In the Midst

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed and refreshed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
Psalm 23:5 AMP

Sometimes we mistakenly believe that the key to peace is the absence of conflict, but the key to peace is not the absence of conflict; it’s the presence of God. 

Psalm 23:6 reminds us that God prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. This means that while our enemies are watching, while our enemies are pursuing, while our enemies are surrounding us, God is preparing a table for us. This means within the conflict God is there–within the conflict God is with us. God does not always remove us from the struggle, but He does allow us to take refuge under the shadow of his Almighty wings. (Psalm 91).

Here is what we must remember: In the midst of our struggle, God. God is anointing; God is preparing; God is refreshing; God is filling. In the midst of the struggle, it’s not about us; it’s about God. It’s about what God can do, is doing, and will do for those who hear His voice.

Throughout God’s Word, oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. The notes in the Amplified Bible I have state that it was customary in ancient times for the host to offer oil to his guests as a way to refresh them when it was hot.  In other words, what David refers to in Psalm 23:6 is God’s refreshing in the heat of battle. The refreshing doesn’t come after the struggle; it comes within it. In the midst of the conflict God gives us His Holy Spirit to refresh, to renew, and to equip us. Our cup overflows as we fight when we go to God in the midst of the battle.

When we allow God to be our host, we will always have a table and always be refreshed, even in the midst of the most heated battle.

So are you in the midst of a struggle today? Do you feel surrounded by the enemy? Are you looking for a place to hide? Then allow the truth of Psalm 23 to encourage you. God is with you. God is for you. And God will never let you go. Even in the midst of the struggle, God is there.

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Take No Offense

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
Isaiah 53:7

The very One who had every right to open His mouth and “put us in our place” kept His mouth shut.  The very One who had every right to judge us, condemn us, and berate us kept His mouth shut.  The very One who had every right to be offended by our treatment of Him kept His mouth shut.  Yet, the One who “opened not his mouth” did not keep his mouth shut because He was stewing over how to exact revenge; He kept His mouth shut because nothing and no one could alter His love.

Jesus never took offense at those who reviled Him.  Jesus never took offense at those who unnecessarily condemned Him.  Jesus never took offense at those who could not understand His ways.  Jesus took no offense.   Jesus loved.   He loved those who loved Him.  He loved those who despised Him.  His love kept Him on the cross.  His love covers our sins.

And His love is our example.

Yet as I was driving the other day, I began thinking about how we often react to the not-so-nice people and the not-so-nice events of this life.   And it is often not in love.

The online Oxford English Dictionary defines offense in several different ways. One definition in particular is as follows:

Annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to or disregard for oneself.

I am sure we have all experienced this feeling before. Someone says or does something to us or to someone we love, and we think to ourselves, “How dare they?!” We are shocked that someone could do or say something so egregious. And whether the offense was intentional or unintentional, perceived or actual, we are left with a feeling of being wronged in some way.

Yet here’s what God reminded me the other day: offense is not love; offense is pride.

Gulp. Ouch.

But it’s truth. Look with me at the definition of pride in the online Oxford English Dictionary:

The quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance.

Now when reading the above, you may think to yourself, “My opinion of myself is not excessive.” And no, on a day-to-day basis, you may not exhibit pride by having an excessively high opinion of yourself. However, when it comes to those times when we face the opportunity to take offense, if we do take offense, I believe pride is the culprit. For when we take offense at something or someone, we are ultimately saying we deserved better. Someone forgets our name and we think they should have remembered. Someone forgets to email something and we think they should have remembered. Someone does something that hurts our feelings and we believe we did not deserve what they did. Someone hurts our loved one and we think our loved one did not deserve it. Someone misjudges our actions, and we feel betrayed and dishonored.

Yet whether someone says or does something hurtful to us intentionally or unintentionally, that feeling of anger, resentment, and yes, pride often immediately bubble to the surface. And it is when those feelings arise the choice to be offended or to let it go becomes imminent.

And I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve been on both sides of the offense divide. Yet we must take an honest look at the heart of offense: and I believe at the heart is pride. I believe offense comes when we put ourselves in a higher place than we deserve.

