“Then He (Jesus) got into the boat and His disciples followed Him. Suddenly, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke Him saying, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ He replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then He rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was perfectly calm.”
What do we do in those most fragile moments of the journey when suddenly our mind and/or body seem to be on the verge of being taken over by the storm swells of life? One moment there is a calm and tranquil peace within our spirit, then suddenly we’re overtaken with unsteady anxiety, weariness, and often a ferocious fear of spiraling downward into the depths of darkness. It’s a feeling of dreadfulness in which you truly believe you’re going to drown in what seem the unnerving realities of the moment. I’ve also attempted to describe these moments to someone as if you were on a “Free-fall” ride in an amusement park, waiting at the top for the safety latch to release, sending you plummeting down at break-neck speed, hoping that the breaks will stop you before you completely hit bottom.
The disciples found themselves in what appeared to them a horrifying circumstance in the middle of the sea with a mighty storm bearing down on them, waves overtaking them, and the fear of literally drowning. Such circumstances would produce anxiety and fear in the hearts of any of us. Yet, these were experienced fishermen, well aware of the possible dangers of the sea, who had probably been through many storms and high seas similar to what faced them on that very night. However, even with all their collective years of experience on the sea, they were scared to death even knowing all the while Jesus was with them, sleeping soundly in the front of the boat.
In their moments of great despair, the disciples cried out to Him pleading with Jesus to save them. Knowing this was a test of their faith, He awoke and asked, “Why are you afraid?”, then proceeded with a spoken word perfectly calming the sea. The disciples had lost sight of who was in the boat with them, much like them we so often forget the reality of Jesus as our constant companion in the raging storms of life. The spiritual realities of the disciples were violently shaken by the storm before them, causing their sense of fear to strengthen and the faith in the One who was with them to fade. We, much like the disciples, forget that God is with us especially in our weakest moments when we feel like we’re going to drown. Call out to Him, rest in Him, because He will be faithful to calm the storm.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, when my mind and body are weak, when the ‘storms of life’ are bearing down, please bring Your peace through the power of Your spirit and the truth of Your word. You are the One who is always in control and able to calm the storm within me. Remind me of Your constant presence in all circumstances of my life, along with the reality that I am never completely out of the reach of Your mighty hand of protection. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Once you were separated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled (to be made right in relationship to Himself) you by Christ’s physical body through death (Jesus’ death on the Cross) to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation – if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel..”
The essential promise of the Gospel message (The Good News) is that Christ’s death on the cross allowed us to be restored into a right relationship with God, our Creator and our Heavenly Father. Unable to meet God’s standard of perfection, which was tarnished by sin (anything in our lives that does not please God or agree with his word disqualifies us from a close relationship with him until He sent Jesus (John 3:16), because of his amazing love for us. We had once been separated from God through our sinful, evil actions whether committed knowingly or unknowingly, we were separating ourselves from Him.
But God, sent Jesus to die on the cross, paying for our sin, thus giving us freedom from accusation, and setting us free to live in a close relationship with him. Not only so, but now if we have received God’s free gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), and have surrendered our life to Christ, God looks upon us as if we are completely clean, holy and blameless. For when He looks at us, He sees Jesus covering us with His grace poured freely over our lives daily, allowing us to “continue in faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” Our hope is held firm in the truth of Jesus’ loving sacrifice for us and God’s promises to be with us always and to carry us through any season of life. Because we know He is faithful and understand that He has infinite knowledge of what is best for our lives, as well as what He desires to do in and through our life’s journey for our good and His ultimate glory.
Today, understand that you have been set free from any accusation of past, present, or future sin, if you know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Jesus paid for them all on the cross as He was the ultimate sacrifice through His death, but moreover defeated death and the grave through His glorious resurrection. As you grow in His grace, understand that any false accusation in your life, whether from within or from sources without are not from God, but originate from our enemy to discourage and distract us from the hope by which we are “not moved” because of the power of the Gospel message in our lives. The faith we have in Christ allows us to live in freedom moment by moment, day by day in full assurance knowing that we are free indeed.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the promise of The Gospel message in that we have been truly set free through Your Son Jesus’ death on the cross in final payment of our sins. Thank You that because You sent Him into the world to save us, we can now be in a right relationship with You, free from accusation, and filled daily with the hope of eternity in Heaven. May You continue to grow us through Your grace and the truths of Your word, allowing us to stand firm not being easily shaken in the storms and trials along this life’s journey. In Jesus’s name. Amen.
"Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let not your hands be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well."
Solomon, one of the wisest men ever known, brings us the Lord’s wisdom in the book of Ecclesiastes regarding making the most of our opportunities in life - despite obstacles, conditions, or our perception of personal limitations. There are times when we can potentially miss opportunities to “live life to the fullest” within the boundaries set out for us by the Lord, miss opportunities to serve the Lord, grow spiritually, or minister and care for others in their time of need. As Solomon begins, he cautions us about always waiting for the “right conditions” before we take action – “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.”
He continues in his wisdom reminding us that we never know what God is doing, even through our seasons of suffering, trial, and hardship. “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in the mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” What a comfort to know that God knows all things, is in the midst of all things, and is working in all things, on our behalf, even when we cannot yet see the evidence. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.” This truth of God working in “all things” means, “all things,” even the things we cannot understand, the broken, shattered pieces of a situation we cannot put together, when we cannot see directly the work of His hands. Pastor Johnny Hunt comments, “When we can’t trace God’s hands, we can trust His heart.”
Solomon concludes this stanza with a call to action, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” We are to be active in our faith, pursuing opportunities to grow in our relationship with Jesus, taking advantage of opportunities to serve the Lord and others, learning to trust Him fully to lead and guide us in all wisdom and truth, leaving the results up to Him. We are simply called to faithful obedience, sometimes out of duty regardless of our feelings and at other times we’re able to walk in complete obedience to God because we desire to please Him. God is ready and willing to use us for His purposes despite our weaknesses and limitations, as well as using our life experiences, “working in all things,” to make us most effective in drawing others to Him.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for this day You have made as an opportunity for me to both live for You and press into You through small steps of obedience. Lord, there are moments when taking those first intentional and most vital steps beginning at the first glimpse of dawn as my feet hit the floor, that I am in desperate need of Your strength within to press on. Remind me often throughout this day of your enduring presence with me and Your faithfulness to me hour by hour, moment by moment as I surrender to You. Help me sow seeds of faith with each step of obedience toward You, looking for opportunities to love, to care for, and to serve others pointing them to the true hope only You can provide. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Wait on the Lord,
Be of good courage,
And He will strengthen your heart,
Wait, I say, on the Lord!
The psalmist David is writing on this occasion, a declaration of his faith in the Lord and his eternal perspective, which allows him to have such a firm foundation even in times of distress. As our focus is on the concluding verses of the psalm, his opening verse sets the tone as he writes, “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1) This journey of life we’re walking moment by moment, day by day requires of us a genuine faith relationship with our Lord and Savior. At various times will be tested beyond what we believe are the boundaries of our faith requiring us to “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen (in faith) is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) David disciplined himself to look beyond his immediate circumstances and into the promises of God for both assurance of courage and the strengthening of his heavy heart in difficult seasons or circumstances.
