The Promises of God

When I look at the state of the world I cannot help but wonder “What are you doing, Lord?”

With the Islamic State, the Ebola virus, the Houston subpoenas, the droughts permeating the American Southwest, and a myriad of other social, economic, geopolitical, and environmental issues facing both the United States and the planet as a whole, it’s so easy to throw up my hands and despair.

Last night, I felt close to that point. While sprawled across my bed at home, a deep anguish began to settle over me, thicker, even than the comforter on which I lay. Stephanie, my wife, entered and saw me, and knew right that I felt burdened.

I remember saying “I can’t quite put my finger on it. I just feel sad.” Her response demonstrates why I fell for her so easily and completely.

“We should have some prayer time tonight.”

I want to share with you some of what we prayed.

Psalm 46 popped into my mind, as it so often does in the midst of strife. I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but a few verses that struck me right away were 1-3

“God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

I felt a touch better; just remembering that God is here with us. He isn’t a distant God who we hope will get here in time to save, but a “very present” God who by our sides, walking with us through even the worst suffering our broken world can throw at us. And this Psalm ends with a promise.

I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” God says in verse 10. It’s not a question of if God will be totally and unquestionably honored and worshiped, or even where He will be. It will happen. It will be throughout the world.

Then Stephanie and I read II Chronicles 7:13-14.

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Though I don’t know the state of locust populations in the US, we have drought, and I’d call Ebola pestilence. This verse, though technically directed to Israel, spoke volumes to me last night, and convicted me that I never pray for revival. I do try to repent, personally, when I know I need to, but I rarely if ever ask God to stir the hearts of this nation (much less this world) and bring revival. What would it look like to see large-scale repentance and a deep, abiding desire to know God more and worship him fully? I confess, I cannot even fathom what that would entail. But I know what would cause it: The Holy Spirit moving in our lives. And there, once again, is a promise of God: “I will hear… forgive… and heal.” If I really believe we need forgiveness and healing, why am I not praying for and seeking revival?

Then the Lord lead us to Revelation 21 and 22. Again, I recommend reading the whole thing when you have time. Here’s the verses that I want to focus on:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'”

No matter what, regardless of what happens with all the pain and sickness and persecution and disobedience, God has promised us that a day is coming when those things will end. He makes all things new. His promises are trustworthy and true. We have nothing to fear from this world because the worst of the worst that Satan can dish out is dwarfed by the goodness of God.

As Stephanie and I prayed through these promises of God, we praised Him for His goodness. We asked Him to remember what He has said He would do, and petitioned Him to do it in our time. To be quite frank, I had never really prayed for that; at least, not in a way that was genuine or full of faith. We asked Him to strengthen our faith, telling Him we do believe while asking Him to help our unbelief.

And during our time of prayer, I thought of Acts 4:27-30, where the church, faced with persecution and revulsion, asks for boldness and to see God move, not for a decrease in pain or suffering. My heart broke as I thought of how often I’ve prayed for my comfort and to avoid troubles. Another promise of God bloomed in my mind: “In this world you will have troubles. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

I want to exhort you, whoever you are reading this, to think over these promises of God. Understand that God’s promises will be fulfilled. God is sovereign and we have no need to fear the future. We do not serve a god of “oops” or “darn-it” or “uh-oh.” We serve the One, True, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Eternal and Benevolent God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And with the knowledge of who God is, I ask you to consider and pray over the final promise of our Lord, recorded in Revelation 22:20 -“I am coming soon” to which we ought to respond, as John did, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”

Broken and Breaking

I think there are strategies used by the enemy to wage war against the Lord of heaven and earth that are more effective than I tend to realize. One that the Lord has opened my eyes to most recently is Satan’s desire to make us think this world is a comfortable and good place. The reason it’s so dang effective? We know, deep down we can feel it, the world should be a comfortable and good place. We sense the bit of truth in the lie, and it shuts down our defences and lulls us off to sleep through the battles raging around us.

But sometimes, because of His great mercy and love, God will break us of this silly notion. Pain and brokenness surround us, and recently one friend’s trial has been one of a series of events God has used to remind me that this world has been tarnished and cannot function as He intended it to. Scott Frazier and his wife recently had a beautiful baby girl; beautiful, but far from healthy. Davy’s diaphragm didn’t fully form which allowed her abdominal organs to settle in her chest cavity. This in turn hindered the development of her lungs, which has caused a host of other issues.

