16He reached down from heaven and rescued me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17He rescued me from my powerful enemies,
from those who hated me and were too strong for me.
18They attacked me at a moment when I was in distress,
but the Lord supported me.
19He led me to a place of safety;
he rescued me because he delights in me.
Who of us has not said or at least heard it said, “I’m just trying to keep my head above water,” which usually means we ourselves or someone else we know is experiencing the “heaviness of life” that at times inevitably comes bearing down on us. It’s in these times, seasons, or circumstances when we may feel as if we can’t catch our breath, or if one more thing piles on we’re simply going to proverbially drowned in our circumstances with no hope of survival. This such occasion is where we find the Psalmist David in the early verses of Chapter 18 where he so vividly depicts his desperate situation, “The cords of death have entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.” (vv.5-6) David is describing circumstances in his life where he finds himself in the “depths of distress,” where his enemies were powerful and too strong for him. Our enemies take many shapes and forms – physical, emotional, mental, and certainly spiritual as we see our greatest adversary in our enemy, the devil. He seeks to discourage, confuse, and disillusion us to the truth and promises of God to carry us through any situation, trouble, or season of trial.
“Deep Water” seasons of our lives can find us experiencing such kinds of distress even to the point of feeling utter hopelessness and powerlessness, yet David says there is hope in the Lord our God to rescue us out of our circumstances. He writes, “He (The Lord) reached down from heaven and rescued me; He drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemies…The Lord supported me. He led me to a place of safety; He rescued me because he delights in me.” (vv.16-19) An underlying point of emphasis we see here in David’s writing is the Lord does not delight in our distress, but rather delights (to take great pleasure in someone or something) in us. However, this promise can become easily overshadowed in the midst of struggling with the Deep Waters of depression, anxiety, or the Heaviness of Life – in return, the most precious commodity we possess becomes the very breathe of life by which the Lord restores hope to our weary soul. We must hold onto the truth and promises that God is with us in the “Deep Water” seasons of life, and His delight is to deliver us for our ultimate good for His glory and purposes. Regardless of how difficult our circumstances may become, we like David, must trust that the Lord, “will lead us to a place of safety.”
Connecting Life & Faith:
Father, I thank You this morning that it is Your delight to meet us in the heaviness of life, when we feel as if we’re drowning in Deep Waters, and to rescue us in our time of distress. Thank you for the promise to lead us out of the path of our enemies and into places of safety, for You are our place of refuge. Lord, You are faithful to reach down into the circumstances of our lives as we choose to surrender to You, allowing You to meet us in our time of need. Thank You, that we need not fear the deep waters of life, because even there You are with us. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22
In sharing with His disciples that He would be going to be with His heavenly Father, Jesus understood that they would experience sorrow, but also reassured them that He would see them again. At that time, He also spoke to them saying, “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” There are powerful references in scripture to the ‘Joy of the Lord’ – Nehemiah told his people, “Don’t be dejected and grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Speaking further regarding true joy, Jesus says to His disciples in John 15:5, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John Piper comments on the ‘Fullness of God’s Joy,’ paraphrasing Jesus, “The reason your joy can now be as full as it is and moving toward perfect fullness when all our battle with sin is over is because in union with me, the branch in the vine, you no longer enjoy merely your joy. You now have my joy in you and you enjoy what I enjoy as your joy, as you abide in me.”
