Category Archives: Trusting God

Dealing with Despair

Humans are generally terrible at dealing with difficulties, adversity, sorrow, trials or illness. We tend to whine, mope and feel sorry for ourselves when things don’t seem to be going our way. But God understands and He has placed in Scripture a fail-safe way for us to transcend difficult circumstances, rise above the adversity and refocus on what is truly important. He doesn’t ask us to grit our teeth and go on. He doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up. He doesn’t even ask us to put on a smile and pretend it doesn’t hurt. In Psalm 13: 1-6, He gives us a template for dealing with difficult times.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?    How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Like David, we are an impatient people! We could endure almost anything if we knew how long it would last, but not knowing the future leads us into despair and our entire perspective on life goes dark.

We accuse God of forgetting us. He doesn’t, of course, but it feels to us like he does. We accuse God of turning His back to us. “He has abandoned me (and we add the melodramatic) – FOREVER!” “Where are You?” we cry. So we “take counsel” in our souls. In other words, we get inside our own heads, park there and go around and round and round which only leads to more depression and anxiety. We are convinced that we have been left on our own and we start to try to figure out our own solutions.

But David knows better, even though he feels alone and abandoned he reaches out to the God he knows is there and the turnaround begins.  David starts to realize that He needs God’s wisdom and perspective. He understands that “taking counsel with himself”, staying inside his own head, will never get him out of his doldrums. He understands that without God’s insight, without God showing up, he will likely just give up either emotionally, physically or spiritually.

Here is where David shows us how to win the victory over despair. “But” is a powerful word. It is a declaration that we will not be held captive by our situation; a declaration that we are choosing a different reality, that we will not be defined by our circumstances. David makes the declaration that he will ground his life, not on his own feelings or self-counsel, but on the foundational, unmovable truths of God’s character. “But I have trusted in your steadfast love.”

This is God’s basic character – Love. I can trust that God will always be true to Himself in His dealings with me. I can expect that God will continue to act according to His Love towards me expressed in Christ Jesus. Trust is a choice, a deposit of faith into the treasury of God’s love. The present circumstances do not change who God is nor do they block the eternal flow of His love, mercy, goodness, compassion, patience toward me. I can bank on that.

And while trust is a function of the mind, rejoicing is an act of the heart. Rejoicing isn’t about being happy. It isn’t putting a good face on and going around saying “Praise the Lord.” Rejoicing is grounding our heart, our deep down core, firmly on God’s present and future deliverance. Not only can we be sure and rejoice in our eventual heavenly home, but we can know that God will not abandon us to the present troubles – He rescues us here and now.

When our focus is on God’s eternal Love and his saving work, we can’t help but express that outwardly through our mouths or body. Our whole being rises up and overflows in worship to Him. Some of might even sing out loud. We remember how He has dealt with us. We look at our lives and see His hand guiding our moments. We recognize that what we thought were seemingly insignificant moments or random happenings were actually His acting to bring us closer to Him.

And we are breathless, humbled and joyful.

This Psalm reflects the arc that our life takes as we live our lives through any troubles. We move from complaining and despair, to crying to God in prayer for help, to a reaffirmation of our relationship with the Father; a relationship not based on trusting our own strength or wisdom, not based on our own goodness or righteousness but a relationship wholly grounded on His love and grace. As we move through the difficulties of life, if we will remember to Trust, Rejoice and Sing, we will be able to say with absolute confidence: It is well with my soul.

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The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

On Being the Lost Sheep

For some reason the Pharisees liked to hang out with Jesus and criticize everything He did. You would think after a while they would just learn to ignore Him. But they didn’t and Jesus took every opportunity to try to set them straight. This is the situation we read about in Luke 15:1-7. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus hangs out with folks they considered “sinners.” Certainly these were people no self-respecting rabbi would associate with. So Jesus tells a parable that demonstrates His heart toward those very sinners – the lost sheep. But understand that the “lost” in this parable are still Jews. They are still covenant people. Jesus is not talking about Gentiles or unbelievers. He is talking to us – his people – and He is revealing His heart towards us when we get lost too.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

 First of all, notice that the entire flock has 100 sheep and the lost one belongs to that flock. It is not an outsider. It is one of the hundred! And even though this sheep may stray, it is not kicked out of the flock. It is not rejected. When He calls us to salvation and we respond in faith, we are counted among His flock. This means that we always belong to Christ. To me this is greatly encouraging – I know that I will always be His. It gives me great peace and comfort that once I am His, He will never kick me out of “His flock.” It establishes a relationship with Him that is stable not fearful.

