For the word of the LORD is upright,

and all his work is done in faithfulness.

Psalm 33: 4

 

There are times when I want to get out of the place where my mind is dwelling and move to a region where it is being influenced by a better quality of input and stimulus. In other words, I would like for my thoughts to be in a higher place; yet, wishing to do so does not always accomplish the wished and even the hoped for outcome. Sometimes my head seems to get stuck where it has gone and no amount of effort can pull it free from the troubled, doubting, or fearful images that fill it and that inevitably take my heart down too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much to open the door to this darker place, and the steps leading down into its cellar of distress are easier to follow in than they are to ascend out of it.

 

It seems that God is more than a little aware of this reality in people. He makes the means of escape readily available to us, and He marks the route out with the bright light of His presence. The Lord has surrounded us with tangible indications of who He is and of how He acts. This is true in the beauty of nature and in the warmth of human embrace. The Lord is visible in the love that we give and in the nurture of its receipt. Through Christ we are granted a grace that overcomes all of our crimes against God, and by His unfailing word we receive a mercy that we never can earn and that remains effective for all of eternity. There is no boundary and no end to the ways that Christ works in our lives to bring each of us into the fullest aspects of God’s grace, love, and peace.

 

The steps to the ladder that leads out of the dark places of discouragement and even the deeper gloom of despair are found in God’s Word. Even when I might have only the strength to look upon a few of its words, the mighty presence of the Lord seems to pour out of the page and into my spirit. The simple and eternal truth that flows from God’s heart of deep love touches the painful places in my heart and His soothing and healing hands bring the reality of forgiveness and my new life in Christ to the front of my awareness. It is not always easy to accept the truth of God’s Word as my own, but His faithfulness to me and the testimony of the thousands who have traveled these same steps before me compel me forward into the upwardly leading light of God’s will and way for this day in my life.

 

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I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,

and he answered me;

out of the belly of Sheol I cried,

and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2: 1

 

Everyone experiences difficult times and bad days, but no one that I know has ever had one quite like Jonah’s. He had been literally voted off of the boat and tossed into the ocean. Then what might have seemed like a relatively quick end to his misery by way of drowning had turned into a prolonged time of suffering while a giant fish digested him. The depths of Jonah’s despair had a strangely factual element to it, and there were certainly no people around who were going to hear him or who could possibly come to his help. Not only was he at the end of his proverbial rope, but also that tool would have been useless even if he had one with him. This left him with one place to go for resolution and relief or even for the certitude of an end to his misery. He turned to God with a plea for either a merciful end to it all or for the miracle of being saved out of the situation that was surrounding him.

 

Now for Jonah to call out to God took more than a little humility and some real turn about in his heart and mind. The boat trip that Jonah was taking was a journey away from God and from the path that the Lord had clearly determined for him to take. Our lost mariner was fearful and concerned about doing what God had set out for him as his calling and mission; so, it must have seemed to him that there was no way that God would come to his aid. Jonah was the rebellious one, the disobedient child, and the lost soul who had turned away from God in the course of losing his way. Yet, where was he to turn if not to the only ears that could possibly hear him at that moment? Jonah’s faith had been insufficient to trust God enough to take him through the task at hand to conclusion, and he just really didn’t want to do what the Lord told him to do; however, God was faithful to His mission of saving this difficult man and of using him to bring saving knowledge of God’s loving truth to others.

 

The Lord had a plan and a purpose for Jonah. He has the same for everyone on this earth. Almost no one is sent across an ocean to bring the message of the Gospel of Christ to a far off nation; yet, we are all given the opportunity to share our faith with someone who we encounter in our journey through the day. Most of us do not turn away from God in the dramatic manner that Jonah did, but everyone has been rebellious and almost all of us continue to struggle with God and with engaging in His will for us after we come to know Christ. Still, the Lord stays committed to us and to saving us from the deep and the dark places where we have gone. Whether this place of seeming burial that we are experiencing is caused by our own actions or is the result of the way that evil attacks our bodies, minds, and spirits, it is a real and an oppressive place to dwell. Christ desires to save each of us from these times and these places. He will bring relief and restoration to us. He asks us to do as Jonah did by recognizing the need that we have for our Savior. Generally, this recognition of need and of the absence of internal resources to meet it leads to speaking up and sharing the pain that is present with God and with someone else. This leads to vulnerability that is answered in trust of God and of His working through His body, and it may place us on a journey that will be hard and taxing. However, on that journey Christ joins us, and we are taken in faith into the peace that only His presence can provide in this life.

