Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘God’s Silence’ Category

When You Are Waiting For God To Show Up

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jade Mazarin

A few things to remember when it feels like your prayers aren’t being answered.

Have you been praying for years for certain people or situations?

I have.

I know that God has called these people, and I know who they can be and the healing God has in store. I also pray for situations I yearn to improve, even after years of stagnant. But so far, those miraculous changes I’ve longed for remain seemingly at bay.

It’s easy to wonder if anything will change, when nothing seems to be happening. It’s easy to become discouraged when the physical reality looks nothing like what I think it should.

However, I continue to ask for the healing, the restoring and the saving, that I (and I know He) wants.

The other night while praying, that phrase at the end of TV shows popped in my head: “To be continued.”

“To be continued” arrives at a pivotal point in a show. We’ve gotten invested in the characters; we’ve followed them through a series of events and emotional drama. We may glance at the clock a few minutes prior and wonder how the nicely tied-up conclusion will arrive in time. It’s not looking good at this point.  How is this going to get fixed? we wonder.

Then suddenly, the screen fades to black, with the message “To be continued.”

Typically, when this happens, my reaction is, “No! I want to know the rest of the story, now!” Then again, another part of me is relieved. The story won’t end badly. This mess will somehow be fixed. Of course, now I have to wait.

The Middle of the Story

What if that same “to be continued” is showing up around your prayers or the situations you’ve stopped praying for, because nothing seemed to change?

You might be upset because someone you love is in trouble. You might ache with sorrow for the distance between you and a family member. Or, you could be dragging around discouragement because of a problem you can’t shake. And with all this, you might wonder where God is or if He really cares. But, maybe the reason things seem so dreary is because you’re only in the middle of the story, and God isn’t just going to show up and make things right in the end—instead, you’ll realize He’s been there through it all.

This idea makes me think of Mary and Lazarus. Many of us are familiar with the story—Mary and her sister Martha have a brother named Lazarus whom Jesus raises from the dead. But have you thought about what Mary and her sister go through from the time Lazarus gets sick to the time Jesus resurrects him?

Mary and Martha know Jesus loves them and their brother Lazarus. They know He’d be there in time of need. So when Lazarus gets deathly ill, Mary tells one of His disciples to relay the message. She and her family then wait in expectancy for his arrival.

They wait. And they wait. Three long, drawn out, painfully quiet days, as Lazarus just gets sicker.

And then, no longer able to hold on, Lazarus breathes his last breath.

What were Mary and Martha thinking at this time?

If they were like most of us, I would imagine it was something like, “I thought Jesus loved us. I thought we were special to Him. Why didn’t He come?” Perhaps they felt angry, and a sense of abandonment or betrayal.

When Jesus does show up, Mary tells him, “If you had been here earlier, Lazarus would have lived.” Everyone is grieving what they see to be a tragic end to the story. Even Jesus weeps when He sees their pain and loss.

But what if Mary, Martha and their friends knew that this was not the end of the story? What if they knew there was good to still come?

Out of seemingly nowhere, in a sudden turn of events, Jesus acts. He stands up, walks over to Lazarus and calls him back from the dead.

We’re only in the middle of the story—and God isn’t just going to show up and make things right in the end, we’ll realize He’s been there through it all.

Yes, Jesus loved this family dearly all along—just as they believed He did. In fact, it was His love for them that caused Him to wait to show up. He could have arrived and healed Lazarus when they expected, but instead, He waited for a special moment; for a tremendous finale kind of moment. He chose a way that would display the greatness of His love and the magnitude of His power. He took the opportunity to say to them, “Yes, I love you. And I will show you how much.”

The Real Ending

But what about the times when things don’t turn out beautifully? Maybe you’ve prayed for a loved one to be healed, and they weren’t. We all know there are tragic endings to countless stories—ones that can’t be made better by belief in a changed situation.

Yet, there is still more to the story—at least, to the whole story. In the grand scheme of things, we are still in the middle of God’s ultimate story of redemption. We won’t always get happy endings now, but God has a greater intention for the earth—one to instill perfection into every facet of it. He’s at work in us, through us and with us, even when it doesn’t feel like He’s there.

When I pray for the same things I’ve poured my heart into for years, I remind myself that God is at work, even though I can’t yet see it. When I wrestle with doubting it, I actually say to Him: “Don’t be done with this yet. Make things right.” I ask Him to reveal His glory.

God has a special investment in the end of the story. He will often provide glimpses of His final redemption in our daily lives, that we can look for and hope in. It may not be how we expected, but it will display His creativity. God’s plan does not always match up with our expectations, but it leaves us with more. And He will always reassure of the incomparable finale, when everything is set straight.

MY EASTER TESTIMONY

SOURCE:  DR. BILL BELLICAN

In my home growing up (the early 1950s), there was not much talk about religion.  My father was building a career in the burgeoning hospitality/hotel industry. He had a Presbyterian background but not any church connection to speak of.  My mom had a Baptist upbringing and would periodically take me to a small Baptist church. Dad’s job kept him busy 24/7. Mom helped Dad a lot.  My young life was spent growing up in the hotels my Dad managed as was the business practice of that time.

Around age 13, Mom and I went to church one Sunday.  The pastor’s message caught my attention and grabbed my heart.  It was the message of salvation.  As God would have it, my mind and heart were quickened, and I went forward to accept Christ as my personal Lord and Savior later being baptized.  But, there was not much conversation at home about this important event I had experienced.

Sadly, my Dad died unexpectedly very soon thereafter of a massive heart attack, and my Mom became very emotionally needy and concerned about making a living. There were no other adults in my life at that time to model this new life in Christ for me or even to talk to about it.  Church attendance became much more sporadic as my grandmother (with dementia) came to live with us and needed much care.

As the years passed and I finished high school and went to college, my faith was still muted for the most part.  However, when I met the one who was to become my wife (Susan), things changed.  Susan grew up in Central Church-Memphis, TN and that’s where she was attending.  So, I started going to Central, too.  Upon my first visit, the Word preached penetrated my heart and mind in such a way that my faith came alive within me.  My dormant faith and life in Christ began to flourish.  In 1975, Susan and I married, and I began my career in the hospitality/hotel industry which was growing very rapidly.

Similar to my Dad, this career grew and demanded such time that it overtook the attention necessary for my faith to continue to grow. I was progressing up the “corporate ladder” quickly. My worldly life was working very well.  In essence, my spiritual life could be characterized as the “seed that fell among the thorns” (Luke 8:14).  The cares, worries, and successes of life overtook my focus on Christ.  I think my attitude became something like, “Thank you, Lord, for your blessings. I will call you if I need you.”

However, a life-change was coming.

In 1989, I was presented with the annual “Leadership Award.”  The corporation I worked for conveyed to me that I was one of their most valuable employees. By 1991, this same corporation was bought out by an international company, downsized, and relocated meaning I was out of a job.  God was beginning a loving, transformative process in my life, but I wasn’t aware of it, yet.

I expected that God would allow me to take advantage of my numerous business contacts and years of experience so I could simply step into another corporate job. However, God loved me too much to allow me to continue in my spiritual dysfunction with my eyes fixed on anything else but Him (Heb 12:2).  Nothing seemed to work out about another position.  Doors seemed to be closed for one reason or another.  Life began to get more desperate.  Benefits were running out.  My golden parachute developed holes.  Stresses in the home were mounting.  Savings were depleted.  Retirement funds were used to survive.  We were on the verge of losing everything.  I had entered into what St. John of the Cross referred to in his writings as “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  God was going to use this “dark night” to wisely and lovingly strip away everything that I had wrongly grown to put my faith in and depend upon.

As I was trying to understand what was happening, I turned to God helplessly and without any hope in anything else.  Strangely, my heart was drawn to the Word, to prayer in a most intimate way.  My relationship with Christ, my hunger for Him, my experience of His presence deepened like never before.  I didn’t have solutions to my problems, but I had the fullness of Christ with me.  Christ was disciplining me for my good, like a son, painfully, so I might desire and seek His holiness and righteousness for my life (Heb 12: 4-13).

With more clarity and counsel from others, in time I started to graduate school to finish my counseling education for licensure and worked as an independent business consultant to provide for my family. God kept enlarging my faith and trust in Him during this time. Later, I began working part-time for Central Church in the Counseling Ministry.  As I completed my graduate degree, I was allowed to direct the Counseling Ministry.  The Lord used all of these life events to get me where He wanted me to be that I might love Him and serve Him in a spiritually healthy way.

Like the author of Psalm 119, I found comfort in what God was doing in my life:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray but now I obey your word.

You are good and what you do is good.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.

I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness, you have afflicted me.”

[Psalm 119: 67-68, 71, 75]

How God Uses Suffering

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

Recently, I posted about my experience with major back pain, brought on by herniated discs, and the 5 Marks of Suffering that I learned about from an excellent book by Tim Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. Keller’s overview of how God uses suffering in our lives was inspiring. As someone called to help people love their families well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share his insights with you.

The loneliness of suffering can cause one to wonder, “God where are You?” Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering eloquently shows how God uses suffering in our lives. Here are Keller’s insightful, inspiring and hope-filled thoughts on how God uses suffering.

1. “Suffering transforms our attitude toward ourselves.”

We like to think we can control others, and control the world around us. But we have a hard enough time controlling our own hearts. Keller points out that suffering shatters our illusions of control, “as it shows us we have always been vulnerable and dependent on God.” As we confront this, we see with more clarity through our own pain and introspection, how fragile and out of control we really are.

2. “Suffering will profoundly change our relationship to the good things in our lives.”

Pain has a way of clearing the decks, of helping us reorder our priorities. As I battled that back pain, I became more laser-focused on what was most important and what I really needed to focus on each and every day of my life. I even wrote down on a piece of paper that I have in front of me on my desk every day “Every moment matters.” I want to be wise in how I use the time God has given me on this earth. I want to love God, love my family, and love others well!

3. “Suffering can strengthen our relationship to God as nothing else can.”

Keller notes, “Suffering reveals the impurities or perhaps the falseness of our faith in God…and therefore, it is only in suffering that our love relationship with God can become more and more genuine.” Through pain, we become more dependent, or maybe more aware of the dependence we’ve always had, on God. The “dry and painful” prayers of suffering can lead to deeper faith and joy in the One who created us.

4. “Suffering is almost a prerequisite if we are going to be of much use to other people.”

As I have posted before and wrote about in the book, All Pro Dad, pain can be turned positive by giving you a future message of hope to others. Keller eloquently paints the picture of how this happens when he notes that “Before when we saw others in grief, we may have secretly wondered what all the blubbering was about…. then it comes to us—and ever after, we understand.” Suffering helps us be empathetic and compassionate. Suffering drives us to God, who, in turn, sends us out to others with an experiential message of truth, love, and hope.

5 Things to Do When God Seems Distant

SOURCE:  Rebecca Rene Jones/Relevant Magazine

A few ways to wait well.

That June, I stood at the podium draped in black cap and gown. I was 18, my tassel dancing as I lifted lips to the mic and delivered a valedictory address full of all the right bluster: Drive slow and enjoy the brave journey. Believe in your beauty. Live out loud.

Two months later, in August, I moved into my freshman dorm. Three days in, my dad died.

After his funeral, I unplugged my mini-fridge. I hiked across campus to the registrar’s office, surrendered my meal card, un-enrolled. I stripped my mattress clean of my new sheet set and hugged my roommates an awkward goodbye. On the ride home, I began what would flower into months of questioning all of it: my dreams, my design, my direction. I balled my fist, banged hard on heaven’s screen door, and here’s the hard part: For a while, God kept quiet.

If you, too, find yourself here, on this same front porch, famished for even the faintest nudge in the right direction—sit down. Here’s what I know about waiting when God feels distant.

Know That What You’re Experiencing Is Normal

It is so unshockingly normal that C.S. Lewis actually said our fluctuating feelings about God were perhaps the only constant of our faith. “The law of Undulation,” he nicknamed it. In a nutshell, “undulation” implies that the Christian walk is a back and forth rocking between sweet “communications of His presence” and then, later: wilderness and soul-numbing silence.

In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis writes that God “withdraws, if not in fact, (then) at least from … conscious experience … He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish.” This may seem unpleasant, but it works in us something that’s critical to our spiritual maturity: a decoupling of our faith from our feelings about it.

Undulation forces us to go beyond our own gut—and beyond our circumstances—and agree that God is good and attentive even when life suggests otherwise.

Embrace Boring Things

Today’s temptation is to bide time by distracting ourselves. We are categorically bad at waiting, at welcoming quiet, at actively wanting from God. We are much better at filling in downtime and numbing our aches with Pinterest, Twitter and Netflix.

But God dares us to do something different: To stay expectant. To stay hungry. To practice hope, as Paul says, by patiently and confidently fixing our attention on the promises we don’t yet possess (Romans 8:24-25).

Carve out quiet places to remember what you’re hoping for. For me, after Dad died, that meant taking lots of lonesome bike rides and a tedious part-time job counting pills at a local pharmacy. It’d be a stretch to call these spiritual disciplines, but I’ll go to the mat for this: they helped me protect a precious hush that God eventually spoke into.

Tell God What You Think

It’s OK to be blunt. The great prophet Elijah even prayed to die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said (1 Kings: 19:4). His earnestness isn’t exactly an anomaly, either: so many psalms echo some version of this, peppering God with the same rolling questions: Why haven’t you moved sooner? Or in quite the way we’d hoped?

On the surface, they might seem presumptuous, but at their heartbeat, these questions are actually something different: They are appeals to God’s good character. They’re sincere questions that finger a perceived disconnect between who God says He is and why His action—or seeming lack of action—seems out of step with his nature.

Sometimes, we confuse waiting on God with plunking down until we’re handed crisp itineraries.

Don’t Demand Burning Bushes

God can use pyrotechnics, of course, but our brushes with Him aren’t always so theatrical. When we knock, ask and seek, sometimes He doesn’t match our decibel level.

God honors and often uplifts the quietly faithful, and what’s more: He often comes in the quiet. When God tells Elijah to wait before Him on the mountaintop, we witness something remarkable: God doesn’t show up where we think He’d appear. He’s not in the snapping windstorm, or the earthquake or the blaze. Elijah can’t find God’s voice in any of them. Then comes a gentle whisper, and it is so divinely flooded that Elijah covers his face with his cloak.

What if God intends to meet us precisely in the places we’d least imagine?

Your Shattered Dreams and Shaken Faith

SOURCE:  Vaneetha Rendall/Desiring God

Sometimes my faith is shaken when my dreams are shattered.

I wonder where God is in the midst of my suffering. I cannot sense his presence. I feel alone and afraid. My faith wavers.

I question what I have long believed. I wonder what is real, especially when my experience doesn’t match my expectations.

This wavering deeply troubles me. I have tasted God’s goodness, enjoyed close fellowship with him, rested in his tender care. I have known both his power and his love. Yet in the midst of profound struggle, I have no answers. Just questions.

John the Baptist understood this struggle as he waited in prison. He, above all men, knew who Jesus was. Even in the womb, he leapt for joy in the presence of the unborn Savior. At the beginning of Jesus’s ministry, before any of his miracles, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). He baptized Jesus and saw God’s Spirit descend on him, testifying that he indeed was the Son of God.

And yet, at the height of Jesus’s ministry, John sent word to him from prison, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2–3).

At one point, John was sure that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus further confirmed his divinity by performing miracles, yet now John was wondering what was true.

Why?

Unfulfilled Expectations

John knew from Scripture that he who gave the blind sight, made the lame walk, and preached good news to the poor could surely “open the prison of those who were bound” as prophesied in Isaiah 61:1. But Jesus didn’t do that for John.

So perhaps at this point, John doubted what he knew. If Jesus was indeed the Messiah, John probably expected to have a role in his earthly kingdom. He wouldn’t have expected to start with such a high calling, preparing the way of the Lord in the wilderness, only to end his life and his ministry in a small prison cell. Besides, John preached that the Messiah would come with an unquenchable fire. With judgment. With power. He likely expected that to be in his lifetime.

None of those expectations coincided with reality. And that may have caused John to doubt. Unfulfilled expectations often elicit that response in me. Especially when I’ve been faithful.

Jesus doesn’t condemn John for his doubts. He even says that no one greater than John has ever lived. He understands why John is asking the question. And Jesus’s response to him reinforces what John already knows: that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.

At the same time, Jesus knows that John’s public ministry is over. Just like the saints in Hebrews 11, John wouldn’t receive all God’s promises but could only greet them from afar. He would not serve with Jesus or see the fulfillment of God’s kingdom. But one day he would. One day he would see his glorious part in God’s magnificent plan. He, the last of the old covenant prophets, would see how God used him to prepare the world to receive Jesus.

