Great Expectations

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for
and assurance about what we do not see.
—Hebrews 11:1

Great Expectations

By Pat Knight

As I gazed out the window at the bleak winter landscape, I detected a definite lack of color, a bland outlook with no life stirring. With barren expectancy, we prepare our hearts for desolation, reflected in our attitudes and conversation. Are we so mentally programmed with gloominess that even our anticipation of future events is dulled?

Comparing heart focus with environmental conditions is risky, thwarting inward hope and personal growth. It is easy to be affected by the lack of sunshine and warmth in winter. Let us not permit exterior influences to eclipse the radiance with which Jesus penetrates darkness by reflecting His light through our lives. Joy is quickly extinguished by despondency.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). After Jesus’ disciple, Thomas, conquered his disbelief at Christ’s post-resurrection appearance, Jesus taught the eleven disciples, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have  not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). In today’s vernacular we would explain Jesus’ teaching as “blind faith.” In spite of our circumstances, our beliefs don’t change; they are locked securely inside our hearts. Faith in God is the consequence of trust; trust the outgrowth of belief.

If we constantly focus on the negative, our hearts will languish with despair. We’ve all been exposed to a curmudgeon who  projects a pessimistic approach so hopeless that black clouds spontaneously open, dispensing chilly water on a new idea. Cynics have an intimidating influence on positive thoughts, much like the austere environment in winter.

With whom do we communicate to enliven a joyful spirit? God is the Author and Creator of all things good. “Jesus answered, ‘No one is good except God alone’” (Mark 10:18). The good God constantly imparts to us is a reflection of His own divine character of purity and holiness.

After gazing outside at the monotonous winter panorama once again, rather than a change of scenery, I discovered the need for an attitude adjustment. God has the ability to change our perspective with His gifts of joy and peace. Man is unable to conjure up sovereign gifts independently with the power of positive thinking, as some assert. We must depend upon our Lord to supply us with His limitless gifts, always available to those who seek Him. “Take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you” (Ephesians 4:24,The Msg).

We are commanded to fellowship with God, the glorious, victorious Creator of life and peace, joy and light, grace and love. In the new year, let us establish enlightened priorities, recognizing the capacity to alter our lives forever by placing them in God’s care. “Submit yourself, then, to God. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7a-8).

Winter, with its unique season of dormancy and hibernation for many living things, is also a period of refreshment, preparing for regrowth; for a magnificent burst of beauty and fragrance that identifies the imminent season of spring. Let us not bear winter grudgingly, but joyfully use the time to develop attitudes pleasing to God. There is beauty during winter unseen at other times of year. Shadows on snow peek around trees, marching like toy soldiers as the sun manipulates the imaginary forms. Sunsets of magnificent proportions and beauty light up late afternoon skies with unequivocal displays of prismatic colors. The deep green of softwood branches and the silhouettes of stark hardwoods in the foreground of high, pristine snowbanks create fantastic visual delights. A full moon illuminates light blue blankets of snow when the dark draperies of night are pulled down upon the world.

What do you envision in the winter season of your life? The bleakness of financial, health, or employment woes, or the unprecedented power, protection, and provisions offered by God Himself? The new year holds unimaginable possibilities and victories. Seek an attitude that reflects Jesus’ submission, humility, and obedience toward His Father. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus could release His deepest hope to His heavenly Father, assured that even at such a late hour God could perform the impossible by cancelling His Son‘s crucifixion. Yet, Jesus believed that His Father’s perfect plan would be accomplished. Christ was convinced that His hope wasn’t misplaced by cross-your-fingers wishful thinking, but as confident expectations resting on God’s promises, free of worry and nail-biting. Jesus trusted in God’s sovereign ability to answer his prayer custom designed for His Son alone. He does the same for us.

Hope is like an restraining anchor at the bottom of the sea. The Christian anchor rises up into the heavenly realms, guaranteeing our personal security. We are sheltered by our sovereign refuge.

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

It is essential for us to value God above all else in our lives. He freely extends joyful delight, anchoring hope and unconditional love. Ask God to transform your priorities. He will lavish you abundantly with the righteousness of Jesus. To live right before God (righteousness) is His ultimate goal for each believer. “The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:11).

