When You’re Down, Look Up-Our God Is Faithful

“…for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12)

How are we to “count it all joy” (James 1:2) when we’re going through trials, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) even when those circumstances are bad, and how are we to believe that just because we love God “all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28)? I believe those are pretty good questions, but I also believe God has even better answers.

It is in the context of some sort of suffering that each of the passages above exist. Suffering is always a potential barrier to worship and to living out one’s faith. Ultimately, as Christians, we manage through these times by drawing strength from the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reality of our lives lived in the flesh makes it easy see all that happens, whether good or bad, from only a human perspective. God’s perspective must be our goal. It’s easy to thank God for the good times just to turn around and blame Him for the bad times. Our perspective must be centered on His promises. God never promised difficult times wouldn’t come, but He absolutely promised to be with us when they do. We must trust and seek to know Him more each day.

In his devotion Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon likens the knowledge of Christ to climbing a mountain. He says at its base, because we can see only a little bit, the mountain appears to be only half as high as it really is. However, as we move up the mountain, we are able see more and more. Spurgeon concludes by talking about how at the end of his life, the Apostle Paul was able to say, “for I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12) and that “each experience had been like climbing a hill, each trial had been like ascending another summit, and his death seemed like gaining the top of the mountain from which he could see the whole panorama of the faithfulness and love of Him to whom he had committed his soul”.

We live in a fallen world and our view is sometimes cloudy. This makes it easy for the circumstances of life to bring us down. But when they do, look up and keep climbing, because our God is faithful.

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Do Not Be Moved

“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)

In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.

Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.

So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).

When Heaven Looked Away

And at about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

Scripture records seven statements Jesus made from the cross. All of them speak volumes about the character of Christ. But of the seven, one of the most mind-blowing to me is Jesus’ statement recorded in Matthew 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, God abandoned Jesus as He bore the wrath for sin. Isaiah 53:10 tells us that “it was the will of the LORD to crush him”. Wouldn’t it seem like God the Father might choose a way of salvation different than that? What Father would give His Son for undeserving sinners such as us? What Son would agree to submit to the Father’s will and die for those same people? But that’s what God willed and that’s what Jesus did.

Though it may seem confounding in many ways, the fact that Jesus willingly bore the weight of our sin teaches us a great deal. It teaches us about the holiness of God, the just judgment sin deserves and the payment it requires. It teaches us that our sin runs deep, but that God’s grace runs deeper.

There’s a worship song written and sung by Kari Jobe called Forever. In fact, the title of this devotion was taken from a portion the lyrics. The song’s flow takes the listener from the humiliation of Christ on the cross, to His defeat over sin and death, to the worship that will one day take place in heaven— from the crucifixion and resurrection account recorded in the Gospels to the worship described in Revelation. It’s a great song. We sing it from time to time at church. One of the things I’ve learned being in choir is that whenever there’s a break in our singing during a song, it’s there for a purpose. Its purpose is to allow time to reflect on what we have been singing and to respond accordingly. The times we have sung Forever at church, there has been such a time, a time to reflect on the words of this song and respond to all God has done on our behalf, to respond to the love He has shown us.

Thankfully, Jesus’ abandonment by the Father as He bore the wrath for sin was only temporary. When Jesus said “It is finished” it signified sin’s payment was complete (John 19:30). Three days later the stoned was rolled away from the tomb. Death had been defeated. Jesus was no longer in the grave. He now sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. What a great truth told in a song. The mercy and grace God has shown in order to save us is amazing. And that the Son would willingly pay the price to secure that salvation is a love unparalleled. Our only response, not just today, but one day in an even greater way, is for us to sing “Hallelujah”. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

I Guess the Kitchen Got a Little Too Hot

“For Demas, in love with the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…” (2 Timothy 4:10)

We don’t hear much about Demas in Scripture except to know that he ministered with the Apostle Paul for some period of time. He must have been a close associate of the apostle’s because Paul refers to him as a “fellow worker” in his letter to Philemon, and in his letter to the Colossians, he is included as one who sends greetings (Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14). But at the end of his life, as Paul sat in prison in Rome penning what he knew would be his last letter, he mentioned Demas again.

The Apostle Paul’s last letter was written to Timothy. Timothy was most likely Paul’s closest partner in ministry. He wrote to Timothy for several reasons. First, Paul wanted Timothy to bring him some of his personal items. Secondly, he wanted to encourage Timothy to carry on faithfully in his ministry ahead. Lastly, but in fact the primary attention of Paul’s letter was the gospel. Paul’s greatest concern was the glory of Christ and the preservation of the gospel as Jesus had revealed to him. In this letter, Paul also took the opportunity to update Timothy about those in which they had ministered together. One of those he spoke of was Demas.

At the time of this letter, everyone with the exception of Luke had pretty much deserted Paul. Specifically, Paul said Demas had deserted him because he was “in love with the present world.” The “present world” that Paul spoke about was the world apart from Christ, the world dominated by Satan. In Paul’s mind, Demas had proven, at least for the time being that he was unwilling to count the cost of a genuine commitment to Christ. Persecution of Christians had intensified. Ministry was tough, and evidently, Demas had had enough. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Demas’ story ends and we shouldn’t suppose his denial of Christ was permanent, only that in this particular moment, his own safety, convenience and love for the world overtook his commitment, not only to Paul, but also to Christ.