And John would rejoice.

But for now, John has to accept the Messiah’s plans for his life. Plans that are different than what he envisioned. He has to dwell on what he knows to be true rather than fixate on his circumstances. He has to remember who God is and trust him from a dark prison.

And so it is with me.

When Your Plans Crumble

When my plans crumble and God takes me away from my dreams, I must trust in God’s infinite wisdom. When my cup of suffering seems too much to bear, I need to rest in his immeasurable love. When my life spins out of control, I need to remember God’s absolute sovereignty.

I may not understand what is happening. But I cannot stop talking to him. Or turn away in fear. I must simply go to Jesus and tell him my doubts. Ask him to help me see.

John’s doubts are the same as mine. I wonder if God is who he says he is. And if everything is under his control. And if he truly loves me.

And when I doubt, God calls me, as he did John, to trust what I know to be true. To trust the bedrock principles that I know from Scripture and from experience. That God is completely sovereign. And loving. And wise. Not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from his will.

In this life, I may never see how God is using my trials. But one day I will be grateful for them. All I can do now is trust that he who made the lame walk and the blind see, who died on a cross so I could spend eternity with him, is going to do the very best thing for me.

It all comes down to trust. Will I trust my circumstances that constantly change? Or will I trust God who is unchanging?

On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Depression: God Is Not Silent When We Suffer

SOURCE:  familylife.com/Edward T. Welch

If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Come to God with your suffering

You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.

    • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
    • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
    • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
    • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
    • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
    • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Try one step at a time

Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness?Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it okay to get medication?

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

    • How long will it take before it is effective?
    • What are some of the common side effects?
    • Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, What is best and wise?

Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.

If you choose to take medication, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.

What do I do with thoughts about suicide?

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine thinking of suicide. But when depression descends, you may notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death acts like a stalker.

Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, Everyone will be better off without me. But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has purposes for you.

One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor.

Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

When It Appears God Isn’t At Work

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by N.T. Wright/Relevant Magazine

What God’s work in our lives actually looks like.

It seems like we don’t see God moving today as clearly as we see in the Bible. Why do you think that is?

I think part of our problem here is that when we read the Bible, we read it with long hindsight. We look and we say, “Oh yeah, there’s God rescuing His people from Egypt.” Well, yes, that is dramatic and that happened, but then, in the Psalms, the poets are saying, “Has God forgotten us? Has He forgotten to be gracious? Has He abandoned us? It’s been a long time now.”

The great book of Isaiah, promised a great new moment when God would come in person and would become king. And yet, it was 500 years before Jesus came. During those 500 years, many wise Jews pondered and prayed and struggled. Other people said, “Oh, it’s just a load of old mythology. It’s never going to happen.” But they kept on praying and waiting and finally, this explosive thing happened, which we call Jesus.

It seems to me that’s often the way for us, too. We wait and pray and it looks as though nothing’s going on, and then to our surprise, something suddenly happens and we think, “Oh my goodness! That is what I was praying for, but I didn’t know it was going to look like this!” That is the characteristic experience, both in the Jewish world we see in the Psalms and the prophets, and in the Christian world.

In my pastoral experience, working with many people in many different contexts, the idea of “Well, that happened then, but it doesn’t seem to be working for us,” that is a characteristic sense. Then quite suddenly, out of the blue, so it seems, God will do a new thing, and people say “Oh my goodness, that’s extraordinary. How did that happen?” The answer is: that’s what we’ve been waiting for and praying for, only we didn’t know it was going to look like that.

So what do you say to people who are in a rough period and they’re waiting for something to happen and it just isn’t coming?

In that period of waiting, it’s like when you sow a seed in the ground in the fall, in the autumn, and you want to be impatient. You want to say, “I planted the seed, I want something to grow straight away, please.” But you have to wait through the winter.

During the winter, it isn’t that nothing is happening, it’s that the seed is germinating out of sight underground. It needs to be there. In the spring, when the new shoots happen, it looks sudden to us, because we haven’t seen anything going on until then, but actually, stuff has been going on underground.

Again and again, God works underground in our lives, in our imaginations, in our personal circumstances and in the wider world, and then suddenly something new happens, a new project, a new moment in our lives, and we’re astonished at it. T.S. Elliot had that wonderful poem that’s part of his four quartets where he says, “Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought.” In other words, don’t even try to figure out what’s going on. If God has kept you in the dark at the moment, it may be because you have to go through a winter season in order that the spring, when it comes, will find those new plants well rooted and well bedded in.

That’s very difficult, because the darkness looks just dark. But that’s where we cling onto the teaching and promise of Jesus. Jesus taught those parables about seeds growing secretly and so on precisely in order that people could latch onto the promise that even when it looks dark, looks as though nothing is happening, God is at work and the seeds will indeed produce fruit at the right time.

What do you think about praying for healing? Some people pray directly for healing while others just pray for God’s will to be done. Is there a best way to pray in those situations?

One of the things the New Testament talks about in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit is the gift of discernment, of knowing what to pray for. Because sometimes, if somebody is dying and is clearly sick, sometimes it’s actually cruel to say, “I believe God is going to heal this person right now.” Because actually, this may be their time to go.

Sometimes, then, you pray for a good death, rather than to be saved this minute from death. We are all going to die, and it would be silly if we all tried to imagine that even when somebody is a good old age, etc, that God still wants to bring them back from death one more time.

However, at the same time, there are many occasions when somebody has been given up by the medical profession—the doctors just say “There is no hope, this person will be dead within two or three days”—and sometimes through prayer, that situation can be radically turned around.

We have a case in my own family: a niece of mine, my sister’s daughter, who, when she was 6 years old, was given up for dead with double kidney failure. They reckoned she would be dead within a day or two. That girl is now in her mid 30s, she has been a missionary teacher in India, she’s a lovely Christian girl, because there were people around the world praying for her. Astonishingly, the doctors to this day don’t know how her kidneys got better, but they did.

If you’re in ministry, you will constantly meet people who have stories like that to tell. Equally, I know plenty of people for whom similar prayers have been made and who haven’t been healed. That remains a mystery. We do not have a clue to that mystery. That’s why, in Romans 8, one of the crucial, most important chapters in the Bible, St. Paul says we don’t know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit groans within us with inarticulate groanings, and God listens to what the Spirit is saying.

In other words, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then somehow, God is praying within us for the pain around us. Even though we don’t know what we should pray for, if we are waiting upon God and being patient and learning to pray, then somehow, that prayer will bring about new creation even if it isn’t in the form we instantly want.

It’s important that we wrestle with that question, rather than just pushing it one way and saying, “We must always pray and God will always do what we want.” Or saying, “Well, it’s probably not going to happen, so let’s just pray ‘Thy will be done.’” We can collapse into one of those two directions, and it seems to me that the path of wisdom is to hold on in the middle even though that’s uncomfortable. It teaches us patience and humility—and the Gospel is really all about learning patience and humility in the presence of God.

Hanging on to Faith When the Miracle Doesn’t Come

SOURCE:  Karen Woodall/InTouch Ministry

Sundown

The sun sank low on the horizon beyond the hill out behind our house. As the blazing orange orb melted into the distance, red, pink, and purple clouds seemed to ascend into a deepening blue sky. As I paused to behold the glorious display, a story that I’d recently read in the book of Joshua came to mind.

A lesser-known miracle recorded in chapter 10 (vv. 1-14) occurs during Israel’s battle with the Amorites. The writer of Joshua tells us that five kings of the surrounding area planned to attack the Gibeonites because they had signed a treaty with Israel. Coming to the defense of their new ally, Joshua and the Israelite army executed a surprise attack on the camp of their common enemies.

In verse 8, God assured Joshua of the outcome, saying, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands; not one of them shall stand before you.” Not surprisingly, Israel beat the Amorites and drove them from the city. But, as the Israelite army pursued the Amorites to seal their victory, the sun began to set. Seeing this, Joshua prayed a bold prayer, “O Sun, stand still at Gibeon, and O moon, in the Valley of Aijalon” (v. 12). And the amazing thing is, the sun actually stood still in the sky!

I love that story because it’s a dramatic picture of our miracle-working God responding to bold prayers of faith that are centered on His promises.

But as I stood there in the overgrown grass surrounding our house observing that evening’s sunset, it occurred to me that sometimes—maybe a lot of times—believers trust, pray, and believe as best as they know how, and the sun doesn’t stop in the sky. Even while clinging to the last scrap of faith, daylight disappears and is soon replaced by the long shadows of night.

It’s difficult to find answers that satisfy during times when our desires go unfulfilled, our prayers appear to be unanswered, and hope and confidence seem hard to find. I won’t attempt to gloss over real pain and frustration with fluffy platitudes and easy fix-all solutions that do little to repair dreams dashed into pieces on the ground.

What I will say is this: You can still trust God.

That doesn’t mean that if you hang on long enough, you’ll always get what you are hoping for, because the reality of our fallen world is that sometimes miracles don’t come according to our timetable. Or they don’t look like we thought they would when they finally arrive. But no matter what happens, our trust should never be placed in external circumstances. We must anchor our hope in God who, by His very nature, is trustworthy.

Beyond any doubt, the Lord has already proven His love and care for you in a tangible and concrete way. Romans 5:8 says it like this: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” You don’t have to lean on warm feelings, or on skewed assessments of what, in our view, seems to be the best outcome. The cross is an objective and enduring exhibition of the love of God. On that, you can place your full trust without question.

I do not know why some miracles come in such grand fashion, nor do I understand why so many times the sun silently sinks away.

What I do know is that even when the light retreats and night falls, with its all-encompassing blackness, you can still believe in the unending love and compassion of our God. When the sun sets, and disappointment settles over you like an evening mist, you can still choose to hang on to your trust in Him. And when, in the face of sorrow and heartbreak, you do remain faithful, perhaps it’s then the Lord will set ablaze His greatest miracle deep within your heart to ultimately shine brighter than the sun.

“Your sun will no longer set nor will your moon wane;

for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light,

and the days of your mourning will be over.”

Isaiah 60:20

 

God’s School of Waiting

SOURCE:  Jeff Robinson/The Gospel Coalition

I don’t like to wait.

No, let’s be completely frank: I despise waiting.

There is a certain highway in the city where I lived until recently that is notorious for traffic snarled for hours on both sides of rush hour. I avoided it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I have to preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.

I realize that I am not alone. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour or so. Why is it so hard for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.

Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord is one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that helps us understand what the LORD told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8). We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and then we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.

The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as being in “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent many years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps 27:14).

As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear: “But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.” What a glorious promise! And yet our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait.

Still, waiting on the Lord does many good things for us. Waiting . . .

  • Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy, and he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful, and the outcome of our waiting proves him wholly true.
  • Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
  • Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
  • Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical.In waiting, we actually experience God’s lordship in an intimate way.
  • Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” As we wait God instills in us patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues.
  • Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
  • Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectation, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance as we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Corinthians 4:18: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn’t that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God’s love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.

When God Seems Silent

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

God can be maddeningly hard to get. When God says that his ways are not our ways, he really means it (Isaiah 55:8).

We have these encounters with him where he breaks into our lives with power and answers our prayers and wins our trust and he waters the garden of our faith, making it lush and green.

And then there are these seasons when chaos careens with apparent carelessness through our lives and the world, leaving us shattered. Or an unrelenting darkness descends. Or an arid wind we don’t even understand blows across our spiritual landscape, leaving the crust of our soul cracked and parched. And we cry to God in our confused anguish and he just seems silent. He seems absent.

Singing to the Silence

That’s why tears tend to flow when I listen to Andrew Peterson’s song, “The Silence of God.” I know what Andrew means:

It’s enough to drive a man crazy, it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder, if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the Heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

The same thing happens when I listen to Rich Mullins’s song, “Hard to Get”:

Do you remember when you lived down here where we all scrape
To find the faith 
to ask for daily bread?
Did you forget about us 
after you had flown away?
Well I memorized ev’ry word you said. Still I’m so scared I’m holding my breath, 
 While you’re up there
 just playing hard to get

All of God’s saints, if allowed to live long enough, are led into the lonely, disorienting, weary wilderness. And while there, we lament. And since laments are often better sung than said, it’s always been the poets and songwriters who help us most.

Job: “I cry to you for help and you do not answer me; I stand, and you only look at me.” (Job 30:20)

King David: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1–2)

The Flat Earth and the Absent God

Atheists will tell us that the reason God seems silent is because he’s absent. “No one’s home at that address. Duh.”

In the silent suffering seasons we can be tempted to believe it. Until we step back and take a look and see that existence itself is not silent. It screams God (Romans 1:20). As Parmenides said, and Maria (“Sound of Music”) sang, “Nothing comes from nothing; nothing ever could.”

Believing atheism is like moderns believing in a flat earth. “From where I stand, it doesn’t look like God is there.” Right. And if you only trust your perceptions, the world looks flat. The only reason you know the world is round is because of authoritative scientific revelation and many corroborating testimonies.

What we experience as God’s absence or distance or silence is phenomenological. It’s how we perceive it. It’s how at some point it looks and feels but it isn’t how it is. Just like we can experience the world as flat when we’re walking on a huge spinning ball, we can experience God as absent or distant when “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

In reality, God wasn’t absent or silent or indifferent at all toward Job or King David. It’s just how it felt to them at the time. Nor, in reality, was God silent toward Andrew Peterson or playing hard to get with Rich Mullins. And when we feel forsaken by God we are not forsaken (Hebrews 13:5). We are simply called to trust the promise more than the perception.

Why the Silence?

But why does it need to feel that way? Why the perceived silence? Why can it seem like God is playing hard to get or like he’s just standing there looking at us when we cry to him for help?

I don’t claim to understand all the mysteries of this experience. No doubt we underestimate the effects of remaining sin on us and our need for this discipline in order to share God’s holiness (Hebrews 12:10). But I believe there are clues for another purpose as well. I’ll phrase them as questions.

  • Why is it that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” but “familiarity breeds contempt”?
  • Why is water so much more refreshing when we’re really thirsty?
  • Why am I almost never satisfied with what I have, but always longing for more?
  • Why can the thought of being denied a desire for marriage or children or freedom or some other dream create in us a desperation we previously didn’t have?
  • Why is the pursuit of earthly achievement often more enjoyable than the achievement itself?
  • Why do deprivation, adversity, scarcity, and suffering often produce the best character qualities in us while prosperity, ease, and abundance often produce the worst?

Do you see it? There is a pattern in the design of deprivation: Deprivation draws out desire. Absence heightens desire. And the more heightened the desire, the greater its satisfaction will be. It is the mourning that will know the joy of comfort (Matthew 5:4). It is the hungry and thirsty that will be satisfied (Matthew 5:6). Longing makes us ask, emptiness makes us seek, silence makes us knock (Luke 11:9).

Deprivation is in the design of this age. We live mainly in the age of anticipation, not gratification. We live in the dim mirror age, not the face-to-face age (1 Corinthians 13:12). The paradox is that what satisfies us most in this age is not what we receive, but what we are promised. The chase is better than the catch in this age because the Catch we’re designed to be satisfied with is in the age to come.

And so Fredrick William Faber wrote in his poem, “The Desire of God”:

Yes, pine for thy God, fainting soul! ever pine;
Oh languish mid all that life brings thee of mirth;
Famished, thirsty, and restless — let such life be thine—
For what sight is to heaven, desire is to earth.

(Thank God for poets and songwriters!)

So you desire God and ask for more of him and what do you get? Stuck in a desert feeling deserted. You feel disoriented and desperate. Don’t despair. The silence, the absence is phenomenological. It’s how it feels, it’s not how it is. You are not alone. God is with you (Psalm 23:4). And he is speaking all the time in the priceless gift of the objective Word so you don’t need to rely on the subjective impressions of your fluctuating emotions.

If desire is to earth what sight is to heaven, then God answers our prayer with more desire. It’s the desert that awakens and sustains desire. It’s the desert that dries up our infatuation with worldliness. And it’s the desert that draws us to the Well of the world to come.

How to Talk to God When You are Suffering

SOURCE:  Edward T. Welch/CCEF

“Why is God doing this to me?”

These words signal a spiritual train wreck in process.

Any version of a “why” question, when it is directed to or about the God of the Bible, is terribly risky. Even if it begins as a simple question, it gradually accumulates other questions about God’s character and promises, while it generates false assumptions about ourselves.

“Why (God) would you do this to me? (when I haven’t done anything like this to you.)”

“Why would a good father allow this to happen to his children? (If I were God I wouldn’t allow such things to happen.)”

Questions like these will only lead us away from God.

It’s okay to question God, but how you go about it really matters. Here are two ways to avoid the God-ward accusations and self-righteousness that can so easily become part of the why questions.