Now of course I must insert here a couple of very important points. First, I am in no way saying that if someone hurts us we deserved it. It is never okay to intentionally hit someone or to intentionally hurt someone; that is sin. And sin is never okay. I am also not saying everything that hurts us is due to the sin of another. Jesus was perfect, yet many were hurt and offended by Him. What I am saying is when we do feel hurt, we must also remember that no one is perfect–and that to take offense is also sin. Romans 3:10-12 reads: as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:23 states, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

None of is perfect; all of us sin. So instead of choosing offense when sin (perceived or actual) arises, we need to choose more wisely and choose differently;  we need to choose love. Read with me the following verses:

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.
Proverbs 10:12 ESV

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
Proverbs 17:9 ESV

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
Proverbs 19:11 ESV

Love covers a multitude of sins, and we must remember we have all sinned. We have all hurt others–intentionally or unintentionally. Everyone messes up; everyone needs Jesus. No, this does not mean we “deserve what we get” or “have every right to do what we did.” But it does mean we must be wise and humble in our reactions to the sins (real or perceived) of others.

This is not an easy pill to swallow, I know. Yet we need to remember that God calls us to walk in forgiveness, in humility, and in compassion. He calls us to follow the example  He set for us. How did Jesus respond to criticism and rejection? He died on the cross. Jesus walked this life in perfection, yet he was spit on, ridiculed, cast out, and ultimately put to death for being perfect. Yes, the only One who ever had the right to be offended laid down His life for us.  The only One with every right to curse us called out from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Jesus did not become offended; He loved.

And so should we.

Here is what we must remember: offense is a choice–not the choice of the offender; it is the choice of the one offended.  To walk around offended is to walk around in pride and in self-righteousness.  Offense goes beyond “that’s not fair” to “that’s so not fair I’m going to punish you in return through unforgiveness.” Offense believes “I would never do that.”

The men in Jesus’ day who were offended by Him were offended not because Jesus was wrong; they were offended because Jesus was right.   Jesus went against their human rules.  Jesus went against their self-righteous behavior.  Jesus went against their perceptions and their expectations. But Jesus wasn’t wrong; they were.

And so today I encourage you to be honest with yourself.  Next time someone does or says something to you that upsets you, ask yourself, “Is it worth taking offense?” “Is it worth letting go of love?” Prayerfully, you’ll say no.  Prayerfully, you will recognize that when people hurt you (intentionally or unintentionally), they did the same to Jesus.  And Jesus was perfect.

So take no offense today.  Walk this life in humility, walk this life in forgiveness, and most importantly, walk this life in love.  For love truly does cover a multitude of sins.

He Hasn’t Changed

For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
Psalms 22:24 ESV

You know what I love about this passage? David pens the above words in the midst of trouble. As with many of David’s psalms, when you read all of Psalm 22, you will also see David begin by lamenting and wondering “why,” yet by the end he is praising God for God’s faithfulness. Even more importantly, he ends with praises even when he still does not know the answer or cannot see a resolution to his initial struggle.

Psalm 22 begins with this heart wrenching question and declaration:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.
Psalms 22:1‭-‬2 ESV

I’m sure we’ve all been in a place like this before; some of you reading this may be there now. Death has come to the one you love. Cancer has been ravaging your once healthy body.  Your bank account is all but empty, yet the bills keep coming. Or maybe the paychecks have ceased because of a job loss. Whatever circumstances you may find yourself in today, I’m pretty sure you’ve either asked or wanted to ask “Why?” at some point. Why did she have to die? Why did he have to get sick? Why can’t I seem to make ends meet? Why, why, why.

Well, first of all, let this psalm encourage you in this:  you are not alone.  We’ve all been there. David was there often.  Yes, a man after God’s own heart often found himself surrounded by the enemy and struggling through a difficult place. Even our Savior was there.  Seriously.  I’m not sure if you recognized it as you first read it, but the above cry also came from our Savior and Lord as He hung on the cross (Matthew 27:46).   Yes, even the Savior of the world, the very Son of God, cried out for understanding as He suffered for the sake of sin.

But here is what we also must remember: sometimes God’s goodness is greater shown through the struggle and the sacrifice than through the calm and the blessings.

No, I am in no way saying God causes sickness, disease, or disaster.  God does not author evil.  What I am saying is that at times, God’s light is easier seen when all else is dark.  A light shines brighter in the dark than it does in the light.

In addition to showing us we all have struggles, this psalm also reminds us it is okay to ask God those tough questions; He can handle it. Again, even Jesus asked why. The key to keeping the faith as you ask why, however, is found in your heart. David didn’t ask why because He doubted God.  David didn’t ask why because He thought God caused the problems. David asked why because He believed. He believed in God’s goodness, so he asked God why he wasn’t seeing it.  David often pointed out God’s past faithfulness as he asked God to meet his current need.  David knew God was and is faithful.  He knew God would always answer.  Nevertheless, and most importantly, David also knew that God’s ways were not easily understood.