Often some of our greatest challenges come from within as we battle with our minds for both the physical and spiritual realities of this life. There seem to be times when anxiety, depression, or simply the heaviness of life can cause us to question everything we know to be true about our God, about our faith, and about the eternal things we know to be truth. It’s in these times that we find our heart in a “weak” place, our strength is failing, and we’re in need of a divine rescue. If we find ourselves in such circumstances, David gives us specific instructions much like a lifeguard would to someone who is struggling to stay afloat. First don’t panic, but rather set your gaze upon the ONE who can save you, and secondly, “Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart, Wait, I say, on the Lord!” There will be times when it appears God is not present, but remember His promise “I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake (turn away from) you. Do not be afraid; Do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8) He is always working in, around, and through our lives for our best interest and ultimately for His glory. Therefore, today Wait on the Lord – He will strengthen your heart!
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the promise to strengthen our heavy hearts as we wait for You. Help us today through the power of Your Holy Spirit and by the truth of Your word to, indeed, “Be of good courage,” refusing to bow to our burdens and fears. Lord, You are our true light in dark places when we cannot readily see You, nor feel Your immediate presence. Help us by faith, to fix our eyes on the unseen, eternal things of You that will carry us through any circumstance. Thank You for Your promise to be ever-present with us and to never leave us, but instead to strengthen us while we wait. You are always a good, good heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
We so often here the cliché’ ‘God is in control’ when people are making a reference to a difficult circumstance or season they may be walking through. This statement is certainly true if they have yielded to the Lord’s wisdom, guidance, and counsel during that time, however, simply claiming that He is in control can be somewhat limiting His work in one’s life. The Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 3:20, that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.’
God is in control of the entire universe, but He is also actively ‘able’ (abundantly having the power needed to accomplish anything) in His personal relationship with each one of us beyond what we could ever ask or imagine as we choose to invite Him directly to be a part of our daily, hourly, and momentary circumstances. This promise of God’s ability to not only be ‘in control,’ but ‘able’ to provide for our deepest needs, is according to His great power which is at work within us by His Spirit, and gives us a great sense of hope in present difficult circumstances, seasons of pain or tragedy, as well as for the healing journey ahead.
What a blessing it becomes when we see God move, even in small ways, because in the midst of difficult times, those ‘small ways’ appear to us as mountains our Lord has moved for us, therefore, we thank and praise Him. Paul understood the importance of cultivating a ‘heart of gratitude’ as he wrote, ‘to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Let us move forward, praying with a new boldness that God is ‘able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,’ remembering that He will always do what’s best for us and what is in agreement with His will for our lives. However, when we see Him move, let us praise Him with a heart of gratitude for what He has done, because the power with which He moves on our behalf is the same power He used to raise Jesus from the grave. Therefore, regardless of the difficulty or duration of your trial, know with assurance that God is able and in control as You invite Him into your circumstances.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for being the One who is in control of our lives, and is able to do so very much more than we could ever ask or imagine in and through our lives. Your ability to work in our lives by and through the power of Your Spirit within us is directly in proportion to our willingness to pray and invite You directly into our circumstances, as well as our desire to surrender ever area of our lives to You. May we be willing to draw near to You with hearts of humility and gratitude, allowing You to have Your way in our lives, knowing You are willing, able, and in control as You desire to work in and through our lives for Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
2 Corinthians 5:17
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”
This single verse, penned centuries ago by the Apostle Paul, remains one of the most powerful biblical truths in all of God-inspired scripture. It serves as a “default setting” for so many who often wrestle with personal value, purpose, meaning, regret, shame, anxiety, depression, and the like. All of these struggles relate in some way to the theme of “true identity.” Misunderstanding of such issues in relation to one's identity in Christ alone leaves many destitute in their faith, confused about who they have become through Christ’s mark on their lives. This scripture is definitive in its proclamation that we are, indeed, made new once we are in Christ, not meaning that we are made instantly perfect, but instead that God begins His work in us (Philippians 1:6), and our desire to live a holy life begins to become a reality. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away.”
In Christ, we begin to experience freedom in our relationship with God, as “old things pass away; and behold all things have become new.” Regardless of who we perceived we were before we came to know Christ as our Savior, or even if we’ve known Him for many years, yet our distorted views of the biblical realities of our position in Him have caused us to be disoriented spiritually. We have an opportunity with the dawning of a New Year to walk as “New Creations.” Jesus Christ came to us and has indeed set us free to find true rest and our soul's identity in Him alone.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You that in Christ Jesus, Your Son, we have been redeemed and made new. You have begun a new work in each one of us which You promise to complete until Jesus returns or until You call us to our heavenly home. May the supernatural work of Your Holy Spirit within us continue to make us into new creations day by day as we desire to walk more closely with You. This new year, may we walk in our true identity as Your beloved children, unconditionally loved, forgiven, redeemed, and being daily filled with the strength of Your grace to continue this faith journey. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing much fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God…”
As we ceremonially approach the end of the “Holiday Season” and we arrive at another New Year’s Day, many of us will make “New Year’s Resolutions,” – everything from setting specific life goals, to the dreaded “weight loss commitment,” and for many, hopefully, renewed commitments in our spiritual journey with the Lord. Perhaps we might make a resolution to pray more, study the Bible more, make more time for God in our busy schedules, or we may possibly even take the plunge into the “deeper places” of our souls which need restoration and redemption. In such things we should involve others whom we trust to pray for us and we for them, as we’re called to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) and walk with one another along the faith journey.
The Apostle Paul is often seen in his writings as a “prayer warrior” for the recipients of his letters, acknowledging their faith and good deeds in Christ, as well as challenging them to grow in the grace, knowledge, and wisdom of the Lord. Paul writes, “we have not stopped praying for you…. We continually ask God to fill you with knowledge of his will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way, bearing much fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God..” Approaching a new year can be exciting, intimidating, and depressing all at once in that we mourn the passing of such a festive Christmas season and sometimes ponder, with anxiousness, the unknowns of what a new year may bring. Making such commitments to daily invite the Lord into our circumstances, take small steps of obedience toward him each day, and to be purposeful about both praying for and coming along beside those around us who need to know Him are the greatest resolutions we can make for this new year.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, we thank You not only for another new year, but for every new day You have made for us. May we find ourselves in this coming year with a renewed desire to walk more closely with You in prayer, to gain a greater knowledge of Your word, and develop a deeper compassion to walk with others along their faith journey. Lead us through the power of Your Spirit within us to live our lives worthy of Your high calling and to bear the Fruits of Your Spirit before the eyes of the world around us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“He has delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation.”
We understand from the accounts of Jesus’ birth in the New Testament, that he arrived on this earth amidst very meager conditions (born in a stable fit for animals), brought into this world through the womb of a most unlikely young lady (Mary – who was of no high social order), and He was born in Bethlehem, not a city of great prestige. Yet in all of this, God’s plans were fulfilled just as they had been foretold many years before. The King of all Kings was coming and would arrive this very night. Working backwards in this passage we can see a glimpse of who God is as Jesus is referred to as, the “image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation.” He encompassed all that God is in human form that we are unable to see with the eyes of man. For in Christ, God shows us His righteousness, goodness, wisdom, power, and in short, His entire self.
