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, September 22, 2018

Trust and Defer

Current life circumstances have me frequently pondering some familiar verses. "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6).
There are times and situations in life when we don't know the answers and don't know what steps to take next. Our hearts are inclined toward God, and we want to do the right thing, but we don't know exactly what that is.

Because we don't know, our own inadequate understanding is not a trusty guide. Instead of leaning on our own understanding, we must depend on God's understanding, which is infinitely superior to ours. What doesn’t make sense to us makes perfect sense to God. While we can't trust our own understanding, we can definitely trust God's understanding. He not only knows every answer, but He also knows the means of achieving each answer.

"Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding?" (Isaiah 40:14-15).

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" (Romans 11:33).

"'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).

God's immense wisdom is not the only reason to trust Him. God also has all the power and control necessary to direct every situation in life. From the largest situation to the smallest detail, God can powerfully and precisely intervene. I've seen Him do it repeatedly in my own life. I've seen intricately arranged timing and perfectly arranged circumstances. This is not a challenge for God. We can trust Him not only to know the right answer, but also to bring that answer effectively to pass.

"Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing" (Isaiah 40:26).

"All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'" (Daniel 4:35).

"The LORD of hosts has sworn saying, 'Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand'" (Isaiah 14:24).

"For nothing will be impossible with God" (Luke 1:37).

Since God knows all things, since He can do all things, and since we can trust Him whole-heartedly, it is entirely logical to allow Him to make decisions for us. At each step along the way, we can acknowledge God. We can look to Him in each decision. We can seek His input, stepping aside and letting Him decide. We can leave every decision to God, resolved to follow whatever answer He chooses.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you" (Psalm 32:8).

"But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).

"Make me know Your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, or You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day" (Psalm 25:4).

When we consistently look to God to show His desire and to make the decisions for us, God will show us the right path. He will lead faithfully, and He will properly direct. He will produce the right and best outcome.

"As for God, His way is blameless; the word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him" (Psalm 18:30).

"I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me" (Psalm 57:2).

Because we are human, it is hard for us not to know. It is hard to wait for situations to play themselves out. Even when we want to trust God and when we think we are trusting Him, we often find ourselves faltering. Our thoughts become anxious, and our minds become busy with trying to find answers. That is when we must deliberately stop ourselves and remember the truths of Proverbs 3:5-6. "I can trust Him. He does know. He will do the best thing." As long as we remember these truths, we can rest in the care He will give, and as long as we acknowledge God in each situation, we can be confident in the outcome He will arrange.

Trust His Understanding (Sonnet 27)
I cannot trust myself; I am too weak,
But I must trust in God with all my heart.
Completely helpless, He’s the one I seek.
I lean on Him to show me ev’ry part.
My God knows things that I can’t understand;
His thoughts are so much higher than my own.
I cannot lean on help from my own hand,
But humbly seek wise counsel at His throne.
In ev’ry path I must see my great need
And look to Him to be my trusty Guide.
Acknowledging His wisdom, not impede;
Remove myself and let my God decide.
Then He will wisely lead me through each gate,
And He’ll direct each path and make it straight.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Details

How significant are little things? Especially within the big decisions of life, we are often aware of the impact of minor components, either good or bad, on the bigger picture. We see how things could have turned out differently. Can we trust that delays and disappointments, though frustrating and seemingly defeating, are under the control of God and even purposefully orchestrated by Him to accomplish His purposes?

The book of Esther tells a story of enormous consequence: the Jews living in Persia were slated for annihilation. "Letters were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children" (Esther 3:13). With stakes that large, the solution was realized through a series of details that could easily be defined as chance.

King Ahasuerus decided to give a banquet (1:3).

Influenced by alcohol, Ahasuerus decided to parade Queen Vashti before his male guests (1:10-11).

Vashti refused Ahasuerus's demand (1:12).

In a fit of anger (2:1), Ahasuerus asked advice for handling Vashti's rebellion (1:13-15).

Ahasuerus's advisors feared widespread domestic rebellion inspired by Vashti's example and recommended her removal as queen (1:16-20).

Ahasuerus approved choosing a new queen through a "beauty pageant" (2:2-4).

Esther's parents had died, and her uncle Mordecai was caring for her (2:7).

Esther was beautiful and of an appropriate age to enter the contest (2:7).

Esther was chosen as a candidate, apparently not of her own volition (2:8).

Esther immediately found special favor with the custodian of the women (2:9).

In spite of being Jewish, Esther was accepted for the contest (2:10).

The annihilation plan was not initiated until after the year-long preliminary preparation of the contestants (2:12).

Esther's turn to appear before Ahasuerus happened when it did (2:13-14).

Without requesting any special provision for her "interview," Esther experienced unanimous favor (2:15).

Ahasuerus liked Esther more than all the other women; he ended the contest and chose her (2:17).

Esther had the habit of obeying her uncle (2:20).

Mordecai overheard a plot against Ahasuerus that two of his disgruntled officials were foolish enough to talk about (2:21-22).

Mordecai made the decision to warn Ahasuerus (2:22).

A certain man Haman found favor in Ahasuerus's eyes and was promoted to a position of power and influence (3:1).

On religious grounds, Mordecai repeatedly refused Ahasuerus's command to bow to Haman, prompting an angry Haman to devise a plot of destruction against all Jews, not just Mordecai (3:2-6).

Haman used a method of chance to determine the date for the proposed annihilation, and it "luckily" allowed the longest interval possible before execution (3:7,13).

Ahasuerus had such confidence in Haman that he didn't question or investigate the proposal, but gave Haman unrestrained authority (3:10-11).

Instead of being kept secret, the decreed plot was actually revealed immediately to the general public (3:14-15).

Esther didn't know about the  plot, but her servants told her of Mordecai's despair. The particular man assigned to Esther fulfilled her request to go to Mordecai to investigate (3:4-5).

Mordecai asked Esther to intervene with Ahasuerus, even though unsolicited visits to the king could result in death (3:8-11).

Esther hadn't been called to Ahasuerus in thirty days and didn't know when she might be called (3:11).

After Esther's hesitant reply, Mordecai pressed his request. At the risk of her own life, Esther decided she would go (4:13-16).

Ahasuerus not only approved Esther's unsolicited visit, but he responded with favor, concern, and offers of help (5:2-3).

Instead of revealing her real motive immediately, Esther prepared for that disclosure through a series of two dinners that included Ahasuerus and Haman. Although planned on very short notice, the dinners were carried out (5:4-8).

The first dinner and invitation to the second gave Haman confidence to prepare to hang Mordecai, whom he happened to see when leaving dinner (5:9-14).

That night Ahasuerus couldn't sleep. He requested the reading of court archives, and the chosen record recounted Mordecai's previous warning to the king. Mordecai had never been rewarded, and Ahasuerus decided to reward him now (6:1-3).

