Psalm 74: Where are you,God?

Why does it seem that God is silent in the midst of the most difficult trials and tribulations of our lives? The silence can puncture the ear drums of the most spiritual person. The pain eats away at your faith like acid as you begin to feel hopeless and helpless. You are stranded in a spiritual traffic jam until it clears, if it ever clears.

One popular saying concerning God’s silence is “The teacher is always quiet during the test.” While well-meaning, this saying doesn’t bring immediate comfort during the test because we simply do not know how long this test is going to be nor do we know if there is another part to it, which can sink us further into the depths of despair. I have been there and I know you probably have been there too.

In Psalm 74, the psalmist wrote about the destruction of the first Temple while questioning God. Essentially, the psalmist asks such questions as, “Where are you, God?” “Are you seeing this?” “Do you care about what’s going on here?”

The Old Testament tells us that the Jews are God’s chosen people, Jerusalem was the place where the Temple was to be built and God’s presence would dwell in said Temple. However, all of this came into question as the Babylonians laid waste to the Temple in 586 B.C.

“O God, why have you rejected us forever? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Remember the nation  you purchased long ago, the people of your inheritance, whom you redeemed-Mount Zion, where you dwelt.” (Psalm 74:1-2, NIV).

The psalmist goes on to describe the destruction:

“Turn your steps toward these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the place where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees.” (Psalms 74:3-5, NIV).

The destruction is detailed- the paneling is smashed and the sanctuary has been burned to the ground. The psalmist once again makes note of God’s silence during this time and asks Him if He’s going to do something about it:

“We are given no signs from God; no prophets are left, and none of us knows how long this will be. How long will the enemy mock you, God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!” (Psalm 74:9-11, NIV).

These words portray such raw emotion. How many times have we pleaded with God to give us wisdom in a situation, asking for a sign? How many times have you prayed for God to remove sickness from your child or yourself? How many tears in the night must be shed before action is taken? When your last hope has nothing to say, where do you go? The psalmist is literally pleading with God to take His hands out of His pockets and do something about it.

Like the other Psalms, the writer reflects on some of God’s deeds (verses 12-17), and ends with another plea for God to intervene (verses 18-23). The Psalm does not end on a happy note nor does it make a declaration of faith. The Temple has been destroyed. God’s dwelling place has been burned to the ground. The treasures have been seized and are now in possession of a foreign king in a foreign land. For the Israelites, the story doesn’t end well, as they face seventy years of exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). After the exile, the Temple would be rebuilt during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, but it did not match the splendor and majesty of the first Temple.

Just as the destruction of the Temple and exile marked major turning points in the history of the Jewish people, so to we experience such turning points in our lives. There are events that take place where we may never fully recover; part of us will always be missing. Sometimes there are no answers. When we go through trials, we must be realistic about what we are facing- it’s going to be tough, but you will get through it, somehow.

 

Seneca, Providence, and Adversity

“Without an antagonist prowess fades away. Its true proportions and capacities come to light only when action proves its endurance. You must know that good men should behave similarly; they must not shrink from hardship and difficulty or complain of fate; they should take whatever befalls in good part and turn it to advantage. The thing that matters is not what you bear but how you bear it.”- Lucius Seneca, “On Providence.”[1]

 

I recently came across this quote and it gave me pause.  The obstacles and challenges of this life seem to converge and overwhelm us at every opportunity. If you have not been challenged in a while, you do not have to go looking for it, it will find you. We should not live in fear of what comes next, but we must draw on the reserve in our spirits and be ready to apply what we have learned from previous tests.

Every great hero needs a great adversary. Could you imagine Batman without The Joker? Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader? Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarty? Think of the countless great athletes who managed to step up their game when faced with an equally talented opponent. All of the training, prayer, study, sleepless nights, thinking, crying, frustration, pain, grief, loss, and hurt have come down to this: it is time to prove it to yourself. You cannot worry about what others will think, you must have the confidence in your God-given abilities. God leads us in and shows us the way.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).