It’s easy for us to be so in love with the world that we become ashamed of the gospel of Christ, particularly when there’s a risk we might suffer for it. The truth is, comfort, convenience and acceptance appeals to us all. If we are to minister in difficult times to an unbelieving and often hostile world, we must be willing to count the cost. The kitchen can get pretty hot. Therefore, we need to pray for the Lord’s presence and power each day, always remembering the promise of His Word as we go, confident in that promise because we know that God keeps all His promises. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Grieving with Hope

“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” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Sometimes the testimonies of God’s grace are overwhelming. To see others worship God in the midst of their pain is amazing. Suffering of any kind is a harsh reality of life. Suffering that leads to death is an even harsher reality. I think the Bible speaks so much about suffering because of its prominence in our world. No one is immune to suffering and when it happens it’s easy to ask why. Why does a young child die? Why does death occur so suddenly that there’s no time for goodbye? Or why does a lifelong of suffering have to precede death? For that matter, why does death occur at all? Scripture helps us to know that death is not normal, but is a consequence of The Fall. But Scripture also helps us to know that for those who are in Christ, death ultimately brings life.

The emphasis of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is that although grief is a completely normal reaction to death, Christians grieve with the hope of knowing that one day a reunion with their loved ones will follow. The people in the church at Thessalonica were concerned that their loved ones who had already died would miss out on the Lord’s return. Paul taught them and is also teaching us about the proper perspective and response to death. This teaching should never be taken to mean Christians are not to grieve.

It’s a privilege to be able to see people live out their faith in difficult times. To watch them trusting in God’s promise that He works all thing together for good, to believe the truth that suffering can’t compare to glory, and to testify that there is a peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Romans 8:28, Romans 8:18, Philippians 4:7). Wow! To say it’s a privilege is not to say we wouldn’t have preferred them not suffer loss and have to grieve at all. It is only to say it’s a privilege in the sense of seeing the Holy Spirit do in and for them what only He can do.

One of the primary roles of the church is to strengthen the body of Christ. This happens when we’re taught God’s Word, but I think sometimes even more so when we witness it lived out. It happens when we see those who are suffering because of their loss, clinging to God and His Word, proclaiming not only that He is great, but that He is good, even in spite of the fact that so much of what has happened may tell them differently. This is the Spirit’s work. It is something those apart from Christ cannot know. I believe the Spirit of God uses these people to show others of us where we may be lacking in our own faith; while at the same time providing encouragement by storing up their testimonies in our hearts should our paths ever take a similar route.

God is so gracious. He is good all the time. Dig deep in His Word to know Him more. Don’t face the harshness of this world and the reality of suffering and death without Him at your side. Seek the peace and hope that He alone provides. One day death will come for all of us, but for those who have placed their hope in Christ; it’s really just the beginning.

Shelter from the Storm

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1)

Outside of checking the local forecast, I don’t normally watch the Weather Channel. The one exception is if I happen to come across an episode of Storm Stories while channel surfing. I find some the episodes having to do with hurricanes and tornadoes particularly fascinating. The intensity of these storms is amazing. Hurricanes are those slow-moving storms so deliberate in their approach that unless you have personally experienced one before, you may not believe it could be so powerful. That is, until it arrives with all its fury. On the other hand, tornadoes are often right on top of you before you even realize it. Though radar detects their risk, there can be little time to prepare. And what about the devastation they can cause in just a matter of minutes? Images from these episodes on the Weather Channel make it clear the destruction these storms cause. Which one presents the greater risk depends on the area of the country in which you live. Part of how people prepare for these storms is by knowing the best places in their homes to take shelter in hopes of remaining safe and secure until the storm passes.

Safety and security in the midst of adversity is the central theme of Psalm 91, but it’s security that comes from the Lord. The Hebrew word for “dwell” means to be settled. In verse 1, God is referred to as both the “Most High” and “Almighty”. “Most High” emphasizes God’s strength and sovereignty. We are to be settled in the shelter that He alone provides. When God is referred to as “Almighty,” the emphasis is on His self-existence, His activity in the world, and His guardianship over our lives. To “abide” means to remain; a faithful person abides in His “shadow,” shadow being a metaphor for being under the care and protection of the Almighty.

Storms appear in life as well. Maybe they’ve appeared in yours. Life storms don’t discriminate. They don’t care about geography, social status, income, race, gender, or anything else. What kind of storm have you encountered? Was it like a hurricane, that slow-moving and progressive storm, maybe a drawn-out illness you or someone you love is battling? Perhaps it was trouble in your marriage that you and your spouse just can’t seem to get through. Or was your storm like a tornado—the sudden death or disability of a spouse, child, parent, or friend? Maybe it was the job loss you never saw coming. In all these storms, have you ever considered that just maybe you’ve been seeking the wrong shelter? God is powerful and sovereign over any storm. And He loves us greatly. When you and I settle in the shelter that He alone provides, He is pleased to keep us in His shadow and see us through any storm. Believe that! If you’ve been fortunate to thus far be “storm” free, thank God for it, but don’t wait until the storm hits to seek His shelter. Seek it now. There is an amazing rest to be found in God. Seek the only shelter that is truly secure.