This news, in conjunction with the tragedies of other friends over the last few weeks, has shaken my faith more than I want to admit. How could this happen? Why would God allow it? My sadness and grief over the heartache of my friends cannot begin to match that of people going through such trials themselves. I am a third party observer of little Davy’s struggle, and I know that my soul could never cry out in anguish the way Scott and Chelsea’s do. But the truth is, even they do not grieve to the extent God does when He looks at the world. His world, mangled and marred by sin and death, causes Him more pain than we can fathom. The world ought not work this way.

And finally, I begin to understand why trials are a blessing, and it’s not because Christians are sadists and masochists. We are not called to enjoy pain, but to rejoice in it. I never seek out calamity, and I don’t find pleasure seeing others in pain, but still I praise God in times of pain because He is reminding His people that this is not our home. This world is broken by sin, but He is fixing it by grace through Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.”

And though this is talking specifically about mourning those who have died in Christ, I think it applies to those who are suffering in Christ by other means, too. We do weep when we feel sorrow, but it’s a weeping that comes from hope and a certain sense of homesickness at the knowledge that one day Christ will return and set things right, restoring what was lost.

When I look at my life and think “things are going well” I’m tempted to love this world, rather than the God who created it. Sometimes, I foolishly decide to settle for the best the world has to offer because I have forgotten that the world’s best is always countered by the world’s worst. For every “pay it forward” chain at a coffee shop, there is a string of killings by a twisted regime. For every beautiful sunset, there is a blood spattered patch of earth. For every sweet and loving relationship, there is a manipulative and abusive one. And, although that is a sobering and miserable thought, it points me back to Christ and the hope I have for the future outlined in Revelation 21:1-6

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem,coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.””

Scott Frazier has a blog of his own called Numbered Days which I highly recommend. His outlook on his duaghter’s situation has been a huge source of encouragement to me. Please visit his blog and be in prayer for his daughter, Davy.

Hedonists!

In my most recent update letter, I mentioned that I have been learning about Christian Hedonism, the idea that it’s actually good to seek pleasure because God is the greatest pleasure there is. We are called not just to obey God, but to enjoy obedience! We should delight in the Lord!

Frankly, I often stink at this. It’s common for me to be trudging along, desperately trying to obey when everything in me feels very rebellious. Over the last week or so I’ve found myself feeling especially disconnected from the joy that is, according to scripture, supposed to come with obedience to God.

Today, while reading in Psalms, I came to Psalm 116, and God revealed Himself to me there. In this chapter, the psalmist explicitly states that he loves the Lord because the Lord hears his prayers. The writer was tangled up by death, and God responded when he cried out. God rescued him, thus he loves God.

Starting in verse 12, the tone shifts and he seems to be explaining what his love for God brings about in his life. He starts by questioning what he could do to repay God’s kindness. We know from other passages of scripture that the answer is “nothing.” There is nothing we can do to pay God back. But the psalmist doesn’t say “Nothing, so I’m going to offer nothing.” In fact, he chooses to offer public vows of service, and the “sacrifice of thanksgiving.”

This is clearly a man who is finding joy in serving God. This is not a sense of obligation. He knows he cannot repay God, so we know his motivation for service is not paying off debt. So what is his motivation for serving God? Based on the delight that is evident in his words, I think it’s pleasure. The author of this psalm is serving God because he loves God and it’s pleasurable to serve Him. So here’s the question I had to ask: was I truly finding pleasure in my service to God? If not, why?

And as I re-read the text, I saw a flow: God hears the cry of the distressed, God meets their needs, they love God for his attentiveness, they begin to serve God, God blesses them with abundant joy from their service… But in my fallen perspective, God didn’t seem to be meeting my needs or answering my cries, so my service wasn’t motivated by love for Him. I was believing in a god that is inattentive to the calls of his people. But taking that a step further, the only way I could still have unmet needs is for Christ’s provision on the cross to be insufficient for all my needs. Stated in that way, my mind and soul (and I hope yours too) reject immediately the idea that Christ’s sacrifice was anything less than supremely sufficient.

The God I serve is not just attentive to my needs, and He certainly is not inattentive to them; rather God is pre-attentive to my needs, meeting them long before I even know what they are or have the capacity to cry out to Him for help. I recognize now that the reason God isn’t responding to my cries in my timing is simply that He has already resoundingly responded to every cry in His timing, through the cross at Calvary! And because He has heard my cry and responded before I cried it, I find my love for God restored, my desire to serve Him returning, and my joy in serving replenished!

