Posts Tagged ‘Discouragement’

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“THE WAR OF TRUSTING GOD” – Mar. 6

March 6, 2013

“He trusted in the Lord the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him.  For he held fast to the Lord, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses.” 2 Kings 18:5-6

True statements can lose their value in the simplicity of their delivery.  Many of us have been encouraged when slogging through a difficult time with the words, “trust in the Lord.”

“Trust in the Lord” can seem so insufficient against the weight of an oppressive reality.

“I have stage 4 cancer.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“I lost my job” – “Trust in the Lord”

“My child has been hit by a car and is in the emergency room.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“My spouse left me.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“My unborn child is deformed and I am told to abort.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“My brother is addicted to meth.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“I am bankrupt.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“My child has turned her back on us.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“I am in an Iranian prison for the gospel.” – “Trust in the Lord”

“Trust in the Lord” can seem trite but it most certainly is not.

“Trust in the Lord” may sound easy but it most certainly is not.

Trusting the Lord in our time of greatest need may be the most significant act that any of us will ever to do.  Trusting in the Lord beneath the oppression of despair may be the most glorious act of our faith.  Trust is the sharp tip of faith in a spiritual war.  Trust is an action that reveals faith.  The battle to trust God is a faith battle that must be won.

Trusting in God demonstrates our faith because it displays our conviction that God can handle whatever we are facing.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

This does not mean that trusting in God is easy or effortless.  It is the direct opposite.  It is a war against our flesh and our flesh fights dirty.

We need to comprehend that placing our trust in the Lord may be one of the hardest things any of us will ever have to do.  We are engaging the horrible reality of the “seen” with our conviction in the “unseen.” That is going to conflict with every fiber of your natural flesh.  It is a conflict that must be engaged in all seriousness in order for us to be victorious.

King Hezekiah is a great example of what trusting in the Lord looks like.

The King of Assyria came up against Judah and had defeated all of their fortified cities.  The Assyrians were known for their brutality and torture.  They were the military superpower of the time.  They taunted Hezekiah’s trust in the Lord with the reality (seen) of their military conquests.  Hezekiah faced an enemy that had destroyed more powerful nations.  An enemy that had already dragged Israel into captivity.

However, Judah’s most important battle in their war with the Assyrian Empire did not occur on any hilltop or in any open plain or from behind any fortified walls.  The greatest battle for Judah occurred in the heart and mind of King Hezekiah.  I think it is insightful to consider how King Hezekiah fought this battle of faith.

He grieved and was distressed but immediately went to the Lord and sent for  God’s prophet:

“As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.” (2 Kings 19:1)

“They said to him (Isaiah), “Thus says Hezekiah, This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth.” (2 Kings 19:3)

King Hezekiah did not deny that he was in a battle.  He acknowledged that the situation with the Assyrians was distressing.  He did not try and act like nothing unusual was happening.  In the same way as Hezekiah, we need to be real with our grief and distress and not try and hide if from our brothers and sisters.  It is foolishness to erect the facades of normalcy when we are being rocked to our core.  No battle has ever been won by ignoring the fact that it is happening.

King Hezekiah called for reinforcements.

He immediately went to the house of the Lord and called for the prophet Isaiah.  The Lord gave Isaiah a prophecy that encouraged Hezekiah to continue in his trust of the Lord.  Hezekiah used the sword of the Word of God to engage the enemy in this battle of his faith. In the same way, we need to humble ourselves and seek out our Pastors and teachers and fellow believers and allow them to speak words of truth into our darkness.  We need encouragement that we are doing the right thing when we place our trust in God.  We need to be reminded of our source of strength while we are at our weakest.  We need to take these words of truth and fight back.

