frequently hear the world’s music. It is easy to watch television and movies for hours each day. Some of that input is absolute filth; even the best of it is likely to fill our minds with the philosophy and chaos of the world.

A third category that can be detrimental to Biblical thinking is our immersion in entertainment and gadgets. We spend so much time plugged in – playing games, texting, surfing the Internet, etc. - that our minds become saturated with that input. In addition to the electronic world, we can also fill our days with constant activity: sports, organizations, hobbies, or shopping. The constant entertainment and activities don’t leave much room for Biblical thoughts, which can be squeezed out.

We can help ourselves in our quest to think Biblically by limiting or eliminating these things that fight against us. We need to have time to be still and ponder God - time to be quiet so that we can hear His voice. So here’s the seven-day challenge. Put aside the TV, the iPhone, the Wii, the romance novels, (or whatever your personal distractions are) for one week. You don’t even have to spend the extra time in the Bible, although that’s a great way to spend some of it. Sit outside, watch the squirrels, visit a friend, talk with family members, cook something special, work on a project. I think you’ll be surprised at the difference in your spirit after you spend a week “unplugged.” As your mind is freed from distractions, you will find it easier to hear the voice of God and to focus on Biblical thoughts.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NASB)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Escaping Spiritual Anemia (Part 2)

In addition to an active relationship with God (Part 1), an “alive” Christian also has Biblical thoughts. He has learned to filter his thoughts according to the Bible to such an extent that it affects the way he lives. Thinking Biblically influences the things a Christian says, the way he does things, the activities he pursues, the things he looks at, the people he spends time with, and so much more. With his thinking grounded in the Bible, his words, actions, and responses will be godly.

Sadly, Christians are too often influenced by the world’s thinking instead. Many, many times I have seen Christians share quotations: a challenging thought, an encouraging saying, or an inspirational statement. I am surprised at how often those quotations come from secular authors, philosophers, motivational speakers, politicians, entertainers, and even leaders of other religions. Those people do sometimes have good and valuable things to say, and one can profit from the statements that are worthy and true. Others of those quotations, however, are frivolous at best; at their worst, they contradict the teaching of the Bible. I often wonder if the person who is sharing the statement considered it first before he passed it on. Christians are so inundated by the world’s philosophy that they often accept statements that sound good and positive even though they go against God’s truth.

In addition to the world’s thinking, Christians too often rely on their own thinking. They talk about their opinions and what they think is right. I sometimes shudder to hear people say, “Well, I think this verse means . . .” Worse yet, they give an opinion without even considering whether there is a verse to back it up, and sometimes in contradiction of a verse that says otherwise. People like to give advice based on their own experience or their personal evaluation of a situation. Christians go to each other for advice, asking questions like, “What do you think would be best?”Again, these types of input are not necessarily wrong, but they can be. When someone relies on human thinking, whether it is his own or that of someone else, he is in danger of doing the wrong thing. It is easy to think something is right simply because it is the desired answer. What individuals often fail to realize is that their own thinking has been influenced by the world; such thinking is not a reliable guide.

Everything in life is controlled by the thoughts. One’s filter for thinking affects how he evaluates the input that he is constantly receiving: what he should accept as true, what he should reject, or even the input that he needs to avoid receiving. The filter for thinking affects what one’s mind is occupied with during the day (and the night), determining whether he dwells on things that are profitable, empty, or even detrimental. The filter for thinking affects how one evaluates things; it is the basis for decision-making in both big and small choices of life. One’s filter for thinking also affects what he gives out. His conversations, discussions, input, and advice have an impact on those around him. In each of these areas, a Christian’s thoughts must be based on the Bible.

As a Christian moves through each day, he must get into the habit of asking, “What does the Bible say about this?” This is true for each of the areas mentioned above: the input one receives, his general thoughts, his evaluations, and his output. Instead of absorbing the world’s philosophy or relying on himself or others, a Christian must look for the Bible’s answers to everything. For any troublesome or confusing topic, he must look to the Word of God for guidance. I have often deliberately done Bible studies on a particular topic because it was something I was wondering about or because I was dissatisfied with the answers others had given. I have found that the Bible always has the answers, and those answers are not always the same as what I had previously thought or been told.