Haman thought Ahasuerus meant to honor him; he gave extravagant instructions that he then had to perform for Mordecai (6:6-11).

After warnings from his wife and friends, Haman feared impending disgrace, and at that moment was called to the second dinner (6:12-14).

On learning that Haman wanted to destroy Esther and her people, Ahasuerus became angry and left the room (7:5-7).

A terrified Haman fell begging before Esther. When Ahasuerus returned, the physical interaction appeared inappropriate, and Ahasuerus commanded Haman's immediate death (7:6-10).

One of Ahasuerus's attendants knew about the gallows Haman had built the day before for Mordecai's hanging and informed Ahasuerus (7:9).

Although the command to destroy the Jews could not be repealed, based on Esther's entreaty, Ahasuerus gave approval (with still nine month's notice to prepare) for the Jews to defend themselves (8:3-13).

Most of the people now feared the Jews, leaving a limited number of enemies who chose to execute the annihilation command; all were killed (9:1-6). Instead of the Jews being annihilated, more than 75,000 of their enemies were killed (9:6,14-16).

The victory in this potentially devastating destruction was so great and the reversal so amazing, that the Jews have ever since celebrated the feast of Purim. The name of the holiday poignantly comes directly from the method of chance that Haman had utilized.

In His orchestration of major events, God uses little things: chance, impetuous decisions of others, coincidental encounters, overlooked situations, the favor of people, good and bad advice, timing of events, people's personal perceptions, misconstrued actions, legal intervention, and much more. Interestingly, the name of God never appears in the book of Esther, but His control and orchestration of all these chance events is strikingly obvious.

God does indeed use little things. He knows about all the details, and He knows how to use every one of them within His plan. When things seem to go wrong or result only in frustration, God can be trusted.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Fluffy or Solid?

Personal confession. When it comes to ladies' events, such as retreats, luncheons, conferences, and so on, I haven't always had a very positive attitude. Hopefully I'm getting better at this, but historically several aspects have annoyed me.

First, there has probably been a fleshly tendency that has rebelled against the possibility that God might want to change me, and that such change might be called for through the event. Second, I have become annoyed when I observed other ladies being all excited, like somehow this would be a magical experience in which God would totally transform them, somehow far more significant than the other spiritual input that they regularly received and didn't get excited about. Third, I have too often been disappointed by the content of such meetings; sadly, they have sometimes focused disproportionately on a clever theme that didn't correlate well with Biblical truth, or on personal stories that were primarily emotional or entertaining.

While the first aspect must be a concern for me personally, and the second aspect potentially reflects poor perspective by others, the third aspect is a concerning trend within the broader realm of Christianity. A Christian ladies' meeting should have purpose and substance. It should not be to entertain or to tickle the ears. In order to be spiritually significant, an event must have substance. Unfortunately, many ladies have left such events believing them to have been successful and beneficial, when they were actually on the shallow side. Because these ladies laughed a lot or cried a lot or remained interested during the sessions, they perceived those sessions as meaningful.

Such events can be truly meaningful, however, only when they have spiritual depth. Ladies need the truth of God's Word just as much as men do. The challenges that women face are answered through the Bible just like they are for men. Ladies too need an ever-deepening understanding of the Bible and must be progressively challenged by it. Interesting themes and heart-wrenching stories don't provide what any believers truly need. In order to be edified and encouraged, all Christians need something solid, not fluffy.

Whose fault is a "fluffy" event? It might be the speaker's fault. The chosen speaker might unfortunately be a better entertainer than expositor and might not share the depth of spiritual purpose that is intended for an event. It might be the planners' fault. Either the planners deliberately promote enjoyment over substance, or they inadvertently divert away from spiritual depth through their choice of a theme that isn't very Biblical or through a disproportionate emphasis on other activities. It might be the audience's fault. If over the history of an event, the audience demonstrates a preference for entertainment over substance, the event might progressively cater to that preference.

Christian ladies, like all Christians, must not settle for fluff. They should choose wisely the events they attend, selecting options that have historically demonstrated an emphasis on substance. When Christians leave such an event, their strongest and most valuable impression should be about the sound teaching, not about the food, entertainment, fellowship, theme, or decorations.

Christians should choose their reading material wisely. Even many Christian books are filled with worldly philosophies. Characters in fictional books are often consumed with worldly ambitions, and their examples look more like the world than a believer. A steady diet of Christian romances is unhealthy and contributes to discontent. Christian biographies, on the other hand, can be inspiring and challenging, and books on theology or Christian growth can be instructional.

Christians should choose devotional material wisely. A devotional must provide more than a feel-good story at the beginning of the day. It must have more spiritual depth than a single Bible verse written at the top of the page before telling a story and never again mentioning the Bible. The content must not be purely from the secular world (nature, experience, object lesson), but must direct the reader's thoughts to the Bible.

Christians should choose their churches wisely. A pastor who mostly tells stories or who regularly relies on jokes is not doing his duty to preach the Word effectively. The sermons must habitually focus on presenting and explaining the Bible. Sunday school classes can't be primarily fellowship or open sharing of every person's opinion. The Bible must be central in the church, actively and accurately taught.

Christian growth comes through the Bible. Christian events must center around Biblical teaching. Christian books must teach or at least support Biblical truth. Devotional material must facilitate understanding of the Bible. Churches must promote the Bible as their central focus. "Avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called 'knowledge' - which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith" (I Timothy 6:20-21).

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (II Timothy 3:16-17).

Entertaining stories, personal experiences, nifty themes, extended illustrations, and constant fellowship cannot be the dominating substance in the Christian experience. Just as eating fluff will leave a person filled with blubber, so a fluffy Christian diet will leave a believer with little strength. Life is not easy, and when the storms and trials come, a Christian must have a strong foundation and a strong core. This strength will come from a firm footing and a thorough knowledge of the Bible. Instead of remembering a cute story about a butterfly or a waterfall, a believer will have understanding of Biblical truth and Biblical promises that can give true help. With some Biblical substance, a Christian can walk through life and can stand for God. With only fluff, he will falter and fall. Don't settle for fluff. "Their heart is covered with fat, but I delight in Your law" (Psalm 119:70).

"Strengthen me according to Your word. Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law" (Psalm 119:28-29).

Saturday, September 1, 2018

How Blessed - Part 6 (Manifestations of Blessing)

"How blessed is/are ... !" This study in Psalms has revealed five situations in which God gives His blessing. First, He intends special blessing for the nation of Israel. Second, there is blessing associated with being in His presence. Third, blessing comes to those who endeavor to keep themselves free from sin. Fourth, God's blessing falls on those who live righteously. Fifth, God blesses those who trust Him as their source of help.