But see also that it is possible, even within that stable relationship, even being part of the 100, to stray, to sin, to lose our way in being the kind of sheep He wants us to be. Being lost, sinning, in whatever form this may take – big or small, once or many times – does not automatically mean we are no longer His sheep. We may feel unworthy or condemned or ashamed, but that is us projecting those feeling unto God. That is not His heart toward us. I know that He does not reject me simply by looking at the shepherd’s response to the lost sheep – He goes looking for it! Jesus initiates the search. The individual was important. He didn’t content himself with just keeping the 99 and forgetting the one. No, Jesus perseveres in the search for the lost sheep. And He doesn’t give up until He finds it. Understand that Jesus will never give up on you! No matter how far you think you’ve strayed. How much you think you’ve disappointed Him. How ashamed or guilt-ridden you are.  He does not give up until He finds you wherever you are.

Not only does He search for us, when He finds us He then carries us back to the flock – back home to be with Him again. The sheep is lost and does not know how to come back. It would be lost forever if not for the shepherd’s action. Jesus carries the sheep back. The sheep is helpless to come back to the fold by its own power. We kid ourselves if we think we have the power within ourselves to “get our act together” or to “clean ourselves up.” We think we can do it ourselves and find our own way back to the fold. The only thing we can do by ourselves is get ourselves lost. We need Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit to show us the way back and carry us there. Again, this is terribly encouraging to me! Not only does He search and find me but He also restores me. It is His work from beginning to end.

But the story gets even better. When Jesus searches for us and finds us and restores us, He is not upset, peeved or annoyed. No, He rejoices. It gives Him great joy to have us with Him again. Why? Because a sinner has repented and been restored. Yes, the sheep needs to repent, but repentance is simply asking Jesus, our shepherd, to carry us back. It is not feeling sorry. It is not vowing never to stray again. It is not pulling ourselves out of whatever situation we’ve gotten ourselves into. Repentance is admitting that we are lost and we are not strong enough to find our way back. And when we do, not only is He happy but heaven breaks out into a party – noise makers and all!

This story, this parable, is simply a way for Jesus to let you know how precious and important you are to Him. You are His and will always be His. And even when you are not perfect – especially when you are not perfect – you can know that He has not and will not reject you.  Ask Him to carry you back. There is a party in heaven waiting to happen.

Living by Bread Alone

Humans are hungry creatures. There is, of course, the most basic and necessary hunger for food. After all we need to survive, yet there are so many other things we hunger for – companionship, recognition, love, fame, wealth, significance, acceptance.   You can probably name any human endeavor and I am sure someone hungers for it. Some of these, to be sure, are natural and good to hunger for, but sometimes those natural desires turn ugly and we become captive to that hunger leading to brokenness and destruction. Hunger is a powerful motivator, but when satisfying that hunger becomes the focus of our lives we begin to lose perspective on the things in life that are truly important.

Believe it or not Jesus dealt with this very thing – needing to keep the proper perspective on life when a very basic hunger threatened to side track Him.  We read about it in the Gospel of Matthew.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ (Matthew 4:1-4)

So Jesus had already spent 40 days fasting then became hungry. (I probably would have been hungry at the end of day one). And the devil made his pitch, “turn these stones to bread, you know YOU can!” The devil was trying to get Jesus to focus on satisfying His immediate need. He was trying to get Jesus to focus on His own resources to satisfy His need. He was trying to get Jesus to redefine what is important in life – the here and now. But is that what life is really about? Is it only about feeding our hungers?