David knew another important key to the life of faith: regardless of where we are and what we are going through, praise is imperative.

Yes, we must never stop praising the Lord.  Read with me the verses that immediately follow David’s laments and questions:

  I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
    All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
    and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!

Even in the battle–even with the unanswered questions–David still praised. For David knew an important God doesn’t change even though our circumstances do. God is still God even when we don’t understand–especially when we don’t understand.

For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

God sees you, my friend. God hears your every cry. And He is with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Never. So whatever struggles you are facing today. Whatever diagnosis plagues your household. Remember. Remember that it’s okay to wonder, it’s okay to ask, and it’s definitely okay to believe. Actually, it is imperative you believe. Believe you will see God’s goodness in the land of the living. Believe God will prosper you. Believe God is more than able to meet your every need and heal your every disease. But also believe that even if you don’t see–even if you still struggle–even if you are still sick–God is with you, God loves you, and God will never let you go. I repeat: God will never let you go.

For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

 

Keep Moving Forward

As I have been praying for the numerous families affected by the events in Las Vegas, and as I have been watching the news attempt to cover such a mass tragedy, I have also been asking God what He would have me say or do to encourage and to comfort those left reeling in the wake of such tragedy.

As humans, when we come face to face with such devastation as what happened in Las Vegas, we immediately want to know the why and the how such a thing could happen. Investigators are tearing apart every aspect of the shooter’s belongings as they attempt to piece together his motives for doing what he did. Many of us would love to know how such a “seemingly normal” retired accountant could suddenly choose to take the lives of unsuspecting, innocent people. We long for a reason. We long for answers. We long for justice.

And I wish I could write today the answer that would make everything make sense. I wish I could point you to one scripture that would make it all make sense. I wish I could say I know why bad things happen to good people. I wish I could give you an answer as to how tragedies like this happen.

But I can’t.  For I don’t know why.  And I don’t know how. And, honestly, none of us will ever fully know the whys and the hows of everything that goes on during our time on this earth.

But here’s what I do know: God still reigns.  Even when we do not understand Him or His ways, God still reigns

No, this will not bring back the 59 people who lost their lives. No, this will not take away the fear and torment that the over 500 injured and the other survivors had to endure and will have to work through in the days weeks and years to come.

Knowing God reigns does not erase the events that shatter our lives. It does not negate the heart wrenching pain that comes when we lose the ones we love or lose the innocence we once had. But knowing God reigns does get us through; it does keep us moving forward.

God allows us to weep. God allows us to mourn. So if you are one of the ones in Las Vegas facing such an immense loss, weep and mourn. God knows the pain and suffering that you are facing, and He understands your hurting heart. God does not want you to bottle up what you feel. But He does call you to draw near to Him at such a time as this. He does call you to run to Him with your questions, to run to Him with your fears, and to bow before him with your tears. So cry out to Him and run to him today, even though you do not understand, and even though it hurts beyond compare.

Yesterday I shared about the difference between someone who trusts in people and things and someone who trusts in the Lord. The difference between the two is whether or not we get back up when things go wrong. If we blame and run away from God during a time like this, we are also running away from our healing and our help and our ability to get back up. God knows we will weep. God knows we will mourn. God knows we will ask the whys and the hows. And God is more than able to handle our questions. But here’s what we also must remember: God does not want us to continually look back and try to figure out the whys and hows of the events of our lives. He wants us to look up. He wants to us to look up to Him–to seek Him knowing we will find Him. And as we seek Him and we find him, we will also see His Almighty hand lifting us up out of the miry clay and drawing us out of the darkness and leading us into his marvelous light.

Yes, there are children who lost their parents. There are husbands who lost their wives and wives who lost their husbands. There are parents who lost their children. And there is no denying the pain and heartache that accompanies such loss. There is also no amount of political discussion or promises of gun control that could ever bring back the lives of those lost.

Yet in the midst of everything going on we must not lose sight of Eternity. We must remember this world is not our home. This pain is not forever. The tears will be wiped away.

For God reigns.

And God will bring us through.

Therefore, it is imperative we continue to trust in His sovereignty even in the midst of such tragedy.