Use his Personal Name

First, ask “Why, O Lord?”

When we use his less personal name (God) we can slip in a few complaints and feel okay about it, but speak to the Lord and everything changes. He is your creator and rescuer. You belong to him. He is both your liege and the lover of your soul. Your response is praise, thanks and humble requests.

This kept the psalmists from going off the tracks.

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

Not surprisingly, this psalmist ends with hope and confidence.

But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. . . . The LORD is King for ever and ever; the nations will perish from his land. You hear, O LORD, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more. (Psalm 10:14-18)

The Psalms encourage great freedom of expression. We are strongly encouraged by the Lord himself to speak openly from our hearts. The one thing he asks is that we know whom we are speaking with, which is a normal requirement of any conversation. We don’t talk with a child in the same way we talk to an adult. With the knowledge of his mighty acts in mind, the why question can end well.

Ask in Hope

Second, for a change of pace, and as a way to stay in tune with the psalmists’ style, consider another question.

“How long, O Lord?”

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psalm 13:1)

This is the much more frequent question of psalmists, and for good reason. The true knowledge of God is clear and inescapable. He is the one who will deliver his people. There is no question that he hears and responds. The only question is when our eyes will be open enough to see his mighty hand in action. Hope is built into the question; an optimistic conclusion is guaranteed.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me. (Psalm 13:5-6)

“Why, O Lord?” This takes our why questions and adds humility.

“How long, O Lord?” This question considers our suffering and infuses it with hope.

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a counselor and faculty member at CCEF and holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a neuro-psychology specialty from the University of Utah as well as a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary.

Persevering through Pressure

Hebrews 6:18

Doubts often steal into our lives like termites into a house. These termite-like thoughts eat away at our faith. Usually, we can hold up pretty well under this attack. But occasionally, when a strong gale comes along—a sudden, intense blast—we discover we cannot cope. Our house begins to lean. For some people it completely collapses. It is during these stormy times, during the dark days and nights of tragedy and calamity, that we begin to feel the destructive effects of our doubts—running like stress fractures through the structure of our lives.

For me, there are three times when the intensity of doubt reaches maximum proportions.

One such time is when things I believe should never happen, occur. There are times when my loving, gracious, merciful, kind, good, sovereign God surprises me by saying yes to something I was convinced He would say no to. When bad things happen to good people.

I once received a letter from a woman who heard a talk I had given entitled “Riding Out the Storm.” Little did she know how meaningful it would be to her. Just as she was entering into the truth of that message, she arrived at home to discover that her young, recently married daughter had been brutally murdered.

Why did God say yes to that? Why did that bad thing happen to that good person? The effect of such termites within our soul is great. They eat away at us, and doubt wins a hearing.

Doubts also increase when things I believe should happen, never occur (the other side of the coin). When I expected God to say yes but He said no. Numerous parents of young men and women have said good-bye and sent their children away to war, convinced God would bring them home again. But sometimes He says no.

Joni Eareckson Tada (and a thousand like her) trust confidently for awhile that the paralysis will go away—that God will say, “Yes, I’ll get you through this. I’ll teach you some deep lessons, and then I will use you with full health in days to come as I heal you completely.” But God ultimately says no. When we expect Him to say yes and He says no, doubts multiply.

The third situation in which doubts grow takes place when things that I believe should happen now, occur much, much later. Of all the doubts which creep into our soul perhaps few are more devastating than those that happen when we are told by God, in effect. “Wait, wait, wait, wait . . . wait . . . wait!” All of us have wrestled greatly with His timing.

These “pressure points” provide a perfect introduction to the verses in Hebrews 6. This is that great chapter that begins with a strong warning, continues with words of affirmation, and closes with words of reassurance and ringing confidence. It addresses the Christian hanging on by his fingernails as he feels himself sliding down the hill. It shouts: “Persevere! Hang tough! Be strong! Don’t quit!” Even when God says no, and you expected yes. Even when He says yes, and you anticipated no. And especially when He says to wait, and you expected it now.

If you’re in that painful space right now, my word for you is: persevere! Hope in God—this is not the end.

“BUT”

SOURCE:  Tim Clinton/AACC

“You face your greatest opposition when you’re closest to your biggest miracle.” Bishop T. D. Jakes

“And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.” G. K. Chesterton

Often, the most powerful, life-changing miracles seem to happen in the “buts” of life.

Consider the story of Naaman. 2 Kings 5:1 describes him with glowing accolades.

Commander of the army of the king of Syria.

A great man with his master.

High favor.

A mighty man of valor.

Then out of nowhere – life-altering words.

But…he was a leper.

Think about that. Leprosy. The most dreaded disease of his day. A visible outward malady that in reality defined who he was. Putrefying infected sores that in time caused loss of fingers, toes, nose. Everyone who came in contact with him saw the miserable condition he carried with him everywhere he went. There was no hiding it.

Many Christ followers understand this reality in their own journey. No doubt, many of you are living there right now.

You love God, and you really do believe that God loves you. You read the Word, pray, give your tithes and offerings, attend worship services, desiring to obey and walk in His Spirit.

But…

The doctor gave you terminal news.

But…

Your spouse left, and the hole in your heart grows deeper and wider by the hour.

But…

Your position at work was eliminated, as was your pay check, and you find yourself in the unemployment line.

But…

A son or a daughter rejected a lifetime of nurture and admonition and the relationship is strained, broken and seemingly destroyed.

“Buts” that now seem to define who you are. “Buts” that perhaps even cause you to question God and His plan, much less His goodness. “Buts” that understandably cause you to ask “Where are you God?”

Let’s look again at the well-known Bible story of Naaman. At the recommendation of a young slave girl, he travels to find the prophet Elisha. Elisha sends a servant out to instruct Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan. Albeit reluctantly, and even with quite a bit of raging about how irrational the command is, he obeys.

I wonder how Naaman felt after he dunked himself the first time. No change. The second time. No change. Third time. No change. After number six, he might have been thinking that this was a horrible joke and a waste of time. The anger he had initially felt was returning. Someone was going to pay for this public act of embarrassment.

Have you been there? Faith…trust…obedience…and seemingly no change. You find yourself confused, distraught, and perhaps even a bit angry at God.

Then Naaman dipped the seventh time and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” 2 Kings 5:14 ESV

He went back to the “man of God,” stood before him and declared, (now) “I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel…” 2 Kings 5:15  ESV

God was in the midst of his pain. Faithfully at work in the “but” of Naaman’s life. Steadfast in His in plan in Naaman’s journey, which ultimately brought Him glory.

And God is in the midst of your pain also. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t forsaken you. He is faithfully working in the plan of your life, and He will ultimately get glory by taking your storyand making it His story.

Don’t be defined by the “but” in your pilgrimage. Don’t give up. Keep believing that He is God, and that He is good.

Your miracle could be just one more “dip in the Jordan” away.

A miracle that will turn your life around.

Denial or Overreaction: Where’s the Balance?

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Ministry Network/Stepping Stones

Don’t Wait … Do It Now!

When faced with difficulties, the discomforts that comes from daily storms, or life’s challenges, our natural reactions, without any thinking, usually fall into one of these two ‘Fight or Flight’ categories: 1. Ignore or run away from the problem and hope it goes away, or 2. React in a knee-jerk way to the problem.

While this second response usually brings immediate relief, it often guarantees more damage later on. Obviously, neither option works well for long-term fulfillment or peace. But we’re all addicted to comfort … we all turn to idols of the heart instead of turning to God. So, like a gunslinger from the Old West, we continue to quick-draw these so-called defense “weapons” when we feel threatened by the adversity God allowed to enter our day.

I have learned … well no, I actually continue to learn, and sometimes the hard way, that failing to deal with adversity immediately compounds the pain and suffering. Waiting, ignoring, or hiding never makes it better. But even though I know that I shouldn’t put it off, reacting on the spot with my not-thought-out knee-jerk response is going to lead to a lot of damage as well. I have to think first and then respond to have the best chance for success, especially in challenging situations that press my emotional buttons.

Using either the “ignore it” or “react without thinking” strategy really shows a “my kingdom come, my will be done mentality.” It exposes our lack of faith in God’s promises, track record, character, sovereignty and plan for our lives. We really need a “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” mindset. That perspective recognizes His majesty as well as our limitations. It also helps us develop an optimum plan to attack the challenge before us.

[In scripture], Jesus Christ lays down a very important principle: do what you must do now. Do it quickly. If you do not act immediately, if you do not pay the price to settle the adversity, an inevitable process will begin. And that process will not stop until you have “paid the last penny.”

Think of an adversity that continues to drain you. Why do you fail to address it head-on with Godly discernment? Settle that score today within the limits you can control. God has given you answers to deal with it externally (your outward behavior), and internally (inside your head and attitude). Don’t procrastinate. Act now to move toward the mind of Christ, because that is where you will find God’s peace. Whether you act clearly and immediately when confronted by a challenge or you procrastinate is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I know I have stayed away from Your light out of fear that my bad deeds, sins, and adversities will be exposed. I no longer want to live in darkness. I pray, Father, that You will help me live by Your Truth and in Your Light so that all can see what I do is done through You. Help me, Lord, to learn to deal with my adversities immediately so that they won’t fester and grow. But help me see life through Your eyes then respond with Your wisdom. I pray in the name of the One you sent to teach us truth, Jesus Christ – AMEN!

The Truth
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth; you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. Matthew 5:25,26

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.  John 3:19-21

7 Suggestions When God Is Silent

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Elijah had been used of God to hold back rain from the people for over three years, because of their sins. Obviously, he was not well liked as a preacher. I can imagine the stress he experienced during those years.

Something strikes me, however, that seems to further complicate Elijah’s situation.

Consider 1 Kings 18:1:

“After a long time, in the third year, the word of the LORD came to Elijah: “Go and present yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the land.”

According to a couple New Testament passages, this “After a long time” was actually three and a half years. The famine was three and a half years long. For three and a half years, the people apparently continued to sin, Elijah continued to hold on by faith, but God said nothing. God was apparently inactive…not speaking…even to His great servant Elijah during this time.

Have you ever been there? Has the silence of God in your life ever been eerily strong?

Imagine you had been faithfully serving…God is using you…you are in constant communication with Him…and then suddenly…everything is quiet. You have to wait.

The separation must have seemed unbearable. Elijah is not liked and unpopular. He’s an outcast from the people and the One he trusted most was seemingly absent.

God would soon do a miracle through Elijah…one he couldn’t even imagine…certainly not script, but during this period all Elijah could do was wait.

If you have been follower of Christ very long, you have had periods where it seems God is nowhere to be found. We often call them periods of spiritual dryness. Sometimes I refer to it as being in a spiritual funk.

What should we do during the times of silence, before the miracles of God come through for us?

If you are like me, you can figure out how to celebrate a miracle. You don’t need much help doing that. The tough part of life is figuring out what to do during the years of silence…during the years when miracles are seemingly nowhere to be found.

What do we do during the spiritually dry periods of life when we don’t hear clearly the voice of God?

Here are 7 suggestions for those times:

Don’t ignore the silence… – Some of the biggest moves God has made in my life have come after a period of spiritual dryness…when it seemed like God was doing nothing in my life. Stay very close to God and watch for Him to eventually display His power. He will in the fullness of time.

Confront known sin in your life – This wasn’t the problem of silence for Elijah, but the problem for the Israelites was that they were chasing after other gods and living lives in total disobedience to God. Sin may not be the reason you don’t sense closeness to God right now, but if you have known sin in your life it will affect your intimacy with God.

Go back to what you know – Get back to the basics of the faith that saved you. You’ll do it 100’s of times in your life, but you must remind yourselves of the basis of faith…which is the very character and promises of God. God is in control. He really is…even when it doesn’t seem that He is anywhere to be found.

Make a decision…Choose sides – You can’t adequately serve God and the world. (Consider Joshua 24:15) Something happens in life, often sin, busyness, boredom, or a tragedy…but if we are normal, we have periods where we grow away from our close relationship with God. God hasn’t moved, but if you’ve shifted in your obedience, get back securely on the right side.

Trust More…Not less – Times of silence may be filled with fear, but ironically, these times require more faith. Times come in our spiritual life when our enthusiasm isn’t as real as when we began our walk with God. That’s not an indication to quit…it may be that God is using that time for something bigger than you could have imagined…but whatever is next will most likely require a deeper level of trust.

Listen and Watch Closely – Some day God is going to make His plans known to you. Don’t miss them. He may come to your personally, through His Word, circumstances or another person. You’ll need to be in a position to know that God is moving.

Get ready to receive – God will break the silence some day…and when He does it WILL be good. If you mope around in your sorrows, you’ll be less prepared to receive the good things to come. Not because of your circumstances, but because of your faith, clothe yourself in joy as you wait for God to bless you after the period of silence.

Even when our souls are barren, God is at work.

SOURCE:  David Henderson/Discipleship Journal

The Surprising Fruit of Spiritual Drought

A beautiful lake spread out before me, frosted with ice and rimmed with pines. All around was bright snow and sunshine. But I trudged unseeing from my car to the lakeside cabin, my heart even heavier than the bookbag I dragged along.

Five days before, I had written this in my journal: “Lord, where is my joy? I’m not happy. I’m sighing a lot, wanting to sleep. ‘How the gold has lost its luster’ (Lam. 4:1). What a perfect description of the state of my heart. All is dull and flat. Lord Jesus, have mercy.”

I was on a retreat of desperation. Yawning behind me were six months of spiritual dryness. God was remote, and my heart seemed as cold and hard as the winter ice. I could see no way out of the soul slump that enshrouded me.

Though it was winter in my soul, God was not hibernating. I see now that He was busy even when I was floundering; I’ve learned that He has gifts for us even in the soul’s December.

Hard Ground

More than we can count—or would care to admit—are the times in our spiritual lives when winter sets in and our souls, like farm fields in December, fall idle. Where life and growth once blossomed, we now have only the frozen remnants of yesterday’s harvest to show.

My experience over the past year is an example. Last summer brimmed with opportunity for me to flourish spiritually. In May, my wife and I jumped at the chance to go with Ray VanderLaan to the Bible lands. You can imagine what an enriching adventure that was, stomping for two weeks through the thistle and scree of Israel behind such a renowned teacher.

In June, I brought my oldest son with me on a mission trip to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. With two teams from our church, we mixed cement and slung boulders and spoke fractured Spanish to the glory of God.

In July, our family headed west, pitching our pop-up under the shadow of some of my favorite peaks on the planet, the mighty Tetons. Joining up with close friends, we spent a joyful week rafting and hiking and wildlife-watching.

Yet just days after our return from the Tetons, I wrote: “I feel as though I were looking out on life through a window from somewhere else. Why so lifeless, O my soul? Why so thin and spare? Spirit of the living God, awaken my sleepwalking soul.”

What rich, God-filled experiences I had had. Yet even with the fresh air of the mountains still in my lungs, I was scraping bottom spiritually. I felt sullen toward God, flat in the faith, and grumpy about my call. My life in Christ had become dull and mechanical, the joy of ministry seemed an oxymoron, and my vision receded to a small circle compassing my immediate needs and circumstances.

Fallow Fields

Spiritual dry times accompany many and diverse situations. Sometimes those droughts have nothing to do with us. A dust bowl descends, and all we can do is remain faithful, waiting upon God. At other times, however, spiritual dryness can be traced back to something for which we are responsible.

Sometimes sheer soul-neglect is to blame. Perhaps we have let the busyness of life or the blur of entertainment squeeze out margins for quiet reflection, regular prayer, and Bible study. Whether out of fear or laziness, pride or sin, we squander our best on lesser things.

At other times, difficult life circumstances disrupt our routines and send our spiritual life into disorder. A move plucks us from the embrace of friends. Cancer claims a parent without warning. Unexpected bills force us into the daze of a second job. Whatever the circumstances, life is upended, sending the spiritual furniture of our souls spinning across the floor like deck chairs on the Titanic.

Sometimes it is not neglect of our spiritual habits but slavery to them that brings spiritual famine. We may dutifully carry out spiritual practices yet still have a heart as sluggish as a car in a Minnesota winter. In these moments of grace-amnesia, we turn our disciplines into displays, forgetting our efforts are utterly incapable of earning God’s favor. Neither daily prayer nor study makes us holy; these disciplines merely put us within reach of the one who can.

Some dry times are not our doing at all; we may have as little to do with our spiritual drought as a meteorologist has with the weather. For reasons beyond our knowing, dust storms whip up or arctic winds descend, and all we can do is hunker down and hold on.

Whatever the circumstances, we find ourselves with a fallow field: nothing growing in the soul but a few weeds. Where once was vibrancy, all is flat. We are dull toward the things of God.

