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.
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.
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.
I am writing this morning out of great sadness. . .and yet hope. I want to offer you a gift–the knowing that God loves you and is with you in what you are going through.
This week a leading emergency room doctor, Dr. Lorna Breen, took her own life in the face of this Epidemic. I don’t know the whole story, but one report said health care workers in New York are feeling very defeated by this disease.
They have trained and given their lives to help people get well, but so many there are dying, despite their heroic efforts. The best medicine can provide is has often not been enough. Bone tired fatigue, lack of resources, failure despite best efforts, frustration of family members, the pressure and stress of overwhelming odds, and more, can lead to a loss of hope.
Even if you are not a front line worker, you may be feeling some of this too.
Where is God?
Many ask at a time like this, “Where is God? If He is a God of love, why does He allow things like this?” It is an ancient question I would like to give an answer to–one that has satisfied me and given me hope.
I have had more than one devastating loss in my life, but what I am sharing with you held me up and filled me with hope in the middle of despair. God’s love sustained me and carried me through.
Here is the summary. Read on if it interests you.
God is love. He is all powerful; Creator, Savior, Friend.
But His hands are somewhat tied.What He can do is limited. But He is not stopped. And in His love and power He never gives up–being present, helping, comforting, fighting back evil, sometimes working miracles.
Perfection and love was what what He created. But the old story, retold and confirmed, is that the first humans were seduced and deceived; an angel created perfect by God, but with free will. Love cannot thrive absent freedom.
Lucifer, leader of angels, began his rebellion in heaven. It started with pride, then self worship, followed by criticism and questioning everything about God, His love, His ways. Many angels were deceived.
Finally, open revolution. War. And they were sent away from heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). War in heaven? Yes, but probably not like ours.
Lucifer (Light Bearer) who became Satan (The Accuser), came to this world in an infuriated, jealousy-driven attempt to take over a world God had just created. To make it is own kingdom, a place where He could rule and reign like he wanted.
The first humans were created “in God’s image,” with free will. They were intelligent. They had been warned, but the devil deceived them. Led them to question God’s love, doubt His words, and disobey His instructions for happiness.
It is called “The Fall.” It happened. It opened Pandora’s box. Disease, death, human trouble of every kind.
You might be thinking, this story is a myth. It is too old to be believed. In the class of every other ancient religious legend. Let me offer an answer.
Jesus. He was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead. Over 500 people saw him after His resurrection and traveled the world to tell about it.
Saul of Tarsus, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin (ruling council), thought Jesus was a Jewish false messiah. He went everywhere imprisoning, torturing, and killing Christians. Until the risen Jesus appeared to him as he neared Damascus on a mission of death.
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
“Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9)
In an instant everything changed. Clarified. Scriptures understood. Life mission altered. From martyr maker to missionary, to authoring much of the New Testament.
Here was Saul’s and the others’ message: God came to earth as one of us. He entered our darkness, our suffering. He invaded Satan’s kingdom as a Baby. Weak, vulnerable, out of love for a lost and suffering planet. He learned to depend on God, was filled with power; went everywhere teaching and healing. But He was killed. No, He gave His life as a remedy for our sin. To give us options: the option to believe, trust, follow again. The most sinful can be forgiven; the most questioning receives patience; the weakest can get all the help needed–to be a child of God again. To believe, to love, to serve.
The Jesus who died and rose again had confirmed the story. There was a devil, a fall, a history of God’s beach head of love in an occupied world. The story of a God who has never given up. All through history. Pursuing, helping, loving. God wouldn’t resurrect a liar, would He? What Jesus said can be believed. If there are things we don’t understand; well, we can trust.
God could have taken it all back by force. But force is not His way. His way is love, reason. “Come let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are as scarlet, they can be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they can be as wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).
In France and other countries, during World War 2, resistance movements formed–to spread the truth, to empower, to free where possible. Resistance in the face of tyranny. Love for truth and freedom and human dignity in the face of evil.
Since humans turned away, God has been mounting a resistance of love and truth. He invades quietly. Jesus came as a helpless Babe. He sends His Spirit, angels, changed people. He does everything in His power to change hearts and minds through love and reason.
When a mind opens, He has the right to work a miracle. Change a heart, replace fear and doubt with love and certainty.
So yes, God is love. God is powerful. But He is limited in only this world until Jesus comes again.
In Tragedy, Love
Jeremiah lived through the destruction of his nation. He saw death in the streets. He witnessed cruelty and evil on a massive scale. But he didn’t give up His faith in a God of love. Here is his witness.
“So, I say, ‘My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’ I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: It is because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.’”
So friend, I have an invitation.
Believe God is real. Believe He loves you. Believe He loves this world and is doing all He can. Believe in the middle of this devastation and loss.