Again, what happened in Las Vegas was horrible, heartbreaking, and senseless. There is no denying the horrific event. But there’s no explaining it either. So I encourage you today instead of trying to figure out why or how or who to blame, I encourage you to seek God. And pray. Pray for those affected. Pray for God to give you the compassion and the mercy and the know how of how you can be His hands and feet during such a time as this.

Pray.

And as you pray, believe. Believe that you will start to see the goodness of God in the land of the living. Believe that although now we cannot fathom nor understand such a tragedy, we can know the One who does.

Knowing God is God will not erase the pain, but it will get us through it. So run to Him today. Seek Him today. Trust Him today.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:5‭-‬6).

Trust Rises

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
Psalms 20:7‭-‬8 ESV

There is a difference between a person who places his trust in the Lord and a person who places his trust somewhere else, but the difference is not whether he stands or falls;  the difference is whether he collapses or gets back up.

This passage reminds us there are at least two qualities  believers and non-believers have in common: we all face battles and we all fall. Regardless of where we place our allegiance (to God or elsewhere),  we will all have to fight and we will all mess up more than once.  There is no one who is perfect, and there is no one who will make it through life struggle free. Even the “best Christian we know” will mess up more than once and be forced to face some ugly circumstances.

The key to victorious living is not the absence of conflict; it’s the powerful presence of our God and our Savior Jesus Christ. We cannot fight in our own strength; and we certainly shouldn’t trust in it. Yes, horses and chariots can be used for battle, but even if we use them, we must remember the battle belongs to the Lord.

If we do life placing our trust in things and in people, when those mess ups happen and those battles come–and believe me, they will happen and they will come–we will have nothing to hold onto. People and things are like sand; they blow with the wind and collapse in the storms. Have you ever seen a wave wash over a sand castle? The same goes for the one who builds his life upon an unstable foundation. No one and no thing on this earth could ever provide the foundation necessary to help us get back up when the world knocks us down.

The only firm foundation is not of this world; the only firm foundation is Jesus.

Here is what we must remember as we go forth each day: the focus of our trust does not necessarily mean we will not fall and we will not have to fight; the focus of our trust does, however, determine, what happens when we fall and when we fight. Again, we all fall. We all sin. We all say or do the wrong thing more than once in our lives. Yet when we place our trust in the Lord, we can know we will get back up. We can know we will rise. We can know we will stand upright again.

Our trust in the Lord doesn’t determine our ability to remain standing; it determines our ability to get back up. So if you have recently messed up, or if you are currently fighting the fight of your life, place your trust in God. And if you have not messed lately, and your life appears struggle free, then praise God, but keep trusting. The time will come when someone or something trips you up. The time will come when you hear that battle cry. Yet if you have made the Lord your trust, then you will also soon see His hand reaching out to pull you up–to draw you out of that miry clay. You will rise. You will stand back up. But you won’t succeed in your own strength. For the battle belongs to the Lord.

Your salvation comes from the Lord.

So trust in Him today. Believe in Him today. And know that with God as your trust, you will rise and you will stand upright again. You will. But don’t trust me. Trust Him.