Now working forward in this passage we see, “He has delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” What an amazing gift Christ Jesus was then and now is to us in that he came as God’s “special delivery” in the form of a baby, who would grow to fulfill all that He had been sent to accomplish, namely, to deliver us out of darkness and bring us into His kingdom, granting us full redemption, through the forgiveness of our sins. He is the greatest gift ever given in all of human history – and the value of this gift to us is immeasurable as it allows all who accept it freely, access into God’s kingdom for all of eternity. There are times when our greatest struggle is to accept this free gift which continues to give over and over again, day after day, year after year as God’s grace and love continually pour over our lives and those we touch. The majesty and wonder of the true story of Christmas is that God came to us, when we were not able come to him, giving us all of himself, so that in time we could become all that he has called us to be.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for this Christmas season as we’re able to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Your Son, Jesus. He is the greatest gift You could have ever given us as Your way of calling us back to You through His birth, life, death, burial, and glorious resurrection from the grave. Thank You for delivering us out of great darkness and into the “Kingdom of the Son You Love.” Thank You for this Christmas season as we have the opportunity to thank You for our Savior, and the ultimate hope we have through salvation because of Your ever-lasting mercy, grace, and forgiveness. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous
If we were to take a short survey of things people fear, we would most likely find out that many of us are in good company. There is the “fear of being alone,” the “fear of rejection,” the “fear of running out” (not making ends meet), the “fear of complete exhaustion,” the “the fear of unmet expectations,” the “fear of failure,” and the list goes on. Most of these originate in the “fear of man” rather than a healthy “fear of” or “awe” and reverence for God with respect to every area of our lives. Without that proper perspective, the prophet Isaiah writes, we can become easily “dismayed” literally meaning to become disoriented, discouraged, worried, to lose courage, or to become alarmed with fear. If unhealthy fear becomes a driving force in our lives then we’re more susceptible to becoming paralyzed and imprisoned by it, missing out on opportunities to experience the hope-filled life God has planned for us. There are many things of this life that can cause us to “shrink back,” to not “take the risk of letting go” such as the loss of loved ones, broken relationships, tragedy, illness, pain, hardships, past hurts, struggles with shame and the shear feeling of brokenness. Any of these single circumstances or even a combination of more, can move us to a place in which we “fear that things will never be the same again,” or “fear that things will never get any better,” thus causing us to lose hope.
Isaiah says the Lord has a different message for anyone walking in any degree of doubt and fear during this Christmas season: “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand!” The very Creator of the universe, the ONE who fashioned you and I with His very hands – sent His one and only Son, Jesus, unto us to redeem us by His death on The Cross. In our times of weakness, discouragement, or disillusionment, He will strengthen us in hope by and through His promises. Therefore, we have nothing to fear that this world has to offer. God holds us in the very Hollow of His Hand, and nothing (regardless of how devastating or difficult it may seem) is ever allowed to touch our lives without first being sifted through His fingers like sand through a sieve. The Lord says, “I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand!” And what a mighty hand it is to behold as we set our gaze upon Him and reach out for Him to take hold of us. He is most often waiting on us to simply let go and fall back into the Hollow of His Hand.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the true hope and peace only You can provide through Your Son, Jesus, our Savior. Thank You for the promise that we need not fear or be dismayed, for You are our Mighty God – the Creator of the universe. You are our ultimate source of strength and ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). What a comfort it is to know that You hold our very lives in the palm of Your loving, righteous hand. May You strengthen us with Your promises and through the power of Your Spirit within us to overcome any type of fear in our lives as we surrender to Your will. Thank you, Lord, for sending Your Son, Jesus into this world in order to save us and make us right with You, therefore, we need not fear. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are the pure in heart
For they shall see God.”
We know from the Book of Genesis, that we were uniquely created in the very image of God with His desire for us to come to see Him, to love Him, and ultimately “know” Him. It has been said that “the more time we spend with our Lord, the more accustomed we become to His face.” This meaning that we, not being able to physically see God, are able to know His character intimately, recognize His works around us, and witness the power of His transformation in our own lives. This gradual transformation comes through salvation in Christ our Savior, knowledge of God’s word, and the work of His Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
However, there is a distinct qualifier that must be present in the life of a believer in Christ that opens the eyes of the heart to “see God.” All throughout scripture there is woven a theme of moral purity, but not for the sake of outer appearance, rather for the inner purity of the heart which demonstrates a sincere love for God and a desire to live a life of purity through Him. The psalmist David prayed sincerely in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast (immoveable) spirit within me” and in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God, are a broken spirit (humble spirit), a broken and contrite heart, in these, O God, you will not despise.” Purity of the heart is an intentional commitment to pursue the thoughts, will, and mind of God by living a life focused on what pleases Him, placing utmost value on things that matter eternally, rather than the fleeting pursuits and empty desires of this earthly life.
The promise of Christ we find here is that as we seek to be pure in heart, we will see more evidence of God’s presence, His work, and His power in and around our lives. In our efforts to see God more clearly, it is the darkness of sin or even the “good things” of this life that can become distractions which blind us to this blessing. This blessing is possible only with our intentional pursuit of our portion of the promise which requires a commitment to pursue a pure heart above all things in order that the spiritual eyes of our heart be opened to see God. Today, we just like David, can ask God to “create in us a pure heart” and a “steadfast spirit” enabling us to pursue Him more closely.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for this day and the promise that as we pursue a heart of purity, we will indeed be able to see You more clearly. Help us through the power of Your Spirit, Lord, and the faith You’ve given us to walk more closely with You. Create in us today, a heart which is full of purity, and renew a steadfast, immoveable, humble spirit that will open our spiritual eyes that we might see You. Give us a desire to know You more deeply, see You more clearly, and follow You more nearly. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall be shown mercy.”
God sent His one and only Son Jesus into the world on a mission of ultimate love and the greatest act of mercy (unmerited divine favor and compassion) as He lived a sinless life, yet He came to die on the cross for our sins. Where we deserved death, Christ took our sentence upon himself, and we were pardoned through God’s great mercy and forgiveness. The focus of this Beatitude is the commission of those whom know Christ to be vessels of mercy toward others, as in expressing a temperament of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, being willing to take on another’s sadness or grief as one’s own. This willingness to enter into such difficult times in the lives of others without regard for one’s own interests or the personal sacrifice and risks which may be involved, but a commitment to demonstrate graceful, compassionate companionship. Even silently grieving with someone is a form of showing compassionate mercy.