This practice of thinking Biblical thoughts happens from two aspects. It happens on the immediate level, as a Christian faces particular situations throughout his day. Whether it is something that someone says to him, a decision that he must make, or anything else requiring thought, he must ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Sometimes taking the time to ask the question is sufficient, because the answer may be simple. God’s truth, perhaps even specific verses, may immediately come to mind, and the answer may be very clear. Other situations, however, are a little more challenging. They may require a Christian to search the Bible for answers that he doesn’t already know. When he looks for and finds the answers for each issue, he is learning to think Biblically in the immediate; furthermore, those truths have now been learned for future situations in life.

The second aspect of Biblical thinking is on a more permanent level. This type of thinking is probably a more valuable skill, but it also requires more time to achieve. Rather than seeking Biblical answers in response to specific immediate questions, this aspect involves establishing a firm foundation in the Word so that one is prepared with Biblical thoughts when a situation arises. This Christian automatically knows what to think or what to do, because his entire thought process has been trained to think Biblically. His mind is saturated with the truth of the Bible. In recognizing “alive” Christians, there is a reason that a lot of them are older Christians. They’ve had more time to study God’s Word and to build this foundation. One can neither despair that this level cannot be achieved until he is old, nor can he assume that it will automatically happen as he gets older. Instead this gradual skill in Biblical thinking is something that must be actively pursued starting in the immediate so that forward progress can begin.

In conclusion, an “alive” Christian must have an active relationship with God. He does this as he gets to know God and as he communicates with God. An “alive” Christian also thinks Biblically, saturating himself with truth based on Bible study. It should strike us that these ways to become a vibrant Christian are centered in the Bible. We build a relationship with God as we get to know Him through the Bible. We communicate with God through the Bible. We learn to think Biblically through the Bible. In order to grow and become vibrant, we must have lots of the Bible. Just what we receive in church is not enough; there must be personal time in which God is speaking to us and we are learning on our own. Because the Bible is critically important to our Christian growth, many of my posts will deal with topics related to Bible study. There is no better way to grow.

“But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2 (NASB)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hiding in a Higher Rock

                 Hiding in a Higher Rock
Oh, my Father, I’m weary. My heart is so sore,
And I want to collapse from the pressures of life.
With such weight on my heart, I can’t walk anymore.
My faint soul needs to rest and withdraw from the strife.
I must hide in a Rock that no foe can defy;
A true refuge must be Someone higher than I.

Oh, my Father, I’m hurting, for life brings me pain.
Disappointments and sorrows have been quite profuse.
With the bruises and wounds that I’ve had to sustain,
I need something to shield me from further abuse.
I must hide in a Rock that no foe can defy;
A true refuge must be Someone higher than I.

Oh, my Father, I’m tested by trials each day.
I face arrows and darts and sharp spears by the score,
And I long to escape, but I can’t find the way.
I need safety, protection, and shelter from war.
I must hide in a Rock that no foe can defy;
A true refuge must be Someone higher than I.

Oh, my Father, I’m tempted to heed sin’s bold call.
Giving in seems so easy, but standing is hard.
When my will is so weak that it’s ready to fall,
Then I need Your support to encourage and guard.
I must hide in a Rock that no foe can defy;
A true refuge must be Someone higher than I.

The beauty of coming to know God in a deeper way through an active relationship with Him is that we know exactly where to find the Higher Rock that we desperately need. We know that we have a God who loves us and who is completely worthy of our trust. Sometimes life doesn’t give us a lot of places to turn to for help, but God is a constant and dependable refuge. What a blessed and comforting kind of relationship to have – knowing that we have an ever-available Friend who is so very much higher than our weakness!