Seneca goes further to describe God’s role in our overcoming adversity:

“God’s attitude to good men is a father’s; his love for them is a manly love. ‘Let them be harassed by toil and sorrow and loss,’ says he, ‘that they may acquire true strength.’”[2]

On the surface, that sounds kind of harsh, but God has His reasons, He wants you to be strengthened and He is working on you to become a battle hardened soldier.

“Pampered bodies grow sluggish through sloth; not work but movement and their own weight exhausts them. Prosperity unbruised cannot endure a single blow, but a man who has been at constant feud with misfortunes acquires a skin calloused by suffering; he yields to no evil and even if he stumbles carries the fight on upon his knee.”[3]

We may never get an explanation in this life as to why something happened. Great thinkers, theologians, and philosophers may never answer the question of “Why do we suffer?” to satisfy everyone. But know, like Esther, you “were born for such a time as this.” I will conclude with a few more quotes from Seneca’s essay, “On Providence.”

“Prosperity can come to the vulgar and to ordinary talents, but to triumph over the disasters and terrors of mortal life is the privilege of the great man.”[4]

“Cruelty presses hardest on the inexperienced; the tender neck chafes at the yoke.”[5]

“The demonstration of courage can never be gentle. Fortune scourges and rends us: we must endure it.”[6]

“No tree stands firm and sturdy if it is not buffeted by constant wind; the very stresses cause it to stiffen and fix its roots firmly. Trees that have grown in a sunny vale are fragile. It is therefore to the advantage of good men, and it enables them to live without fear, to be on terms of intimacy with danger and to bear with serenity a fortune that is ill only to him who bears it ill.”[7]

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (1958): 30.

[2] Ibid, 30.

[3] Ibid, 30-31.

[4] Ibid, 36.

[5] Ibid, 37-38.

[6] Ibid, 39.

[7] Ibid, 40.

The Throne of Our Thoughts

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul, like a great trial lawyer, goes point by point to build his theological case. Romans serves as one of the foundational books that explains the Christian faith and is also one of the primary books Christians use to share the Gospel with others (also known as the “Romans Road”). Paul’s theology in Romans is like his other Epistles in that it is practical and can be applied to everyday life. One of the important areas Paul stresses is the need for us to renew our minds and change our thoughts.

Paul uses five different Greek words to describe our minds and the pattern of our thinking. What we think has a direct effect on our lives. If we try to think in more positive terms, we will be able to adapt to the constant change that is life. However, if we continuously focus on the negative, the hurt, the rejection, we will live a life of self-defeat, fear, and anxiety. As I have stated in past posts, we cannot control what happens to us, we can only control our responses to what happens.

Our Thoughts Represent our Power and Authority

As Christians, we believe in and serve a living and powerful God. However, we must also contend with our very real enemy, Satan, our own sinful natures, and daily interactions with others. Think of your mind as a throne. A throne represents a seat of power and authority for a king or queen. If a monarch chooses not to rule with their given authority or if they abdicate their throne, they are no longer in charge. To what and to whom we choose to think about determines if we are really on the throne of our minds. In fact, the word used the most for mind in Romans is the Greek word Nous (Strong’s #3563), which means, “The intellect- the seat of the will, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings.” The following verses speak of a matter of voluntary surrender, good or bad, when it comes to our minds and our wills. Thus, in order for our thoughts, wills, and lives to line up with what the Word says, it is a matter of choice.

“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.” (Romans 1:28, KJV).

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:23-25, KJV).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:1-2, KJV).

Our Thoughts Shape our Spiritual Reality

Throughout Romans, Paul makes the use of contrast between the renewed spiritual life we have in Christ and the continuous war of the carnal life we live within our sinful natures (or flesh if you prefer). The Greek word Paul uses is Phroneo (Strong’s 5426), which means “to be minded in a certain way” concerning our opinions and sentiments.

“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:6, KJV).

“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16, KJV).

Our Thoughts are Seeds

Paul switches words from Romans 8:5 to Romans 8:6, to show the contrast. Here, Paul uses the word Phronema (Strong’s 5427), which means “what one has in mind or thought.” We have to think of our thoughts as seeds. No matter what type of seed it is- all seeds need the proper amount of light, soil conditions and water to grow. Our thoughts are no different, what we allow to grow in our minds can change a beautiful garden into a dried-up wasteland.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be…And He that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:6-7, 27, KJV).