Such demonstrations of mercy do not require that we fully understand the circumstances of another, nor that we have answers for them. But when we, with a heart of humility and gratitude, are willing to come along beside those who are hurting and brokenhearted, pouring out the merciful gift of grace over them even as they have been turned away by others, we ourselves receive the promise of mercy. With the blessing promised for those who show mercy to others in this life, the promise of Jesus here is that bountiful amounts of mercy are being stored up for them as a heavenly reward. With this promise, there will most certainly be tests of our patience and the need for us to come with a heart of humility to the Lord ourselves, asking for His forgiveness and grace, so that we are able to continue to impart His “divine mercy” upon those around us.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You first and foremost for the greatest gift of mercy You could have ever given us, which is salvation through Your one and only Son, Jesus. He is our true source of hope and the picture of mercy as He showed such deep compassion for those He encountered in His everyday ministry here on earth leading up to giving His life for us on the Cross. As we walk life’s journey, may we be quick to show mercy and compassion to others even when it seems not to be deserved, just as ultimately, we were shown Your great mercy when we were yet undeserving. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
For they shall be filled.”
“Righteousness” spoken of here is the very “moral perfection” of God, His very attributes pursued and practiced in our own lives due to a desire to fall more in love with Jesus and to serve Him only. There are many things of this world in which we can be moved to “hunger and thirst” after, driven by our own natural desires, only to find that such things are always fleeting, never providing lasting fulfillment. A genuine hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God can never be merely a religious practice, for false pursuits after righteousness are easily recognized as counterfeit by the Lord and those around us. Being filled with the righteousness of God is only possible through a sincere desire to walk more closely with the Lord in prayer, study of His word, and a willingness to be led by the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The following statement reflects the Lord’s emphasis on the condition of the heart as it relates to the Pursuit of True Righteousness:
God regards the state of the heart as of supreme importance. He does not consider that we can have clean hands if we do not possess a pure heart…But the purity of heart has a wonderful reward reserved for it – the vision of God…Here as elsewhere, there is an essential connection between the grace and the reward. Sin blinds the soul; purity is clear-eyed in the spiritual world. Moreover, it is only to the pure in heart that the vision of God can be a reward.
(W.F. Adeney,Five Gate to Happiness: Homiletics Commentary)
Therefore, it is in a desire to pursue the righteousness of God, and having the willingness to be used of God to have this righteousness overflow from one’s own heart into the lives of others, does the true blessing come. As stated above, “It is only to the pure in heart that the vision of God can be a reward.” The blessing of being filled with the goodness, joy, and peace of God comes only through the hunger and thirst for the things that are most precious to Him. As Christ came to save, His earthly ministry also involved revealing to His followers and to us what most pleased His Father. By living in the righteousness of God, we are truly blessed and share that blessing as our lives overflow into the lives of others.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You today for Your promise to both bless and fill our lives with more of Yourself as we pursue righteousness. May our lives reflect Your goodness, joy, grace, mercy, and kindness toward others resulting from a sincere desire to walk more closely with You. May we indeed, hunger and thirst for Your righteousness moment by moment, day by day. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.”
For one to be “meek” is to “have or show a quiet and gentle nature,” being able to bear up under difficult trials, hardships, or suffering. Meekness described here is characteristic of a person of “quiet strength,” one who is humble and modest in spirit. Such individuals possess an underlying source of strength that demonstrates love and compassion in all circumstances, as the Apostle Paul reminds us – “love endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)
Many are those in this world who are grasping for as much of what the king of this world (Satan) can offer them, with the belief that they are indeed “inheriting” or gaining their kingdom here. But we as true children of God are called not to make it our cause to chase after the fleeting things of this world, but as Jesus pointedly remarks, “our kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36) For in due time, Christ will return establishing a “New Heaven” and a “New Earth” which will then, be a part of our great inheritance. Therefore, our need here is not to avenge ourselves in order to hold onto certain dreams, passions, possessions, or positions of power, for Christ should be our focus and living in light of eternity our mission. Thus, we are able in Him, to live with meekness through His quiet strength.
Meekness requires a necessary level of Courage – calculated, intentional faith in action which produces this “strength to endure,” even in the midst of the fiery trials and storms of life, whether set in motion from within or from without. We hold to a promise here in Christ, if we possess a spirit that is gentle and humble in heart, walking in the meekness of His strength, we will be able to navigate the sometimes troubled waters of this life without wavering in our faith journey. Meekness from a worldly viewpoint is in most cases seen as a weakness of mind and/or character, but when looked upon by our heavenly Father, those who are meek become some of His greatest servants. For in them is a quiet, moldable spirit of humility and faith-filled courage which will be rewarded.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You today for the promise that You are always with us, empowering us with a spirit of meekness found in Your strength. May we faithfully walk in such a spirit of meekness born out of putting our faith in action producing the courage within us to continue moving forward regardless of our circumstances. Grant us a spirit to walk humbly today with You our God. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.”
In order to speak adequately to the promises presented to us by Jesus here in verse four, we must first understand what it is to “Mourn.” This verb means “to feel or express great sadness, sorrow, grief, and/or a deep sense of suffering” caused by a life-changing event such as the loss of someone or the loss of something meaningful in one’s life. The “mourning” or “grieving” process is a necessary and often beneficial part of the human experience from a holistic prospective – mentally, emotionally, physically, and certainly spiritually. The Lord is decisively drawn to those who are mourning, hurting, struggling, and who are brokenhearted.
According to the promises of Christ, we are indeed, “Blessed” through this process of mourning as such circumstances often cause us to press closer into a deeper dependence upon the Lord for comfort, strength, and hope for our future. We are, first and foremost, called to mourn over sin in our lives which separates us from close intimacy in relationship with our Savior. Secondly, however, there are many occasions along life’s journey which present opportunities to appropriately mourn, and therefore receive the promise that we will be both blessed and comforted. In such circumstances, it is the truth of God’s promises, His continual presence in our lives through His Spirit, along with close friends in the faith that become our greatest sources of His comfort.
As we walk through the valleys of mourning over life-changing events, we are promised the hope of being comforted here, this side of eternity. This comfort will come as we press closer to Jesus in prayer and speak His truth over our lives daily, finding moments of stillness and peace with the Lord which will be like medicine for the soul. The Lord promises to comfort and carry us through times of mourning – to be our ultimate source of strength and eternal hope as we take small steps of obedience toward Him. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) Regarding seasons or circumstances of life for which we struggle to find comfort and answers, Pastor Johnny Hunt comments, “When we can’t trace the hand of God in our lives, we can trust His heart.” Our heavenly Father is always good and always has in mind what is best for us, even when we cannot understand the difficult things for which He is still working out in and through our lives.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You today for Your promise that anyone who knows You as Savior and Lord will be blessed and comforted as we walk through times of mourning. Regardless of the depths to which we experience sorrow, grief, pain, and loss in this world, we will always find our source of strength, comfort, and hope for eternity in You. Reminds us often of Your promises and Your very presence within us, especially in the valleys of mourning we may be called to endure along life’s journey. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
During the holiday mad rush of department stores, Christmas parades, and the search for that next ‘new thing’ which will appear to make life new, fresh, and meaningful we can easily miss what's most important. One of the greatest gifts Jesus provides this side of eternity is a life-long "blessing" for those whom He refers to as being "poor in spirit." As Matthew recorded the ‘Beatitudes,’ which are the beginnings of Jesus’ well-known ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ we learn more of what Christ offers us not only during the Christmas season, but in all seasons of life. When Jesus speaks of those being “Blessed who are poor in Spirit,” He is referring to all who realize their need for and dependence upon Him for this life’s journey.