There is a bit of ambiguity in these situations. For instance, does God particularly bless those who seek His presence, or is the blessing an inevitable result of being in His presence? Does God deliberately bless a man who is free from sin and who lives righteously? Or is the blessing found inherently in the state of being free from sin and the practice of living righteously? In other words, is the blessing the result of some action or is the blessing a characteristic of the state created by that action?

It would be difficult from the verses to define the blessing as being one aspect or the other. More likely, both are true. Scripture clearly teaches that living the right kind of life results in a blessed state. The Bible also reveals that God sometimes bestows special blessing on people in response to their heart and actions for Him. The conclusion of this study will examine some of the visible outpourings of God's blessing. Verses from the Psalms describe various pleasures of life that are evidences of God's blessing.

"The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us. God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him" (67:6-7). These verses repeatedly state that blessing comes from God, and He does so in order that other people would take note of His blessing; God wants all men to realize there is something special in a relationship with Him, and He desires all men to fear Him. Blessing on a Christian's life can be a magnet that attracts others to God. The specific blessing listed is the fruitful production of the earth. God's blessing includes provision for material needs.

"Also He blesses them and they multiply greatly, and He does not let their cattle decrease" (107:38). God's blessings can be displayed as families (or nations) grow through the births of many children. God also blesses by causing herds and livestock to prosper rather than suffer decline. God blesses with family and with success in resources.

"For He has strengthened the bars of your gates; He has blessed your sons within you" (147:13). In this case God's blessing is on the strength and protection of the city as well as on the children or descendants within the city. God's blessing includes peace and prosperity.

"For You meet him with the blessings of good things; You set a crown of fine gold on his head" (21:3). For David in particular, God made him king and gave him riches and other unspecified good things. God's blessing can include power as well as prosperity and pleasures.

"How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate" (127:5). One of God's blessings is that of many children, which are compared to arrows for a soldier, a necessity for his survival. God gives children to aid a man in his life and influence.

"When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands, you will be happy and it will be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine within your house, your children like olive plants around your table" (128:2-3). The blessings include self-sufficiency in prosperous crops, a happy spirit, and a pleasant, favorable life. The blessings also include a fruitful wife who cares for the house, and healthy, flourishing children who surround their father. In summary, these blessings center around a happy and fruitful family.

"God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us" (67:1). This verse shares two parallel descriptions. God's blessing would look like He is being gracious by showing favor. It would also look like His face is shining on people. It is hard to understand this unusual phrase with any meaning except that God looks on people favorably and with brightness, like the pleasant rays of the sun. When God blesses, His actions are deliberate and purposeful as well as delightful and pleasant.

Clearly, God's blessings are various. These are not the only evidences of God's blessing, and God does not give all of these blessings to every Christian He is blessing. However, when these pleasures of life happen, they are a result of God's blessing.

God's blessing is powerful. "Let them curse, but You bless; when they arise, they shall be ashamed, but Your servant shall be glad" (109:28). God is greater than any adversary. Enemies might do all they can to tear someone down and destroy him, but those efforts cannot override God's blessing. When God decides to bless, the opposition of man is no match for Him.

God is able to bless, because He is the powerful creator. "May you be blessed of the LORD, maker of heaven and earth" (115:15). The One who made all things and sustains all things is able to provide blessings for His people. This psalm contrasts Him with false gods who have no such power. Over the millennia, people have performed horrible rituals, sacrifices, and deprivation in order to seek the favor of their gods. It was all in vain. Regardless of the level of devotion or abuse, gods who are no gods cannot bestow the slightest bit of blessing, but God - the true God - can give abundant blessing, and He does so not because people merit or earn it.  A loving God shows undeserved blessing to all who inhabit the earth, and in particular to those who belong to Him.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How Blessed - Part 5 (Trusting God)

"How blessed is/are ... !" God intentionally blesses Israel, those in His presence, those free from sin, and those who live righteously. Fifth, God blesses those who trust Him. There is divine reward for those who look to the right place as their source of help.

"How blessed is the man who has made the LORD his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood" (40:4, all verses from Psalms). This psalm rises from personal testimony of God's deliverance of David. David isn't just saying empty words. He knows and has been convinced of their truth, because he has seen it happen.

The blessed man is one who has made God his trust. This is a determined choice. A person decides what he will establish or set up as his source of trust, and he fixes himself on that source. The source of trust is viewed as an object of confidence, refuge, and security. This is no lightly taken step. It is deliberate and purposeful. Not nebulous, this is a clear determination to trust God, and it is made with the realization of what that trust means. With a sense of confidence and assurance, the trusting man knows that his chosen Source will take care of him.

The verse offers a contrast. The people who make God their trust are blessed, but there are people who make other choices - choices that are woefully inadequate. Instead of trusting in God, some people trust in the proud or in deceivers. The proud or defiant man thinks he has all the answers and may even reject the ideas of others; nevertheless, he does not know the answers and therefore is not a good source for trust. The untruthful man may seem reliable for a time, but he soon falls away and degrades into lies and deception. This man is not a good source for trust, as no confidence can be placed in what he says.

God is not like either of these two undependable groups of men; He is not puffed up with empty ideas of what might work, and He never deceives or misleads, even for the purpose of making people feel better. What God plans and advises is the right answer, and He always tells the truth. He is therefore an excellent source of trust, and trusting in Him leads to blessing.

"O LORD of hosts, how blessed is the man who trusts in You!" (84:12). Once again, we see that the man who trusts in God is blessed. God illumines his path and protects him. God gives him grace and glory. God showers him with the good things he needs. (See v. 11).

"How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God" (146:5). Although this verse could seem to refer to blessing for Israel, it is not limited to them. This is about those who trust in Israel's God - which some Jews did and some Jews didn't. Likewise, some Gentiles can trust in that God - the true God, the God who has orchestrated history, the God who has created and who sustains the world, the God who helps the helpless. These characteristics make him a universal God, available to all who trust Him.

In this verse, these blessed people have two characteristics. First, the true God is their help. That isn't so much about what they do as about what God does, but the point is that they are looking to God for their help - for the succor and aid they need in their hour of difficulty. Second, their hope is in God. This certainly clarifies that they are looking to God as their source of help. He is the one they depend on and expect answers from.

"Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (2:12). "Him" is referring back to the Son as the place of refuge. This verse (and passage) present a great contrast. Some people do not take refuge in God; instead, they puff themselves up as sufficient and powerful. Those people stand in jeopardy of God's anger, of perishing in the way, and of kindling His wrath.

On the contrary, those who take refuge in God escape those disasters. Taking refuge is the act of fleeing for protection. It is a deliberate action taken because one is aware of imminent danger. When the dangers and trials of life come, there are some people who run to God and who hope in Him as their help and strength. These people are blessed - all of them. No one who takes such a dependent position on God will be abandoned.

