Are We Done Yet?

“Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me.”  – Psalm 70:1

We see these words many times in the book of Psalms.  David was in desolation when he wrote them, in hiding from wickedness and enemies, and this is a record of his faith through the struggles that he endured.  I don’t know about anyone else, but there are days when I, like David, am literally desperate for an end to the madness of this world.  It is overwhelming at times, the depravity that we constantly see and face.  The local news alone is enough to raise anxiety levels, not to mention the national and world news networks which often ignite the already smoldering embers of intolerance and anger.  It is easy to get caught up in the tornado, so-to-speak.  We get sucked into political arguments, debates about sexuality, and (of course) arguments drawn from our cultural and religious differences…and we face every single one of these controversies several times in JUST ONE DAY!  Much like a tornado, we get sucked in, thrown around and spat out in an entirely different place than we expected…and often with our thoughts and confidences obliterated.  It’s not very difficult to reach the point of saying, “Come Lord Jesus!” 

Here’s the thing though, none of this should take us by surprise.  Right?  We know that hard times are part of the plan.  The earth is groaning in labor.  A new day is being birthed. 

3 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. 6 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. 7 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are the beginning of birth pains. 9 “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  (Matthew 24: 3-14)

All of which to say that there will many more days when we cry out for an end.  Just like a mother in labor, desperate to see the child she’s waited so long to meet, who is ready for an end to her suffering and discomfort, who (while in the emotional and physical throes of childbirth) will cry out for help and wonder when it will all be over, we too will become weary and frantic. 

But please, please, please, remember that from labor pains comes new life!  Our promise is eternal.

1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Colossians 3: 1-4)

So stand firm…in love.  Bear the labor pains with hope in knowing that a greater promise awaits.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, as I see this world deteriorate, help me to remember Your promise.  With the help of Your Holy Spirit, I know that I can stand firm until the end.  I choose love, I choose righteousness, I choose YOU. 

“I Will Trust in You!”

(Psalm 105:39-41) 39 He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. 40 They asked, and he brought them quail; he fed them well with the bread of heaven. 41 He opened the rock, and water gushed out; it flowed like a river in the desert.

For the lonely, for the lost; when you struggle to believe; when you feel forgotten, discouraged and defeated; when your money’s run out and your hope is spent…

For the childless woman with a mother’s heart, for the widow, for the bereaved; when you wonder why; when sadness overwhelms your heart…

For the broken family, for the abused and neglected; when you’re numb and your faith is dead; when guilt and shame have crushed your spirit…

(Psalm 139: 1-5) 1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

…the Lord knows.

Sometimes you have to take a look in the rearview mirror, to gain some retrospective.  I’m sure if you were to ask the Israelites in the midst of their journey through the wilderness how they felt about life, they probably wouldn’t have had much positive feedback.  They were, in fact, dealing with crisis after crisis, misery upon misery (or so it seemed to them).  When their exodus began, they were exhilarated by their deliverance and the miracles they had seen take place in order to set them free.  They set out toward the promised land much like a child sets out on a foot race…full speed ahead.  However, we all know what eventually happens to that eager runner.  Thirst, exhaustion, discouragement and frustration all seem to set in at once.  That’s when he is faced with the choice to either dread the long road ahead and quit, or to look back on what he has conquered thus far and finish what he started. 

For the Israelites, there were MANY stops and starts as they navigated their way toward something that, at times, I’m sure was hard to believe or trust.  Looking forward, it had to be unsettling to see no end to the struggles.  Thousands of years later, here we are, children of God, dealing with the same issue.  Because we are human, because our vision is limited and we cannot see the entire scope of what God is doing in our lives, we have to depend on our faith to keep us moving.  Looking back on the trials, the Israelites were able to recount what the Lord had done to sustain them. 

A good friend once told me to record my prayers (both great and small) in a journal and to go back after a year or so and allow myself to be encouraged and amazed at just how many of them were answered.  It doesn’t happen, rarely ever, the way that we would have imagined or hoped for it to…the answer, I mean…because you know what?  Sometimes the answer is a no, or the dreaded, “we’ll see.”  In our impatience and petulance, instead of forging on in faith, trusting the Creator of the world, we let our human”ness” bring us to a halt. 

