Psalm 119:73-80 — The Fellowship of Scripture in Suffering

lonelysuffering
photo credit: Dainis Derics | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Psalm 119:73-80

73 Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.
74 May those who fear you rejoice when they see me,
for I have put my hope in your word.
75 I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous,
and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.
76 May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.
77 Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight.
78 May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause;
but I will meditate on your precepts.
79 May those who fear you turn to me,
those who understand your statutes.
80 May I wholeheartedly follow your decrees,
that I may not be put to shame.

Spend any amount of time in the Psalms and you will quickly identify a theme of suffering. Indeed, the Psalms tell us much about how to suffer well. I wish I could tell you that on this topic they reveal exhortations to hang out with friends, lay on the beach, stay in bed for hours on end, binge-watch Netflix, or drown our sorrows in a favorite food or beverage. But those tend to be our (sometimes unhealthy) responses to suffering, not God’s.

And why is that? Because our typical human responses tend to point us to more of ourselves, which may result in a temporary “forgetting” of our trouble, but ultimately leave us more empty on the other side. Instead, the Psalms point us to more of Jesus and result in a spiritual “filling up,” which enables us to persevere through life’s trials in peace, and even joy.

(Side note: Next time you read through the Psalms, notice how even the literary structure follows this revelatory pattern: The Psalmist often begins his writing in despair, intensely focused on himself and his circumstances. But by the end, he is exalting glory and honor and praise of God’s goodness and love and faithfulness, which results in words of hope, peace, and joy – even though the Psalmist’s suffering continues. This is an instructive model!)

Here’s a bit of personal context on how I come to these verses in particular: As someone who values the comfort and support of my family and close friendships, I found a recent season of suffering even more difficult when my family and I were required to relocate to a new state for a job change. It was during this time that we were also thrust deep into a family crisis, which sent me into a season of depression, anxiety, and heartache unlike anything I had ever experienced.

God had led us out into the deep and I felt excruciatingly alone — separated by hundreds of miles from my family, friends, and church home. It was in this season that God took me through Psalm 119 and showed me that even though my instinct in suffering is to run to my closest confidants, His Word directs me to run to Him. Indeed, it is the fellowship of Scripture that leads to hope, peace, and joy in the midst of suffering.

Notice in this passage how every verse points us to Scripture:

  • Your commands (v73)
  • Your word (v74)
  • Your laws (v75)
  • Your promise (v76)
  • Your law (v77)
  • Your precepts (v78)
  • Your statutes (v79)
  • Your decrees (v80)

And how this fellowship of Scripture leads us specifically to:

  • Understanding (v73)
  • Hope (v74)
  • Faithfulness (v75)
  • Comfort (v76)
  • Delight (v77)
  • Focus (v78)
  • Confidence (v80)

Isn’t “understanding, hope, faithfulness, comfort, delight, focus, and confidence” what we seek most when we are in the midst of crisis; when we are suffering? We search and stumble and try to conjure up these things on our own. And yet, God’s Word is right here, free for the taking, ready to faithfully guide our steps there, every time. Whether we are called out into the deep all alone, or we are surrounded by friends and family for support, how much sweeter will our trust in Jesus become as we step boldly into the fellowship of Scripture in seasons of suffering.

Lessons

73. Only the Creator can give understanding to the created. God created each one of us and He created Scripture. He knows our needs and He grants us understanding of His Word when we ask Him.

74. When we put our hope in God’s Word, and not in our efforts or abilities or relationships or expected outcomes, then we find joy and peace despite whatever our circumstances. This is one way God uses our suffering to encourage others and to encourage us.

75. God’s law is righteous, and His purposes are holy and just. Therefore, we can trust that even in affliction (suffering), God is faithful to us …

76.(cont’d from 75) … because it is in the hardest of times that we experience His unfailing love for us most profoundly, which He promises us in His Word.

77. We are unable to live apart from God’s compassion on us. He shows us compassion by giving us His Word and enabling us to understand it (see v 73). When we find our delight (our pleasure; our enjoyment) in it and not in the fleeting, temporary thrills and things of this world, then we find life.

78. Those who refuse God’s Word are arrogant — they assert no need for Him — and they will shame us and persecute us without cause. But rather than listen to them and be influenced or persuaded by them, we meditate on Scripture — we keep our focus on Scripture — and we let Scripture guide our every thought, motive, attitude, and action.