Jesus answers with a resounding, NO! Jesus says that there is more to life than bread. There is more to life than the physical needs of our bodies or even the hunger in our broken souls. Jesus says that life is bigger than that. There is a greater hunger – a spiritual hunger – that humans need filled; a hunger that can only be satisfied by God. Listen again to what He says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word…of God.” Putting it differently Jesus says Man shall live by every word of God.  If you want to live fully, to be wholly alive as you were meant to be, then you need a connection to the Father.

The devil makes the same pitch to us today. He tries to define for us what is important. Why not spend our resources to fulfil our wants? Why not spend our days on satisfying self? Why not focus on ME, right now? Nothing else is more important, right? And he tries to blind us to our need for God because he knows that that is where we truly find our satisfaction, where real life starts.

“…every word that comes from the mouth of God” doesn’t just mean reading the Bible, but it means maintaining a dynamic, present-moment relationship with our Father. A relationship in which His words become life-giving, nurturing and heartening; a relationship in which we hear His words of affirmation, wisdom, acceptance and love; a relationship in which we hear and stand on the promises He has made. Every word! Every moment! That is how life was meant to be lived. That is what He wants for us and has possible for us through Christ – a life that is more than bread alone.

Mustard Seed Faith

I am not a great man of faith nor am I a man of great faith. I am simply a man of mustard-seed faith. And that apparently, according to Jesus, is enough. Read what He says to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew.

For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matt 17:20)

This is a truly remarkable statement! Jesus is saying that all those seemingly insurmountable situations in our lives – the health problems, difficult relationships, emotional turmoil, spiritual unrest – can be easily removed by the exercise of just a little bit of faith. It seems too good to be true doesn’t it? It can’t be that easy. It seems to me that we Christians have this belief that we have to somehow ratchet up our “faith” when we really, really, really want God to answer a prayer or intervene in our life. We think we need to show Him just how much we believe in Him before He acts on our behalf. I don’t think that’s true. In this passage, Jesus is telling us that it is not how “big” our faith is; instead we need to understand the authority that has been granted to us.

Again, in this passage He is talking to the disciples – to us. “YOU will say…”, “nothing will be impossible for YOU.” He isn’t saying “pray real hard.” He says to us, “Take action. Speak authoritatively.”

And yet there is still the mustard seed faith that we must have. What does that look like? For me, this is where the depth of our relationship with Christ comes in. Faith isn’t just a vague notion of wanting something to be true, but faith is focused on Him and our understanding, appreciation and experience of Him. Faith rests on a Person. That is why mustard seed- sized faith is enough, because He is so big.

As we grow deeper and closer in our relationship to Him, we get to know what He wants. We start to see how He acts. We start thinking like he thinks. We start seeing our lives and circumstances as He does. Then we can act as He would and speak to the “mountain” just as He would. Nothing will be impossible for us, because nothing is impossible for Him!

I think for too long the Church has been spiritually impoverished because we haven’t taken Jesus’ words here seriously. We’ve made faith a function of our effort, instead of a focus on His Work. So my encouragement to you is simply…STOP. Stop obsessing whether you have enough faith to face your obstacles. Stop focusing on yourself and whether you are worthy enough, holy enough, righteous enough to garner God’s attention. Instead focus your mustard seed faith on Him and speak to the mountains. They will move! They must move! And He will receive the praise.

It Is What It Is… or Is It?

No doubt you’ve heard the expression. It pops up everywhere. “It is what it is.” It sounds profound as if the person uttering the phrase is wise and thoughtful, speaking, as it were, of an ultimate reality. But as you think about this just a bit deeper, it seems to me that “it is what it is” has a dark side to it. “IT” can be any situation or circumstance we are currently facing; some difficulty that seems to have gotten the better of us. “IT” seems inescapable, inevitable and unavoidable. “IT” will win in the face of our puny efforts to get around it. So we just shake our heads and with a shrug of our shoulders and defeat in our voice make the pronouncement, “Oh well, it is what it is. I may as well accept my fate.”

My friends, I don’t believe that this fatalistic, defeatist attitude is compatible with our Christian confession. Imagine if you will the retelling of the story of Jesus approaching the city of Nain found in Luke chapter 7. As Jesus approaches the city he encounters a funeral procession carrying the body of a young man out to be buried, his widowed mother weeping behind the casket. Jesus looks upon this scene and his heart breaks. Then he suddenly shakes his head and says, “It is what it is” and walks on by into the city. The young man is still dead and the widow destitute. After all, what could he do about “IT.”