The ‘Joy of the Lord’ is being at peace and enjoying a close relationship with the Lord by believing and walking in His truth and promises, regardless of our outward or inward circumstances. Hope (true hope in God and His truth) arises out of the joy we find in the Lord. Hope endures out of true joy as we remain in closeness to the Lord. Hope lasts forever because of the joy we hold onto in the Lord. However, this True Joy is only available to us if we are identified with Christ through salvation and are walking closely with Him. A half-hearted relationship here will not be enough to sustain hope – we must “abide” or remain in Him daily through prayer, scripture meditation, and have our ‘spiritual eyes’ set on Him. Hebrews 12:1-2 remind us of the amazing power of hope and joy displayed in Jesus’ journey through ministry, suffering, and ultimately our redemption through His death, burial, and resurrection. “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
As we see in Hebrews, the power of the Joy of the Lord is immense, all consuming, and able to endure. For many of us, “the race set before us” happens to involve a journey through anxiety, depression, and/or the heaviness of life, yet we are not somehow disqualified from experiencing true joy in the Lord. If you are running this type of race with endurance, looking unto Jesus’ there will be times when the way is unclear and the fog has set in with the struggles of your mind and body, blurring your vision of Jesus. However, it is in these times which we hold onto the joy of the Lord through His promises – and we “wait on the Lord to renew our strength.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for promising us that sorrow will not last forever, and that we can have true joy and hope found in close relationship with You. Help us to lean into you today with small steps of obedience, clinging to You in prayer and speaking Your truth into our circumstances. Thank you for the Fullness of Joy we can have in You and the promise that no one can take that away. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“And from all His fullness we have received grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” John 1:16-17
Within each of us is a natural desire to live a full life – a life of enjoyment, success, complete with a sense of purpose and meaning, along with hope and some measure of contentment. However, within these seemingly ‘good things’ is an emptiness that will exists if we’re missing an essential element of the Christian faith – GRACE (that unmerited, unearned Divine Favor) that rests upon our lives as we accept Christ fully, surrendering every area of life to Him. We should be reminded here that Jesus came into this world representing the “Fullness of God” – His attributes, His character – everything that our heavenly Father is to us is in Christ alone.
The Apostle John writes of us receiving ‘grace upon grace’ originating from ‘all the fullness of God,’ meaning as we become redeemed in Christ, God’s overwhelming grace is poured over us day by day, hour by hour, and moment by moment. John Calvin writes of our condition before Jesus becomes our Savior and Lord, “We are all utterly destitute and empty of spiritual blessings; for the abundance which exists in Christ is intended to supply our deficiency, to relieve our poverty (not merely physical, but spiritual poverty) to satisfy our hunger and thirst.” For it is only God’s grace, truth, and promises that will truly satisfy, relieve, and rescue us from the pits of despair and hopelessness which we may find ourselves in moments or seasons of hardship, suffering, and emptiness.
But what amazing hope we have in God through Christ Jesus as we’re promised a daily supply of His sufficient grace (2 Corinthians 12:9), and that grace is continually heaped upon grace as we press into the Lord, seeking Him, inviting Him into our daily circumstances. On our part is the often challenging, difficult, or painful experience of ‘complete surrender,’ trusting God with our journey regardless of where in and by what circumstance we find ourselves in this season of life. For even in this, God provides to us a measure of faith by which we progressively surrender more of who we are, to become more of who He desires us to be.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the unlimited grace you pour over our lives daily, even when we’re not keenly aware of it. Your abundant grace freely given, strengthens us and carries us through difficult seasons and circumstances of life reminding us that when we are weak You are strong. As You reminded the Apostle Paul, Your grace is always sufficient to meet us where we are providing ongoing hope, strength, and endurance for the journey. Thank you for daily heaping on our lives a generous portion of Your grace upon grace delivered through the personal relationship we have with our Savior, Jesus. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
When someone says the word, “Joy,” thoughts of trials, testing, and opportunities for perseverance are not usually the first things that enter their mind, but rather, more ideally “a sense of great happiness or an emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune (Webster’s Dictionary).” However, here in the opening verses of the book of James, the author is attempting to help his readers grasp the magnitude of the concept behind what he is presenting to them – what may seem an audacious statement, “Consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” What we must understand stand is that the “joy” he speaks of is not based upon the simple definition stated above, but instead, is deeply rooted in a relationship to the One who walks with us through those “trials of many kinds.” Upon further word study regarding the definition of joy, it also carries with it a deeper connection as “a source or cause of delight.” Therefore, with respect to our relationship with the Lord, we find a level of Joy and Delight in our personal connection with Him especially in times of trials and testing.
