Listen to the Children

Listen to the Children

By Pat Knight

Our pastor had recently died during open-heart surgery. Everyone in our congregation was grieving. I knew I must explain his death to our five-year old, but I was unsure whether he could understand. As it turned out, I need not have worried. He comprehended more completely than I ever imagined.

Our son’s reaction was initially one of stillness and contemplation. Then, suddenly, as a warm glow spread across his face, he smiled and responded, “Oh, Mommy, wouldn’t you like to go there—to heaven with pastor, to see Jesus?” I embraced him with a bear hug, as we talked more extensively about heaven, where our pastor now lives with Jesus—a home of beauty, where happiness abounds.

Jesus loves the children. Is it any wonder? Deep within the heart of a child, He identifies pure motives and innocence. He gave us instructions to receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child. That means we cautious adults are to exercise the same tenacious faith, intense beliefs, and confident trust that children employ. “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  And He took the children in His arms, put His hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:14-16).

Just what happens between early childhood years and adulthood to cultivate skepticism, agnosticism, or atheism? As we mature, we acquire more common sense and discernment. We learn to question everything, sometimes the very foundations of our faith. Did we experience mistrust from a dishonest person? Perhaps a major player in our lives deceived us. Intimidation may have convinced us that we will never measure up. Trauma possibly caused perpetual fear or terror. Life’s experiences gradually manipulate our attitudes and belief systems. 

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). The responsibility for parents to teach their children about God and His saving grace is just as important, or even greater, than all their other preparations for life.  Children who believe in their Savior and heavenly Father, will possess a foundation of faith that can be built upon as the child matures. Then, when faced with decisions and turmoil of adult living, reliance will be based on God and His promises. Jesus loves the children and He expects us to teach them to love Him, too.

The enemy giant “looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, ruddy and handsome, and he despised him” (1 Samuel 17:42). Goliath had an over-inflated view of himself as he scoffed and cursed at David for attempting to fight him, calling him a dog. Undoubtedly, the giant was looking for a bigger challenge for a sparring partner. Goliath had been shouting defiance for forty days, but no one else had come forward to accept the challenge. “Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified” (1 Samuel 17:11). When David declared he would fight the Philistine giant, King Saul warned, “‘you are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a boy and he has been a fighting man since his youth” (1 Samuel 17:33). David was deluged with criticism rather than confidence from men lacking their own personal courage.

David never doubted, nor did his faith waver, as he announced he would slay the giant (1 Samuel 17:47). During his early shepherding years, David killed a bear and a lion with his bare hands, giving credit to his Lord for the victories. God continued to empower David, tutoring the next king in His sovereign classroom, preparing him to one day succeed Saul. David grew up to be an effective, efficient, empathetic king, named “a man after God’s own heart.”

The difference between the boy David and all of the seasoned fighting men in the Israeli army, was that David took his Lord into battle with Him. God enables His children with strength and power regardless of age or ability. We are admonished to encourage those people God has assigned with kingdom work. 

Believers are assured: “the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15). God provides the victory, just as He promised  “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are so young, but set an example for the believers in speech and in conduct, in love, in faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Those who are young are admonished to “watch your life and doctrine closely.  Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (v. 4:16). Have we lost our sense of wonder, our compelling spiritual innocence? Children know whom to trust. Their tell-it-like-it-is descriptions defy adult explanations.

As we keep our ears attuned to children, there are many things we learn from them: a simplistic approach to life, unbridled enthusiasm, and unashamed love. Catch their excitement and pure faith. Look for opportunities to participate in the spiritual education of a child. You will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is no fear or hesitation in their love of Jesus.

If Christ appeared physically in the presence of children today, they would run with eagerness into His arms, recognizing His love and splendor. Would we unabashedly follow their example? The question is ponderable, for Jesus provides a specific warning pertaining to our verbal and physical reactions to Him. “‘If any of you is embarrassed with me and the way I’m leading you, know that the Son of Man will be far more embarrassed with you when he arrives in all his splendor in company with the Father and holy angels’” (Luke 9:26, The Msg.).

