My heart is in anguish within me;

the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!

I would fly away and be at rest;

yes, I would wander far away;

I would lodge in the wilderness.

But I call to God,

and the LORD will save me.

Psalm 55: 4; 6 & 7; 16

 

David feels like each of us has probably felt at one time or another. Whatever the cause of the fear and the anguish, it is real, and it is oppressively bearing down on him. There is no escaping the weight of it as there appears to be real opposition coming from within those who should be closest to him. Let’s face it, almost everyone faces times in our lives when even the friendliest of gestures can be misunderstood as being intended for conflict so that there is no rest to be found in the course of the day. These are hard times to be in the middle of, for it does seem like the safest and the best thing that can be done is to get far away from the situation at hand and from the people who are in our lives. Thus, we want fly off into the unknown out there as that far off land cannot be worse than the pain that is pouring over our heads in the present time and place.

 

Yet, there are not a lot of situations and circumstances where God actually tells us to run, to escape, or to flee to a far-away place. Most of the time, the Lord asks us to stay put and to trust in Him to come into the middle of the struggle and to join us in overcoming all that is causing the anxiety and the distress. Sometimes He reorients our thinking so that the real issues are sorted out from the ones that we are perceiving. This is often the case when we believe that the problems that are before us are being caused by people so that eliminating those people from our world looks as if that is the solution. God rarely leads us away from people; instead, He usually works in our hearts and minds to achieve understanding, forgiveness, and grace so that relationships are built rather than terminated.

 

Calling out to God is not always the easiest or the safest thing that we can do. Frequently, He asks us to engage with people and in activities that are uncomfortable or that even seem emotionally unsafe at that time. This is the place where our human frailty and our tendency to rely upon ourselves as the primary resource that we utilize in navigating life’s challenges collides with faith in Christ and with trust in the Lord to be our strength, wisdom, and true source of deliverance in all aspects of life. Christ asks us to follow Him into the stormy waters of this world, and He calls upon us to leave behind our apprehensions and our fear-inspired tendency to seek escape when things look too hard or when the task before us seems daunting beyond our capacity. These are those moments when we have little left to rely upon other than our voices, weak as they may be at that time, so that we can follow David in crying out to the Lord in anticipation of the saving grace that He will pour over us.

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Thus sys the LORD:

“Stand by the roads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way is, and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.

But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”

Jeremiah 6: 16

 

When we consider these words from the Lord, it is easy to see our day and age as depicted in them. Yet, Jeremiah wrote them down about 2,600 years ago, and people have been making the same comparison ever since then. So, it may not just be our times that are out of synch with God’s will and desire for the way that we live, but, instead, it is the fallen nature of people’s hearts and minds that is the problem. We should not take any comfort in the fact that our generation is not uniquely guilty of deviating from God’s righteous path, either; rather, we should take our Lord’s words of warning to heart and also seek out His promise of rest for our souls and the deeply felt peace that accompanies that rest.

 

Now God’s path of travel through life does not always seem to be so peaceful or rest filled. In fact, it takes us in a direction that heads straight into conflict with many of the values that our world holds as important. It also compels its sojourners to be on guard at all times as enemies of righteousness stand ready to assault God’s faithful people in order to attempt disruption of our faith and with ill intent regarding the stability of our fellowship of belief. There are also many times when the road signs and even the path itself are obscured or even completely covered over by ideas, concepts, and revised and newly enlightened ways of understanding God’s Word; yet, all of this new interpretation tends to be misguided at best and formed up out of dark desires at its worst. The true and ancient roads are still with us, and their footing is secure and solid when we search for it and step out in faith for our daily journey.

 

The discernment that we need in order to walk confidently along these foundational ways is found in the presence of Christ with us in that pursuit of truth, grace, and righteous love. We come to know these essential elements of life for the traveler along the Lord’s road by knowing our Savior and Lord well. God’s Word, read in its entirety and believed with a faith that holds its contents and their authorship as both sacred and mystical provides direction, counsel, and comfort for our days of travel. The Holy Spirit brings us the companionship of Christ for each step of the way, and He also provides insight and understanding into the direct and tangible application of all that is contained within that living word and also into God’s will as it pertains to the place and the times of today’s path. In choosing to follow Christ and stride out along His path of redemptive truth, we are moving away from the mainstream flow of our world, but in so doing, we are settling into God’s will in a manner that brings our souls to a peaceful place that brings both true rest for the night and strength for the new day to come.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2: 4, 5

 

These are complex words, I readily admit that; yet, the thought here is fairly straight-forward and direct. Christ is the foundation and the basis for everything that is holy, righteous, and true in our world, and He has been established in this manner by God for our benefit. As we enter into this idea and embrace it as the basis for all that we think, say, and do, Christ works in and upon us to reshape and to form us into people who are ever more fully conformed to the character and the nature of God. We do not become gods as some would believe, but we do live out our days in a manner that brings the presence of Christ into the lives of others.

