Tag Archives: Trust in God

How am I to pray?

 

Where do I begin? I believe in prayer and have made a commitment to be more intentional in it along with fasting.  As I asked Jesus to help me know how to better hold that time with Him, this question came to mind, “How am I to pray?”  More specifically, how am I to pray during these tumultuous times?  What is to be the area I focus on during my time with Him?

Finding the right fit

Several years ago, I joined a prayer group that prayed for our nation.  In the center of the prayer circle, in which we sat, was a picture of the president of the United States.  Later we prayed for the world.  The president’s picture was then replaced with a map of the world.

I’m sure we used the circle to help us focus our attention and prayersThe Lord already knew who the president was.  And since God created the world (and everything in it), I’m sure geography wasn’t an issue for Him.  Thank God for leading us in how to pray because sometimes we really don’t have a clue.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible provides some general areas for our prayers.  Here are a few to help point us in the right direction.

Who are we to pray for?

  • our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
  • the saints (Eph. 6:18)

How are we to pray?

  • without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
  • believing (Mark 11:24)
  • according to the will of God (1 John 5:14-15)

Why are we to pray?

  • so people will come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4)
  • so God’s kingdom will be realized (Matt. 6:10)
  • to keep us from temptation (Matt. 26:41)

Let the Holy Spirit lead

In Romans 8:26-27, the Apostle Paul makes the case for relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers.

(In the same way) the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of God.

Prayer circles are helpful and important to the Kingdom, but sometimes it’s best to let the Holy Spirit lead us in our prayers.  For example, He may lead us to pray for specific people or circumstances.  All the while leaving the outcome to His sovereign will.  This type of prayer, intercessory prayer, invites us to cry out on behalf of another.

“I just want to testify”

In March our church prayed for a baby born prematurely.  The hospital saw this child’s chances of survival as slim to none.  But our church prayed without ceasing.  The hospital was in awe as the baby not only survived but ultimately thrived.   Our baby went home in August as a witness to the power of intercessory prayer.

In April, we invited friends and family to pray for New York City.  They were, at that time, the epicenter of the COVID pandemic.  We prayed, and I tell you, things shifted the following week.  Now New York City is viewed as the model for managing during this pandemic.  And they praise God for His mercy and grace.

At the end of July, our small group prayed that the violence in our city would cease.  While I haven’t been able to access the impact with monthly statistics, I believe our prayers made a difference.  Why? Not because I have the numbers to prove it but because of what God says in His Word.  John writes in the close of his epistle about the certainties of faith, including our prayers.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.   1 John 5:14-15

We asked according to God’s will.  We are commanded not to kill (Exod. 20:13).  It is the Lord’s will that we love one another (Rom. 12:10) and be reconciled to each other (Matt. 5:23).  This is God’s revealed will.  We therefore believe God heard our prayer and that we will have the petitions that we asked from Him.

Pray for this moment

Prayer changes things, especially when guided by the Holy Spirit.  God alone knows where He wants us to join Him in His work.  In doing so, we get the opportunity to observe His glory and His power.  This strengthens our faith and encourages us to pray without ceasing, even when we don’t see immediate results (2 Cor. 4:18).

The failures and faults of 21st century living require more than man can provide.  Why?  Because the problems we face deal with the conditions of the human heart—selfishness, hate, jealousy, envy, and covetedness—just to name a few.

The prophet Jeremiah accurately described our current condition in the world when he said “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable​—​who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Man’s heart has not changed.  Only God can heal what ails us.

As we look at the conditions of this world, know that God is ever present and vigilant.  He neither slumbers nor sleeps, and is aware of the people, places, and plans that need our prayers (Ps. 121:4).  Our task is to be more intentional and disciplined in our prayer life.

As a nation we need God’s direction and intervention.  While politicians and special interest groups have their place, we need to place our full confidence in God.  He is the only One who can lead us to His desired outcome for the world (Jer. 29:11).  Let’s put God and His will in the middle of our prayer circle and see where He leads us.

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Rest.  Who needs rest?  We all do!  Health professionals agree that the need for rest is critical.  It is essential for our overall well-being.  This includes our emotional health and cognitive performance.

But how can we rest?  21st century living has introduced a unique set of challenges that radically impair our ability to rest.  Our current life experiences have resulted in heightened anxiety within our families, our cities, and our nation.