Jesus is an undeniable fact of life, whose paths we must follow for success and joy. Children integrate spiritual lessons quickly and thoroughly. It is no wonder most adults would prefer to return to the innocence of their youth, a lifestyle abounding with trust and joy. We need never abandon Jesus’ gifts as we age, for He has promised abundant lives, lavished with grace and mercy for all who trust and follow Him. Let us re-evaluate our faith, prioritizing childlike singlemindedness, unreservedly accepting and following our Savior.

Mercy and Grace

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Mercy and Grace

By Pat Knight

We’ve all experienced life’s embarrassing, humiliating moments. It is unnerving how easily and frequently mistakes are made or sins committed. We verbalize or enact something affecting another person that turns out all wrong, not at all the way it was intended. Or, perhaps it was a blatantly insensitive, planned maneuver. Either way, the other party is hurt. When our personal involvement is revealed, we may experience white-hot molten guilt surging through our bodies, as despair simultaneously drenches our emotions. We feel crushed on all sides, reminding us of our desperate need of forgiveness.

We have sinned. Our integrity is threatened. The person we offended is often the first one to whom we apologize. Asking God’s forgiveness is frequently an after-thought. King David demonstrated the proper sequence of events once the prophet Nathan confronted him with his adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband. David immediately poured out his heart to God.

“My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear” (Psalm 38:4). David was physically and emotionally ill from the exposure of his flagrant sin and the expression of his humble remorse. David knew he must admit his sins to God, appealing to his Lord’s forgiveness in order to restore peace in his life. “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin” (Psalm 38:18). 

David realized that God loathed his sin but he was also aware of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and boldly asked for both. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (Psalm 51:1, 2). Then, David requested purity, a cleansed heart, and reinstatement into God’s fellowship. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (v. 12).

During David’s lifetime, long before our Savior sacrificed His life for the sins of the world, David offered a perfect animal as a sacrifice, along with his penitent prayer. He was familiar with God’s priorities. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). What pleases God more than sacrifice is a humble heart that turns to Him, pleading for mercy.

We may wonder the reason David’s legacy remains as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), in view of his egregious sins of adultery and murder. God is apprised of the heart intent of every person. He viewed David’s deep remorse, humility, request for forgiveness, and submission to the His will. What pleases God is a humility that seeks Him when troubles crush and that penitently plead for mercy and sovereign security. David suffered dire consequences for his sins, but evidence that God forgave him totally is illustrated in God’s future empowerment of David to accomplish His kingdom work.

As soon as the first offense was committed by Adam and Eve, God’s plan was in place to send a Messiah to earth who would save the world from sin. For centuries, the Israelite nation anticipated the promised Savior. God is faithful and always keeps His promises. Jesus was incarnated on earth for one distinct purpose: to redeem sin by ransoming His life for ours. Before He was nailed to the cross, he was physically beaten, spat upon, and humiliated by taunting Roman soldiers. A crown of thorns tore deeply through the skin of his brow. When Jesus was crucified on the cross, His pain escalated for the next six hours until His body could no longer sustain life.

The abuse to which Jesus submitted is inexpressible. If we pale under heavy guilt and shame for one of our sins, envision the incredible burden of emotional torture Christ suffered when He died to atone for the sins of the entire world–past, present, and future. The sinless Savior was willing to die a heinous death to redeem all of the sins for everyone who calls upon His name. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2b). 

The physical and mental anguish Jesus suffered for our sakes is His love gift to each individual. “He is Jesus Christ … Him who loved us and has freed us from our sins by His blood” (Revelation 1:5). Though God’s very nature is love, He also expresses wrath. Almighty God, holy and pure, hates sin. Animal sacrifice and a repentant heart allowed God’s people in Old Testament times to approach their perfect, sovereign God.  When Jesus hung on the cross, God’s wrath for the sins of the entire world descended upon His Son, extracting from the Perfect Lamb punishment for the sins of the multitudes.

Jesus died for the sinner, including you and me. Our Savior initiated the era of grace when He died and rose again, offering a substitute for our own penalty of death. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The grace of God showers us with glory we cannot earn, withholding punishment Jesus bore for us that we do deserve. “Everyone who believes in Him {Jesus Christ} receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43).

Jesus, our intercessor, provided the bridge between sinners and a hallowed God by dying for us. When we act inappropriately, exposing selfish desires, we not only hurt other people and our own credibility, but we sin against God. Thankfully, God knows our propensity for wrong-doing and provides for our salvation, permitting us to approach Him and gain forgiveness. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9).

