Yesterday, I shared how the COVID Quarantine has given me, and perhaps you, time to reflect on and pursue a deeper relationship with God. Today, I am asking what God might wish for as a new spiritual normal for us.
The Old–Afraid and Confused
Twelve men and some women were living behind locked doors. They were afraid– afraid of death. Their world had been rocked. Everything had changed suddenly. Dreams dashed, future dark with doubt and uncertainty.
The last three years had been like a dream. Sure, they were often confused and slow. They slept when they should have prayed. They feared instead of having faith. They questioned when they could have dug deeper.
But they had their Messiah. They saw the miracles. No one had ever done what He did. They heard His words. No one had ever taught like He taught. He was in control. They could slack a little.
Now He was dead. And their had hopes died with Him.
So here they were, behind locked and barred doors, afraid. Then, everything changed.
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.”
John 20:19-20 NIV
Waking to the New
Jesus’ appearance to His disciples was the beginning of an amazing awakening. I believe it is an awakening God can give each of us if we wish, ask, and pursue.
Over the next forty days, Jesus patiently explained what they had missed. He graciously forgave their failures. With unstoppable purpose, He prepared them for their future mission.
During this time, they remembered what they had forgotten. They understood what they hadn’t grasped. They became strong where they’d been weak. Like a plant in warm sunshine, their faith grew quickly.
Then Jesus left, ascending to heaven to carry on His work there. But not before promising to send a Helper like Himself, the Holy Spirit, to be with them always.
“On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.'”
Acts 1:4 NIV
They did not wait idly. They worshiped the Lord they had just been with. They lamented their shortcomings and sins and resolved, by God’s grace to change. They put away differences and became unified. They grabbed hold of the promises Jesus had made, stretching their hand of faith higher and higher. They prayed intensely for a fitness to share the message of salvation. Then, the answer came.
When the Holy Spirit was poured out, it was like Heaven’s floodgates opened, as if a floodlight was shined into their minds. Everything was clear as noon. Unbelief was swept away. They spoke powerfully about Jesus and their faith in Him.
The book of Acts emerges like a Phoenix out of the ashes of these disciples’ former lives. Out of confusion, confidence. Out of fear, faith. Out of dim wits, bright clarity.
In the power of God’s spirit they proclaimed the resurrection of Christ, healed the sick, raised the dead, traveled to the ends of the earth. The “Sun of righteousness” had truly “arisen with healing in His wings” (Malachi 4:2).
But the greatest miracle was their own spiritual resurrection. Christianity is a religion of power–God’s power to change our hearts, make us new, help us overcome what holds us back. Read these verses:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 NIV
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 NIV
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Romans 8:11 NIV
In the last verse, Paul likens our personal spiritual resurrection–the awakening of our mind and heart to the realities of God–to the resurrection of Christ.
In other words, God is willing to exert the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, to raise us from the dead, spiritually speaking, and give us new life. He is not talking only about the resurrection at Christ’s coming, but our spiritual resurrection now.
This was the spiritual awakening the disciples experienced from Resurrection to Pentecost. And God is just as willing to give it to us as to them.
There is no need for us to live in the shadow-lands of faith. We can ask Jesus to give us new birth–new hearts–and new eyes. That is a prayer He loves to answer. To start over. Begin with a clean page. Ready for God to write new things into our hearts and lives.
A new (spiritual) normal
During the Pandemic and Quarantine, have you had some serious thoughts about what is really important in life? About where this world could be headed? About your need of deeper faith and a closer walk with God?
If you have, that is most likely because God is calling you. Recognize this as His personal invitation. Tell Him what you desire and ask Him to do for you what you can’t do for yourself: to give you a new heart, the ability to understand Him and His words, victory over what holds you back.
Like Jesus’ first disciples, you can awaken to a new life. Because this same Jesus is alive today, and is just as powerful and present as before.
Everywhere we are hearing the phrase, “The New Normal.” Government and health officials, even church leaders, are saying the effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic have been so impactful, they will likely transform the way we do things in the foreseeable future.
The Quarantine has certainly been hard in many ways, but some results will be beneficial.
Yesterday I was talking (properly distanced, of course) with a neighbor who is a teacher. He told me state schools have been planning to use technology more creatively, but the pandemic forced them to implement it and work the bugs out immediately. In his opinion students and schools will be much better equipped for the future by what they have gone through and learned as a result.
Utilizing social media and online platforms, churches have created many new ways for members to connect with each other for prayer, study, and fellowship–and to reach out supportively to their communities.
I joined a morning prayer group begun by our church prayer leader, to worship and pray for our members, our community, and our nation during the pandemic. We have called in at 7 am each morning for over a month so far. My wife and I are new to this church and do not know many people, but listening to these folk pray each day has drawn us closer to God and to them. We feel more a part of the church community as a result.
How is your new normal?
How have you grown during the pandemic? Have you gotten closer to people you love? The Quarantine forced us indoors, meaning we ended up spending more time with our family. Were you able to work through some things in your relationships and come through stronger? Have you identified things you can work on with God in this area? I have.
How has your relationship with God grown? I have heard many are taking stock of their connection to God and church and making changes during this time. Joining the prayer group I mentioned above was because I wanted to deepen my faith and connection with God through community.
Some really special things have happened for me as a result of this prayer time. My faith has grown stronger. I have been less worried about the news and the potential fallout from the pandemic. And even though I still don’t know most of the people by sight, I feel very close to them because of opening our hearts to God and each other.
Getting back to normal
There is a natural desire to get back to normal. We need the income from work; our children miss the structure of the classroom and their friends; we long for the end to disruption and a return to normality.
But are there ways in which you don’t want to go back to the way it was? Maybe you fell more in love with your spouse and family, and you don’t want to slip back into the humdrum again. Maybe you felt called to something deeper with God and found it; and, you don’t want to lose that.
In that sense, we want a “new normal.” We can tell God that, and determine, with His help to pursue it. God is longing for a new normal for you too. The Bible describes Him has a kind, loving Father who deeply wishes for a relationship with us. Though He certainly didn’t cause this pandemic, I imagine He has been wishing that many of his children would turn to Him and come home to His heart. He told Isaiah during a similar time:
“See, I am doing anewthing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
If we feel the desire, that is evidence that God is drawing us to His heart. We can say, “Yes, God I want you to do a new thing in my heart and life. I ask you to make a road in the wilderness of my world and refreshing streams in the wasteland of my life. Renew my relationship with you. Restore my relationships with my loved ones.”
These are prayers He loves to hear and answer.
Seeing with New Eyes
How about asking God for 20/20 spiritual eyesight in 2020? The pandemic has forced us to look at our lives and re-evaluate things. Why not ask God to open your eyes to see what you need spiritually? I have been doing this. That is a first order of magnitude prayer He will answer.
We have been hearing so many stories of trouble related to the COVID-19 Pandemic and Lockdown. Hard stories of economic hardship, health crises, and losses of loved ones. Difficult stories of the chaos caused by the disease and the impacts triggered by trying to manage it.
Trouble. People are caught in trouble of all kinds. Mentally taxing, emotionally draining, soul trying, trouble.
Psalm 91 is a prayer for God’s protection and deliverance from trouble. I wrote in detail about it here. But today, I want to focus on one phrase in it: “I will be with him in trouble” (Psalm 91:15).
When trouble comes, we pray to be delivered from it. Psalm 91 promises faithful believers will be spared in the great Time of Trouble before Jesus comes. But between now and then, we go through trouble. Jesus said we would: “In this world you will have trouble, ” He said; “but take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So we live in the in-between reality that Jesus overcame sin in all its forms, resisted the devil, and died victoriously. He had revealed that God is good, infinitely self-sacrificing, and that Satan is a liar and a murderer. Invisibly but powerfully, Jesus is winning hearts and taking back spiritual territory in this world, but His absolute reign is yet future.
In this between-the-times, Jesus is very much with us as we go through trouble, even if He doesn’t always deliver us from it. And what I want to say today is that the presence of Jesus with us in our trouble is a great gift. It is almost as wonderful, maybe better, than being rescued.
Years ago, I experienced a difficult loss. It took place over about two years, a time that was filled with grief, tears, heart longings, and many prayers. Often, I prayed to have the loss restored.
But something else was happening at the same time. My faith in Jesus was growing and deepening. He was becoming more real, and His love and presence were often palpable. The scriptures were becoming alive to me in ways that had never happened. Jesus was clearly fulfilling His promise to be with me in trouble.
He has promised to be with us many times:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 NIV
Jesus, before His death and Ascension: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:18-20 NIV
“Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23 NIV
Jesus during His Great Commission: “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 NIV
“The Lord is near.” Philippians 4:5 NIV
Jesus is here invisibly, through His Spirit. He is loving us, helping us, drawing us to Himself. His promise to be in our lives is especially fulfilled when we put our trust in Him. If we accept Him as our Redeemer and Friend and decide to follow His words, He takes up residence in our hearts. Here is His promise:
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in. . .”
Revelation 3:12 NIV
So friend. whatever you are going through, Jesus is willing to be with you. He welcomes your prayers for deliverance and He will do what is best in the long run. I know this takes faith. Sometimes, it is only years later, that can see God knew best.
But, in any case, He will be with you. He will comfort you with His love and show you more of His heart. That is ultimately what David meant in Psalm 91.
Whatever you are going through, I pray you will experience the presence of Jesus with you. May you believe His promises and trust His heart, as this song speaks about.
There is so much during the COVID-19 Pandemic that is heart breaking. As of today, more than 82,000 people have died in the U.S. and almost 300,000 world-wide. Every person represents a grieving family and community.
Hearts are breaking every day. Family members lost too soon, businesses going under, jobs lost, futures uncertain. Does God understand all this heartbreak? Does He care?
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. . .”
Psalm 34:18 NIV
When Jesus was here in this world, He experienced many kinds of heartbreak. He was grief stricken by the rejection He experienced.
His life was one of constant sadness as the gifts He offered were refused. Isaiah wrote about His experience: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem” (Isaiah 53:3).
Jesus’ experienced the ultimate anguish and sorrow on the cross when His heart was broken by our guilt and sin which separated Him from God. He cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46) just before He died.