"O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (34:8). David wrote these words also from personal experience. The psalm recalls the time when he found himself in a tenuous situation before a foreign king, and God delivered him through the dubious scheme of a feigned display of madness. By this testimony, David reveals that his trust was not in his own harebrained scheme, but in God his refuge, who made the unlikely plan work. David rejoices in sharing what God has done for him and will do for others who also take refuge in God.

"How blessed is the man whose strength is in You, in whose heart are the highways to Zion!" (84:5). This is a man who draws his strength from God. Knowing he does not have strength in himself and that no other source is sufficient, he relies on the best source. This man also loves what God loves. This man whose heart is united with God and whose strength comes from God is blessed. Indeed, all who trust God are blessed!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

How Blessed - Part 4 (The Righteous)

"How blessed is/are ... !" God intends blessing for Israel. Blessing is found in God's  presence and in being free from sin. A fourth channel of blessing is by living righteously.

"For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him with favor as with a shield" (5:12, all verses from Psalms). The emphasis is that it is God who blesses. While people often trust in other sources, nothing can powerfully protect like God can. God is a refuge and shelter (v. 11) and a surrounding shield. God's blessing protects, and it also surrounds people with favor, goodwill, and pleasure. This divine protection and favor is especially shown to the man who is upright in conduct and character.

"Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the LORD" (128:4). With four verses revealing the same characteristic, fearing the Lord is clearly an important factor in receiving God's blessing. The righteous man views God with reverence, godly fear, respect, honor, and awe.

"He will bless those who fear the LORD, the small together with the great" (115:13). This second verse about fearing God reveals that both small and great are included. The terms refer to size, age, or significance. Someone doesn't have to be a great, important person to receive God's blessing. God sees the upright heart, even when someone is unnoticed by others. The blessing might not be flashy. Some of the people blessed by God are "small" and may still be perceived that way even after receiving God's blessing. The fact that someone is not in an eye-catching position does not mean that God isn't blessing.

"How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments" (112:1). This verse shares two characteristics; the first is fearing the Lord. Blessing comes to the man who is not presumptuous, haughty, or self-absorbed. Because he puts himself in the proper position, he doesn't diminish the honor due to God. He recognizes God as highly exalted and worthy of the utmost reverence. This leads naturally to the second characteristic, delighting in His commandments. One who fears God realizes he must honor and obey God, so the blessed man takes pleasure in doing what God asks.

"How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways" (128:1). This fourth verse once again identifies fearing God as a means of blessing, and then gives a second characteristic: walking in His ways. Referring to one's manner of living, everything that this man does on a regular basis as he goes through life is within the path that God has set out for him. He follows the direction that God has chosen and takes the steps that God has ordained.

"His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed" (112:2). Referring back to the man who fears the Lord and delights in His commandments, this verse gives one new description - that he is upright. He is straight, correct, and proper, with no deception or wavering. He is sincerely dedicated to doing what is right without compromising. The blessing on this man actually extends beyond him to impact his descendants and leave a mighty legacy.

"How blessed are those who keep justice, who practice righteousness at all times!" (106:3). Blessing comes to those who keep justice, who carefully and consistently make right decisions, who evaluate situations to distinguish what is right and wrong, and who take action for the right. Blessing also comes to those who consistently practice righteousness, doing right at all times. Both characteristics display a dedication to doing what is right with regularity and constancy. This man isn't unpredictable, swayed by the situation, or inconsistent during some stages of life; rather, he has a lifetime of deliberate, faithful pursuit of what is right.

"How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart" (19:2). First, the blessed man observes God's testimonies. Like a watchman or guard protects what is under his care, he carefully keeps God's divine laws. He is diligent to maintain their integrity and purity. Second, the blessed man seeks God with all his heart. He comes to God in prayer and worship, desiring to know His mind and desires. He is fervently and fully devoted to God, not half-hearted or sporadic. He has a high level of dedication to God and His commands.

"He shall receive a blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation" (24:5). The blessed man is identified in the previous verse: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully." God's blessing comes to a man of integrity, who has four characteristics. First, he has clean hands. He is innocent and free from guilt and has not used his hands for ungodly actions. Second, he has a pure heart, clear and sincere. His cleanliness is not merely external, but his heart is clean toward God. Third, he has not lifted up his soul to falsehood. He has not given himself to carrying communication that is empty, vain, or false. Fourth, he has not sworn deceitfully. He has not taken an oath under treachery. His word and character can be trusted. This man of internal and external integrity receives blessing from God.

"How blessed is he who considers the helpless; the LORD will deliver him in a day of trouble" (41:1). God blesses those who look on the helpless; the primary emphasis seems to be their physical situation: social, financial, health. They have actual, meetable needs, and the man who will be blessed identifies, evaluates, and helps. God in turn delivers and intervenes when he is in need.

Obviously, righteous people have problems. Their lives are not perfect, and they might not be affluent. Regardless, there is very real blessing for those who live righteously in the fear of God.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

How Blessed - Part 3 (Free From Sin)

"How blessed is/are ... !" God reserves special blessing for Israel. God blesses those who enjoy the closeness of His  presence. A third revealed avenue to blessing is in being free from sin. God blesses those who turn from a lifestyle of sin as well as from specific known sins.

"How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!" (Psalm 1:1). This verse gives three characteristics of a blessed man; each one involves deliberate disassociation from ungodly people. First, he does not walk with the wicked - those who are guilty of crimes against man or God, those who are hostile to God. The blessed man's feet do not travel the same paths with such people; he does not desire to walk in the same direction. Second, the blessed man does not stand with sinners - those who have been condemned and judged as offenders. He does not take his position with such people or accompany them. Third, he does not sit with scoffers - those who deliberately disfigure their faces as they speak from hearts of ridicule.

Throughout life, the blessed man will have to come in contact with these people from time to time, but he is not habitually with them. He does not order his life so that he is known for regular association and companionship with them. Instead, he wants to associate with God and His Word (v. 2). This is not a casual acquaintance, like those other relationships could be; rather, it is as constant as possible. Day and night the blessed man seeks the Word because he delights in it. Those other associations might be inevitable in the course of life, but this one is deliberate, based on a conscious choice to avoid associations of defilement and evil, and to embrace associations of righteousness and godliness.

"How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!" (Psalm 32:1). David wrote this psalm from experience, knowing in a powerful way what is was like to have his sin forgiven. Prior to that forgiveness, David was not blessed. Rather, he experienced his body wasting away, constant groaning, God's hand heavy on him, and his strength drained away as from an illness. Once his sin was forgiven, that oppressive situation changed; David defines that change and restoration as blessing.

