Comfort


 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1: 20, 21

If you or I think that God is caught off-guard or unawares by the struggles that we have in life, then we have missed comprehending the heart of the Father. Should we ever face the issues that lie before us and see no opportunity for redemption in them, we lack a fuller appreciation of God’s commitment to His people. When we feel as if the challenges that those we care about most deeply are insurmountable, whether they are caused by willful disobedience or by situations and actions outside of their control, we need to open our eyes and truly see Christ’s love, grace, and power in their fullness. This world is a harsh and a difficult place to live. There are many traps and pitfalls that we can stumble into, and the landscape is littered with the debris that is the product of broken lives and failed dreams. Yet, God knew all of this before He did anything.

The Father sent His Son as our redeemer. Christ came into the world as a baby, and He left it as a fully formed man, whose life portrayed the intent, will, and power that God continues to pour out into the lives of people that accept His gifts. Christ now leads us into seeking after what has been promised to us from those times before the creation of the world. That is, we are to recognize that all goodness and mercy in our world come from God, and these unworldly qualities are granted to us in full measure through our faith in Christ and by the working of His Spirit in us and in our world. When we face trials, we are to call upon Christ in that faith and expectantly wait upon His understanding and wisdom to provide clarity and direction for any actions that we are to take. These times of prayer and contemplation can seem long when all that we desire is resolution or relief; yet, they serve the purpose of focusing our hearts and minds upon the Lord and taking them out of the naturally self-oriented place where people tend to go in challenging times.

Turning our deepest fears, concerns, and apprehensions over to God can be hard to do. People are generally formed up and function in a manner that is self-reliant and that utilizes our own resources to provide answers to all of the challenges that we face. There is nothing wrong with any of this; however, if we enter into the storms of life with our own skill and capacity as the complete and full set of resources that we have at our disposal, we are missing out on the greatest of all sources for gaining wisdom that overcomes all adversity and for the endurance that we will need to continue a hard journey to its conclusion. Christ can grant us the vision to see beyond the moment and into the glory of God’s redemption and restoration of all that is holy, good, and just in this world. As we place out faith and trust in Christ, He grants us a form of hope that is greater than all adversity, and He fills our weary hearts with a form of peace that id based upon His unfailing and eternal love. 

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.

It will be healing to your body, and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3: 6-8

Perhaps this passage seems particularly pertinent today as there are many issues and concerns in my path that are weighing heavily on my heart and on my mind. The weariness of my bones may exist because of an especially long and hard workweek. We all deal with the impact of living lives that are full with activity and responsibility, that are burdened with stress, and that place demands on our physical and our emotional energy. Big things, little things, trivial things; they come at us with a sort of non-stop urgency that doesn’t leave a lot of time and space for quiet contemplation and for meditation on the Lord’s will and way.

We think that our times are considerably more complex and activity filled than at any prior time in history; yet, as indicated by this ancient writing, Solomon’s times must have contained a lot of the same stresses as ours do. His words tell me that I need to recognize God’s presence in all of life; that I need to give the Lord credit for what He does for me and for how He takes care of me in all situations. This idea of seeing God’s hand in every aspect of life is interesting to me, for as I recognize Him, my eyes are turned to His way of navigating through my day; God’s enlightened pathway of truth and love opens before me. Another aspect in these events is that God’s path takes a lot less energy out of my weary body and soul; as He always gives the strength and the stamina required to go in His direction.

As I look closely at the face of God while following Him through my day, another truth starts to resonate in my heart; all of the plans and approaches that I create on my own are silly, futile, and even dangerous. The more I seek to solve life’s challenges on my own, the more difficult it becomes to keep Him in clear focus, and since it is always more difficult to navigate on my own, I end up consuming more energy to get where I think that I need to go than I would have if I had allowed God the opportunity to lead me. This is foolish and dangerous, for when I get tired and discouraged, I grant evil easier access to my thoughts; thus, I can allow a sense of negativity, uselessness, and weariness to defeat God’s purpose for me. So, the stresses of life will continue to be present in my days, but as I turn the eyes of my heart to God and His care, provision, and direction for me, I will be strengthened and encouraged. The ailments that afflict my body are healed by Christ’s loving touch, my worries and concerns are given perspective, for the Lord makes my frame to be more than strong enough to carry the weight of my life and to lift up the burdens of those who God places in my path.   