79. Although seasons like ours may find us alone in our suffering, we were not meant to stay there long-term. As hard as it may be, reach out. We were designed for community, and in times of suffering, a community of like-minded Believers will be a source of encouragement.

80. Think about what it looks like to observe someone who is pursuing a social cause wholeheartedly. They are sold.out. They read, they learn, they share, they try to convince others to become involved. They can’t get enough. So we must also follow God’s Word wholeheartedly, not picking and choosing the parts we prefer, but reading, learning, sharing … never getting enough. It is only when we follow God wholeheartedly that we can be confident we will “suffer well” according to God’s promises, and in so doing, we will become more like Christ.

Applications

73. Am I actively seeking God to give me understanding of His Word?

74. Am I putting my hope in God’s Word; or in my efforts, relationships and expected outcomes?

75. How have I seen my affliction as an expression of God’s faithfulness?

76. How have I seen God’s unfailing love in my affliction?

77. What is the source of my delight (pleasure; enjoyment)?

78. How am I yet arrogant to God’s Word? Where might I be refusing Him? And when others shame me for His sake, what is my response? Where do I turn?

79. Am I actively part of a community of Believers? If not, why?

80. Am I following God’s Word wholeheartedly? What evidence is there of my passion for His Word? How has God’s Word equipped me for a season of suffering? How does my suffering make me more like Christ?

“Do Not Be Afraid”

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Eighty-one times throughout Scripture — from Genesis to Revelation — God says, “Do not be afraid.” [1]

Eighty-one times.

Why? What is it about fear that is so important for us to overcome that God would say to us eighty-one times?

I decided to examine each of the instances in which this phrase appears in Scripture. In doing so, I came to this conclusion:

It is important to God that we not fear because God — the One who created us — who wired our minds and our emotions — knows that the root of our fear is doubt.

Let me say that again: The root of fear is doubt.

This is our life experience from when we are very young.

When we are very little and we’ve been tucked in bed at night:

It’s dark. “Mama, are you still there?”

When we are home alone and a strange noise startles us:

What was that noise?  “Is someone there?”

When we are walking through the Valley of the Shadow and it feels like the darkness of life will never end:

Why is this happening to me? “God, are you there?”

The root of fear is doubt.

When we are afraid, we question whether the constants in our life are still there to protect us.  We wonder if we have been abandoned and if we will have the strength or the bravery to confront whatever may lie in wait for us around the corner.

God knows that in our fear, we will doubt. And ultimately, we will doubt Him. We will doubt His goodness. We will doubt His faithfulness. And when we doubt Him, we lose our anchor; we lose the footing on our firm foundation. 

Knowing we need God as our anchor, He exhorts us, “Do not be afraid.” 

But why — why should we trust Him? Why should we not be afraid? 

There is an interesting pattern that emerges when you examine each of these verses (see PDF attachment below):

In nearly every instance that God tell us, “Do not be afraid”, I observed that God does not affirm us in our fear (As in, “Hey, you can do this!” or “You are capable of facing this fear!”).  

No. In nearly every instance of the phrase “Do not be afraid,” God affirms himself [2]:

“Do not be afraid … I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1)

“Do not be afraid … God has heard you.” (Genesis 21:17)

“Do not be afraid … I am with you.” (Genesis 26:24)

“Do not be afraid … God has come.” (Exodus 20:20)

“Do not be afraid … The LORD himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)

“Do not be afraid … The LORD your God goes with you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“Do not be afraid … The LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

“Do not be afraid … The battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15)

“Do not be afraid … I will save you.” (Isaiah 43:5)

“Do not be afraid … I have come.” (Daniel 10:12)

“Do not be afraid … Jesus said. (Matthew 10:26)

“Do not be afraid … Your prayer has been heard.” (Luke 1:13)

“Do not be afraid … My peace I give you.” (John 14:27)

“Do not be afraid … The Lord is my helper.” (Hebrews 13:6)

“Do not be afraid … I am the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17)

So, first and foremost: why should we not be afraid? Not because we are capable of conquering our fear on our own, but because God is capable of conquering our fear; because God is for us; and because God is God! 