Lead Like Jesus

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:16 ESV
We all have gifts. And I’ve written about this before. Each of us is called to use the gifts God has given to us. We are to use them to equip, to build up, and to grow one another up. Yet one Sunday as I listened to my pastor use Ephesians 4 to teach about leadership in the church, God brought me back to a lesson He taught me a few years ago regarding leadership: a leader must lead like Jesus.
Well, duh, you may be thinking. Of course a leader should lead like Jesus. What church leader wouldn’t want to lead like Jesus? Yet I’m not referring solely to church leaders.  We are all leaders in some capacity-whether that be at home, at work, or at church.  Many times we are leaders in multiple situations.
But regardless our place of leadership, if we are truly honest with ourselves, do we lead like Jesus?  Do we really serve? Do we really use wisdom in assessing situations? Do we really meet people right where they are? Or do we get stuck in a rut of human limitations and expectations? Do we assume a leader must be an extrovert who is great at giving direction and delivering motivational speeches? Do we picture a leader large and in charge and unphased by the comments of others?
Sure, some leaders have these qualities. But God does not pigeonhole a leader’s qualities to one personality type. A leader may be an introvert by nature, or a leader may shy away from the limelight. A leader in God’s eyes will “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  In other words, a leader who leads like Jesus becomes more like Jesus in everything he says and does.
If we pay attention to the passage above, a leader in God’s eyes is the one who leads people to God. A leader helps the young in faith to mature. A leader leads by example and bears fruit in the form of producing other leaders. A leader leads to growth.
Several years ago, I took a personality test that categorized temperaments into four categories: lion, otter, golden retriever, and beaver. A person who is a “lion” by nature, is often the one “in charge”–the one who usually gets his way. The “otter” is the one who goes with the flow and does not appear to be phased by much. The “golden retriever” loves to please people and avoid conflict. The”beaver” wants things just so and done in an orderly fashion. (Find more information here)
I tested as a golden retriever with beaver qualities as well. Yet even though these characteristics are my natural inclinations, if I am to lead like Jesus, I should day by day move closer to exhibiting all of them. For that’s what Jesus did.
To lead like Jesus is to be in such close relationship with the Father that we act and do because the Father tells us to, even if this goes against our natural inclinations.  Jesus was a lion when he needed to be and a golden retriever when he needed to be.  He was introverted when necessary and extroverted when necessary.  He knew His identity as God’s Son and lived His life as God told him to.  I’m sure as a human he had natural tendencies, but those tendencies didn’t necessarily define him.   Yes, I know my natural tendencies lean toward introspection and feeling,  but knowing this does not mean I am this forever. In fact, to put myself in such a box is to limit God. I need to be adaptable as God leads. The key here is AS GOD LEADS.  For a long time I’ve adapted as I feel people would want me to, but God is teaching me that I need to be adaptable as HE leads.   I need to know who I am in Him and be secure in that, but I must also be secure in knowing when He wants me to be something different for His glory. If God calls me to speak out and do something outside my comfort zone, then I want to be close enough to Him to hear His voice and then obey.
For instance, there is a lion in me that at times I’ve been fearful of letting people see. Yet my desire is to get over that fear and be the lion I need to be when I need to be it.  If God wants to have me, a golden retriever/beaver by nature, act like a lion for a bit, then get ready to hear me roar.  🙂
I still remember standing in the high school library in 2001 watching the twin towers on fire and about to collapse.  While watching the terror unfold, a student standing beside me made a comment as we watched people jumping out of the buildings. I don’t remember what he said, but I just remember his attitude was one of thinking it was like a video game.  He was extremely flippant and disrespectful in his remarks. So I responded. I cannot remember what I said back to him, but I do remember it was pointed and “out of character” for me. And I remember the librarian looking at me with shock.  She commented later that “She didn’t know I had that in me.”  Sure, I’m not one to boldly confront someone , but back in 2001 in a school library a usually quiet puppy dog needed to roar like a lion, so she did. And that student learned his lesson. 🙂

So now, sixteen years later, my desire remains: I long to be more like Jesus.  I want to say and to do what needs to be said and done, regardless of what others may think.  I must trust God speaks to me just like He speaks to others. So if He speaks, I must obey, even if this means going out of my comfort zone.
I don’t want to come to the end my life on earth only knowing and only acting upon my natural tendencies. I want to leave this earth not only knowing I am a daughter of the King, but also knowing I acted like it. God loves me, and although He created me with natural inclinations, I want to be intimate enough with Him to step out and be like Jesus…whatever He may call me to do.
A few years ago I walked through a very difficult journey. It was through this journey God taught me many life changing lessons. Below is an excerpt of an email I sent to a friend during this journey. I believe it expresses the importance of following in the steps of our Lord. For to lead like Jesus is to follow in His steps.
If He wants me to be part of the preschool ministry, then I want to remain intimate enough with Him that I will hear His voice tell me so and to keep me in check so I know when enough is enough.  If He wants me to do something completely different, then I want to be intimate enough with Him to be able to hear His voice say, “This is the way, walk in it.”  He’s called me to serve, so I know He’ll equip me to serve wherever that is and whenever that is.  It is His voice l want to obey.  Just because I have had a tendency to work too much in the past, I do not have to let it define me for the rest of my life.  And if God wants this introvert to step up and out, then I pray I do so for His glory and with confidence.    I don’t want to end this life hearing “Wow, she knew herself well…definitely a golden retriever.”  I want to hear, “Wow, she really knew Jesus…she did whatever He asked of her.”   To really know Jesus is to be who He wants me to be when He wants me to be it, regardless of what my natural tendency may be.
My friend, whatever your natural tendencies may be today, I encourage you to listen for God’s still small voice leading you in the direction you should go. Whether you are by nature an otter, a lion, or like me, know you are not “stuck” in that role.  Honestly, to just stay who we are and pass things off as “oh, that’s just the way I am” is being the opposite of becoming more like Jesus. God desires a leader with a heart like his. So regardless of your natural inclinations today, know that if you are His, you have the qualities of a leader. All you need to do is follow in His steps.