Satan whispers into our ears that it is futile to resist “IT.” Our own flesh screams to let “IT” take its course. Yet we must remember that we have a God who is not bound by “IT.” We have a God who does not see how things appear, but how He wants them to be. We have a God who created out of nothing and calls into beings things that are not. We have a God who has overcome the World, defeated Satan, set us free from the power of Sin and declared with ultimate authority, “That is how IT is!” And we have a God who invited us into His process of transforming and re-forming our world.

That young man lying in the casket in Nain was raised from the dead. The widowed mother received her son back. Life was now different! Jesus didn’t see death and defeat, he saw life and victory. This is what he speaks into all our lives – Life and Victory. So I urge you to throw off the fatalistic pessimism of “It is what it is” and take up the possibilites of the resurrection power of Christ. Things are not as they seem and we know the One who can change them (and us) as we run to Him.

The Evidence in the Cloud

The stories of Elijah the prophet are some of my favorite Old Testament stories. There is one in particular that has had a significant impact on me lately. While I won’t copy the entire section here (it spans several chapters), you can read it in 1 Kings 17-18. Here is the basic story line. God tells Elijah that there will be a drought in Israel and Elijah relays the message to the evil king Ahab. Three years later, God tells Elijah that the drought will soon be over and that he should tell King Ahab. Here is the key passage:

After many days the word of the Lord came to Elijah, in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain upon the earth…” And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees.  And he said to his servant, “Go up now, look toward the sea.” And he went up and looked and said, “There is nothing.” And he said, “Go again,” seven times. And at the seventh time he said, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’” And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (1 Kings 18:1, 41-46)

To me the story gets exciting because of what Elijah did after declaring the end of the drought. Elijah didn’t just passively sit back and accept God’s word. No! He actively went looking for God’s fulfillment of His word. You see, even though Elijah already knew what God was doing he still took action – He looked for it. He humbled himself, bowed down, prayed, worshiped and looked for God’s to act. Elijah was both patient and tenacious. As far as Elijah was concerned God said it, it must be true, therefore he will wait in expectation. That is key! It wasn’t wishful thinking or “claiming” the rain. It was simply a matter of taking God at His word.

Elijah knew that God acts at the perfect time and Elijah (or his servant) had to go look for the answer seven times before he got his answer. He didn’t go look once or pray once and then said, “Oh well, maybe I was wrong.’ He continued to look.   In Scripture, the number seven represents perfection or completion. The fact that Elijah had to wait seven times simply shows us that God acts, not on our schedule or timeline but at the RIGHT time.

So after seven times, Elijah’s his servant sees a small cloud on the horizon 10-15 mile away and he reports that to the prophet. That is all the evidence Elijah needs. God is faithful to His promises – the rain is coming – it’s time to RUN! Elijah did need a full blown storm, the evidence in the cloud was enough for him to know that God is trustworthy. His faith was in God’s character, not on what he sees with his eyes. Elijah only sees a cloud but he acts consistently with the evidence he sees of God moving to fulfill His promise. I wonder how many of us would have seen the small cloud and thought (or said) to ourselves, “That’s it, Lord! That’s all I get.” And walk away disappointed. Instead Elijah sees the cloud and rejoices.

Here’s what impressed me in this story. God reveals His heart and will to us. He declares His promises and His intent. We already know what He wants to do and is going to do. It’s all over the Scriptures. Yet we still need to act. We need to be looking and actively waiting, patient and tenacious, knowing that God will indeed fulfill His promises, knowing that He will act at the perfect time and that He is not letting us down when He doesn’t act according to our schedule.

I want to recognize the evidence of His movement; the “cloud the size of a man’s hand.” It may not look like a big thunderstorm. It may not be or start out as the next “great thing.” But whatever it looks like, you can be sure that God is behind it and it will grow to accomplish his will. So let’s be looking for the evidence in the cloud and when we see it rejoice and embrace it fully.