The next observation I make is that as we trust in God because He is God, He does not expect us to do nothing. He does not expect us to be passive in our troubles. No. In many of these exhortations to not be afraid, once He has affirmed himself, He also gives us a directive to take action. Not just any action, mind you, (since actions we are likely to take in the midst of our fear and doubt often come from our irrational brain center — but specific action that He directs from Scripture:

“Stand firm.” (Yes, standing firm is an action — it requires intentional assertion.) (Exodus 14:13)

“Go up and take possession.” (Deuteronomy 1:21)

“Be strong and courageous.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“Peace!” (Yes, the exclamation point is there in the verse!) (Judges 6:23)

“Serve the Lord with all your heart.” (1 Samuel 12:20)

“ Settle down; serve…” (2 Kings 25:24)

“Take up your positions; stand firm. Go out and face them.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

“Be careful; keep calm.” (Isaiah 7:4)

“Lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up!” (Isaiah 40:9)

“Set your mind to gain understanding; humble yourself before the Lord.” (Daniel 10:12)

“Be strong now; be strong.” (Daniel 10:19)

“Let your hands be strong.” (Zechariah 8:13)

“Go and tell.” (Matthew 28:10)

“Keep on speaking.” (Acts 18:9)

“Fall at his feet.” (Revelation 1:17)

“Be faithful.” (Revelation 2:10)

So, quick summary of what we are to do up to this point when we are afraid:

  1. Rest in the affirmation of God
  2. Take Action as He directs it in Scripture

And finally, as part of the pattern God establishes when He tells us to not be afraid, I observe that God often offers a promise:

“I will bless you.” (Genesis 26:24)

“You will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you.” (Exodus 14:13)

“He will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

“It will go well with you.” (2 Kings 25:24)

“You will have success.” (1 Chronicles 22:13)

“He will not fail you or forsake you.” (1 Chronicles 28:20)

“You will not have to fight this battle; see the deliverance the Lord will give you.” (2 Chronicles 20:17)

“When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” (Proverbs 3:24)

“He who made you will help you.” (Isaiah 44:2)

“You will not be put to shame; you will not be humiliated.” (Isaiah 54:4)

“I will surely save you out of a distant place.” (Jeremiah 46:27)

“You will be a blessing.” (Zechariah 8:13)

“The pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches.” (Joel 2:21-22

(I love that last one in particular, because it is such a vivid word picture that even when we’ve been in an extended season of “winter”, a new season of life and growth and rebirth is coming! It’s not a “maybe” — it’s a promise!)

These promises are comforting, but know this: A promise is not received until you take it for yourself. God gives these promises to those who put their trust in Him, but you must choose to receive them in faith. And “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

To recap once again: When we are afraid,

    1. Rest in the affirmation of God.
    2. Take Action as He directs it in Scripture.
    3. Receive His promise to you.

One final observation is that in many of the same verses where we are told, “Do not be afraid,” we are also exhorted: “Do not be discouraged”, or “Do not be fainthearted,” or “Do not panic”, or “Do not be dismayed.”

Again, as our Creator, God knows that fear and discouragement are closely linked. In our doubt, we fear. Closely thereafter, we are so likely to also become discouraged — especially in an extended season of fear and doubt.

So, when you are afraid or when you are discouraged: Examine the root of your fear and look for your doubt. Then, follow the pattern God has established in Scripture. As your doubt in the unknown is replaced by confidence in who God is, your fear will also recede.

Rest in the affirmation of God; take the action as He has directed in Scripture; and receive his promise.

Scripture Analysis – PDF: Do Not Be Afraid

Edited to Add: I want to acknowledge the very real existence of PTSD, Panic and Anxiety Disorder, and other mental health struggles related to fear. I am not ashamed to say that I live with both PTSD and Panic and Anxiety. To have a chemical response in your body overcome your physical ability to remain rational is a terrifying experience. It is not a mind-over-matter situation. This post is in no way intended to suggest that. All that said, as part of an overall positive mental health regimen, meditating on God’s goodness, His faithfulness, and His sovereignty has been extremely helpful to me in my life’s journey.  


[1] There are eighty-one instances of “Do not be afraid” in the NIV translation: https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=%22Do+not+be+afraid%22&qs_version=NIV&limit=100. For the purpose of my study, I selected 72 of the 81 verses where this phrase appears. The PDF attachment above shows my analysis.

[2] These are only a few selections. See attachment for the full list of affirmations, directives, and promises.

