Comfort


I know that everything God does endures forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 3: 14 

There is something strangely comforting in the thought that my life has an element of Divine reason and management in it; although, I might enjoy the notion that I am the one who determines my own direction, values, and outcomes, I also know my own lack of true skill and strength when it comes to handling the really challenging aspects of life. My vision is rather limited, too, for I tend to be looking out and devising my strategies from the vantage point of the hole that I continually dig for myself; whereas, I need to be positioned on a hill or in a tall tower in order to see clearly and far enough to make proper decisions. 

Let’s visit this idea of fearing God for just a moment; the real idea here is that we would respect Him, not that we would cower in the corner in terror. The fear that Solomon was speaking about is characterized by the knowledge that God already knows the outcome of our decisions, knows our hearts far better than we do, and will still stick with us through everything. This sort of respect involves trust, a willingness to yield my will to God, the acceptance of His direction for my life, and the understanding of how great God’s grace and forgiveness truly are. The Lord has it all under control; there will still be times of sadness, sorrow, and loss, but the result of following Him is a life that impacts my world with God’s love and grace.  

The Lord wants me to stay close to Him, and He promises that He will always be near to me. God wants me to find delight, joy, and comfort in living through each day; since, each day is one that He has designed as one step along the path of dwelling inside of the perfect life story that was laid out for me from the very beginning of Creation. Admittedly, there are times when evil steps in and momentarily subverts God’s purpose and plan; yet, even then, this is but a momentary time of misdirection, for God always takes back control. Like certain fantasy tales that I have read and seen in film, my choices and decisions have an influence on the day to day direction of the story, but God has promised His blessing on all of the outcomes so long as I continue to listen to His voice and seek His will. The Lord’s call to me is, “Listen, trust, and be joyous throughout the day that I have given to you”. My only reasonable response is to yield control to my Lord and to take delight in His outcome.  

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The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Philippians 4: 23

The thing that I needed more than all else was God’s grace, for here I was, interested, even fascinated with God, listening to His word, and hanging out with His people; yet, until I was ready and willing to open my heart to Him and surrender control to His Spirit, I was as lost and as dead as any person who had never come near to His presence. In fact, I was more so; since, if I had continued to ignore His call, my intellectual knowledge could have become a very large barrier to entering into a true relationship with Christ. However, God’s grace continued to pursue me until I stopped running away and accepted Him.

This need for grace continues throughout my life; in fact, it seems that there are many times when the need has become even greater than before I had entered into that relationship with Christ, for now, evil tries to speak to me with a voice that tells me in detail about every way that I fail to follow God’s will, and it keeps reminding me of each instance of moral, ethical, relational, and spiritual deviation from the direction that God tells me to travel. It is the truth of the Lord that brings me back to my senses, and it is the truth about my Lord’s grace that overcomes the lies that Satan keeps speaking to my mind.

I know, based upon my life experience, that there will be times today when I will need to focus on the truth of the totality of Jesus’ saving work and on what that means for me right now. The glorious aspect of this fact is that when I do closely consider  God’s love for me and then get on with living as someone who knows from the heart that this love and acceptance is total and absolute, my spirit is lifted out of the depths of worry and concern that fear tries to push it into, and I am set free to live as God intends for me to live. It is the grace of Christ that carries the weight of life that this world and I keep attempting to hang around my spirit. So, this same grace is where I find freedom and living in that freedom is how I experience peace in my soul. 

In Thee, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be ashamed; in Thy righteousness deliver me.

Psalm 31: 1

If only I could say with honesty that there is nothing that I have done in my life that I am or that I should be ashamed of; however, truth makes a lie of any such notion. There are too many times when my courage has failed to overcome and when my integrity has collapsed, and there are also a long list of situations where my arrogance and pride have concealed from my view the wisdom that God makes so freely available to all who will listen and obey. Yet, Christ has gone before me to the Father and pleads my case before the throne of God; thus, my sins are washed away, and I am told to hold my head high and to walk through life knowing that I am loved, protected, and cared for by God. 

The Lord has also given me His Spirit to guide me into the truths of His Word and by His direct interaction with me into a way of living that can become more and more infused with God’s righteousness. As I realize that I have nothing to offer other than my willingness to seek, listen, and follow, Christ takes away the prideful aspects of my being, and He replaces them with a humble heart for serving His will. His righteousness overcomes my failings, and His holiness becomes ever more my desire.

The refuge that the Lord provides is a safe place where I can stop and still the pace of my days. It is a shelter from all of the chaos and the turmoil that swirl about in our world. Refuge means prayer, and it means quiet meditation; it can also be found in screaming at the top of my lungs to God in order to get the true feelings of the moment out and fully expressed. The Lord wants us to turn toward Him and away from our own strength; also, He wants us to draw upon His sources of truth, wisdom, and direction when we are trying to comprehend life’s daily challenges. When I turn toward the Lord, He covers me with His righteousness, and Christ gives my heart the sort of peace that allows me to see the Godly path to follow as I travel through my day. 