In our western culture we are among the most wealthy nations in the world, yet also in many ways impoverished spiritually. Our society elevates money, possessions, power, influence, and success above those who are downcast, the struggling, the outcast, and a sense of superiority above those whom they deem of a lesser class of people than themselves. This is the skewed view of a common love for our fellow man, the false sense of contentment, joy, and the happiness so many attempt to gain from worldly prosperity of many kinds. It is also the cause for further distance from the understanding of our desperate need for God, and why Christ Jesus came into the world.
Jesus came into the world that we would have life in Him, and have it to the fullest (John 10:10) through a personal relationship with Him. However, there are so many things of this world that are distractions, even ‘good things,’ but they can cause us to be blinded to our need for God and His provisions for every area of our lives. In referencing the second half of verse 3, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Christ leads those who are poor in spirit to consider the hope of eternal life, and moves them to faith and assurance along this journey with the promise of their heavenly inheritance.
For those who are poor in spirit their ultimate and eternal hope is in the kingdom of heaven, not of this world. As we begin this season to celebrate the birth of our Savior, there is so much of which we can demonstrate with a heart of gratitude for all our Lord has done for us in Christ. Even if we find ourselves walking a path of grief, suffering, or pain during this time we are promised by our Lord that “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the promise that when we are poor in spirit, the genuineness of our heart and spirit in dependence upon You, draws Your gaze. In this season of celebration, may we demonstrate kindness and love for our fellow man which comes through the love that You first showed us. May we find true peace and rest in You even as we walk through times of grief, suffering, or hardship as we realize you Bless those who are poor in spirit. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Thanksgiving Day is always a special occasion we set aside each year to show gratitude and thankfulness for all we’ve been blessed with by the Lord. However, the journey to “thanksgiving” is often through the path of difficult trials, hardships, and especially the daily battlefield of the mind. Thanksgiving has a way of cultivating in us a heart of gratitude that sometimes is only reached by means of adversity and circumstances that move us to more desperately seek the Lord. These circumstances provide us with an opportunity to experience a deeper closeness with the Lord and a greater appreciation for who He is and all He has done for us. Paul first instructs us to “Rejoice in the Lord always…” Why? “The Lord is near.” How easy we forget in moments of confusion, disillusionment, or despair that the Lord is near. He is “ever-present” with us in all things, in every situation, every circumstance - He is near, especially to all who call on His name.
“Do not be anxious about anything,” is probably one of the most challenging biblical directives given by the Lord, because by nature we are creatures of “control,” yet there is so much in this life out of our hands. A wise friend once shared we me that this one directive is in itself a life-long process as we grow in our faith in God and His promises. The crossroads between faith and fear, anxiety and peace, is not often an easy one in which to navigate. But Paul gives us some insight into finding the Lord’s peace and having our hearts guarded from the anxiety that can keep our hearts and minds in a perpetual state of chaos. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition (a sincere, specific request), with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Along with the request must come a heart of thanksgiving, recognizing all that God has provided for us in so many ways – past, present, and promises for our future.
Finally, Paul gives us the tremendous promise of simple obedience in “casting our cares on the Lord with thanksgiving,” which comes in the form of a reward: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” In these times of anxiety, despair, or confusion we may feel “less than spiritual,” however, God simply calls us to reach out to him with sincere requests accompanied by thanksgiving, with the promise that He will guard our hearts and our minds through our relationship in Christ, our Savior. We have a heavenly Father who promises to never leave us to walk our journey alone, but rather invites us to “Cast our cares upon Him because He will sustain us.” (Psalm 55:22)
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the opportunity on this Thanksgiving Day, to honor and praise You for who You are and all the blessings You’ve poured over my life beginning with redeeming me through Your Son Jesus, my Savior. Thank You for the promise of guarding my heart and mind in Christ Jesus as I faithfully seek You in prayer, making specific requests with thanksgiving. You are a good, good Father who desires to bless Your children as we further surrender our lives to You, inviting You into the daily circumstances of our lives. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea: and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.”
Two things we know of the Israelite people is that they spent a lot of time in the desert wilderness being led by Moses at the direction of the Lord, and we know they spent much time being anxious about many things they encountered along the journey. Through much of their anxiety they certainly questioned Moses their leader, and even began to question their God. Anxiety tends to bring to the surface of our faith the weaknesses that need to be addressed. Anxiety literally means a fear or nervousness about events, circumstances, or unknown things that might happen. It is an “anticipatory” emotion that can consume massive amounts of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual energy if not kept in check. The Israelite's wilderness journey began by way of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army in hot pursuit. That would cause me to become a little bit anxious - a raging sea in front of me and a massive army closing in behind me. But God had promised to protect His people, and we know from scripture He parted that raging sea allowing His people to cross, followed by His closing of the sea which engulfed and destroyed the entire massive army of Egyptians. God delivered!
Now having spent many days in the wilderness, the people were anxious because their water supply was bitter, but God made it sweet (Exodus 15). God delivered! Continuing their journey into the wilderness the people were hungry with little to eat and began to complain, yet the Lord rained down bread from heaven with specific instructions for partaking of His provision each day (Exodus 16). God delivered! Having journeyed a farther distance from their first water source, the people again became thirsty, complaining to Moses and were almost ready to stone him. Therefore, he prayed to the Lord and God once again provided water for the people of Israel to drink in the desert. Along each stage of their journey, God met their needs despite their anxiety, despite their complaining and discontentment, the Lord remained faithful because He had complete knowledge of their destination. In his book, The Anxious Christian, Rhett Smith comments on this journey of the Israelites with its similarities to ours, and how God uses each stage for a purpose:
Exodus 17:1 continually reminds me that we are people in the wilderness. There is just no way around it. The reality of life is that we are constantly moving from one big transition to another. At moments we experience a respite from the journey, but that doesn’t alter the fact that life is rooted in the wilderness experience of continuous transition and choice. One of the reasons we experience anxiety is that God is persistently trying to move us through the wilderness, because it is in that wilderness that we are most dependent upon Him. It is in that wilderness experience that God shapes us into the people He desires us to become. (pg.45)
Today, what is God trying to move you toward through the anxious moments in the wilderness of your journey? What is it in your life today that appears to be an obstacle causing anxiety, that God can actually use as an opportunity to draw you closer to Himself? God can use even our deepest struggles with anxiety, depression, or life’s everyday struggles to mold and shape us into the unique individuals He’s calling us to become? Remember today that God is with us in the Wilderness of our Anxiety.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for this day You have made, let us find true joy and delight in You even as we find ourselves in seasons or circumstances which seem like we’re walking in a wilderness. Lord, remind us that You are ever-present, always with us on this journey promising to never leave us, especially when we experience anxiety often driven by both uncertainty of the future and what may appear to be insurmountable obstacles in our path. May we gain assurance to press on from the countless examples of Your presence and provision for Your people found in scripture. Father, give us spiritual eyes to see what You are desiring to accomplish within us even through our anxieties. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“For you created my inmost being;
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made
in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths
of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”
I have found over the course of this life there is a battle for our identity with regard to our true value, worth, and sense of ultimate purpose as many competing thoughts, feelings, and perceptions jockey for position with this vital element of our relationship to God. The Bible does tell us that we were uniquely created, given spiritual gifts to use for God’s purposes, and that He has infinite knowledge of our lives as His immeasurably valued, unconditionally loved children. However, our life’s perspective can be marred by traumatic events, past experiences, false assumptions, and subtle lies of the enemy that we have believed about ourselves for so long that they hinder us from understanding how God intimately knows, sees, loves, and intends to use us for His glory and purposes.
