“God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble— more than enough and always available whenever I need you.
So we will never fear even if every structure of support were to crumble away.
We will not fear even when the earth quakes and shakes, moving mountains and casting them into the sea.
For the raging roar of stormy winds and crashing waves cannot erode our faith in you. “
(Psalm 46: 1-3 TPT)
Recently while I was on a Zoom call with friends who were checking on each others welfare, one said, “I’ve come to realize that I am responsible for my own flabby faith. I need to exercise it.” I knew she was right.
Faith is taking the risk of trust. When we sow seeds of fear, we reap a harvest of distrust. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a constant barrage of fear-inducing reports like the ones that saturate the atmosphere right now. So many of us raised with the fear of a punishing God are triggered by this negativity. We need to get to know in an experiential way who God really is and take steps toward trust.
I watched a lad sit perfectly still for hours as he reached his hand out to a wounded. I didn’t see any progress so I left to do something I hoped would be more productive. When I came back later in the day, the little creature was settled in the palm of the boy’s hand. God is like that. He has enormous patience. He is also a great trainer and gives us increasingly greater challenges to grow and strengthen our faith.
I sense we are heading into a time when we will need more than flabby faith. When foundations crumble, we need to be familiar with the Holy Spirit’s still small voice and the safety of the hand of our Creator. It starts with one step and grows in strength through exercise until deeper experience of His love conquers all fear.
Do not yield to fear, for I am always near. Never turn your gaze from me, for I am your faithful God. I will infuse you with my strength and help you in every situation. I will hold you firmly with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 TPT)
To yield is to surrender, to capitulate, defer, relent, submit. To yield is to admit inferior strength.
Is fear something we are helpless to resist when it darkens our path?
Is fear a failure to keep our eyes on the One who is our strength in weakness?
The power to endure is greatly undervalued. In a culture where rapid solutions win the rat race we have little appreciation for the seasons in which God’s grace is empowering us to endure all things while keeping hope and faith alive. We want the comfortable stuff and the fun stuff — now! God sometimes has other plans. Endurance, like patience, cannot be developed in a hurry.
We’re heading into another winter season with so many unknowns battering our feeble understanding of peace and progress. Although the gap between striving to up our faith and leaning on his faithfulness is painfully evident, his grace is still abundant.
This morning I woke with song of encouragement playing in my head.
I know Your thoughts Your plans for me are good And I know You hold My future and my hope Your promises never fail Your promises never fail
(from Your Promises Never Fail by Jason Ingram and Ben Fielding)
The Hebrew word for peace, Shalom, means, in part, nothing missing and nothing lacking. Even when we can’t see it the Holy Spirit is working in us to transform us into his image.
My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking. (James 1:1-4 TPT)
When this season of challenges began, many people found refuge in the promises of Psalm 91 that begins:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (NASB)
It is still one of my favourite psalms, but may I confess that sometimes I find it difficult to remain in that place near to the heart of God where His thoughts conquer my worries? Psalm 15 describes the characteristics of those who dwell in that place. The Passion version caught my attention.
Lord, who dares to dwell with you? Who presumes the privilege of being close to you, living next to you in your shining place of glory?
Who are those who daily dwell in the life of the Holy Spirit?
They are passionate and wholehearted, always sincere and always speaking the truth— for their hearts are trustworthy.
They refuse to slander or insult others; they’ll never listen to gossip or rumors, nor would they ever harm another with their words.
They will speak out passionately against evil and evil workers while commending the faithful ones who follow after the truth.
They make firm commitments and follow through, even at great cost.
They never crush others with exploitation or abuse and they would never be bought with a bribe against the innocent.
They will never be shaken; they will stand firm forever.
This raises questions for me. Are these traits the result of spending time with the Lord in the secret place or qualifications for entering and staying?
After pondering, I believe the answer is both. Knowing that I can never be good enough through my own efforts and that I am dependent on the righteousness of Christ to be my righteousness, what does God require of me?
God makes the first move. He extends the invitation. His grace empowers us to change. The more time we spend with him, the more we become like him, but transformation requires intent and cooperation.