As sorrowful as we may feel about wrongs we commit, they represent a greater personal affront to our holy God. Showering His extensive love on His creation, God admits, “I am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sin no more” (Isaiah 43:25). What a gift! God’s offer isn’t automatic; it requires a reaction from us. “If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever” (1 Chronicles 28:9b).

Our Savior is the only one capable of eradicating sin from our lives. Christ died for you! Claim and cherish His passionate gift.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

Sharing today from Penetrating the Darkness.

Do We Really Want To Be Better Comforters?

What factors deepen and expand our ministry to hurting people?

Valid answers include a sound grasp of Bible knowledge, identification and exercise of our spiritual gift(s), and a willingness to sacrifice our convenience and time precisely when others most need help. But there’s one answer I’d put first: our own suffering.

Whether our affliction comes in the form of physical maladies, adverse circumstances outside of our control, or emotional anguish (such as major depression), our pain brims with the potential to serve others more effectively. The late pastor and author Ron Dunn went so far as to say, “Your greatest area of usefulness may stem from your greatest area of pain.”

Why is that the case?  Suffering that does not make us bitter makes us better. It breaks our hearts, increasing our empathy with others who hurt. We’re more likely to show compassion when we’ve “been there, done that.”

Allow me to illustrate.

Examples of Pain’s Potential to Expand Our Ministry

While strolling alone on a beach near his home, the forlorn pastor considered suicide. He thought to himself, “I can’t take any more hard knocks. I can’t imagine how things will get any better.”

A worried friend of the pastor showed up at the beach, knowing that’s where the pastor went when he needed to sort things out. The friend didn’t condemn his depressed companion for lack of faith, or dish out superficial solutions. Instead, he walked alongside him for a long time, listened as the pastor vented, told him he loved him and prayed for him.

The friend’s presence incarnated God’s love and instilled hope within the distraught pastor. Here’s how the pastor described the effect: “Within minutes, my life started coming together again. I started thinking clearly for a change. A ray of hope burst through the dark clouds that had been hovering over me. I began seeing solutions to some of the things harassing me, and believed again that God would help me.”

What prompted the compassionate response of the pastor’s friend?

His own past experience with pain.

The comforter had gone through a rough patch in his life a couple of years before. He knew firsthand how downcast a person of faith could feel, and had experienced the sustaining power of God’s Spirit. He remembered how God had mobilized people in the body of Christ to reach out to him when his own future seemed hopeless. The comforter’s own brokenness had kept him from a self-righteous, judgmental attitude toward his hurting friend. Instead of offering glib, snap-out-of-it advice, his listening posture and heartfelt prayer lifted the rocks off his friend’s chest.

*******

Joni Eareckson Tada has been a quadriplegic since a diving accident in her teens. God chose not to heal her body. Yet over the decades, she has written best selling books offering a sound theology of suffering, interspersed with stories from her life of God’s sustenance. She has shared the gospel of Christ in speaking engagements all over the globe. She founded Joni and Friends, an organization that provides support and resources for disabled persons and their caregivers. Her organization also trains local church leaders on ways to care for the disabled within their own community. Her ministry to needy people isn’t huge in spite of her disability, but because of it. In her case, God has received more glory by redeeming her pain, rather than by eradicating it.

Read the rest here.

Distracted Allegiance

Distracted Allegiance

By Pat Knight

Some winters in the northeast are longer and harsher than others. At the beginning of April, we watch for signs of thinning ice. When there is a winter-long depth of more than three feet of solid ice, melting takes considerable time. One morning the sunrise illuminated the sky just enough to expose ripples on the lake water. Water? The previous night there was still ice jammed into the cove. Now, there were only a few slivers leisurely floating.  

Later that morning, I noticed the cove nearly filled with large, flat, chunks of floating ice. Earlier the lake was exposed and moving, like pieces of a shattered mirror. Now the impression was one of mini-icebergs. We were familiar with the phenomenon: ice in the larger part of the lake breaks up, and the wind blows it into the cove, where it is trapped. When I first noticed the cove devoid of ice, the timing was perfect. I had peered out the window a mere moment after the ice collapsed beneath the surface. Then later, more ice floated into the cove from the large, open lake.