What was behind my drought? A friend whose counsel I sought said: “I think you have let something become more beautiful to you than Jesus.” Zing! He was right. God’s Spirit confirmed that over the previous year I had become more concerned with trying to please my congregation than pleasing God. My misplaced devotion nourished the spiritual weather patterns that led to my soul famine.

Winter Yield

God is astir midwinter. He has gifts for us even in the seasons of spiritual dryness, whether born of our neglect or not. For “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). In our failures and struggles, God is most keen to meet us, to receive us, to reestablish us in His love. He is always at work, not merely when we are working as well. Such is the gracious nature of God.

But the place to look for God’s fruit in spiritual dry times is not in the limbs of plant and stalk. In these more visible parts of our lives—our attitudes, our relationships, our decisions, our priorities—little yield will be found. No, it is lower, at ground level, that we should look for a harvest in our spiritual winters. Through the cycles of growth and dormancy, freeze and thaw, God works the soil and strengthens the plant.

John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” once encouraged a parishioner who found herself in a time of spiritual dryness. He wrote:

[Such seasons] are like winds to the trees, which threaten to blow them quite down, but in reality, by blowing them every way, loosen the ground about them, circulate the sap, and cause them to strike their roots to a greater depth, and thereby secure their standing.

Surprise Harvest

In a similar way, the prophet Hosea used agricultural images to describe three unexpected treasures God gives when our fields fall barren.

Spiritual drought exposes our need for God. For some time, I have pondered why my prayer life is so spotty. During my drought, God revealed the answer: Prayer is fundamentally an act of God-reliance; I, however, am fundamentally a self-reliant person.

It is our centermost human impulse to rise up from our proper place before God’s throne and wander off in search of a throne upon which we ourselves might sit down. What lies behind the bulk of our spiritual sluggishness if not this: the laughable idea that we can do without God, that we are gods ourselves? How readily we embrace the myth of self-determination. Ludicrously, we convince ourselves that we are competent, capable, and in control.

How God delights in showing us otherwise! Ever so gently, He gives us a taste of the disordered chaos that would mark our lives apart from His ever-sustaining presence. In Hosea, God decries this propensity to forget Him:

She has not acknowledged that I was the one who gave her the grain, the new wine and oil. . . . Therefore I will take away my grain when it ripens, and my new wine when it is ready. . . . I will ruin her vines and her fig trees, which she said were her pay from her lovers; I will make them a thicket, and wild animals will devour them.

—Hos. 2:8–9, 12

God uses spiritual dry times to check our repeated drift toward functional atheism and to awaken again a mindfulness of our moment-by-moment need for Him. He exposes our spiritual poverty, bringing us to the end of ourselves and throwing light upon our utter inability to sustain a meaningful life apart from Him.

“My soul’s veins run with depleted blood,” I wrote last fall, painfully aware of the depth of my need. “I breathe my own wasted air. My soul is dying faster than it is being replenished. I need Your rest.” And later, on my retreat: “These days of spiritual depletion and weariness have given me a glimpse of life without You: ‘Things fall apart; the center does not hold’ [W. H. Auden].”

Crop failure—”The stalk has no head” (Hos. 8:7)—is the end of our own effort . . . and the gift of God to those who have forgotten that He has made us for Himself.

Spiritual drought awakens our longing for God. More than once I have trudged down the side of a mountain with one gripping thought engaging the whole of my attention—and it wasn’t the view. After hours of hiking at high altitude in dry air under a hot sun, my body begins to dehydrate. Weak and parched, I feel as if someone stuck a hairdryer in my mouth and turned it on high. My skin wrinkles into dry folds and emanates heat like a radiator. All I can think of is water.

Like body, like soul. Coming up against the end of ourselves awakens not only an appreciation of need but longing as well. When I enter a spiritual dry time and begin to register thirst, God is my water. He is all I can think about. I miss Him. I need Him. I search for Him. I plead for Him. I want Him back. With a passion and singlemindedness that is uncharacteristic of other days, I long for God in famine. Lesser loves recede, and God dominates my field of vision, becoming the sole object of my attention.

Again Hosea speaks, capturing the single aim of a parched soul:

Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence. Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him. As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.

—Hos. 6:1–3

Journal entries in the midst of my dry time reflect this acute longing. One example is “Hearth Untended,” a poem comparing my early morning efforts to rekindle a fire from the previous night’s coals to my desire to bring my soul back to life.

Blue-grey dawn, invasive chill, yet in the ring there quavers still a spark.

Kindling laid with fingers lame and hasty prayer to set aflame the dark.

Forgive, O Lord, my heart untended. Bring fire into this night just ended. Fan to flame my heart fresh-rended. Spirit, make your mark.

“Break up your unplowed ground,” pleads Hosea, “for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers righteousness on you” (Hos. 10:12). For dry ground, nothing matters but the rain.

Spiritual drought restores our fruitfulness for God. During a recent sermon series, I unearthed an interesting bit of information. A typical wheat field will yield four or five times what is sown. After several years of planting in the same field, the yield gradually drops. But after a field is allowed to lie fallow for a year, then plowed several times and replanted, the yield jumps to twice the normal level, producing 8 to 10 bushels of wheat for every bushel sown.

The parallel to our spiritual lives is striking. When once again the dry soil of our soul has felt the patter of rain, our lives take on a vibrant urgency and fruitfulness uncharacteristic of prefallow days. We remember what is amazing about grace, what is Holy about the Spirit, and what is good about the news we have for the world.

Listen to God’s word of grace through Hosea:

I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. Men will dwell again in his shade. He will flourish like the grain. He will blossom like a vine.

—Hos. 14:5–7

My spiritual famine ultimately drove me to a 72-hour retreat. I prayed, read, walked, thought, pleading that God would visit me anew. And He did. On the third day, miraculously, I found myself whistling again. God had broken in.

Robert Murray McCheyne was a broken pastor who tended to everyone else’s spiritual needs to the neglect of his own. He died at 28. Before his death, he wrote, “Your own soul is your first and greatest care.” Mindful of the admonition, I came home with a fresh resolve to tend to my fields. God reminded me that certain practices keep me spiritually fit and ready to serve, and that I must see to them faithfully. Among them: daily quiet times, monthly spiritual retreats, time with friends of the soul, and time in creation.

His Fruit

The five months since my retreat have been intense ones. Key staff people have left the church I pastor, and ministry demands mount up like snow in Siberia. But I have held true to my resolve, clinging to God and tending my soul. He, in turn, has proven Himself faithful to me. I have experienced more peace and trust—and, by His grace, I have been more effective in ministry—in the past five months than at any other time in the past four years.

Does this mean I will never experience another dry season? Hardly. But now I know where to look for fruit, even when the leaves turn brown. “I am the one who looks after you and cares for you,” God says through Hosea. “I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year” (Hos. 14:8, NLT, emphasis mine).

I may fall fallow, but, thankfully, God never will.

A Prayer for Worshiping God Before, In and After the Fire

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Dan. 3:16-18

Heavenly Father, I am convicted, stretched and encouraged, by the way Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego honored you in this story. How refreshing to behold such God-centered, non-utilitarian, heart-engaged, authentic and fearless love for you.

These three friends didn’t worship you because of the gifts you give them, but because of the God that you are. They were firmly convinced that you could rescue them from the fiery furnace; but even if you didn’t rescue them, it would have no effect on their love for you, and trust in you. They would rather be delivered into your presence through the fire, than worship some other false god just to escape the fire.

Father, forgive me when my worship of you varies in response to my perceptions of how well and quick you answer my prayers—how fully you “bless” me, protect me, and grant me relief. As cynical as I am about the “name it and claim it” and prosperity theologies, I’m quite capable of doubting your love when life gets complicated and painful—when I have to wait on you and trust you in the dark and silence. I want to worship you beforethere’s a fire, when I’m in the fire, when the fire’s extinguished, or if you should choose to take me home through the fire.

Lord Jesus, you alone can give me such freedom and love; passion and delight; faithfulness and courage. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fire, you were the fourth man King Nebuchadnezzar saw walking around in the fiery furnace—so great is your faithfulness to us. And you were the one who endured the “fiery trial” of the cross—so great is your grace for us. You will never leave us or forsake us—at any time or in any trial. Because of the gospel, “fire” is less about out destruction and more about our purification. You make all things new, including fiery trials

Because of you, Lord Jesus, we don’t have to be afraid to die; and we don’t have to be afraid to live, either. By your grace, stoke the fire of affection in our hearts for you, so that at the very moment we’re tempted to turn to some false god deliverance or relief, we won’t. So very Amen we pray, in your beautiful and strong name.

 

God, Have You Forgotten Me?

For Those Feeling Forgotten

SOURCE:  Marshall Segal/Desiring God

Some of the greatest disappointments in our relationships are made in the moments our memories fail us. No one enjoys being forgotten, especially by those we love most.

Your memory is one of the most powerful and fragile things about you. When it’s good, you can surprise the 64-year-old birthday boy or be there to celebrate ten years in with the not-so-newlyweds. When it’s bad, you forget your coffee appointment with a co-worker or your daughter’s dance recital or the last item on your wife’s grocery list.

Forgetfulness hurts. We’ve all been forgotten and know the pain of expecting someone to remember — to show up, call, write, ask, make time — and coming up empty and alone. If they really cared, they would’ve remembered, right?

Someone Who Can Relate

Joseph, the prized son of Jacob and the eventual ruler of Egypt, was forgotten when he needed to be remembered most. He’d been sold into slavery by his brothers, then slandered into prison by Potiphar’s wife.

While in prison, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker are arrested and jailed (Genesis 40:1). Both were suspected of crimes against Pharaoh himself and are facing almost certain death. They know no one crosses the most powerful person in Egypt and lives to tell about it.

No Fortune-Cookie Fortunes

One night, they both have nightmares (40:11–19). Joseph hears the two dreams and tells the cupbearer that not only will he live, but he’ll be Pharaoh’s cupbearer again in just three days. In exchange for this amazing news, he makes one request: Please remember me before Pharaoh. One sentence from you might finally free me.

Then he turns to the baker with bad news. He’ll be executed in those same three days. Joseph didn’t give soft, vague, fortune-cookie predictions. They talk about grapes, birds, and buns, and he says you will live, and you will die, all in three days. So what happens?

A Walk to Remember

You can imagine that walk from the prison. Your life hangs in the balance. You know you’ll receive death if convicted. It seems it may all end right here. Was that guy in prison right? Could Pharaoh really pardon me? Will Pharaoh execute me right there on the spot? There’s no way Joseph could have known those things.

Sure enough, Pharaoh preserves the cupbearer and mercifully welcomes him back to his prized place at his side. And the baker is, well, baked.

Forgetting the Unforgettable

So the cupbearer remembered Joseph, mentioned him to Pharaoh, Joseph was released, and they all lived on happily together, only with fewer pastries, right? No, the text says, “Yet the cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:23).

It says that he really just forgot. It’s not that he was scared of what Pharaoh might do or worried that he might make Joseph the cupbearer. He just forgot. How?

Where’s God?

Did God forget Joseph? He did not. We know this because of what it says when Joseph was first put in jail: “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (39:21). If God was so concerned about making Joseph popular in the prison, we know he didn’t check out now.

This becomes clear in the next chapter when Pharaoh has a dream. He asks all the wise men in Egypt, and none of them can interpret. Finally, the cupbearer remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh what happened.

Pharaoh calls Joseph, God speaks to Joseph, he rightly interprets Pharaoh’s dream, and he saves Egypt from famine and ruin. So Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of all of Egypt, second in command. God shows his infinite wisdom and power through Joseph, even when our unnamed cup carrier forgets him. So what do we learn for us?

God Always Remembers You

First, God never forgets his children. When it looked like Joseph had been completely forgotten, even when he was considered to have done the unthinkable, God was with him and working to free him and use him for his glory.

You will experience all kinds of hard things in this life. You might be forgotten or betrayed by the people you love most, but nothing that can happen to you here can deny what God has said about you once and for all because of Jesus’s life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead. God never forgets you.

Always Remember Your Redeemer

Second, keep your cup filled with the gospel about this Jesus. The cupbearer forgot his savior. Okay, Joseph didn’t exactly save him, but he did bring the good news. Every minute the cupbearer lived, every luxury he enjoyed at Pharaoh’s right hand, every bit of recognition he received was the fulfillment of Joseph’s words. And he forgot him. How much more awful would it be for us to forget our Christ? How much more awful to take for granted the one who took away our sin?

He didn’t just say that you would live, but he died to make it happen. If we remember one thing, it should be that we were locked away, truly guilty, deserving of death, and God sent his Son so that he, God, could say “innocent,” “righteous,” “trusted,” “free,” “mine.”

So remember you are remembered in Jesus. Though you may feel forgotten today, your Father will never forget you or forsake you.

What to Remember When God is Silent

SOURCE: Nicole Unice

What can you do when all you hear is nothing?

I’ve got a secret—I’m not hearing God’s voice very often.

And by “very often” I mean almost never.

Since I’ve spent much of my life encouraging others in a relationship with God, this can be very disconcerting, and it’s made worse by the Christians I know who appear to have a direct line to God all the time. God is finding them parking spaces, telling them about apartments, practically giving them a “to do” list every week.

So how come I don’t hear Him like that?

True, there have been times when I have a deep sense of God’s presence in my life. There have been times where I have also had a distinct sense of His voice in my soul. But the times I “feel” and “hear” Him are hardly frequent enough to consider us in a relationship.

If I’m only relying on those rare experiences, I find myself pretty confused and disheartened (especially when I’m around those “other people” who apparently have coffee with Jesus every morning!)

Maybe you also have wondered where God is in your life. Perhaps you have found yourself wondering why God doesn’t give you more specific direction, more often. After all, if He’s off finding your grandma a parking spot, maybe He’s too busy to deal with whatever woe is twisting your heart..

There are plenty of stories in the Bible of God being silent.

Job experienced His silence. So did Abraham as he planned to sacrifice Isaac. The Bible doesn’t record God talking to Joseph in prison, nor John the Baptist before his beheading. There are more examples of God’s silence than we may be comfortable exploring.

In my own life, I’ve discovered God’s silence always tempts me to doubt. But sometimes God’s silence can lead us to a richer, more varied experience with Him in surprising ways. Perhaps most of all, God’s silence can create a hunger for Him.

Think about your own appetite for a moment. When you’re full, it’s easy to be choosy in your selection of what you want to eat. Sometimes we come to God and we are already full. We are full of our own ideas and our own plans. We pray to Him not for His presence, but for things we “need” answers for and the specific answers we want. We pray “accomplish MY will, God” not “accomplish your will.” Ask yourself this: do you want God, or do you want God to do something?

Just as physical hunger makes us less picky about what we’re eating, spiritual hunger can make us less picky for what God’s saying. Physical hunger makes me humble and grateful for whatever nourishment is available. If I allow it, spiritual hunger can also make me live less on the emotional high of spiritual experiences and instead be grateful for every opportunity to hear God’s voice—even when I don’t “feel” it.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” When God is silent in your life, maybe He’s growing a hunger in you for the “real” Him. And thankfully, God did not just leave us with experiences alone. He made it very clear how we can encounter Him regardless of how we feel.

Here are three ways you can “hear” God today.

In creation.

Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands, day after day they pour forth speech … ” Creation is continually speaking on behalf of God. Every inch of an artist’s painting is infused with the essence of the artist. Every inch of the natural world is infused with the essence of God. That beautiful sunset, the tentative promise of the tree’s budding branches, the rhythms of evening and morning—those are words from the heart of God to you. What do you notice in the natural world today? What might that be saying to you?

 In preaching.

The disciples heard Jesus’ words and then responded to them. Commentator and bible scholar Dr. F. Dale Bruner explains that Jesus’ words are the preaching and the disciples conversation with him after is the praying. In modern context, this means when we hear God’s word in preaching, we take it as authority and encouragement for our specific needs. We humble ourselves to believe God does speak and will speak through the preaching we hear.

 In his word.

A few months ago, I suffered through a season of God’s silence. I became tired and discouraged in the waiting. But I realized perseverance is like courage on steroids. It is choosing to believe even when every cell of your body resists. In that season, I turned to the Bible and wrote down every command Jesus gave when He was on earth. The first thing I stopped on was “man lives on every word that comes from God.” (Matthew 4:4)—and he’s certainly left us words to live on:

• Do not put God to the test (Matthew4:7)

• Worship God and serve him only (4:10)

• Repent (4:17)

• Resolve your anger (5:22)

• Be reconciled to anyone who has anything against you (5:23)

• Settle matters quickly (5:25)

• Anything that makes you stumble–anything–get rid of it (5:29)

• Give to the one who asks, do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you (5:42)

• Give anonymously (6:3)

• Pray secretly (6:6)

Turns out, Jesus did give me a to do list for the day.