I adore my grandchildren, but if they thoughtlessly track mud into my clean house I will tell them to go back out and leave their muddy boots on the step. Toddlers receive a gentler reminder and more assistance than teens. It is called respect (and maybe even the fear of Grandma). Learning to honour the things that matter to parents and grandparents and others in authority is something children need to learn in safe, loving relationships.
If we wish to dwell in the presence of the Holy One we need to respect the things that matter to Him. We enter with praise but also with clean hands and a pure heart. I wonder if sometimes the distance we feel from the Lord is because he is reminding us to leave the mud outside and to drop some ideas and attitudes that do not belong in his dwelling place.
The first one I need to leave outside is apathy and a lack of passion for holiness I have picked up from the doom and gloom and hopelessness that is so prevalent on the streets in the world.
The song that comes to mind is Refiner’s Fire. The chorus from Brian Doerkson’s song:
Refiner’s fire My heart’s one desire Is to be holy Set apart for You, Lord I choose to be holy Set apart for You, my Master Ready to do Your will
I made many attempts to read the Bible through consecutively from beginning to end. I had many failures. I realized I always stopped around the same place. I couldn’t get past the story of the young prophet Jeremiah, who some call “the weeping prophet.”
A line from a sci-fi 2009 TV show, Flash Forward, arrested my attention while we were binge watching the series. A supervisor tells the investigator, “I can’t think of a prophet that didn’t suffer… and I can’t think of a prophet that God didn’t love.”
A prophet who doesn’t know he or she is loved is a dangerous person. His or her own neediness or bitterness will taint how they view what they have seen or heard. Some prophets used their gift for self-aggrandizement. Faithful prophets in the Old Testament were routinely misunderstood and rejected. They often carried the burden of knowing what others refused to acknowledge. They lived in at least two places and different time zones, The Way We Are Going Now, and The Ways God Is Planning to Take Us In The Future — depending on our willingness to work with Him. Whether they were told to speak boldly in the palace and in the streets like Jeremiah or quietly ponder and keep the information to themselves like Mary, prophets carried both the burden of the ugliness of sin and its consequences and the beauty of hope of restoration. It’s not a vocation many people aspired to and some, like Jonah, even tried to escape.
Jeremiah knew he was loved from his first God encounter. Jeremiah was also misunderstood, rejected, and thrown into a pit for saying what no one in a position of privilege or power wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s worst suffering came from understanding the suffering that awaited those who rejected the help God offered. He knew the blessings awaiting those who chose to trust God, but he also knew the sorrow awaiting those who honoured their own wisdom above the Creator of the universe. He wrote:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord And whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, That extends its roots by a stream And will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, And it will not be anxious in a year of drought Nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NASB)
But he also wrote:
Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind And makes flesh his strength, And whose heart turns away from the Lord. For he will be like a bush in the desert And will not see when prosperity comes, But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, A land of salt without inhabitant.” (verses 5 and 6)
In the midst of his lament for the people who treated him as a crazy, depressed, annoying, embarrassing conspiracy theory promoter, he also wrote in Jeremiah 29:
“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”
I hated reading Jeremiah and Lamentations because I hated the notion that God would allow someone he supposedly loved to suffer. I see now that God took Jeremiah into His confidence about His plans — His conspiracy for good. Jeremiah was loved by God, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
“Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
-Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego on faith that takes risks.
Maybe this hurting world needs to be inspired by recognition of the pleasures of goodness instead of the consequences of sin, and news of works inspired by faith instead of efforts based on despair and resignation.
Maybe it’s time for a shot of goodness right into the heart of darkness.
“With this in mind, we constantly pray that our God will empower you to live worthy of all that he has invited you to experience. And we pray that by his power all the pleasures of goodness and all works inspired by faith would fill you completely.”
My child, never drift off course from these two goals for your life: to walk in wisdom and to discover discernment. Don’t ever forget how they empower you. For they strengthen you inside and out and inspire you to do what’s right; you will be energized and refreshed by the healing they bring. They give you living hope to guide you, and not one of life’s tests will cause you to stumble.