In our loneliness we say, “I’m forgotten.” 

In our financial distress we declare, “This is hopeless.”

In our loss we cry out, “I can’t go on!”

In our shame we whisper, “I’m worthless.” 

But the word of the Lord says this:  16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, when I look back on my life I see Your hand in all things, the joy and pain alike, and because of Your faithfulness I will continue to trust in You.  Amen. 

When God Shoots His Arrows!

(Psalm 64:1-10 HCSB) 1 God, hear my voice when I complain. Protect my life from the terror of the enemy. 2 Hide me from the scheming of wicked people, from the mob of evildoers, 3 who sharpen their tongues like swords and aim bitter words like arrows, 4 shooting from concealed places at the innocent. They shoot at him suddenly and are not afraid. 5 They encourage each other in an evil plan; they talk about hiding traps and say, “Who will see them? ” 6 They devise crimes and say, “We have perfected a secret plan.” The inner man and the heart are mysterious. 7 But God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly, they will be wounded. 8 They will be made to stumble; their own tongues work against them. All who see them will shake their heads. 9 Then everyone will fear and will tell about God’s work, for they will understand what He has done. 10 The righteous one rejoices in the LORD and takes refuge in Him; all those who are upright in heart will offer praise.

The Psalmist creatively describes what so many of us feel when we are going through tough times. He uses several key words to capture the movements in this dance. Notice…

COMPLAIN: The psalmist begins by verbalizing his complaints to the Lord. It is interesting that he speaks without apology; he either feels that God is interested in hearing about his frustrations, or his level of emotion is so strong that he doesn’t care if he will be rebuked for complaining. Either way, he freely shares exactly why he is discouraged.

SHARPEN THEIR TONGUES: The ESV says, they “whet their tongues like swords.” In other words, the enemy is using disparaging words that become sharper with each additional accusation. It’s not enough that they are doing harm, they are actually trying to use words that will do more damage than the last words they spoke!

SHOOTING FROM CONCEALED PLACES: The enemy is aiming these bitter words from concealed places. It’s possible that one of the most frustrating things in life is when someone attacks us anonymously. As a pastor, I’ve received countless letters from people who were such cowards they wouldn’t even sign their name. I’ve learned to check the end of the letter prior to reading the correspondence. If there is no signature, I don’t waste my time reading it. You likewise, must learn to “tune out” the critical voices attempting to do you harm.

BUT GOD WILL SHOOT THEM WITH HIS ARROWS: These cowards may be unknown to us, but they are not unknown to God. He will vindicate the righteous by shooting His arrows and wounding them suddenly! They won’t see it coming, but God will balance the scales of righteousness. Onlookers will shake their heads when they realize how God has rendered the enemy ineffective; everyone will understand what God has done.

THE RIGHTEOUS ONE REJOICES IN THE LORD: There is no mention of the righteous individual rejoicing over the demise of the enemy. Instead, their rejoicing is focused on the goodness of the Lord and they offer praises to Him. Too often, we want to celebrate in the end zone of life. We spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the struggle, the words, and the harmful effects of the attack. Instead, we should focus on the deliverance of the Lord!

My righteous friend, take courage in knowing that God is on your side. He has your back! (Your front and sides too!) He will protect those who are His. So, go ahead and start the praise party.

PRAYER: I’m so grateful for divine protection. On the days when I cannot see the hand of the enemy…You are aware of the attack and where it is coming from. Help me to realize that You will shoot Your godly arrows and wound the enemy suddenly on my behalf. I receive it! Amen.

Oh, Save Me From Them All!

Turn to me and have mercy,
For I am alone and in deep distress.
My problems go from bad to worse.
Oh, save me from them all!

Feel my pain and see my trouble.
Forgive all my sins.
See how many enemies I have
and how viciously they hate me!
Protect me! Rescue my life from them!