Many of us were raised with certain expectations placed on us by others or plagued by misconceptions within our own minds about who we are (our true identity), as well as who or what we are going to become. Often those expectations are misleading, based on someone else’s unfulfilled expectations, our own misconceived ideas of who and what God desires for us to become, or are driven by those subtle lies from our enemy. This kind of inner turmoil within the human mind and heart creates a blurred filter through which we view ourselves and others, unable to clearly see how God truly sees us and what He desires for us as His beloved children. It is only the Lord, our Creator Himself, who is able to see with complete clarity who we were truly created to be as He works in and through all things in our lives for our good and His ultimate glory. (Romans 8:28)
The Psalmist David penned such words of assurance regarding God’s delight in creating us, His purpose for our lives, and the truth that the Lord has infinite knowledge of the exact number of our days here on earth. “For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb....All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” In seasons when life appears completely upside down, and you wonder if God is working and still has plans for your life, believe in faith that He knows far more than we can possibly understand about what He desires to do in and through our lives. It is so often through the detours, crossroads, and the challenges of life that God accomplishes His greatest work within us, using some of our most difficult circumstances of pain and suffering to draw us into a closer relationship to Him than we’ve ever experienced in our faith journey before.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You today for being our Creator and the One who in infinite wisdom is the very “Author of Life” having complete knowledge of our days. As the Psalmist David wrote, “You knit us together in our mother’s womb…we are fearfully and wonderfully made” in Your image for Your glory and purposes. In Your knowledge of our days, we rest in assurance that You have great plans and purposes for our lives as we both surrender to and pursue Your will for us. Lord, You remind us of Your divine plans in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Furthermore, You reveal more of Your purpose for us in the Apostle Paul’s writing in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are (Your) masterpiece. Created new in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things (You) have already planned for us long ago.” (NLT) Father, may we walk in these truths today as Your beloved children having been uniquely created by You and for You, with tremendous value and purpose as we are continually being made new in Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who finds delight in his commands. His children will be
mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be
blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness
endures forever. Even in the darkness, light dawns the upright,
for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.”
Finding the Light of the Lord each day is as necessary for our spiritual growth, as the natural light of the sun is essential to the process of photosynthesis (natural plant growth). “For God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5), speaks of the Lord’s very nature; one of hope, strength, grace, and power. According to the psalmist here, who remains anonymous, the beginning of finding this light and remaining in it day by day, is to ‘Seek and Praise the Lord!’ We have so much to praise God for in our lives, beginning with our salvation through Jesus, along with praising Him as our Creator, Provider, Protector, Sustainer, and the very Author of our lives – ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28).
In humility, recognizing that our very existence, having been created in the very image of God, the psalmist guides us into understanding God’s blessing – ‘Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds delight in his commands.’ Blessed meaning, “to have a sacred nature, being connected with God” which comes from Fearing the Lord, having a ‘reverent awe for God, and a daily willingness to live under His authority.” Another key component of being blessed in the Lord, is ‘to find delight (to take great pleasure or find satisfaction) in His commands,’ meaning that one has a strong desire to live within the sacred boundaries set forth by God in His word which He knows will keep us on the right path toward a deeper relationship with Him.
The benefits of praising and fearing the Lord, go beyond the individual, and are passed down from one generation to another as the seeds of faith are sown. The psalmist writes to the one who fears the Lord; ‘His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.’ Here, the reference to be mighty is certainly an indication of being mighty in the eyes of the Lord as the next generation develops their own genuine fear of the Lord and a strong desire to live a life serving and pleasing to Him. The psalmist proclaims in turn, ‘the next generation of the upright will be blessed’ in the Lord as well. Within the house of those who are righteous are wealth and riches, which speak of the spiritual blessings found only in the Lord, not merely worldly riches. Furthermore, that righteousness of the one who praises and fears the Lord will last forever, in this life and throughout all eternity.
As the psalmist concludes, he places emphasis on the promise of God shining light on those who seek Him – ‘Even in the darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.’ God’s light in our lives is so essential to overcome darkness and sin, to continue to light the path of our spiritual journey, and most importantly to keep our gaze set upon the hope that is only found in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is in walking out our faith journey with the Lord, even in times or seasons of suffering and sharing our faith with others, that our own family generations continue to see the light of the Lord, but also those around us would come to ‘Fear the Lord’ as they see His glorious light shining into the darkest valleys of our lives.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Lord and Master, I thank You for being our ultimate source of hope, light, and truth which become more real in our faith journey as we surrender more of our lives to You, living to fear You alone above all else. In You, Lord, we will always find light, for in You there is no darkness as even the darkness is as light to You. “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light becomes night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You.” (Psalms 139:11-12) Bless us, Lord, as we delight more and more in Your commands, desiring to be a light to those around us. Thank You, Father, for the eternal wealth and riches You have already blessed us with in Christ, which are beyond compare to the earthly riches of this world that so easily pass away. Today, may we praise You and fear You, Lord, walking in the light of Your Spirit and Truth. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“The Lord works righteousness and justice
for all the oppressed.”
When the “battle” seems fierce, our tendency can be to take our gaze away from God and place it on our outwardly or inwardly circumstances. There are many occasions when our inner battle is more fierce than our outward battle because of our enemy’s ability to cloud our minds' focus from the truth of who we are in Christ and the promises of God to us. The enemy seeks these opportunities to defeat us spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, and relationally. These are all aspects of our lives in which God created us in His image as holistic beings to be in relationship with Him, but are all areas of our lives where we can be attacked by the “flaming arrows of the enemy” (Ephesians 6:6). The dark or demonic forces of the “heavenly realms” spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians, are not physical cartoon-like demons lurking around every corner, but rather spiritual beings used of our enemy to whisper subtle lies into the deepest recesses of our souls in order to distract us, disillusion us, and to distort the very truth of the word of God.
In verse six of Psalm 103, David writes, “The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed,” meaning that when we experience any type of ‘oppression’ God remains faithful to be with us, never leaving us, all the while fulfilling His promise to “complete the good work he has begun in us.” (Philippians 1:6) Some of the less visible broken aspects of the human condition in this world such as depression, anxiety, uncertainty about the future, or simply the heaviness of life can cause a sense of oppression – which in turn can cause feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and powerlessness. We can, if not careful and alert, be drawn away by our thoughts, feelings, and the subtle lies whispered by our enemy – losing sight of the very promises of God regarding who we are in Him, and His promises to carry out His plans for our lives. Our enemy and his dark forces would surely despise us at any point claiming the very truth of God that sets us free, because with freedom comes transformation, and ultimately, with transformation in Christ comes lives redeemed for His glory and purposes.