Our Thoughts Should Bring Harmony

It is a given that we will encounter difficult people. It is easy to find an everyday occurrence where we can allow someone or a situation to make us angry. We can choose to hold onto bitterness and not forgive others. However, we are not living life in the Spirit if we follow our carnal inclinations. Instead, our thoughts toward our brothers and sisters and our fellow man, in order to bring glory to God. The word Paul uses in Romans 15:6 is Homothumadon (Strong’s #3661), which means to be “unanimous, in one accord.”

“Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6, KJV).

 The Battle for our Thoughts and our Mission

With every day we are blessed enough to live, we will have a raging battle for our minds. Just because you fight of a negative thought on Monday does not necessarily mean you will not have to fight it on Tuesday or any other day. Our minds are like muscles and we must keep them strong and in shape. We can fortify our minds not only by reigning from the throne of our thoughts, but by remembering every battle we have won. In essence, we need to remind ourselves daily of the victories and God’s grace. The word used to describe this situation is Epanamimnesko (Strong’s #1878), which means “to remind again.” We must remember our mission in this life.

“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God. That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost. ” (Romans 15:15-16, KJV).

 

The Holy Spirit our Comforter

In the hours leading up to his arrest, trials, flogging, and death on the cross, Jesus shared a Passover meal with His disciples commonly referred to as “The Last Supper.” Jesus took this precious time to teach many things to His disciples. One of the topics Jesus taught – the role of the Holy Spirit- is what makes Christianity unique among world religions, where God comes to live inside of us and we can have a relationship with God. Jesus taught many things about the Holy Spirit, and we will examine the comforting aspect of the Holy Spirit.

In His discourse, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “The Comforter.” The Greek word for comforter is Paraklietos (Strong’s #3875), which means “intercessor, consoler; one summoned or called to one’s side.” Jesus introduces the Holy Spirit by stating:

“If ye love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever. Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:15-17, KJV, emphasis mine).

What comforting words that because we know God, God comes to dwell in us and is always with us. Religion gives us a checklist of things to do and maybe, just maybe, God will approve of us. For Christians, we only have to believe.

Life can be lonely. Even when we are surrounded by our families, friends, and the beauty all around us, our trials and our grief can isolate us. We become adept at putting on a front, fooling the outside world, while inside it feels like our spirits are being torn to shreds by a savage beast. The pain is real. The struggle is real. God may be silent, be He has not left you, as Jesus states:

“I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18, KJV, emphasis mine).

The Greek word for comfortless is the word Orphanos (Strong’s #3737), which means “fatherless or orphaned.” God does not leave us to fend for ourselves. Our Savior did not stay dead in the grave, He is alive! His Spirit is within us. The world may abandon you, but God never will.

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:26-27, KJV).

When we remember God’s Word and everything we have been through, we can have peace in the worst of circumstances. Inner peace is a choice as happiness and contentment are choices. We can make these choices easier when we come to the revelation that God is by our side.

“But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning.” (John 15:26-27, KJV).

Jesus goes on to explain how the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth:

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you. And when He is come, He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” (John 16:7-8, 13-14, KJV).

The deeper you go into a relationship with someone, the better you get to know them. This principle applies no matter whether the relationship is romantic, familial, or friendship. You learn the person’s voice, habits, appearance, and their likes or dislikes. If someone were impersonating your spouse, child, or friend, you could spot the impostor. As Christians, we have that same opportunity with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit regarding learning the truth, knowing God’s voice and His Word. Though the temptation is always there when times get rough, to run away from God and everyone else, we can go a different route. We can refuse to listen to Satan’s lies and listen for God’s truth.  We can unload our troubles on God like we can a phone call to our best friend or a conversation with our spouse. God knows you are hurting. Let Him comfort you. You may not get an explanation in this life as to why events have unfolded the way they have, but we can be guided by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We can have peace in the midst of pain; joy in the midst of sorrow; comfort in the midst of tragedy. God bless you all.