Draw Near in Fear

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Exodus 20:18‭-‬21 ESV

Could you imagine what it must have been like to experience the power and the presence of God in such a mighty way? God came before the Israelites with trumpet sound, with thunder, with lightning, and with smoke.  And He spoke to them.  God spoke audibly to the children of Israel!  What an incredible miracle to behold!

And frightening I’m sure.

Imagine physically hearing the voice of God. Imagine seeing a mountain in smoke. Imagine the deafening thunder and the blinding lightning.

Wow.

But thankfully for the Israelites, in the midst of His mighty display, God shared His motivation for such a demonstrative presentation of His power: that the Israelites would fear (revere) Him. God knew if the Israelites had a healthy fear of Him, then they’d refrain from sin. They would steer away from sin because they respected the holy God.  And wouldn’t that be true for anyone?  When we have a deep respect for someone, we do our best to please that person.  We would never willfully hurt someone we revere.

Yet the Israelites did not react according to God’s desire. Sure, they feared. Yet they feared for themselves. They fell away in fear instead of falling near in fear. They ran away from God’s presence instead of into it. They feared for their physical lives more than their spiritual. They were so afraid of messing up, of touching the mountain, that they ran away from the very One whose Presence was on the mountain. They could not handle–or maybe did not want to handle–the immense responsibility that accompanies God’s presence.

So the Israelites chose to back up instead of bow down.

The Israelites didn’t look at God and bow in reverent fear; they looked at God, looked at themselves, and then ran away. They assumed their lives were better off far away than near. The apparent pressure of God’s presence was too much for them. It seemed safer to them to back away instead of bow down. Of course, they did not realize pulling away was the exact opposite of what would keep them safe. Drawing near to God, no matter how frightening it may seem at first, is always the best choice. The temporary pain of a humble heart is worth the eternal glory of a life lifted up by the Lord.

Now I will say as an outsider looking in–as one whose hindsight is 20/20–I am in awe at what the Israelites were able to witness.  And I confess as I read the above passage I thought to myself (with a little indignant pride present), “If I were there, I would have bowed down immediately and worshiped.  I wouldn’t have run away.  I would have relished the opportunity to be in God’s presence and audibly hear His voice.”  But of course, I wasn’t there, and there is no way to really know what I would have done.

Yet regardless of the choice I think I might have made, there is a lesson I can glean from this passage; there is an important truth within these lines: although the circumstances of our lives may differ, the choice to bow or to bail remains.  When we come face to face with God’s truth, God’s power, and God’s presence we will indeed fear. I think fear is expected. Yet there are different types of fear. We will either fear in an unhealthy manner or in a healthy manner. Unhealthy fear will pull us AWAY from God; healthy fear will draw us TO God.  Unhealthy fear focuses on ourselves;  healthy fear focuses on God. Unhealthy fear proclaims, “Woe is me. I can’t handle this,” and then flees. Healthy fear proclaims, “Woe is me. I can’t handle this. I am unworthy. Yet I know God’s grace will cover me. I trust God’s Spirit will equip me. I bow before God knowing I can only because He allows me to.”

Do you see the difference? When we look solely on our circumstances, our situation, and ourselves, we will fear. And in this fear we will, like Adam and Eve, find ourselves hiding from God. Yet when we look at our circumstances, our situation, and ourselves honestly through God’s eyes, we will find ourselves reverently bowing before Him. In both situations  we are unworthy. Yet when we run to God, our shame is covered with grace.

So here’s an important principle to take with you today: going into the darkness may at first seem scary, but when God’s presence is in the darkness, you will find your sight there.  You will find your life there.

Thus I implore you not to run from God’s presence today.  Yes, His truth may be difficult to hear.  Yes, His words may pierce your soul.  Yes, His presence may cause you to tremble. Yet the temporary pain that accompanies the clash of an unholy person with a holy God is worth the long-term relationship that will soon ensue. For when we run to God–when we bow before Him–He welcomes us.  He invites us into HIs presence and into a relationship with Him.  A broken and contrite heart God will not despise (Psalm 51:17).