Psalm 119:14, 16, 24, 35

“In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.”

“I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.”

“Your testimonies are my delight;
they are my counselors.”

“Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it.”

#read7in7 day 3

The salty spray stung his eyes. The schooner rose and fell with the rolling waves, but Saul no longer felt sickened by it. The crew laughed at him when he told them he had found his “sea legs.” Apparently sailors don’t really talk like that. Who knew? He felt a trifle disappointed that they would probably not shout “Land ho!” when they approached the coast.

The journey neared its end, and he was ready to have steady earth beneath his feet. More than that, he was ready to have his love in his arms. When he sailed away 18 months prior, fortune and fate were his desire, but it took little time away to reveal to him the fortune he left behind. He wrote her often, but received nothing in return. Anxiety plagued his heart. Had she stayed true to him? Would she love him more or less since his departure? He stood facing the bow, willing the wind to carry them hastily homeward.

He had trekked foreign lands in search of treasures. Over sandy dunes and through foggy vales he had gone, always seeking something of worth to claim as his prize. In the course of his time, he learned many skills. Swordplay and sailing were second nature to him now. His time spent with languages transformed them into dear friends. He could field dress a deer, and shoot his bow with more accuracy than most. He knew which herbs could suffice for medicine in a pinch, and which berries would drop a man dead. But he did not know if the woman he loved waited for him still.

In the distance the harbor’s lighthouse gleamed faintly. The sun descended behind them. Before them, home beckoned them on. Soon, the crew busied themselves with preparations to dock, and Saul returned to his cabin below deck to pray that Helen would welcome him back. After a time, he felt the slight jolt of wood against wood, and heard the sea men drop the gangplank and begin to unload. With a deep breath, he returned to the deck with his bags, searching desperately for her familiar features.

There she stood, as beautiful as ever, scouring the small ship for his face. Their eyes met, and Saul scrambled to disembark as she fought through the crowds to reach him sooner. The wooden walkway proved slippery, and he lost his footing near the base, tumbling into Helen’s arms. His weight bowled her over, and they hit the cobblestones together. Disheveled and awkward he looked up and said sheepishly, “I’ve missed you, love. I feared you would not come.”

She responded with a kiss.

#read7in7 day 1

The chill of morning leeches some of my body’s natural heat. A medium flavored black tea blend that tastes like London restores some warmth. I feel it trickle down my throat as I sip it. I should be getting started with the rest of my day. Like the steady drip of a leaking faucet I can hear my day wasting away as I sit here and wonder. Though I enjoy writing by hand, a creeping cramp makes me clumsy. I hate the look of my personal font when my wrist has gone sore. I push my journal away after re-reading the last thoughts I wrote out for God: “I don’t just want to rest in your presence, I want to revel in it.”

Another sip of tea reveals I must have been sitting here longer than I thought. The temperature is supposed to drop today, the thought pops into my head unsolicited. Perhaps my subconscious is connecting unseen dots from a cold beverage to a cold front… to a cold heart. I love God, so shouldn’t this be easy? I imagine other people spending hours with the Lord, their souls reviving like a dry sponge submerged. Swelling up, it inhales water, sucking it into its pores until it literally oozes. I want an oozy sponge-heart.

I’m late for work and I haven’t left my apartment. A rumbling AC unit blows air around me. Seriously? Why does it come on when it’s already cool? I get up to grab a hoodie. It is a hoodie day for sure. Returning to my seat, I curse my brain for distracting me from the task at hand. I want to sit in God’s presence till I don’t feel squirmy anymore. When I go to shoot a text to my supervisor, I remember I turned my phone off for this. So I hold the power button till the familiar *bzzt* warns me I woke it, but will have to wait for it to boot. An eternity passes and my patience wanes. I guess I ought to cut my losses and move on. When my cell finishes all its initialization sequences, a text with tragic news greets me. I feel especially bad for not really knowing how to feel. Death is tragic, but the death of a stranger doesn’t sting they way I think it should. I hate that I cannot change my emotions.

I retreive my notebook and scribble out one last sentence: “Forgive me for not spending more time with you today, and for not feeling overjoyed.” With that, I stand and head for the door.