The list of specific directions from Jesus is enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life!

Bob Goff tweeted recently, “quit waiting for God to give you a plan when you know His intent. Love God, love people, do stuff.” What I perceive as silence from God probably has more to do with my emotions than reality, because the reality is, God is speaking all the time.

C.S. Lewis said “though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.” If you are experiencing God’s silence, start expecting Him in the unexpected. Find God in creation, in the words you hear preached, in scripture. Believe these things do speak, and they are speaking to you today. You may not hear Him directing you to a parking spot, but into the truth of his presence at every turn.

Waiting Upon the Lord

SOURCE:  Peter Martyr Vermigli

It especially torments the saints when in their afflictions they are not heard at once.

For their carnal nature taunts them: “Why doesn’t that God of yours hear you now?”

These insults must be blunted by great faith. Let us remember that Christ when he prayed in the garden, also was not heard at once but rather after His resurrection. And when He prayed for those who nailed Him to the cross, they were not saved at once, though many of them were later converted to God after Peter addressed them.

If, therefore, in Christ’s case, vows and prayers were delayed, and if God held back His gifts from Him for a short time, why are we, on our part, so very frustrated that we are not heard sooner?

God does not act cruelly but prudently. As He knows what is useful for us,  in the same way He alone knows the right times, occasions and opportunities to give things to us. So let us not prescribe the hours for Him rashly. If we do not dare to do this with a medical doctor, why with God?

And because we are not heard so quickly, we ought not on that account to desist from what should be the beginning of our praying. We are instructed to “pray without  ceasing.” For prayer may never be without fruitful results for us. And often fruits that are late ripe and long expected are better and more fit than those that are premature, sudden and unseasonable. What is more pleasant than grapes or figs that are nonetheless a year tardier than all the rest? The Lord’s incarnation was long requested by the father’s and it was given late. We too “wait” avidly for the blest hope, that is “the advent of Christ and the great God” which, however, is given last of all. If we can wait in the case of these serious matters, for as long as it should please God, why cannot we wait when it comes to our own longings, often so much less serious?

————————————————————————————————————————————————————-
–Peter Martyr Vermigli “Commentary on Lamentations of the Prophet Jeremiah” — (1499 – 1562),  was an Italian theologian of the Reformation period.

When Jesus Makes You Wait in Pain

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

The reason there was a “Palm Sunday” was because Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17–18). It was perhaps the most powerful, hope-giving miracle Jesus ever performed during his pre-cross ministry; the capstone sign of who he was (John 5:21–25).

That’s why the Apostle John wrote, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5–6).

The word “so” connecting those two sentences is stunning. The most loving thing Jesus could do at that moment was to let Lazarus die. But it didn’t look or feel like love to Martha.


“Martha, the Teacher has come. He’s near the village.”

Martha’s emotions collided. Just hearing that Jesus was near resuscitated hope in her soul — the same hope she had felt the day she sent word for him to come.

But it was quickly smothered with grief and disappointment. Lazarus had died four days earlier. She had prayed desperately that Jesus would come in time. God had not answered her prayers. What could Jesus do now?

And yet… if anyone could do something, Jesus could. He had the words of eternal life (John 6:68). Martha hurried out.

When she saw Jesus, she could not restrain her grief and love. She collapsed at his feet and sobbed, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus laid his hand on her head.

He had come to Bethany to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8) in Lazarus. He had come to give death a taste of its coming final defeat (1 Corinthians 15:26). He had come to show that now was the time when the dead would hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who heard would live (John 5:25).

Martha did not know all this. Neither did she know that what was about to happen would hasten Jesus’ own death—a death that would purchase her resurrection and both of Lazarus’s. She didn’t know how this weighed on him, how great was his distress until it was accomplished (Luke 12:50).

But Jesus’ wordless kindness soothed her.

When Martha’s sorrowful convulsion had passed she said, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

Jesus gently lifted Martha’s eyes and looked at her with affectionate intensity. “Your brother will rise again.”

His living words revived her hope. Could he mean…? No. She dared not let herself hope in that way. Not after four days.

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Yes. Lazarus would rise again on the last day. Martha had no idea how deeply Jesus longed for that day. But Jesus meant more than that.

He replied, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

The power with which Jesus spoke caused faith to swell in Martha’s soul. She wasn’t sure what this all meant, but as he spoke it was as if death itself was being swallowed up (1 Corinthians 15:54). No one ever spoke like this man (John 7:46).

She answered, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”


We know how this story from John chapter eleven ends. But in the horrible days of Lazarus’s agonizing illness and in the dark misery of the days following his death, Martha did not know what God was doing. He seemed silent and unresponsive. Jesus didn’t come. It’s likely that she knew word had reached him. She was confused, disappointed, and overwhelmed with grief.

And yet, Jesus delayed precisely because he loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus. He knew that Lazarus’s death and resurrection would give maximum glory to God and his friends would all experience maximum joy in that glory. It would make all their suffering seem light and momentary (2 Corinthians 4:17).

When Jesus makes a trusting saint wait in pain, his reasons are only love. God only ordains his child’s deep disappointment and profound suffering in order to give him or her far greater joy in the glory he is preparing to reveal (Romans 8:18).

Before we know what Jesus is doing, circumstances can look all wrong. And we are tempted to interpret God’s apparent inaction as unloving, when in fact God is loving us in the most profound way he possibly can.

So in your anguish of soul, hear Jesus ask with strong affection, “Do you believe this?”


Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of the forthcoming book Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith (April 30, 2013)

“Your prayers are not lost”

SOURCE:  Robert Murray M’Cheyne/Tolle Lege

“God’s children, should pray. You should cry day and night unto God. God hears every one of your cries, in the busy hour of the daytime, and in the lonely watches of the night. He treasures them up from day-to-day; soon the full answer will come down: ‘He will answer speedily.’

Christ never loses one believing prayer.

The prayers of every believer, from Abel to the present day, He heaps upon the altar, from which they are continually ascending before His Father and our Father; and when the altar can hold no more, the full, the eternal answer will come down.

Do not be discouraged, dearly beloved, because God bears long with you—because He does not seem to answer your prayers.

Your prayers are not lost.

When the merchant sends his ships to distant shores, he does not expect them to come back richly laden in a single day: he has long patience.

‘It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.’ Perhaps your prayers will come back, like the ships of the merchant, all the more heavily laden with blessings, because of the delay.”

—————————————————————————–

–Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “Fourth Pastoral Letter: Edinburgh, February 20, 1839″ in Robert Murray M’Cheyne and Andrew A. Bonar, Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne (Edinburgh; London: Oliphant Anderson & Ferrier, 1894), 193-194.

How will I know God’s answer to my prayer?

Source:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministries

 God often answers prayer in the following ways:

1.  “Yes, you may have it.”
2.  “No, that is not good for you.”
3.  “Wait, I have something better for you.”
4. “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9).

When He answers yes, it’s easy to say, “Praise the Lord!”

But when He says otherwise, we have a hard time finding reasons to praise Him.

Sometimes we don’t take “no” for an answer, and we keep praying!  Or we look for a reason why He didn’t answer our request.  But Scripture never says God will give us exactly what we ask for every time.  He is sovereign.  He has the right to say “no” according to His infinite wisdom.  Oftentimes, it’s for our protection.

Sometimes, God wants to answer our prayer, but the timing isn’t right.  As I reflect on my life, I realize that if God had answered certain prayers according to my schedule, I would have missed His best in every single case.  He may have been waiting for me to grow spiritually in some area so that I could more fully experience the blessings He had in store (Eph. 1:3).  Again, He is sovereign, and His timing is perfect.

God also answers “My grace is sufficient.”  We may pray for years, yet our circumstances remain unchanged.  God seems unresponsive and heaven is silent.  In many cases, the problem isn’t the length, intensity, or nature of our prayers. Oftentimes, God is up to something we don’t know about, something much bigger than we were expecting.  Something that may require a different answer than the one we anticipated.

But rest assured that if God isn’t removing your particular “thorn,” His grace is sufficient.  By an act of our will, we can decide to trust that God knows what He’s doing, even when there’s no logical or rational explanation for our circumstances.  The Father is not offended when we ask, “Why?”  But He’s overjoyed when we trust Him, even though He may choose not to explain.

God always answers the prayers of His children.  As we learn to pray, we will learn to discern His methods.

When God Pulls the Rug Out

SOURCE:  Ed Welch/CCEF

Has this happened to you?

You read all the signs that were so blatantly from the Lord—“yes, this is the path, go this way, I am with you.”

You have been amazed at the way he opened doors—you were scared but you walked through them.

The Lord confirmed his will for you through other people too—they were excited that God was doing this.

Finally, you were on board. You were excited. You were all in. You had peace about your decision.

And then, splat, he pulled the rug out from under you.

How will you be able to trust God again?

This, I think, is a common experience. Very common. It happens with all kinds of decisions: business, vocational, financial and relationships. You pray earnestly, you see God moving, you are amazed, and then…  it looks as if he simply vanished and left you on your own. You especially see it in broken relationships. That is, you seek the Lord about a marriage or relationship decision, it starts almost too well, and then the relationship takes a sudden and tragic turn, and there is no explanation for it.

You want to know why

Some problems are universal, but this one is for those who are spiritually mature. It happens to people who are earnestly seeking God, and only the mature do such things. And though anger toward God might flash occasionally, it isn’t the real issue. The real problem is that you feel you no longer know him. You want to know why God did this, yet he is silent. It doesn’t make sense: he gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

“Why?”

When no response comes, you start filling in the blanks. Maybe you deserved it. Maybe you have done wrong and you need to figure out what it is. That’s what maturity gets you; you see yourself as the culprit. This approach is understandable and—misguided.

Not a scavenger hunt for sin

“Why, O Lord?” is a recurring question in Scripture. In response, God does not send anyone on a scavenger hunt for sin, and does not fill in all the details that the asker might want to know either. Instead, he reaffirms that he does see trouble and grief (Ps. 10:14), and he will strengthen those who are weak (Is. 40:27-31). With these words he is revealing to us what we really need to know.

Check your assumptions

But there is another matter to consider.

All this started with our assumptions about how God works—we had confidence that we could know the will of God. We could discern the “open doors” and had that “peace.” Even more, we were confident that those open doors would lead to blessing, according to our definition of blessing. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate.

The Apostle Paul held very different assumptions yet he believed that he knew plenty about God’s will. The King reigns, the Spirit has been poured out, the nations are ripe for the picking—that was enough for him. The times he received specific direction, he was confident that it would mean blessing for the larger church and hardships for him. He knew that if God was in it there would be challenges—challenges that reveal weaknesses and test faith.

God is not playing games when he pulls the rug out from under you. He is up to something, but it is probably not what you think it is.

Going Through Spiritual Confusion

SOURCE: Oswald Chambers

 Jesus answered and said, ’You do not know what you ask’ —Matthew 20:22

There are times in your spiritual life when there is confusion, and the way out of it is not simply to say that you should not be confused. It is not a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of God taking you through a way that you temporarily do not understand. And it is only by going through the spiritual confusion that you will come to the understanding of what God wants for you.

The Shrouding of His Friendship (see Luke 11:5-8).  Jesus gave the illustration here of a man who appears not to care for his friend. He was saying, in effect, that is how the heavenly Father will appear to you at times. You will think that He is an unkind friend, but remember?He is not. The time will come when everything will be explained. There seems to be a cloud on the friendship of the heart, and often even love itself has to wait in pain and tears for the blessing of fuller fellowship and oneness. When God appears to be completely shrouded, will you hang on with confidence in Him?

The Shadow on His Fatherhood (see Luke 11:11-13).  Jesus said that there are times when your Father will appear as if He were an unnatural father as if He were callous and indifferent— but remember, He is not. “Everyone who asks receives . . .” (Luke 11:10). If all you see is a shadow on the face of the Father right now, hang on to the fact that He will ultimately give you clear understanding and will fully justify Himself in everything that He has allowed into your life.

The Strangeness of His Faithfulness (see Luke 18:1-8).  “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). Will He find the kind of faith that counts on Him in spite of the confusion? Stand firm in faith, believing that what Jesus said is true, although in the meantime you do not understand what God is doing. He has bigger issues at stake than the particular things you are asking of Him right now.

 

 

 

The Mystery of Unanswered Prayer

SOURCE:  Gerald Sittser/Discipleship Journal

Sooner or later we all wrestle with God’s silence.

 

Stories of unanswered prayer wear down our defenses until we can no longer dismiss them as the rare exceptions we would like them to be.

Each stabs us with pain, reminding us of personal experiences we would like to forget and raising all the old questions about God’s trustworthiness.

Each makes us wonder if it is worth our while to pray to a God who doesn’t seem to hear our prayers or, even worse, doesn’t seem to want to answer them.

Recently our interim pastor, Bob Mitchell, a former president of Young Life, preached a sermon in which he quoted from a letter he received in May 1955. The letter was written by Jim Elliot, who had recently moved to Ecuador with his young wife and baby daughter to pioneer a new missionary outreach to the Auca Indians.

The Aucas lived in a remote area and were considered hostile to outsiders. Elliot expressed gladness that “the gospel is creeping a little farther out into this big no-man’s land of Amazonia.” He also mentioned that a mutual friend and partner in ministry, Ed, had already left to make contact with the tribe. With a sense of excitement and foreboding, Jim asked Bob to pray for them, especially for Ed: “There are rumors that the same tribe is scouting around there now, so don’t forget to pray for Ed—that the Lord will keep him alive as well as make him effective in declaring the truth about Christ.”

Bob prayed for his friends’ protection and for the success of their ministry. But several months later those courageous friends—Ed, Jim, and three others—were murdered by members of the very tribe they wanted to reach.

Bob’s prayer seemed to go unanswered.

Problematic promises

I have heard similar stories, less sensational perhaps but no less wrenching.

A young Christian prays for guidance but fails to receive any sense of direction.

A mother prays for a daughter’s healing but watches helplessly as she falls prey to the ravages of cancer.

An elderly couple prays for a neighbor’s salvation but sees no results.

It would be easy to discount such stories if these praying people were the peacetime equivalent of “foxhole Christians” who turned to God only in a panic and a pinch. But many people whose prayers go unanswered are sincere, mature believers.

Jesus’ outrageous promises appear to be part of the problem. He promised that if we ask, we will receive; if we seek, we will find; if we knock, the door will be opened (Lk. 11:9). He taught that if we ask anything in His name, He will do it (Jn. 14:14). Jesus’ promises awaken an expectation that our prayers will be answered. This leads to profound disappointment when our prayers go unanswered.

Ironically, the answers to prayer we do receive exacerbate the problem.

If God never answered our prayers, then we would surely stop praying, dismissing it as futile. But we have all had enough prayers answered to know that God is real, willing to meet our needs, and eager to respond to our pleas.

Why does He answer some of our prayers but refuse to answer others? Does God judge our motives, weighing each request according to its polish and purity? Or is He capricious, like a moody monarch? Is prayer simply a vain exercise, nothing more than the haunting cry of our own voice?

Is it our fault?

I do not ask these questions as a disinterested observer. I, too, have experienced the devastation and bewilderment of unanswered prayer.

My wife, Lynda, wanted to have a big family, but she was unable to conceive. Every day I prayed that God would grant us the gift of children. My prayers were finally answered when Lynda gave birth to four healthy children in six years. She was delirious with joy and embraced the calling of motherhood with enthusiasm and confidence.

Every morning I pleaded with God to protect and bless our family. I prayed such a prayer on the morning of September 27, 1991. But something went wrong that day. A drunk driver lost control and smashed into our minivan, killing Lynda; my daughter Diana Jane; and my mother, who was visiting us for the weekend.

To this day I have been unable to understand what made that day different. What prevented my prayers from getting through to God? Did I commit some unpardonable sin? Did I fail to say the right words? Did God suddenly turn against me?

Why, I have asked myself a thousand times, did my prayer go unanswered?

I have no answer to that question.

I have pondered the traditional and biblical reasons why God does not answer prayer: willful sin (Ps. 66:18), lack of persistence (Lk. 11:5–8), selfish motives (Jas. 4:3). All of these are valid. Unanswered prayer can be our own fault, as we all know. We are well advised to search our souls when God does not answer, daring to discover if we are shamelessly disobeying Him or praying foolishly.

Yet these explanations leave me cold. Sooner or later such introspection must stop. The problem of unanswered prayer is too complex to reduce it to the simple issue of personal sin.