We also understand that the Lord always knows more about what He desires to do in our lives through occasions and seasons of trials or testing than we’re able to see. He is continually working on our behalf whether we can readily observe Him moving or measure what we might call “tangible results” right in front of us at any given time. James gives us a glimpse into the process by which God uses trials in our lives to mold and shape us into the persons He’s always desired for us to become. “You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Perseverance is the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition (Webster’s) – remaining steadfast. God in His wisdom understands that if our faith is not tested, it with neither be strong nor in our faith will we develop a sense of perseverance in life through which we learn to trust in Him regardless of the circumstances, thus remaining desperate for Him. Finally, as “perseverance finishes its work…we may become mature and complete, not lacking anything,” meaning in each particular trial or season of trials we face, there are opportunities to grow and be made more mature and complete in our faith, if we cling to the Lord persevering in and through Him. This process takes place through small steps of daily obedience – trusting in His promises, inviting Him into our immediate circumstances, and continually setting our gaze upon Him in order to persevere through such times of testing or trials.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for Your faithfulness to carry me through times of trials or testing, developing perseverance in my faith. Help me through the promises of Your word and the presence of Your Holy Spirit in my life to find true joy during those times when You allow my faith to be tested for my good and for Your ultimate glory. I surrender my life to Your will and timing for those seasons of trial to enter my life. You are a good, good Father and know what’s best for my journey. 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?” Matthew 16:24-26
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 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 what it means to follow Jesus and to be 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 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 held onto some sins of my past that I deemed “unpardonable,” therefore, I would hold myself in condemnation for many years, even though God had ultimately set me free through confession, forgiveness, and salvation. The problem with not letting go of these “weights of sin” (Hebrews 12:1) of the old self, 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, employee, etc. However, you can imagine, when life seemed to happen and things fell 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 sees me, and as He loves me unconditionally, which is what unchains us to even begin to follow Him, and take up our cross, and enjoy a fulfilling intimate relationship with Him as Lord of our life in the first place. 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 as a child of God, uniquely created in His image for a purpose.
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 the darkest points along the journey, no reason to go on living. When Jesus speaks of being “willing to lose our life for His sake,” he’s not referring to us ending it 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 am 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 a little 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 as we hold fast to Your promises to carry us through this journey as we surrender more and more of lives to You. Lord, help us to daily deny ourselves and take up our cross (the purpose and calling you have on our lives), seeking You first in all things, by which “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 redeemed, unconditionally loved, and in possession of the greatest source of hope through our Savior, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
15Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Fatherd is not in them. 16For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:15-17
Have you ever been driving home down a familiar road and missed your turn because you were distracted in some way, possibly by a random thought that crossed your mind, or even more unnerving to consider, a conversation you were having with yourself that was taking place? Come on now, you know we’ve all been there when our mind is elsewhere and we find ourselves several miles past the turn toward our destination because we were distracted – it could have been a distraction of simplistic proportions or one of more serious circumstances in our lives. Nevertheless, the Apostle John warns his readers here of ‘Distractions on The Journey’ of life that can draw them away from intimacy and close fellowship with their heavenly Father, leading them down paths away from true hope and life.
He begins with a warning that the ‘things of the world’ have little to offer in the way of spiritual nourishment, healing, restoration, and vitality. “15Do not love the world or anything in the world.” Considering anyone who love the things of the world, John says ultimately, they are chasing after those things - “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” This is a stark warning of our need for God and that the things of this world will never satisfy the deepest longings of the soul – a genuine personal relationship with Jesus, life-giving hope that restores the hopeless, true light which shines in darkness, and the truth of God that we are redeemed and unconditionally loved. Thus, John warns of the snares of the enemy in this world that so easily cause us both false hope and to fall into sin, 16For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—come not from the Father but from the world.”