Jesus’ disciple John noticed that water and blood flowed out of the spear wound, which was evidence of a broken heart (John 19:34).
Yes, Jesus has experienced heartbreak.
But, is He close to us in our losses and troubles? Does He care?
When He was here, Jesus said He would be very close to us. He would not leave us as orphans in this world. He would still live with us through His Spirit (John 14:18, 23).
He said we would have trouble in this world, but that He overcame it and will eventually return to more than make everything whole again (John 16:33). In the meantime, He offers to give us His peace and comfort.
Friend, Jesus understands your breaking heart. He is willing to come beside you and help you in every way possible. He knows your need and will listen to your prayers.
We live in a war zone with great trouble taking place all around us. But Jesus has come behind enemy lines to help us in every way He can. Call out to Him. Trust Him. Wait for Him to work. He feels your pain and will do all He can.
The lyrics to an old song express it well: “Tears Are a Language God Understands,” sung here by the Heritage Singers. I listened to it many times years ago when my heart was breaking with loss. God seemed very close and the words reassured me that He understood and cared about what I was going through.
Tears Are a Language God Understands
Often you wonder why tears come into your eyes And burdens seem to be much more than you can bear But God is standing near, He sees your falling tears And tears are a language God understands.
God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul He sees your tears and hears them when they fall God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand Tears are a language God understands.
When grief has left you low it causes tears to flow When things have not turned out the way that you had planned But God won’t forget you His promises are true And tears are a language God understands.
God sees the tears of a brokenhearted soul He sees your tears and hears them when they fall God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand Tears are a language that my God He understands.
God weeps along with man and He takes him by the hand Tears are a language God understands.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Hebrews 4:16 NIV
In the Bible and in Christian teaching, God’s grace is defined as His mercy, kindness, and favor toward we who are undeserving. We usually think of grace in relationship to sin–disobedience of God’s will and human failing in general. God extends His grace to us when we realize our shortcomings and ask His forgiveness.
In the middle of the COVID-19 Pandemic and all its fallout, we are all struggling in many ways. Couples and families cooped up in Quarantine. Employers struggling to understand government requirements and getting needed supplies. Employees asked to do additional work, or let go indefinitely. Children being educated on Zoom or video chat, frustrated by the new ways. And so much more.
Personal and societal stress results in much need of God’s forgiving grace. In this short blog, I want to describe the two kinds of grace God offers us and how they can help us.
Two Kinds of Grace
1) Justifying, Saving Grace
God’s first gift of grace is amazing, almost unbelievable; but it is the foundation of every other dispensing of grace He gives us. It is the grace that saves us.
God offers me this grace when I realize how broken I am as a human being and how sinful attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions keep bubbling out of me, no matter how hard I try. When I realize there might be help from God and turn to Him, admitting my need for His forgiveness and help, He forgives me, justifies me, and changes my heart. Paul describes this in his letter to Titus.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:3-7 NIV
What allows God to do this for us is this: Jesus came in human form, lived our life without sin and died for our sins on the cross. In His life, he did what we had failed to do. By depending deeply on God (it was a daily battle fought by prayer and self-surrender), He resisted every from of temptation and lived a sinless life. Then on the cross, He willingly accepted the guilt and punishment of every human being (1 John 2:2; 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5-10). Our sins broke His heart and crushed out His life.
When I understand this, and put my trust in Jesus to help me, He does several things.
He forgives all my past sins because Jesus liquidated my moral debt on the cross. He justifies me, a legal action, which means He pardons me and erases my guilt because Christ took it on the cross. At the same time, He credits Jesus’ perfect life to me, covering my past life with His perfect life, so I stand before Him faultless.
He also changes my heart in a supernatural “new birth” experience, so now, from my heart, I desire to love and follow Him and His path instead of my former selfish ways. Now, I am a child of God by spiritual rebirth, and He sends His Spirit to live in me to help me live a new and different life. The Spirit helps me become more and more like Him and grows the fruit of true goodness and holiness in me, more and more, as I learn how to walk with God.
Many people look at Christians and think they are living through self-effort, that they have accepted certain behaviors and practices and do this hard work to earn God’s favor. Probably many do. But real Christianity is a supernatural experience. God changes our hearts, and we live differently because He loves us and lives in us.
We have peace because we have been forgiven and justified. We have been accepted by God and are His loved children. We are pictured as “standing in grace,” in God’s favor and mercy, no longer under guilt and condemnation.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.
Romans 5:1-2 NIV
How would you like to have God take all your failures and forgive them? How would you like Him to take your life history with all the dark places, and cover it all with Jesus’ perfect life? How would you like Him to change you from the inside out. If you will admit your need and confess you sins to Him, surrendering your heart and life to Him, He will. The Bible describes this as being covered with a white robe of righteousness, Jesus’ life.
2) Helping, Growing Grace
God not only justifies us and takes us into His family, but He gives us daily grace to help us live a different, new life.
This grace is a different expression of God’s kindness than justifying grace, but it comes from the same place–God’s kind mercy. It is also based on Jesus’ death for us. But the first kind of grace is forgiveness, the second is God’s help to lives a different life. The second is based on the first.
This is the grace we need for patience with our spouse and children. We can ask for this grace when we have not been treated fairly. This grace is needed when we face inward brokenness and sin of any kind. God gives us this grace to grow and become more like we were intended to be.
Because we have been forgiven, justified (#1 above), God can now help us whenever we ask. We can request for this grace whenever we need it as our opening scripture said, Hebrews 4:16.
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Romans 8:32 NIV
This second gift of grace is known by different terms: inward grace, assisting grace, strengthening grace, sustaining grace, sanctifying grace, grace to help us in our times of need, grace that matures us, grace for obedience. This shows that God has grace for us for every situation in life. All we need to do is humbly ask in faith, depending on God for His help. His grace is sufficient for every need.
Here are a few scriptures that describe this helping grace God is so willing to give us:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace.” Hebrews 13:9
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Philemon 1:25
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. . .” 1 Corinthians 15:10
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16
One sad effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Quarantine is the loneliness so many are feeling. Many kinds of loneliness.
Probably the worst kind is the loneliness thousands of sick people are feeling as they are quarantined in hospitals or nursing homes, unable to received the love and support of family and friends. The the Pandemic first began, our pastors went to visit our members in their retirement homes, but for safety, visitation from outside people had been curtailed. Loneliness.
We have seen the pictures of elderly spouses waving to their loved ones through hospital windows, unable to speak to them and give the gift of loving touch. We are grateful for healthcare workers who are doing their best in such circumstances, but being very ill and dying without family around you must be so very hard.
And there are other kinds of loneliness. Not being able to gather as families. Grandparents who can’t be with their grandchildren. Being suddenly isolated from our social and work networks, the people we love to be around. Missing up-close, personal human interaction. Social media, Skype, and Zoom, help; but they are not the same.
Sometimes we are lonely even with others, if we feel unloved or unappreciated. That is a difficult kind of loneliness. The Quarantine may bring out the brokenness in our close relationships.
Then, someone pointed out the other day how dehumanizing it is to relate to people through masks. We communicate so much below the level of our eyes–affirming smiles, expressions of agreement, acknowledgment, and more. Wearing masks is important, but we lose so much of human warmth in doing so.
In the middle of all this, God can help us with our loneliness. That is what I want to share with you today.
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”
Psalm 25:16 NIV
King David wrote this at a time when he was facing attacks by political enemies and people who wanted to do him harm. He felt alone. Who could he trust? Who could he turn to in such circumstances? Only to God.
The truth is, God promises to be with us in our troubles, our isolation, our loneliness. Whatever circumstances are causing us to feel alone, He is there for us.
When Jesus was preparing to go back to heaven after His resurrection, he acknowledged that His followers would feel alone; so He made a wonderful promise we can take to heart now.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
John 14:18, 23 NIV
This promise was not just for those disciples. It applies to everyone who accepts it. God offers to make His home in us.
This is not a replacement for human love and presence, but it is a deep help with the problem of loneliness. Having a God who loves us so much, a Jesus who lived, died, rose, and always lives for us be willing to be with us at all times an in all circumstances is a wonderful blessing.
Jesus experienced His Father’s presence with him in this way. He said, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32).
Friend, if you accept Jesus as you Friend and Savior, and God as your Father, you can have the comfort of their presence with you all the time. You don’t need to ever be lonely in the sense of being completely alone.
Since I accepted Jesus, I want to tell you I have never been lonely, because He has always been with me. Yes, I have missed family when I couldn’t be with them. In some situations, there was a sense of being alone. But I have never felt truly alone because God has been with me. This is a gift He offers to everyone.
What about those who are dying alone? This is so tragic. My heart goes out to families who long to be with their loved one and cannot, and the sick person who so much would like to have their family with them.
I believe that in ways known only to God, He has been there for them. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted. . .” “the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (Psalm 34:18; 146:8).
When my wife’s late husband died of cancer, they were alone at home together. My wife had prayed that her trust in God would not fail when the moment came.
After her husband took his last breath, and she realized he had died, she prayed, thanking God for His help and faithfulness during their difficult journey. She thanked God she still trusted Him. Suddenly she felt a physical touch like someone pressing on her back, hugging her. She knew instantly that God was truly with her and would be with her always. This reminds me of Jesus’ promise when He left:
“Surely I will be with you always, to the very endof the age.”
You can take hold of these promises from Jesus that I have shared today. We may not feel we deserve this, but He loves us more than we can imagine. In His eyes, we were worth enough to give His life for. He wants to be with us, to be a Friend and Companion. You can invite Him if you choose.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has presented many challenges at all levels of society. Government, business, healthcare, education, and finance have had to make huge adjustments in how to operate, often on a daily basis.
Teachers have had to re-tool how they educate. Hospital administrators have had to completely re-configure their hospitals. Businesses have had to build protection barriers and establish distancing requirements and customer flow. And the list goes on and on.
To complicate things, conflicting mandates come from different levels of government making decisions difficult. Resources are scarce. Income is drying up. Employees are being furloughed, or let go. This affects all of us, on a very personal level. Parents who work and home school. Healthcare givers who have to quarantine from family, and more.