Psalm 119:65-72 — The Nature of Goodness

Psalm 119:65-72

65 Do good to your servant
according to your word, Lord.
66 Teach me knowledge and good judgment,
for I trust your commands.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
68 You are good, and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees.
69 Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies,
I keep your precepts with all my heart.
70 Their hearts are callous and unfeeling,
but I delight in your law.
71 It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Lessons

Throughout the course of our lives, we hear a lot about trying to be good. We are taught the importance of good habits and good manners. We reward our children for good behavior. Entire religions rely on an ability to be good or to attain goodness. Even people without faith claim, though they worship no one in particular, they are still generally a “good” person and, if there is a God, surely he will take notice.

But, as Christians, we reject the notion that our inherently sinful nature is capable of goodness. Rather, we rely entirely on God’s goodness. 

So what is the nature of this goodness that only God can provide?

65. God’s goodness is a promise. God’s goodness is not a fickle emotion. God’s very nature is good and His goodness is His promise to us when we submit our lives to him (as a “servant”).

66. The foundation of goodness is faith. Too often we pursue knowledge and wisdom in an effort to establish belief. But that is not faith. Belief in God — our faith — is the foundation of knowledge and good judgment (which we sometimes call “wisdom”). We must first believe God’s Word is truth and then we will grow in knowledge and wisdom.

67. God’s goodness leads us to obedience. When we choose to sin, we stray from God’s Word. In fact, it is our human nature to do so. But it is by the goodness of the Holy Spirit that are we able to obey it.

68. We learn that God’s nature — and His will — is good by studying Scripture.  This verse tell us quite plainly that God is good. And everything God does or allows is good. When life’s circumstances seem to contradict this truth — in times of hurt, hardship, disease, loss, persecution, and in all of life’s trials — we sometimes tend to abandon God’s Word and instead try to make sense of our suffering on our own. But we will only see God’s goodness — and His good will for us — when we dig deep into His Word and choose to learn from Him.

69. What goodness is not. Those whose hearts are hard toward God and refuse to acknowledge their need for Him (this is true “arrogance”) will mock me, pressure me, aim to hurt me, and try to steal, kill and destroy my beliefs, my will, and my reputation. But even in the face of what goodness is not, I am only able to be strong and remain faithful when my heart is focused on God’s Word.

70.  Goodness delights in God, not man. The result of arrogance is a callous and unfeeling heart. Conversely, those who follow Jesus remain sensitive to sin, to pain, and to suffering — and also to joy, to love, and to peace — by finding our delight in God’s Word, rather than the approval of people.

71. Goodness is being thankful for affliction because it points us to Jesus. What happens when you are looking at something very small — something that is hard to see? You lean closer to it. Why? Because the closer you are to something, the larger it appears.  So, when we are “afflicted” (sick, struggling, or suffering in any way), and it might be hard to “see” Jesus in the midst of our circumstances, we ought to lean closer into the Scriptures. The closer we lean to Jesus, the larger He appears in our lives.

It is in these hardest times of life that we seek God with all our heart because we’ve been driven to a point when we are no longer able to answer or provide for ourselves. And as a result, it is these hardest times when we experience God’s goodness and faithfulness and kindness and gentleness in the most profound way. This is why we can be thankful not just in times of affliction, but for affliction itself, and “consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). This is true grace.

72. God’s Law is good. God’s law — and our inability to keep it perfectly as His holiness demands that we do — points us to our need for Jesus (Romans 3:20). And because we are continually pointed by Scripture to God’s goodness as the basis of knowledge and wisdom; of obedience and faithfulness; of gratitude and grace — because of this, God’s Law is more precious to us than any material possession we could ever own.

Applications 

65. Have I fully submitted every area of my life and will and heart to God? Am I seeking out God’s Word and willingly making changes in my heart and life according to His Word?

66. Do I truly believe God’s promises for me? Am I seeking knowledge and wisdom of myself to justify my belief … or do I believe first and therefore, am growing in knowledge and wisdom of God?

67. Am I regularly confessing sin so I am able to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and obedient to His leading?

68. Am I trying to figure out God’s good will on my own or by studying and learning God’s own Word?

69. In what areas of my heart am I harboring an arrogant heart by refusing to submit that part of my life to God’s Word? How do I respond when others who reject God’s Word come against me? What will be my answer? Will I turn to myself or turn to Scripture?