I spent months in torment trying to figure out why God did not answer my prayer that morning. I finally gave up in frustration and exhaustion. Perhaps I deserved what happened. Then again, maybe I didn’t.

I will never know.

But I do know that prayer is intended for the weak, not the strong; for sinners, not the perfect. Jesus did not commend the self-righteous Pharisee who used prayer as a platform to exalt himself; instead, He embraced a sinful tax collector who cried out to God for mercy (Lk. 18:9–14).

Hints and clues

So I am left asking the same question: Why unanswered prayer?

It is a mystery to me.

I find hints here and there that point to an explanation, but I cannot find a definitive answer. The Bible boldly proclaims that God is near and wants to answer our prayers; it also tells us God can seem strangely distant at times (Psalm 88:102).

What clues, then, does God’s Word provide?

First, Scripture encourages us to express our frustrations and disappointments. Nearly half the psalms express lament, some with a great deal of emotion. Jesus had one such psalm on His lips as He died: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, Mk. 15:34). Jesus did not silence Mary and Martha when they accused Him of failing them, nor did He shame them when they wept. Instead, He welcomed their complaints and wept with them (Jn. 11:1–44). Revelation promises that at the end of history God will wipe away every tear, which implies that we will shed many tears before the end comes (Rev. 21:4).

Second, however distant God seems to be, Jesus urges us to pray with boldness and persistence. He commands us to pray like the woman who approaches an unrighteous judge to settle her case, refusing to take no for an answer (Lk. 18:1–8). Somehow persistence itself builds faith in God, increases longing for God, focuses attention on God, and purifies motives before God. It affects us more than it affects Him. God does not have to be persuaded to answer our prayers; we have to be disciplined to keep asking.

We can see the importance of persistence by observing how children function with their parents. Most of their requests fade as suddenly as they appear. In those few cases when they want something really important to them, they cannot take no for an answer, no matter how long it takes to get their way.

Third, Jesus reassures us that God wants to answer our prayers.

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?

—Lk. 11:11–12

God is our Father. He delights in giving gifts. He is not abusive, turning our requests into occasions to torture us. He overflows with bounty and generosity.

If anything, God is so gracious that He wants to give us the best gift of all. That gift is not some cheap toy that wears out after a week of hard play. God gives us the very best; He gives us what we really need (though not always what we think we need). He sends us the Holy Spirit, which is the answer to all our prayers, even the prayers we do not think to utter.

The Holy Spirit is God’s greatest gift because He enables us to live life well, though our outward circumstances would tempt us to think otherwise. The Holy Spirit transforms us from within.

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!

—Lk. 11:13

Finally, Jesus charges us to view life from a redemptive perspective. There is more to life than meets the eye when God gets involved. He works things out for good. Think about how the stories of Joseph, Esther, and Jesus turned out. Could anyone have imagined that Joseph would be reconciled with his brothers, that Esther would save her people from annihilation, that Jesus—who in the eyes of His followers seemed to fail miserably as the Messiah—would save the world from sin and death? We view unanswered prayer from the perspective of our immediate experience and our limited vision. But God is doing something so great that only faith can grasp it, wait for it, and pray for it.

An unlikely answer

There is more to Bob Mitchell’s story than that one ominous letter. Years later Bob attended an international conference for evangelists. He happened to meet an old friend who introduced Bob to a South American evangelist. Bob learned that the evangelist was one of the Auca Indians who had murdered Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries. Bob suddenly realized that his prayers had been answered. The Auca Indians had become Christians.

I refuse to offer trivial answers to the problem of unanswered prayer. No easy answer will mitigate the difficult questions.

The Apostle Paul prayed three times that God would remove some “thorn in [his] flesh” that had tormented him for years (2 Cor. 12:7). God did not answer Paul’s prayer. Instead, He did something even greater. He showed Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul’s weakness, which seems to us an odd way to answer such a prayer (vv. 8–10).

It is all a mystery to me, both wonderful and terrifying. It is a mystery that draws us ever closer to God, who, in His glory and holiness and utter beauty, is the answer to all our prayers.

“Unanswered” Prayer From A God Who ALWAYS Answers

SOURCE:  Pastor Mark Driscoll

Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” – Mark 11:23-25

If you have breath, you’ve probably said a prayer that hasn’t been answered. How do we reconcile unanswered prayers with Jesus’ words in Mark?

Unanswered prayer is an issue that challenges believers and non-believers alike and often challenges our perceptions of God’s goodness. C.S. Lewis famously observed, “Every war, every famine or plague, almost every deathbed — is the monument to a petition that was not granted.”[1]

More recently, Philip Yancey confesses to “…obsessing more about unanswered prayers than rejoicing over answered ones.”[2] And it’s not unusual to hear about medical studies showing no real correlation between prayer and physical healing.[3]

Therefore, Jesus’ statements in Mark 11:23-25 provide a difficult problem: do these verses promise that God will answer every prayer, every time?

Two polar views on prayer

In Christianity today, there are two polar views on prayer: prosperity and poverty.

On one hand you have those who preach a false gospel of prosperity, which views God as a cosmic genie who answers our every desire and whim. Want a new Porsche? Pray. Have a debilitating illness? Pray. Need a bigger house? Pray. If you have enough faith, God will grant your wishes. Underlying this belief system is a misunderstanding about faith. It’s assumed that if you don’t have your prayers answered, it’s due to a lack of faith. Jesus promises he’ll answer your prayers if you believe, the teaching goes. So, unanswered prayers must mean a lack of belief.

Unfortunately, this is simplistic, not true, and often damaging, as many people devastated by the effects of sin in this world are deceived into thinking they must work harder in order to earn God’s favor. Only then will he answer your prayers. Even worse, this teaching most often revolves around what is known as health and wealth. God’s will, it’s taught, is to make you rich and healthy. The sign of faith, thus, becomes one’s bank account and material possessions and one’s ability to avoid contracting viruses. This effectively makes anyone poor or sick not victims of sin, but rather victims of a God who doesn’t deem their faith to be substantive enough to warrant answered prayers.

Essentially, the prosperity gospel places the power of answered prayer in our hands and places limits on God’s ability to answer prayer by making him rely on our faith, which is not only unfortunate but also absolutely wrong. God is sovereign over his creation, not the other way around (Isaiah 22:44, 45:5-7; Psalm 115:3, 135:6; Daniel 4:35, Matthew 5:45, Deuteronomy 32:39).

On the other hand you have those who preach a poverty gospel, which views God as cosmic curmudgeon who doesn’t desire to give good gifts to his children. Instead of encouraging people to pray for good things, the poverty gospel teaches an aestheticism that calls for denial of material goods. Want a nice car (or even one that runs)? Sin. Give to the poor instead. Have a debilitating illness? Thank God for salvation, that is enough. Want a bigger house (or even a house at all)? Stop asking. Be glad you have a roof over your head.

Unfortunately, this is also simplistic, wrong, and often damaging, as many people experiencing the effects of sin in the world are deceived into thinking that God is happy to save us but not to enrich our lives in any way outside of spiritual sustenance.

The effects of the poverty gospel result in a people who mark their faith on how little they can get by on rather than the fullness of God’s mercy and love for his children and wrongly views those enjoying God’s blessing as lacking in faith because they don’t sell everything they have and force their children to wear hand-me downs and their spouse to use second-hand tea bags. God is our perfect Father who desires to give us good gifts and to take care of both our earthly and spiritual needs (Luke 11:13, Genesis 12:2, Exodus 23:25, Deuteronomy 7:13, Psalm 67:6).

Tota Sola Scriptura

The distortions on prayer found in both prosperity and poverty theology stem from not taking into account all that the Scriptures have to say on prayer. Those that advocate prosperity theology only take into account those verses that talk of God’s blessing. Conversely, those that advocate poverty theology only take into account those verses that speak negatively about riches and that call for sacrifice.

The answer, as is almost always the case, is a both/and, taking into account all that Scripture has to fully say, and ultimately hinges on a fully biblical view and understanding of God’s sovereignty and his will. A few key verses help us navigate the middle ground of the Scripture’s teachings on prayer.

In 1 John, the apostle teaches, “This is the confidence which have in [God], that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him (5:14-15). Elsewhere, Jesus teaches us to pray according to God’s will, asking that it be done (Matthew 6:10), and he exemplifies this in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying, “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

As Wayne Grudem reminds us, when we pray, we can first determine God’s will by reading his Word. Thus, we know that we cannot ask God to grant a prayer that is contra to his Word. For instance, if we ask for a new spouse because we’re tired our current one, we know that no matter how hard we pray, God won’t answer, as it’s asking for God to help us sin.

On other matters, we simply can’t know what God’s will is because the Scriptures don’t speak to our request.

However, there are many situations in life where we do not know what God’s will is. We may not be sure, because no promise or command of Scripture applies, whether it is God’s will that we get the job we have applied for, or win an athletic contest in which we are participating (a common prayer among children, especially), or be chosen to hold office in the church, and so on. In all these cases, we should bring to bear as much of Scripture as we understand, perhaps to give us some general principles within which our prayer can be made. But beyond this, we often must admit that we simply do not know what God’s will is. In such cases, we should ask him for deeper understanding and then pray for what seems best to us, giving reasons to the Lord why, in our present understanding of the situation, what we are praying for seems to be best. But it is always right to add, either explicitly or at least in the attitude of the heart, “Nevertheless, if I am wrong in asking this, and if this is not pleasing to you, then do as seems best in your sight,” or, more simply, “If it is your will.”[4]

This means that we can pray for the whole range of needs and wants in life without feeling guilty because we’re free to ask our Father and also free to rely on the comforting truth that he will accomplish his will. This moves prayer from what we do or don’t have to what we can always be assured of, God’s sovereignty and that he will always do what is good for us and his plans in this world (Philippians 2:12-13).

The Context of Mark 11:23-25

As Jesus taught on prayer in Mark 11:23-25, the Dead Sea was visible from the Mount of Olives. It’s easy to see where the imagery of verse 23 comes from.[5] Many of Mark’s references to “the sea” are referencing the Sea of Galilee but also occasionally reference is made to the destructive power of “the sea.”[6]  In 11:23, “Mark portrays Jesus as utilizing the generally destructive power of the sea for his own purposes.”[7]

The reference to moving mountains has parallels in the teaching of early Rabbis,[8] and as the ESV Study Bible says, “Moving a mountain was a metaphor in Jewish literature for doing what was seemingly impossible (Isa. 40:4; 49:11; 54:10; cf. Matt. 21:21–22). Those who believe in God can have confidence that he will accomplish even the impossible, according to his sovereign will.”

However, Jesus’ specific claim that faith could move mountains was without parallel. The restructuring of the natural world was meant to reveal the presence of God’s future kingdom, a thought that was emphasized by the Old Testament[9] as well as other Jewish texts.[10] Therefore, Jesus’ statement in verse 23 was meant to indicate that the day of salvation had already dawned.

Still, Jesus’ words indicate that prayer is effective. In the Old Testament, for example, God caused the sun to stand still in response to Joshua’s prayer (Joshua 10:12-14). Does God desire to answer prayer? Would a father give his child a stone instead of bread (Matthew 7:9-10)? Prayer is indeed effective so long as it is rooted in God’s will—this is why Jesus tells His disciples that “if you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:14, emphasis added).

The Burden of Unanswered Prayer

Even in scripture we see the emotional burden of unanswered prayer. The psalmist laments that “I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (Psalm 22:2). Paul’s prayers that God remove the “thorn in the flesh” go unanswered (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Even Jesus’ own prayer to have the cup of God’s wrath removed was not answered (Luke 22:42). We are no better than our savior and can expect that not everything we ask will be granted by God, but just as Jesus rested in God’s will, so can we.

There may be several reasons why God chooses not to answer prayer:

First, there is simple logic: God cannot go against His own character. God cannot build a square circle. Nor can He answer a prayer to approve of sin.

Second, God’s perspective differs from our own. Some suffering is used to reveal God’s glory (cf. John 9:3). We cannot always know God’s purposes; even the very worst tragedies might later be used for God’s glory.[11]

Third, some desires are selfish (James 4:3). God’s greatest desire might not be for our job promotion or the new car. “For prayer is not a means by which God serves us. Rather, it is a means by which we serve God. Prayer is not a means by which we get our will done in heaven, but a means by which God gets His will done on earth.”[12]

Finally, Mark 11:25 seems to assume a condition to prayers of forgiveness: an unforgiving heart may result in a lack of God’s forgiveness.

Conclusion

To answer our initial question, Jesus’ statements cannot be taken to mean that God will grant every prayer for every person at every time. Prayer, therefore, has less to do with obtaining things and more to do with an ongoing life with God.

A helpful matrix I like to use when it comes to prayer is yes, no, and later. When we pray, God answers sometimes yes, sometimes no, and sometimes later—just as a father does with his own children. Sometimes the later is later in this life. Sometimes the later is in the life after this life. But God does hear and answer every prayer. We must be content with his answer and trust in his sovereignty. For example, one friend of mine was praying for years and finally was healed from an illness that plagued him. Another died and was then healed forever in the presence of Jesus after praying the same kind of prayer for many years.

At the end of the day, the real purpose of prayer is not to obtain things from God, but to relate to God. Philp Yancey writes:

Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. …In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness. I climb above timberline and look down at the speck that is myself. I gaze at the stars and recall what role I, or any of us, play in a universe beyond comprehension. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.[13]

Still, we should seek God in prayer for all things. As the writer of Hebrews says, “Draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help [us] in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). To not seek God for our needs and desires is not a mark of maturity, but the absence of it.

Jesus’ message in Mark 11 is that a relationship with God is greater than a religious system. It’s purchased by His blood. We may therefore enjoy the benefits of God’s kingdom, including access to God’s throne. When we see prayer in this light, even unanswered prayers become a part of our relationship with God.


[1] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer.  (United States: Mariner Books, 1964), p. 58.

[2] Philp Yancey, Prayer: Does it Make a Difference? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 16.

[3] Benedict Carey, “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer.” New York Times, March 31, 2006.  Appearing online at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/31/health/31pray.html?pagewanted=all.  Accessed November 7, 2011.  The article sites six studies that do not seem to show correlation between patients’ healing and prayer.  This simply reflects the cultural expectation that prayer yields near-immediate results.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 383.

[5] William Lane, The Gospel According to Mark.  (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 410.

[6] Elizabeth Struthers Malbon, Narrative Space and Mythic Meaning in Mark, (New York: Harper and Row, 1986), 58-9.

[7] Ibid., p. 78.

[8] Rabbinical texts include the following statements:

T. Sol. 23:1 A demon says to Solomon: “I am able to move mountains;” b. Sanh. 24a.: “You would think he was uprooting mountains and grinding them against each other,”b. Bat. 3b: “I will uproot mountains;”

[commenting on Lev 6:13] Lev. Rab. 8:8: “[Samson] took two mountains and knocked them against one another”

Cited in Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20.  (Grand Rapids: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2001), p. 189.

[9] Cf. Isaiah 40:3-5; 45:2; 49:11; cf. 54:10; Zechariah 14:4-5.

[10] Pss Sol. 11:4; Bar. 5:7.

[11] An excellent perspective on this is the well-known post on the Desiring God website entitled: “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.”  Written February 16, 2006.  Appearing online at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/dont-waste-your-cancer.  Last accessed November 7, 2011.

[12] Norm Geisler and Thomas Howe, The Big Book of Bible Difficulties: Clear and Concise Answers from Genesis to Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992), p. 374.

[13] Yancey, Prayer…, p.  29.

Are you waiting for God?

SOURCE:  Ron Edmondson

Wait for the Lord.  Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 NIV

I know what some of you are thinking, and quite frankly, I understand…

Sometimes I get tired of waiting as well…

You’ve been waiting so long already…

When is your turn?

Sometimes I find myself in another one of these trying times, when it seems I can’t win for losing…I have my daily pity party…curse the day I was born…and wish the world would let me off the rotation for a while.

Maybe it’s not always that bad, but to be honest, sometimes I get impatient waiting for God to act!

Several times throughout the Psalms, the psalmist cries out “Come quickly, Lord!” I can identify with the writer.

I want God to act on my timing. Sometimes…just to be honest…I can’t understand why God hasn’t responded to my pleas for help! NOW always seems like a good time to me!

Now, please, don’t leave me out on an island alone… surely you’ve been there too! We have a hard time waiting for God to work His perfect will! It’s just hard to see how the present situation could ever turn out perfectly.

Then I remember that God is longing to be gracious to me, that His ways are not my ways, that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts, that His plans for me are just and righteous. I recall that He loved me and planned victory for me before there was time, and that He sees tomorrow, before it is yesterday…or even today. He is God. He does not deal in issues of time. His ways are in elements of eternity. His view is from above; He sees the beginning and the end.