Our relationship with our heavenly Father is comparable to the shattered ice floes that blow into the cove. Some days we walk closely by His side, and other days we withdraw, preferring self-reliance, slowly replacing dependence on our Lord. God never moves. It is His desire to be an integral part of our lives, guiding and directing. If anyone moves, God is not the one to depart. It is our spiritual wanderlust that pulls us away from a consistent walk with our Lord.

God created us for communion with Him. “And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Just imagine! The supreme God of the whole universe desires to walk and talk with us. We serve a loving, patient God, who “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9b).

If you have ever been in the presence of someone who has lost a contact lens, you know instinctively that all activity stops abruptly. Feet remain glued to the floor, as eyes scour the surrounding area for the tiny disc. With far more intensity, God searches for the soul distracted from His care. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9). God pours His love and strength into the person completely yielded to Him, who forsakes self-reliance to fully rely on God.

Historically and repeatedly, the children of God ignored Him. He punished His rebellious people who disobeyed covenantal laws by worshiping false gods in the form of idols. God is merciful. “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). God loves us and extends mercy just as lavishly as He did the wandering, rebellious Israelites of centuries ago. 

We tend to blindly follow other people, whereas, we are commanded to imitate God, not man. He sets the standard. “I the Lord do not change” (Malachi 3:6). We are assured God’s promises will apply forever, perpetually affirming our importance to Him. “Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me, will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him’” (John 14:23). God not only abides within our hearts, He knows us more completely than we are familiar with ourselves.

We are nothing apart from our status in God. He elevates us as His children, showering us with an eternal gift as joint heirs with Christ. “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now, if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17). All things belong to Jesus, but He graciously shares His inheritance with believers.

If you were notified by an estate attorney that you have been designated to inherit a glorious kingdom, what reaction would you display? I am assuming you would be excited and incredulous. And yet, as joint heirs with Christ, we are assured of an inheritance in heaven forever and ever. Now, those are the kind of riches about which we kick up our heels and celebrate. But, do we? What will it take to convince us, that in God’s eyes, we are so loved and our company so desired, that He plans to spend an eternity with us?

In view of our value to God, He sent His pure, sinless Son to earth to ultimately die for us. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7). There have been isolated recorded instances in history where one person substituted his life for another, but “Jesus Christ, the Righteous One—is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). God’s forgiveness through Christ’s atoning sacrifice is impartial, with worldwide application for those who receive Him by faith. No sin or crime is too egregious for Him to forgive, substituting eternal death for life everlasting in heaven with Him.

Jesus was not only physically tortured during crucifixion, but He suffered an unprecedented emotional burden, carrying the sins of the entire world on His shoulders—past, present, and future. Jesus Christ substituted His perfect life for our sinful ones. You were redeemed with “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). If crucifixion were required for each of us to atone for our personal sins, there would be few crosses dotting the horizon. Let us not minimize the gift of life bought with the blood of Jesus.

Can we exclaim with the psalmist, “‘the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy’” (Psalm 126:3)? Because God loves us with immeasurable love and sacrifice, why do we, like the ice in the cove that moves on a whim, act so inconsistently in our relationship to our Lord? The cove ice is blown by the wind, producing an unsettled surface. “The one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Let us be reminded of the source of our power and saving grace. God craves our nearness, so why do we resist?  “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8, NKJV).

Victorious Living

Victorious Living

By Pat Knight

I have always known that as a child of God, I have the ability to lead a victorious life. When I was young, I naively believed spiritual victory was instinctive. Now I understand that in order for victory to be won, a battle must be overcome. How will any of us achieve triumph without previously encountering conflict? How else do we experience trust unless we practice the art? During hardships, we are commanded to persevere, but we are incapable of acquiring perseverance without habitually practicing it. There is no healing without sickness; no power without weakness; no success without failure. Trials offer the opportunity to grow in faith, and as a result, we mature in our walk with Christ himself.

Few believers have been tested by God more intensely than Abraham. The patriarchs’ only son was a direct gift from God, through whom God would complete His promise to Abraham, with “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17).