Do not let me be disgraced, for in you
I take refuge.
May integrity and honesty protect me,
for I put my hope in you.
(Psalm 25:16-21)

Whenever someone in my family is down in the dumps and complaining about their circumstances, we refer to it as having a “pity party.” It’s a gentle way of poking fun at the person and reminding them to not wallow in their misery. Most of the time, that nudge is enough to snap us out of our self-indulgence and make us reconsider just how petty some of our complaints can be.

However, occasionally things come along that are legitimately devastating…the loss of a job, the betrayal of a confidence, a family member struggling with addiction, a negative report from the doctor, the death of a loved one, etc. When this type of situation comes along it can knock the breath out of us, figuratively and literally. I remember a time in my own life where I was so overwhelmed by a situation that it manifested in physiological symptoms. I couldn’t breathe and I felt like the world was spinning out of control.

As I struggled to come to grips with the situation that was before me, a wise person instructed me to read through the Psalms again. Growing up in a Christian home, I had read through the Psalms several times in my life, but it wasn’t until I read them in a time of anguish and desperation that I truly appreciated them. As I read through the book it was as if all of the hurt and pain that I couldn’t articulate was poured out on the pages in front of me. There were times when I would try to pray, and not knowing what to say, I would simply pray the lines that had been written thousands of years before I was ever born.

The Psalmists, and David in particular, provided a road map to lead me out of the despair that I was feeling. In these verses, you can find the totality of human experience, the highs and lows, from jubilation to misery. But the thread that ties them all together is the consistent acknowledgement of the might, justice, grace, mercy and sovereignty of God.

When the sun is shining and things are grand, we can thank God for His blessings on our life. But when we are crushed by the weight of circumstance or reeling from the attack of enemies, we can turn to God as our refuge and strength. He is the source of help and hope that will never fail us. This knowledge is our anchor. It is a fixed point that we can use to orient ourselves and begin to make sense of all that we are going through.

We all face adversity in our lives; it is as certain as death and taxes. While some of those situations can be overcome with grit and determination, others are simply beyond anything that we can handle on our own. When you face these circumstances, I encourage you to do as David did…turn to the Lord. Put your hope in Him, and He WILL save you from them all!

Prayer: Father, You are our refuge and strength, the hope of our salvation. When we are faced with situations that are beyond our ability to handle, let us rest in the knowledge that You are Sovereign and Your love for us is never-ending. With You on our side, we don’t have to worry or be afraid of anything. We thank You for all that You do on our behalf. Amen.

He’s Already Done Did It!

(Psalm 71:3 ESV) 3 Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

A few years ago, Donna and I were assigned to a ministry position in West Virginia. During our 6 years there we discovered some new and interesting ways to do life in the Appalachian culture.

Shortly after moving there, we heard of a dog breeder in one of the remote areas of the state. Since we were considering getting a puppy we decided to take a drive to the area and check it out. When I went into the office on Monday morning, one of the secretaries asked what we had done over the weekend. After explaining to her where we had gone, she said, “You should never go there alone again!” It took me by surprise when she told me there were some unusual activities that take place in that particular region of the state. I thought it to be pretty funny since we had met some very nice people there.

We also had to adjust to the “sayings” of the culture. On one occasion, I asked a man when he thought the project he was working on would be complete. His response almost made me laugh out loud! He said, “Preacher, I already done did it!” I have to admit that while I understood the meaning of his statement, I had never really heard it said like that.

I thought of that nice West Virginia man when I read Psalm 71. The writer was encouraging himself by meditating upon the many ways that God had helped him. He described God as a rock of refuge, a fortress, and a continual presence in his life. But the phrase that really caught my attention was, “You have given the command to save me.” Notice, the Psalmist spoke as though the deliverance was already done. Although he was still waiting for the manifestation of the deliverance he was convinced that God had, “Already done did it!”

The sooner we discover that God’s provision is complete, the sooner we can start walking it out by faith. God has, “Already done did” everything that needs to be done to accomplish my victory! That, my friend, is really good news!

PRAYER: Thank you Father for all the victories you have already secured on my behalf. Help me to wait patiently while the details come together. I have nothing to worry about because your answer to my problems is already on the way. Amen

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