Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.

Psalm 118: 5

Stress leads us to seek answers, and the need for answers usually causes people to look for help in finding them. When challenged, threatened, beaten up and down, and just completely overwhelmed, I have turned to many different sources of knowledge, strength, encouragement, and protection. Some work for a time, and others don’t ever seem to get the job done. There are situations where the tactics, strategies, and sources of supposed wisdom actually take me further into the bad place that I am attempting to escape.

On the other hand, the Lord has always answered my true need. He responded to me when the need was as basic as it can get; for Jesus took me in, accepted my lost soul, and released me from the death grip that Satan had on my life. Since that moment, Christ has continued to stay with me through it all. There have been fires and floods, plagues and famines, and disobedience and deceits with all of it coming from within the hearts of people. Some of the damaging actions and events have been of my own doing and others have been done to me. Regardless of the cause of my distress, Christ stays with me totally, completely, absolutely, and always.

When I reach out to God in prayer, raising my voice to Him with expressions of the desires and the needs of my heart, He responds. What is the extra weight that you are carrying around with you, where is your heart torn or weary, what is making you fearful and apprehensive? The Spirit of Christ, who resides in you, already knows the answers, and He is ready to provide those answers and so much more. God desires for us to reach out to Him and to trust Him with our own understanding of our needs as expressed in the passion of the moment. In response the Lord speaks into us with love, compassion, understanding, and solutions, for His truth is the answer to all that we encounter in this life.

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We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Ephesians 2: 10

Some days I just feel worked over, wrung out, and soundly punished by whatever it is that has grabbed onto my shoulders and refused to let go. These are hands that do not stop working me over until I had been all but turned inside out. Unfortunately, when I attempt to come to grips with the causes for these bad days, the trail of evidence frequently leads right back to my own actions, attitudes, and to the state of my heart and mind. Then I am inevitably brought to my knees in thanks for the grace of God that keeps working on my heart despite these times of errant wandering away from His will.

The hand of God reached out and embraced me in His loving arms, and He immediately started to work on my heart in a way that brings about deep, lasting, and real change; however, the Lord’s work in my life and in the lives of all of His children is never finished. God’s purpose and His plan are much bigger than we have the capacity to understand, and His desire for us is that we would trust Him totally so that we can enter into each day and embrace every relationship that comes our way with anticipation of the great things that He will do in and through us.

As each of us prepares to engage whatever may be on our calendar for today and looks ahead at who we will need to deal with, we should consider this thought; you are the handiwork of God, the Creator; you were designed and crafted by Him individually; and you were formed perfectly to execute His plan for your life this day. The Spirit of Christ is alive and active in you, and He will continue to shape and to mold you into the person that He knows will be prepared and equipped to walk through all of the days of your life in righteous service to God. The Lord asks only that we be willing to listen, follow, and surrender to His loving ourselves to His will and follow His direction.    

You were running well, who hindered you from obeying the truth?

Galatians 5: 7

The strides are coming in a smooth and easy rhythm, ground is flying past with little effort, and the race is going just as you had planned for it to go. Then, there is that sudden sense of a foot being nailed to the track or you experience that disorienting feeling that comes when one foot is knocked off line by an outside force. In a moment order and progress have become chaos and pain, victory tasted has become defeat experienced. This is the nature of life when we dare to venture into the world of entering into the contest against the forces of evil; for they don’t compete in a fair and above board manner. They want to win, and will do and say anything to achieve that end. So, we need to be willing to fight even harder to stay true to the calling that Christ has set before us.

It seems that one of the things that Paul is telling us here is that we need to be continually on the alert for the sorts of false information and misleading thoughts or ideas that will be set before us to try to get us off of God’s desired course. Living a life in the center of God’s will is never going to be a sit back and let it all come to me sort of existence. There will always be a need for effort and focus on our parts. We need to be students of God, studying His truth and its application in our lives through continual and thorough engagement with His Word. In addition to our study, the Spirit of Christ will provide us with the discernment and understanding that we need to test everything that we are told and taught so that we will not be tripped up by false teaching.

In my own experience, I am often my own greatest hindrance in running this spiritual race well. It seems that I fail to condition and to train consistently and adequately; then, my legs become weak, my cardio conditioning fails me, and my form is flawed so that I end up tripping and falling into an inglorious heap on the side of the track because I stepped on my own foot. What I mean is that the same exercise of study, prayer, and fellowship that is the best way to defeat each and every one of Satan’s assaults upon the practice of my faith is also the best way to stay conditioned for the rigors of living a life of righteous joy in the center of God’s will. Truth wins the race in this life, truth is defined by God, Himself, and truth becomes real and tangible as we grow in our relationship with Christ. So, truth is the heartbeat of the runner who finishes strong in this race of life. 

