Crucial Decisions

Right, or left? Go on, or turn back? Take a stand, or give ground?

Sometimes in life we face decisions like this. And it’s not always easy to know the correct answer.

It may be that we feel like we lack the information we need, or the wisdom required, to make such a decision. And sometimes we worry that our emotions are getting in the way of a rational decision (or is it, instead, that our our head is getting in the way of where our heart wants to lead us?).

David was under constant pressure from his rivals and enemies. He was also quite aware of his own sin and how undeserving he was for the position he’d been given as king of Israel.

Many scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 143 in his desolation after he had been driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom. David knew that he had to deal first with his own sins, and then determine how to respond to this crisis in his leadership.

Not an easy decision when your own son is creating the crisis!

When big, crucial decisions loom, the place to go is to your knees. Seek God in prayer. Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer wrote: “A man can say to his God, ‘Behold, take my heart, and lead me according to your will. I surrender myself completely to you.'”

This is what David said to God as he was facing his crucial decision. And this is what we can still by grace say to our Lord, when we face crucial decisions in our own lives.

Jesus, our Savior, makes such prayers possible. But even more, he guarantees that our Father’s ears are wide open to our pleas for forgiveness and guidance.

As David promises us, he will show you the way you should go. He will lead you onto level ground.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you…

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:1-2, 7-10, NIV).

Prayer: Pray Psalm 143.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 15, is Malachi 1:1 – 2:16, Revelation 6:1-17 and Psalm 143:1-12.

Header image based on "decisions" by Martin Fisch, CC By-SA 2.0

Who Is Your Go-To?

Do you have a “go to” person in your life — someone you can share your hurts and troubles with? Or maybe it’s a “go to” place where you’re certain you’ll be safe and protected?

Philip Philips has a song titled, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” In the song, there are some lines that go like this,

You’re my backbone.
You’re my cornerstone.
You’re my crutch when my legs stop moving.
You’re my head start.
You’re my rugged heart.
You’re the pulse that I’ve always needed.

In a time of uncertainty, we need something reliable to keep us going. In a time of powerlessness, we need to know that there is a source of power that we can access. In a time of loneliness, we need to know there is someone who loves us. In a time of danger, we need to know there is a shield that can protect us from harm.

Who better than the One who came down from heaven, who though truly divine, became fully human? Who better than He who has power over the wind and the waves? Who better than the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Who better than the Speaker of prophecies and promises?

Surely you know who I’m talking about. We have God the Father. And his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The living Word. He is our shield from harm.

This is why the book of Proverbs teaches us that the “fear of God” is the beginning of wisdom. When we respect God, when we trust his love and power, when we listen to his word as absolutely flawless, we have certainty in uncertain times, power in our powerlessness, a friend in our loneliness and a shield in times of danger.

He is our backbone, our cornerstone, our crutch, our head start, our rugged heart. Our very pulse.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

‘Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him'” (Proverbs 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 10, is Zechariah 12:1 – 14:21, Revelation 2:1-17 and Proverbs 30:1-10.

Lord God, thank you for being my certainty, my power, my friend, and my shield. When times are troubled and difficult, you are my “go to” and my refuge. Help me to always seek to be in you when my heart is hurting and weak. Your word is flawless, and your promises are my courage. You, Jesus, are my shield and refuge.

Header image based on "Kinard Beach today" by Barbara Walsh, CC By 2.0

How to Be Patient

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance,” wrote Samuel Johnson.

There’s a reason for the fact that great works are performed by perseverance. It’s because truly great works are performed by God. Sometimes we go through troubled times because God needs to teach us to know this. He wants us to rely on him rather than our own wisdom, ability or strength.

Wise farmers  get this. And they are also smart enough to know that you can’t rush the harvest. The finish line is the finish line. Crops cannot be rushed. There are no shortcuts. You do what you can do, and you trust God, and you keep your eye on the day when the harvest will be brought in.

The Old Testament prophets also got it. There were times when life was pretty unbearable for them. Think of Elijah under the constant threat of Ahab and Jezebel. Or consider Hosea being asked to marry — and then redeem and remarry — his unfaithful wife. Or recall Jeremiah who was thrown into a muddy, mucky cistern for a prison cell and left to barely survive.

Job understood too. Job’s patience in all his troubles is legendary. After all Job went through — including losing his property, his possessions, his friends and most of his family — he was hurting and he struggled, but he persevered in his faith in God.

You get the picture. Life was often extremely difficult for an Old Testament man or woman of God. The only thing that kept them going was their Lord, and their faith that God would make good on his promises. Patience and perseverance was the result of having an eternal perspective. They knew there would be a finish line. They knew a harvest day was coming.

And so, in the midst of all their difficulties, they kept their eye on the end goal, not knowing exactly when it would arrive, and they waited for God to perform a great work in their lives. Whatever events were telling them, they clung to their faith that God’s plan for them was full of compassion and mercy.

