Seeking Refuge in the Midst of a Crisis

When faced with multiple crises at once, where do you seek refuge?  Do you seek God? Do you call up a family member or friend? Do you go for a walk or run? Do you try to pretend the problems do not exist? Do you or have you tried “self-medicating” with food, drugs, or alcohol? Your answer will determine where your faith lies. There is nothing wrong with talking to someone about a problem nor is it wrong to go exercise to relieve the stress. However, if our faith is in our abilities and we go alone in our own strength, the problems will weigh us down and we will be unable to face the situation, which can lead to isolation and bring on addiction, depression, or something worse.

Jehoshaphat was one of the righteous kings of Judah in the Old Testament and he faced a crisis where the very survival of Judah was at stake.

The Crisis: “After this, the Moabites and Ammonites with some of the Meunites came to wage war against Jehoshaphat. Some people came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side pf the Dead Sea. It is already in Hazezon Tamar’ (that is En Gedi).” (2 Chronicles 20:1-2, NIV).

Jehoshaphat’s Response: “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah. The people of Judah came together to seek help from the Lord; indeed, the came from every town in Judah to seek Him.” (2 Chronicles 20:3-4, NIV).

The Bible goes on to record Jehoshaphat’s prayer (2 Chronicles 5:5-13), where he acknowledged his and his nation’s complete dependence on God. Jehoshaphat was facing three armies that were coming at him and they were roughly thirty-five miles away from Jerusalem and he sought God with prayer and fasting.

The Revelation: A word of revelation came to a man named Jahaziel: “He said, ‘Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s. Tomorrow march down against them. They will be climbing up by the Pass of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the gorge in the Desert of Jeruel. You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.’” (2 Chronicles 20:15-17, NIV).

The Bible goes on to record that Jehoshaphat and all of Judah worshipped the Lord for the revelation. The next day Jehoshaphat appointed singers to go out before the army. The praise and worship of the singers brought confusion to camps of the enemies and the Moabites, Ammonites, and the Meunites began attacking each other and took out themselves. Judah did not have to fight as God had promised. The Bible states it took Judah three days to take the plunder from the enemy camps. When they returned to Jerusalem, they once again worshipped the Lord and the fear of the Lord came upon Judah’s enemies and Jehoshaphat’s reign was one of peace.

When we make God our refuge, we will find the shelter from the storms of life. When we seek God wholeheartedly, He will reassure us and show us a plan to conduct spiritual warfare against the tactics of the enemy. We serve a living God whom we can turn to in the midst of our trials and tribulations. We can take comfort in His Word. God is with us and will be with us. Though God’s revelation may not come quickly, we can find rest and a peace that passes all understanding during trials and tribulations.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:1-3, 7, NIV).

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” (Psalm 9:9, NIV).

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will says of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1-2, NIV).

What’s Your Motivation?

“What’s my motivation?” is a question asked by actors of both the stage and screen. In asking about their motivation, the actor is attempting to get at the heart or reasons for his or her character’s actions. In the busyness that is everyday life in trying to balance family, career, church and our relationship with God, all the while dealing with equal parts problems and pains, triumph and tragedy, we must step aside and ask ourselves “What’s my motivation?” What is the driving force in your everyday decision making? Of course, there are as many different types of motivations as there are people. Some people are motivated by their love for God or their love for their family; others may be motivated by pride, greed, revenge or a fear of failure to name a few motivations. We must take the time to sincerely examine and test what is in our hearts, especially when it comes to our relationship with God.

In the Old Testament Book of Zechariah, the Israelites are returning home after seventy years of exile in Babylon. The Israelites are also in the process of rebuilding the second Temple. The people of the town of Bethel sent a group of people, including Sharezer and Regem-Melek to pose a question to the priest and prophets of Israel.

“Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” (Zechariah 7:3, NIV).

The words Zechariah received from the Lord cut right to the heart of the Israelites motivations for their appointed time of fasting and mourning.

“Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: ‘Ask all the people of the land and the priest, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seven months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?” (Zechariah 7:4-7, NIV).

From those verses, it shows that ritualistic fasting and mourning was a problem God had stressed to Israel before the Babylonian Exile by other prophets “when Jerusalem was at rest.” The Lord through Zechariah goes even further to explain that during times of fasting and other times set aside for the Lord were meant to be a time of reflection, a time to reflect on sins, a time to confess sins, and do the work of God by sharing his love with those around us in our lives.

“And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” (Zechariah 7:8-10, NIV).

The pre-Exile prophet Isaiah expressed the same sentiment as Zechariah concerning empty fasting.

“’Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?” Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves” Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:3-6, NIV).

It is often said of Christianity that it is not a religion, but a relationship. We have an active relationship with the only true and living God. Because of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can come boldly to the throne of grace as we are- we do not need to follow a prescribed set of religious rituals. Ephesians tells us that we are accepted in the beloved, thus God has accepted us through our faith in the finished work of Christ.

The danger of following prescribed religious rituals is that over time the meaning and true motivation is lost. It is possible to become hard of hearing or even deaf toward the things of God. It is possible for us to become blind to our sin and our rituals will be for nothing, as was the case for the Israelites. In fact, it was the constant idolatry and refusal to listen to God and his prophets that led to the Exile.

“’But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry. When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen, ’says the Lord Almighty. ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’” (Zechariah 8:11-14, NIV).

In the New Testament, Jesus warned to people not to follow the example of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day because many of the things they did were to be seen by the people and their heart was not right toward God. In Philippians, Paul discussed how his imprisonment for preaching the Gospel inspired others to preach the Gospel, some out of a genuine love for God, and some others just to stir up more trouble for Paul.

The New Testament Book of James describes the internal battle we face concerning our motives, our relationships with others, and our relationship with God.

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God: When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures…Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:1-3, 7-10, NIV).

Though we live under the free grace of God, we must understand that grace is not cheap. God sacrificed His only Son that we may be freed from our sins and come into a relationship with Him. Everything we do in life should be done for the glory of God. Let us not waste our time and lives caught up in the petty bickering and picking from trees that have no fruit. Instead, let us call upon our gracious God and listen to the still, small voice. No matter what we do whether it be fasting, prayer, work, or leisure, let us take the time to ask ourselves the question, “What’s my motivation?”