In the middle of all this, God offers to give wisdom for all the situations and decisions we face. He makes this promise in James 1:5. It is a promise you can “take to the bank.” You can rely on it because a caring and grace-filled God stands behind it.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
James 1:5 NIV
Without finding fault. I appreciate so much that this says, “God gives generously to all without finding fault.“
This promise comes to us from a gracious God. A God who is full of sympathy and grace. (Biblically, grace is an act of favor or kindness toward someone who may not deserve it. But it is given because the heart of the Giver is full of compassion and understanding.) James is saying that God gives wisdom in that spirit when we ask.
We have a lot of faults, right? We have probably made a lot of mistakes. In the pressure of this situation, we might have lost our temper (more than once), hurt those under our leadership, failed in many possible ways. But God is saying here that He doesn’t scold us for past failures, when we come sincerely, with our needs. He doesn’t hold back because we have ignored Him. He gives it without finding fault. Because He is a God of inexplicable love and grace. That is the way He is.
He also “gives it generously.” He is a large-hearted God who pours out his blessings on everyone. According to Jesus, “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45 NIV). How do you see God? As judging, condemning, or selective in who He helps. He invites us to know Him as loving, gracious, and generous.
A Promise for Troubled Times
This promise of generous help is given in the context of trouble, which is what we are certainly dealing with now. Here is what James says before verse 5.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4 NIV
We are facing trials of many kinds now. God’s promise of wisdom is for such times. He invites us to ask for it when we are faced with tough or complicated decisions. Decisions that affect our business, our employees, our families. Corporate decisions and personal ones.
James also reminds us of a benefit that comes to us in our trials. The testing of our faith in trouble develops perseverance which leads to spiritual maturity.
This perseverance is not human grit, but rather the perseverance of faith. Faith stretching out to grab hold of God’s help and wisdom in times of trouble. Faith growing stronger as we claim His promises and experience His faithfulness in giving us the help we need.
Yesterday, I was digging around a young citrus tree in my back yard. It hasn’t fared so well in the high winds of our area, losing most of its leaves. Most of Spring, it has looked dead. But as I dug, I found a long, thin root that had stretched out looking for moisture. New leaves are sprouting now, and it will be fine.
James is describing this kind of perseverance and faith that, weak as it is sometimes, stretches out to ask God’s help, perhaps find more of God Himself. Confessing one’s lack of faith and need of wisdom, and asking God for His faithfulness, is what he means.
That Kind of Help
So, when James invites us to ask God for wisdom, He will give us that kind of help. He will give it generously, with grace, without finding fault. We will experience His love and help in practical ways as we see our prayers answered. And our faith will grow as we persevere.
On One Condition
When we ask God for help, we must come in faith, trusting He is able to help us, and believing that He will give us the answers we need when it is best. James says it this way:
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.”
James 1:6, 7 NIV
Is God switching from kind to demanding? From generous to stingy? No, faith is the condition which allows God to help us.
In the beginning, humanity turned from God by through doubting His word and distrusting His heart. This led to disobedience of a clear command. And this allowed Satan to claim us and this world as his. We chose his way.
Trusting God allows Him to do what He could otherwise not do.
A man came to Jesus asking for help. His son was possessed by a demon who had often thrown him into the fire or water to kill him. The family was tormented by the constant suspense and danger. The father said to Jesus, “if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“’If you can?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief’!”
Mark 9:22-24 NIV
Immediately, Jesus commanded the evil spirit to come out of the boy, and he was freed.
Jesus invited people to put their trust in Him; to have faith, to believe. And when they did, He was able to help them. But as Jane pointed out in a comment below (and I agree), the point of this story is that God knows we often have weak faith, or no faith at all. But when we admit our need, God can help us. Admitting our need is the key that allows Him to work. There have been so many times in life when I came to God weak, in need of faith, asking for help and wisdom; and He was always there to help me.
So you see, James is right. Faith is a condition of receiving God’s help. Even struggling, weak faith. Not that God is trying to withhold His blessings. It is a ground rule for His action in the face of the cosmic war going on now.
Now that you understand, whatever role and responsibilities you have in your life, I pray you will take God up on His offer and experience His kindness and help. The answer to your prayer may not come immediately. But it will come when you need it most. God somethings allows our faith to stretch and grow stronger as we wait. It is a growth process, and it clarifies our motives and purifies our desires. So pray and trust. God is faithful.
The last few years of my pastoral career were extremely busy. I learned more than ever before in my life to depend on God for wisdom. Projects, counseling, sermons, leadership–things came at a fast pace. I learned to lean on God constantly. I was praying many times a day for wisdom, sometimes just breathing a prayer as I worked. God’s promise in Isaiah became a reality: “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).
This can happen for us because God loves us so much. He really cares and wants to walk beside us as we do life. He proved this by sending Jesus to walk with us. And when Jesus left to go back to heaven, He said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. My Father and I will make our home with you” (John 14:18, 23 NIV).
So, if you need wisdom, guidance, or support, ask. He loves to help.
Years ago I attended a large pastor’s conference. One speaker was the well known counselor and author, John Townsend. His topic very much spoke to where I was in life at the time, and I wanted to have more conversation with him.
I found him later on campus, and as we talked about his presentation, he asked, out of the blue it seemed to me, if I was depressed. His question caught me off guard. But after reflecting a moment, I said, “No, I don’t think so.” He replied kindly, “You might want to give it some thought.”
Who me? Depressed? I was a pastor with answers for others. I was a source of wisdom and help to many under my care. I was a healer. I didn’t need to be healed.
But his question stuck with me, and I thought about my life. A pastor in a challenging position in a large church with an attached school. ministering to youth, college students, and young adults. Three young children. Married and each of us working long hours in leadership. Who me; depressed? In retrospect, I think I was.
Discouragement and depression develop in situations that are overwhelming, where we are taxed beyond what our conscious coping mechanisms can handle. When life challenges are unrelenting, with no solution in sight, hope begins to fade and discouragement and depression sneak up, settling like a fog on our mind.
In this time of the COVID-19 Quarantine, with all its personal and national fallout, discouragement and depression are real for many.
King David struggled with depression and wrote about it several times in the Psalms. As monarch of Israel, he often faced overwhelming challenges–administrative, political, and military. He also grappled with his personal failings.
In Psalm 40, he describes some of what he faced:
“For troubles without number surround me; my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. . .May all who seek to take my life be put to shame and confusion; may all who desire my ruin be turned back in disgrace. May those who say to me, ‘Aha! Aha!’ be appalled at their own shame.”
Psalm 40:12, 14, 15
So, how did David cope? I believe his psalms hold solutions for us. In Psalm 42 he writes:
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
I once heard the pastor of a very large church describe his struggle with depression. He had a young family, a child with mental health challenges, and a large, growing congregation with multiple staff. He slipped into depression and couldn’t find a way out.
One day, the idea came to him to write down encouraging things from Scripture and memorize them. He wrote these out on cards and read through them each morning and evening. Promises of God’s care. Passages about His goodness and love.
He shared with us that after three weeks, his depression lifted and joy returned.
What was it that helped him? Reading his cards shifted his focus from His problems to God’s goodness and promises of help. His faith strengthened. No doubt, God was at work in him too.
King David had learned that when he felt down, He could remember God’s goodness and guidance in the past. He could recall stories of His care, His promises to assist. And this became like a strong hand that lifted him out of quicksand and set his feet on solid ground again.
There are times when when we may need to see a counselor, or take medication for a while. Some depression has a physiologic or brain chemistry source. But God is a personal, caring God. His word is full of more than 3,000 promises which describe how He is willing to help us in a variety of life situations. This may, indeed, be the best medicine. While it may be hard to see a counselor or doctor during the quarantine, this remedy is as near as your Bible and your sincere prayer for help.
In Psalm 40, David describes how this prescription helped him with his discouragement and depression. “Waiting” for David meant trusting God, putting his hope in God’s character and promises while He waited for God to help.
I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.
This morning, a lady reported to our online prayer group, that she had received the dreaded letter. The hospital she works for had furloughed her. Another woman told how a friend, a sole provider with children in college, has also been furloughed. Of course, this is happening to thousands, probably millions, of people across our country and around the world.
I want to encourage you with a story from the first book of the Bible. Hagar, an Egyptian servant to Sarah, Abraham’s wife, has been mistreated by her mistress. It’s a complicated story, which you can read in Genesis 16; but we pick it up where Hagar has had enough abuse and has run away.
She’s out in the desert, alone, wondering how she is going to survive. Support gone. Resources dried up. Fearful for the future. Tears in her eyes.
That’s where an angel from Heaven finds her and gives her some guidance and a very encouraging message.
What is interesting is that Hagar probably didn’t follow Abraham’s God. Being from Egypt, she likely had her own national gods. Also, if you read the story, she had not been behaving especially well. But God didn’t hesitate. Because He has a heart for those in need. For the weak, the oppressed, the fired or furloughed.
When the angel finished, Hagar did and said something which speaks to my heart. I hope it will encourage you.
“She (Hagar) gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.”That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi (well of the Living One who seese me); it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
“You are the God who sees me.” I didn’t know you, but You knew what I was going through. You saw me here beside the spring. In my home. On my knees. Collapsed on the couch. At a bar. Far from town. Tears in my eyes and fear in my heart.
If you are reading this, I want you to know that God sees what you are going through. He knows your circumstances and your need. If you cry out to Him, He will hear your prayer and help you in ways only a powerful, loving God knows how to do.
There are many promises He makes about this in the Bible, the record of His interactions with us humans. I want to share a few to encourage you. You can take them to Him and ask Him for help, because He is faithful. He is loving. And He sees.
“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute; he will not despise their plea.” Psalm 102:17
“The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys.” Isaiah 41:17-18
“The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9
“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” Psalm 113:5-8
“I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.” Psalm 140:12
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Psalm 37:25
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10.
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8
So, friend; tell God your problems. Pour out your heart to Him. He will listen, and in His own time and way, He will act.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 16:33; 14:27 NIV
Can we have peace in the middle of our troubles? Can our minds and hearts be at peace in the center of a storm, whatever kind of storm it is? Peace in stress? Peace in problems? Peace amid fear and worry?