 

The primary sacrifice that we bring is ourselves. In following Christ, we are called upon by Him to set aside the rest of our lives with the thoughts and deeds that we hold as dearly important, and we are led into a life of service to God as we respond to the needs of all of His creation. It is in service to God’s kingdom on earth that we are shaped and polished by the Spirit so that the selfish and self-directed form of our previous natures is reshaped and redirected in a manner that is along the lines of the God ordained and righteous beings that each of us has the capability to become. This is how our lives leave the realm of the worldly and earth-bound and begin to dwell as holy priests at the altar of our Lord and King.

 

As we serve Christ and engage in this new way of living that is for Him and that follows His lead in all matters, we need to keep in mind the fact that this world rejected Jesus and that it did so to the point of brutally murdering Him. Little has changed since then when it comes to the responses of the world to the love, grace, and truth that Christ seeks to apply to life here. Thus, we should also expect to encounter various forms of rejection as we throw ourselves into living out our days in service to Christ. However, in the weakness that comes through being rejected by the world we are entering into the center of Christ’s strength, and so, He becomes ever more our capacity as He leads us into living out His calling for us. The lives that we then live are blessed by God, and we, in turn, bring the blessing of the eternal into direct contact with the brokenness and the lostness of this world.

God, the Lord, is my strength;

he makes my feet like the deer’s,

he makes me tread on my high places.

Habakkuk 3: 19

 

Some people really like heights, but most of us would prefer to be much closer to the ground. Those few are always the first to agree to climb up the tree, to walk near the cliff’s edge, or to place the topper on a Christmas tree while standing on a shaky old stool. From my point of view, it is good to have these folks around, for they can have any of these tasks or adventures and serve as my representative in doing them. So, I think that the point of this verse is related to the idea that high places are not the most natural location for people to walk about. It also points to the fact that those challenging locations provide some of life’s most spectacular vistas as they take us out of the haze and the clutter of the world and grant to us a perspective that is close to that from which God evaluates and processes that same world.

 

The clear air and the all-encompassing outlook make that difficult climb worth the effort, and the way that we are required to trust in the Lord for showing us the path to the top and for guarding our steps from slipping or falling is in itself an important aspect of the journey upward. The climb up God’s mountain is something that we all should undertake on a regular basis. At least it seems to me that most of my life is spent in dwelling in a valley of one sort or another. These are not bad places, and they are not indicative of living outside of God’s will. Instead, this is where almost all of us are placed by Christ, for these lowlands are where most people reside and where the Lord wants us to live out His love, truth, and deliver His message of hope and redemption. This is where we are placed in order to contend with the forces of this world for the souls of many.

 

Yet, in order to more clearly see God and also to be able to more fully testify to who He is and to what He is calling people, it is important to make the pilgrimage that the prophet describes. That high place may not always be elevated in altitude, however, for it can be found in the presence of the Lord regardless of where we are located. What matters is that we take ourselves out of the clutter and the noise of the day and turn all of our attention onto listening to God, to speaking out what is on the heart to Him, and to allowing the Spirit time and mental and emotional space to guide us into truth, understanding, and wisdom. Even doing this requires faith in a God who desires to be close to each of His people, and it demands that we trust Him to enter in with us when we devote ourselves to growing closer to the Lord. As I have seen it, these high places of the Lord are always worth the risk and the effort that it took to get to them.

For he (Abraham) was looking forward to the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God.

Hebrews 11: 10

 

We know the story. What Abraham did was no small thing, for he left al behind and headed out into the hostile unknown in order to respond to what God called upon him to do. He would never know the comforts of a dwelling place that was constructed out of stone or bricks or even of well fitted wood. He would be a tent dweller for the rest of his life, and that was fine with him so long as what he was doing was pleasing to the Lord. Abraham knew that God’s promises to him had a very long duration and a distant horizon of full execution. Although it wasn’t always easy to wait on the development of God’s plan, and Abraham did take things into his own hands from time to time, he was mostly content to trust in the Lord and to dwell in the land of faith and hope. This was not easy to do for him, and it is seldom so easy for us to rest easy under similar circumstances.

 

Yet, this looking ahead with hopeful anticipation is a part of the journey that God sets most of us on. There are always aspects of trusting the Lord that involve a form of waiting and aspects of hoping and trusting. We trust that what we hear from God in His Word, in teaching, and through what the Spirit says to us is accurate and true. We act upon the sort of input that is typically discounted or dismissed in the world outside of the church; so, in faith, we often do things which defy the logic of the world where we live and the people who we engage with in its environment. This can make people who follow Christ seem to be irrational or even imbalanced to others as we make important, life-altering decisions for reasons that often run counter to all that is of primary importance in society at large. Still, these decisions are made in due consideration of what Christ is saying to us and are founded upon our God-granted understanding that this life is significant for the way that Christ uses it for the sake of the future of His kingdom.