Each of these Lusts or Pleasures of Life deserve a proper definition for our daily spiritual armor and battle preparations. The Lust of the Flesh refers to sensual pleasures of the eyes, the Lust of the Eyes refers to covetousness or materialism, and the Pride of Life refers to pride in one’s perceived position in society. These lusts, which really can be seen as spiritual matters of the heart, are counterproductive as they become major distractions to both spiritual growth and our true identity in Christ Jesus our Savior, who desires to continue His work in us. John bookends this passage with an essential truth regarding the desires and passions of this life – they are fleeting and will pass away. They will come and go like waves in the ocean tossed back and forth by the undercurrents of life’s circumstances, yet he states, “whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
Today, remember to turn toward Jesus as your source of true identity and contentment, relying on God’s truth and promises, speaking His word over yourself moment by moment if necessary. Take small steps of obedience toward Christ today avoiding the ‘Lusts of the World’ by pressing into the Him, where you will find true peace, rest, and fulfillment traveling on the path He has laid out for your journey. May the desire of your heart be for the love of God to dwell within you through His Spirit day by day.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for this day You have made, let me rejoice in it and find my delight in You alone. May the many distractions of this world continually fade into the background of my life as I pursue You more closely day by day. The things of this world grow strangely dim when I set my gaze on the light of Your glory grace. Give me the strength and will to pursue You Lord above all else, turning away from the things of this world that will not ultimately fulfill my life. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“But our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.” Philippians 3:20-21
I visited a dear friend in his late twenties who found himself in the hospital awaiting a heart transplant and basically a permanent resident there until his new heart arrived or until which time the Lord chose to call him to his heavenly home. Before I comment any further, I will boldly proclaim for my friend that he already has a “New Spiritual Heart” because he has accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior, therefore, if God did choose to call him home today, he would by days’ end be sitting at the very feet of King Jesus. Having walked through the corridors of the hospital I was quickly reminded of how fragile this mortal life is that we’ve been granted by our Creator God – the ONE who created us in His image. However, we understand that when sin entered the world, God’s created order for the world was sent into chaos including the incredibly perfectly functioning body of every human being, therefore, we became subject to pain, disease, and earthly death.
The Apostle Paul refers to these earthly bodies as our “Mortal Bodies” that will eventually be replaced with new bodies which resemble that of Jesus Himself, “He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.” The “power” spoken of here is the amazing power of God, above and beyond any power we can ever imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21) – the power that set all of Creation into existence, the power that defeated our sin and death on the cross, the power that works in our hearts through the Holy Spirit to comfort and strengthen us in times of hardship & pain, and the power that God will use to create new bodies for us in heaven that will be without pain, disease, sickness, anxiety, depression, or any other type of illness. Thus, our hope is in the promise that God is faithful to the promises of His word, that our ultimate home is not this world nor our fragile bodies, and here we are promised that even if in this life our pain, diseases, struggles, or disabilities are not completely removed, God will sustain us, one day granting us a “new and glorious body” as we enter our heavenly home.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You that as believers in Christ we are not “citizens of this world” and these fragile, mortal bodies are not where our hope is found. You are the Creator and Sustainer of life through Your amazing power and I’m thankful for Your eternal promises of new and glorious bodies as we enter our heavenly home. May we continually be strengthened each day by Your word and through the presence of Your Spirit within us knowing that on this journey we are simply passing through. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, and a light on my path.”
A very well-known fact is that it’s difficult to find our way around in the dark especially in unfamiliar places, yet sometimes, even in familiar surroundings we find ourselves disoriented because of the darkness that has fallen upon the landscape. Even in our homes, (I’m sure that I’m not the only one this has ever happened to), when one of your children calls out in the middle of the night, the house is dark, you get out of bed confident you can navigate the living room obstacles in complete darkness. However, as you respond, being confident that your path is clear, without warning you smash your knee on a hardwood end table and with every fiber of your being you attempt not to screech in pain waking the rest of the house. Light is of utmost importance, not merely in this simple illustration, but much more so in life’s journey where God’s word must be “a lamp for our feet, and a light on our path.”