I believe the answer is Yes. Because someone named Jesus can give us that peace. Because it is a supernatural peace. Because God has power to give it.
In both verses above; in each instance, Jesus was speaking about fear, separation, and trouble. And He was offering peace in the middle of it.
In the first verse, John 16:33, He has just told His followers that the time is coming shortly when they will be scattered to their own homes, like frightened sheep chased by a wolf. And they will leave Jesus alone. He is predicting His arrest and crucifixion, and the disciples’ failure to keep faith in that traumatic moment.
In the face of that reality, as frightening and discomforting as it will be, He is promising to give them peace.
Jesus is saying that experience is symbolic of what life will be like for them going forward, as His followers. “In this world you will have trouble; but I have told you ahead of time, so that in me you may have peace.”
Jesus pulls no punches. It is going to be hard. There will be trouble. But “in Me you may have peace.”
Jesus is the Peace Giver. He stilled the storm on Galilee by saying, “Peace, be still.” He stilled the demon possessed men by speaking the word of deliverance.
He can still our hearts and give us His peace. Because He has overcome the world.
His mission was to reveal the Father’s character and to do what humans failed to do. To trust, to obey His Father whatever the personal cost. To reveal self-sacrificing love. He did it perfectly by surrendering to and depending on God. Even to the cross.
So, He has the right to forgive us, the right to help us, the right to sustain us in our storms.
In the other verse, John 14:27, Jesus is telling His closest followers that He is going to leave them and go back to heaven (verse 28).
This was not at all what they were expecting. Not in their plans at all. In Jewish theology of the day, the Messiah would come as a super-human being, defeat all foes, and take the throne of David to reign forever. This left out the suffering servant teachings of the Old Testament, the dying for sin and resurrection of Isaiah 53.
So, a dying and leaving Messiah was not in their cards. No way!
Anxiety producing without question! But this was the reality, the truth of what they would experience.
So Jesus promises two things in John 14. He is going to send them a Helper, a Person very much like them–the Holy Spirit who will be with them forever. He will comfort them, teach them, bring Jesus’ words back to their minds when they need them, and more.
And He is going to give them His peace, a calmness, an assurance that is beyond anything the world can give. Look at His promise again. It is for you.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27 NIV
It is from Him. To summarize, Jesus offers us to give us peace in a world filled with trouble, whether personal or in our world. It will be a peace HE gives us. Not something we concoct or think up ourselves. A peace from Him.
It is supernatural. It will be a supernatural peace, a peace that only He as God can give us. He IS the Peacespeaker, the Calm Maker, as this old song beautifully says.
It will calm your mind. And it will be a peace of mind because the Spirit will bring back Jesus’ teachings and promises.
It will be peace in your Storm. All this doesn’t mean your storm will go away, always. But it means He will give you peace in the middle of your storm.
Tell the Peace Giver
Do you need peace, friend? Do you need it especially now? I want to encourage you to tell Jesus directly. He died for the right to help us, and He is faithful to His promises. He has helped me so many times in this. He is the Peace Giver.
For the last twenty-two days, I have joined an online group of people who are praying for God’s intervention and guidance during this Pandemic. It has been a true blessing and has really strengthened my own faith during this time.
I found that my general outlook shifted after a few days of listening to other people, many of whom have clearly been tested in life and learned a deep faith. I realized I was not so worried or preoccupied with the problems of COVID-19 during my day, because I had been in the presence of people of great faith who trusted a big God
When trouble comes to our lives in any form, it is easy to react in with fear, worry, a sense of foreboding. These rise up like a great monster from the deep, towering over us (imagine a Disney animation).
We might be tempted at such times to turn to gods of our own creation to handle our problems. As good and helpful as they are: scientists, intelligent people, news anchors, human leaders, even religion; they are not God. It is God himself we need at times like this. And of course, always.
That is when we need to remember how big our God is. He is our Creator. He keeps the universe going, “sustaining all things by His powerful word” Hebrews 1:1-3). He is the real Problem Solver, Help Giver, and Overseer.
We have begun each prayer session with a time of thinking about Who God is and praising Him for His character attributes–love, faithfulness, mercy, kindness, power, ability to rescue and help us, etc.
Like most people, I have tended to come to God with my list of needs first. I have a prayer list made up of many deep concerns for family, friends, and others I hear about. It is easy to go right to those.
Of course, God wants to hear our personal needs and our prayers for others. But being in the prayer group has reminded me to think first about the God I am praying to and to be grateful and praise-full for who He is. That shrinks my problems, as serious as they are, to their proper size before a big, strong, loving, personal God.
That is what Asaph, one of the Psalmists, is reminding us through his own story, in Psalm 77. Notice how he begins, overwhelmed by his problems. Then he begins to remember who God is and what He has done in the history of God’s people. He ends his prayer in a much better place than when he began. Now, his faith and hope are stronger.
Notice, that this psalm ends abruptly. Perhaps Asaph is placing an ellipse at the end, so we can continue with our own memories, our own personal story of what God has done. Blessings He has given, times He intervened, comfort received, prayers answered, rescues provided. . . . Try writing your own list, even just a quick mental tally, at the end of this psalm.
Your faith will grow because we have an awesome, loving, capable God.
For the director of music. For Jeduthun. Of Asaph. A psalm.
1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.
3 I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. 5 I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; 6 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. 11 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
13 Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? 14 You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. 15 With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. 17 The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. 18 Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. 19 Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.
20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 77 NIV
Continue with your memories of God’s leading and helping. . .
Thank Him for Who He is and for His faithfulness and involvement in your life, or the lives of those you know.
How does prayer bring peace in the middle of a crisis like the COVID-19 Pandemic? How does prayer work? How can we pray to find relief and help?
Sometimes we are so worried, we find it hard to pray. I’ve had more than one concern like that recently. The what ifs and worries buzz around in our heads like infuriating flies. We find it hard to pray without anxious thoughts interrupting.
As I write, scientists say the COVID infection curve is flattening in many states, but many uncertainties remain, both nationally and personally. So, we worry.
Will my job or business survive? Am I safe? What about my vulnerable loved ones? Will there be a second wave of the virus? When will school open again? How will my children do with dropped months of learning? Will the economy bounce back, along with my retirement account? Are our leaders handling this correctly to keep us protected and save businesses and jobs?
We worry especially when things seem beyond our control, or our resources are limited.
So, how can we find peace in a crisis? Philippians 4 gives us the answer. Seriously, it is the solution. It is God’s spiritual guide for peace through prayer. It tells us how to pray when we are anxious and why prayer works to calm us.
“The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:5b-7 NIV
You may have heard this before. You could repeat it by memory, flying through the words without thinking. Or its wisdom may be new to you. Either way, I want to invite you to work slowly through it with me, so we can unpack its treasure and find the peace it promises.
The Lord Is Near
First, Paul reminds us that Jesus is very close to us. As we start to pray, we should remember His promises: “I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20); “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. . .My Father will love you, and we will come and make our home with you.” (John 14:18, 23)
Those are amazing promises when you stop to think about it. God is with us; Jesus is with us. They are not far away, unaware of what we are going through. They are close. This has always been true, but is even more true now that Jesus came as one of us, to share our lives.
“For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'”
Isaiah 57:15 NIV
Yes, Jesus is in heaven, but through his Spirit, He is also very much with us. Jesus is near. He is close enough to know our circumstances and our thoughts. He is close enough to care for and comfort us in trouble or tragedy. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1 NIV)
Did you notice, Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything.” It is almost like a command, but probably more like a strong statement of permission. We don’t have to worry. We can stop worrying because Jesus is near. Remember those stories from the New Testament? He is the storm-stiller, the disease-defeater, our protector and provider. He did all those things when here on earth, and He still does.
So don’t worry. Pray.
Have you heard the phrase, “turn your worries into prayers.” That’s what Paul is inviting us to do. Don’t worry; instead pray. Then, he tells us how.
“In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (v. 6)
In Every Situation
We face lots of situations in life, right? Relationship situations, financial situations, life circumstance situations, situations beyond our influence and control.
What do we do with those situations? I’ll admit what I do, all too often. I turn it over and over in my mind, like a slow-cooking pancake. I try to figure it out on my own. I toss and turn over it in bed. Then I remember. “Pray.” In any “situation,” pray. If I can worry, I can pray.
By Prayer and Petition
Interesting Paul would divide prayer into two aspects. Sometimes we think prayer is all about asking.
Perhaps we have an incomplete picture of prayer. Prayer is remembering who God is to us, what He is like. Prayer is a relationship. It is talking things over with God as we would with a friend of close relative. Not because He doesn’t know, but to open up to Him. He wants to know us. He welcomes our heartfelt conversation about everything important or trivial in our lives.
I love this; a little long, but really good:
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears, before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. . . . Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. ‘He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds’ (Psalm 147:3). The relationship between God and each person are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon earth to share His watch care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”
Amazing Grace, p. 116
Petitions are another kind of prayer. Petition means asking. Lodging a request. “Ask,” Jesus said in Luke 11:9-11. Ask for what you need. If you can get anxious, you can ask.
Asking involves trust. God is a loving and good Father, and He will do what is best. He knows everything about us and what would be the finest for us in the long run. He invites us to keep our wants and needs before Him. Whenever we are anxious, or have a need, we can ask. . .and trust.
My sister, who has faced her share of trials, but has a great attitude of gratitude, reminded me of an old song last night as we were texting. The words to “Trust His Heart,” say beautifully that we can trust Him, even if we can’t understand what is happening to us. You can listen by clicking the underlined song title.
With Gratitude, Say Thank You
Have you ever left out an ingredient while cooking or baking something, only to have it turn out flat or taste wrong? The next ingredient in prayer that brings peace is crucially important. You can’t leave it out and have a good result.
When we pray, Paul says, we should always remember to be grateful and thank God for what He has already done for us. Blessings received, guidance given, requests responded to.