Abraham, commanded by God to sacrifice his covenant son as a burnt offering, was poised with knife in hand, ready to plunge it into Isaac, who was strapped to the sacrificial altar. On their three-day journey to the mountaintop, Isaac questioned his father as to where they would find the lamb for the altar. Abraham answered, “‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering my son’” (v. 8).

God was testing Abraham’s obedience. The best Abraham hoped for was that God might raise his son from the dead. He never questioned God, nor did his resolve falter. Just as the father was positioned to slay his son, “the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, ‘Abraham, Abraham! … Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son” (vv. 11-13).

As we know, obedience is a difficult discipline, especially when the investment is so costly. However, our Lord accepts full responsibility for the consequence of our obedience. Not only did Abraham experience God’s faithfulness, but he also learned the measure of his own trust—the extent to which he followed and obeyed his heavenly Father.

Words are easily dispensed and often insignificant, but submissive actions require commitment, determination, and tenacious faith. Abraham could hardly have understood God’s reasons for providing a son in his old age, only to take him away. In spite of his lack of comprehension, Abraham believed in God so passionately, that His faith overwhelmed his doubt. He was willing to place all of his confidence in the Lord’s plans, for Abraham had witnessed His glory and faithfulness previously. He believed in Almighty God without reservation.

God already knew Abraham would react courageously that day, for He is omniscient (all-knowing). God tested Abraham so he would learn about His God and himself. Abraham’s personal, adamant faith and steadfast obedience were reinforced in the face of huge consequences. Most importantly, Abraham ascertained the unlimited extent to which he could trust the living God; His faithfulness, loving kindness, protection, and promises; God’s desire and ability to provide all of his needs (Philippians 4:19).

Abraham’s test of faith is included in God’s Word to stimulate in believers’ hearts a similar love of our heavenly Father. Satan tempts us to fail. God never tempts; He tests us to illustrate His love and mercy. It is important for every believer to acquire knowledge of self-motivation and priorities; any limits that might inhibit our growth in faith. Obedience is evidence of genuine faith. Questions are raised during a test of faith. To what extent do my actions reflect my love for God? Am I willing to yield to His will? How much of my life am I capable of surrendering in light of Jesus’ humiliating, heinous suffering on the cross to secure my redemption? Like Jesus, may we pray that God’s will be accomplished in all of life’s circumstances.

There can be no victory when there is no submission to the will of God. ─J. Vernon McGee

Some of our most important lessons are mastered while struggling with unrelenting trials. The apostle, Paul, admitted, “‘that is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong’” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Paul accessed God’s power, transforming his afflictions into spiritual victory. Hardships of any kind are best approached with confidence, acknowledging that God’s perfect plans, in His precise timing, are sovereign components to victory.

To navigate adversity, call on your heavenly Father, for “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). God is always in control of His creation. We need never fear when He is directing our lives, a comforting declaration of his mighty, sustaining presence.

The apostle James instructs us how to react to the variety of adversities that assail us: “‘Consider it pure joy whenever we face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything’” (James 1:2-4). Joy results from recognizing that God has included our welfare in His plans, for He loves and cares for His own.

Christian maturity is an impossible journey without God’s abiding presence and assistance. When faced with hardship or grief, we learn to run straight into the arms of Jesus, trading our weakness for His incredible power, trusting Him unconditionally. The happy outcome is that we draw closer to our Lord, producing Christlikeness in our lives.

Experiencing joy amidst trials is an avenue to spiritual victory. We gain Christian maturity by navigating life’s trials with perseverance and steadfastness, obeying God in all situations. Our Lord’s mercy, grace, and compassion encourage us to navigate afflictions as we resolve to develop wholehearted faith. We are commanded to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4). There are no exceptions to God’s directive. His plans for our lives are perfectly designed and authenticated, with higher purposes than we fully understand. Our responsibility, then, is to acknowledge that God has chosen wisely for each of His followers. Such knowledge produces joy. Therein is the victory!

Are You Completely Surrendered to God?

Today I’m sharing from The NIV Bible blog.

Are You Completely Surrendered to God?

You, God, are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
I thirst for you,
my whole being longs for you,
in a dry and parched land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.
I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
 —
 Psalm 63:1-5

Are you seeking great things for yourself, instead of seeking to be a great person? God wants you to be in a much closer relationship with Himself than simply receiving His gifts—He wants you to get to know Him. Even some large thing we want is only incidental; it comes and it goes. But God never gives us anything incidental. There is nothing easier than getting into the right relationship with God, unless it is not God you seek, but only what He can give you.