Trust Him. Become part of the resistance. Fight for a higher purpose. We may lose some in this life, but there is a kingdom of love to restore. Serve in love, in His strength. If you choose this, He will help you. Everything inside will change. You will have hope, peace, purpose, strength to keep going. Believe the story. There is love. There is hope. There is a Kingdom. It is here, and it’s coming.
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.
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?”
Jesus mentioned pandemics (pestilences) when he described what would happen between His first and second Advents (Matthew 24).
However, as I wrote in Part 2, we need more information to answer the question, “Is the Carona Virus Pandemic a sign of the end of the world and Jesus’ Second Coming?”
Jesus gave us those answers in the book of Revelation. About sixty years after He rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, Jesus returned to visit with his aged disciple, John, who was now a prisoner for his faith on the Greek Island of Patmos.
In amazing color and detail Jesus filled in more elements about what would happen in the centuries going forward until He finally returned. He had told His disciples six decades previously, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.” (John 16:12). Now He comes to reveal it.
Put yourself in John’s shoes. Most of the first followers of Jesus have died, many by a martyr’s death. Jesus had promised, when He left, He would come back, but time has dragged on, with much persecution and trouble.
Jesus had left some clues about when He might return, but the hints were sparse. His emphasis had been more about what to do while they waited and His promise to be with them always through His Spirit. He never gave a date and time, only signs.
Now, Jesus comes to reassure the Christian community and to fill in more information. What He gives makes up the last book of the Bible, Revelation.
The first time I tried to read Revelation was after my seventeen year-old sister died in a car accident. I was grieving, looking for comfort and hope. I had heard Revelation talked about Jesus’ return, so I opened my slightly used Bible to the last book and started reading hungrily.
As I wrestled with the symbols, here and there were words of encouragement I needed. My faith grew stronger that I would see my sister again. Also, I came to know God and His Son Jesus in a more personal way.
Now, many years later, I understand some keys that unlock this mysterious book and pour out its treasure. My purpose in writing today is to share ten of those keys. You will understand Revelation better as you use them.
Please don’t be intimidated by this. Each key will be helpful in its own way and time. At the last church I pastored, I was given many keys. Each one opened a space I would need access to–the office, library, classrooms, AV room, etc. Though I always carried all the keys, I used them only when necessary. Read these over, and use them as needed. They will open wonderful treasures to you.
Keys That Unlock Revelation’s Meaning
1. It’s Name Means “Revealed”
The book of Revelation was not meant to be a closed book, too mysterious and complicated to understand. The title means “open, or revealed.” God wants you to understand it. He even pronounces a blessing when you read and take it to heart: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it. . .” (Revelation 1:3). As you read and study, remember it is God’s will to open it to you.
2. A Revelation of Jesus
The first five words tell us it is a revelation (revealing) of and by Jesus: “The revelation of Jesus Christ. . .” (Revelation 1:1). Jesus came to show us what God is really like, His amazing character and love. He showed it by how He lived and what He taught about His Father. If we only read the book like a guide to signs and events, we will miss its central message. Revelation is about Jesus and how He interacts with people and powers through history.
The Bible teaches that when we open our hearts to God, He unlocks our mind to understand His message. Jesus is truly the main “key” in Revelation. When we believe the good news of salvation He taught and put our trust in Him as Savior, He unlocks the door of our understanding and shines His light in.
3. Hidden Keys
Recently we visited my wife’s son in another state. As we left the house one day, I forgot to turn the door knob lock to the unlocked position, locking us out. Everyone else had left for the day. A bit embarrassed, I hoped our son was carrying or had hidden an extra key somewhere. But when he got home that night, we learned he did not, and there was no way in. Keys open spaces important to us. Without a key, we are locked out. Finally, I called a locksmith who produced his tools and got us in quickly.
God gave Revelation at a time when Christianity was under vicious attack. So, like secret battle code, He placed much of its meaning in symbols, effectively locking unsympathetic enemies out.
Revelation’s images are created from over 400 names, places, and allusions drawn from the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Names such as Jezebel, Babylon, and Balaam. Nouns like dragon, sanctuary, lamp stand, and lamb. Concepts such as seal, plagues, and white clothes. When you understand a symbol’s meaning in the “First Scripture,” the Bible Jesus used, it helps unlock its meaning in Revelation.
4. A Cosmic War
Revelation pictures an epic Star Wars-like battle between Heavenly powers and the powers of evil led by a fallen angel and his army of rebel angels (Revelation 12:9-11). The fighting ranges between heaven and earth and on the planet over many centuries. Humans, leaders, and governments choose sides and join the fray. The side we choose determines our involvement and destiny.