This verse is very personal. David is talking about specific sin and specific forgiveness, indicating that the blessing is renewed each time such confession and forgiveness takes place. Forgiveness refers to something being lifted and carried off; there is blessing in having such a heavy burden removed. David also says his sin is covered - hidden, clothed, or concealed so that the nastiness is no longer seen. There is blessing in not having a constant visible reminder of that stain. David's emphasis regarding blessing is on having the negative and oppressive removed. He doesn't specifically describe blessing from a positive standpoint, although in the final verse he speaks of gladness, rejoicing, and shouting for joy.

"How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!" (Psalm 32:2). Instead of continuing to refer to a specific personal incident, the next verse in the same psalm describes an overall principle. This more general statement gives two descriptions of a blessed man. First, he is one to whom God does not impute iniquity. There would not be blessing in knowing there is something unpaid and heavy that is hanging over one unresolved. It would be a blessing, however, to have the ledger cleared and balanced, not caught in a position where God has something to hold on one's account. Second, the blessed man is someone in whose spirit there is no deceit. In a broad sense, deceit is overlooking or taking something casually, probably deliberately trying to hide it. In the context of sin, it is someone who carries un-confessed sin, particularly with the attitude that it isn't a big deal or for the purpose of trying to make himself look good. Blessing comes to those who don't try to deceive, but who acknowledge and deal with sin.

"Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O LORD, and whom You teach out of Your law" (Psalm 94:12). There are wicked people who face God's judgment without ever falling under His favor; there are others who experience correction because an interested God chooses to intervene in their lives. This psalm contrasts those two groups, and identifies the second group as blessed. God first of all chastens these blessed people. He disciplines, instructs, admonishes, and corrects. This chastening, while not necessarily harsh, is deliberate; the goal is to correct what is wrong so the recipient will change and do what is right. A loving parent does this because he wants his child to turn out well, not facing harsh consequences for wrong choices; he desires long-term good and benefit for his child. When God does this for His children, they are blessed. A loving and benevolent God is trying to keep them on the right path and prevent the heavy repercussions of following the wrong path.

God's second action is to teach these blessed people from His law. This training requires some effort by the students to learn. Again, this is a personal intervention by God to help these people know the right way to walk, a way that will lead to blessing, and not to destruction or burden. God's instruction about the right way is found in the Bible. Those who diligently study and follow the Bible will know the right way to live so their lives can be blessed.

In summary, the blessed man avoids the lifestyle and associations with sin. He confesses known sin and yields to God's correction. He deliberately studies the Bible so he can avoid sin.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

How Blessed - Part 2 (God's Presence)

"How blessed is/are ... !" While God's blessing is always undeserved, there are certain aspects that God reveals as specifically opening the windows of blessing. One of those associations is that blessing is found in God's presence. There is blessing associated with fellowship with and closeness to God.

"How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple" (Psalm 65:4). Referring to God's courts, His house, and His holy temple, this verse seems to be focused on the place of worship. There is a blessing in being in that place of nearness to God. There is a satisfaction with its goodness. The blessing seems to be linked to the closeness of fellowship, as these people are near to God. They are dwelling with Him in His house. What a blessed position! What other position or location could be so beneficial and salutary? While the specific emphasis of this verse is on frequenting the place of worship, a level of blessing would certainly be found in closeness to God in other contexts; nevertheless, that constant blessing of nearness to God does not belittle the special blessing that is found in the place of worship. It is interesting that these blessed people are not acting fully of their own volition or of their own initiative to put themselves in the place of blessing. Rather, God has chosen them and has brought them near. Man is naturally alienated from God, but He has selected people and set them apart. Who could ever make himself worthy of God's blessing when God is the one who chooses the people that He then blesses?

"How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You" (Psalm 84:4). The first four verses of this psalm focus on the house of God. It is lovely (v. 1). It is a place that the soul longs for and yearns for (v. 2); something inside man recognizes that there is a special and desirable quality about that place. God's house is like a home for those who have no home, a shelter for those who are frail and dependent (v. 3). God's house, that very special place, is opened freely to all those who want to dwell there. Because dwelling in God's house, a place of blessing, is also a means to blessing, the people who frequent that place have constant reason to praise God.

"How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance" (Psalm 89:15). This blessing is associated with those who know (are acquainted with) the joyful sound, which is a shout of joy. If this phrase were used in a negative or sobering sense, it would refer to a shout of war, an alarm, or a call to march. This sound or shout is somewhat spontaneous and significant, given in response to a specific situation or observation. The shout in this verse is joyful, based not in alarm but in wonder. Based on the rest of the psalm, it seems this shout of joy comes from those who know God well.

The psalm talks much of the revelation of God and His character. He is so amazing that even the heavens praise Him (v. 5), the sea obeys Him (v. 9), and the mountains shout for joy (v. 12). The psalm talks of God's greatness through the covenant made to David, by the fear given by the council of the holy ones, and by His conquest of Rahab (Egypt) and other enemies. The psalm speaks of God's lovingkindness, His faithfulness, His wonders, His incomparable nature, His unmatched might, His deserved fear, His unparalleled awesomeness, His unique might, His sovereign rule, His unstoppable judgment, His creative work, His strength, His righteousness, His justice, and His truth.

The psalmist's intent is to declare these attributes, many of which are also declared by history and by nature. When people hear these declarations and embrace this knowledge, they are compelled to shout with joy. Those who know God well have great reason for rejoicing. They are blessed, and they walk in the light of God's countenance. Their constant journey through life is filled with the illuminating presence of God. This closeness to God, both in knowing His character and in walking in His presence, is a source of blessing.

"For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence" (Psalm 21:6). This psalm is actually a personal testimony of David as king. He recounts the blessings God has given to him. God gave David strength and salvation. God granted David the desires of his heart and the requests of his lips. God gave him good things. God made him king. God preserved his life. God gave him glory, splendor, and majesty. God's blessing to David had an eternal aspect.

This is a special and unique blessing given especially to David, based on the covenant God had made with him. It is interesting to note, however, the concept that David links to his statement of abundant blessing; he associates the blessing with joyfulness and gladness in the presence of God. While this could be just one more thing in the long list of blessings, it is the one statement David makes when he most fully summarizes God's blessing on him. All of those previously mentioned blessings could be interpreted as evidences and results of the close relationship David enjoyed with God. God blessed David because he was a man after His heart. The very heart of David was in fellowship with the heart of God.

There is blessing in daily nearness to God and in having a heart closely linked to Him. There is a special blessing found in frequenting God's house. How blessed indeed to be near to the presence of God!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

How Blessed - Part 1 (Israel)

"How blessed is/are ...!" This interjection occurs in twenty-two verses in Psalms, referring to happiness or blessedness. Another word commonly indicating blessing means "to kneel, praise, or salute." Most often used of people toward God,  inexplicably God also uses it of His actions toward people.

Among the various reasons for God's blessing, God reserves special blessing for Israel. Perhaps none of my readers fit this category, but even the study of God's blessing of Israel is insightful.

