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

Posts tagged ‘God’s faithfulness’

HE is God on the Mountain AND in the Valley

SOURCE:  American Association of Christian Counselors [AACC]

On The Mountain, and In The Valley

As you walk through the valley of the unknown, you will find the footprints of Jesus both in front of you and beside you. -Charles Stanley

The man who gazes upon and contemplates day by day the face of the Lord Jesus Christ, and who has caught the glow of the reality that the Lord is not a theory but an indwelling power and force in his life, is as a mirror reflecting the glory of the Lord. -Alan Redpath

Moses knew what it meant to be on the mountain top.

Exodus 24 records that “Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days… Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (Exodus 24:15-18 ESV) experiencing the presence and glory of God.

Moses also knew the anguish of the valley.

He came down off of the mountain carrying the two tablets that God had given him – “The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:16), only to find that the children of Israel had “made for themselves a golden calf, worshipped it… and sacrificed to it” (Exodus 32:8 ESV)

Moses was so distraught and enraged that he “threw the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.” (Exodus 32:19 ESV)

“Mountain tops” and “valleys.” Have you experienced the glory and presence of the Lord in one instant, only to turn the page and battle sin and brokenness? Anger…lust… fear… pain of loss… worry… anxiety. And you find yourself questioning the validity of the work that God had begun to write in your life, and on your heart.

What I love though about the story, is how God not only spoke to Moses on the mountain top, but He also spoke to him in the valley, telling him how to deal with the pain and problems he had encountered (Exodus 32:33, 33:1&5).

He is God… on the mountain. And He is God, in the valley.

Notice what Moses does next. He first dealt with the issues of sin and idolatry (rather harshly I might add – 3000 men died) (Exodus 32:28).

He then “rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.” On the top of the mountain, “the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there.” (Exodus 34:4-5 ESV)

God then proclaims His glorious nature to Moses;

The Lord, the Lord…

A God merciful and gracious…

Slow to anger…

Abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…

Forgiving iniquity… and transgression, and sin…

“And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped.” (Exodus 34:8 ESV)

What’s interesting is that after experiencing the presence of the Lord, and worshipping, “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai… he did not know that his face shone because he had been talking with God.” (Exodus 34:29 ESV)

This reminds me of the passage in Acts 4 where the religious leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John and, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13 ESV)

If you haven’t noticed, the connection here is the presence of God.

Because of Christ, the Hebrews writer encourages us to “then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

Practice being in the presence of God every day. It brings cleansing… and healing… and it will draw you to worship. His presence brings light to your darkness… hope to your anguish, glory to your valley.

That will turn your life around.

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Life’s Journey Is Hard !!!

SOURCE:   Scotty Smith/The Gospel Coalition

A Prayer for Sojourning with and Resting in the Lord

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Exodus 33:14

     Dear heavenly Father, the promise of your presence with us, and the gift of rest for us, is “spot on,” timely, never redundant, and ever precious. Like the children of Israel traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land, we too are on a journey between the resurrection and the return of Christ. Thank you for the promise of being with us in every season and step of our sojourn, and for being our Rest, giving us rest—both now and ultimately.

     Some of us are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, and we have fresh heart wounds and empty chairs at our tables. Father, hold us tightly. Thank you for not cringing at our questions or despising our tears. How long will it take to grieve well? When will it not hurt with such breath-taking force? Grant us grace for the whole process.

     Some of us are walking through different types of transitions, and we feel vulnerable, fearful, and excited, all at the same time. Keep us from looking back, and fantasizing and idolizing the past. Free us from looking around, and envying other people and other situations. Keep us from looking within ourselves, as though we’ll find our competency and comfort there. Keep us looking up—into your face of grace and your heart of mercy.

    Some of us are walking in difficult relationships, and we need wisdom, strength and hope. Father, help us to remember that our children are really your children—gifts from you to us—whether they are walking with you or not. Help us to love them as unto you, not as a means of saving face, reducing our fears, or redeeming our past.

     Father, help us to deepen our relationship with our ultimate Spouse—Jesus, that we might walk the rest of this journey with our earthly spouses in kindness, forgiveness and encouragement—even when that’s not reciprocated.

     Lastly, help us walk with our friends, in the next season of life, treasuring the moments, sharing our weaknesses, and growing in grace.

     Father, thank you for never leaving us. Thank you for the rest we already have in the gospel, and for the consummate rest we will enjoy in the new heaven and new earth. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ bold and beautiful name.

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.

Do You Ever Worry?

Source:  Christina Fox/Desiring God

A Prayer for the Worried Mom’s Heart

Do you ever worry?

I think we can all admit that we do. In fact, we probably worry more than we realize. As a mother, I find myself worrying about my children, about their health, their learning, and whether I can just make it to bedtime each day.