The war for the heart of Hezekiah was not won in one battle.  The Assyrians did not pack up and march away at the pronouncement of the prophecy of Isaiah and the resolute stand of the King of Judah.  They came back and once again challenged Hezekiah’s trust with an affront of their accomplishments.  King Hezekiah once again engages the spiritual battle but this time in prayer:

“And King Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said…So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.” (2 Kings 19:19)

This time King Hezekiah did not call for reinforcements.  God just sent them.  Isaiah, led by the Lord, prophesied, “Therefore thus says the Lord concern the kind of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mount against it…For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David.” (2 Kings 19:32,34)

Prayer is the natural response of a person who is engaging in the spiritual battle of placing their trust in God.  That is how it is done.  Trusting in God is not some mindless metaphysical state.  It is an active seeking of Him in whom we have our conviction.  It is intense intercession with God because we know He is our true and only hope.  Trusting God is a conscious commitment to set our mind on the things of the Spirit through prayer.  Our response to challenges, suffering, grief and distress is prayer.  We fight our enemy with the scriptures and prayer.  Prayer is our act of faith that demonstrates our trust in our Lord and Savior.

Also, there is no need to wait for an invitation when we see a brother or sister struggling in their faith.  Just as the Isaiah sent word to Hezekiah without being sought out, we need to be sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit and seek to be a constant source of encouragement to those who are burdened.  Their challenge to trust in the Lord is typically not an afternoon event.  It may endure for weeks, months or even years.  Encouraging our brother or sister to continue to trust in the Lord is not merely a Sunday pat on the back and speaking a brief, well-worn, Christianized slogan.  That child of God is in a war.  We should act like it.  Encouraging someone to trust in the Lord is holding their hand in the darkness, it is helping with other burdens, it is surrounding them with love, it is speaking truth to them, encouraging them to pull the truths from scriptures, engaging in prayer with them, and lifting their eyes up to their Savior.  It is picking up our sword of the Spirit and engaging the enemy on their behalf while they are getting back to their feet.  We need to be ready to encourage our struggling brothers and sisters in real and practical ways through their entire crisis and help them persevere to the end.  We don’t want to leave anyone behind.

“Trusting in the Lord” is not easy and it certainly is not trite.

 “Trusting in the Lord” is spiritual war. 

There is nothing trite or easy about a spiritual war. “Trusting in the Lord” is gritty and messy.  All battles will have set backs and miserable lows.  It will often be grinding, arduous, and confusing. It will require a perseverance and fortitude that you never thought that you had.

However, it is a war that must be won; it will be so worth it.

The Lord is the only place to put our confidence.  As Hezekiah prayed, “O Lord the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, you are the God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.” (2 Kings 19:15)  Our conviction in the Lord God of Israel is a hope well placed.  There is no better.  The victory is already ours as long as we persevere to the end.

Trusting in the Lord is how our faith is refined.  It is often through our suffering when our faith grows in magnificent ways.  We will see the Lord work in miraculous and unexpected ways when we place our trust in Him. Our faith in God is what sustains us through those difficult times when God is pruning.  Mighty servants of the Most High come from battles in which they are pruned into beautiful heirs of the King.

Trusting in the Lord shows to the world around us that our Lord is God alone.  It is when we put our faith on display through difficult times that people see God and that brings all the glory back to him.  Everyone can recognize a victory and know its source.  Trusting is the Lord is so worth it.  It is one of the most significant acts of faith a follower of Christ can do.

Therefore, brothers and sisters trust in the Lord;

MAKE WAR. 

PRAYER: Lord, you are God; you made heaven and earth; you can bridle and turn nations to whatever direction that you desire; nothing is too hard for you.  In you O Lord I place
my trust.  Lord, I know that days of trial are on my horizon.  I know that I will be challenged to trust in you.  Lord, may you be my strength.  Prepare me now for those days of trials.  Help me to trust you well to your glory and praise.   Father, give me eyes to see those brothers and sisters who are now struggling to trust you.  Lord, use me to encourage them to make war and to fight the good fight.  Thank you for the victory; bring us home Lord in a mighty way.    Amen

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FEELINGS, A WAYWARD GUIDE TO BLESSINGS – Jan. 10

January 10, 2013

“…For the Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you. You have lacked nothing.” Deut. 22:7

English: New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton ...Sean Payton signed a five-year contract extension yesterday to be the head coach of the New Orleans Saints through 2017.  The Saints general manager said, “Sean has been a critical part of our success, getting him signed to a long-term deal is very important to our organization.”  That makes a lot of sense to me – it confirms what I know about how my world works.  If you do well, you will receive rewards.