If you have only come as far as asking God for things, you have never come to the point of understanding the least bit of what surrender really means.

Read the rest here.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

Sharing today from Randy Alcorn’s Eternal Perspectives Ministries (EPM) blog.

Is It Possible to Be Happy in Christ Despite Suffering?

By Randy Alcorn

God never guarantees that the Christian life will be smooth or easy. In fact, he promises the opposite: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12, NKJV). We’re not to be surprised when we face great difficulties (see 1 Peter 4:12).

All the psalms of lament, the book of Lamentations, and many other Scripture passages reveal the importance of realism and sorrow in the Christian life. No treatment of joy and happiness should deny or minimize such texts.

Indeed, a truly biblical worldview and an authentic doctrine of joy and happiness fully recognize and embrace the realities of suffering in this present age.

The happiness described in Scripture is all the richer because it doesn’t involve denial or pretense and can be experienced amid severe difficulty. Christ-followers don’t preach the flimsy kind of happiness that’s built on wishful thinking. Instead, our basis for happiness remains true—and sometimes becomes clearer—in suffering.

Rejoicing Is Rooted in Our God, Not Our Circumstances

Rejoicing always in the Lord (see Philippians 4:4) may seem unrealistic at times. But we must remember that this rejoicing is centered not in a passing circumstance but in a constant reality—God Himself, and His Son, Jesus, who died for us and rose again.

On the one hand, we might suppose that Scripture doesn’t command us to rejoice in our nation’s condition, our culture’s trajectory, our spouse’s attitude, our child’s struggle, our church’s conflicts, our job loss, or our poor health. On the other hand, we’re told to “always [give] thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20, NIV). Likewise, Scripture tells us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV).

I don’t think this means that we are to rejoice in evil, per se, since God hates evil (Zechariah 8:17Proverbs 6:16-19) and commands us to hate it (Psalm 97:10Proverbs 8:13Romans 12:9). I do think it means that we should believe Romans 8:28, which tells us God will work all things together for our good, including evil things that happen to us.

Believing this frees us to thank God in the middle of difficult and even evil circumstances, knowing that in His sovereign grace, He is accomplishing great, eternal purposes in us through these things.

We’re told to rejoice in the Lord and to “consider it all joy” when we face hardship (James 1:2, NASB). Choosing to rejoice, by rehearsing reasons to be happy and grateful while suffering, affirms trust in God. We walk by faith, believing in what God has done, is doing, and will do to bring a good end to all that troubles us.

This response requires faith that God lovingly superintends our challenges. Viewing our sufferings as random or obsessing over someone else’s bad choices that caused our sufferings robs us of happiness. A weak, small, or faulty view of God always poisons the well of our contentment.

The more we grow in our understanding of God’s attributes, the happier we become.

We Have a Sovereign and Loving God

The deeper our knowledge of God’s character, the deeper our reservoir of strength, perspective, and happiness in hard times. Who is this God we are to trust? What is He really like?

As we have dealt with her cancer over the past two years, Nanci and I have spent time meditating on the attributes of God, rereading and listening to audiobooks such as The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer and Knowing God by J. I. Packer and Trusting God by Jerry Bridges. Our hearts are lifted in praise as we contemplate His holiness, grace, justice, mercy, and every facet of His being revealed to us in Scripture.

Scripture teaches that we have a God who loves us and is sovereign over the universe, including all evil. We can’t be happy, and remain happy, without believing in the sovereignty of a loving God. The beauty of the Christian worldview is that while we’re encouraged to take initiative and control what’s within our power, we also know that the enormous part of life we can’t control is under God’s governance.

Scripture tells us, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3). It assures us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). And since God is eternally wise and good and happy, and we’re not, we’re far better off with Him, not us, in control.

Read the rest here.

The Heart of God’s Character

Today I’m sharing from John MacArthur’s Grace to You blog.

The Heart of God’s Character

by John MacArthur

God is love.

That statement doesn’t only reflect popular modern sentiment. It is actually a direct quote from God’s Word—1 John 4:8, to be precise. But in what sense is it true?