"From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." Psalm 61:2 (NASB)

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Escaping Spiritual Anemia (Part 1)

What makes the difference between a mediocre, anemic Christian that looks very similar to the world and a vibrant, thriving Christian who inspires those around him? The world has no shortage of Christians who have neglected to climb upward. Even in what we would consider to be good, conservative churches, a large percentage of the church family doesn’t show up faithfully to all services or involve itself in ministry. I’m not trying to set a measureable standard for what a “good” Christian has to do, but at the same time, I think we can easily admit that something must be wrong when even our best churches see such tepidity. Even beyond the level of openly worldly Christians, there is a line somewhere between a “good” Christian (who basically says and does the right things) and one that is really alive. Why do so many Christians fail to cross that line?

Both the issue and the answer to it are more complex that what I have mastered, but I have a few basic ideas that I believe help to explain the difference. First, an “alive” Christian has an active relationship with God. For this person Christianity has become far more than praying a prayer, keeping a set of rules, or having a respected reputation. Instead, it is a very real relationship with a very real Person. This relationship is a 24/7 thing, not just a Sunday morning thing. It is something personal and distinct that is nurtured between the individual and God, and it goes beyond what is cultivated by a pastor or Sunday school teacher. How does one get to the point of having this kind of relationship with God?

First, he comes to know God. Knowing someone is fundamental to any relationship. Whenever someone gets to know God and understand how great and loving He is, there is a response of love; to know God is to love Him. Love is an important relationship word, and a Christian’s love for God helps to guide the way he lives. Knowing God well also creates trust, another great relationship word. As a Christian learns how great and how faithful God is, he learns to trust. He accepts the circumstances of life instead of fighting against God, and that makes for a strong and peaceful relationship.

The more a Christian knows God, the deeper the relationship will grow. Consider relationships; your special friends are the ones you spend the most time with and know the best. Perhaps with your dearest friend, you even reach the point that you feel like you could live with that person - and that is exactly what happens with God. As we know Him more, we appreciate Him more, and we want to spend more time with Him. In the process of pursuing that desire, our friendship grows to the point that we are with Him constantly.

So how do we get to know Him? There are many ways: through nature, as we see His magnificence; through history, as we recall His mighty acts; through life, as we experience His blessings and deliverance; through trials, as He goes through circumstances with us; through answered prayer, as we see His personal response to us; and through the testimonies of others, as they reveal what they have learned about God. Mostly, though, we get to know God through the Bible. In the Bible we read about God’s names, His attributes, His actions, and what He loves and hates. The entire Bible is about God; reading it and studying it carefully will help us learn to know our God.

The second way to build a relationship with God is to communicate with Him. Communication is another great relationship word. A profitable relationship requires time spent in communication. Our way of communicating with God is through prayer. Remember though, that this communication is part of a 24/7 relationship. We need to stop limiting ourselves to a tradition-based view of prayer – before each meal and five minutes when we get up in the morning. We need to get to the point that we talk to God constantly throughout the day. Instead of simply responding to life’s events or thinking through the issues that life presents, we need to direct our responses and thoughts toward God. At any point in the day, we should be able to very naturally share with God whatever is happening in our minds and lives.

The other direction of communication with God is through His Word. This is how God talks to us. We need to read the Bible slowly and carefully enough that we are able to see God's message. We need to read with a heart that is open and submitted so it can receive His message. As we read the Bible, God communicates with us, and then our thoughts should easily turn back to God in prayer as we respond to what He is showing us. This two-way communication helps to build the relationship, and the benefit to the relationship is proportional to the amount and depth of communication.

Any time we see a Christian who is vibrant and alive, we can be sure that person has established an active relationship with God. His relationship with God is not based on certain things he does at certain times of the day or on certain days of the week. Instead, he has a much more constant view; he has a friendship that is part of every day and every activity. That relationship was not formed overnight. It was built up over time – years and perhaps decades – of learning to know God better and of communicating with Him. Every journey of this magnitude begins somewhere; small steps and gradual growth add up to produce the end result.