We saw the opposite side of this principle at work on December 31 – black Monday.  That is when seven NFL teams fired their head coaches.  These teams had decided that their head coach had played a critical role in their organization, only it was not a critical role in their success.  It was a critical role in the team’s failure.  I understand these actions also.  Whether I agree with them or not, I understand that an organization will take actions to start getting the results that they want.  It confirms my understanding of my world – if you do badly, you will not get rewarded and often you will be punished.

All of these types of experiences have fed into a world view that is difficult for me to overcome.  I struggle with associating blessing with good things and no blessing with bad things. It is not a good default to have.

I am blessed with an incredible spouse.

Does that mean I am not “blessed” if my wife were to be lame?

I am blessed to have a great job.

Does that mean I am not “blessed” if I lost my job?

I am blessed to be healthy.

Does that mean I was not “blessed” when I got cancer?

No! God’s blessings are not based on the good things. All good things are gifts from God, but just because we don’t have one or more of those good things doesn’t mean that God loves us less or has un-blessed us. God was still blessing the Israelites even while they were wandering in the wilderness. He had a greater purpose for keeping them in that wilderness but he was still providing for all of their needs. He was still blessing them even while He was punishing them.

It was just in a manner that they may have had to look harder to see. The blessings of “good things” during “good times” are easy to see and understand. The blessings during “wilderness times” are much harder to see and appreciate.  It is very easy to see the things that aren’t the way we want them and feel abandoned by God.

It shouldn’t surprise any of us that God doesn’t work the way this world works.  Our world-view of associating “good times” to our successes and “bad times” to our failures is not how God does it.  God isn’t any closer to us when we are being “successful” in our faith.  Likewise, God hasn’t gone anywhere when we stumble. God’s blessings and His faithfulness are still there when things aren’t the way we thought they would be. God’s blessings are still all over me even when God is disciplining me.

It is in those times when we don’t feel “blessed” that we need to look closer to see how faithful God is actually being to us..

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for being such a good Father to me.  Lord, thank you for continuing to show blessing to me even while you might be disciplining me or pruning me or using my discomfort for your greater purpose.  Thank you for never leaving me or forsaking me.  Lord, keep me from being discouraged when I don’t feel your blessings.  Teach me to cling to your promises and truths.  Help me look beyond my feelings to the reality of what you are actually doing in my life.  Amen

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RESPONDING TO A BAD YEAR – Jan. 1

January 1, 2013

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!” Psalm 72:18-19

This morning I have read many optimistic declarations for the coming year.  I think that it is wonderful that people are looking forward to a “great and amazing” 2013.  However, my sense is that many of these declarations are made in an almost mystical, power of positive thinking, type of manner.

What if you are not optimistic? Will your lack of positive thinking doom you?

What if 2012 has not been a “good” year as most would define it.  Last Sunday, my Church provided an opportunity for people to give testimonies of praise for what God has done for them throughout the year.  All of the praises were for God responding in  “good” ways.  There were no praises for the God’s peace in tragic loss of a child.  There were no praises for God’s strength while a spouse has to work away from home. There were no praises for God’s provision while being unemployed. There were no praises for God’s purpose when health is not restored. There were no praises for the “bad” things of unknown purpose and I know that there were some.  I almost gave a testimony to the “bad” things but fear of extemporaneous speaking in a new Church held me back.

I look back at 2012 and I am glad that it is gone.   I don’t look at this last year with fondness even though God has been so faithful to me and my family. My year feels like a period of grinding endurance.  I think it is a testimony that many may share.

I have not had to endure anything in comparison to some in 2012.  I have not experienced any deaths in my family; I have not been subjected to any violence; I have not been separated from my loved ones; I still have a home; I still have a job; I still have good relations with my family.  God has bestowed so many blessing upon me that I cannot even count them all.  Yet, I do feel like an Eeyore about 2012.  When I look at 2013, I feel like I am leaning into a harness preparing for a long pull.