70. Is my delight in God’s Word or in pleasing other people?

71. Am I able to be thankful, not just in times of affliction, but for the affliction when it comes against me because it drives me deeper into Scripture and closer to Jesus?

72. What evidence is there in my life that Scripture is more precious to me than anything else? If there is no evidence — or little evidence — what do I need to do to change that?

Prayer

O Lord, thank you for Your Goodness. And thank you for showing me your good nature in Scripture. Thank you that your GOOD plan is that I pursue YOU and then I grow in knowledge, wisdom, obedience, faithfulness, gratitude and grace — rather than trying to achieve those things on my own in an effort to find You.

God, You are good. And You do good things.

Please help me to keep a heart that is sensitive to sin and arrogance, that I might always find my delight in Your Word.

And Mary Responded …

Given the recent calendar page turn into Advent, I’ve been pondering Mary lately and what she must have been thinking as she faced an eternity-changing event in her life.

Consider Mary’s circumstances: She was a young girl (likely between the ages of 12-14), “ready” for marriage and betrothed to a man from her tiny village of Nazareth.

Betrothal in ancient Israel was much more significant than our modern (and Gentile) version of “engagement” and included a 9-12 month waiting period where the couple was legally married, but had not yet consummated the marriage.  If the bride became pregnant by another man or was found to not be a virgin during this period of “sanctification”, then she could be divorced or stoned to death.  If she was allowed to live, then most certainly, she and her family would be socially and spiritually outcast.

So, it is under these legal, social and spiritual circumstances that the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her that she will become divinely pregnant and will give birth to the long-awaited Messiah (Luke 1:26-38).  Surely, Mary knew full well the dangers and heartache that awaited her.  Had it been me, I’m certain I would have wondered: “Could this really be for my good?”

But, in fact, that’s not how Mary responded.  Instead, Scripture records Mary’s response in a passage known as The Magnificat and I think there are some lessons for us in it:

46 Mary responded,
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Luke 1:46-55, NLT

First, the text tells us Mary’s “soul praises” and her “spirit rejoices”. From this, and because Gabriel told Mary the Spirit of the Lord would come to her, we know Mary was fully united with the Holy Spirit and thus, it is by the Holy Spirit that she is able to praise God in the midst of such difficult circumstances.

Second, Mary calls herself the Lord’s “servant”.  She was fully submitted to God as her Lord. You may have heard the phrase, “You can’t say ‘No, Lord'”, meaning that God is either Lord of your life and you are submitted to His leading, or He is not. There is no in-between.

Third, even though her social, legal and even physical well being were threatened (or could have been), Mary proclaims that God has done great things for her.  Mary is fully confident in God’s sovereignty, even though she is facing difficult circumstances and can’t see the future for how they will turn out.

Fourth, in vv 51-55, Mary reflects on God’s character revealed throughout Israel’s history. In so doing, Mary leans on her version of “Scripture” for encouragement — and she is fully believing God is faithful to keep his promises.

From these lessons, we can ask the same questions of our ourselves:

  1. Am I fully united with the Holy Spirit? Is there anything hindering my relationship with the Lord this Advent? An attitude to confess? A habit to quit? A sin to turn away from? A relationship to reconcile?
  2. Am I fully surrendered to God’s leading?  Is God truly Lord over my life?  Am I willing  to praise God with my mouth, but not willing to accept His teaching and direction when it’s different from what I want?
  3. Am I fully confident in God’s sovereignty — regardless of my current circumstances — even though I can’t see the future?
  4. Do I fully believe God is faithful to keep his promises?  Am I regularly leaning into Scripture for evidence and encouragement of God’s character and promises?

I love the verb that opens this passage in the NLT, “Mary responded” (emphasis mine). Many translations use the phrase, “And Mary said …”.  But this verb “responded” suggests to me that Mary did not just preach herself a sermon and keep the knowledge in her head. No. Mary responded in her mind, in her spirit, and with her actions.  She purposed in her heart to believe God, trust in Him and live out her faith accordingly.

How are you responding to God this Advent season?

Thanksgiving Meditation

2013 has been a hard year for our family. We’ve experienced a health crisis, job loss, total depletion of all our savings, crisis with our adopted son and his (hopefully temporary) departure from our family, and now, a relocation away from our family, friends, and church family.