I know He has my best at heart. I am strengthened for another day. I can go on because I’m reminded of His love!

I will wait for the Lord!

Will you?

Why – Why – Why Me?

SOURCE:  David H. Roper/Our Daily Bread

Recently I read Psalm 131, one of my favorite psalms.

In the past, I viewed it as an encouragement to understand that mystery is one of the hallmarks of God’s character. It challenged me to let my mind be at rest, since I am unable to understand all that God is doing in His universe.

But then I saw another side of David’s calm spirit: I am unable to understand all that God is doing in me, and it is impossible to try.

David draws a comparison between a weaned child that no longer frets for what it once demanded, and a soul that has learned the same lesson. It is a call to learn humility, patient endurance, and contentment in all my circumstances—whatever they are—though I do not understand God’s reasons.

Divine logic is beyond the grasp of my mind.

I ask, “Why this affliction? Why this anguish?” The Father answers, “Hush, child. You wouldn’t understand if I explained it to you. Just trust Me!”

So, I turn from contemplating David’s example to ask myself:

Can I, in my circumstances, “hope in the Lord”? (v.3).

Can I wait in faith and patience without fretting and without questioning God’s wisdom?

Can I trust Him while He works in me His good, acceptable, and perfect will?

It may not be for me to see
The meaning and the mystery
Of all that God has planned for me
Till “afterward”! —Anon.

[In a world of mystery, it’s a comfort to know the God who knows all things.]

I Have Prayed, and Prayed, and Prayed, BUT . . . .

SOURCE:  Charles Stanley/In Touch Ministry

Trusting in God’s promise to provide

Are there circumstances you’ve been praying about for years? Have you repeatedly placed certain situations before the Father but still feel as if He will never intervene? Perhaps it is a long, drawn-out illness, lingering unemployment, or a relationship that hasn’t turned out as you hoped it would. When promising opportunities arise but then fail to be the answer you longed for, the immense disappointment can lead to doubting God will provide at all.

Despite the promise of Philippians 4:19, “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus,” you may be unsure that He’ll really come through. And as the Thanksgiving season begins, your heart may be so broken, dreams so shattered, and needs so painfully unmet that you wonder if there will ever be anything for which to thank the Lord.

At times like this, remember: God is absolutely faithful. This may be a truth you embrace on a factual level while still feeling very disheartened. Why? Because in focusing on the persistence of your problem, you inevitably head down the road of discouragement and unbelief. If you want to grow in godliness while waiting, you must begin with the truth of Scripture and God’s trustworthiness as heavenly Father. Where you center your attention determines how you think and make decisions, which ultimately determines your path.

God promises to meet all our needs.

The reality is that God does, in fact, meet all our needs. And as believers, you and I are called to walk by faith in Him, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, as we await His answers to prayer, we should pursue a deeper relationship with Him and discover what He’s trying to accomplish in and through us. With this in mind, here are three essential truths that will guide us as we wrestle with unmet needs.

God wants to meet your needs. Throughout Scripture, the Lord invites us to petition Him with our requests (Matt. 7:7-10Phil. 4:6-71 John 5:14-15). As our heavenly Father, He wants to provide for us, and the greatest proof of this is the gift of His Son. Jesus came to earth to meet people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs by teaching the truth, healing the sick, casting out demons, and finally, dying on a cross to save us. If God didn’t spare His own Son from death on our behalf, won’t He graciously give us all things as well (Rom. 8:32)?

The Lord knows your needs. Although we’re told to make our requests known to God (Phil. 4:6), the purpose of prayer is not to inform Him of our needs. He’s omniscient and already knows what we’re going through. The reason for seeking God’s help is to acknowledge our dependence upon Him. The goal should be to voice our concerns and then leave the method and timing of answering them to Him, trusting in His wisdom to do what is best.

Because God’s knowledge reaches beyond ours, He is also aware of needs we don’t realize we have. From His divine perspective, He looks deep into our hearts, as well as into every situation we face. Although our preference is immediate relief, He focuses on our spiritual and eternal needs. That is why it may appear as if He’s not keeping His promise—because He may be working to meet an even more important need in your life.

God is able to meet your needs.  Nothing can thwart Almighty God. He plans the solution to your problem, arranges the events, and brings about the answer at just the right time. Jesus’ promise to His disciples still rings true today: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt. 7:7). No matter how big the problem may be, God is bigger. He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).

But what if my needs remain unmet?

When difficulty or suffering continues, how can we reconcile the Lord’s promise with our unanswered requests?

Differentiate between needs and desires.  Since the promise of Philippians 4:19 applies exclusively to needs, the first step should be to determine whether you have a need or a desire. A need is something that is essential to fulfilling God’s purpose for your life. This would include the basics of food, clothing, and shelter (Matt. 6:31-33), but it could also be something specific that’s required to fulfill your personal calling from God. For instance, if you’re a missionary who delivers Bibles in China, having some form of transportation would be necessary for you. But how the Lord meets that need is up to Him. He may provide a mule instead of a truck, but He will supply a way.

In contrast, desires are for our pleasure or enjoyment. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad. God is not pro-need and anti-desire. In fact, in Psalm 37:4, we’re promised, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Sometimes God puts a longing in our hearts for something that aligns perfectly with His will. He’s a generous and loving Father “who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).

Determine the origin of your need.  Knowing where a need originates helps us understand God’s way of meeting it. Whatever created it will determine how He provides. Some of our problems are simply the result of living in a fallen world. Then the Lord works to strengthen us so we can endure and respond to life’s problems with godly attitudes and actions (1 Pet. 2:12). Other needs are created by our own unwise choices. In such cases, He may delay the answer in order to teach us a lesson that will protect us from going down the same foolish path again (Heb. 12:11-13).

But what if you can’t determine the specific cause of your need? You might have a vague sense of dissatisfaction or emptiness, but you can’t put your finger on the source. This kind of neediness is sometimes a heart issue. It may be the result of past experiences—perhaps as far back as childhood—which have damaged your self-esteem. In this case, the Lord’s method of healing your soul may require years of gradually renewing your mind to align with who He says you are in Christ (Eph. 1:3-7). No person, possession, or accomplishment can fill this void; only Christ can do that.

Learn what your responsibilities are.

Sometimes God steps into a situation and supplies what’s needed without any effort on our part, but more often than not, we will have a role to play.

Our first and most obvious responsibility is to ask the Lord for help.  Perhaps He has withheld the solution simply because we haven’t asked, or have asked with wrong motives (James 4:2-3). In doing this, He isn’t being hardhearted; He’s just drawing us to Himself. He wants us to talk with Him about our concerns, depending on Him for guidance and provision.

Our second responsibility is to wait for God to meet our need in His time.  When a situation is prolonged, we tend to conclude that the Lord wants us to fix it ourselves, so we jump in and try to resolve the issue. By doing so, we miss out on what He has planned. Not only that, but we often end up in a bigger mess.

The third responsibility is to do exactly what the Lord tells us to do.  Now you may be thinking, I never hear God tell me to do anything. Well, if you’re a believer, I can guarantee He’s speaking to you. The problem is your spiritual hearing. If you will spend time alone with the Lord, reading and meditating on His Word, you’ll soon start hearing from Him. He may guide you by means of a Bible verse or a quiet nudging of your heart as you pray about the matter. The important thing is that you obey Him. This isn’t always easy. Since God doesn’t think the way we do, some of His instructions may seem illogical (Isa. 55:8-9). But if you follow His lead, He will guide you straight into His divine solution to your problem.

Waiting on God

SOURCE:  Andrew Murray/Discipleship Journal

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him. . . . Those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the land.”  Psalm 37:7, 9

“In patience possess your souls.” “Ye have need of patience.” “Let patience have its perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire.”

Such words of the Holy Spirit show us what an important element in the Christian life and character patience is. And nowhere is there a better place for cultivating or displaying it than in waiting on God. There we discover how impatient we are, and what our impatience means.

We confess at times that we are impatient with men and circumstances that hinder us, or with ourselves and our slow progress in the Christian life. If we truly set ourselves to wait upon God, we shall find that it is with Him we are impatient, because He does not at once, or as soon as we could wish, do our bidding. It is in waiting upon God that our eyes are opened to believe in His wise and sovereign will, and to see that the sooner and the more completely we yield absolutely to it, the more surely His blessing can come to us.

“It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”

We have as little power to increase or strengthen our spiritual life, as we had to originate it. We “were born not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of the will of God.” Even so, our willing and running, our desire and effort, avail nought; all is “of God that showeth mercy.”

All the exercises of the spiritual life, our reading and prayer, our willing and doing, have their very great value. But they can go no farther than this, that they point the way and prepare us in humility to look to and depend upon God Himself, and in patience to wait His good time and mercy.

The waiting is to teach us our absolute dependence upon God’s mighty working, and to make us in perfect patience place ourselves at His disposal. They that wait on the Lord shall inherit the land; the promised land and its blessing. The heirs must wait; they can afford to wait.

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.”

The margin gives for “Rest in the Lord,” “Be silent to the Lord,” or “Be still before the Lord” (ASV ). It is resting in the Lord, in His will, His promise, His faithfulness, and His love, that makes patience easy. And the resting in Him is nothing but being silent unto Him, still before Him. Having our thoughts and wishes, our fears and hopes, hushed into calm and quiet in that great peace of God which passes all understanding. That peace keeps the heart and mind when we are anxious for anything, because we have made our request known to Him. The rest, the silence, the stillness, and the patient waiting, all find their strength and joy in God Himself.

The need for patience, and the reasonableness, and blessedness of patience will be opened up to the waiting soul. Our patience will be seen to be the counterpart of God’s patience. He longs far more to bless us fully than we can desire it. But as the husbandman has long patience till the fruit be ripe, so God bows Himself to our slowness and bears long with us. Let us remember this, and wait patiently.

Of each promise and every answer to prayer the Word is true: “I the Lord will hasten it in its time.”

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” Yes, for Him. Seek not only the help, the gift, seek Himself; wait for Him. Give God His glory by resting in Him, by trusting Him fully, by waiting patiently for Him.

This patience honors Him greatly; it leaves Him, as God on the throne, to do His work; it yields self wholly into His hands. It lets God be God. If your waiting be for some special request, wait patiently. If your waiting be more the exercise of the spiritual life seeking to know and have more of God, wait patiently. Whether it be in the shorter specific periods of waiting, or as the continuous habit of the soul, rest in the Lord, be still before the Lord, and wait patiently. “They that wait on the Lord shall inherit the land.”

My soul, wait thou only upon God.

“I’ve Got A Hole Inside Me”

Editors Note:  The following article is about the topic of  homosexuality.  In reality, what the author writes about could pertain to any life-controlling problem any of us is affected by.  Regardless of whether your life struggle is with homosexuality or not, read this article keeping your particular struggle in mind and know that your Heavenly Father  relates to you in the same way that this author experienced.

SOURCE:  Anonymous/Discipleship Journal

The reasons people develop a sexual attraction to persons of the same sex are varied and complex. One thing is certain: becoming a Christian does not automatically take away those wrong desires. Many, many homosexuals are able to change their orientation with the help of caring ministries and God’s power. But the battle is seldom easy.

A Christian man wrote the following testimony to read at his church’s support group. You may disagree with some of his perceptions. Nevertheless, we hope it will help you understand and develop compassion for those who struggle with homosexuality.

I’ve got a hole inside me. I’m not sure where it is, but I know it’s there. It’s deep, wide, and ugly, and if I don’t find ways to let God heal or fill it, it will continue to grow until I am all hole and no me.

My father helped dig the hole. He was a minister who loved his congregation and God more than his family. He wasn’t there for me. Because of his relationship with his father, he probably wouldn’t have known how to love me even if he had been there.

My mother helped dig the hole. She was alone while my father ministered, and I was cast in the role of her best friend, always there to keep her company.

Once when she travelled with my father, I was sexually abused by the oldest son of the family with whom I was staying. I tried to tell my parents, but I was five and I didn’t have the words. I dug the hole deeper. I was bad and dirty because I had allowed the older boy to touch me.

In early grade school, I knew I was different. I followed boys I admired home just to find out where they lived. In school I couldn’t look at them enough. If only, I thought. If only I could be like them in every way, maybe … maybe I would be whole instead of a hole.

I learned I could check out these boys in the school washrooms. Then in sixth grade, I discovered that in the downtown washrooms there were curious men like me. I thought I had come home.

I didn’t fit with the kids who went to church. I wasn’t concerned about whether it was wrong to go to movies. I wanted to know why God didn’t save me from my differentness and my desires. I tried to explain myself to our assistant pastor, and he said I had to resist sin or else. My hole got bigger.

As a teen, the hole was filled with pain. I knew I was a wretched sinner, and I had to keep up the appearance of being a nice person. I landscaped my deep hole—tall trees, low shrubs, even a weeping willow. Everyone loves weeping willows. I spent two semesters at a Christian college majoring in Bible, but I couldn’t keep up the pretense.

In desperation, I quit school, ended a long-term relationship with a male friend, and started attending a new church. There I heard about healing for homosexuals. I got busy in the local body of believers, but all my activity was like a shovel or two of dirt into my bottomless pit.

I started to date women—more shovels into my crater. Eventually I met a woman I thought I could commit to. I told her my homosexual behavior was in the past. On one level I thought I was being honest. Now, I know that, on a deeper level, I was aware of the deception.

I wanted to believe I could replace a bad habit with a good one. Perhaps marriage would be God’s ordained lid to fit over my chasm of pain. It was … for a while.

But my emptiness was too great. I started visiting forest preserves where I could meet others who were in pain. I would feel temporarily refreshed after these sexual encounters, but I knew they were wrong. When I tried to stop, the pain would become too much.

One day a forest ranger caught me and called the police. I was arrested for indecent exposure. I knew I had to deal with my problem: I had a compulsive habit.

I started attending Sexual Addicts Anonymous and Homosexuals Anonymous and Overcomers, all held in Bible-believing churches and attended by men like me who had grown up naming Jesus as Lord. I found a group of married Christian men whom I could talk with, pray with, and depend on, because we were all struggling.

I was surrounded by people who were incredibly gifted pray-ers. They made me accountable. They allowed me to call them night after night when I traveled for business.

All of their efforts helped to make my problem … worse!

I couldn’t stand it. Everyone else was getting it together with God, and I was actually going backwards. God was not supposed to work that way. I thought He had promised to make it all better.

What He really promised, of course, was that He would be with me. Big help that was! I wanted Him to fix me. The least He could do was fill up my horrible pit, right now! I had prayed, hadn’t I? He was the Mighty One, wasn’t He?

I felt hopeless, deserted, and alone. Something was wrong here. I hadn’t prayed right. I hadn’t done morning devotions correctly or long enough or early enough.

The only thing that comforted me was the psalms. David was a man in pain, and I was too. He cried as I did: “God, where are You?” There was no hope. I had tried everything I could think of. All the landscaping around the hole was uprooted and I stood staring down into the crater.

“God, where are You?” I cried. This time, instead of a hollow echo over my hole, I thought I heard Him answer, “Wait.” No! I couldn’t do that. I had to get healing. I had books to read on healing the homosexual. I had intense spiritual people to pray me out of this. But Jesus said, “Wait. I will be your good Shepherd, but you have to wait on Me. And I want you to learn to listen for My voice while you wait. Do you think you can handle this? It will not be easy.”

Wait! Learn to listen! I had exhausted all the alternatives. I had to do what God asked.

I’m gaining confidence in my Shepherd as I learn to wait. I’m learning to recognize His voice. At times, I feel His love wash over me. I’ve started to journal our conversations. I write what I think He is saying. Then I write my responses. I say, “Thank you, Lord.” He answers, “You’re welcome, special man.” Sometimes I think I will never stop crying, but He is crying with me.

Jesus never said He would just ZAP! and my hole would be filled, leaving the ground of my being unmarked. He said He would always be there for me. I am learning to wait on Him.

I’ve learned to see Him on the Cross. Sometimes when I ask for forgiveness, I see my sin go into Him as if it were lightning. Sometimes I see Him cutting the connections I’ve made in past unhealthy, sinful relationships. I see those bonds disappearing into the slash in His side.

My prayer: Thank You, Father, that You are using the pain in my life to teach me to stand before Your Cross and wait and listen. Thank You for my tears and Yours, which are just beginning to fill my crater. I’m vulnerable and scarred. You are the Master Landscaper who can take my internal disaster and create in me a garden for Your use, in Your time.

—Anonymous

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

The author and his wife have been married for eleven years and are best friends. Although their relationship is platonic, they support and care for one another, openly discussing their feelings and struggles.