Finding Comfort in Sorrow

A common theme throughout both the Old and New Testaments is how God seeks to comfort His people. Just as the ancient Israelites awaited the arrival of the Messiah, so Christians await the return of Christ. The Book of Revelation describes how Christ will wipe away all our tears and restore all things; the Old Testament also eludes to this fact.

In my previous post, we took a deeper look into the Hebrew word, Nacham (Strong’s #5162), which means “to repent or comfort” from the perspective of how we can draw comfort when we repent and show the strength to take a new course of action. To read the previous post, click here https://triumphantinchrist.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/finding-comfort-in-our-repentance/. In this post, we will examine Nacham from the comforting or consoling aspect of the word. Once again, I will be quoting exclusively from the King James Version.

 

Job’s Well-Intentioned Friends

When tragedy or difficulties strike our family and friends, our heart aches for them. We often feel so powerless and overwhelmed when we realize nothing we do or say is going to take away their pain. Our hurting loved ones need our presence more than social clichés. We do not have to say anything. Just be there. Give them a hug. Tell them you love them.

 Perhaps no one in the Old Testament suffered more than Job. In a quick succession of time, Job’s ten children died, he became ill, he lost his livelihood, and his wife, out of her pain, told him to “curse God and die.” Job, to the best of his knowledge, could not think of anything he did to bring on such suffering and tragedy. Up till the end of the book, God remained silent. When God did speak, Job was not given an explanation for his suffering, but was blessed in the end with more than he had before. Job’s three friends went to comfort him.

 “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came everyone from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him. And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent everyone his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:11-13, KJV, emphasis mine).

Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar started out with noble intentions, as all three decided to visit their friend. The three men also joined Job in his mourning by following the Hebrew customs of weeping openly, tearing their clothes, and sprinkling dust on their heads, which were all signs of mourning. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar offered no condolences or words of wisdom, they simply sat on the ground in silence for a week, covered in dirt and torn clothes. Job’s grief was so great that his friends did not recognize him at first.

During times of tragedy, we can find ourselves trying to explain why God would allow something to happen. However, the truth is that we cannot fully know God’s reasons nor even begin to understand His ways. Therefore, we do need to speak for God. If we say the wrong thing, we will only add to someone’s grief, which is what Job’s three friends did. If Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, had remained silent when Job began to speak, they would not have added to Job’s grief. However, Job’s three friends accused him of harboring a secret sin and that sin brought on his troubles. In multiple debates, the three friends reasoned with Job that he brought this on himself. This frustrated Job to no end.

“Then Job answered and said, I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all. Shall vain words have an end? Or what emboldeneth thee that thou answerest? I also could speak as ye do; if your soul were in my soul’s stead, I could heap up words against you, and shake mine head at you. But I would strengthen you with my mouth, and the moving of my lips should assuage your grief.” (Job 16: 1-5, KJV, emphasis mine).

 At the end of the Book of Job, he received the comfort he needed not only from his submission to God, but also from everyone who came out to see him and blessed him.

When the Grief is too much

The pain of yesterday and the uncertainty of the future only adds to the grief in the current moment. When we cannot see past the pain, life becomes too and we fall into despair. If you have reached despair, hold on to hope. There will be difficult days, but you will get through them. If you question “Where is God in the midst of all of this?” do not fret, because the Bible addresses this as well, showing us that we are not alone in how we feel.

“My soul fainteth for thy salvation: but I hope in thy word. Mine eyes fail for thy word, saying, ‘When wilt thou comfort me?’” (Psalms 119:81-82, KJV, emphasis mine).

“So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of the oppressors there was power, but they had no comforter.” (Ecclesiastes 4:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

 “Reproach hath broken my heart; and I am full of heaviness: and I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none.” (Psalm 69:20, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort is on the Way

Though we often picture the Old Testament prophets as bearers of “gloom and doom,” and pronouncing “Woe unto you,” God makes beautiful statements concerning a day when His children will be comforted, even in the midst of famine, suffering, grief, or an invading army. We too can take solace in these beautiful words found in Isaiah.

“Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I, even I, am He that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass.” (Isaiah 51:11-12, KJV, emphasis mine).