For in one Spirit we were baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12: 13

 

We live in a very diverse world. The mobility that people enjoy has also caused us to rub shoulders with those who come from different ethnic, social, religious, and cultural groups in ways that have never really existed on this scale before. Yet, we are often still uncomfortable with people who differ from us in any significant way. It seems to me that this is at least partly true because many of us also hold onto our perspective on issues and positions on things that matter to us with a certain tenacity that also causes us to be very narrow in our construct regarding who and what is acceptably different or diverse from our point of view. In other words, we are too often closed off to even trying to understand how another person might understand a situation or to entering into the way that they evaluate the world and form their own set of values and priorities. We want everything to be engaged with and lived out as if it were being beheld with our eyes alone.

 

This is not the way that God has intended for us to gain our view of the world. Once we became a diverse collection of people, it became essential for us to find ways to communicate with each other. Language certainly does divide us, but so does culture, race, social status, wealth, power and position, religion, sex, and many other differences. As an observation, it seems that people work especially hard at finding ways to separate ourselves from others rather than seeking out our commonality. We desire to find those points of distinction that we can use to hold us apart from others in a manner that gives us some form of sense of superiority or exclusivity. None of this is an example of human functioning in the way that God intends for us to live. God’s creation design did not have separation along any of these lines except that He made us to exist in two sexes, and even then, there was a beautiful harmony and communication between the man and the woman. So, our differences must also have a purpose in God’s design and plan for the on-going reconciliation of Creation to Creator.

 

Thus, I hold that God wants people to resolve differences and to seek out understanding of others so that we can live peacefully together on the earth. The most powerful and effective way for this to come about is through the commonality of the Spirit of Christ’s presence within everyone who knows Christ. There is a mystical form of union that exists within Christ’s body of faith that should transcend any other differences that exist between us and that can bridge any and all gaps of understanding, perspective, and values that we may hold. Yet, unity within the body of Christ is not the end of what the Lord does for us along these lines, for He also opens up our hearts and our minds to seeking out ways to understand and even to love those who are different from us in that most significant of areas, that of faith in Christ. The Spirit demonstrates to us a form of supernatural love that can lead us to enter into dialogue and even to deep friendship with people who are different from us in every way conceivable. The Spirit within helps us to overcome fear and prejudice, to seek out commonality, and to embrace people from all circumstances and situations as exactly what they essentially are, that is, we are all brothers and sisters in the fact that we are all created in God’s perfect image.

Look, I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!

Daniel 3: 25

 

This is the moment of revelation when the truth of God’s might, protection, and total involvement with His people became starkly apparent to King Nebuchadnezzar. He sees the three young men that he had ordered to be tied up in ropes of power and oppression and then thrown into the furnace of utter despair and destruction, and their survival and their freedom was now visible to him. He also sees that where the king had ordered three men to be thrown into his fire of destruction and death, there were now four men walking about freely in its inferno. For they are not alone, and it was God who had revealed Himself standing there with the three men.

 

We all encounter fires and times when the heat gets awfully intense; sometimes the flames get stoked to the point where the heat reaches an intensity so great that it feels like we will be totally consumed by it. The walls of the furnace seem to close in on us and form a trap where there is no way out and that causes the heat to become magnified in its intensity. It gets hard to hold onto hope, and the smoke of fear and concern clouds vision. In these times it is completely natural for anxiety to become a rope that keeps getting pulled tighter until breathing becomes a challenge. Yet, Christ is always in the midst of the fire, the brightest flame in it all aspects of life is the glory of the Lord, and the wind of His Spirit will clear the smoke from our eyes. Then, His hands of love reach out to untie the ropes that are binding us.

 

Facing a fire is frightening, but being tossed into one is terror defined; yet, when we open our eyes and look around with a heart that is not so much seeking a way out as one that is open to the words of wisdom and peace that the Lord wants us to hear, freedom can be found. God wants us to see that He is there with us in all of these times. Christ has walked through every torturous event and condition that we could ever face, and He walks with us through all of ours. God has provided us with resources to call upon in these desperate days. His Word is the absolute source of wisdom, comfort, and guidance in the midst of the fire and during those days that follow when we are recovering from the damage that the flames may have caused to our bodies and minds. We can also turn to the fellowship of believers and lean into its collective strength, counsel, and encouragement, and the Spirit of Christ goes with us for every step of these journeys of faith. In Christ, we are free in the midst of the trial, we are given protection during its hard times, and we are assured that the Lord’s victory over sin and death is also ours to claim and to experience.