A story from Jesus’ life has always impressed me about gratitude. Ten lepers came asking Jesus for healing one day. Dr. Luke tells us, “They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!'” (Luke 17:12)
Lepers were banned from society, and had to live alone or in groups. The fear of contagion led society to set up fear-based restrictions. Ill-informed medical and religious ideology taught that all leprosy was a curse from God and the result of sin.
Lepers who traveled around had to cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” as they got near people. From all this, lepers had a deep sense of isolation and shame. People who live in Hawaii and know the dark history of Kalaupapa, an old leper colony on the Island of Molokai, understand this experience.
Jesus told the ten lepers to “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed by God’s power.
“One of them,” Luke says, “when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.”
“Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'”
When I first heard this as a child, it impressed me deeply about the importance of gratitude, especially to God.
If you know God, or have heard the stories of those who know Him, you know He does a lot for us. Many times we don’t even realize what He is doing. But as we remember, it strengthens our faith and hope. “We don’t have anything to fear for the future unless we forget how God has led us in the past,” an old saint once wrote. I have found this is true.
When when you pray, thank God for His past help and blessings. For all the times He has been with you and the things He has done.
Supernatural Peace Will Come
Prayer is a conversation with God. We are not just launching our requests into the “vaposphere.” God is listening. Remember, “the Lord is near.”
So, when we pray like this, in trust, thanking Him for His love and care in the past, and leaving our requests at His heart, He promises to give us His peace. Here is the promise in Paul’s words:
“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:7 NIV
“Transcends all understanding.” It is a supernatural peace that God gives. “Peace will guard your heart.”
Peace will guard your heart, because He will guard your heart. He is with you, helping you.
This is the core of what God is saying about how to find peace through prayer in Philippians 4. However, I left the bread off this tasty sandwich filling.
Sandwich filling is great, but it’s not complete without the bread. A while back my wife came home with some delicious herb bread. It made wonderful sandwiches. So now I want to show you how Paul begins and ends his teaching on prayer and peace.
The Top Slice – “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all.” (Phil. 4:4-5a)
We can rejoice, which means to overflow with joy, because God is near; He hears our prayers; He will give us peace. Having a personal God who hears and helps us brings deep joy. Someone once said, happiness is based on circumstances. Joy comes from something much deeper–knowing a God who cares and is there for us in our lives.
Bottom Slice – “Finally, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or worthy of praise–think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9).
Peace comes through prayer, but it remains with us because of a well-managed mental environment. There is a lot we can watch, read, or think about that really doesn’t promote peace. If we fill our minds with good, uplifting, ennobling things, peace will flourish there too.
So, Paul encourages his readers to remember all the things he taught them and fill their hearts and minds with it. Those things are found in Scripture. Reading, understanding, and taking in the words of Scripture will promote and grow peace.
God’s recipe for peace is: Be joyful, be aware of Jesus’ presence, don’t be anxious; rather, pray and ask for what you need; be thankful; and fill your heart with good.
Are you hungry for peace? That is a recipe that will always work.
It was a time not unlike ours, though it was long ago. Circumstances were different, but we can draw so much hope from it.
God’s people had been attacked and devastated by their archenemy, Babylon. Families had lost loved ones, the economy was devastated, farms and businesses ruined. Many had been carried off into captivity, socially distanced by many hundreds of miles with no way to communicate. Fear, uncertainty, and despair were ravaged their hearts. The future looked very bleak.
It was then God sent a message of explanation and hope to His people.
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity.
God said He still had plans for them. He wanted to prosper, not harm them. He had plans to give them a home and a future. Really? After all they had been through? Yes, God still cared. In fact, He loved them all along. Even though they had turned away for years, and trouble had come to them. He still had plans for them.
He wanted to restore hope to their hearts, by letting them know He knew exactly what they were going through. It hadn’t caught Him off guard. He had good plans for their future. They could hope again.
You may be wondering, Does God know what I am going through? Does He care? Does He still have a plan for my life? I can tell you He does, friend. No matter what losses you have experienced, or what fears you have now. God knows each of us. We are all precious to Him. He made us, and He died for us.
In the Bible, He often sent angels or messengers to an exact address. He knows where you live and what you are going through.
“The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV
What may be different in this story in Jeremiah 29 is that God was in a direct relationship with Israel at that time. He had taken them into a covenant as a nation. He promised to protect and bless them when they were faithful, but told them He could not when they turned to other Gods or became faithless (see Deuteronomy 27-30).
They had rebelled and turned away. God patiently sent messengers to call them back. For hundreds of years. Finally, he honored their choices and let them go.
God’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11 was originally given to Israel in that setting. He had foretold their captivity hundreds of years earlier if they turned away (Deuteronomy 28:49, 50). Jeremiah 29 explains what has happened in those terms, and what God will do if they would turn back to Him.
I am NOT saying that COVID-19 has come because of our sins, though the world certainly seems ripe for judgment sometimes. My blog on Revelation is looking at signs Jesus told about the last days.
What I am saying is that when we go through loss or trouble, we have a compassionate God Who is more than willing and able to help us when we turn to Him. He is willing to enter a relationship with us now. Jesus died to build a bridge between us and God, because they both loved us.
In all His working with us, God has an overarching purpose–to save us and bring us home to His great heart of love where He can help and bless us as He wants to.
I don’t know what you are facing personally. You may have lost a loved one, or your job. Your business may be in danger of folding. Maybe you feel paralyzed by worry and fear about the future. There is plenty to be concerned about.
God invites us to turn to Him, and bring all our needs and anxieties. He invites us to bring everything. He can comfort us with His love and provide for us. If we have not known Him or wandered away, we can admit our need, or our sins, and ask His forgiveness. Because He loved us, Jesus died to forgive and restore us.
If we know and are trusting Him, we can claim His promises for sure. His heart is always open to us. His answer may seem delayed, but don’t give up. Faith grows stronger in trials. His eye is on you.
Take time to read all of Jeremiah 29. You will see a God who cares, who keeps His promises, who loves. Yes, you will see a holy God who cannot always bless us when we turn away from Him, but is waiting for us to return. He has plans to restore and help us when we do.
Here is a wonderful promise:
“Worry is blind, and cannot discern the future; but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty He has His way prepared to bring relief. Our Heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us, of which we know nothing. Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish, and a plain path before their feet.”
The Desire of Ages, p. 330
I am taking this time to deepen my relationship with God through prayer and reading His word, the Bible. I invite you to set aside time to do this too. Your faith will grow stronger, and you will grow in hope and awareness of His love. Let’s look up and see Him looking at us with hope and love.
So many are carrying extra responsibilities now, during this Quarantine. Heavy burdens, roles and duties added to what we were already doing; parents who now home school their children in addition to trying to keep up with more-demanding work; health care workers who have longer hours with a heavier case load, sometimes quarantined from their own families; business owners who are having to seriously retool operations to stay afloat; government leaders trying to figure out the best path forward. . .and so many more.
Then there are the millions who have lost jobs and wonder who will support them–and millions more who worry about it all.
Wouldn’t it be helpful to know there is a Higher Power who stands ready to support us, even carry us through this time? God has done this in the past and is willing to do it now, if we ask.
“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”
In this scripture, God is describing how He helped His people in ancient times. It says He was distressed by what they were experiencing. Sometimes it is helpful just to know that someone feels what we are going through and is there for us. God feels our distress, and He is distressed with us.
It says here that it was in His love and mercy that He redeemed them. They were trapped in a life of slavery, and God came in love and mercy to delivered them. Can you relate to that? Does life sometimes feel like slavery now? Maybe you don’t feel worthy of God’s help; can’t see why He should even pay attention to you. But the truth about Him is that He is very compassionate, merciful, and kind.
Then it says, “He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” The picture is of a tired lamb being carried by a shepherd, or a child lifted up by a parent.
What does it mean God “carries us?” I think it implies that He supports us, gives us strength, wisdom, patience, whatever we need in our circumstances.
It does not mean He does our work for us, or makes our decisions. He has given us a mind, skills, abilities. But He loves to have us collaborate with Him. We grow by using what we have been given. Life and work are even better when we work interdependently with a powerful God. He will give us wisdom and strength. It is not all up to us.
We may not even be aware He is doing it, but He is, if we have asked Him to; maybe even if we have not. He was carrying His people in ancient times, even when they were not consciously trusting Him.
But, here is the point: We can be aware. We can choose to accept the help. We can be grateful. We can sense His lifting. This will bring us reassurance and peace.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.” Psalm 28:9
I have often had a huge sense of relief when I remembered God was carrying me in this way. Maybe it was just me, but in the busyness of parenting and work, I often forgot that God was lifting my burdens, and worked like it was all up to me.
When a scripture text or words from a family member or friends, reminded me, I was able to release the sense of pressure into God’s hands, and trust again that He was there.
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carryyou; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
I am really thankful for this promise, because I have quite a few gray hairs these days, and many years of life down the path behind me.
Here God is saying, “I won’t give up; I won’t slack off; I won’t let you down as you get older. I will be there for you just as much as when you were young. Your concerns and challenges may be different in your old age, but I’ll be right there with you, even in your later years, as mind and body grow older.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Psalm 73:26 NIV
I want to share a beautiful song wit you, by Lynda Randle: “He Will Carry You.” As you listen, may you be filled with hope and reassurance.
Here are some of the words:
There is no problem too big God cannot solve it There is no mountain too tall God cannot move it. There is no storm too dark God cannot calm it There is no sorrow too deep He cannot soothe it.
Oh, if He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders I know my brother that He will carry you Oh, if He carried the weight of the world upon His shoulders I know my sister that He will carry you. He said, “Come on to me all who are weary And I will give you rest. . .”
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19 NIV
As a pastor, I called on an older couple. The husband was going in for surgery, and I had come to pray with them. As often happened, I was also blessed.
As we visited, the wife told me a story from her childhood in England. Her father had become a Christian and decided not to work on God’s rest day, losing his job as a result.
No other employment was available in their town, so father moved the family to a new city hoping for better opportunities.
After securing a place to live, they were out of money and food. They knew no one, and had nowhere to turn but to God.
The father gathered his family for prayer and poured out his heart about their situation, reminding God they had chosen to follow His word, and asking for help.