“’But let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 9:24 (NASB)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

God Thinks Bigger

                           Far More
He’ll do far more abundantly than I can ask,
For His pow’r is not limited by any task.
When my life seems confused and in much disarray,
He gives answers beyond any prayer that I pray.
He’ll do far more abundantly than I can think;
He can do such sensations – in wonder I blink.
When my soul is in need that His hand should revive,
He is plentifully able to make me alive.
Oh, I know He is able; His power can’t fail,
And it’s only His hand that could work such detail.
When my faith gains more strength and my thinking expands,
Even that’s not too much for His capable hands.
Since my thoughts are so finite, His work I can’t know,
So that I am left asking, “How far will He go?”

In any area of life, God is able to do more than we can imagine. That can be in material provision, success of a project, blessing of ministry, emotional strength, or spiritual growth. We humans think too small. Too often we are satisfied just to survive or to avoid disaster. God, however, wants to work abundantly. The immensity of what God is able to do is beyond our imaginations, so it is not surprising that God can do more than we think. If we can’t even imagine the possible answers, we certainly won’t pray the prayers that ask for those answers. It is true that much of the time we don’t even know what to ask.

Our limitations, however, do not stop God from doing what He knows is possible. He can “dream up” a great plan and then work out the wonderful fulfillment of that plan whether or not we know what that outcome is. Sometimes the key is for us to surrender our own control and expectations and allow God to do His work. A child might have a very simple idea for a tree house, something he thinks would be very pleasing to him. If he refuses the guidance of his carpenter father, he may prevent himself from receiving a deluxe tree house, designed with all the extras his father has contemplated. Like that child, we have no idea what a wonderful result there might be when we let God take over the planning. While we can’t claim any magic prayer that will guarantee boundless prosperity, we might be missing out on some blessing by limiting the expectations of our prayers. Certainly it is appropriate to ask God to do more than we can imagine; the result will bring honor to Him.

"Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us." Ephesians 3:20 (NASB)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

It Doesn't Make Sense

It had never rained a drop of rain on the earth, and Noah didn’t even know what rain was. Yet God asked Noah to build an enormous ark, a major project which took a significant amount of time and brought ridicule from his neighbors. (Genesis 6)

God promised Abraham that He would bless him and make a great nation of him. Then He asked Abraham to leave his homeland and the place where he had begun to prosper. God instructed him to pack up and start traveling to a new land, but He did not reveal where the destination would be. (Genesis 12)

God promised to give innumerable descendants to Abraham. Not only did Abraham not have any children that would make such a promise possible, but he was married to a woman who was too old to have children. (Genesis 18)

After a long wait and the miraculous birth of the promised son, God asked Abraham to sacrifice that son. (Genesis 22)

Joseph’s service for God required that he be despised by his brothers, torn from his family, sold as a slave into a foreign country, tempted and falsely accused, thrown into prison, and forgotten by those who promised to help him. (Genesis 37-39)

Just as the nation of Israel was beginning to be established, God sent a lengthy drought that threatened their lives. In order for them to survive, God instructed Jacob to uproot his family, leave the Promised Land, and move to a foreign country where they would end up becoming slaves for four hundred years. (Genesis 46)

Moses had abandoned his position as prince of Egypt and had spent decades as a shepherd in the desert. It was from this unlikely role that God called Moses and instructed him to go before the world’s greatest leader. There he was to make the absurd request that Pharaoh free his enormous and very productive slave population. (Exodus 3)

As they escaped Egypt, God directed the children of Israel to make camp in a location where they were trapped by surrounding mountains, the sea, and an angry approaching army. (Exodus 14)

As Israel approached the first battle in their conquest of the Promised Land, God gave an unlikely battle plan. The army was instructed to march around the city of Jericho once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. (Joshua 6)

When Israel faced a battle against Midian, God purposefully reduced Gideon’s army to 300 men. He then sent that miniscule army into battle armed only with trumpets, pitchers, and torches. (Judges 7)

David, likely only a teenager, had no military training, no armor, and very little moral support. With only a sling and stones as weapons, he was impelled by God to go into battle alone against a giant, well-trained, well-equipped, and life-long warrior who was accompanied by a bodyguard. (I Samuel 17)