Similarly, rest for believers has always been (and will continue to be) challenging.  This is because we live in a fallen world.  However, the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:9-11) offers a “viable solution”.   He invites believers to enter God’s rest—wilderness rest.

Defining rest

Webster defines rest as not only sleep but also as freedom from worry or trouble.   Rest in the Bible is used most frequently in non-theological terms.

However, it takes on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people.  Most specifically, when used in reference to the Old and New Covenant.

God addresses wilderness rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest is first introduced in Genesis as God ceases from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  God later commanded Sabbath rest as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15).  He knew that all living creatures needed physical renewal.

Canaan rest began with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt.  Rest was defined as deliverance from slavery.  Canaan rest established protection from and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  By following God’s commandments, Israel would no longer be threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).  Peace in the land would be their rest.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement introduced us to God’s eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26).  Believer’s eternal rest will culminate with Jesus Christ in eternity.

Accessing God’s rest

Accessing God’s rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His will (John 10:27).  For example, believers should let God’s Word and Spirit guide us.  God has already provided solutions for our problems therefore releasing us from unnecessary anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:  “The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”  That is, believers need to be more responsive to the Lord.

Responding to wilderness rest

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  We trust the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, and protect.  He gives use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  God knows the end from the beginning and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near.

Is God really in control? Man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty

Last week we discussed man’s responsibility in light of God’s sovereignty.  I put forth the thought that although God is all powerful, everywhere present, and knowing all things, we are expected to act prudently and biblically responsible (Titus 2:11-12).

We, as believers, are to use the resources available to us to accomplish the purpose and plan of God.  This includes our gifts and talents.  This mindset of acting responsibly begins with the conscious choices we make through our free will (Gal. 6:7-8).

While mindful of the theological discussions on the relationship between God’s sovereign plan of salvation and man’s free will, they will not be addressed in today’s teaching.  For those interested in pursuing this area further, I have included this reference to begin your personal study and for follow-up discussions with your pastor.

What is free will?

What is free will and how does it fit with God’s exercise of sovereignty?   Free will simply put is having the “freedom to choose”.  When God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27), He empowered him with a gift that no other creature possessed. Man could operate under his own volition (the faculty or power of using one’s will).

Webster defines freedom as not under the control or in the power of another.  It denotes one’s personal sovereignty with the right of self-determination and self-expression.  Will in the Hebrew language is most often used to define the inner man.  It includes the soul—mind, will, and emotions (heart).

Adam and Eve chose to exercise their personal sovereignty and pursued their soul’s desire.  It is here that the core of sin began in the independent use of mind and will to choose what was good and what was evil (Gen. 3:5,22).

It is not surprising (and with intention) that God included these core elements of the soul in His great commandment (Deut. 6:4-5):  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Isn’t it remarkable that love for God had to be “commanded”?

Free will—not force

God does not force us to follow Him.  However, God’s plan will be accomplished either with us or without us.  God may even choose to use another means by which to accomplish His plan.  But His plan and purpose will be achieved (Is. 23:9).  Remember the icebergs?

While we are working in the external realm, God is exercising His authority, in both the external and eternal realm to bring into fruition His plan resulting in His glory and our good (Is. 14:27).  As the noted writer and theologian A.W. Tozer noted, “God’s plan will continue on God’s schedule.”

Choice not coercion

God’s placement of His image in man demonstrated His great love for His creature.  Mankind was the apex of His creation.  The result of this unique relationship was to have been God living in unbroken fellowship with man and man loving God.

However, “The God-who-Sees” must have known that with the gift of free will would also come the risk of a “divided heart” (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Sam. 7:3).  Adam and Eve chose “free will” over God.  The reality that began in the Garden is the same reality we must acknowledge in 2020—alignment with God’s sovereign will is really a matter of choice.

Our Free Will-Our Choice

After contrasting man’s free will with God’s sovereignty, my takeaway is to be more intentional and prudent in the choices I make.  My choice—large or small—is a reflection of how much I love and trust God.  It is my acknowledgement of God’s wisdom, love, and sovereignty.

Abdicating my will to God is not based on coercion or fear.  It is “freely given” to the one whose image I bear (1 Cor. 15:49) and who gave His life for me (John 3:16).

As in every area of our life, Jesus is our supreme example of perfect obedience to the will of God without the lessening of personal choice.  Although Jesus was fully aware of His purpose and the outcome of His life, He still prays in Gethsemane, “Father, if thou art willing remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)   Let all the redeemed of the Lord follow Jesus’ example.