 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound. To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint them that mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, KJV, emphasis mine).

If you are experiencing grief and loss, please do not give up hope. This is a process and will take time. There is no set timeframe for this. You do not have to go on this journey alone. In fact, you are not on this journey alone. Though you may have days of darkness and doubt, know that God still loves you. God bless you all.

Finding Comfort in our Repentance

It is a natural human desire to seek comfort in the midst of tragic or difficult circumstances. When we know of someone who has suffered a devastating event such as the loss of a loved one or is dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster, we pray that God would comfort their hearts, souls, and minds. Comfort can bring us a peace that transcends understanding. We can also pursue comfort by seeking a certain financial and/or material standard of living.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language 4th edition defines Comfort as “1. (V) To soothe in time of affliction or distress. 2. (V) To ease physically, relieve. 3. (N). A condition of feeling or pleasurable ease, well-being, or contentment.” The Bible, of course, has much to say concerning comfort in the sense of consolation and providing solace and support, but we will examine comfort in the sense of strength and repentance. For this post, I will be conducting this word study using the King James Version.

The Hebrew word most often used for comfort is the word, Nacham (Strong’s #5162), which means “to repent, comfort.” More specifically, Nacham means “to make a strong turning to a new course of action.” Repentance simply means going in a different direction. For instance, if you repent of a sin, you go in a different direction by not committing that sin. Comfort is derived from the words Com (with) and Fort (strength). Strong’s Concordance goes on to explain: “When one repents, he exerts strength to change, re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of action.” Thus, repentance and comfort in this particular instance does not place the emphasis on God’s grace, but on our responses and the actions we take concerning our circumstances.

Before we go further, let me state that there are times when God allows difficult circumstances in our lives and what we go through is not always a direct result of our sin. Hence, I am not condemning anyone. We will examine biblical people who brought comfort by turning the situation around, examples of personal strength, and how God brought comfort to wayward ancient Israel.

Noah

From Adam to Noah, humanity grew excessively wicked and God sought to cleanse the world with the Flood. God chose Noah to bring repentance to humanity.

“And Lamech lived a hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: And he called his name Noah, saying ‘This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.” (Genesis 5:28-29, KJV, emphasis mine). Here is the first instance of the link between repentance and comfort.

Joseph

If anyone had a right to carry a chip on their shoulder, it would be Joseph. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, falsely accused of attacking Potiphar’s wife and subsequently falsely imprisoned.  Joseph was forgotten about in prison and stayed there longer than he should have been. However, God brought Joseph to prominence and placed him in a position of authority to save countless people during a famine. This famine was used to unite Joseph with his brothers and his father, Jacob. After Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives, that Joseph was biding his time and would take his revenge after their father died. Joseph’s brothers repented before him, pleading for mercy. Joseph, showed strength and comforted his brothers and explained to them the greater good of what happened:

“And Joseph said unto them, ‘Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me: but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones.’ And he comforted them, and spake kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:19-21, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort and Repentance in the Psalms

The Psalms, for me, have always been a source of hope and inspiration. Though some of the Psalms deal with Israel as a nation, the vast majority of the Psalms are personal reflections of people as they dealt with the harshness and trials of life. The writers of the Psalms gave an honest acknowledgement of their sins and the comfort brought on by repentance.

“He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:3-4, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Thou, which hast showed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.” (Psalm 71:20-21, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Remember the word unto thy servant, upon which thou hast caused me to hope. This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me.” (Psalm 119:49-50, KJV, emphasis mine).

“I know, O Lord, that thy judgments are right, and that thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me. Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant.” (Psalm 119:75-76, KJV, emphasis mine).

Comfort and God’s Judgment of Israel

From the Book of Judges on, a pattern is established in the Old Testament where Israel would fall into sin and idolatry, then God would raise up a prophet, judge, or king to urge Israel to repent of their sins and avoid God’s judgments. There were times when Israel refused to repent and God’s judgments came in the forms of invading armies such as the Assyrians or Babylonians. In the words of the Prophets, you can hear the heart of God, pleading to bring comfort to his suffering children. God would bring comfort when his people repented of their sins, thus, placing the onus on Israel and Judah to change their ways.