There are many ways to misunderstand John’s meaning. In fact, 1 John 4:8 seems a particular favorite of cultists. All kinds of false sects from Christian Science to the Children of God have misapplied this verse to support wildly heretical notions—the former using it to portray “God as divine Principle, Love, rather than personality” [1]; and the latter using it to justify sexual promiscuity. [2] It is important that we understand and reject not only those doctrines, but also the false ideas on which they are based, lest we be led astray in our own thinking.

First, the expression “God is love” is not meant to depersonalize God or portray Him as a force, a sensation, a principle, or some sort of cosmic energy. He is a personal being with all the attributes of personality—volition, feeling, and intellect. In fact, what the apostle is saying is that God’s love is the highest expression of His person. Therefore, to use this text to attempt to depersonalize God is to do great violence to the clear meaning of Scripture. Such an interpretation actually turns this text on its head.

Second, this verse by no means identifies God with everything our society labels love. Gordon Clark wrote, “John is not saying that all sorts of emotions called love are from God. The romanticism of Goethe, and much more the present sexual debauchery, are not from God.” [3] In fact, those who cite this verse to attempt to legitimize illicit forms of “love” are about as far from the apostle’s intent as it is possible to get. The love of which he speaks is a pure and holy love, consistent with all the divine attributes.

Third, this is not meant to be a definition of God or a summary of His attributes. Divine love in no way minimizes or nullifies God’s other attributes—His omniscience, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His immutability, His lordship, His righteousness, His wrath against sin, or any of His glorious perfections. Deny any one of them, and you have denied the God of Scripture.

There is certainly more to God than love. Similar expressions elsewhere in Scripture demonstrate this. For example, the same apostle who penned these words also wrote, “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Scripture also says, “God is a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). And Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day.” The simple statement “God is love” obviously does not convey everything that can be known about God. We know from Scripture that He is also holy and righteous and true to His Word. God’s love does not contradict His holiness; instead, it complements and magnifies it and gives it its deepest meaning. So we cannot isolate this one phrase from the rest of Scripture and attempt to make love represent the sum of what we know about God.

Notice, by the way, that this phrase “God is love” is not even the only such statement in John’s first epistle.

Read the rest here.

God’s Christmas Gift

God’s Christmas Gift

 By Pat Knight

I had just settled into a pew prior to the church service, when my husband tapped me on the shoulder. As he whispered, “Something’s happened to my mother,” I heard panic in his voice. Her crumpled form lay on the cold floor of the church vestry. My hand over my mother-in-law’s chest detected the last heartbeat as someone else attempted to palpate her carotid pulse. There was no time to think, but simply to respond. Our knowledge of life saving, practiced and stored for future use, must be activated into quick and decisive maneuvers. The ambulance arrived and whisked Della off to the hospital. I was stunned. It was Christmas Eve and my mother-in-law had just suffered a cardiac arrest in church. In a few short minutes the serenity of the day had given way to utter chaos.

Further testing revealed our loved one had not suffered a heart attack, but worse—a ruptured brain aneurysm. The weakened wall of an artery had burst, causing a stroke in a vital area of her brain. She was transferred via ambulance to a larger medical center as a blizzard raged on Christmas morning. My husband and his sister followed the ambulance while I remained at home to create a little Christmas spirit for our young son and his four older cousins.

Exhaustion enveloped after the holiday dinner I prepared for eleven people was barely nibbled by five excited children. Aimlessly, I slumped into a chair while the teens supervised the young children outside playing in the snow. I could no longer focus on the events of the past twenty-four hours. Instead, my mind wandered to Bethlehem. On a cold, still night in the sheepfold, I was a weather-worn shepherd, frightened by the sudden appearance of an angel. Then the sky spontaneously opened to reveal a vast army of heaven’s angels, singing the jubilant praises of a birth announcement. ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’” (Luke 2:14)

In the midst of the adversity the Holy Family experienced on that first Christmas day, God assured them, and us, of the greatest gift of all time—His Son. I was rejuvenated by the stunning reminder that it was Christmas day and that I, too, had reason to rejoice.