“God—where were you?”

 SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by  Ed Welch/CCEF

“God, where were you?”

That’s the good version of the question, because you are still on speaking terms with the Lord.

But if this question is left unresolved, over time it becomes, “Where was God when __________ happened [I was raped, my child died, I was fired because of someone’s lies . . . ]?

You are no longer talking to God, you are now talking about him.

Later? Just silence. God, from your perspective, is no longer a player in everyday life.

For now I just want to raise this very difficult question, which is capable of stunting spiritual growth and corroding one’s faith in Jesus.  If it is your question, you must do something with it.

Here is a start.

What are you really asking?

Sometimes “where were you?” is not really what is on your heart.

When my daughter Lisa was little, she would have a predictable response when she was hurt.

“Daddy!” Or sometimes, “Daddy, why did you do that?” These are variations on, “where were you? Why didn’t you do something?” She probably did the same thing with her mother when I wasn’t around. Whoever was closest during the accident was, somehow, at fault.

Once she stubbed her toe while running after her sister. I was reading a book on the other side of the room.

Sure enough, “Daddy!”

In response I could have explained, “Lisa, I didn’t do it to you. You were playing with Lindsay and hit the sofa leg with you bare foot.” But my daughter didn’t really want an explanation of what happened. What she was really saying was this: “Daddy, please help me. I feel hurt and alone.”

All I needed to do was to pick her up, and say “Sweetie, I am so sorry,” which is not an admission of guilt but an offer of compassion. She was not really blaming me. She wanted comfort and the assurance that I cared about what happened to her.

So we could expand “Where were you?” to “God, why did you do this to me?” or “Why didn’t you prevent that evil from happening to me?” These questions belie deeper and usually more basic concerns about God’s love. His answer: “Yes, I know these things are hard to understand but I really do love you – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus proves that – and what hurts you hurts me.” Comfort and compassion.

What if it’s not a question; what if it’s a statement?

Are you actually asking God, “where were you?” or are you making a statement like “God was not there. He can’t be trusted. He isn’t safe.”

Sometimes these statements are expressed as anger towards God. When people speak about anger with God I want to understand what they are really saying before I try to respond. Real anger at God, I believe, is a rare and dangerous thing. Most people who mention such anger are not quite as angry with God as they think. They are just having a hard time putting words on their sufferings.

“Sometimes I hate God.” Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t. You might actually be saying, “I hate myself for letting this happen. Regarding God, I don’t know what to think. He says he loves me, but I don’t understand. It seems he wasn’t there when I needed him.”

What should we do about this?

There is much more to say.  Here are the first steps.

1. Speak to the Lord, not just about him.
2. Recognize that behind your bluster and sometimes lame attempts at acting angry are childlike questions about God’s love and care.
3. Repeat #1.

Do I Thirst for more Thirst for God? I Must!

SOURCE:  Based on an article by Tim Challies

Every soul thirsts. This thirst may not be obvious in every moment, but at some point and to some degree every soul thirsts after something, something it does not have. We are rarely content in our current condition, rarely content just the way we are. But while we all thirst, we do not all thirst in the same way. Donald Whitney’s book Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Healthhas much to say about this. Whitney identifies 3 ways in which our souls thirst.

The Thirst of the Empty Soul

The soul of the unbeliever is empty toward the things of God. Until the Spirit fills the soul with his presence, it is devoid of any love for God. Without God, the unbeliever is constantly looking for something, anything. But he is unable to fill the emptiness. This is something many people do not understand, but something the Bible teaches clearly: While the believer’s soul is empty because he does not know God, he does not and cannot seek to fill it with God. Many people believe that unbelievers are truly seeking after God but unable to find him. The Bible tells us, though, that the empty soul is unable to understand or satisfy this thirst. Not only that, but the empty soul does not want to understand this thirst, and would not, even if it were possible. The empty soul is completely and fully opposed to God; it is deceitful and desperately wicked. As Paul writes in Romans 3:11, quoting David, “no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Psalm 14:2).

Thus the empty soul is left seeking to be satisfied by other things, fleeting things, good things and bad things. It seeks satisfaction in work, family, love, sex, money and everything else the world has to offer. It may seek satisfaction in religion and even the Christian faith, but it never truly seeks God and thus never truly finds him. Until the Holy Spirit enables that soul to understand the source of his thirst and enables him to see the One who can satisfy, he will continue to look in vain. “Just because a man longs for something that can be found in God alone doesn’t mean he’s looking for God,” says Whitney, “Many who claim they are questing for God are not thirsting for God as he has revealed himself in Scripture, but only for God as they want him to be, or a God who will give them what they want.”

The Thirst of the Dry Soul

There is a second type of spiritual thirst, and it is the thirst of the dry soul. This is a thirst that is felt only by those who believe. It does not indicate that he has fallen away from the Lord, but that he is in a dry place spiritually and that his soul is in need of refreshment. There are three ways a Christian can become spiritually arid:

The first is by drinking too deeply from the fountains of the world and too little from the river of God. When a believer drinks too much of what the world has to offer and too little of what God offers, his soul becomes parched. Giving himself over to his sin means he has turned his back on God, even if only for a while. He has allowed his soul to run dry.

The second way a believer can become arid is what the Puritans referred to as “God’s desertions.” There are times in life when God’s presence is very real to and other times where the Christian feels only his absence. The Christian knows that God’s absence is merely a matter of perception and that there is never a time where he actually withdraws. However, there are seasons in which he removes from his children a conscious knowledge of his presence.

The third way a believer becomes arid is fatigue, either mental or physical. Becoming burned-out by the cares and concerns of the world will cause a believer to focus too much on himself, thus turning his thoughts away from God.

The dry soul yearns for God and nothing else will satisfy. This soul has tasted God, it has seen God, and it wants nothing more than to return to being close to him. And when the soul is dry, God is faithful and good to provide the nourishment the soul desires. He fills, he restores and he satisfies.

The Thirst of the Satisfied Soul

The final type of spiritual thirst is the thirst of the satisfied soul. The satisfied soul desires God precisely because he is satisfied in him. There are many biblical examples of this, but perhaps one of the clearest is the apostle Paul who, in Philippians 3, went to great lengths to describe the depth of his relationship with Christ, but then added the words “that I may know him.” His satisfaction in Christ and the deep love and affection he felt for God only stimulated his desire to know him more. Paul wanted nothing more than to know and love God. His satisfaction made him thirsty for more. Thomas Shepard wrote “There is in true grace an infinite circle; a man by thirsting receives, and receiving thirsts for more.” This is not a cycle of frustration, where the Christian continually laments that he does not know more, but a cycle of satisfaction and earnest desire.

So…Thirst!

Let me close with a prayer of A.W. Tozer. “O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made thirsty still.” Amen! It is my desire, and the desire of all who believe and thirst after God, that we may be filled with longing to long after God, and to thirst that we may be thirsty still. God grant that we may be men and women who, being satisfied, thirst for him!

Out Of The Darkness: How can you pray when your heart is broken?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article in Discipleship Journal/Robert Boardman

Pain!

Sometimes it feels like you’re drowning in it.

No matter how much we try to fight it, suffering is a part of life. It may be in the form of a broken body or a broken heart but, sooner or later, it will come.

Pain can make us or break us; When it hits full force we have two choices: to blame and reject the God who could have prevented it, or to trust that it is part of His perfect plan for our lives. Pain is the crucible in which real faith is formed.

In Psalm 77, Asaph shows us how personal anguish can lead to growth. His pilgrimage shows us four crucial steps that lead from despair to joy.

Asaph had an exceptional ability to be honest about spiritual struggles. His honesty shows in each of the eleven psalms he wrote (73–83), whether he is confessing his own failures (Ps. 73:2–3) or admitting his confusion over God’s strange ways (Ps. 74:1). He knows us. He understands our innermost struggles, our abject hearts. He puts words to our wretched feelings. Yet he perseveres by faith to praise, and from his perseverance we can take hope.

STEP ONE FOCUSING ON OURSELVES

It’s natural, when we suffer difficulty, to think first of ourselves, to pray first about our personal needs. And Asaph was no exception. In Psalm 77 he wrote,

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 my soul refused to be comforted. 3 I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. 4 You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.

Notice Asaph’s focus in these first four verses:   I cried out, I was in distress, I sought the Lord, stretched out untiring hands, my soul refused to be comforted, I remembered you, I groaned, I mused, my spirit grew faint, I was troubled. Some people condemn this kind of preoccupation with one’s own feelings as selfish, yet it can be the first step toward healing—if it leads us to seek help beyond ourselves. After all, God is thinking about us, too. He loves us. He desires our greatest good.

While God cares about our suffering, He is more concerned with molding our lives so that we will bring Him more honor, glory, and praise. But our private pain, at least at first, prevents our understanding that.

It is never easy to turn to God for help. By nature we are proud. We would rather maintain our independence, even as failures, than acknowledge our dependence on God. We will cast all our cares on God only when we are honest enough to admit that we are overwhelmed by them (1 Pet. 5:7). If we try to cover up the pain, or pretend it is not there, we are really relying on our own efforts to deal with it. So looking first within ourselves and becoming aware of the pain that is there is the first step toward growth.

In 1945, I had returned from war in the Pacific with a serious injury and a new hope: life in Christ. In the U.S. Naval Hospital in Farragut, Idaho, my spiritual life was beginning to grow as my body slowly mended. Then I met Jean. Her beauty, her personality, and her godly character captured my heart, and I was in love.

Then one day in 1947 a thick letter came. Even before I opened it, I knew instinctively that it was a “Dear John.” The heart I had given her, Jean had returned smashed, crushed seemingly beyond repair.

I cried out to God in anguish. And as I poured out my pain, confusion, and fear before His throne, over time, He began to collect the broken pieces and painstakingly accomplish His skilled repair work. (Interestingly, when God did finally give me a wife, her name was Jean, too.)

God is our refuge. He waits eagerly to take us in, to listen to our heart’s cry, to care, to comfort, to mend. But first we must admit that we are hurting. The feelings we attempt to hold within will someday burst like the walls of a dam, sending raging waters upon the unsuspecting in the peaceful valleys below and causing inestimable damage.

STEP TWO: ASKING QUESTIONS

Now Asaph shifts focus. No longer does he look only at himself and his troubles. He looks at God. And what he sees, he doesn’t like.

Shaken by what, from all appearances, is a failure of God’s love and faithfulness, he assails God with questions:

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?”

Asaph is in such turmoil that he questions the very character of God. Yet God does not destroy him. He recognizes the desperate cry of a wounded heart, a confused heart, and sees it as a necessary step toward faith. God is never angry or upset over a person’s honest questions.

In 1970 in Seoul, Korea, God saw best to take to himself the small daughter of our friends Paul and Sukja Yoo. During a severe water shortage in one of Seoul’s steamy, humid summers, the Yoos kept their tile bathtub filled with water in order to have a minimal supply. In an unattended moment, little Hiju, intrigued by the prospect of playing in the water, tumbled in and drowned.

Paul and Sukja asked God, “Why?” God understood and welcomed the question. In His own time and way, He answered their anxious hearts.

The cry of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross echoed Ps. 22:1:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?”  He questioned the Father, but trusted Him for the answers.

The glorious resurrection was an answer to His impassioned plea. And in time there came multitudes from every tribe, kindred, tongue, and nation whose sins were washed away in His sacrifice on Calvary.

For every believer, there are times of darkness when we do not have answers to our questions. But during those times we can and should ask God honest questions about ourselves, our circumstances, our ministry, our loved ones, family, enemies, our future . . . end then believe Him for amazing and wonderful assurances. “Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Is. 50:10).  He teaches us to wait after asking our questions in order that we might learn to trust Him wholly, even without answers.

STEP THREE: REFLECTING ON THE PAST

Until this point, Asaph has been involved in a great struggle. He has wrestled with the deep problems of his own soul and the hard circumstances around him.

God’s seeming inactivity in response to the psalmist’s prayer brings bewilderment, but it does not prevent him from making a very important decision. He says,

10 Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. 12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.

Beginning from verse 10, Asaph begins to come out of the darkness. Now the tempo of his outlook begins to change. Notice the “I will’s” in these three verses. Asaph is choosing to reflect on God despite his suffering, overwhelming circumstances, and the bewilderment of God’s silence. He is no longer carried along by the circumstances of his trial and his questions.

Asaph’s willingness to do this reveals a meek and lowly disposition. He stops fighting against God and opens his heart to His answers. His struggles in prayer begin to cease.

God honors this kind of humility; He responds to one who will think upon His mighty acts. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word” (Is. 66:2).

And as Asaph begins to focus on the power and faithfulness of God throughout history—and perhaps even earlier in his own life—he gains the perspective he needs. He begins to see his own struggles in the context of a longer, larger work of God through history. He begins to anchor himself in the immovable foundation that will counterbalance present appearances.

Surely God brought salvation then, if He showed compassion then, if He fulfilled His promise then—surely He can do so now, for me, in the midst of my torment.  Such might have been Asaph’s thoughts as he clung to the reassuring facts of God’s dealings in history. He may not have had an explanation of his own sufferings yet; he may not have seen their outcome yet. But this he knew: God had delivered His people before; He could deliver him now.

So it is with us. Reflecting on the past faithfulness of God brings spiritual equilibrium to our lives. When we remember what God has done for us in the past, we know that once again, even in the midst of a great test, He could lift us up, bring solutions, and reveal Himself to us. Looking back gives us perspective on the needs of the present and the possibilities of the future.

STEP FOUR: FOCUSING ON GOD

Now, in answer to his own doubts and complaints, Asaph sets forth in praise the specific things God has done that give him hope:

13 Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so 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, O God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed.  17 The clouds poured down water, the skies 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.

Remember how self-centered the first section of this psalm was? Sixteen times in six verses Asaph had spoken of himself—”I,” “me,” “my.” Contrast that with his words in this last section. Not once in eight verses does he refer to himself. His focus is entirely on God: on God’s holiness, power, redemption, faithfulness, and tender mercy. Meditating on these things delivers Asaph from the bondage of depression and self-pity and ushers him into the liberty of exultant praise.

Warren and Ruth Myers say this about praise:

Prayer has been called the slender nerve that moves the mighty hand of God. Any form of sincere, believing prayer channels God’s power into our lives and situations, but the prayer of praise especially releases His power. Praise is “faith in action”—and faith brings victory that changes circumstances or victory in circumstances as they are.

One of the most dramatic stories of the power of praise is found in 2 Chronicles 20. When King Jehoshaphat of Judah learned that Moabite and Ammonite troops were advancing on Jerusalem, he stood before the people and acknowledged his powerlessness before God. God promised that He would deliver them.

So sure was Jehoshaphat of God’s faithfulness that he appointed a group of men to march in front of his army “to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness.” And “as they began to sing and praise,” God caused the enemy armies to turn upon each other. Every soldier of Moab and Ammon was dead before Jehoshaphat’s troops reached the battlefield.

Praise is the ultimate weapon against the forces that would defeat us, as well. If we would only praise God by faith, as Asaph did, it could lead us to amazing victories, both in our personal lives and in our ministries.

Taking our eyes off ourselves and choosing to praise God is the final step toward growth in the midst of suffering. Praise proves we are “sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). Our spirits rise, God regains His place at the center of our lives, and we become “transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).

C. M. Hanson wrote, “Praise is like a plow set to go deep into the soil of believers’ hearts. It lets the glory of God into the details of daily living.” Let us say with the psalmist, “I will praise God’s lame in song and glorify Him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hoofs” (Ps. 69:30–31).

FOUR STEPS TO GROWTH

What worked for Asaph can work for us, too. In the midst of our greatest difficulties, we can be transformed from despair to adoration if we will be honest about our own feelings, ask the questions that haunt us, remember how God has worked in the past, and praise His holiness, faithfulness, and love.

We must not bury our feelings. Hiding them merely lets them fester end spread. Instead, we must expose them to the healing air of communion with God.

Neither must we hide our doubt inspired questions, however impertinent they might seem. They’ll be no surprise to God. We might as well get them out in the open where they can be objectified and answered.

But when we’ve asked our questions, we must be honest enough to listen for answers, too. And we will find those answers in the miraculous works of God recorded in Scripture, in history, and in our own past.

Finally, as we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, let us praise Him. And as we focus our hearts on God’s power to work on our behalf instead of on our own suffering, we will be freed from the bondage of despair.

In our deepest distress, when we cannot see the path down which God leads us, we can be sure that, as our Good Shepherd, He leads us by the hand. The reasons for our trials may not yet be revealed—may never be this side of eternity. But we know who goes before us, and by what He has done we can be sure of what He will yet do.

Tag Cloud