 

In this way, we join in with Abraham in considering the foundation that is being constructed by God’s hand as He works through our small efforts. We may see only a stone or two of that wall as it is laid out upon the ground of our world. We might not even get to touch that much of the future during the brief span of time that we have here, but even in these minimal dents in the sand, eternity is found. A simple act of obedience today may very well ripple through the future with powerful effect as Christ works in the hearts and the minds of others. We do not know what the outcome may be, and that is truly by virtue of God’s design. We are, like Abraham, simple workers in the Lord’s field. We are tasked with following Christ in trust and by faith into that still forming future that He is working out, Himself in obedience to the Father. Still, we join with Abraham in looking upon God as the builder of something that is great and glorious beyond all imagining as we set our hands to work in placing by faith the stone that Christ directs us to set.

My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Have you ever experienced uncertainty or become so weary from trying to live righteously in this troubled world that it felt like you were going to be swept over the edge of a towering cliff at any moment? Right, I didn’t think that I was totally alone in these responses to life. This world is a big time highly stressful place to exist. Also, Paul is generally a fairly practical guy; for, he lived his life in the center of the storm that happens whenever people who desire and seek to serve the Lord venture out into their communities and engage in bringing the truth of Christ to others. So, my conclusion is that realistic Paul wouldn’t tell us to do or to be something that couldn’t be done.

 

In order to avoid the inevitable sense of futility that comes when my desire to serve Christ intersects with all of the road blocks that spring up in front of my path, I am required to find my direction and the strength to carry on from a very special source. Christ calls me to follow Him and to do His work in my world. If this work is to reach the sort of potential that He knows exists, I must allow someone else to make decisions with me. Finally, if I am to stay the path of that calling through times of personal failure, disappointment with others, and the distractions that life brings my way; my feet need to be firmly set on a foundation that is stronger and that runs deeper than anything that I can fabricate on my own.

 

This all seems so complex to my mind; yet, it all has one relatively simple answer. Jesus, the Christ, is God’s response to every concern that I can contemplate. Jesus, who gave all so that I can live in the complete fullness of God’s riches is all that I need. Jesus, whose Spirit goes through everything in this life with me is my guide and counselor. Jesus, the One who took all of my sin and the shame that it brought to me onto His back is my strength. Jesus, the One who loves me despite all of my hurtful acts and deceitful thoughts holds me steady through all of the trials and the storms that attempt to drive me away from the Lord’s way. Jesus, there is nothing more; so, how can I accept anything less?

The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?

1 Corinthians 10: 16

 

Paul is talking about the formal celebration of the Eucharist or as we in the church often refer to it, The Lord’s Table or Holy Communion. Yet, he is also speaking to something bigger, more expansive, than just that. Paul is sharing his thoughts on what it means to be a part of the totality of the body of Christ. In certain ways, this is a very real union of people with other people and together with God. This is the most significant thing that occurs as we come into a relationship with God through Christ beyond the fact of God’s entry into us through the presence of the Holy Spirit within. It is firstly in union with Christ and then in union with His body that we are made useful and granted purpose and mission in this world. This is wherein our lives are transformed into ones that carry eternal weight and enter into God’s everlasting glory.

 

This participation that Paul mentions is not a form of ritual, either. It is life, itself. When people come to Christ and surrender our lives to Him, we are infused with Him, with God, in a manner that is mystical and wonderful. There is present in us both the reality of change within our beings, and at the same time, we carry forward an unlimited potential for transformative change and growth. This brings to light the concept of participation, for in Christ, we are called by God to engage with this world in ways that bring the revelation of love, grace, and truth that was the life that Jesus lived into direct and continual contact with all that is lost, broken, and without God in the course of our days. This engagement with the world is the truest expression of our communion with Christ that we can pour out.

 

So, if life itself is an expression of the sacred and the holy in that it is formed up and participated in by the presence of Christ within our hearts, minds, and souls, so then the conduct of our lives must follow along in that it too will be in all ways a statement of Christ’s presence within us. This is carried out in the way that we treat others and in the manner in which we enter into the discourse and the actions of our world. Christ brought love, respect, and equality of treatment into His interaction with all and so should we. The Lord granted healing to those who were sick in body, mind, spirit, and being, and we are to be His instruments of healing in these troubled days. Christ sought peace within people and peace in the world’s social order, so too, we need to be the people in our world who set aside its violence and turn to other means for resolving our differences. These are but a few of the ways that those of us who follow Christ participate in His blood and in His body so that every day of our lives can be an expression of our holy communion with the Lord.