Jehoram and Jehoshaphat joined together in battle against Moab. The impending battle was daunting enough; additionally, the armies found themselves with no water for themselves or their animals. They were an easy target, and God’s answer was for them to go out and dig trenches in the valley. God Himself admitted there was no rain in the forecast, and He gave no additional instructions for the battle itself. (II Kings 3)

On another occasion Jehoshaphat faced a massive allied army led by Moab and Ammon. The threat was so disconcerting that the entire nation turned to fasting and prayer. God told His people not even to fight; instead they were to go out to where they could overlook the battlefield and then just stand and watch. (II Chronicles 20)

Naaman, a foreign army captain, was willing to acknowledge God’s power and seek the help of God’s prophet for his leprosy. After making the trip, he was not even allowed to see the prophet, but was relayed the unpromising instruction to go dip seven times in the muddy Jordan River. (II Kings 5)

Esther seemed to be the only hope to keep the Jews from being annihilated. Unfortunately, if she went before the king without an invitation and he didn’t feel like seeing her, she would be killed. She had not been invited to see him for thirty days, and with less than five years as queen, she had neither a great deal of experience to know what to expect nor a well-established rapport that might offer some immunity. More than just a visit, she wanted to ask for a significant intervention from the king and a major reversal of a law. In spite of the risks, she fulfilled her role within God’s plan by taking her life into her hands as she went uninvited to the king. (Esther 4-7)

When ordered to worship an idol, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego faithfully followed God’s command regarding false worship, even though they knew their obedience meant death in a raging furnace. They were graciously given a second chance, with the consequences of refusal clearly explained to them. To avoid a certain death, they could have made an outward show of kneeling to the idol, but they chose to obey God instead. (Daniel 3)

After difficult days of sorrow and ministry, Jesus compelled His disciples to go out on the sea in the middle of the night. He knew of the storm and wind they would face as they struggled to cross the sea. Knowing all the challenges involved in such a night trip, He didn’t even go with them, but sent them on their own. (Matthew 14)

Professional fisherman had used their skill and knowledge as they worked during the optimal nighttime hours, yet they caught nothing. Then in the heat of the day, when the fish were even less likely to be caught, and when the fishermen were tired and packing away their equipment, Jesus told them to go out and try again. (Luke 5)

Jesus was on His way to Jairus’s house to minister to his sick daughter. While on the journey, messengers arrived and informed the group that the daughter was already dead. Not only did Jesus continue to the house anyway, but He told the people not to fear or cry. (Luke 8)

Jesus loved Lazarus and his family. He knew Lazarus was sick, and He knew He had the ability to heal, yet He waited two more days before starting to go to him. From the perspective of family members and onlookers, Jesus allowed His friend to die. (John 11)

God sent His Son as the promised Messiah. Crowds of Jews were captivated by His teaching and miracles; they began to have hope of deliverance and the expectation of their nation’s being restored. With so many people encouraged and ready to follow this new leader, God allowed Him to be crucified as a common criminal.

None of these situations made much sense. Human thinking couldn’t figure them out. In each case, however, the person involved obeyed, doing what God had asked.  Also in every case, God worked out a wonderful plan. Consider the end of each story. When people obeyed God’s seemingly senseless plans, God gave amazing results: deliverance, victory, blessing, healing, resurrection, salvation - often on an incredible scale. It turns out that God knew what He was doing all the time.

The spiritual climb is sometimes like that; it doesn’t always make sense either. Our path might plunge down again before we can reach the next upward slope. A chasm might open in front of us, requiring that we leap over it. At times the path seems to disappear into a solid rock wall. We may have to cling to tiny bumps or cracks in the rock - maybe even hang upside down. We may need to walk on a tiny ledge that we can see is narrowing down to nothing. These things make no sense to us. They seem to make upward progress impossible - but God understands a lot of things that we can’t understand. When we obey His leading, He will work through the most confusing of situations to accomplish His great plan. Whether in our lives or in the lives of others, we may be incapable of comprehending what God is doing. In those cases, can we not let it be enough to remember that God understands perfectly? He always knows the answers to the why’s of life.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Waiting for the Morning