Hope is expressed when we turn toward God with confident expectation during times of trial.

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). With inner tranquility, believers relinquish their worries to God and dwell on them no more. Then the victory of God is theirs to enjoy. The full dimension of God’s love and provisions are beyond our comprehension, motivating us to trust Him explicitly.

During one final peek outside, I focused on the glory of God’s creation. Just as the outside world perpetually changes, believers also experience consistent growth and renewal deep within their hearts. We learn patience and perseverance, but most marvelous of all is the imperceptible growth in hope, trust, and faith our Lord accomplishes by His power at work within us, transforming our lives. Expect the unexpected from an exceptional, extraordinary God!

Take Refuge in the Lord

Psalm 5

A Prayer for Guidance
To the Chief Musician. With flutes.

A Psalm of David.

Give ear to my words, O Lord,
Consider my meditation.

2 Give heed to the voice of my cry,

My King and my God,
For to You I will pray.

3 My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;

In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.

4 For You are not a God who takes pleasure
 in wickedness,
Nor shall evil dwell with You.

5 The boastful shall not stand in Your sight;

You hate all workers of iniquity.

6 You shall destroy those who speak falsehood;

The Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

7 But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;

In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.

8 Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies;

Make Your way straight before my face.

9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;

Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue.

10 Pronounce them guilty, O God!

Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
For they have rebelled against You.

11 But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You;
Let them ever shout for JOY, because You defend them;
Let those also who love Your name
Be JOYFUL in You.

12 For You, O Lord, will bless the righteous;

With favor You will surround him as with a shield.


New King James Version (NKJV). Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Marriage for Worse, for Poorer, and in Sickness

This is an excellent article from UnlockingTheBible.org.

Marriage for Worse, for Poorer,
and in Sickness

By Sarah Walton

I remember the moment I stood before my groom and recited my wedding vows. I certainly didn’t expect life to be perfect, but I assumed my marriage would be filled with more of “better” than “worse.”

With stars in my eyes, and blissfully unaware of what the future would hold, I confidently vowed, “I take you, Jeff, to be my lawful husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live.”

That was almost 13 years ago.

Trials Can Test Your Marriage Vows

Little did I know those thirteen years would hold chronic illness, financial loss, special needs, suffering children, marital strain, and overwhelming stress. I never imagined that I’d experience so much of the “worse, poorer, and in sickness” part of our vows.

I’m grateful as I reflect on the unexpected trials that have tested our marriage. In God’s goodness, the “worse” parts of our marriage have ushered in a deeper, Christ-centered experience of the “better.” This hasn’t come without the pain of loss and failure; yet Christ has used it to mature us in him, change our character, and increase our love for each other.

This, of course, is only possible with and through Christ. While God can certainly change the heart of a non-believing spouse and use the pain of unbelief to draw both spouses to himself, the following truths reflect a husband and wife who’ve put their faith in Christ and desire to follow him. If you’re married to an unbelieving spouse, I pray God will use the trials to draw them to a saving faith in Christ.

Read the rest here.

Pain’s Absence vs Pain’s Potency

PainsAbsence-PainsPotency

Scripture reminds us that God’s presence does not equal
pain’s absence.
However, because of God’s presence,
pain’s potency
is limited.
Difficult times may certainly lead to dark days,
but dark days need not mean defeat.
Ask God to give you strength to call on Him,
even in the darkest moments of life.

Begin this day crying out to the Lord.
Wait expectantly for His answer and trust His presence.

—Paul Purvis, First Baptist Church Temple Terrace
Temple Terrace, FL

Mourning Yet Praising

Today’s post is taken from one of Today in the Word’s devotionals by Moody Bible Institute. I think this pairs well with my Prayer When Struggling With Depression post. 

Is it really possible to be depressed or in mourning and still be praising God? This might sound like a paradox but it is indeed possible. We can mourn or be depressed about a situation and yet praise God because of who He is and how He is always with us. If we have trusted Him in the past we can trust Him again and again because we know that He will see us through this particular storm. And because He has been faithful to us before, we can count on that faithfulness every single day.

Beloved, please read on. I believe you will be blessed by this as much as I am.