The next morning there was a knock on the door. When they answered there were bags of groceries on the porch–enough to keep them supplied with food until Dad found work.
Because they knew no one, they believed that God heard their prayer and helped them directly.
I have heard many stories like this; some in my own family. Perhaps you have, as well. Many times God uses other people to meet our needs; sometimes He does so miraculously.
This morning, on a phone prayer line, I heard again about people in need during this Quarantine. Many have lost jobs, or had to close their business.
At times like this, it is reassuring to hear how God promises to hear our prayers, care for us, and meet our needs.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:25-34 NIV
It is Jesus who is speaking here. He is inviting us to a life of trust in a Heavenly Father who knows our needs and will supply them. But notice, the promise is conditional here: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (v. 33)
Those who place themselves under the Father’s care, accepting and seeking His kingdom ways, choosing Him as their Savior and Leader, will be cared for.
But is God stingy with His love? No, our next verse shows that He pours out His blessings on all.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48 NIV
Jesus’ invitation is to be as loving as God is, who pours His natural blessings on all alike.
“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing.”
Psalm 37:25-26 NIV
King David is writing as an old man, and he reports that all during his long life, he has never seen a time when God has failed to take care of His followers, those who trust and obey Him. In fact, they are a blessing to others, always looking for opportunities to help others as they have been helped.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7 NIV
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Matthew 10:29-30 NIV
God invites us to bring all our needs to Him, because He cares for us. How much does He care?
“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
In this time of the COVID-19 Pandemic and quarantine, I have heard so many describe the stress and concern they are feeling. For some, it has been almost overwhelming: worry about their health, family, finances, a job or business, employees or students under their care; worry about the nation, the economy. So many concerns.
In Psalm 62, David invites us to pour this all out to God. Everything that burdens our heart or worries our mind–to just pour it out to God.
“Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”
There are two reasons why the psalmist knew he could safely open his heart and release all his worries and concerns to God.
First, God can be trusted. He has proved Himself to be faithful in history and in the lives and experiences of so many people. He has always been faithful. In the middle of war, famine, trouble, He has cared for His children. Evidence and stories of this abound. Prayers answered, miracles done, hearts sustained. I know, not always the way we ask, but enough to trust Him.
He can be trusted because He loves us. His love is as strong as His sacrifice on a cross, as enduring as a Savior, Who never stops serving us, helping us, down to the present.
So we can always trust Him with our “stuff.” Everything that annoys us, perplexes us, or makes us afraid. Every problem we can’t solve, every burden that seems to heavy to carry.
Second, God is our refuge. People who have known God have said that He was a refuge to them. He was a safe place for their hearts and minds. He protected them, comforted them, welcomed their weary souls, their worn out selves.
An old hymn says, “The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide, a Shelter in the time of storm; secure whatever ill betide, a Shelter in the time of storm.”
God has been a refuge to me in times of loss, fear, and worry. And I am so grateful. I could tell you so many stories.
Why do we bottle it up, hold it all inside, try to figure it out on our own? We don’t have to. We can pour it all out to God.
We can do this. And when we pour our hearts out to Him, we will find such release, such support, such a sense of comfort and being heard and loved. Open the floodgates and pour it all out. He invites us to do it.
Would you like to know how to rise above what is getting you down during this crazy time caused by COVID-19 and the quarentine? Whatever it is: fear, stress, worry, boredom, malaise, not knowing. . .There are some wonderful, encouraging promises from God in Isaiah 40.
A little background:
Judah (part of ancient Israel) has just experienced devastation. Because of their moral and spiritual decline, God allowed Sennacherib, King of Assyria (today’s northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey), to attack and capture Judah’s fortified cities. . .His depredations continued almost to the capital.
Then King Hezekiah came down with a deadly disease. A prophet said to get his house in order.
But then Hezekiah turned to God; and God spared the city. . .and Hezekiah’s life.
It is at this time the prophet Isaiah penned his beautiful words of comfort and hope to the devastated and discouraged people of Judah.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone, and her sins are pardoned.” Isaiah 40:1-2
What follows in Isaiah 40 is advice about how to get back on track; how to receive inner strength; how to rise above weakness, depression and the disordering of life caused by the recent troubles. We can take these promises to heart for ourselves now, too.
Verse 11: God Himself will, “feed His flock like a shepherd. He will carry the lambs in His arm, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young.” Jesus has the heart of a shepherd. We can choose to come under His tender care and guidance.
Verse 28:“Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.” God is strong. He never gets tired. He sees and knows everything. He can give you wisdom.
Verse 29:“He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.” Do you feel overwhelmed, disorganized, weak in face of the challenges? God can give you strength and inner fortitude.
Verses 30, 31: “Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
I have been encouraged many times by these last two verses. When I thought I didn’t have strength for the tasks at hand, or didn’t know what to do, I prayed these verses to God and asked His help. He never failed.
In fact, the longer I live, the more I am aware how He constantly does what He promised. He lifts us up and helps us soar on eagles wings.
Take a minutes to listen to this beautiful old song and put your trust in the eternal God to do what He has promised, for you.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark. I imagined all kinds of creatures and dangers that lived there. When I went outside at night, I just knew some kind of monster would grab me. Of course, they all lived in my imagination; they were not real.
Fear is often like that. Bigger than reality.
But try telling that to someone who is caught in the jaws of fear. Try telling yourself. It is hard to talk ourselves down from the ledge of fear–unless we see a greater power. When dad or mom joined me in the dark, fear evaporated.
Of course, some of our fears are based on reality. It is unreasonable fear I am speaking about–the kind that engulfs our minds, steals our sleep, triggers bad decisions, breaks relationships. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, there are many fears.
It is a well known story, but it speaks to both kinds of fear, real or imagined.
Jesus and His disciples had just finished a long day of ministry. They got into a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, and an extremely tired Jesus soon fell asleep.
Suddenly, a “furious storm” came up, the kind that makes even experienced sailors afraid. Waves were crashing over the boat. Winds pummeled it. Giant swells threatened to capsize it. Jesus’ followers literally thought they were going to die.
Suddenly, a flash of lightning revealed their sleeping Teacher. In their efforts to save themselves, they had forgotten He was with them. Desperately, the disciples shook him awake with, “Lord, save us! We are going to drown!” (Matthew 8:25).
“He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’”
Matthew 8:26, 27
When I read this, I am tempted to answer Jesus’ question. “Why was I so afraid? Uh, Jesus did you see how big those waves were? How strong the wind was? Didn’t you feel the fear of death we felt? Didn’t you see the sea monsters who were trying to swallow us up?”
Then I remember. He just stood up calmly and commanded the wind and waves to stop, and it became completely still. “What kind of man is this, indeed!”
In the middle of our fears, we are invited by this story to remember a few things:
First, God is with us in our storms and fears. He might appear to be unaware of what we are going through, but reality is, nothing escapes His attention. In His human weakness, Jesus was sleeping; but His Father wasn’t. And Jesus rested in His Father’s love and care. Now, He teaches His followers, they can too. If He allows us to go through a storm, He will be with us.
“He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
Second, our God is big, and He is strong. He is more powerful than any storm we find ourselves in. He can stop the wind and waves at the time of His choosing–or He can sustain us through the storm with His loving presence.
Third, God loves us. He is not going to let anything happen to us that He doesn’t permit. In His love, He has a bigger purpose: to teach us faith, to help us know Him, to save us for a forever life with Him. Whatever doesn’t fit into that plan, He stops. Our lives are in His hands. We can trust Him. He loves us, and He is a big God.
Fear lies to us. It blows things out of proportion. It creates monsters in the dark. It makes us forget that Jesus is on board, that He loves us, and that His plans for us are perfect.
Please listen to this great song by Zach Williams, “Fear Is a Liar” by Zach Williams. Click on the title. You can skip YouTube ad after a few seconds by clicking on “skip ads.” Be blessed.
When we were small children, our parents carried us. It was natural. Small legs couldn’t keep up. As we became toddlers, we were still carried when we were tired, stressed, or just needed a little love.
As we grew, we became increasingly independent, then autonomous. As adults, we walk on our own, solve our own problems, and now care for others.
But there are times when we sure feel the need of being carried–at least to know that someone cares.
God cares for us and is willing to help us carry our burdens. Sometimes, even carryus.
Here are some wonderful scriptures about this:
“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
God is willing to help us carry our burdens every day. We may not see Him lifting the load, but He is there giving us wisdom and strength. We can ask Him for this.
In the Old Testament, the high priest wore an ornate breastplate set with twelve precious stones. Each gem was engraved with the name of one of Israel’s tribes. In this symbol, God was picturing that His people were always on his heart.
“Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
In ancient times is was common to see a shepherd carrying a young or weak lamb. God often likens Himself to a shepherd who carries us. In this scripture He promises to shepherd and carry us forever when we agree to come under His care.
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:3
Here God promises to be with us all our life, even into our old age and to tenderly help and care for us. He wants to do this because He gave us life. He has been with us since birth, and He loves us. He knows all about us. He knows the burdens we carry and is willing to help. Nothing escapes His notice. You can trust that about Him.
Even if we have wandered or strayed, He still loves us and longs to bring us under His love and care. Why not thank Him for that now and ask for the help He is so willing to give.
Uncertainty is really hard, especially when so much is at stake.
As I write this, the COVID-19 Pandemic seems to be peaking in some areas, but still climbing in others. Eastern and Western state governors are collaborating to figure out a way forward to open their economies.
But many things are still uncertain. How long will it be? How much can open? What stays closed? How will it impact the overall economy? When will tests and vaccines be ready? HOW WILL IT ALL AFFECT MY LIFE? When will my kids be able to go back to school? When I will be able to go back to work, start up my business? Visit my sick loved ones in the hospital or nursing home?
As reality sets in that this is complicated and may take time, uncertainty and fear can grab at our hearts.
Jesus left us a promise for times like this. He had been telling His disciples He was going to die and leave them. This was not in their plans. They didn’t sign up to follow a dead leader. They were looking for a King; advancement, thrones, forever-security and happiness.
But now, this: death, separation.
Uncertainty gnawed. And uncertainty spawned collective fear.