And yet, I don’t think I’ve ever had a Thanksgiving when I’ve had more for which to be thankful.

This is the Scripture I am keeping close:

Lamentations 3:17-25 (NLT)

17 Peace has been stripped away,
and I have forgotten what prosperity is.
18 I cry out, “My splendor is gone!
Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!”
19 The thought of my suffering and homelessness
is bitter beyond words.[a]
20 I will never forget this awful time,
as I grieve over my loss.
21 Yet I still dare to hope
when I remember this:
22 The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
23 Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!”
25 The Lord is good to those who depend on him,
to those who search for him.
 (Emphasis mine)

God is good. Great is His faithfulness.

I don’t do “New Year’s Resolutions” per se, but I do like to spend time each January 1 reflecting on the highlights and challenges of the previous year and then writing down a “vision” for the next year. I try to “check in” with my list several times throughout the year to see how I’m doing.

I re-read my “Vision for 2013” the other night and I was really struck by something.  There were 11 things on my list.  Things like: Finish my Masters Degree, Pay off Debt, Write Regularly on my Blog, Read a Certain Number of Books, etc.  These were all goals I set because I saw them as good and worthy pursuits to expand my mind, my learning, my career, my family, and my service.

Guess how many of my 11 goals I am on track to complete this year?  One. Only one goal has God allowed me to remain on track to accomplish.

Which one?

Read the Bible all the way through in 1 year.

Though I’ve done a lot of Bible study over the years, I had not read the entire thing cover to cover, ever, let alone in one year.  So, I decided on January 1, 2013 I wanted this to be the year that would happen.  And I’m on track to meet that goal by January 2014.

Why? Of all those “good” goals I set, why would this be the one thing that God would provide me the means, motivation, and opportunity to complete? Because He knew it would be the one thing that would not only sustain me in 2013, but cause me to grow.

It has been a hard year for our family.  I concede that I will not be sorry to see 2013 go. But God is good and He has cared so gently for our family in this season.  He has shown me (again) this year that He knows everything we will face and that — each and every day, because of His great love and mercy and faithfulness — He will equip us with everything we need to accomplish all that is set before us.

And so, I say again: Thanks be to God. Great is His faithfulness.

Happy Thanksgiving.

When God Says “No”

When was the last time you prayed for something and God’s answer was “no”?

  • Have you prayed for healing for a dear friend with cancer and instead, she passes away leaving her young children and husband to grieve in this world?
  • Have you prayed for a job in a season of unemployment and instead joblessness persists as you watch your savings account dwindle?
  • Have you prayed for a baby — just one baby — and instead, remain childless?
  • Have you prayed for a spouse and instead, remain single and alone, heartbroken for someone to share your joys and sorrows?

When we receive this response to our fervent prayers, I think sometimes we try to mentally soften the blow to our disappointed hearts by receiving this answer more as a “not now” or “not yet”. We might even consider our prayer, “unanswered”. (Although, for the record, I don’t think this idea of “unanswered” prayer is scriptural for God says, “Call to me and I will answer you” (Jeremiah 33:3).) It may take longer than we wish to receive or understand God’s answer, but the truth is, the Bible is full of examples when God’s answer to a just, verdant, and even good prayer request was … “No.”

  • Moses wanted to go into the Promised Land. But God told him ‘no’ and instead raised up Joshua to lead the Israelites into the promised land. (Deut. 3:23-27)
  • David wanted to build the Temple. But God told him no and instead used his son Solomon to build it and in so doing, bring peace to Israel (1 Chronicles 22:7-10)
  • Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to heal their brother Lazarus when he was sick. Jesus answered no and instead raised Lazarus from the dead. (John 11)
  • Jesus himself asked that the cup of suffering be taken from him as he prayed just prior to his crucifixion. God said no, but instead sent angel to strengthen him to complete the work set before him. (Luke 22:42-44)

In each of these situations, the “no” God gave was because He had a greater plan yet to be revealed.

I have been praying for months about two things (and by “things”, I don’t mean material things, I mean “circumstances”). Two good things that I believed would provide our family greater stability, more time together, and an increased opportunity to serve Him by serving in our community. I was not asking God for wealth or stuff. I was not asking God for popularity or prestige. I was not asking God for status or success. I was asking Him to make provision for us by allowing two particular good circumstances to come to pass, if it was His best for us.

