“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.
In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
In times of stress, uncertainty, or the heaviness of life what is our “Default Response”? First, allow me to explain the principle of the Default Response. It is our baseline response to any given situation or circumstance, that usually causes the least amount of resistance, yet may or may not help us to directly grow or benefit from that life experience. For example, if our Default Response is always to avoid conflict at all cost regardless of the size of the situation causing the conflict or whether that conflict is internal or external, we are most likely never going to learn to work through conflict of any kind. We will simply develop a deeper anxiety-complex related to conflicts when they do arise. However, learning to work through conflict whether it be work-related, marital conflict, family conflict, or internal conflict within ourselves – we understand that through years of studies and testimonies of therapists, counselors, and pastors there is so much to be gained through “conflict resolution.” God works through heart transformation and changes the lives of those with a willingness to surrender to the counsel of His Holy Spirit according to His will.
The Psalmist David is writing during a time of distress in his life and we see him both surrendering to the Lord, but also making some request of Him. As he writes, “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge,” we do not see evidence of David turning first to the things of the world to bring comfort and wise counsel as his Default Response. Next, we see him make a number of requests of God who he knows is his only hope in times of distress, “Let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.” David demonstrates his trust in God for all these provisions and protections for the Lord is His God, and His promises have proven faithful & true time after time in his life. We are reminded in the book of First Peter that we do have an enemy who is actively searching for opportunities to set traps for us and to devour the hope that we have. “Be alert and sober minded. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” (1 Peter 5:8-9)
David’s final response is an essential step for you and I to take in our relationship with the Lord everyday as He writes, “Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.” David used the words “Into Your hands I commit my spirit,” to demonstrate his complete trust in God even in those times when his life was filled with extreme discouragement, chaos, and confusion, yet by faith he understood that the Lord was fully in control and able to care for him and direct the path of his life (Proverbs 3:5-6). This same phrase, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit’ was also used by Jesus on Good Friday as he was being crucified on the cross committing His spirit completely to the Father’s will. Today, we can begin this morning by committing our spirit to the Lord, inviting Him directly into our circumstances, asking Him to be our ‘rock, refuge, and strong fortress.’ Another essential part of our Default Response is laying our daily requests and concerns before God, allowing His “peace which surpasses all understanding to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) These proper responses of calling out to the Lord with our cares, recognizing Him as our Rock and Place of Refuge, in addition to committing our spirit daily into His hands will enable us to walk more closely with Him regardless of our immediate circumstances.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Lord, how difficult it can be some mornings to wake up and to start taking those all-important small steps of obedience to begin a fresh new day You’ve made when the stresses of life, the darkness of discouragement, or simply the heaviness of life are bearing down. Father, in these times remind us throughout the day that You are our Rock, our Strong Fortress, our Place of Refuge, and the ONE who Rescues us in our times of distress. In our times of trouble, strengthen us by and through Your Spirit as we commit our spirit to You out of obedience. May our Default Response be to call out to You today in complete surrender, placing our lives in Your hands. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”
Have you ever heard the old cliché “Follow your heart”? This sounds really warm and fuzzy, even possibly romanticizing that there may be elements of authentic wisdom as we search the depths of our souls for answers to life’s questions. There is only one problem with the condition of the human heart as we are reminded by the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Therefore, we arrive back at Solomon’s original statement as he presents the first two key elements to walking in God’s ways, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not own your own understanding’ meaning don’t simply follow your own heart and worldly wisdom for direction. He then states a third key element in this process which says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him (God),” by means of praying and inviting the Lord to be a part of your daily, hourly, even momentary circumstances for the purpose of growing more closely with Him along life’s journey which has been His desire from the time you were created by Him and for Him.
The final key element presented in the form of a promise, is that if we “Trust in the Lord, lean not on our understanding, and acknowledge Him in all our ways,” fully surrendering our lives to Him, “He will direct our path” of life. These essential elements regarding trusting God with our life’s journey will inevitably test our faith at times because the path ahead will not always be visible for long distances, clear of obstacles, or always consist of level terrain as the path of life will carry us through “hills and valleys” where God often does His greatest work within us. Our calling is to continue to trust whole-heartedly in Him, depending on His truth and promises, acknowledging Him for who He is, and continuing to take small steps of obedience on the paths He has laid out for us.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the promise that You will direct the paths of our lives as we trust, acknowledge, seek, and surrender our lives to Your will. Help us resist the temptation to walk through this life in our own understanding, but rather acknowledge Your ways and trust in Your infinite wisdom to lead us especially when the path seems so unclear. Lord, even during times of extended suffering, trials, and hardship, You promise to “restore our souls and to lead us in paths of righteousness for Your names’ sake.” (Psalm 23:3) May we continually trust in You to direct our paths moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day acknowledging our desperate need for Your guidance. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Praise the Lord.
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.
The Lord sustains the humble
but casts the wicked to the ground.