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom He has chosen for His inheritance" (Psalm 33:12). The verse refers primarily to Israel as a national entity. God's unique blessing of Israel has little to do with them and much to do with God. Israel is blessed because the LORD is their God.

Blessing does not come to nations because Allah is their god or Buddha or idols, but only when Jehovah is their God. There is no other nation in history for whom this is more true than for Israel; their foundation, history, development, and future hinge on this relationship. The blessing comes because of the relationship established by God when He formed that nation. Blessing increased when they actually followed God, but God's blessing was somewhat independent of their faithfulness.

The second part of the verse reveals the reason for the independent aspect of God's blessing. Israel didn't choose God; He chose them. Ultimately, no nation or individual deserves God's blessing. The blessing comes because of who God is.

"How blessed are the people who are so situated; how blessed are the people whose God is the LORD!" (144:15). David refers to Israel's potential blessed situation, describing strong young people, abundant produce, plentiful flocks, and peaceful streets. The reason for the blessing is simply because the LORD is their God. They are God's people, chosen by Him, having a relationship established by Him. God's blessing, revealed in David's descriptions, is real and meaningful. When God blesses, He really does. Not claiming such blessings as current reality or foregone expectations, David is actually praying for them to happen. Logically, then, some blessing could come because people pray for it.

"Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; be their shepherd also, and carry them forever" (28:9). David again prays for God's blessing on Israel, again because they are God's inheritance. While no specific blessings are mentioned, David prays for God to be their shepherd and carry them forever. It would indeed be a blessing to have God's tender and thorough care, meeting every need, helping the weak, and taking the responsibility to care for them always.

"The LORD will give strength to His people; the LORD will bless His people with peace" (29:11). This psalm about God's voice repeatedly refers to David's kingdom. It also declares God to be the eternal king; as such, He does the actions of this verse, giving the blessings of strength and peace. Strength probably refers to social and political strength, indicating dominance that demands notice and respect as a nation. Peace likely refers both to quietness and contentment within the country as well as tranquility in relation to other countries. Both these blessings are stated as future fact; the LORD will do them. Israel has had a measure of these throughout their history, but there is also an aspect to which they are still waiting, especially for the peace.

"For those blessed by Him will inherit the land, but those cursed by Him will be cut off" (37:22). While certainly applicable to any of God's people, the references to inheriting the land create a strong link to Israel, who was the original audience. The verse presents a contrast between those who are blessed and those who are cursed. The difference is between the righteous and the wicked, a contrast highlighted frequently in the psalm. Basically, the righteous receive God's blessing, but the wicked are cursed by Him.

The results are a stark contrast. The blessed ones will inherit the land, seeing the fulfillment of promises and receiving the inheritance intended for them. The cursed will be cut off and destroyed; they will die without seeing the blessing. Even within Israel, this distinction was possible. Overall, the nation was under His blessing. Individually, even wicked people would experience some of the corporate effect of blessing, but would forfeit a measure of personal blessing if they did not follow Jehovah faithfully.

"The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron" (115:12). The house of Israel and Aaron (see also vs. 9-10) is the recipient of this blessing. While the blessing is apparently independent of Israel's action, Israel is called on to trust and fear the LORD. The power behind the blessing is the one true God. The psalm describes false gods - powerless, not able to speak, not able to see, not able to hear, not able to smell, not able to feel, not able to walk, not able to make noise. All who trust in such gods will not receive blessing. Unlike gods who can't perceive their followers, God does see and act. He is mindful of His children, and when He remembers them, He blesses them.

"The LORD bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life" (128:5). This psalm reveals three specific blessings for Israel: consistent prosperity of the homeland, personal longevity of life, and national peace. With the blessing emanating from Zion, where Christ will rule during the millennium, this likely refers to the blessing of the millennial reign. There remains yet future blessing for these people who are so special to God.

These verses, while focusing on Israel, reveal that God's blessing is undeserved, that true blessing comes only from the Almighty God, that it is especially reserved for the righteous, and that it can be the result of answered prayer.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Beneficial Suffering

In recent years, the "health and wealth" gospel has suggested that everything will be wonderful and prosperous for those who follow God. Historically, there has always been a segment of Christianity which has thought Christians should not suffer. Even in the ancient book of Job this idea existed: "Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it" (Job 4:7-8). Is it ever God's desire for His children to suffer?

Absolutely yes. First Peter 3:17 states, "For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong." "Those who suffer according to the will of God" (I Peter 4:19). Sometimes God does will for His children to suffer. The suffering is in His mind and is something that He intends should happen by His resolve and determination. God desires the suffering and to an extent even takes delight in it - not in the suffering itself, but in the divinely designed results.

Just as a note, it is never God's desire that His children should suffer for doing what is wrong. His justice does require punishment for wrong-doing, but God never wants His children to do the wrong acts that bring such justice. That is, God might approve that a Christian would go to jail for killing someone, but He does not want the murder to take place. When someone suffers the just results of his evil acts, there is nothing good in that.

When a Christian suffers for doing what is right, however, that is a different story. There are times when believers are living with the intention and desire to follow God. In the midst of that righteous (not perfect) living, they end up suffering. This is the suffering that can be according to the will of God. Peter reveals why by setting up a contrast between the two kinds of suffering. His summary statement is that suffering for doing what is right is better than suffering for what is wrong.

That word better is both a positive word and a comparative word. In its positive aspect, the word refers to something being useful, serviceable, and advantageous. In its comparative sense, it means that suffering for doing good is useful and advantageous to a degree beyond what could happen in suffering for doing evil. In both cases, the result (suffering) is the same. The difference or advantage is evidenced in the benefits that come from suffering for what is right. There are no benefits in suffering for what is wrong. That kind of suffering ends up simply being sad and disappointing, empty and worthless. It accomplishes nothing good.

This is not true of suffering for doing what is good. This type of suffering has tremendous benefit. From my study of the epistle of First Peter, I suggest this theme: living in suffering in a way that makes an impact for God. Peter makes it clear that there is a way to suffer that has great benefit, and he shares those benefits throughout the book. None of these benefits happen when the suffering is due to wrong-doing, but all of them happen when the suffering is for doing what is right.

Suffering proves and confirms your precious faith. "The proof of your faith" (1:7). "For your testing" (4:12).

God will be praised, glorified, and honored. "May be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:7). "The Gentiles ... glorify God in the day of visitation" (2:12).  "You may rejoice with exultation" (4:13) "Glorify God" (4:16).

Your reputation is upheld. "Because of your good deeds, as they observe them" (2:12). "You may silence the ignorance of foolish men" (2:15). "Those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame" (3:16).

You can follow your conscience in living as God expects. "For the sake of conscience toward God" (2:19). "And keep a good conscience" (3:16).