Keeping the path on our journey well illuminated is a daily process of obedience that requires intentional steps beginning with inviting God into our circumstances, desiring for Him to be intimately involved in our lives moment by moment. Secondly, feeding ourselves on His word and speaking the truth of His word over ourselves constantly throughout the day is essential to keeping our path full of light, His light. This is important because the many misguided messages of the world, well-worn paths to dead ends and discouragement, along with the whispers of our enemy can cast the shadows of darkness over the path on which we travel, blinding us to the light of the hope we have in our Savior, Christ Jesus.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank you for your grace and love, your mercy and compassion, your kindness and protection, and your provision as the author of True Life and Light. You are our Good heavenly Father who is righteous and true, generously giving Your Word as a “lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Your word breathes life into the soul who is weary from the journey and shines new light full of hope on the right path allowing those who follow You to press on taking intentional steps of daily obedience. Thank You for being the God who brings The Light! In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not
cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing
spirit, to sustain me.” Psalm 51:10-12
One step, ‘the first step,’ of each morning for so many of us is the most important step each day, for without the first step, the steps following throughout our day may or may not take place. In walking the journey through anxiety, depression, or other life struggles, God is our ultimate source of strength, as He desires to be for everyone. However, in that, we are called to those “simple steps of obedience” spoken of here by the psalmist David. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit (firmly fixed in place; firm in belief) within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” We’re able to draw nearer to the comfort and the strength of God’s Spirit with a clean heart, which only comes through the recognition of, confession, and forgiveness of our sin. As we walk through times of difficulty and suffering, it’s easy to forget that we still fall short daily of God’s perfection, and need His grace, mercy, and forgiveness to cleanse our hearts again. The ability of the Holy Spirit to bring hope, comfort, and strength to us is vital to providing us with the will and ability to press on in Jesus’ name for another day.
There is such strength found in the hope and salvation we have in Christ Jesus for taking those crucial first steps each morning. In the words of Pastor Johnny Hunt, “There is so much that is dependent upon our ‘will’ to do something.” It is in our mind that God has given us a ‘will,’ the free, human desire and ability to take action or remain inactive, to ‘fight or flight,’ in the midst of the difficulties of life. David rightly calls upon the Lord to bring him both joy and sustaining strength through the Holy Spirit; “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” He understood the importance of inviting God into his immediate circumstances, moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day. In a culture which seems to thrive on ‘self-sufficiency,’ the Lord is decisively drawn to those who call upon Him for help, and whose desire is to be drawn closer to Him yearning to have a “clean heart” through His forgiveness, grace, and mercy with each new day. “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Today, I’m reminded of an old Chinese Proverb in which the author appropriately speaks to the importance of taking these daily simple steps of obedience: “To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” As we continue to walk this journey, may we purposefully ‘keep on stepping’ in the strength of Christ, drawing from the hope we have in our salvation, and with a renewed spirit as we call on His name in our time of need. We must continually be reminded to walk in the truth that He is our strength, our sufficiency, our hope, and that He gives our lives ultimate value, purpose, and meaning for each new day.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, today I thank You for Your faithfulness and unending mercy that is renewed in my life every morning. I ask that You create in me a clean heart and a renewed spirit to sustain me regardless of the circumstances I may encounter throughout this day. Thank You for the will and strength through Your Spirit to keep stepping in obedience toward Christ on this journey. May I set my gaze on the joy of my salvation today and the ultimate sense of hope that comes from focusing on You moment by moment. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
11Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.” I was cupbearer to the king.
Have you ever found yourself in a set of circumstances that required a bit of courage on your part? I mean, by definition, what we would call something that required mental, emotional, and especially, spiritual strength to persevere amidst danger, fear, or difficulty. This is obviously not a comfortable place in which to find ourselves in any situation or season of life regardless of the cause. However, this is where the prophet Nehemiah finds himself – right in the crosshairs of courage and fear. He is deeply grieved over the news that his homeland lay in ruin, and his desire is to leave his post as cupbearer to the king, making his way there to assess the damage himself. But he would need permission and provisions to make this long trip possible. What we do know is that before our story picks up with verse eleven, Nehemiah deeply wept and fervently prayed to God over what appeared to be a hopeless situation.