True faith draws near in fear.  True faith doesn’t run away from God; it runs to Him.  So run to God today. Bow before Him.  Submit yourself and your life to Him.  Allow Him to lead.  Allow yourself to follow.  And if you’re afraid, draw near. Draw near in fear. For you will soon discover that as you draw near in fear, the God of all will draw near to you. And He’ll hold you. He’ll love you. And He’ll never let you go.

Lean on Him

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

Do not lean on our own understanding.  God has been reminding me of this important truth in recent days.  God does not call us to understand all His ways. God does not call us to understand Him.  God calls us to trust Him.  And I hereby submit to you right now that true trust comes when we do NOT lean on our own understanding; true trust comes when we don’t understand, yet we believe.

When we physically lean on something, we are using that something for support.  For instance, if I lean against the wall, then I am using the wall to help support me. If I lean my head on a shoulder, then that shoulder is supporting my head. This means if we are leaning on our own understanding, then we are in essence trying to support ourselves with our finite minds.  We are trying to walk through life trusting in what we can understand, explain, and see.

Yet faith, trust, and belief cannot be seen, explained, or understood.  It is not possible to stand on the promises of God if we are leaning on our own understanding. What we see and experience on earth may not make sense; our circumstances may not align with what we thought we knew. Yet regardless, we should not try to explain God.  We should not try to understand why and how God would “allow something like this to happen.”

We will never understand God completely on this earth.  Never.  Our finite minds were not designed this way.

We were designed to lean–to lean not on our own understanding, but to lean on God.  We must lean on Him, trusting that He knows–that He understands–that He is in control.

So this is what I encourage you to do today.  Trust in the Lord.  Trust Him when you can kind of see His purpose; trust Him when you cannot.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart.

Below is a link to a devotional that I read this morning that further explains this idea of belief, not understanding.  I encourage you to read it.  Again, you may not like nor understand the why and the how of where you are in life, but you can still trust.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart knowing that He who truly understands will be with you always, even to the end of the age.

Streams in the Desert Devotional

 

When Fear Comes

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?

Psalms 56:3‭-‬4 ESV

Did you notice the title?  It was intentional.  I used the word when not if, for fear comes to all of us at some point in our lives. Whether it’s a fear of heights, a fear of failure, or a fear of the unknown, we all have faced and will face fear. There’s no getting around it, really. All of us at some point will have to walk outside our comfort zone, face the unexpected, or tackle the unknown. We need not ever try to avoid fear. Fear will come.

So if we know fear is inevitable, instead of wasting our precious time trying to avoid fear–instead of beating ourselves up every time we feel afraid–we need to acknowledge the fear–acknowledge it yet not embrace it.

In Psalm 56 (and throughout all the Psalms), David faced fear. He was despised, chased, hunted, and much more throughout his life. Fear was not a stranger to him. Yet what David knew, and what we must also remember, is fear is not a state of being; it’s a catalyst. We as God’s children are not supposed to remain afraid; we are to place our fears at God’s feet. We are to trust God with our fears. We are not to be afraid (meaning we are not to be continually in fear); we are to trust in God. We are to trust in the One more powerful than anything and anyone. We are not to remain afraid; we are to run to God. Fear should never be permanent in the life of a believer. Fear should never paralyze us. Rather, it should propel us into the arms of our Father.

We do not fail when we fear. Remember this today. Fear in and of itself is not failure. Rather, failure comes when we cling to the fear instead of to our Father.

So if you are afraid today, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling fear. Death is scary. Cancer is scary. New is scary. Different is scary. Many situations in life are scary. Yet  whatever it is–known or unknown–that is causing you to be afraid today, do not allow it to keep you there. Bow before your Maker. Surrender your heart and your situation to the only One powerful enough to redeem it. Be not afraid. Be still.  Be still and know God is God. Be still and know you will see the goodness of God in land of the living. Be still and know that the One who is for you is greater than anyone or anything that could possibly be against you. Do not remain afraid about anything today.  Instead “…in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).  And as you do–as you place your fear at our Father’s feet–as you let go of what’s paralyzing you–you’ll feel the change.  No, your circumstances may not change.  The cancer may remain; your loved one may die; your future may still be unclear.  But what will not remain will be the fear; it will be replaced–replaced with faith–replaced with peace–more specifically, the peace of God–the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).