You please God. "For this finds favor. ... This finds favor with God" (2:19-20).

You imitate and reflect Christ. "Leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps" (2:21). "You share the sufferings of Christ" (4:13).

You have a part in the salvation of others and opportunity to share your faith. "They may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives" (3:1). "Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you" (3:15).

You receive God's blessing. "That you might inherit a blessing" (3:9). "You are blessed" (3:14). "You are blessed" (4:14). Christ likewise received the Father's blessing (1:11; 5:1).

You will be sanctified and refocused. "He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (4:1-2).

The Spirit of God rests on you. "The Spirit of glory and of God rests on you" (4:14).

You learn to trust God. "Shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator" (4:19).

You will be strengthened in God. "The God of all grace ... will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you" (5:10).

There are definitely advantages to suffering when that suffering is for what is right. This epistle teaches that the right kind of living in the midst of suffering makes a difference. Due to the numerous advantages, it is no wonder that God sometimes wills suffering to happen. There is much good that God wants to do in and through His children when they suffer. It is abundantly evident from the references above that God does not waste suffering. Suffering has purpose, and through God's intervention, suffering accomplishes much that is of eternal and lasting value. Suffering is never easy, but it is truly beneficial.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

In the Garden

My mother sang this hymn by Charles Miles often, and it became a childhood favorite of mine. As I have grown older, I still like the hymn, and after I studied Song of Solomon, I felt like I understood it better.

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

In the first two stanzas and chorus displayed above, the narrator speaks of the sweetness of time spent with God in the garden. In that early morning quiet, they enjoy a special time between just the two of them. They fellowship together, and it seems that nothing can compare with the precious sound of the Savior's voice and the assurances of His love.

In Song of Solomon, the garden is a special place where the king and his beloved wife go to share especially sweet and personal times. This special picture begins in their betrothal stage, when the king excitedly describes the beauties of the spring and invites her to come with him to observe. (2:10-13). When the king later describes the ecstasies of intimacy with her, he compares her to a private and fragrant garden that he enjoys (4:12-15). She responds with an open invitation for him to enjoy this garden (4:16). When later there is a rift in their relationship, the bride desperately seeks her husband. She wanders aimlessly through the city, and then she remembers that the place she will find him is the garden (6:2). There the two are reconciled and again spend special time together. The gardens are both a symbol of their love and a habitual trysting place (7:12).

This picture from Song of Solomon fit very well into my understanding of the hymn. I even noted the line from the hymn, "and He tells me I am His own," and linked that to the repeated realization of the king's love for his bride. "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (6:3, variations in 2:16 and 7:10).

We know what it is like to have those special times with God. Sometimes they happen during times of intense struggle and difficult testing. When we have special communion with God during those times, we can have an inexplicable joy and even an illogical radiance on our faces, all due to the pleasure of that time with God. As the hymn-writer stated, it is so special that it seems like no one else could possibly understand. Surely no one else could know what it is like to have God personally minister in such a way.

This is how I understood the hymn, but I struggled with the final stanza.

I'd stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

It troubled me to present the idea that God would have me leave when I want to stay. When would He ever ask me to leave? There is a phrase in Song of Solomon that denies this could happen. "Do not arouse or awaken my love until she pleases" (8:4, variations in 2:7 and 3:5). This repeated phrase comes at times when the bride has chosen to be close to the king, and he has responded by urging that no one disturb them. He does not want the time to end, and as long as she is willing to stay, he is desirous of her continued presence. I reconciled my conflict by acknowledging the general concept behind the stanza - that if my time with God ever had to end, it would be with sadness.

As I prepared to write this blog, intending to focus on the sweet fellowship that is possible and on the truth that, in fact, God would never send us away, I looked up the hymn text and found the story that accompanied its writing.

As it turns out, I was completely wrong. Although there are a number of hymns that draw from Song of Solomon, this one does not. The hymn-writer was inspired by reading John 20 about the encounter in the garden between Mary Magdalene and the resurrected Savior. She did go to the garden (tomb) early in the morning (v. 1) and then ran to tell the disciples that the stone was moved. Peter and John accompanied her to the empty tomb; when they left, Mary remained (vs. 10-11). Mary was distraught, weeping and inconsolable, not understanding what had happened. First angels spoke to her, and then the Savior Himself (vs. 15-16). This would indeed have been a wonderful, special experience for Mary to have this unique time with Jesus, something that no one else shared.

This encounter calmed and comforted Mary, but as the third stanza of the hymn recounts, this special time did have to end. "Jesus said to her, 'Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father' " (v. 17). I believe the hymn-writer takes some liberties regarding the duration, activities, and timing of this encounter, but it is true that Jesus had to separate from Mary temporarily.

I prefer my interpretation based on Song of Solomon; it invites application to all Christians rather than focusing on one slice of the Resurrection story. Truthfully, though, God's love is expressed in both stories. He wants to have special times with us, and He wants to comfort us in our times of pain. There is indeed a distinct pleasure found in enjoying the love and presence of God.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Awkward Career Choices

Career choices, usually directed by one's college major, can seem unfulfilling or puzzling after a decade or two. Sometimes in retrospect, the college major one pursued seems now a little awkward. For example, my first major, Youth Ministries, now seems rather impractical for a lady.

Other friends have reached similar conclusions, as the exciting majors they chose didn't turn out to be very practical. Sometimes a new field of study drew interested students in larger numbers than the work force required. Some majors were actually impractical for Christians, unless a unique ministry situation materialized. Sometimes a talent should have been developed on the side, while majoring in something more practical. Some students have steadfastly completed their degrees, knowing even before they graduated that they would never enter that career.

There are many reasons why young people choose majors that they end up doubting or even regretting years down the road; the simplest is that they were young. Youth carries limitations. Some young people, in their limited awareness of possibilities, simply chose a career they knew about. Others were caught up in the excitement or appeal of a particular field. They may have made their choice based on a burden to serve God in a special way, but didn't know the best way to prepare, or perhaps made their focus too narrow. Still others devoted their studies to an area of talent or interest rather than a career.

Certainly, there are young people who chose wrong majors because their hearts were not in tune with God's values and because they were not seeking God's guidance. They may have been motivated by money, popularity, or prestige. But what about those who wanted to follow God's will, who wanted to serve God, and who prayed about their decision? They truly believed they were studying what God wanted them to study. Did they make wrong choices?

I don't believe such situations should be considered mistakes.  If those young people acted in what they believed was sincere obedience, using the maturity they possessed at the time, then they did the right thing. God is sovereign and powerful enough to use that preparation and obedience within His plan. "Awkward" majors often contribute to an area of ministry within the church or as a means of relating to unsaved people. Sometimes they simply develop character and discipline while God builds the person's maturity.