Remember today that God is decisively drawn to those who are hurting, oppressed, and weighed down by the heaviness of this life’s journey. When and if we arrive in such a place, our first step toward renewed hope and freedom in Christ is total, complete surrender of every area of our lives to the Lord, trusting in His promises. He will work out His righteousness within us, even as we experience oppression of many kinds whether outwardly or inwardly. There is always help, hope, and power available to us in Christ our Savior, the promises of God’s word, and through the Holy Spirit within us as we seek the Lord in knowledge, prayer, and daily surrender to Him in humility.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for Your compassion and mercy toward those who feel oppressed along life’s journey. You promise to hear our cry as we call out to you when we experience oppression of any kind, but especially the outcry of those walking through the less visible broken aspects of the human condition. Lord, You are faithful to draw near to us in seasons when oppression takes the form of crushing anxiety, dark depression, or overwhelming life circumstances as we surrender these areas of our lives to You. Thank You for the true hope, renewed life, and restored strength You provide for us as we draw near to You, and You in turn, draw near to us. (James 4:8) In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
"Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus."
The secret to moving ahead is reaching forward. Generally, readers are not usually given the “key point” to a message until sometime after the author has provided some background information and possibly an illustration leading up to such a time as to present that element of the story to the audience. In this case, however, it would serve us best to get right to the Apostle Paul’s point, “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.”
Getting Back Up Again is one of the most difficult challenges on our journey through this life when pain, hardship, or recurring difficult circumstances become our companion. God’s greatest desire for us is close spiritual intimacy and fellowship with Him, however, we must realize that one of His most effective tools for bringing about this spiritual maturity in us is “suffering,” as it has a unique way of gaining our attention. In fact, Paul’s desire was to “know the power of Christ’s resurrection and share in His sufferings,” (Philippians 3:10) as a means to identity more intimately with His Lord and Savior. Well-known author and theologian, C.S. Lewis, states in his book, The Problem of Pain; “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” I recently heard an amazing sermon on suffering in which the speaker said, “What the world needs to see more than anything is Christians who are walking through suffering, yet still remain faithful to God in the process.” We are pilgrims walking on a journey through this life in a world of brokenness and there will be days when we’ll find ourselves needing to get back on our feet again. I’ve learned there’s nothing in yesterday’s shattered memories that can help me reach forward to take hold of my Savior's hand today. If we take our eyes off of the eternal hope we’re offered through Jesus for each new day, we will more easily be shaken and prone to fall again.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for this new day which is filled with eternal hope because You have laid hold of my life through Your son, my Savior, Jesus. Thank You for the promise that You are working in all things (even suffering) for my good (Romans 8:28) and for the purpose of drawing me nearer in relationship to You. May I not look behind, but instead, press on reaching forward pursuing You as You pursue me, often speaking most clearly through my suffering and pain. I pray for Your strength and grace within me to endure the trials along life’s journey in faith, along with perseverance to get back up again when I fall. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
1 Peter 5:6-7
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the word “Desperate” literally means having lost hope, moved to despair, or suffering extreme need. Realistically looking at any situation or season in our lives involving trials, pain, hardship, loss, tragedy, etc. – and to be lacking hope in any of the heavy situations listed above would only compound the circumstances of life leaving us simply attempting to survive. Losing our hope, falling into deep despair suffering at the hands of our circumstances attempting to walk through life in our own strength will leave us frail and broken, bruised and battered at best. We were simply not created to “do life” on our own, but rather to invite God into our circumstances, calling on Him hour by hour, moment by moment to be a part of each and every detail of our lives because He cares for us.
But as the Apostle Peter explains here, the conditions of our hearts must be right as we come to the Lord, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time (In His perfect time).” First, we must approach our Lord without pride, meaning without a sense of self-sufficiency or thinking of ourselves in terms of what we can work through and work out in our own strength. Secondly, we must daily come under the authority of God, surrendering every area of our lives to His guidance, wisdom, direction, and our will according to His promises. Daily humbling ourselves and surrendering our lives to the Lord, as acts of faithful obedience, opens the opportunity for God to lift us out of our trials in His timing. This promise of deliverance comes through God’s infinite wisdom in completing His work in us during various season of life. In the midst of this process we are reminded by Peter that God is a “hands-on God,” who delights in taking part in our lives as he encourages his readers to, “Cast all your anxiety (cares, burdens) on him (God) because he cares for you.” The Psalmist echoes this promise in Psalm 55:22, “Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous (those who live for Him) be shaken.” God has not created us and simply left us to journey this life alone, but rather redeemed us through His son, Jesus Christ, desiring for us to have an ongoing, intimate relationship with Him. Living with a daily mindset that we desperately need Him working in and through our lives will always produce within us the life-giving hope of Christ Jesus our Savior, keeping us from the darkness of despair as we walk more closely with Him as Lord.
Today, if you feel you’re hope is fading and despair is pressing in, know that God your Creator and Sustainer (the one who gives you ever breathe) is standing ready for you to cast your cares and anxieties upon Him. Draw near to Him with a spirit of humility saying, “Lord, I can’t do this life anymore in my own strength; I desperately need You.” Rest in Him today by remaining desperate for Him, inviting Him into your immediate circumstances because He is listening and is faithful to hear the prayers of His children.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Lord, there are many circumstances in our lives which can produce in us feelings of hopelessness, despair, and utter brokenness. It is in these very circumstances that we truly realize how desperately we need You working in and through our lives. You hold out to us the promise that when we surrender to You in humility, under Your mighty hand, we will be lifted up and out of our suffering in Your perfect timing. Thank You for inviting us to cast all of our burdens and cares upon You, because You so deeply love and care for us unconditionally. Thank You for the promise to “sustain us” on life’s journey as we daily surrender and understand our desperate need for You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“He (Jesus Christ) is the image of God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.”
How many of us have come to those moments of life when it seems our world is falling apart? It appears there is no order to the chaos happening all around us, we just know that at any moment the pieces of our lives will crumble beneath our feet. These moments can come in many forms such as difficult relationships, financial struggles, health issues, unexpected challenges, chaos in our home, chaos in our world, or even the chaos that can sometimes plague our minds. Within these momentary or even seasonal circumstances the word “order” would probably be the last adjective we would use to describe our experience. However, Paul had a much different message for the Colossians and for us today as well.
His message begins and ends with the One who is truly the “center of the universe,” our Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the image of God, the first born over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created for him and by him.” This passage is a picture of Jesus as God in human form, and at the time you and I were created along with all other things in the universe, Jesus was there, creating everything with perfect design and order. We know that sin entered the world, thus allowing brokenness and chaos to become a part of everyday life. However, in Christ, we are not left alone without hope to our own reasoning devices, attempting to work it all out, or to put all the pieces back together. When our earthly future is uncertain, the challenges and obstacles of life are pressing in, the pain seems too much to bear, or there appears to be no way of rescue. Paul says of Jesus, “He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.” God can make a way where there seems to be no way.