Therefore I encourage you now: be not continually afraid. Let God’s peace rule and reign in your heart today. Take that fear and cast it at your Father’s feet. God knows your situation.  God knows your heart.  And God knows exactly what you are going through.  So run to Him.  Embrace Him.  Trust Him.  And remember: “…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37). 

Fear is not an if; it’s a when. But when fear comes, always remember, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). No one!

 

How Could I Not

In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
Psalms 11:1‭-‬3 ESV

Has anyone ever said something to you or suggested something to you that left you wondering,”Why did they just say that?” or “How could they just suggest that?”?  Something you assumed was understood or obvious was actually questioned by another. Something you knew that you knew with your whole heart to be true was dubbed crazy or ridiculous by some else. If so, how did you respond?  Were you angry? Were you dumbfounded? Did you laugh it off? Did you begin to question what you thought you once believed?

Regardless of how you may have responded in the past, in Psalm 11 David actually gives us an example to follow the next time. Apparently right before Psalm 11, someone told David he should flee and hide because the enemy was coming and the plight of the righteous was hopeless. Someone dared to not only assume the worst but then invited David do the same. In their opinion David should flee because those arrows in the dark were surely destined to hit their mark.

David was dumfounded. He couldn’t believe someone would dare make that suggestion. He was flabbergasted that someone suggested he run in fear. Yet he didn’t get angry;  he didn’t begin to doubt. He simply responded to that crazy suggestion by asking a question.

His question? “How can you say to my soul to flee like a bird at the threat of the enemy?” In other words, he asked “How could I not trust God who is my refuge?”

David didn’t need to fear the what ifs because David knew Who God was (and is!).  David didn’t have to flee the unknown because He knew the God who knows it all. Read with me what David shared with the doubter:

The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord‘s throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.

David knew who God was, he knew where God dwelled, he knew God was in charge, and he knew both the righteous and the wicked would one day “get their reward.” David didn’t doubt what he knew just because his physical eyes could not yet see. David trusted. He trusted that one day is Faith would indeed be sight.

My favorite line is the last one: that one day the righteous will behold his face. What a promise! Oh the joy that will come when we enter His presence! No more tears, no more pain, no more sickness, no more suffering. All things will be as God intended them to be.

It is a wonderful promise.

Yet even though we who know this promise can hold on to this promise, we are often questioned by those on the outside. We are often asked “why” and “how.” Why would God allow this to happen? Why would such a good person be taken so early from this life? How could God watch this and do nothing? How could we continue to trust in a God who would “let this happen”? Maybe you have even found yourself asking those very questions. Your home has been destroyed by a hurricane. The one you love has suddenly died. The doctor’s diagnosis is not what you wanted to hear. The cry of your heart seems to be met with silence from heaven.

Well, I do not know exactly what you’re going through today, and I will not even try to pretend that I know. But I will share what I do know. Our God is in his holy Temple in heaven. Our God is righteous. Our God sees it all. Our God knows it all. And one day the wicked will perish but the righteous will see his face.

“Where is your God?” people ask. “How can you trust God in such a time like this?”  Well, here is what our answer should be:  “How could I NOT?!”  How could I not trust in God in times of trouble?  How could I not run to God for refuge? How could I not keep my eyes fixed on the promise that one day I will behold his face?  If I cannot trust in God, then whom can I trust? No one.  All people on earth will fail me.  Nothing on earth and no one on earth will last forever.  But God remains.  God is steadfast. God is immovable.  God is Lord.  And if God is Lord, how dare I question Him when things aren’t going my way.

When the Lord is your refuge, you don’t run away from the enemy; you run to your Lord. And that is my encouragement to you today. Regardless of what you are going through, regardless of the circumstances you are facing, regardless of the questions that remain unanswered–trust in the Lord. Trust in His goodness. Trust in His mercy. Trust in His promise of redemption. Trust. And as you trust, if someone comes up to you and asks you “How could you trust in a time like this?” or “How could you believe in a God that would let this happen?” Do not get angry. Do not get frustrated. Do not begin to doubt. Just pray for that person as you smile back and simply respond with, “How could I not? How could I not trust in the one who was and is and always will be? How could I not trust in the one who promised that one day–yes, one day I, even I, little ‘ole me–will one day behold his face.”

This world is not our home, my friend. This world is not our home. So as we travel through this life, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Let us keep believing and knowing that we know that when all else falls away, God remains.  Yes, God remains. And one day, one glorious day,  the upright shall behold His face.