Is God really in control? Man’s responsibility versus God’s sovereignty

God's sovereignty vs Man's responsibility

What is man’s responsibility in light of God’s supreme authority and power over everything?  Does God’s predetermined plan and purpose negate man’s responsibility to move forward with his own personal plans?  Where does God’s sovereignty end and man’s responsibility begin?

These are questions that have been debated for centuries among many great theologians and dedicated scholars.  Today we will begin to explore how to better operate (cooperate) within the sovereign rule of God.

Defining man’s Responsibility

How we define our responsibility in light of God‘s sovereignty is often shaped by one of two common views.  One view holds the belief that man has no role and therefore, no responsibility.  This belief contends that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable regardless of what man does.

This is seen as a somewhat fatalistic view with a submissive outlook.  Man is seen as a mere “puppet” in accomplishing God’s sovereign plan and purpose.  If this were true, why then would God created us with free will?  (Next week’s discussion)

Another view of responsibility

Another view is the belief that although God is sovereign, man does retain responsibility for his life.  Through use of our gifts and talents, by our response to trials and tribulation, through the choices we make, we are continually (perhaps unknowingly) participating with the Creator as He executes His plan and purpose.

This partnership can be illustrated by how icebergs move.

In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless icebergs, some little and some gigantic. If you’d observe them carefully, you’d notice that sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. The explanation is simple. Surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we face trials and tragedies, it’s helpful to see our lives as being subject to two forces—surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable, unpredictable, and distressing. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force that’s even more powerful. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes and the deep flow of His unchanging love.[1]

Sovereignty and Pray

While we may feel incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, He has revealed what we need to know to move forward in our lives.  While the secret things belong to God, the revealed things belong to us—to guide our behaviors and actions (Deut. 29:29).  One of the areas God has revealed to us is our responsibility to pray.

Believers are biblically instructed to pray (Rom. 12:12).  We are even directed for whom we are to pray—our leaders, our enemies, and the unsaved.  We often close our prayer recognizing the sovereignty of God with the pronouncement, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).

Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God.  If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers.  It is in our prayers that we proclaim the power and ability of God to accomplish that which we are praying (1 John 5:14-15).  Prayer is the expression of our trust in God’s sovereignty.  It is our responsibility to pray.

Sovereignty and Prudence

We as believers are also responsible to act with prudence. I never fully appreciated this word until I understood its use in the context of God’s sovereignty.  Though not frequently highlighted in the biblical text, its application is noteworthy in both the Old and New Testament record.

In the framework of God’s sovereignty, prudence is the “use of all legitimate, biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves and others AND to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.”[2]

In the King James translation, prudence is used on three occasions.  Prudence—good sense and insight—is attributed to Solomon for his ability to accomplish the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  (2 Chron. 2:12).  In Proverbs 8:12, wisdom is said to dwell together with prudence—both important for knowledge and discretion.  The Apostle Paul includes prudence—knowledge and holy love of the will of God—as one of the spiritual blessings received by believers as a result of being in Christ (Eph. 1:8).   It is our responsibility to practice prudence.

Do Our Part

Although we recognize the reality that we operate within God’s sovereign purpose and plan, it does not negate our responsibility to “do our part”.  It is with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty that we are to take action with the specific means provided to us to address the situations in our life.   This includes both prayer and prudence.

    • Peter and John though directed by Jesus to “preach to all nations” when threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin prayed that God would “enable then to speak with boldness” (Acts 4:24, 28-29).
    • Nehemiah saw God sovereignly position Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, yet he posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:7-9) and insured his workers were armed as they worked (Neh. 4:16-20).
The Bottom-line

As believers, we cannot use the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to actively engage in the challenges and opportunities God presents in our lives. God’s sovereignty by no means negates our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to promote the right outcomes.  Those outcomes should be based on what God reveals to us through His Spirt and His Word.  These are proven principles by which we can align with and serve the purpose of God. 

Lastly, when we feel as though we are drifting without purpose and direction, remember the “icebergs”.  They operate simultaneously with gusts and gales AND with another force that’s even more powerful.  We too operate simultaneously—by God’s sovereign purpose AND by our moral responsibility as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our lives (Rom. 8:28).