The truth is, when our trials and troubles seem to provide proof that God has disappeared from the scene, God’s promises assure us that his plans never fail. There is an end in sight, because the Lord is coming.

So in the meantime, we can recall that great works are performed not by our strength, but by God’s strength. Knowing that, we can be patient and persevere.

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5: 7-8, 10-11, NIV).

Lord, I know your plans and promises for me are great. It is hard for me to be patient and to wait for your plans to come to fruition. I fail many times at being patient. Please forgive me and help me to always keep the finish line in mind as I wait for you to do great things in my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 21, is Ezekiel 40:1-49, James 5:1-20 and Psalm 130:1-8.

Header image based on "Henri J. M. Nouwen Let's be patient and trust..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Faith-Filled Self Talk

When we’re under pressure, we have to monitor our self-talk. Because the difficulties and challenges we face may well turn our minds onto a negative track. That’s why the apostle Paul wrote, “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV).

If we fail to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ, we’ll find ourselves coping with pressure by blaming others, or getting frustrated and flying off the handle, or putting ourselves down. Thanks to our sinful nature, negativity takes over and we begin to take our pessimistic point of view as reality.

The Hebrew Christians were under a lot of pressure. They were being persecuted from two different sides — the Romans and the Jews. Their friends were leaving Christianity. Their property and possessions were on the line — as were their businesses and employment. Their personal freedom was no longer a given. Their very lives were in danger.

Samuel Johnson once said, “It is more necessary to be reminded than it is to be instructed.” Long before Samuel Johnson, the author of the book of Hebrews seems to intuitively understand this, and he reminds the Hebrew Christians what their self-talk should sound like.

These are the things that we still need to remind ourselves of. And we need to do this frequently. Inside our own minds, we have to make sure that we say true things to ourselves — that we say faith-filled things to ourselves — things that are based fully on God’s gracious words and promises.

What are the things I can tell myself when I’m under pressure? Take a look:

  • The Lord is my helper, so I can put aside anxiety and be fearless.
  • Because the Lord is my strength, and death is already defeated, mere mortals can not really damage me.
  • God has give me leaders here on earth who can coach me and mentor me. In other words, I have allies. I need to remember them. If they’re still around, I can find them and learn more from them. And I need to imitate their successful way of life.
  • Jesus doesn’t change. That means his love for me doesn’t change. His promises don’t change. His forgiveness doesn’t change. His patience doesn’t change. His offer of strength and hope doesn’t change. His gift of eternal life doesn’t change.
  • Jesus doesn’t change, so that also means his teaching doesn’t change. What he taught people in Bible times still applies to my life today. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you otherwise or tries to introduce strange new teachings.
  • There is nothing better than God’s grace. That grace is mine. Truly mine. And that is a good thing for straightening and strengthening my heart.

“So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?’ Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:6-9a, NIV).

Lord Jesus, help me to speak faith-filled words to myself. I am sorry when pressures in my life cause me to respond sinfully and with negativity, rather than with faith and hope. Forgive me. And remind me of your words and promises, so that I can remind myself of those same words and promises. I want to take every thought captive and make it obedient to you.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 16, is Ezekiel 30:1 – 31:18, Hebrews 13:1-25 and Proverbs 27:23 – 28:6.

Header image based on "Portrait of a young business woman at office" by Anton Petukhov, CC By 2.0

Tread on the Heights

Often we gauge God’s love for us by the outward circumstances of our lives. We begin to believe that what’s taking place around us defines how much God cares about us.

When Habakkuk wrote, Babylon was becoming the dominant world power. Habakkuk, a prophet in Judah, was trying to forewarn the people of Judah that cruel Babylon would soon be coming to crush their nation.

This raised major questions, and Habakkuk puts those questions directly to God. Why is there so much evil in our world? How is it that the wicked seem to prosper more than those who are righteous? Do evil people get off scot-free?

Right away, Habakkuk starts off the book with a complaint, a bitter complaint he takes directly to God: How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2, NIV).

God listens to Habakkuk’s complaint. And he responds. God wants others to hear his response and he instructs Habakkuk to make it plain to them.

The answer God gives is that Habakkuk must take the long view. In the short term, it may sometimes seem as if the wicked are getting away with their wickedness — and doing so with impunity. But eventually, God assures Habakkuk, they will be judged and justice will prevail.

God’s answer takes up all but the first verse of chapter two. Habakkuk absorbs God’s answer, and he responds with a prayer of triumph that concludes the book. The beauty of Habakkuk’s prayer is that it gives us a peek inside the heart of a man whose faith has been refreshed and renewed by God’s words and promises.