As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

Ezekiel 34: 12

 

The roads and highways of this world are a mess, and air travel seems less certain than ever. Most people end at least some of our days in places that we didn’t intend when we developed our plans for life. Yet, after encountering numerous detours, traffic jams, and washed out bridges, we become disconnected from the life that we were after. The land where we are located is foreign, and many of the people who surround us speak a language that we don’t really understand. Truly the clouds of our own decisions are obscuring the horizon, and the darkness that covers the heart is thickly oppressive.

 

Sometimes this state is naturally short lived and becomes resolved when the light of truth reaches us. At other times and for some people it persists and becomes what is normal. This foreign land to which we have traveled replaces the one that God intended for each of His people as it is then that person’s place of dwelling. This is a disturbing and unsettling place to be, for the food, language, and customs of this land are worldly and discordant with who we are as children of God. Although this pasture land is not the one that God has designated as His source of good food for His sheep, He never hesitates in going there to seek out His own. He is fearless and bold, and His love for each of His people is endless.

 

When we find ourselves tasting the strange food and drink of this place that is at the end of one of these detours from God’s path through life, we can stop in mid bite and know that Christ is there to guide us out of that dark place and into the safety of His light. There is no road too twisted for the Lord to be unable to follow, and no bridge is too broken for Him to repair. Christ has been to every desperate and deadly corner of this world, and He truly desires to leave no one behind there. When we are lost, we can always turn to God, and He will respond. His Word is everywhere, and it speaks truth to all situations. God’s people surround us, and they will come to our rescue with the boldness of Christ as their strength. As we seek the Lord, He will rescue.

Praise Him with tambourine and dance;

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 150: 4a, 6

There are times when sitting still is just not possible. As children we all experience those times when we were expected to be quiet, calm, and attentive while every cell in our body wanted to get up and run about as we shouted and shrieked out of the simple need to be expressive. In our more advanced years, the need for activity and expression is frequently caused by the stresses and the concerns that weigh heavily upon us. Life has a way of loading us up with burdens so that it feels like we are walking about wearing iron shoes while walking on the surface of a powerful magnet. No amount of energy that we expend seems to gain us any traction or move us one inch forward.

Yet, there is something false about that earth-bound reality. It is the product of a world that is filled with the pain of brokenness. It is a state of heart and of mind that evil desires for each of us to surrender to. We do live in a harsh and a hard environment, and God is more than fully aware of this fact. God knew from the start that our own rebellion would cause this state of existence to become our unrelenting state of being. In response to this God entered into living in it with us. Christ brings about a freedom that infuses the center of our being with the presence of God. He sets us free from the need to be bound down by powerful forces that are outside of our control. In Christ we can count all of life as victory, and we can know that we are living every moment of life in the presence of the Most High King.

Turning a dark hour into a time of worship and praise is not easy. Yet, Christ will lift even the most heavily burdened of spirits. He desires to hold our head up and to fill our hearts with the hope of His love, grace, and mercy. He doesn’t ask us to do the work; for, Christ knows and accepts our weakness, our shame, and our lack of capacity. He asks only that we trust Him enough to allow His Spirit access to our hearts. The Lord will lift us up and remove the weight of life’s burdens from us. As we rest in the presence of the Lord, He will provide clarity of thought and the wisdom of eternity for us to use in response to our concerns. Christ does provide the strength that we need to face life with confident peace. He releases us from all that ties us down, and He sets us free so that our whole being wants to shout and to dance in order to express the joy that is found only in knowing Christ.