But Jesus wasn’t afraid. He saw the big picture and gave two anchoring promises: “The future is certain, and I will be with you.”
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
In this familiar promise, Jesus was using a Middle Eastern wedding metaphor. A groom would build an apartment on the family home, perhaps one of many, built by other siblings; then go get his beloved to be with him.
Jesus is saying, “I love you more than you know. When I leave, it is to go get our home ready so we can live together forever. You see, there is a greater purpose in my leaving–a purpose of intention and love. The future is very certain, not uncertain. There are some things you didn’t see; but I saw them, and they haven’t caught me by surprise. I love you. Trust my love. Trust my Father’s love. We have a plan–and it is to bring you home to our house.”
Love reassures. There is a plan, created in love.
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
What Jesus says here is connected to what He said earlier. But it gets less attention, unfortunately. Because it is greatnews.
He is not only the Ascended Christ who went to heaven to get our home ready. He lives with us and in us through His Spirit.
I love His words: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” We do not have to feel lost, abandoned, alone. Jesus is with us. He really is. He promised. Invisibly, yes; but truly with us through His Spirit.
God is One, and where His Spirit is, there He is too.
In this time of uncertainty, we can place our trust in the living Jesus who is planning for us and dwelling with us. We can believe it, trust Him, welcome Him, rely on Him.
“I will be with you always, even to the end of the world.”
In Hawaii, where I spent ten years as a pastor, it was common to see bumper stickers, car decals, and T-shirts, encouraging, “No Fear!”
“No Fear” to the Hawaiian means summoning one’s internal “mana” (spiritual energy, strength) to face his foe. To other locals, it simply means to be brave in the face of any danger or challenge.
There is so much that is beautiful about Hawaii and its people. But worry and fear has to be faced too–from many causes.
History. The native Hawaiian people have faced many fears. They easily recall the Inter-Island wars in which many brave warriors died, and final unification under Kamehameha I (1758-1819).
They remember how their Islands were taken by American business and political powers on January 17, 1893 (1), and how the “Price of Paradise” has driven the cost of living higher for “kanaka” (natives) and “Kama’aina” (long time residents) (2). For some there is resentment toward the “haole” (people from outside).
Beyond this, people who live in Hawaii face the power of natural elements regularly.
Hurricanes. I still remember Hurricane Lane in 2018. It was headed directly for us on Oahu packing 160 MPH winds and torrential, flooding rains. Honolulu was facing catastrophic damage. Our youth pastor Kraig and I hurriedly brought in everything that could become a projectile, secured windows, covered pews with plastic, and prayed, with many, that God would avert the storm.
Almost the last minute, Lane disintegrated into a tropical depression, still causing $250 million in damage, pouring down 58″ of rain in one place. One year, fifteen hurricanes encircled the islands over a few months, but none struck. Locals remember HurricaneIniki (1992), which caused $1.8 billion in damage and claimed several lives, Iwa (’82), Dot (’59) and Nina (57).
Supplies and Distance. The Islands are the furthest from a continent (1,860 miles) of any islands in the world, making supply an issue in crises. In the current Pandemic, medical and food supplies are a concern. People who live there are worrying about their family on the “Mainland” and those of us who live on the mainland worry about them. Fear.
Defense. Because the Hawaiian Island chain is an outlier, it is defended heavily, but still feels vulnerable in a crisis. I vividly remember Hawaii’s “False Missile Alert” in 2018. This was during the heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Each were threatening to attack the other with nuclear weapons, leading to the most serious defense preparations in Hawaii since World War 2. My wife and I were vacationing in Maui when the text alert came that incoming missiles were headed toward us, followed by the words, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL!”
I thought of my two children and their families, our dear grandchildren, who lived near Honolulu–and prayed for their safety. In the end, it was a false alert. But fear? Yes. We felt it.
So people in Hawaii get to face their fears on a regular basis.
And now we all are facing our fears in the COVID-19 Pandemic. Fear of the illness. Fear of job loss. Fear of national trouble. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown.
Most of the time in life, we are brave, or complacent. It is when we face things that are clearly beyond our control and threatening to undo our lives that fear appears. What can we do?
“DON’T BE AFRAID”
Jesus had a lot to say about fear. He doesn’t want us to be paralyzed by it. Overcome with it. He is the Lord of “No Fear.” Here are a few that have helped me:
“Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Jesus was speaking about how to react when people mistreat us. He reassures us that He knows everything about us–even the number of hairs on our head–and that we are of great worth in His eyes. We mean the world to Him. We don’t need to fear. He invites us to believe this about Him.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
1 John 4:18
God loves us more than we can ever imagine. The measure of His love is that He agreed for Jesus to come live here and then die a terrible death for sin. When we truly believe that our powerful Savior knows us and loves us deeply, it melts our fear. But how powerful is He?
“Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It’s a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.'”
Jesus’ disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a storm came up that was rough even for these experienced fisherman. They were struggling the keep the boat afloat when they saw what they thought was an omen of their destruction–a ghost. But it was Jesus walking toward them on the waves. “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Jesus is watching over us in our storms. He can come to us when we need Him. You can pray for Him to come to you. “When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.” (Psalm 86:7) “Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” (Isaiah 65:24)
“So do notfear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
I have read this text at many hospital beds, before many surgeries. I have prayed it myself because it is a sure promise from a God who is willing and able to be with us in our most challenging moments.
Right now, in the middle of whatever storm or overwhelming situation you’re facing, Jesus invites you to trust His promises, to turn to Him, and to tell Him what you need most. He is strong. He is aware. He is present. And He can help.
(1) Dougherty, Michael. To Steal a Kingdom. Waimanalo: Island Style Press, 1992.
(2) Rother, Randall W., (Ed.) The Price of Paradise, (Vol. II). Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1993.
What I am offering is not platitudes. That would be inappropriate in a Pandemic. They would be cheap comfort now.
What I am telling you today is something true and tested. It works for me. It has worked for every person who trusted the words. What words?
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. . .You will find rest for your souls.”
Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30
Could you use a little support? A little help with your burdens? How about rest for your soul?
I am hearing countless stories about front line workers in healthcare, first-response, nursing homes, education, janitorial services, grocery stores, trucking, parents working while homeschooling, and many more. All burdened, stressed, overwhelmed.
Does what Jesus offer apply? If you understand His point, you will find a strength beyond what you could imagine.
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus was using an illustration from ancient farming. Two oxen or cows were joined together with a wooden appliance called a yoke.
To find rest, lift a yoke? To get relief, take another burden? Just the opposite!
You see, Jesus was saying, “Take MY yoke on you. Get in the yoke with Me. You are weak? I am strong; I will help pull your load. You are tired; rest in Me, I will strengthen you. You are fearful and worried; I’ve got this.
A farmer would often yoke a younger ox with an experienced one, a weaker animal with a strong one.
Can you hear the older ox saying to the younger one, “Let me give you some tips; I’ve been at this a while.” Can you hear another saying, “I am afraid. I don’t know what will happen. I am not sure I can handle this.” The strong one says, “When you are stumbling, I will hold you up. When you grow weak, I will pull harder. Trust me.”
Jesus is strong. He stilled at storm, healed the sick, raised the dead. Can you picture Jesus next to you in His yoke? Smiling, helpful, friendly? Yes, friendly. He will not scold you. He’s just glad you came.
I love it that Jesus said, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.” (v. 29). He is not arrogant, demanding, a slave driver. We do that to ourselves. He is gentle and humble; easy to be with; a gentleman–and so willing to help.
What did He mean, “My yoke is easy.” The original word is “well-fitting.” Jesus was a carpenter. He made yokes. He knew how to shave the wood to fit each creature just right. He knows your situation exactly. He can smooth your yoke.
So, what do we do?
Come. He is inviting you. Come weary, come tired, come overburdened, come fearful. But come. He will give rest–because He can. He was human, and knows what it is like “to be us.” But now He is God, with “All power in heaven and earth.” (Matthew 28:18 KJV).
Believe. I know, it is hard to believe sometimes. Just admit it to Him. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). That is a prayer He will always answer. He’ll strengthen your faith and will. Then consciously realize He is beside you, helping you. You are partnering with the once-human, but now risen, all-powerful Christ.
Take His Yoke. Jesus’ yoke is the way He is. He came to serve and help us. Serving others in love is the core principle of God’s character and His kingdom. Jesus’ teachings show the ways of His kingdom. It is not complicated. It is a matter of the heart. Are we willing to get in His yoke and serve with Him, to learn from Him?
You care for patients. Do it with Jesus. You clean nursing homes. Trust Jesus to be beside you. You truck essentials. Jesus is a great team partner. You are trying to save your business and your employees jobs. Jesus is willing to help. You are new to home-schooling your children AND trying to hold down your job. Jesus is available.
He is inviting you now to accept His invitation. It does not hurt to admit we are weak. Of course we are. That we have a need. Of course we do. We’re human. He gets that. That’s why He came.
It’s hard to admit. I get it. All our lives, we felt it was up to us. We have studied hard, worked hard, depended on ourselves (who else was there sometimes?). To admit our need and fear and overwhelmed feelings is hard.
But it is just what we need to do. He loves us and doesn’t mind. Not at all.
Try it. Try Him. He is gentle and humble in heart. . .you will find rest for your soul. And your work will be lighter too, because He is a heavy lifter. He lifted a heavy wooden beam and died for the privilege of helping us.
“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ When he heard this, Jesus said, ‘This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.’ Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was for two more days. . .”
This morning Pastor Joey Oh (LLUC.org) shared a devotional message in a prayer phone call for the Pandemic. I am sharing his thoughts and words here because they were so encouraging.
If you have heard this story before and know its ending, it may be hard to feel the tension in it. One of your best friends is dying. His sisters, also good friends (in fact one was rescued from a degrading life by Jesus), send word to Him to come quickly.
They had seen him heal the sick; they had felt His power in their own hearts. 9-1-1! Call Jesus!
Yet, when he heard the news, “He stayed where He was two more days.” Nothing urgent was happening there; He just delayed leaving.
How would you feel? You are deathly sick in the hospital and call for the pastor. He doesn’t show up for two days. Would you be frustrated, angry, Infuriated? Would you doubt He cared about you?