Mourning yet Praising

StreamWaterfall-www.todayintheword.org

Read Psalm 42 

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you. 
—Psalm 42:6 

 Psalm42sm--AMP

Ten years ago, Chuck and Lynette’s daughter Joy died of complications from epilepsy. She was 28 years old. Joy was a vibrant Christian who had lived up to her name—everyone who knew her testified to her sweet spirit. “I miss her so much every day,” Lynette said. “We used to sing together in church, and I have so many special memories of singing and laughing together. When I sing those songs today, sometimes I cry instead of laugh, but I know that one day we’ll be reunited at the feet of Jesus.”

Lynette’s statement beautifully captures the paradoxical tension within biblical lament. We can feel loss and hope at the same time. We can sing hymns of praise even while we weep and mourn.Our reading for today, Psalm 42, concludes our focus this month on lament. Unlike some of the other lament psalms, this one does not move in a straight line from lament over circumstances to trust in God’s character. Throughout the psalm, the poet describes how desperation and faith wrestle with one another.

In the first four verses, the psalmist articulates his loneliness, torment, grief, and longing. The opening image of the deer panting for water vividly conveys the psalmist’s desperate yearning. Verses 5 and 6 serve as both a summary of the psalm and a hinge between its two sections. The psalmist indicates that he is both downcast and trusting God. He has hope that the time for praise will come.

But the psalm doesn’t end there. Expressions of trust in God don’t end the experience of suffering and sorrow. The psalmist experiences God’s love (v. 8) and also feels abandoned by God (v. 9). The psalmist persists in biblical lament—he is downcast and disturbed, but he also trusts in God and looks forward to praise (v. 11).

Apply the Word

Biblical lament defies our cultural expectations to process grief in certain ways or to just get on with things. You don’t have to feel better before you praise God. Coming to Him with your desperation and suffering is itself an act of trust. Make verse 11 your own personal prayer and statement of faith that you will one day praise God at the feet of Jesus.

http://www.todayintheword.org/titw_devotion.aspx?id=142179

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#Faith the Size of a Mustard Seed

Holding a small mustard seed in the palm of a hand.

As long as we have unsolved problems,
unfilled desires, and a mustard seed of faith,
we have all we need for a vibrant prayer life. 

—John Ortberg

Mustard seed faith is sometimes a difficult concept but one that is very important to understand. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds found in the Middle East, but that smallest of seeds grows into one of the largest plants. Jesus therefore used this illustration several times to show us that even the tiniest grain of true faith can do very great things.

14 When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus,
falling on his knees before Him and saying,

15 
“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill;
for he often falls into the fire and often into the water.

16 
I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.”

17 
And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation,
how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?
Bring him here to Me.”

18 
And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him,
and the boy was cured at once.

19 
Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said,
“Why could we not drive it out?”

20 
And He said to them,
“Because of the littleness of your faith;
for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move;
and nothing will be impossible to you.

—Matthew 17:14-20

We see here the central need of faith, without which nothing can happen. When Jesus spoke about removing mountains he was using a phrase which the Jews knew well. A great teacher, who could really expound and interpret scripture and who could explain and resolve difficulties, was regularly known as an uprooter, or even a pulverizer, of mountains. To tear up, to uproot, to pulverize mountains were all regular phrases for removing difficulties. Jesus never meant this to be taken physically and literally. After all, the ordinary man seldom finds any necessity to remove a physical mountain. What he meant was: “If you have faith enough, all difficulties can be solved, and even the hardest task can be accomplished.” Faith in God is the instrument which enables men to remove the hills of difficulty which block their path. —William Barclay

Beloved, having and holding onto true faith is difficult in hard circumstances, but it is possible. In our own physical strength we cannot move mountains. We can’t make something from nothing. We cannot by ourselves change someone’s heart and mind about something. These are under God’s care and control.

What it does mean is that if we rely on the fact that God knows what is best for us, we can rest on the assurance that His ways and means are perfect. And if we believe—have true faith—in that fact, we will be able to pray with a faith that will steadily grow.

Just like that tiny mustard seed.

We will then understand that what we may regard as unanswered prayers are actually part of God’s grand design to mold us into becoming who He wants us to be—completely and absolutely trusting that His ways are best.