A voice cries,

“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;

   make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Isaiah 40: 3

Wilderness is a strong word. It brings to mind vivid images, and it does this in most people’s imaginations, too. When we hear of wilderness, we may think about a barren desert place or the picture that comes to mind may be of rugged mountains with no one nearby. The wilderness that the prophet was referencing was physically near for the people of Israel, and their national story of years spent in a circular journey in it were also well known to them all. Yet, Isaiah was speaking in terms of the conditions of their hearts and their souls. The people and their nation were traveling through life in the barren dryness of a wilderness of faith. They had turned away from the sweet water of the Spirit of God, and their table was now set with the bitterness of prideful separation from their Lord. Although they may have been sleeping in comfortable houses, their hearts were residing far from the presence of God. 

Most of us can identify with aspects of this situation. It seems to be true that almost everyone goes through some of these hard and lonely times during the course of our days. As it was in Israel, these days spent in isolation and seeming separation from God can become the reality for our churches, our cities, and the nations that we call home. Individuals lose touch with God’s truth, will, and righteousness so that they may, in turn, lead these larger groups and organizations along the desert path. Sometimes we just touch upon the edges of the barren places and find that its harsh heat or emptiness are overwhelming. Then, we turn back to the sure nurture of God’s presence and the security of His Word of grace and truth. In many instances, we relocate to those rugged environs over a long period of time wherein a short day trip becomes an overnight camping experience that is followed by ever increasing days, months, and finally years spent in turning away from the Lord’s way of thinking and of living.

However deep we may have gone into these deserts of the soul, there is a way out. Even when we have traversed so far into the barren lands of rejection of God and the deep valleys of separation from the Lord’s gospel of love and grace, He is still seeking after each of us with the singularly redemptive intent of the shepherd who has nurtured and cared for His flock since the beginning of time. Life may seem like it is being lived out in an unrecoverable and lost place, but Christ is a singularly qualified and skillful builder of roads. He desires to lead each of us out of the living purgatory that we have exiled ourselves into, and when we open up our hearts to Him and surrender our lives to His loving authority and sovereign rule, the Lord comes to us where we are located, and He guides and supports us for each and every step of the journey back into the bountiful land that is found in the center of God’s will.     

The Lord will keep you from all evil; He will keep your life.

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121: 7, 8

So, it could be true that these verses are actually taken from a children’s fairy tale. Along this line of reason, they were written by someone who wanted to provide a rosy-tinted and false sense of security to some young people so that they would go to sleep and stop bothering their adult care givers. Well, no; that simply isn’t true. These lines are taken from one entry in that wonderful body of writing that is known as the Psalms of Ascents. These are traveler’s tales. The sorts of reminders that whole Jewish families would recite and sing together as they took the often dangerous and arduous journey from their homes to Jerusalem so that they could worship God together with their entire nation. Although they were intended to ease the journey and to make the miles go by faster, they had a much greater purpose than that.

These songs are intended to remind the singers of God. As the travelers recited the lines from them their hearts were being prepared to enter into deep and transformative worship. The author of these lines was not attempting to gloss over the hardships of life. Instead, he deals with them from the perspective of an extreme realist. In these verses we see the great challenge that confronts all of us as we go about our own travels. Evil is out there; it is everywhere. It crouches and lurks among the shadows of the street where we live. It comes at us from far away, and it even attempts to set its traps in our own homes. Evil tries to worm its way into our minds and whisper the lies of Satan to our hearts. Although it has been defeated by Christ, evil just hasn’t gotten that message; so, it is relentless in its attempts to disrupt the lives of people who do know God.

Since this was the nature of the world that these ancient travelers knew, they sang about the truth of God’s protection, preservation, and salvation. As this same often harsh reality is ours, we can do the same thing. There is an old popular image of a person who is walking along a dark and frightening lane; so, in order to get his courage up, he starts to whistle. This idea was expressed in The King and I as Anna sings, “Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect and whistle a happy tune, so no one will suspect I’m afraid.” There is one very big difference between the experiences of these fictional characters and those of God’s people. Their courage was a façade; it didn’t penetrate to their hearts. However, we can trust that God is truly protecting us. He will take us along the road that we are traveling, and our souls will be safe. There is danger in the journey, but the outcome of it all is never in question. During every minute of each day, Christ holds us close and keeps us secure, and this is true for each of us today and forevermore.

Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Nehemiah 8: 10

At certain times it is natural to feel contradictory emotions. This is one of those times for the people of Israel. As Nehemiah, Ezra, and the priests were going among them and reading God’s Word of the Law to them, they were struggling greatly. They had much to be thankful for in that the wall that surrounded Jerusalem had been rebuilt and their city was being restored to its former greatness. They had returned to their homeland from exile, and the throngs were gathered in order to celebrate all that God had done for them and to give thanks to the Lord. As God’s Word was read, they heard the story of how God had been faithful to His people throughout all of history. They were given the details of the Lord’s call to holiness and to righteous living, and they were also struck by the stark contrast between God’s faithfulness to them and their sinful departure from His way of truth and life.

It was surely painful for them to face into the reality of how they had acted in response to all that God had done for them. The very ground that they were standing upon was something that God had provided for them. The great work of rebuilding that had just been finished was necessary because they had not remained true to God’s way of living and had allowed the ruin of rebellion against God to overtake their world. The Word of Truth must have been convicting to them, and their hearts were overcome with the need for repentance. Yet, they were being called out into a joyous celebration, for this was a time for a festival of thanksgiving and singing of songs of praise to the Lord. So, Nehemiah calls upon the people to enter into the party. They were to do things that indicated that their hearts were at peace and that their minds were filled with expressions of thanksgiving for all that the Lord had done and hope for where they were headed as a nation and in each of their lives. They felt sorrow, regret, and a need for repentance, and the Lord accepted all of that and called them into a heart-deep attitude of resting upon His grace and understanding that the Lord finds great joy in the return of His people to Him.

Very similar things are true for us today as well. We neglect our walls of truth and holiness. We leave God’s righteous way in order to seek out our own path through life, and the results of all of this can be just as troubling and even similarly disastrous as departing from the Lord’s will and way was for the Israelites. Christ calls upon us to return to Him, and He leads us into doing His work of restoration and rebuilding in our own lives. With grace and mercy He takes us back into the center of God’s will for the life that He has gifted to each of us. And just as it did for the people gathered in Jerusalem with Nehemiah and Ezra, God’s Word presents us with the full scope of His unceasing faithfulness to His promises to us and depicts our need for repentance for each of us in such a stark and powerful manner that it is hard to be anything other than sorrowful in the light of this revealed truth. Yet, Christ tells us to enter into the celebration and to be joyful in the presence of the Lord. These times of returning and of rebuilding bring joy to God’s heart, and His joy is cause for us to join with the Lord and to accept His gift of redemption that comes complete with His provision of the strength that we will need to move forward with the work to which Christ is calling us to engage.      

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.

He only is my rock and my salvation,

   my fortress, I shall not be shaken.

Psalm 62: 5, 6

David knew what opposition and trouble looked like. He faced plenty of it during his days. Some of it was the result of his own poor decisions and some was caused by his overtly sinful behaviors. Much of it was born out of the jealous or otherwise evil intent of others. That is the way that life in this world tends to go for many people. We face into things that put us on trial, that cause us trouble, and that challenge our ability to continue on, and we are the cause of some of these situations, and we are the victims of others. Yet, through all of these times of challenge and trial, David’s words of hope and encouragement remain true and valid. Today’s shelter and tomorrow’s hope are found in the Lord and in Him alone.

We may plan and scheme regarding the ways that we will take control of life and get things going in the right direction, but I have found that I frequently don’t even begin to understand the compass heading for that positive travel. The view from my swirling eyes is obscured by a cloud of doubt and my mind is addled by the vertigo that stress and pain have caused to settle into its processing center. In these times I have a real need for the perspective of another, and I also benefit from wisdom that possesses perspective that is greater than any that I can summon up in my current state of being. These are times when the Lord, His Word, and the fellowship of His body are of vital importance to me just as they were to David thousands of years ago.

Yet, knowing this ancient and on-going truth is not quite enough, for it is very hard to wait on the Lord’s answers when the pressures of life are building up to the point of crushing body, mind, and spirit. Still, God asks us to wait on Him. These challenging times are ones in which our trust in God’s provision is tested. These are moments in life when we are dwelling in the balance point between taking actions that might be rash, hasty, or foolish and continuing to pray and wait on God’s wisdom and provision. These are usually times when it is wise to pray earnestly and to listen for the Lord’s answer in submission to His grace, love, and mercy with endurance that might need to exceed anything that we have experienced previously. In these days of prayer and silent listening we can also devote ourselves to study and meditation upon God’s Word with its message of hope, provision, and the care of the eternal shepherd, and finally, we should seek out the supportive prayer and the mature wisdom of others who dwell within the fellowship of faith in Christ. Trials and troubles will come, but like David, we can say,

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,

   for my hope is from him.”

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