In the hour of His friends’ greatest need, Jesus fails to show up. When His best friend is sick, Jesus lets him die. When Jesus finally arrives, it is understandable that Martha says in deep disappointment and tears, “Lord! If you had been here, my brother would not have died!” Can you feel her hurt, her confusion, her questions?
Why did Jesus do this? Why does He sometimes seem absent in our troubles? In our losses? Have you experienced this? I have. Prayer seem to go unanswered. Silence.
In this story, Jesus withholds something good to give something great. Sometimes he withholds what we want in order to give us something better. “This sickness. . .is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be gloried through it.” (v. 4)
Jesus gives Mary, Martha, and Lazarus an experience that transforms their lives. He gives them a resurrection. He deepens their faith and gives them hope.
In fact, He gives them absolute evidence of who He is that will sustain them through His own crucifixion and death on Good Friday–and energize their faith on Resurrection morning.
They didn’t know when Lazarus fell sick and died that their own pain and suffering and struggle with faith would give hope to millions who would read their story in ages to come.
They couldn’t see the countless gravesides where their story would be read to give hope amid tears, in a coming Savior and the Resurrection.
Today, in this Pandemic, we live in the time between our heartfelt, sometimes agonizing, prayers to God. God, save my loved one! Save my job! Save my business! Save my family! Save my faith!
The lesson of this story is that for those who trust Him, for His redeemed friends, Jesus always has something better in store for us. We hardly ever know what the future holds. We may get released from this pandemic. It may go on. We can’t see through the fog. . .
But we can trust Jesus. He knows what He is doing. He sees you; He sees me, and he has a plan for each of us. He is strong enough and loving enough to watch over each of His family and do the eternal best for us.
I have written three blogs about Psalm 91. It is a psalm for times of disaster and trouble, which we are certainly facing now. Loved ones sickened and dying. Our nation shut down except for essential services. The economy staggering; leaders conflicted about what to do.
David certainly faced disasters in his own lifetime, even judgments from God. He often prayed humbly for deliverance, and was spared. He lived Psalm 91. These promises have been claimed by God’s people for centuries, and there are many stories of God’s intervention. But not all who prayed were delivered (See Hebrews 11:35-40).
Yet, when I read Psalm 91, its promises seem quite absolute. Why? There is no question in this psalm they will be fulfilled. Those who trust God WILL be saved from pestilence (pandemic), plagues, harm, and the ravages of war. But not all have been.
This riddle is solved when we realize that Psalm 91 applies ultimately to a future period just before Jesus comes. David often wrote under inspiration about the future. This was one such time. Though God’s promises in Psalm 91 apply to all ages, they ultimately apply to the Time of Trouble spoken of by Daniel (Dan. 12:1-4), Jesus (Luke 21:25, 26), and The Revelation (chapter 15, 16). Psalm 91 is a psalm for the Great Tribulation.
It is during this time–close to the coming of Jesus, after He finishes his work of intercession in heaven, when everyone has made their decision for eternity–that the earth falls apart. Nature collapses, civil society explodes, and evil and judgment are unleashed.
It is then that those who have put their faith and trust in God, will be absolutely protected. There would be no purpose for their witness. Their deaths would no longer bring people to Christ. Then, it will be unequivocally fulfilled:
“You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.”
Now is the time, dear friend, to make our home, our dwelling, in God. Now is the time to make sure of our relationship with Him. “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Hebrews 4:7. Jesus’ heart of love longs for you, with eternal desire. And there is never a better time than now.
As we hear daily news reports of loss of life and jobs from the COVID-19 Pandemic; as we think about our own vulnerability and the risk to those we love; as we experience the wide-ranging disruption, we struggle with worry and fear about many things.
Psalm 91 was written for times like this. It is filled with hope and promises of God’s love and protection for those who trust and seek Him. As I mentioned yesterday, my dad helped us children memorize Psalm 91 and then share it with sick and elderly people we visited. It became very meaningful to me then. Now, many years later, I see even more reasons for hope and faith. Today, I will share what speaks to me, hoping it will bring peace and trust to you as well.
An Invitation to Trust
The psalmist, David, is writing from his own life’s story. Through many challenges, he has learned to trust God. God has helped and protected him many times–as a young shepherd from a lion and bear; as a young adult from his archenemy King Saul; as a warrior, in battle; as a monarch from palace intrigue, treachery, and rebellion; and even in his own failings and sin. He has come to believe deeply that God is loving, faithful, and good. He can be trusted. David trusts Him completely now, and with beautiful word pictures drawn from his life, invites us now to do the same.
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. . .His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.'” Psalm 91:1-2, 4
Invitation to a Relationship with God
David’s invitation to us is rooted in the ancient worship center, the Hebrew tabernacle where a person came to God through the sacrifice of a lamb for sins. Asking God in faith to forgive and accept them in this way, looking forward to a Savior, brought pardon and full acceptance with God. Today, we come to God through Jesus, “The Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). No matter how long we may have been away from Him, how much we have sinned, or strayed, or ignored Him, He will accept us. Even though our lives are broken and messy. Even if it is in the middle of a pandemic, a time of emergency. He paid a heavy price. He loves and wants us, in any case. He wants us.
“If you make the Most High your dwelling–even the Lord, who is my refuge–then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. . . ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him because he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” Verses 9, 10, 14, 15
Promises to Claim
I have learned many things about God’s promises in the years since I first memorized Psalm 91. It is full of wonderful promises like angels delivering from accidents, being rescued from pestilence, plague, and punishment. But, does God always do what we ask? What can we know for sure as we read Psalm 91?
First, we can trust the Promiser. He is trustworthy and faithful. He has given us His promises to help us form a relationship of trust with Him. There are over 3,000 promises and clusters of promises in the Bible. God wants us to relate to Him through these. Many have cut their teeth as new believers asking God to fulfill some promise and seeing how attentive and faithful He was to their prayer.
Second, some promises are always Yes. As we come to Him humbly in faith, he always is willing to forgive our sins, be present with us in any situation, give us peace and faith in trouble, and grant the Holy Spirit’s help. Any promise concerning our relationship, He will definitely fulfill. Paul is thinking of this when He wrote, “No matter how many promises are made to us, they always Yes to us in Christ.” 2 Cor. 1:20.
Third, some promises are “God’s will be done.” God’s other promises are not a blanket coverage for every situation, or every circumstance in life. Sometimes God delivers, heals, or provides; sometimes He allows trouble. Job suffered; Paul didn’t get his thorn removed (2 Cor. 12:7); Christ experienced the Cross. Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). We must always pray, as Jesus did in Gethsemane, “May your will be done,” trusting in a God who loves us and knows what is best for our eternal good.
Last, ASK! We can always ask because a loving, caring God’s heart is always open to our prayers. God HAS often protected and delivered His people from danger; He HAS supplied financial and physical needs many times; He HAS healed people of disease. We can claim his promises and trust His love, even if the answer is Yes, No, or Wait (perhaps until Jesus comes).
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears, before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. . . . Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. . .The relationship between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon earth to share His watch-care, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”
Amazing Grace, p. 116
An Invitation to be Loved
I love the closing words of Psalm 91:
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Verses 14-16
Friend, God is inviting you and me to a relationship with Him. He loves us more than we can ever imagine. We can ask His help trusting Him to do the best for this life and eternity. Won’t you take that step, or reaffirm that choice now?
Psalm 91 has a special place in my heart. My father and mother helped us five children memorize it when we were young. It was our longest “memory verse,” and memorizing it took a while. Then dad would take us to elder care homes and invite us to share it from memory with the residents. I still remember the faith in God and feeling of confidence I felt as I recited this psalm, and the smiles of appreciation from staff and clients.
Psalm 91 is a psalm for times of trouble and especially applies to the final Time of Trouble before Jesus’ return (Dan. 12:1). It lists various kinds of trouble God will help us in, including “pestilences” (v. 5) like the COVID-19 pandemic. It promises God’s special care and protection to those who trust and follow Him. In times of trouble in my life, this psalm has been very precious. It comforted me in tragedy and loss.
In beautiful poetry verse 1 says, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” The shelter (KJV: “secret place”) of the Most High refers to God’s dwelling place. The worship place of the early Hebrews was modeled on His dwelling place in heaven, and functioned as a teaching device about the plan of salvation. It was called the “Tent of Meeting” (Exod. 33:7-11), seen in the painting below.
This tent of meeting, or sanctuary, had two rooms, the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place housed the Ark of the Covenant, the agreement God had made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. The Ark was constructed of two golden angels, a “mercy (grace) seat” under their wings, and a box below them which contained God’s Law. This all symbolized God’s throne in heaven which is based on divine law, love, and grace.
The pre-incarnate Christ actually stayed in the Most Holy Place as He led Israel through their wilderness journey (1 Cor. 10:3). Only Israel’s high priest was allowed in there to meet with God. For that reason, it was a “secret” place. Believers could not go in. Instead, they were taught to enter by faith, through the representative function of their high priest, who went in to request forgiveness and help for them from God.
When Jesus went to heaven after his resurrection, Hebrews tells us he “serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man.” (Heb. 8:1-2). Hebrews chapter four comforts us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” So, it encourages us to “approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:15-16 NIV). This pandemic is certainly a time of great need, isn’t it?
When Psalm 91 says “those who dwell in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” it means that when we trust in our Mighty Savior and High Priest Jesus, and surrender our lives to His care and keeping, He will be a “shadow” in the heat of life’s troubles. We will come under His personal love and care. We can pray to Him, and He will hear every word.
In Psalm 27:5, David says, “For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (NIV).
I don’t know what you are facing in his pandemic. You might feel very vulnerable to the disease itself. You may be facing financial loss and uncertainty about your employment. Like me, the daily news with its reports of deaths and jobs lost, may really trouble you at times. You might be wondering where all this is taking us as a nation and as a world. Will things ever get back to normal? What will that normal be?
In Psalm 91, Jesus invites us to come under His personal love and care. He is powerful, and He is good. Nothings escapes His notice. I invite you to read all of Psalm 91, and trust the God it describes. I will write about it more in days to come.
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