[1]   Contributor unknown

[2]  Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control:  Trusting God in a World of Hurt

Is God really in control? Knowing the God who sees

 

knowing the God who sees

Knowing God (theology) is central to our faith and our hope of salvation.  It fuels our trust during times of adversity and hardship.  Our view of God provides the framework on which we as believers live our life.  In knowing God we can better understand His sovereignty—His rightful position of supreme authority and power.

Seeing God through His attributes

We learn about God by understanding His attributes.  Attributes are the qualities which characterize God’s nature.   Some believers define these attributes into two (2) general categories:  His goodness and His greatness

Others understand God’s nature viewed through:

  • His omnipotence:   God is all powerful. (Ps. 66:5-7)
  • His omniscience:    God knows all things actual and possible.  (Is. 46:9-10)
  • His omnipresence: God is everywhere present.  (Ps. 139:7-10)

In reading these brief samplings of God’s attributes, believers have reason to be encouraged and hopeful knowing that God is more than able to handle any of the problems we face today including health pandemics, social inequities, and racial discord.

God in Action

In the Bible we witness God’s sovereignty through His divine attributes.  God’s attributes are most often seen through nature (Ps. 19:1-3) and through His relationship with man.  One notable relationship was the one He established with Abram.

Abram, like Adam, would play an important role in God’s sovereign plan of salvation (Gen. 12:2).  It was from Abram’s descendants that Jesus, the promised Messiah, would emerge.  Through Jesus Christ, not only would Israel be blessed but the whole world would become beneficiaries of God’s divine grace (Gal. 3:6-9).

The LORD made a covenant with Abram to “give His descendants land” (Gen. 15:18). However, after ten (10) years in Canaan, Abram and his wife, Sarai had “no baby”.  Sarai, thinking she was barren (and that God needed some help), persuaded Abram to take her handmaiden, Hagar, to fulfill the promise God had made to them. (Gen. 16:3).

Did God see what was happening? God not only saw what was happening but He also knew the resulting effect of Sarai’s misguided plan. God in His omnipresence and omniscience saw and knew that there would be impacts from Sarai and Abram’s scheme that would reach even into the 21st century.

The God who knows and sees

The situation that had been engineered by man (or woman, in this case Sarai) was the perfect setting for Jehovah, the God Who sees, to exercise His sovereignty in redirecting the fate of not only Abram, but also the future of an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar.

While Sarai’s plan of offering her maid to Abram to bear him a child was acceptable within the social custom of the day, there were still consequences that Sarai and Abram had not considered.  More importantly, they were working outside the will of God and His plan for their life.

Is this not the case for mankind in the 21st century? God has given us instruction on how we are to live. However, many times we attempt to accomplish God’s purpose through counterfeit and fruitless efforts. We are guilty like Sarai and Abram of accepting society’s customs and values in making life decisions that often lead to disharmony and confusion.

Working outside God’s Sovereignty

After Hagar conceived, the relationship between she and Sarai began to “go south.” Hagar began to despise Sarai (Gen. 16:4, 5).  Sarai began to mistreat Hagar.  So Hagar fled to the desert, headed for her homeland. But the God Who sees had other plans for the runaway. It was here that the Angel of the LORD (the first reference to the Angel of the LORD in the Old Testament) began to speak to Hagar, asking two questions that would frame God’s special message for her: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

Often the God Who sees will ask questions for which He already knows the answers. The God Who sees recognizes our unique circumstance including how we arrived at this place in our life. Whether by mistreatment or reliance on our own efforts, God is there to redirect our path to His perfect purpose.

Knowing God in His Sovereignty

Hagar would have to stay there unless she “returned and submitted” herself again to Sarai. Hagar was “strongly encouraged” by the Angel of the LORD to “put herself back under the affliction” of Sarai (v. 9).

For her obedience, she was given a promised inheritance for her son, whom the Angel of the LORD named Ishmael, “the LORD has heard your affliction”. Hagar then called the name of the LORD Who saw and spoke to her in the desert: “You-Are-the-God Who-Sees” (v. 13).

Sometimes God puts us back at “square one” in order to bless us in His unique way. It may require that we acknowledge our part or culpability in the unfortunate circumstance we’re in, even asking forgiveness for offenses we may have inflicted. Obedience to His instruction is crucial. We trust that the God Who sees always has our best interest in mind, regardless of our perception of the outcome (Jer. 29:11).

Knowing God in all His glory requires that we also know Him in His sovereignty.  Because God is both good and great, we can trust our future with Him.  We have no need to rely on trends and forecast when we know that God is all powerful, that He knows all things actual and possible, and that He is everywhere present.  Such authority cannot be matched by anything or anyone in heaven or on earth.