But as author Gene Getz writes, “Nehemiah demonstrates that in our moments of pain and helplessness, we need to remember we have access to God – the One who can help us make our way through life’s greatest moments of darkness.” Nehemiah’s prayer, 11Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man (the king),” is one much like you and I can pray – “Lord, in this moment, please go before me making a way where there seems to be no way.” Very often on our journey, courage in taking the next step is placing our circumstances in God’s hands, and then as difficult as it can be, waiting on Him to move on our behalf as He did for Nehemiah. The important thing to remember is it’s not about the number of steps we take each day, but more so that we continue to take courageous steps of obedience toward Christ one at a time, trusting in Him for the results. Not to leave our story incomplete, God honored Nehemiah’s prayers and granted him favor in the sight of the king allowing him the permission he would need for travel along with the provisions for his mission. God is so often waiting for us to come to Him for what are our everyday needs as well as our greatest needs in moments of crisis. May we take a cue from Nehemiah in seeking God first through prayer when we need courage on the journey.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, I thank You this morning that because of Jesus, I have direct access to You in prayer because I can “boldly approach your throne of grace, that I may obtain mercy and find grace in my time of need.” (Hebrews 14:16) Lord, let your ear be attentive to hear my prayers as I, like Nehemiah, fear (revere) Your name. May I seek You first for courage along the journey as I’m reminded in Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified of them, for the Lord your God goes before you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Father, thank You for the courage you provide through Your word, Spirit, and through prayer. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Acts 13:2-3; 11:22-24
“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,
‘Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.”
(Arriving in Antioch) “News of this (news of revival) reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”
How valuable and powerful are words of encouragement to us in times of hardship, grief, distress, and suffering? Being encouraged literally means to ‘be inspired by someone with courage, spirit, and hope.’ Further, it is a means to ‘make someone more determined, hopeful, and confident.’ There are days when life seems to bring us to the end of ourselves, at which time we can become extremely discouraged, feeling powerless and hopeless to see a clearer path on our journey. God as our greatest source of encouragement sends His hope and encouragement to us through His word, and the comfort of His Spirit. But He also provides encouragement by placing individuals into our lives whose specific purpose is to come along beside us, simply for companionship and encouragement.
We know God had radically changed Paul’s life from one who had a troubled past which included persecuting Christians, yet his life was transformed by Christ, with a new purpose and mission. But God, in His infinite wisdom, understood that Paul would need a close companion, an ‘encourager’ to accompany him along his spiritual journey for the Lord. As our journey in the Lord continues, we need those same type of encouragers in our lives in the form of a close friend, a mentor, a spouse, etc. by which God will continually use to remind us of His truth about who we are in Him, and that we too, like Paul, have a renewed purpose each day.
As Paul and Barnabas were ‘set apart’ for the Lord, so too, we are set apart for His purpose for our lives. As we’re reminded in Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared for us to do in advance.” However, in the moments of life when the truth of God becomes “blurry,” those people whom God has placed in our lives become a conduit for His encouragement empowering us to take that “next” necessary step to live and thrive in Christ for another day. Barnabas encouraged the believers, “to remain true to the Lord with all their all hearts.” When we find ourselves in difficult moments, days, or seasons of uncertainty, God uses these most precious people in our lives to help us to press through and press on in the strength of Christ as Paul was reminded by the Lord in 1 Corinthians 12:9 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Furthermore, quite often after we’ve passed through a storm in our path we find ourselves becoming encouragers to others along their life’s journey.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, today I thank You for being our greatest source of encouragement for this journey through Your word and Spirit. I also thank You that in Your infinite wisdom You place like-minded agents of encouragement in our lives at just the right moments so that we can be reminded of who You are and that we never journey alone. May we draw near to You and may You strengthen us to remain true to You with all of our hearts even when the path is unclear and the future seems uncertain. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
This side of heaven there are many things for which we take out “Insurance Policies” such as our homes, vehicles, and even life insurance all in the name of protecting and preserving what is valuable property. However, on our journey in this life, what’s needed more than “Insurance” is “Assurance” meaning a definitive statement that something will happen or that something is true. Now as a general practice, if an individual has too many accidents or incidents on their car insurance record, the insurance company has a right to drop that individual’s coverage, leaving them ultimately “uninsured.” Conversely, a promise of “Assurance,” especially as it relates to God’s word, never ceases to exist, it never changes in form or fashion, but is always true in its original form regardless of one’s circumstances. God’s assurance for us is always dependable, regardless of our record.