I also find myself worried about paying bills, about my husband’s travel for work, and about that message from my doctor needing to discuss test results with me. My to-do lists keep me awake at night because I fear I’ll forget to do something important. Questions like “what if?” and “should I have?” swirl around my mind, holding me hostage and keeping me chained to my worries and fears.

Worry is a kind of “acceptable sin.” By that I mean worry is one of those sins that everyone does so we don’t often address it. Like gossip, worry is something we all know we aren’t supposed to do, but we often gloss over it and call it something else — something like stress. Especially for women, worry can be expected and in some situations to not worry would seem strange.

But deep down, we want to be freed from the chronic feeling of doom and the expectation of something bad lurking just around the corner. We know that the Bible tells us not to worry, but “what if?” thoughts seem like such a part of us that we don’t know how to stop.

What can we do?

Remember and Pray

Like oil and water, trust and worry do not mix. To expel worry from our heart, we need to grow deeper roots of trust in God. Time and again in the Psalms, when the writer’s heart was heavy, he turned to look back at all that God had done for him. As the psalmist looked back at God’s faithfulness and his sovereign care for him, he was able to trust God even in the midst of troubling circumstances.

When we look back in our own lives at God’s faithfulness to us, it gives us confidence and hope in his future faithfulness. We look back to our own story of salvation. We see that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, that this is the demonstration of God’s love for us. When worries threaten to seize our heart, we need to remember and dwell on the truth of the gospel. Remembering the cross propels us in faith for what lies ahead.

And as we remember, we need to turn to God in prayer. Hebrews says that because of Jesus, we can come to the throne of grace with confidence, to receive the help we need (Hebrews 4:16). Paul was referring to chronic worry when he wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We are to give our worries to God in prayer, trusting him with all our burdens and cares. As a result, we will receive in return the peace we long for, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

You might even pray something like this. . . .

A Prayer for the Worried Heart

My Papa in Heaven,

I come to you with a heart heavy and full of so many worries and cares. I want to just curl up on your lap and find some peace from the chaos in my life. My worries fill my mind night and day. My stomach is in knots and I can hardly breathe. I feel like I am drained dry; the joy has been sucked right out of me.

But you said to come to you with all my burdens. You said that you will carry them. You tell us you are a rock, a shield, a fortress. I need a rock right now. I need a fortress to run into right now. I need you.

There are so many decisions to make. What if I make the wrong one? So many bad things loom on the horizon, what if I’m not prepared? Help me to focus my heart on you and not on the giants around me. I know that all these worries are keeping me from trusting you. Like Peter, instead of looking toward your face, I am looking around at the waves encircling me.

Forgive me for doubting and not living a life of trust. I believe, but please help my unbelief! I know that when I worry, I am believing a lie that says that I can control what happens in my life. Forgive me for trying to control something I never really had control of. Help me to trust in your word and not the lies.

You sent your Son to carry my greatest burden at the cross. I know that you can handle all that troubles me today. There is nothing too great for you, the earth is your footstool and the wind and rain come and go at your command. Free me of this worry today. Help me to trust the same grace that saved me at the cross to save me from all that weighs me down.

I know that you have a perfect plan for my life. Help me to walk by faith and not by sight. I want to trust in your plan and your love for me. I want to face the unknown future confident that you have it under control. Grant me the grace I need.

Thank you for Jesus and that because of him I can come to you in confidence. You accept me as I am, worries and all. I give them all to you now, in Jesus’s name, Amen.

Not Overly Sinful or Self-Righteous –> But A Hybrid of Both

SOURCE:  Scotty Smith/Gospel Coalition

A Prayer about a Third Kind of Luke 15 Son–a Hybrid

     And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

Dear heavenly Father . . .

Thankfully, I not beginning this day in a far away country, derelict and destitute, like the younger brother in the story of the prodigal son(s). Though I’m capable of anything, I’m not pained with shame for squandering an inheritance; and neither am I out in a field feeding somebody else’s pigs. And, thankfully as well, neither am I an angry, jaded, mean-spirited legalist—who finds pleasure in judging others—even you.

I’m sitting in a comfortable chair, sipping a fresh cup of coffee, surrounded by more than my share of creature comforts. And yet I’m just as much in need of fellowship with you as any of your broken children. I kind of feel like a Luke 15-third-son right now—kind of a hybrid of the two brothers. I’m not struggling with the extremes of either of your boys in Luke 15—though I carry both of their sinful ways in my heart.

I’m not acting out or medicating in destructive “fleshy” ways presently; and I’m not currently defaulting to my inner-Pharisee. I’m just somewhere in between. I still hear and love the wonderful music of the gospel, but I just don’t feel like dancing this very moment.