But His answer was … “No.”

It is a hard thing to (sincerely) pray, “Thy will be done” and then accept the outcome when His will isn’t that for which we hoped. But we do so because if what we want isn’t God’s best for us, then … do we really want it? I don’t.

God has not yet revealed His greater plan for us. It has been hard — even painful — to accept and understand these circumstances, but because it is His nature to say “no” when His plans are greater than ours, I know He will.

In the meantime, I continue to abide in these truths: “Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100:5).

Houston: We Have a Humility Problem

“But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” —Romans 9:20 (NIV84)

As a generation — as humankind — I think we have a humility problem.

Let’s take a brief trip through Scripture and consider who God is:

God – who formed Man in His image … so I would know Him as my Creator (Genesis 2:7)
God – who parted the Red Sea … so I would know His power (Exodus 14)
God – who gave The Law … so I would know His holiness and justice (Deuteronomy 5)
God – who sustained Job … so I would know His faithfulness (Job 42)
God – who walked with David … so I would know Him as my Shepherd (Psalm 23)
God – who gave Proverbs to Solomon … so I would know His wisdom (Proverbs)
God – who saved Daniel from the Lion … so I would know His sovereignty (Daniel 6)
God – who sent Jesus to earth as a baby … so I would know His humanity (Matthew 1)
God – who poured out His wrath on Jesus … so I would know His mercy (Mark 14-15)
God – who raised Jesus from the dead … so I would know eternal life! (Mark 16)
God – who left His Holy Spirit on Earth … so I would know His comfort (Acts 2)

God has given us all of who He is … so we could know all of Him! This list doesn’t even scratch the surface of His immeasurable holiness and faithfulness and loveliness and goodness and justice and love, and yet … does it make you want to drop to your knees and fall prostrate on the floor in worship of Him? It should!

So, in light of who God is, who are we to tell God He is wrong about:

  • What defines a family?
  • When a baby’s life begins (or when it should end)?
  • When an elderly, ill, or disabled person’s life should end?
  • Who should be allowed to pray — and where, when, and how?
  • When it’s “ok” to be divorced?
  • Who should be leading the local bodies of His Church?

There are a lot of “hot-button” issues in that list (and it is by no means exhaustive). And my intention here is not to spark a political or social issues debate (so I’m going to kindly ask that we not turn the Comments section of this post into one).

No, instead, I’m going to ask you to completely set aside your thoughts on these issues for a few minutes and seek God’s thoughts on them. I’m going to ask you to pray to God – even if you have never done so before – and ask Him to help your heart to be humble and show you how to yield to His ways in these areas.

I think we have reached a point in our “advancement” as a society where we now esteem our own thoughts and opinions more than those of the Almighty God. And in the course of our “enlightenment,” society seems to have come to the conclusion that we are either equal to God, better than God, or at least … irrelevant to God. As a result, I think we are learning the hard way how destructive “our way” is as we witness exponential increases in:

  • Horrifically violent crimes
  • Hate-filled rhetoric
  • Children overcome with depression and anxiety
  • Broken families of stressed-out mommies, absent daddies and undisciplined children
  • Empty churches (whether physically or spiritually)

But …

If we would humble ourselves in light of who God is (see list above), seeking what God has to say (I believe The Bible is God’s perfect Word so we don’t have to wonder what God has to say on these issues), I believe we would experience an outpouring of God’s blessing on our relationships, on our families, on our churches, on our cities, on our nations, on our world, and on humanity. And I believe the result would be:

  • A culture of peace rather than dissent
  • A culture of unity rather than divisiveness
  • A culture of life rather than death
  • Thriving children and families
  • Happier marriages and healthier children (note, I did not say “easy” marriages)
  • Revived, Spirit-filled churches

And lest anyone think that I am sitting here on my righteous high horse:

Church … Christian … it starts with you! It starts with ME:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” —2 Chronicles 7:14

And it all starts with recognizing: we have a humility problem.

So, I’m asking God today:

  • Where in my life have I hardened my heart against God’s Word?
  • Where have I become prideful and allowed my thoughts, opinions, positions, and actions to be formed without regard for His holiness?
  • Help me be in humble submission to His sovereign Lordship in every area of my life.

Will you join me?