“And in that day thou shalt say, O Lord, I will praise thee: though thou wast angry with me, thine anger is turned away, and thou comfortedst me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:1-2, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

“What thing shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (Lamentations 2:13, KJV, emphasis mine).

“Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, both young men and old together: for I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13, KJV, emphasis mine).

In these words, we have covered only one aspect of comfort, with the emphasis on repentance. There are numerous examples of Nacham being used in the traditional sense of comfort, which I will cover later, Lord willing. If you are going through a painful season, please keep in mind that God has given you all of the tools and opportunities to start anew. Although it cannot change what happened, we do not have to stay where we are at and we can go forward with grace and strength. God bless you all.

Philippians 1: Remaining Steadfast

You are a work in progress. You are the marble slab in the hands of the Master sculptor. You are the canvas in front of the Master painter. The days, years, and events of your life may look and feel like random brush strokes, but when you take a look back, they are pieces of a mosaic that form a larger, grander picture.

The Apostle Paul understood that God is an artist when he wrote to the Philippian church, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6, NKJV).

Did Paul write these words while on a successful missionary journey or when everything in his life was going great? No. Paul wrote these words from prison in Rome. I have never been to prison, but I cannot imagine the depths of despair people sink into as they are locked away from society. Or think about how the elderly and disabled are often discarded when society and their family deem them as no longer serving a purpose. Everyone has purpose. No matter your current station in life, God has a plan for you. The final chapter has not been written in your life’s story.

During our trials and tribulations, we can focus outwardly and reach others, as Paul did with the Philippians.

“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1:9-11, NKJV).

As we go through difficult times, it is easy to pull out the victim card and cry “woe is me!” We always face the temptation of giving up. However, if we understand that God has allowed this trial in our life, we can ask, “How can I glorify God in this situation?”

“But I want you to know brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ, and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV, italics mine).

What a testimony Paul had in the midst of his circumstances. Everybody knew he was imprisoned for preaching Christ and it encouraged others to preach Christ without fear of the consequences. Of course, some were trying to cause more problems for Paul, but Christ is being preached. Think of how your testimony could empower someone else through their trials. What has God brought you through that you can pass on to the next generation?

Paul’s confidence and faith were in God alone, thus he was ready to accept his fate whether he would become a martyr or walk out of prison a free man. Paul was willing to be called home if the Lord desired it, but he was still willing to reach others.

“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or death.” (Philippians 1:19-20, NKJV).

Paul gets to the heart of the matter: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” (Philippians 1:21-24, NKJV).

Paul’s heart was still directed toward his mission and if the Philippian church needed him to further develop them as disciples, Paul was willing to do that if it would bring rejoicing to their hearts by seeing him again (Philippians 1:25-26, my paraphrase).

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reminder of how the Philippians were to act whether he were to be present or absent: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27, NKJV).

Paul goes on to emphasize that our suffering for Christ is a privilege and proof of our salvation.

“And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” (Philippians 1:28-30, NKJV).

Brothers and sisters, we are in Christ and we are not of this world. We may live in different towns, cities, states, and countries, but our citizenship is in heaven. There is no external possession in this world that compares to the glory of Christ. During our struggles, let us focus on the eternal rewards and live for Christ. God bless you all.

 

 

Resting During the Storm

My dog, Henry, is terrified of thunderstorms and fireworks. Henry, before and during the storm, will get jittery, pace around the house, and seek comfort from me and/or my wife. A thunderstorm rolled through this afternoon and I took to our dog calming ritual of turning on the space heater and sitting with Henry in our home office. Within minutes of reassuring Henry it was going to be alright, he fell asleep at my feet. I smiled and thought about how we are supposed to sleep at our Heavenly Father’s feet during the storms of life. Just as my presence and the warmth of the space heater comforted Henry, so too are we to be comforted in the warm embrace of our God’s presence.