“The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. . .When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach.”
Revelation 12:9, 13-14 NIV
5. Understand the Literary Style
Understanding what style a book or movie uses helps us get its message. Revelation is a particular kind of literary style which God used in Bible times–apocalyptic writing. It was made up of visions, symbols, and predictions about the future, with a focus on the cosmic battle and ultimate the end of the world.
As in a book or movie, sometimes the action moves back in time, then forward, then back again, as it builds its message. In Revelation, visions move back and forth between heaven (where God leads and guides) and earth (where the battle rages). Often there is repetition of the same message using different symbols.
For example, one symbol in revelation is “sanctuary” imagery. The Old Testament sanctuary, or worship center, was a symbol of God’s plan to bring salvation to humanity. Its yearly cycle happened in phases utilizing different spaces in the sanctuary, from the sacrifice of a lamb to bring salvation to, ultimately, Divine judgment and restoration of this earth to a renewed state.
God uses the sanctuary symbols and services to introduce each new section of Revelation. (Rev. 1:10-18; 4:1-2; 11:19)
6. The Holy Spirit’s Help
Before Jesus’ death, He promised His followers He would send the Holy Spirit to help them remember everything He had taught, and, lead them into deeper understanding. We need the Spirit of God and as we try to understand God’s heart and message in the Bible. We can ask God for this Gift as we read and study His word.
“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.”
John 16:12-14 NIV
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:9-13 NIV
7. Revelation Moves Through History
As you read Revelation, you will generally be moving through history from the time of Christ to the Second Coming (and beyond). As I said earlier, the scene sometimes moves backward or forward in time, as in a movie or book. There are several series of seven in Revelation. Often, these seven-fold series begin with early Christianity and move through time to the End. As you read, you will notice this.
8. Lost in Unfamiliar Territory?
Imagine that are lost on a walk or drive. What would be the first thing you’d do? Of course, you might check Google maps, but play along. Let’s say you don’t have your phone. What would you do? I would look something familiar: a landmark, a street name, something in the skyline. As soon as you identified something, it might help you pinpoint your location and how to find your way home.
Think of this as a helpful tip when you read Revelation. You find yourself in a maze of strange metaphors, unfamiliar symbols, and mysterious narrative, look for something familiar. Remember you are moving through history, sometimes in cycles. Look for references to significant events, or familiar names and places. These will help you pinpoint your location and find your way.
9. Apocalyptic Cross References
I said earlier that there are more than 400 references in Revelation to the Old Testament: names, places, allusions. Many of these are found in other Apocalyptic books, primarily the Old Testament book of Daniel.
Daniel has many characteristics in common with Revelation. It moves from its time (600 B.C.), through the centuries to the Second Coming of Christ. It is composed of several visions and makes use of many symbols. Many of these symbols are used by God in Revelation. The material covered by Daniel is also taught in Revelation.
So, if you understand Daniel, it will help you sort out Revelation. The book of Daniel is a big key for understanding Revelation.
10. The Main Purpose
The last key is one of the most important, closely related to keys 2 and 6. God gave us Revelation to know Him personally and to experience a relationship with Him. He gave it so we could experience His gift of salvation, receive Jesus as our Savior, be ready for His Coming and prepared to enjoy eternity with Him.
We must not study Revelation primarily to understand End Time Events, or how to survive them, but to come close to a loving, good God Who is full of mercy and willing to accept and help us. If you read Revelation in that way, you will be truly blessed.
These ten points are some of the crucial keys that unlock the wonderful treasure found in Revelation. Now, I would suggest you just begin to read it prayerfully, using these keys as they come to your mind. God’s Spirit will open your understanding as you do.
Tomorrow, God willing, I will highlight some of the events, movements, and signs in Revelation which shows Jesus’ Coming is Near.
Many people are asking if the COVID-19 Pandemic is a sign of the End. Seeing how it has affected the whole world, bringing rapid infection and death, shutting down economies, affecting much of the planet, prompting government intervention, raising concerns about civil liberties–all these and more, has stirred up the recurring question, “It this a sign?”
Christians believe Jesus predicted signs that would alert us to His Second Coming. But I am guessing people of other faiths, or no particular faith, are wondering too. No religion or philosophy has a corner on this question.
Since I am writing as a Christian, I am going to answer from that perspective.
Jesus did describe many signs and events in His teaching about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world. His explanation is found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, repeated in different ways by three New Testament writers. One of these signs was “pestilences,” or pandemics.
“There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”
The COVID-19 certainly qualifies as a great pandemic when we think of how many have died and the disruption caused to our world and global economy. Was Jesus referring to this, specifically?