So, Father, as I come to you today, I take great comfort in knowing that I’ll always find you filled with compassion for me—even when my feelings are not fully engaged with you. As I saunter toward you today, you’re always running towards me in Jesus. As glad as I am to see you, you’re thrilled to see me.

When I’m not as inclined to lift my arms in praise to you, your embrace is the most predictable element in my day. You don’t just, nonchalantly, put your hand on my shoulder; you throw your arms around me in the gospel and hold tight—with tenderness, strength and affection. Indeed, though my love for you wavers, you will shower me with multiple kisses all day long; for you love your children with an irrepressible, everlasting, unwavering love. It’s only because of the finished work of the quintessential Son—Jesus, that you can be so shockingly extravagant, and over-the-top generous with your love.

Because this is the gospel that you’ve poured into my soul, I’ll seek to live to your glory today, neither by sight nor by my feelings, but by the faith you’ve given me to trust and love you. It’s not my grasp of you but your grasp of me in the gospel that matters the most. It’s not the enjoyment of my peace with you but the assurance that you are at peace with me that is the anchor for my soul. Hallelujah, a zillion, zillion times over!!!

So very Amen I pray, in Jesus’ wonderful and merciful name.

The Explanation For Our Difficulties

SOURCE:  Oswald Chambers

. . . that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us . . .John 17:21

If you are going through a time of isolation, seemingly all alone, read John 17 .

It will explain exactly why you are where you are— because Jesus has prayed that you “may be one” with the Father as He is. Are you helping God to answer that prayer, or do you have some other goal for your life? Since you became a disciple, you cannot be as independent as you used to be.

God reveals in John 17 that His purpose is not just to answer our prayers, but that through prayer we might come to discern His mind. Yet there is one prayer which God must answer, and that is the prayer of Jesus— “. . . that they may be one just as We are one . . .” (John 17:22).

Are we as close to Jesus Christ as that?

God is not concerned about our plans; He doesn’t ask, “Do you want to go through this loss of a loved one, this difficulty, or this defeat?” No, He allows these things for His own purpose. The things we are going through are either making us sweeter, better, and nobler men and women, or they are making us more critical and fault-finding, and more insistent on our own way.

The things that happen either make us evil, or they make us more saintly, depending entirely on our relationship with God and its level of intimacy. If we will pray, regarding our own lives, “Your will be done” (Matthew 26:42), then we will be encouraged and comforted by John 17, knowing that our Father is working according to His own wisdom, accomplishing what is best. When we understand God’s purpose, we will not become small-minded and cynical. Jesus prayed nothing less for us than absolute oneness with Himself, just as He was one with the Father.

Some of us are far from this oneness; yet God will not leave us alone until we are one with Him— because Jesus prayed, “. . . that they all may be one . . . .”

The “ONLY” Way Forward –> Bringing Our Failures To God

SOURCE: Taken from  D.A. Carson/The Gospel Coalition

[Based on:  Leviticus 25Psalm 32Ecclesiastes 82 Timothy 4]

“BLESSED IS HE WHOSE TRANSGRESSIONS ARE FORGIVEN, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit” (Ps. 32:1-2).

In a theistic universe where God keeps the books, it is difficult to imagine any greater blessedness.

The sad tragedy is that when many people reflect on this brute fact — that we must give an account to him, and there is no escaping his justice — almost instinctively they do the wrong thing. They resolve to take the path of self-improvement, they turn over a new leaf, they conceal or even deny the sins of frivolous youth. Thus they add to their guilt something additional — the sin of deceit.

We dare not ask for justice — we would be crushed.

But how can we hide from the God who sees everything? That is self-delusion.

There is only one way forward that does not destroy us: we must be forgiven.

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven.” And what is bound up with such forgiveness? For a start, such a person will not pretend there are no sins to forgive: blessed is the man “in whose spirit is no deceit.”

That is why the ensuing verses speak so candidly of confession (32:3-5). It was when David “kept silent” (i.e., about his sins) that his “bones wasted away”; his anguish was so overwhelming it brought wretched physical pain. David writhed under the sense that God himself was against him: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (32:4).

The glorious solution?

“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ — and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (32:5).

The New Testament writer closest to saying the same thing is John in his first letter (1 John 1:8-9).

Writing to believers, John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There it is again: the self-deception bound up with denying our sinfulness.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There it is again: the only remedy to human guilt.

This God forgives us, not because he is indulgent or too lazy to be careful, but because we have confessed our sin, and above all, because he is “faithful and just”: “faithful” to the covenant he has established, “just” so as not to condemn us when Jesus himself is the propitiation for our sins (2:2).

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