In Isaiah 43 we find the Prophet Isaiah speaking God’s words of assurance to the people of Israel that during times of difficult trial they would not be overtaken by their circumstances. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. These same assurances can be applied to our lives as we continue to take steps forward in our life’s journey this side of heaven, especially when the path gets weary and we become worn. There will be times when life feels like a raging river or an all-consuming fire that is set to overtake us, but the Lord says, “the rivers..shall not overwhelm you” and “the flame shall not consume you.” What profound assurances these are on our journey for on the most difficult of days we will need to reach for them. Remember God assures us, “I will be with you, you will not be overwhelmed, nor will you be consumed, reach out for me, hold onto my promises.”
Father, thank You today that Your word is full of unchanging promises of assurance for us along life’s journey. We can trust that when life seems like a raging river or an all-consuming fire, You are with us, promising that ultimately we will neither be completely overwhelmed nor consumed by our circumstances. Help us to cling to those assurances in faith setting our gaze continually on You for strength and hope to endure. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
20Now 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, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
When we think of God’s provision, we may think of all we’ve been blessed to have as a family, a community, or even our nation. We are ranked among the wealthiest nations in the world, yet interestingly, we have a less impressive ranking when it comes to “happiness” and “contentment.” This fact alone means that less materially fortunate nations are filled with more happiness and contentment with their lives than we are, and they have less “stuff” to keep them happy, content, and occupied. Such an illustration should serve as a stark reminder that God’s provision is not solely for the purpose of our happiness, but ultimately holiness – meaning He desires for us to draw nearer to Him, molding and shaping us more like Himself. Along this journey of transformation, there is the joyous promise that as we pursue the Lord in desperation for His provision, He will do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to His power (The power of His Holy Spirit) that is at work within us.” This same message is echoed again in 1 Corinthians 2:9, “Rather, as it is written: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him."
In desperately seeking the Lord for His provision we come to understand that His desire is not simply to provide the material needs of this world to us, but more importantly, the spiritual. This process may require us to experience times and seasons of suffering to bring about the necessary heart transformation God desires in us. At times we may have overwhelming financial, physical, relational, or other needs that through much prayer, God answers according to His will and purposes making unexplainable or unexpected provision in meeting those needs. On occasion, there are matters of the heart that need His provision, and it’s only in our broken desperation that we find our hope in Him, and He is able to provide “immeasurably more” of the life-breathing power of His Spirit to restore our weary souls than we could ever imagine. Today, it would serve us well to seek what is “best” for our lives by becoming desperate for God’s provision, bringing our requests to Him, because often we settle for what we simply see as “good” in this world by attempting to provide for all our needs in our own strength. As Paul writes, we are indeed in the hands of the One who provides and grants us peace when we bring our requests to God, “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.” (Philippians 4:6-7)
Father, You are our ultimate Provider and able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to Your amazing power and abundant resources. May we be reminded that You desire to be intimately involved in even the most minute details of our lives – meaning there is no request too small nor any so large that You cannot meet according to Your will. Lord, You stand ready and waiting for us to become more desperate for Your provision inviting you into our circumstances in order to bring glory to Yourself as You reveal Your power in our lives. Thank You for Your faithfulness to move in amazing ways as we become more desperate for You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
1 John 4:18-19
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us.”
There are things of this life that can cause us to “fear” wreaking havoc on our bodies, our minds and spirits, even to the point of paralyzing us as to normal daily function. Fear is a real tool of our enemy as well, used to render us ineffective to serve the Lord and others with the unique gifts and talents we’ve been given by our Creator. Sometimes these fears are born out of experiences long ago, present fears of the unknown, or fears regarding one’s future. These fears can produce mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish in our hearts preventing us from experiencing completely, the gift of God’s love He has given us. The Apostle John explains to us, “There is no fear in love,” that is in God’s love, because His “perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment.” If you have fearful scars from long ago, present fears, or fears of the future which we know are not born of God’s love and often torment the soul, they must be turned over by faith into God’s perfect love, at which time these fears can begin to be disarmed in one’s life.