Today, regardless of our circumstances God is unchanging and our lives are being “held together” by a compassionate, loving, and mighty Savior. A close relationship with Jesus and an understanding that God is a “God of order,” whose promises are true and He is the One who is ever-present, even in the most difficult circumstances of life, gives us renewed hope to take small steps forward with assurance. What a promise we have that Jesus is with us in the midst of all things and that “all things” including our sometimes, broken lives, are held together by Him. If you encounter moments of hopelessness, despair, confusion, or feel the heaviness of life weighing you down, remember that the very Creator of the universe holds you in the palm of His hand. Therefore today, walk in faith moment by moment through simple steps of obedience, trusting in the promise that Jesus will hold you together.
Connecting Faith & Life:
God help us! We need you desperately to hold us together in difficult moments, on days filled with doubt, and in seasons of life that produce great uncertainty. Lord, You are a “God of Order,” not of chaos and confusion who leaves us to walk life’s journey alone. You are a faithful Father, who promises to hold us together despite the most challenging seasons and circumstances of our lives. Thank You, for the truth that You are “before all things, and in You all things are held together,” including every detail of our lives as we daily surrender to You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”
One keystone of the Apostle Paul’s ministry which we are made keenly aware of was his dedication to constantly and consistently pray for the people God placed in his sphere of influence. Within every letter he wrote, every church in which he spoke, he took opportunities to pray specifically with and for those individuals or groups regarding things he understood were necessary for their spiritual journey in Christ. Prayers on occasions could be warnings, on other occasions they could be words of encouragement, and yet other times, specific instructions for righteous living according to the law of God and the words of Christ.
Here on this occasion, we find Paul praying specifically for the people, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness (meaning the fruits of the spirit) that comes through Jesus Christ.” He concludes with an emphasis on the purpose of it all, “to the glory and praise of God.” We can see not only Paul’s care and compassion for this people group, but also his desire to see them grow in their knowledge and relationship with Christ, their Savior and Lord, through a greater knowledge of Him, which would lead to lives lived in holiness evidenced by the Fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Spiritual discernment is one of the greatest virtues we can both practice and pray for on behalf of ourselves and others as there are so many conflicting world philosophies and false assumptions of truth which abound in our society. More than ever in this world, we as believers in Christ need true wisdom and direction that ultimately comes from the Lord through prayer, a greater depth in understanding by studying His word, and the wise counsel of others who also seek to know the will of God for our lives. It would serve us well along our spiritual journey, to follow the example of Paul, taking time to pray for this type of spiritual discernment for one another as we go about our daily lives. This practice is especially beneficial on days when our path is littered with the low-lying fog of anxiety, depression, or simply the heavy things of life which can cause us at times to be blinded more easily to the truth of God’s wisdom and His word.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for being our ultimate source of truth, knowledge, and wisdom in a world that desires to dismiss any form of absolutes. We pray today for a deepening “love of You that would abound more and more in true knowledge and depth of insight,” allowing us to discern what is best according to Your word and Your will for our lives. May our growing love for You along with a greater depth of knowledge and discernment, lead us to live more holy lives (pleasing to You) as we walk the path of life’s journey You have laid out for us. Lord, lead us and guide us through Your wisdom and by Your Spirit as we seek to follow You more closely. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
What do we do when life happens? When multiple aspects of our life’s circumstances change? What if our paradigm of thinking about life, “The Christian Life” was flawed? What if our paradigm of thinking about Christ’s view of us and His desire for us to follow him was as clear as smeared peanut butter on a car windshield? By the way, that’s pretty messy and almost impossible to see through. Basically, the question is, what if our life’s perspective has been faulty for so long that we’ve inadvertently developed an improper view of how BIG our God is and what it means to follow Jesus, devoted to Him in complete surrender as He deeply and unconditionally loves us?
Jesus had a very pointed statement for his disciples here as He speaks to them in the book of Matthew, “If you want to come after me, deny yourself (choose to live according to My teaching – the Word, not according to the world), take up your cross (follow the path I have chosen for you regardless of the pain, trials, or suffering you may endure), and follow me (even if it doesn’t make sense.)” I have spent much of my life with a warped view of God’s love for me even having accepted His son Jesus as my Lord and Savior at a young age. I had been holding onto difficult circumstances that occurred early in my life for which I did not understand and sins of my past that I deemed “unpardonable,” therefore, I would hold myself in condemnation and lacked complete surrender in some areas of my life. The problem with not letting go of these “weights of sin” (Hebrews 12:1) already forgiven of the old self along with experiences God had allowed into my life was that I developed a “works-based mentality,” not for salvation, but for acceptance by God and others. The harder I worked, the more affirmation I received, thus the more accepted I felt by others and by the Lord. When I was excelling at something, I was a good person, a good Christian, a good father, husband, etc. However, you can imagine, when “life seemed to happen” or things appeared to fall apart, “the wheels came flying off” of my proverbial think machine.
The other spiritual catastrophe that took place is that I never learned to see myself as God truly sees me, loving me unconditionally. An accurate, truthful view of God is what unchains us to even begin following Jesus in complete surrender, to take up our cross, and enjoy a fulfilling intimate relationship with Him as Lord over all areas of our lives. Jesus furthers his point with the disciples and us, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his own soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” This is such a vital element of our Christian faith – the importance of not basing our value and worth on power, possession, position, or passion and success in some grand endeavor, over and above our love and commitment to Jesus. I had over the course of life developed a “cannot, will not, and must not fail” mentality because of my own insecurities and lack of true understanding of my value and worth as a child of God, uniquely created in His image.
I was determined to do my best, to be the best, and never fail because in my mind I had to or there was no substance to my life. If I didn’t succeed at what I was doing, in my view I had no worth, no purpose, and at some of my darkest moments very little hope to press on. When Jesus speaks of being “willing to lose our life for His sake,” he’s not referring to us leaving this earth prematurely, but instead being completely surrendered to Him for His glory and purposes. Willing to do whatever he calls us to do, no matter the cost, regardless of the amount of recognition, regardless of what others think, say, or do. We must live daily to fear Him and Him alone above all else, “Seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) which brings us ultimate fulfillment, purpose, and a sense of everlasting hope. Our lives must continually be more about His glory and purposes for us, otherwise we stand to go our own way “gaining what we think is the whole world, yet forfeiting our own soul.” I’m finding out through this journey that the starting point for changing our life’s perspective and truly being able to live in abundant freedom through Christ begins by learning to Fear the Lord. Walking daily in the Fear of the Lord means to be in awe and wonder of Him, setting our gaze upon Him, focusing on His many promises for us, inviting Him into our immediate circumstances, and therefore not being so easily shaken by the things of this world.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, I thank You for this day which presents another opportunity to walk closer with you step by step in learning to fear You alone. I’m thankful for Your word of truth and its power to change our perspective on living a more vibrant Christian life in You. Help us by Your Spirit to hold firmly Your promises to carry us through this journey as we surrender more and more of life to You. Lord, help us daily to deny ourselves and take up our cross (the purpose and calling you have on our lives), seeking You first in all things, thus we will see that “You will increase, but we must decrease.” (John 3:30) May You continue to grant us a more clear and true perspective of who we are in You. Saved by grace, completely forgiven and redeemed, unconditionally loved, and in possession of the greatest source of hope through our Savior, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.