The sovereign God who created heaven and earth, covenanted with Abram and Sarai, and contented for our salvation, surely sees us.  God sees us—He saw us in the past (Rom. 5:6), He sees us in the present, and we can trust, He will see us in the future (Ps. 31:15).   Now is the time to get to know the God who sees.

Is God really in control?  Sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God

Is God really in control

Today is the first day of July and I’d like to welcome you to Wisdom Wednesday.  This is not to be confused with Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday but it’s a new phrase to represent a return to something good from the past.  In this case, it is a previous WordBytes teaching which emphasizes a “faith basic”.

I want to use Wisdom Wednesday to introduce a new series, “Is God Really in Control?—Understanding the Sovereignty of God.”   For the next few weeks we will peel back the onion of God’s nature, how God accomplishes His will on earth, and the believer’s role under God’s sovereign rule.

Why God is in control?

This study is important “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14) as we face challenges that seem impossible.   Our fears can be quickly calmed by embracing the fact that God is the supreme authority over everything in heaven and on earth (Daniel 4:35; Is. 46:10).

In God we can place our confidence and our hope.  In the midst of gloom and crisis, we can trust in the supreme God who rules over everything.  And because God is sovereign, He ultimately controls all that happens in the world and in our lives (providence).   To introduce this series, I’d like to turn our attention to an earlier WordBytes entitled, “Sure Facts, Overwhelming Odds, and God” to open this study.

Sure Facts

What do sure facts, overwhelming odds, and God have in common?  These are factors which often determine a person’s chance of success in the world. While these may be actual considerations, they are not the final word. We must always factor in the sovereignty and providence of God to not only level the playing field, but also to become the obvious advantage.

Sure facts take into consideration those elements we are born with or born into.  They include our “family factors”—our race, our gender, family structure (i.e., parental influence, number of siblings, birth order) and socio-economic position.  We had little control over their selection.

In the case of Joseph, he was born into the family of Jacob as the second youngest of thirteen children.  Jacob had two wives (Leah and Rachel) and two handmaidens (Bilhah and Zilpah) who bore his children (Genesis 30) but Joseph was Jacob’s favorite (Gen. 37:3).  This created an unhealthy and toxic environment for child rearing marked with sibling rivalry and jealousy.

Overwhelming Odds

Overwhelming odds are circumstances that minimize the possibilities of success in life and relationships.  They sometimes affect one’s ability to earn a living, care adequately for one’s family, or to live safely and confidently.   Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver and was brought to Egypt.  Being a Hebrew slave, the odds of Joseph rising above his new found station in life were slim to none.  The odds became even smaller when he was thrown into prison as a result of the lies of Potiphar’s wife.  When it appeared release from prison was near, Joseph became the victim of the baker’s forgetfulness further obstructing any hope of freedom (Gen. 40:23).  But God was about to do exceedingly above all that Joseph could ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

God the Holy Equalizer

God was on the scene for Joseph as the Holy Equalizer and Change Master.  What appeared to be sure facts and overwhelming odds for Joseph soon became “biblical history.”   Genesis 50:19-20 declares the power of God’s sovereignty:  “As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  God was the final authority.

God, the Holy Enabler and Way Maker, reversed the circumstances for Joseph whose journey began as a slave from Canaan but ended as a powerful ruler in Egypt.  He went from servant to savior for his people who would have perished from the famine in their land.  Joseph could have used the Psalm 16:5 as his personal testimony:  “O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot.  The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance.”

What do you believe?

Succumbing to what we believe are “sure facts and overwhelming odds” in our life can only result in despair and hopelessness.  Belief and trust in our God becomes the refreshing promise of rescue and provision regardless of the circumstances we face.  God’s plan and purpose for our life supersedes indisputable facts and devastating odds (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Our future is not dependent on our family history or our personal past, but on Who we serve.  So the next time you’re weighing your options based on “facts and odds”, remember to factor in God.  God always has the final word.   “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.” Ps. 20:7

Discovering God in the Psalms: Victory over Darkness

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

Psalm 139:12 (NKJ)

Children are typically afraid of the dark. It is in the dark where “things go bang in the night” and where unseen dangers may lie. Darkness is defined as the absence of visible light. Darkness is changed only by the introduction of light. One can never fully appreciate the value of light until they have experienced the unsettling feeling of being “in the dark.”