What are we to do when we are not optimistic?

What is our response to struggles and disappointments when we lack understanding of their purpose?

When we don’t have answers, we must go back to what we do know.  We remind ourselves of the faithfulness of God; we remind ourselves of the goodness of the God; we remind ourselves that our treasures are not in this world; we remind ourselves that our Father knows how to give us good gifts; we remind ourselves that we are clay in the potter’s hands; we remind ourselves that God is still on His throne.

I don’t have answers for all the hurts in the world.  I don’t have an elixir of optimism. I only have my testimony.

This is what I wish I would have said on Sunday:

“My 2012 was bad. It was bad from an economic perspective. It was bad from a ministry perspective. I don’t know the reason I am walking through difficult and unstable economic conditions. I don’t know why the Church plant that I was part of for five years did not prosper and survive.  However, I praise God for these situations because of what they are revealing within me.

Cover of "Dark Night of the Soul"

Cover of Dark Night of the Soul

I believe that struggles and disappointments are part of a process that God uses to wean us from this world and ourselves. In the book Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross, a metaphor is used that I have returned to many times.  It is a metaphor of a mother weaning a child. I have yet to see a child enjoy the process of being weaned from milk to solid food. Yet, we all know that it is a process that is vital to the maturity of a child.  Consider the process that God uses to cause us to mature in our faith. When we are “young” in our faith, we drink spiritual milk and have spiritual forms of security blankets, binkies, sippy cups, etc.  These crutches of our spiritual immaturity are habits and mindsets that support us when the roots of our faith are not deep.  We can linger just below the surface in this immature, supported state.  However, there is a danger to immaturity. Those with shallow roots of faith are in danger of falling away when real trouble comes. (Matt. 13:20-21)

God loves us too much to leave us with shallow roots even though growing roots can hurt.

I know that the reason 2012 was difficult and disturbing is not because God was absent or inactive in my life. It was not because He does not love me or want to use me. The reason that the 2012 was distressing is precisely because God is working – in a powerful, deep, and transformative way.

I am being liberated from seeking my security in my paycheck.

I am being liberated from seeking my identity in my job title.

I am being liberated from dictating how God can use me.

I am being liberated from my appetite for the praise and respect of men.

I am being liberated from my attaching of joy to circumstances.

I am being liberated from my pride.

This process of liberating my soul from my crutches of immaturity is a totally loving, healing, and compassionate act of my Father.  It would be an unloving Father, who would leave His son in perpetual immaturity and danger of falling away. God loves me too much to let my physical comfort get in the way of His Spirit maturing my soul.

I know that the process is not complete. I still don’t really understand what God is doing.  Most of His work is being done in hidden ways that I am not even aware of. I am not enjoying this process.  It is uncomfortable and I like to be comfortable.

The Lord knows how often I pray for a little break from being weaned.  He knows how many times I have cried out due to my discomfort. Yet, I have faith that he knows what is best for me; after all He is my Father and He is so very good.

Therefore, I praise God for 2012 and what is to come in 2013.  I praise God for the “good” things that He has given me. I also praise Him for loving me enough to give me “bad” things; “bad” things that in His wonderful hands are freeing me from attachments and compulsions that I struggle with or don’t even realized are holding me back.  I praise Him for loving me enough to disrupt my comfort and cause the roots of my faith to grow deep.  I praise Him for teaching me that my true freedom and comfort resides only in Him.

It is a wondrous thing that only He can do. Blessed be his glorious name for 2012 and 2013; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!”

PRAYER: Father, thank you for being so good to me.  Thank you for providing for me; thank you for taking care of my family and keeping us safe throughout this last year.  Thank you for all the blessings that you have given me.  Lord, forgive me for dwelling on the negatives and allowing the cynicism of my mind to condemn the good work that you are doing in me.  Forgive me for wanting to have control of my life and not trusting you as I should. Father, complete your work in me. Liberate me from my flesh so that I might be free to love you as I long to do. Lord, continue your work in me; don’t leave me as I am.  Amen

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