John continues, “But he who fears has not been made perfect in love,” revealing a heart that has not fully experienced God’s perfect love through true faith and understanding. The key to being delivered from fear is continuing to grow closer in a personal relationship with God, coming both to know and walk in His perfect love through a deeper understanding of that great love. The Apostle Paul writes, “No in all things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. I am convinced that…nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39), thus, allowing His truth and promises to drive out our fears. In response to “perfect love casting out fear,” famous theologian John Calvin writes, “It may, however, be asked, when does perfect love expel fear, for since we are endued with some taste only of divine love towards us, we can never be wholly freed from fear? To this I answer, that, though fear is not wholly shaken off, yet when we flee to God as to a quiet harbor, safe and free from all danger of shipwreck and of tempests, fear is really expelled, for it gives way to faith. Then fear is not so expelled, but that it assails our minds, but it is so expelled that it does not torment us nor impede that peace which we obtain by faith.” Calving is saying our most reasonable response to fear is to flee to our Creator in faith, worship and truth. Drawing near to the One who is our “Refuge and Strength in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1), our “safe harbor,” and the “shade at your right hand.” (Psalm 121:5) Our Lord is the ONE who gives us His peace that surpasses all understanding regardless of our circumstances.
Most importantly, we need not forget that true love began with God himself as John concludes, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God’s love to us is unconditional and was ultimately demonstrated by His free gift of salvation through Christ Jesus our Savior at the Cross. Therefore, we have the capacity to love God in return as well as to love others toward Him. The Lord can use His love to transform our fears into catalysts for change in our hearts, which causes us to become more desperate for Him, moving us beyond places of fear into places of “safe harbor” in His Perfect Love.
Father, thank You that Your love is perfect and is able to drive out our deepest fears. Let us draw nearer to You in full assurance of faith in Your unconditional and unfathomable love demonstrated to us through Your Son Jesus. May we stand in Your perfect love and unchanging truth when tempted to fear our circumstances or the things of this world. Continue to strengthen our faith through the promises of Your love for us and by the overwhelming sense of love from Your Spirit within us. Enable us to stand not in fear, but to stand Desperate in Your Perfect Love. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5
Has anyone ever showed you compassion or comfort in a given situation? Compassion is showing concern for someone who is sick, hurting, or in a poor condition. It is demonstrating a sense of consciousness of another person’s distress with a desire to walk with them in it. Whereas Comfort literally means to give strength and hope, to ease someone’s grief, to console them. Both compassion and comfort go hand in hand with our command to “bear one another’s burdens.” (Galatians 6:2) The Apostle Paul declares that the Lord God our Creator, is the ultimate source for distributing these two elements to the hurting soul as he writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.” This statement in itself should give us pause to ask some questions, “Where are we looking for compassion and comfort? What or who is our source? Does this source ultimately provide hope, compassion, and comfort along life’s journey, possibly even for the benefit of others?”
Paul gives us a two-fold reason for God’s great comfort and our desperate need for it, as he explains, God “comforts us in our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Therefore, we understand that God in His goodness comforts us in our troubles, hardships, pain, and suffering, not merely for our benefit, but also for the purpose of comforting and ministering to those around us with the same comfort we have received from Him. However, in order to receive this comfort from God, there must be an element of desperate surrender to Him, asking Him for comfort within our trials and suffering, not necessarily immediate deliverance from them. Then, if we desire to be used of God for His purposes and have an awareness of the needs of others, He will lead us to those who are in desperate need of the comfort with which we have already received from Him. One of the greatest promises we have is that our suffering is never in vain, God will always use it for His glory and purposes to draw ourselves as well as others nearer to Him. Today, if you’re hurting, struggling, or it feels like your hope is fading, turn toward the ONE who is the “Father of Compassion and the God of all Comfort,” then commit to be desperate for Him.
Father, I thank You that in times of suffering, pain, or hurt in my life You look upon my circumstances full of both comfort and compassion. Thank You for being ever-ready to pour your compassion and comfort over me like medicine for the weary soul. Help me to “cast my cares upon you because you care for me” (1 Peter 5:7), inviting You to both comfort and strengthen me. Allow me to be aware of opportunities to be used by you to comfort those in any trouble with the comfort I have received from You, Lord. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.