Jesus’ teaching about signs was given in response to a question asked by His twelve close disciples. Their question and Jesus’ answer gives us an crucial clue to understanding “signs.” So, let’s join their dialogue:
“Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. ‘Do you see all these things?’ he asked. ‘Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.'” (Matthew 24:1-2 NIV)
Jesus had just finished His strongest warning ever to the religious leadership in Jerusalem. It is sometimes called “The Seven Woes.” He excoriated them for their hypocrisy and double standards. But He ended with an impassioned, loving appeal”
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. . .”
What an appeal! It was only days now until Jesus would be arrested, tried, and crucified. Israel’s opportunity to accept her Messiah was rapidly coming to a crisis.
The disciples heard Jesus words about the Temple being left desolate, and it created an uneasy fear. Was Jesus’ pronouncing judgment against their beloved Temple? Would it really be destroyed. That’s when they asked their question.
“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives (they had hiked up from the temple to the Mount), the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?'”
Jesus had just said something shocking–that all the buildings on the Temple Mount were going to be destroyed. Not one stone left on top of another. The Romans had spent years building this beautiful religious complex for the Jews. It was their pride and joy, and to them, evidence of God’s blessing. The stones of the temple mount were massive, some as large as a school bus. It was unimaginable it would be destroyed.
However, Jesus was predicting this would definitely happen, and the prophet Daniel had also prophesied it hundreds of years earlier (Daniel 9:26). Jesus cited this prediction by Daniel in Matthew 24:15.
Two Questions in One
Jesus’ followers had asked, “When will this happen, AND what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
People in Jesus’ day expected the “End of the age” to take place in their time. They did not understand that the Messiah would come, die, rise from the dead, and return to heaven, followed by His Second Coming many centuries later.
Because Jesus understood this two-part coming of Messiah: 1st Advent and 2nd Advent, He answered His disciples’ question in two parts: things that would happen before the destruction of Jerusalem and events and signs that would happen before his Second Coming. You will see this as you read the three chapters mentioned above.
Jesus told them that before the destruction of Jerusalem (by Titus in 70 A.D.), many things would take place: false Christ’s would appear, wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences in various places. (Dr. Luke is the only one to mention pestilences, in Luke 21:11. His trained ear picked up Jesus’ mention of disease pandemics.) All these things happened just like Jesus predicted.
However, Jesus’ point to them was that when they saw these things, they were not to interpret them as signs of His near Second Advent. Here are His words: “Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. . .All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:6, 8.
“The end is still far away,” Jesus was telling them. “These troubles will be like the beginning of a long birthing process, taking place over many centuries, until I finally come back. The earth will be writhing in labor pains, so to speak, until I come.”
Many years later, Paul wrote, “The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:22)
To summarize so far, Jesus divided His teaching about “signs” into two parts: events before the destruction of Jerusalem: and, signs that would show His Second Coming was getting closer.
Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D., precisely as Daniel and Jesus predicted. It was a terrible time for the Jewish people. Thousands upon thousands lost their lives. But Jesus had prepared His followers to understand that not even this terrible event, as earth-shaking as it was for Christ’s followers, was the End. There was more history to come, and more signposts.
Taken by itself the COVID-19 pandemic is not necessarily a sign of Jesus’ immediate (or close) return. Jesus told His followers that these things would happen, but the end was not yet (Matthew 24:6). There have been many pandemics down through history. For a fascinating list, read here.
By using the metaphor of the birthing process Jesus was teaching there would be an intensification of sign events that this world needs the deliverance only God can give: false Messiahs, wars, natural disasters etc. When we think of the wars in the 20th and 21st Centuries, the invention of nuclear bombs, the increasing power of storms, the weird messianic movements, we have certainly seen that.
In that sense, a world-wide pandemic of this magnitude could be a sign of Jesus’ soon coming, but there are many more things to consider.
Jesus’ teaching about the End of Time and His Second Advent is much bigger than one event, as serious as it might be. His teaching about this is like an artist’s painting. It takes many colors, many details to make a portrait complete.
When He predicted events leading to His Coming, Jesus pointed to sign events in the natural world, the geopolitical area, the economy, the religious world, and more. It is a coming together of many forces and occurrences.
Something like the COVID-19 Pandemic could trigger other things leading to final signs and events, but we won’t know for sure until it happens. It might only be another pandemic like many we have had, or it could morph into something more.
Jesus did present clear teaching about some specific things that would happen before He returns. But even more importantly, He explained what our focus should be and how we can be ready for that and live as we wait for His return. I will write about these in future blogs.
In the meantime, I invite you to read the three chapters mentioned above, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21, and reflect on what we have seen there. Next time, I will discuss what all these things mean for us, living closer to Jesus’ return.
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.
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.
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.
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.