The Lord reigns; He is robed in majesty;

   the Lord is robed; He has put on strength as His belt;

Yes the world is established; it shall never be moved.

Your throne is established from of old;

   You are from everlasting.

Psalm 93: 1, 2

Many people set out in life with the intent to shake things up. They want to be mighty forces in their world, and their goal is to become powerful, influential, and to make the important decisions. Almost no one actually gets there. Frustration and discouragement become the mile stones along the way. The map that was viewed from that high perspective of youth actually contains roads that twist and turn and that have large dips and many detours to negotiate. Travel along this path, from the inception of the journey until we get there, always takes too long, and arrival at “there” is never certain or ever all that fulfilling. Yet, it may be that in this frustrating process that most of us are missing the most vital element of orientation when we start planning this trip. Our map just might be lacking its true North.

Unfortunately, youth with its zeal and its physical strength tends to look at itself as the primary source for all wisdom, guidance, and understanding when life’s journey is mapped out. Although the young person has probably seen people that have started out strong and then crashed along the way, they tend to discount the experience of others as being caused by that person’s lack of skill, fortitude, or good luck. Yet, there is another reality to consider. For there is one and only one true and valid source of wisdom in the universe, and there is a singular place to go to look for what is needed for planning life and in its execution. God designed this world, and in the process He created us humans as the final summation of all of that design work. God poured His nature and character into the world that He fabricated. Now He remains engaged with His creation and in our lives in a manner that makes all of His wisdom, understanding, justice, and righteousness available for us to engage as we plan life and carry it out.

There is no situation or circumstance that we will encounter in life in which God does not have the resources that are truly necessary to guide us through. We can never go so far into the world’s darkness that Christ’s radiant light cannot penetrate, and even the running of time and our deliberate efforts to separate ourselves from God will never take us too far away from Him for His love, grace, and mercy to reach us. The God that is the sovereign king of the universe knows me and the most intimate and personal aspects of my life in a manner that makes Him the perfect counselor and guide for me in all of the small and great situations and events in my life. So, if you are young and starting to plan out the course of the days and the years to come, Christ is here ready to help you design the plan that is best for you to follow throughout each of those days to come. On the other hand, if you have already traversed most of the days that will be allotted to your life, there is still time and opportunity to turn to Christ for that same guidance, counsel, and support in all that you have left to do. There is a King, and He is sovereign in each of our lives. His love is there to be poured out over us, and His wisdom will lead us to place our feet upon the eternal certainty of God’s unfailing word as we venture forth into life.  

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54: 10

Mountains tend to dominate the landscape when they are present; if in the distance, they frame the skyline and create the backdrop for everything else; and if you are in them, the mountains surround and loom over your entire immediate world. My sense of mountains is that of permanence, of a form of long-term existence; the expression “older than the hills” comes to mind. Yet they have changed. They can be diminished by forces of nature and by the efforts of people, and the hand of God has absolute control over them.

Perhaps Isaiah used mountains as a symbol here because love among humans can be such a troubled, fragile, and perishable thing, and we tend to impose the realities of our experience, especially the painful realities, onto everything. We are hurt in a love relationship; then, another one proves to be painful, and we start to anticipate and to expect the pain thereafter. When love fails, it truly feels as if a mountain has fallen on us. The peace is crushed out of our hearts by the force and the weight of the collapse of the relationship.