Although children fear the darkness, there is one time when they ignore that fear—when it’s time to play “hide and seek.” Darkness provides the “perfect condition” for its execution; it is in the darkness that a person can remain unseen as they blend into the trees’ shadows and the surrounding houses. If, however, this game were to be played with God, one would find themselves at a marked disadvantage. Why? Because darkness and light are alike to Him—the night shines as the day. It is God’s omnipresence that provides the believer the “perfect condition” for victory over darkness.

Light and darkness are a natural phenomenon associated with day and night. People also use the terms metaphorically, especially in Scripture where the two are given theological significance. In the Old Testament, God acted at Creation to separate and distinguish between darkness and light, night and day (Gen. 1:4, 5, 18). Darkness was also associated with judgment and distress (Ex.10:21; Ps. 91:6), God’s hiddenness (Dt. 4:11; 5:23) and divine intervention (Isa. 9:2; Ps. 18:28). Darkness is a powerful New Testament image. While darkness is used as a moral metaphor to describe sinful acts and sinful life style (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 5:11), it also used to describe the evil power, holding people in its dominion (Col. 1:13).

Darkness in our scripture text references the oppressive nature of darkness. “Hide” in Hebrew means to “to crush or bruise.” In the Old Testament it is used only here and in Genesis 3:15 and Job 9:17. Even believers feel spiritual darkness’ crushing power as it attempts to control them through their unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:17-25). It is here that God’s omnipresence can lead believers to victory through darkness.

Darkness cannot hide. It is God’s presence (through His indwelling Spirit) that exposes and dispels darkness. Believers are rescued from the realm of darkness to become children of the light (Eph. 5:8, 14). They share a place in God’s kingdom of light (Col. 1:12) and even act as light in this dark world (Mat.5:14-16). The believer’s life reflects Jesus’ light and ultimately declare his praises (1 Pet. 2:9). It is in Christ that we have victory over darkness. Jesus Christ was the “change agent” that was introduced into darkness (Mat. 4:16) giving life and light to all who would receive it (Ps. 36:9).

The prophets promised that one day God Himself would live among men to replace the sun as their “everlasting light.” Isaiah 60:19-20 reads:

“The sun shall no longer be your light by day, Nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; But the LORD will be to you an everlasting light, And your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, Nor shall your moon withdraw itself; For the LORD will be your everlasting light, And the days of your mourning shall be ended.”

Praise God for His Light.

Encourage Yourself

Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.   Joshua 1:6 (NKJ)

Donald Lawrence, gospel music songwriter and producer recorded a song that should resonate with believers living in the 21st century.  It is entitled “Encourage Yourself”.  Each verse and chorus repeats the need to continue moving forward when everything (and everyone) is pushing you back or holding you down.   

Sometimes you have to encourage yourself

Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test

And no matter how you feel

Speak the word and you will be healed

Speak over yourself, encourage yourself in the Lord.

I know we typically think of encouragement as coming from outside ourselves, but it’s important to remember that we, as believers have a personal responsibility to “speak over and encourage ourselves in the Lord.”  How do we do that?  By speaking the truth—that which we “know” by faith.   In our text, Joshua had reason to lose courage.  Moses was dead and he now must lead over 2.5 million Israelites into the Promised Land.  And who would be there to encourage him?  The Lord and Joshua himself (Josh. 1:5).

Satan—our model for discouragement

 During times of weakness, Satan will use his favorite “tools” to wreck our confidence.  He will use discouragement, deception, and disappointment to thwart our efforts to move toward God and His purpose for our life (Jer. 29:11).  Discouragement is by far his favorite.  The base word for discourage means to deprive of or cause to lose courage (des- “away” (see dis-) + coragier, from corage “spirit”).  It is Satan’s plan to lead us away from a “spirit of courage”.

 It’s what “we know” that makes the difference

So what do we need to know that will help us encourage ourselves?  I will define each point with selected scripture you can memorize to combat Satan’s attacks.

We need to know Who God is.

  • You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
  • The name of the LORD is a strong tower; The righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)
  • Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,  casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

We need to know who we are—our identity in Christ.

  • The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Romans 8:16-17)
  • Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2)
  • But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9) 

We need to know our citizenship.