Somewhere right now on our planet, people are experiencing both meteorological and spiritual storms. Rain is essential for life on earth. If it did not rain, crops would not grow, which in turn would hurt the world’s food supply. All of us will experience spiritual storms in our lives, whether it be overwhelming grief, illness, family issues, financial stress, a loss of faith, or all of these trials at once coming at us with the force of a hurricane or tsunami. God can uses these storms to grow us and to feed our faith.

In the midst of our pain and suffering, we cry out and pray to God for relief, yet, there are times when the rain keeps coming with seemingly no relief in sight. However, your storm will pass. Just as the storm that terrified Henry was over in a few minutes and the sun came out, so too will your dark clouds give way to the sunshine on the horizon.

The big questions we ask during a storm is “Where is God in all this?” “Why doesn’t He do something?” “Why doesn’t He just stop it?” Be honest, you have posed those questions. I know I have. Believe me, you are not the first person to pose such questions, for The Bible gives us multiple examples of people weathering storms.

Probably the most famous biblical example is Jesus quieting a storm as recorded in the gospels of Matthew (8:23-27), Mark (4:35-41), and Luke (8:22-25). Matthew and Mark place this event after Jesus spent the day teaching a crowd of people on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Night came and Jesus said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” (Mark 4:35b, NIV). Jesus and His disciples left the crowd on the shore and began their trek to the other side. Mark’s Gospel describes the scene: “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.” (Mark 4:37, NIV).

Notice Jesus’ approach to the storm compared to that of the disciples, four of whom- Peter, Andrew, James, and John- were experienced fishermen and I am sure weathered many storms while on the water.

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’” (Mark 4:38, NIV, italics mine).

This must have been quite a storm to upset such experienced fishermen, but these are the same disciples who saw Jesus perform many miracles- healings, exorcisms, and raising people from the dead! The disciples’ reaction is not really that much different from ours, as we question God, asking Him, “Don’t you care about me?” or “Why did You let this happen?”

“He [Jesus] got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to His disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!” (Mark 4:39-41, NIV).

The storm did not catch Jesus off guard, just as He knows when the storms will come in your life. Man with his radar technology tries to predict when storms will come in and determine their path. However, despite our technological advancements, the weather predictions do not always pan out, due to circumstances beyond our control- the wind could shift the weather front. God’s “radar” is never wrong.

Just as Jesus and His disciples had contrasting reactions to the storm, my dogs have different reactions. My other dog, Maggie, is older than Henry and has seen many storms. Being the older, more experienced dog, Maggie can sleep easy through the strongest summer thunderstorms. As we grow older in our faith, we can rest easier with each passing storm, because we know the Lord has carried us through so many storms before.

Our response can determine the length of the storm. If we have right thinking and are standing on the Word of God, we can stand upright. We go through storms so that we may be a future comfort to someone else. Jesus knew He was going to quiet the storm. He knew His disciples had not built up their faith to ride out the storm. Jesus also knew something that the disciples did not know- that there was a demon possessed man on the other side of the Sea of Galilee who needed to be delivered. The disciples went through the storm so another man could be delivered from a legion of demons and proclaim Jesus’ work.

Just as God spoke to Job in the midst of his “whirlwind,” so too can God speak and comfort us in our storms. God will also sustain us in the storm.

“When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever.” (Proverbs 10:25, NIV).

The Lord will also guide us out of the storm:

“Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven.” (Psalm 107:28-30, NIV).

God bless you all.

Do You Want to Be Made Well?

Life can be a series of hardships and obstacles. These difficult times can take their toll on us physically, mentally, and spiritually, especially if they drag on for a long time. We can either respond with despair, giving up on life or we can battle back with faith and determination, for ultimately our perceptions of said events are not based on the events themselves, but our responses to them. Our responses in turn, help determine how we face hardships and difficulties.

The Gospel of John records a story of Jesus being in Jerusalem for a festival when He encountered a man at the Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda served as a gathering place for people who were sick with all manner of afflictions and diseases. The sick people believed that the pool had healing powers.

“In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (John 5:3-4, NKJV).

The Bible tells us that Jesus encountered a man at the pool who had been sick for thirty-eight years. The Bible does not tells us the man’s condition or how he came to be in that condition. Jesus being the great teacher that He was and is, asked the man a question which put the onus of the sick man and cut to the heart of the issue.