Habakkuk vows to stop judging God’s love by the circumstances and events that he is witnessing and simply trust God’s heart and God’s promises. Habakkuk commits to no longer allowing his feelings to be controlled by the externals, but rather by God’s willingness and ability to give him strength and help him through the tough times.

What we learn from Habakkuk is made plain. We do not see all that God is doing. And we cannot see all that God will do. But we can be completely confident that God is God, and he will do what is right in the end.

We can also know that God will strengthen us and carry us upward through the difficult times. God will renew our courage and confidence. Ultimately, through Christ, all God’s people will see victory and tread on the heights.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV).

Lord, help me to find joy in you, even when my outward circumstances are not joyful. You, Lord, are my strength, in good times and difficult times. In Jesus, I am confident you will enable me to tread on the heights of eternal victory.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 27, is Habakkuk 1:1 – 3:19, Titus 2:1-15 and Proverbs 26:3-12.

Header image based on "Panorama from the summit of Jewel Mountain. Chugach Mountains, Alaska" by Paxson Woelber, CC By 2.0

Keep Your Head

Keep your head. That’s so much easier said than done.

When emotional situations arise, the easiest thing in the world is instead to abandon self-control. Throw a tantrum. Pitch a fit. Have a cow. Lose it.

And anytime you are involved in ministry — or life — hard situations are going to be thrown at you. When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to keep your cool. It’s when things go south that our self-control really gets tested.

Can we keep our head when others are pushing our buttons? That’s the real question.

Paul, the apostle, is writing from prison. From these dire circumstances, he can see pretty clearly what’s coming. But he remains calm and steady. Whatever might come — discouragement, persecution, or death — Paul knows what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf. He is convinced that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, has him fully covered.

The finish line is coming, and Paul has never been more confident in Christ. He has kept the faith. While he anticipates his heavenly reward, he has words of advice for young Timothy, the pastor who will succeed him and keep advancing the gospel.

Hard situations are going to come, Paul tells him. I’ve been through them. In fact, I’m going through them right now. And you’ll go through them too.

But whatever comes, remain calm. Keep your head. Endure and persevere.

Most of all, don’t ever forget this. Jesus has always had my back. And Jesus will always have your back, too. So no matter what, let’s keep the faith and a crown of righteousness awaits us both at the end of this life. In fact, a crown of righteousness awaits everyone who confidently waits for Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:4-8, NIV).

Lord, I can so easily lose my head in tough situations. Fear rules. Anger springs up. I ask for your forgiveness for the times in the past I’ve lost my head. Help me to have the peace and strength you gave Paul. Give me your Spirit and grant me endurance and faith in Jesus that does not end until I receive my crown of righteousness from him.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 25, is Jeremiah 51:15-64, 2 Timothy 4:1-22 and Psalm 119:97-104.

Header image based on "Jesse Jackson: Hold Your Head High" by BK, CC By 2.0

Truth Will Rise

There’s an old African saying that goes, “The truth is like a reed. You can plunge it deep into the river, but it will always rise back to the surface.”

Paul says something similar to the young pastor Timothy when he writes to encourage him to watch his life closely. We may think we are doing a good job of hiding our sins, Paul cautions, but they probably aren’t nearly as hidden as we think they are. And even when they are concealed for the present, he warns, they will eventually be brought to light.

The good news is that this characteristic of the truth works two ways. The truth about our sins will be brought to light. But so will the truth about our good deeds.

Sometimes it’s easy to see a person’s good deeds. But at other times, they are not so readily evident. Paul assures Timothy that the faithful, good things he is doing to serve his people will eventually become apparent. Good deeds may be hidden for a while, he asserts, but they will not remain hidden forever.

There’s both a caution and a confidence-boost in these words.

The caution is for us when we think we can keep our secret sins hidden. This may lull us into thinking that we can keep on sinning without remorse and we don’t really need to repent and struggle to overcome our sins. Paul urges us to think ahead to that day when our secret sins are not so secret anymore.

On the other hand, there’s a confidence-boost for us, too. No one may seem to be noticing our sincere desire to do what is right, or seeing our gospel-motivated work for the glory of God.

We may not even want or need that recognition — after all, our goal as Christians is simply to thank our Savior for his grace and forgiveness. Nevertheless, Paul wants us to know that even when our good deeds are not immediately obvious, they will at some point be recognized.

Its just like the old African saying states: The truth will always rise.

So be cautious. And be confident.

“The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever” (1 Timothy 5:24-25, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. Forgive me for my many sins. I am also a believer who sincerely desires to do what is right in your sight. Grant me grace and power to align my life to your holy will. Help me to take both warning and comfort from knowing that the truth always rises to the surface. Assist me to guard my heart and watch my life closely.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 20, is Jeremiah 43:1 – 45:5, 1 Timothy 5:1 – 6:2 and Psalm 119:65-72.

Header image based on "reeds" by Naomi, CC By 2.0