  • For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3:20)
  • For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
  • “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:2)

Encouragement for believers is more than a pat on the back or a hearty “at-a-boy”.  Encouragement is the discipline of building endurance and resolve for the journey God has set before us.   Although encouragement often comes from our families and our “tribes” (communities), it is in those quiet moments of doubt or desperation, we need to “speak words” (God’s Word) that “heal” and can cause “giants to fall”.

Encouragement in the Gloom

 “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;

But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.”

Psalm 20:7  (KJV)

 After reading the morning paper, this thought came to mind–“the gloom deepens.”   Later that day my incoming mail  reminded me of the rising costs of utilities and health care.  More gloom!

I watched the evening news as it featured escalating tension in this country on all fronts–social, political, and economical as people become overwhelmed with “just living”. Heightening tension between the “have’s and the have nots”, fear as a result of mass shootings and gun violence.  Abroad there is civil disorder and conflicts around the world.  The gloom continues!

While these events are serious and very real, how are we, as believers in Christ, to respond to their underlying message of gloom? We are to be encouraged!

 We have been told in God’s Word that we will go through troubling times, much like those we are currently experiencing.

  • You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.  (Matthew 24:6-8, 12)
  • People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.  (2 Timothy 3: 2-4)

But God has promised in the midst of these life storms to faithfully care for us. We can trust in Him!

  • “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.” (Psalm 91:14-16)
  • “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Knowing God can be trusted and is faithful, we can respond to the gloom message with a different voice than the world.

  • “I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– He who watches over you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121: 1-3)
  • “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD.” (Psalm 27:13-14)

Today’s news will soon be behind us. Tomorrow there will be something “different” to grab our attention–as a nation, as a family, or as an individual. The thing that remains constant is that God is still in control. It is in Him we will place our trust. The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all (Psalm 103:19).

Do not let the world’s reaction to the current financial and social upheaval dictate how you will respond. The world reaction is based on its dependency on itself–its wisdom, its power, and its resources. That dependency is resulting in fear and panic. We will trust in the Lord.

Necessary Weakness

You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem! Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you.   2 Chronicles 20:17 (NKJ)

I must admit that I have often felt ill-equipped for many of the opportunities I’ve been given.  Although my initial response is usually one of “caution and fear”, I always eventually experience God’s abiding presence and strength in the midst of my challenge.  Proverbs 3:5-6 is my “touchstone” (go to) scripture: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”  I continue to learn daily to totally depend on HIM and the importance of necessary weakness.

In this postmodern society, self-initiative and personal accomplishment is glorified and cheered.  “Tooting your own horn” or “celebrating oneself” masks the prideful tendency of mankind to gloat in his own works with little glory given to God (Jeremiah 9:24).  Individuals tend to compensate for potential weaknesses through their dependency on academic degrees and personal experiences to provide, what they view, as viable solutions to life’s challenges.  As a rule, declaring one’s personal weakness is not well received by the world.

Even “God assignments” entrusted to both laity and clergy are first evaluated through the lens of personal capability and competency versus going first to God for instruction and empowerment.  We even view our spiritual gifts and talents as the only means to sustainable ministry success.  How foolish!  We fail to see the real ingredients for usefulness to God is weakness and inadequacy.

Also read:  Is it OK to be Weak?

Jehoshaphat gets an A+ for his quick recognition of his situation and his inability to handle what threatened the nation of Judah.  He put first things first—he “feared”, he “sought the LORD”, and he     “fasted”.  In their weakness, Jehoshaphat and Judah fixed their eyes on the LORD.  And the LORD responded and told them to “set yourself…stand still…and see salvation” (2 Chron. 20:17).

Imagine what would happen if we as a country, would acknowledge “our fear” concerning our nation’s future and cooperatively fast and pray (2 Chron. 7:14).  Visualize the impact if our churches collectively, regardless of denomination, would “cry out” to God to save our children from Satan’s attack resulting in senseless suicides and killings.   Picture the transformation we would experience in our communities and in our families if we would “stand before God” and declare our total dependence on Him and Him alone.  BUT we have not.  We continue to do what is “right in our own eyes” (Judges 17:6).  Through failed social programs, fractured political platforms, and misappropriated power, we unsuccessfully attempt to “fix ourselves” rather than acknowledge our weakness and need for God.

Let us pray for wisdom and humility to embrace our personal and collective weakness—to realize the spiritual truth that in weakness God’s glorious power is released.  Paul understood the truth of necessary weakness and dependency on the Lord.  May we begin today to do the same!

I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it…even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh.  Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.  Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:6-10, NLT).