 

And Jesus said to them, “Why are you so timid? How is it that you have no faith?”

Mark 4: 40

 

The story behind this statement is very familiar. There was a boat that was out on the open water of a large lake when the weather turned very nasty in a hurry. Now there were several able bodied and very experienced seamen in this boat, and they were, frankly, frightened and truly concerned that they were going to die. Yet, their leader, Jesus, was sound asleep in the back of the boat. At least to them, He seemed to be sleeping through it all so that He had no involvement and no influence on their survival. Of coarse, these great men of faith, these men who had walked away from their former life’s callings to follow after Jesus, and to seek to do God’s work in their world had it all wrong. Now when I look at their response to the situation, they make me think of myself.

 

You see, I think that Jesus wanted them to keep sailing the boat in the full knowledge and confidence of God’s continual involvement and care for them. Although, Jesus did use the moment to demonstrate God’s mastery over all of His creation, it wasn’t really necessary for Him to do that. There are a lot of situations that I encounter and that most of do, too, where our tendency is to stop moving forward when we think that the way has become too challenging or the danger has exceeded our capacity to enter into the risk. Yet, when we are traveling along God’s path and seeking to do the Lord’s will, we have His promise and His commitment that He is with us and that He will guide our steps and protect us.

 

The Lord wants us to realize that there are no seas too high for Him and that there is no wind so strong that His will can be crushed by it. Additionally, God’s hand will redirect the path that we are traveling if it is not one that fulfills His desire for us. Jesus is telling us to trust Him and to keep using the skill, the wisdom, and the experiences that He has given to us in conjunction with the truth that He provides through His Word while relying on the Spirit of Christ and His leading to keep our boat upright and on top of the waves of the storms that strike us every day. Christ also wants us to draw near to His body so that we dwell in the comfort, strength, and wisdom of others who know Him. I don’t need for the winds to calm and the waves to cease, for the great miracle has already been performed in that Jesus is my Savior who will go with me through everything. He simply needs me to trust Him enough to have faith in the fact that the will of God is triumphant in every situation that is encountered in life.

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,

but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.

Proverbs 15: 18

 

There exist a great number of expressions that deal with the effect that anger has on highly charged or emotion filled situations. A couple of my favorites are “Pouring fuel on a fire” and David Bowie’s moody crooning, “Putting out fire with gasoline.” The point is clear, for anger does very little to resolve or to settle a difficult situation, and it usually has the exact opposite effect. Anger takes a disagreement and turns it into a war or into a win-lose engagement wherein, in fact, no one wins. This is emphatically true when the people involved are followers of Christ and in situations wherein the anger is being expressed between us in the body of Christ. In these situations, those Satanic forces that relentlessly seek to divide the church and to separate Christ’s people from each other are the only winners.

 

For those of us who gravitate toward anger as a response to many of the situations that we encounter in life, God desires for us to learn control over these emotional times through submission to Him. This is also true for those of us who seem to find that anger is necessary for us to fully enter into hard discussions and challenging situations. In general, there is very little place for anger in human interaction. God does exhibit anger in many situations, but He does not command people to model this aspect of His nature and character in the way that we prosecute life. The anger that God expresses is always tempered with grace and is always turned out with redemptive purpose. People are not so good at achieving this sort of balance, for when we engage anger, it tends to take over and to control all that we think, say, and do. It becomes who we are so that grace and redemption become rare commodities in our immediate world.

 

Since God does not set out impossible challenges for us and He directs us to set aside anger, there must be an answer to this powerful drive that is so deeply imbedded in many of us. The simple answer is Christ and the operative aspect of that answer is submission to Him. However, we all know that this is not so simple to accomplish and to remain true to when life comes our way. So, I think that a fundamental understanding that is also required in all of this revolves around the way that we see, comprehend, and understand other people. That is that we see others as valuable, beloved God image-bearers, who Christ loves regardless of all that they might do or say. Thus, there is no place for anger in our interactions with other people. We can be angered by situations and by actions, but we are not to allow that anger to pour out of us and onto others. Even when we are in confrontational situations, Christ’s people are to be peace-makers, and in doing this, we bring the Spirit of Christ to the forefront as we recede behind His redemptive grace.