               Faith in the Dark (Sonnet 31)
The darkness makes my heart shrink back in fear;
I firmly grasp my Friend whose hand is there.
I love Him more because He stays so near
And never falters in His tender care.
While in the dark, with naught to see or do,
My Friend in calmness gently speaks to me.
He tells me all He’s ever said is true,
And that He knows all things that e’er shall be.
It’s in the darkness that I learn to trust;
He keeps me safe because each step He knows.
Since I can’t see, then lean on Him I must,
And with His proven guidance, my faith grows.
If in the dark I learn He does what’s right,
Prepared I’ll be to live and serve in light.

Life is not always easy. All Christians face segments of the upward climb that are especially difficult. One of the best ways to describe those times is by comparing them to the darkness of night. My pastor recently preached from Psalm 30. In the psalm David describes some of his difficult times and then gives this statement in verse 5: “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

As Pastor read this verse, my heart involuntarily brought a question to my lips: “But where is the morning?” Sometimes it seems that it will never come. I pondered the nighttime stage that my life seems to be in. Over the past year and a half, I have faced a number of difficult challenges, including a job loss and significant health struggles – and those two things don’t even top the list. That’s not to say that my life is completely filled with darkness. There are blessings as well, but there is an overall sense that I am in a challenging time frame in which God is preparing something better to come.

The circumstances of the preceding week and the struggles of the day combined with the focus of my pastor’s sermon to magnify the darkness of my current situation. It was a “perfect storm,” in which the events of life and the topic of the sermon worked together to put my focus on the blackness of the night. The expressions from Psalm 30 that ought to have given hope threatened to discourage me instead. All I could think about was how I am still waiting for the morning. It seems that I’ve been waiting for too long, and it is hard to continue in the darkness.

Even as I had those thoughts, I knew I had to change them. God does not intend for His children to remain discouraged or to focus on the darkness. My mind went to Psalm 42:5: “Hope in God.” God can provide hope instead of gloom, and His Word is the light that can illuminate the darkness. So the answer had to be found in more time talking with God and allowing Him to talk to me. God’s answer came as He directed my thoughts to three precious passages.

Psalm 27:13-14 “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the LORD.” If I don’t believe that God will again show His goodness, yes, I would be left in despair. But His goodness will come; there is no doubt of that. There will be reason to rejoice. I just have to wait for it, and I haven’t waited long enough yet. I can’t give up waiting. When God’s goodness comes, and it will, I want to be right where He has placed me, waiting for it and doing just what He has asked me to do.

My heart was then directed to a New Testament counterpart of those verses, found in Hebrews 10:35-36: “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”  While I long for morning to come in its fullness of light, it is more important that I maintain faith during the night. I must maintain my confidence in God, and He will reward my faith, because He always does. In the meantime, I just need to keep on doing what I know to be the will of God for now. If I endure, I will see the reward that God will give.

The third passage God brought to mind was I Peter 5:10: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” Again God gives the assurance that the suffering is only for a little while. It will end, and then God Himself will come and do His work in my heart. He is the God of all grace; it is a precious comfort to think of Him in that way during a time of trouble. God will do four important things for me. He will perfect, completing me spiritually and mending the wounds. He will confirm, establishing my faith and assuring me more than ever that His words are true. He will strengthen, giving me spiritual vigor and knowledge beyond what I had before. He will establish, deepening and reinforcing my foundation so that I cannot be shaken. Not only will the suffering end, but there will be great profit from it.

I must admit that sometimes I imagine the night to be darker than it really is. Sometimes I forget to turn on the light of God’s Word to dispel the darkness. It is also true, however, that there are dark stretches in life. There are nighttimes, and those nights often extend into long periods – but they always end. There is no night that God will not bring to its conclusion. God will always show His goodness, He will always bring the promised reward for faith, and He will always do His good work on the heels of the suffering. So when I find myself in the darkness of night, I must remind myself, “Just keep waiting. Morning will come.”