“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time. He said to him, ‘Do you want to be made well?’” (John 5:6, NKJV).

I believe for anyone who has struggled with a problem for thirty-eight years and God in the flesh walks up to you and asks, “Do you want to get better?” the answer would be an emphatic “Yes.” However, there are people who allow their condition or circumstances to define who they are. In essence, they are not known by their name or identity in Christ, but by sickness, addiction, depression, poverty, etc. When we allow our condition or circumstances to define us, we have a hard time visualizing ourselves being anything other than our situation. Think of how the Israelites complained of the wilderness and claimed they had it better as slaves in Egypt. We do the same thing and make excuses as the man at the pool does.

“The sick man answered Him, ‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’” (John 5:7, NKJV).

Though the man had spent thirty-eight years in his condition and developed excuses as to why he was not well, he was in the right place at the right time. In Hebrew, Bethesda means “House of Mercy.” This man was in the House of Mercy and received mercy from God, despite his condition, despite the excuses.

“Jesus said to him, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk.’ And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.” (John 5:8-9, NKJV).

Since it was the Sabbath, this man carrying his bed was accused by the religious authorities of violating the Sabbath and was questioned as to who healed him. The man did not know it was Jesus until he encountered Jesus a second time.

“Afterward, Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, ‘See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you.’” (John 5:14, NKJV).

I do not believe that Jesus told the man his condition was brought on by sin nor does the text indicate the man’s condition was a direct result of a sin he committed. I believe that Jesus is speaking to the man’s need to have his sins forgiven. I believe the “worse thing” Jesus spoke of was an eternity in hell, separated from God because the man did not accept Christ as Savior.

How much of our lives have we wasted not coming to the “House of Mercy” or coming to the “Throne of Grace” and not being made whole? Is there something within our God-given power and responsibility we can do to better ourselves? If we are sick, can we take better care of our bodies by eating right, exercising, or seeking medical treatment? If we are heavily in debt, are there ways to cut our expenses? If we are depressed about what we do not have, can we find joy in what we do have? Even if we are stuck in the middle of the wilderness, remember it is much better than going back into the sin and slavery from which Christ has delivered us. There is a way out and Christ is knocking on the door, waiting for us to open it. God bless you all.

The Perspective of Our Struggles

My wife and I went to Thailand in 2010 on a mission trip. On one of our last days in Thailand, our group toured a Buddhist temple. I observed many different sights- the morning prayers, the artwork, the statutes, and the architecture. However, one particular item has stuck with me to this day. As our group made its way into a prayer room, there was a large poster of a human skeleton. According to our guide, when the Buddhists pray, they imagine themselves as a skeleton- no attachments to this present world. What if in our quest to live a life of joy and contentment we could strip down our problems to “the bare bones?” (Pardon the pun).

When we suffer through trials, it becomes natural for us to isolate ourselves from everyone around us. We become myopic and cannot see past our own pain, believing that we alone are going through this problem. However, suffering is part of the human condition, as circumstances, theologians and philosophers, ancient and modern can attest. The questions of why we suffer are many and the comforting answers can often be few and far between.

I too have faced difficult trials in my life and I am not belittling or dismissing what you may be going through at this time. What I do know is that for His higher reasons, God has allowed this trial in your life and everyday He gives us an opportunity to come to Him. We may never get a reason for our suffering nor understand it, as Job was never given an explanation for his suffering. We can, however, take solace in the fact that we are not alone in our situation and that there are others, past, present, and future who have dealt, are dealing with, and will deal with these same issues.

Our struggles are not unique to humanity

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, NIV).

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NIV).

We must guard our reaction to trials

 “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NIV).

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of suffering. And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:8-10, NIV).

No matter what you are going through- sickness, family problems, finances, a crisis of faith,etc., you can get through this. Sometimes life forces all of us to make the best of a bad situation and we must learn to be content in all circumstances. The question becomes how much of your limited amount of life do you want to spend wrestling with this problem? In the midst of trials, we must focus on what we can control and let go of what we cannot control. How we respond will factor into how and when we overcome this current obstacle. God bless you all.