The Psalmist who penned these very words remains anonymous, yet places strong emphasis on “Praising the Lord” because of all that God is and all that He does for us, especially in times of hardship, pain, and trials. In fact, he says, “how pleasant and fitting to praise him!,” expressing an element of joy and freedom that comes with such an act of obedience along one’s faith journey. The Psalmist speaks of days of old when Jerusalem was in ruins and its inhabitants, God’s chosen people, were scattered and isolated, yet the Lord would gather them once again to Himself. Are there not times in our lives when we experience those feelings of isolation? Often its when walking through those “dark valleys” of our lives, believing we’re alone in our given circumstances, we must realize in reality that God is with us, waiting in His time to move, desiring to draw us nearer to Himself during those times or seasons.
We’re promised also that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” meaning the mental, emotional, and spiritual injuries we suffer throughout our lives which at times leave deep scars that only the Great Physician – our heavenly Father - can over time truly heal. Through His word, the Church, wise biblical counsel, the Spiritual Disciplines (Prayer, Bible Study, Scripture Mediation, Seeking His presence), the support of a trusted friend or small faith community group become tools in His hands for the healing process. Highlighting the power behind our awesome God, the Psalmist focuses on His greatness and His understanding as he writes, “He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.”
How often do we forget just how great and mighty is our God, Creator of heaven and earth? He knows the number of stars in the sky and the number of grains of sand on the seashore. If God cares enough to know such miniscule details as these, how much more does He care about the details of our lives, especially the one’s that cause us the heaviest burdens and struggles, causing us to battle so much with our faith? The most blessed promise given here to us comes in the concluding verse as the Psalmist writes, “The Lord sustains the humble…” as you and I surrender to Him daily, inviting Him into our circumstances with a heart of gratitude and humility, He will sustain us through all situations – in His strength and by His power.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for the wonderful promises in Your word that remind us that You are a compassionate, loving heavenly Father who desires to walk with us along life’s journey and heal our brokenness. As we are reminded by the Psalmist, “How pleasant and fitting it is to always praise You,” because You are worthy of our praise even in the most difficult seasons of our lives. Lord, we praise You because You are great and mighty in power, Your wisdom and understanding are infinite in all the earth. Today, may we find strength and assurance in these promises as we approach You with hearts of gratitude and humility for who You are and all that You continue to do in our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
Among the dead no one proclaims your name.
Who praises you from the grave?
When life finds us in those places of utter brokenness and despair, where do we turn or whom do we turn to first? Often our initial efforts are to push through or solve the issues of life in our own strength without first talking with the Lord, seeking His wisdom, direction, and strength to press on. However, here we find the psalmist David first turning to the Lord in what appears to be some moments of shear desperation in which he even says, ‘my bones are in agony.’ He continues further to explain how his soul in in ‘deep anguish’ over something we’re not made aware of, yet we know he longs for it to be lifted from his life as he writes, ‘How long, Lord, how long?’ We much like David, have the same question for God, “How long, O Lord?”, will this prolonged season of suffering, trials, hardship, or pain last in my life. “Will I remain in this all-consuming state of brokenness and despair forever.” The answer to such a question is of course, “No,” as it is not our good, good heavenly Father’s desire for us to live a life with a spirit of constant discouragement, depression, anxiety, or feelings of utter brokenness and hopelessness for our future.
In knowing the character of God, David turns his eyes heavenward and says, ‘Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.’ He understands that despite his dire circumstances, God’s great love for him remains steadfast and unconditional. David’s desire is to also have the strength to praise his Lord again, however, he knows in his present condition he is not able to shout his praises from the depths of the earth; ‘Among the dead no one proclaims your name. Who praises you from the grave?” David seeks complete restoration, the joy of his salvation, and that out of his circumstances he might bring glory and honor to the name of the Lord once again.
When we find ourselves in such desolate places in our life and faith journey, it may be difficult to even put our feet on the floor to take another step, much less find the strength to move through an entire day. We too, like David, must call out to the Lord with simple prayers like children to their father. Our child-like prayers can be, ‘Help me Lord to take another step, and then the next, and so forth in Your strength, not under my own power.’ In doing so along this journey, God will hear the cries of our brokenness, strengthening our spiritual eyes to see Him clearly again, and then we will find opportunities to praise Him as He saturates our hearts with new hope regardless of life’s circumstances.
Connecting Faith & Life:
Father, thank You for giving us a new day to live, to move, and to have our being as You provide the very breath that we breathe. Thank You Father, for the promise that You hear the cries of our brokenness, when it seems we find ourselves in places of deep despair with little to no hope. In those times, let us turn to You as David did, remembering Your unfailing love for us and Your promise to “never leave us nor forsake us (turn away from us)” Deuteronomy 31:6b. Lord, in You we find both “mercy and grace to help in our time of need” as we approach you with our deepest hurts and heart-felt concerns. (Hebrews 4:16) Help us today, Lord, to take small steps of obedience in Christ toward You where our true source of hope is found. Finally, remind us throughout this day that regardless of the size of each step we take in faith, it is in Your strength that we are able to press on in this journey. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.