God’s love has been a constant for me; no matter what others may have done and regardless of how badly I have behaved, God has continued to love me, and He has constantly reminded me of that fact. He stays with me through it all. When my eyes can see nothing except for the rocks and the boulders that are covering me, God’s hands are already working to clear a passage for me to breath; then, He lifts the weight off of my head and my shoulders, and finally, He clears all of the debris from around me and lifts me back onto my feet. The Lord restores my life.

This is also what He desires for us to do with each other; God wants each of us to be committed lovers of people. He wants us to trust Him and to believe in His love for us and for everyone else, too. Then, Christ wants us to carry the peace that He has planted in our hearts into our relational lives. In this way we will demonstrate Christ’s sacrificial love to all. When we come upon a scene where someone is trapped beneath a mountain slide of guilt, pain, and loss, Christ wants to help us lift the boulders off of that person’s heart. Christ is asking, “Do you know someone who needs you to bring to him or her the peace and reassurance of the imperishable nature of the love of Christ today?”

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

1 Peter 1: 3-5

Jesus has come into the world in order to redeem people from our natural state of spiritual death. He will come again in order to do that same work of redemption for a final time, and at that time He will complete the redemption from the corruption of sin for all of creation as well. Yet, until that final work is done, we can live as new beings in Christ, for God desires for us to exist in a close, an intimate, relationship with Him. So, He sent Christ into this world to provide each person upon it with the way and the means of departure from that certain death that was ours from birth. Thus, it is as if we were literally born anew into this world, for we are granted a new beginning and a restart for our journey through life. Although the past is not erased, we are born into a form of grace and forgiveness that provides us with a new perspective on how we are to live and what we need to do in order to repair the damage that we may have done to our relationships during the conduct of our former lives.

In this rebirth comes a great hope for the future. This is certainly an eternal future that, in Christ, we are promised by God to spend in Heaven. It is also a hope that spreads across the remaining days of our lives here on earth. We will live out our days here in the presence of the Spirit, and we are granted God’s grace, love, and mercy as underpinning for the way that we think, speak, and act during those remaining days. This is a journey of faith, for it is not something that is fully fleshed out and completed in that instance of acceptance of Christ. Rather, it is a work that is carried out within each of us by the Spirit, and it grows and develops as we yield up our lives to Christ and surrender our wills to His far greater purposes for us. In a real sense, we are called upon by God to seek after Heaven during our lives on earth, but that seeking is not oriented toward an escape from this world so much as it is intended to have us work toward bringing the righteousness and the justice of Heaven into the place where we dwell.

This does not mean that life here will be easy or that all of our days of troubles, trials, and pain will be behind us after we turn to Christ. What it does mean is that we will go through these times with Christ in us and with the companionship of His Spirit to provide us with the wisdom and strength that we require to stay true to our faith regardless of what we encounter. Thus, God’s mercy is granted to us. It comes in a form that does not remove us from the reality of life, but, instead, it grants to us a perspective on living that comes from beyond this world and that demonstrates to us the great hope that is ours in Jesus Christ, for in Christ we can see and understand the value of pain in this world as a common reality that is endured through Christ’s strength and that directs us into the presence of God as our source of comfort and of peace in the midst of the trial. So, God the Father sent Jesus Christ to redeem us from the certainty of death, and Christ now takes us out of our former lives, and through a new birth into a life that extends beyond the grave into eternity, He works through us to redeem the balance of creation.  

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.

Ephesians 6: 16-19

As Paul is closing this great letter to the churches that he has poured so much of himself into, he asks them to be praying for him in a very specific way. Paul wants to be bold in the manner with which he proclaims that great eternal mystery that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it does not seem as if Paul is asking for much, for he has been a very bold person for a great many years now. In fact, one might say that the Paul that we see and know from the bible was always bold. Even before Christ forced Himself into the trajectory of his life, no one would have mistaken the young man Paul for a shy and retiring personality. Yet, now, at this final juncture of his life, Paul wants to be held up by others before the Lord as he desires to be bold one last time. 