In fact, I believe a significant reason for the choosing of awkward majors is simply that one's devotion to God was still developing. The doubting of twenty years later stems from spiritual growth and increased passion for God over what the person had as a college student. With a heart more closely drawn to God, the person can now more clearly see his gifts and potential avenues for serving God. His interests have changed along with his maturity. He might now long for full-time Christian service, something that his immaturely God-directed heart was not yet ready for.

A decision made with the current level of one's spiritual maturity and based in the sincere belief that one is obeying God's guidance is the right choice. Years down the road, as maturity grows, God can make adjustments. He can bring new opportunities and open new doors as the person continues to make decisions based on sincere belief that he is following God. Just as God has ways of maturing hearts and drawing people closer to Him, He also has ways of providing the opportunities for change of career if that is what He desires.

The Bible is filled with stories of men that God used greatly after He providentially changed their careers.

Noah's original occupation is not known, but God made him a shipwright, zookeeper, and preacher of righteousness.

Abraham started as a wealthy rancher, but his service to God was as a wanderer.

Joseph was a household servant and a prison supervisor before he became a government official.

Moses was a prince, then a shepherd, before he finally became a leader of men.

Gideon was a subsistence farmer who became a military leader.

David was a shepherd, a harpist, an armor bearer, a soldier, and an exile before God finally made him king.

Isaiah was a noble, Jeremiah was in a priestly family, Amos was a shepherd, and God converted them all into prophets.

Daniel was trained against his wishes for a job he would not have chosen, but God gave great opportunities to serve Him in his career as advisor to foreign kings.

Peter, James, and John were fishermen. Levi was a tax collector. God changed them into apostles.

Paul was an esteemed religious leader who God ordained as a traveling missionary.

Clearly, God does not have a strict formula that He follows arbitrarily with everyone. Practically every situation imaginable is included in the above examples. Many had secular jobs before going into full-time service, sometimes for many years (Moses). Others changed from one ministry to another (Jeremiah). Some remained in secular work (Joseph, Daniel). Abraham's position actually became less ideal. Noah transitioned into a combination ministry, which included completely new areas of secular work. Some went from one job to another for many years before finally landing in their greatest position (Joseph, David).

Young people, pray and seek God. Before making choices or changes, get counsel from your pastor and your parents. Listen to their cautions and concerns. Then don't fret about whether you made the right choice. God is most interested in your heart. He will use you if you are yielded to Him, and He will make adjustments as needed.

For those who are older, keep seeking and following God. If He wants to make a change, He will show you. If He wants you to continue where you are, whether it is what you prefer or not, He will give you the necessary grace and will use you there. Be sensitive to humbly follow God's leading, whether that means monotony, discomfort, adventure, or personal satisfaction.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Hurting Hearts and Struggling Souls - Part 9

God can help troubled emotions by answering prayer and by reminding the believer of faith-sustaining truth found in His Word. Emotions can also be improved through various aspects of one's relationship with God.

First, improvement comes through enjoying God's presence. Believers can experience joy as they commune, fellowship, and walk with God. "You will make him joyful with gladness in Your presence" (21:6).

There is a satisfaction of soul that comes in the presence of God. David declared, "How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You to dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple" (65:4). There is satisfaction first as God chooses people and brings them near to Himself. Through salvation, God receives people into His family and allows them to dwell in constant communion with Him. There is satisfaction in remembering the specialness of that intimate relationship. Second, the verse specifically references God's courts and His temple. There is something satisfying in being in the special place that God has chosen for focused communion with Him in the company of other believers. The setting and activities associated with the church bring a satisfaction to the soul that cannot be found in other settings and activities.

David again received joy from God's presence. "Therefore my heart is glad" (16:9). "In Your presence is fullness of joy" (16:11). Some around David had abandoned God or were taking Him lightly, but David did neither. Instead, he deliberately chose to follow God and to value the blessings of God. He deliberately thought about God, with particular focus on God's constant presence. David's joy and gladness came from knowing "I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken" (16:8). He knew that God's presence would never change, but would continue with him through all of life. The earth-experienced joy of God's presence will only increase when that presence is fully enjoyed in heaven.

Second, emotional benefit comes from a consistent focus on God. David states, "He will give you the desires of your heart" (37:4). The heart's gratification comes not through a focus on self or from insisting on personal desires. It is not based on wanting what other people have, in particular the wicked who seem to prosper. Such prosperity is fleeting and quickly disappears. There are far more important and lasting desires that are connected to wanting what God wants. David lists several God-focused heart desires: Trust in the Lord, do good, stay where God has put you, be faithful, delight in God, commit your way to Him, trust in Him, rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him, don't fret, don't be angry. Each of these actions are what God wants His children to do. Instead of sitting around making a list of selfish things they want, Christians ought to maintain a God-ward focus. When they do, God responds by giving the desires of the heart and accomplishing what is needed. The heart gratification accompanies an entire focus of living that wants what God wants and wants to please and trust Him.

Psalm 112 refers to a man whose heart is steady and firm. "His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD" (112:7). "His heart is upheld" (112:8). The key to the steadfast and upheld heart is found in the psalm's theme statement: "How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments" (112:1). The psalm gives an entire list of blessings that such a man experiences; one blessing is a stable heart. The passage contrasts stability with fear. Because the man's heart is steadfast and upheld, he does not fear, even when evil threatens. Three characteristics of this type of man are credited with facilitating the numerous listed blessings. First, he fears the LORD. He reverences God, stands in awe of Him, honors Him, and respects Him. Second, he greatly delights in God's commandments. He takes exceeding pleasure in them and is pleased to do them. Third, he trusts in the LORD. He has confidence in God's ability to take care of him. A man who has dedicated his life to living for God and depending on God will have a heart that does not fear.

A third emotionally beneficial aspect of one's relationship with God is praise. "My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed" (71:23). The verb phrase from the beginning of the verse, "will shout for joy," is understood to apply to the subject "my soul" just as it does previously for "my lips." What makes this man's soul shout for joy is the same as what makes his lips shout for you: "when I sing praises to You." Singing praises is often the result of joy, but it can also be the producer of joy. At the very least, the two things happen at the same time; they go together. Interestingly, in this psalm the speaker is not naturally in a time of joy. He is in affliction and is still awaiting deliverance. The man is mature, however, in both years and in development. He has been through many hard times in the past; he knows God has always delivered him, and he has praised God. He is in another hard time, and he knows that God will deliver him again, and he intends to once again praise God. Even without seeing the deliverance, he is intent on praising God for the help he knows will come. Both his actual and his intended praise bring joy to his soul.

In concluding this series, I note that emotions are quite changeable and are influenced by many factors. Clearly, God can change emotions for the good, and spiritual input can influence emotion. Even when biological or unavoidable factors contribute to troubling emotions, God's help can make emotions manageable.