He seeks out boldness, not comfort or even salvation from his seemingly certain date with an executioner. Paul wants to live out his days by proclaiming life-saving and eternity-giving truths to anyone that he comes into contact with. He desires to do this even with the probability that his actions will hasten his own demise. These are not foolish or rash actions on the Apostle’s part; rather, he knows that speaking out regarding the only true path to salvation is exactly what God has called him to do. Additionally, it is why he has been placed where he is and with the people with whom he is in contact. All of Paul’s day to day life is the result of God’s plan and is an outworking of the Lord’s will. As Paul looks back over the years of his life and considers the places he has been, the people he has engaged with, and the adventures that he has known, I have no doubt that he can see God working in each twist and turn of the journey. Now he wants to finish it all with the words of the gospel of Christ upon his lips and the realization that he was bold to his last breath as his final earthly thought.

Paul was truly unique. God crafted him with a specific intent in mind, and the Lord used him to fulfill those purposes. Each of us is also specifically created by the Lord with intentional purpose and with a plan in place for the ways that we will serve Christ with our lives. Regardless of where we are in our journey through life, whether just starting out or rounding that final turn, Paul’s request for boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is fitting and appropriate for each of us. None of us will have Paul’s skill, Spirit directed inspiration, and capability to write out explanations of the gospel for the world to read and consider. A few will be gifted with the ability to preach and to speak of these truths before groups and crowds, and all of us are called into lives of service to Christ and within His kingdom. Each of us can be bold in the way that we conduct our days. That is, we can love without reservation, seek justice for all, care about the needs of those that are powerless, and provide the comfort of grace and hope when life has overwhelmed people. We are to live righteously when our culture implores us to do otherwise, and we can bring the glory of the face of Christ into the dark corners of our world so that eternity touches the wounds of the day with its healing balm of grace, love, and mercy. In short, we can enter into the fulfillment of Paul’s final request and live out the gospel of Christ as our bold proclamation of its wonderous and mysterious truth.  

And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1: 4

Doubt is a personal reality that I, in honesty, have to admit to possessing. My doubt is not generally of the large scale and global sort, for I don’t have times when I lack a belief in the existence of God or question whether Jesus is real, true, and fulfills the role of Savior. These are not my doubts. Mine are ordered in the class of trust and reliance. When times get hard or the road that I am facing gets to be harsh and rough, I can turn from that easy daily faith in the provision, protection, and truth of God’s Word and instead I start to listen to my own voice of desperation and fear. This voice leads straight into my personal form of doubt, and this is never a good place for me to go, for it tends to freeze me into either inaction or it brings about self-driven poor choices.

I recognize that my own journey in this area may look very similar to that of some people, and it will be completely different from that of others. Just as God made each of us to be individually gifted with the blessings of His Spirit, He also formed us to be distinct and individualistic in most others aspects of life and of living it out. Yet, I also think that most followers of Christ do have times when we enter into a form of doubt. These periods of time or episodic events are often brought about in times when there is stress, trouble, and challenge present in our lives. These are those times of trial that James is speaking about, and these are the parts of life when hanging in there with God’s truth as revealed in His Word and through the interaction of his Spirit with me leads to a deeper and a stronger faith and trust in my relationship with Christ.

God’s desire and will is that each of His people would continue to grow and to develop in our capacity to live fully in the expression of His grace, love, and redemptive purposes. This sort of living takes courage to carry out in a world that tends to be antagonistic toward God’s absolute form of righteousness. This world fights back against people who bring Godly love, acceptance, justice, and peacemaking to bear upon all of the relationships and situations that we encounter. Therefore, it takes both courage and faith in Christ to continue along a pathway that leads straight into the angry rejection of many of the people and institutions of this world. This conflict in conjunction with physical, emotional, and financial stresses and struggles make up the wide array of trials that we can encounter during our days of following Christ; yet, as we trust the Lord to sustain us and to care for us fully in these times, we grow in our faith and move ever closer to that promise of perfection that is defined and completed in us by Christ. 

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