Among the uncertainty and confusion, God lavished me with His marvelous gift of peace. The affirmation that the Lord was in control was very real. Knowing that His plan for the birth of His Son was perfect to the last detail, just as it had been prophesied for centuries, how could I doubt that God’s plan would be any less perfect for the life of my mother-in-law?

The physicians gave us no encouragement that our loved one would live. In fact, when we inquired about her future homecoming, they simply stared at us in disbelief that our focus was on her recovery. For weeks her life hung in the balance between life and death. She endured brain surgery, drug reactions, and paralysis. How should I pray? Seeing my husband’s mother in her fatal condition, I could hardly ask that she live. Yet, I didn’t want her to die. I realized that I must commit her life totally to God. Hesitantly at first, I prayed, “Thy will be done. How difficult it was to let go! But, eventually my ineffectual hold on her transformed to urgent, trusting prayer that God’s will alone take precedent.

In the town where we lived, news traveled fast. People congratulated me for my heroic actions in saving a life. I bristled against the distinction. “Oh, no,” I clarified, “God saved her. I was only one of many people involved in His plan.” But my explanation didn’t discourage the next well-meaning person from assigning hero status. It was futile to attempt to dissuade public opinion, but my heart and mind rebelled against the perceived distinction. It had never been my desire to participate in such a pivotal event.

Previously, I had wondered if I would be able to perform CPR on a family member.  Although the steps to the resuscitation process emerged naturally, my emotional reaction was overwhelming. One night at work, my nurse manager asked how I was handling the family crisis. I was shocked to hear the words I blurted out: “I can’t shake the terrible guilt I feel for participating in her revival, only to see her remain in a vegetative state these past few weeks.” 

My manager responded, “Oh, I thought you believed in the One who died to remove all guilt.” What spiritual introspection and unrest that one comment elicited! I then realized how significantly my faith had been stymied by personal guilt. How could I possibly pray with conviction, believing in God’s compassion, power, and authority, if my heart was filled with self-incrimination? I proceeded to ask His forgiveness and press onward, requesting God’s help to develop a confident, obedient faith walk.

The quintessential question remains as to God’s purpose for afflictions and hardships in a Christian’s life. Though we will likely never know all of the answers until heaven, the crisis produced an unexpected personal consequence: I grew substantially in my faith walk and prayer life as a result of my mother-in-law’s turbulent illness and prolonged recovery.

God eventually performed a healing miracle in our loved one’s life. She lived for another seventeen years following her recovery, pleasantly astonishing her neurosurgeon and caregivers. Never did our family celebrate another Christmas without boundless joy and gratitude for the spectacular miracles God delights to perform in His children’s lives.

Our Eyes Are Upon You

Our Eyes Are Upon You

For we have no power against this great multitude
that is coming against us;
nor do we know what to do,
but
our eyes are upon You.
─2 Chronicles 20:12

Have you ever been so bewildered, frustrated, and afraid about a situation that you forgot all that God has done for you in other areas of your life? Years ago I experienced a disappointment so utterly shocking that it just about knocked me down. I cried out to my Lord, “I can’t do this anymore! I don’t have the strength to go on!”

I admit that I was feeling somewhat disgruntled with God because I felt He had let me down. After I had calmed down a bit, though, my prayers became, “OK, Lord, You know how disappointed and afraid I am right now but I know and trust that You have some kind of plan in all this mess. Please show me how to proceed next.”

Jehoshaphat has everything going against him in this section of Scripture and he shows a normal human reaction: he is afraid. But instead of wondering how they will get through such a tough situation, he rests on the promises of God and what He has done for them in the past. Jehoshaphat then commits the entire situation to God because he knows only God can save the nation; he acknowledges God’s sovereign power over this situation; he praises God’s glory and takes comfort in His promises; and he professes complete dependence upon God ─ not himself ─ for deliverance in this situation.

Wow! What great faith and trust Jehoshaphat shows here! He throws himself completely into God’s loving care because he has the assurance that as God has been there for him in the past, He is also right there beside him now. And God does assure Jehoshaphat that the battle is His and He will fight it!

I find myself ─ and I’m sure you do also ─ in situations from which I cannot extricate myself. God says, “Turn it over to Me. I’ll take care of it.” Oh, that you and I might learn to turn it over to Him as Jehoshaphat did!  ─J. Vernon McGee

In my own situation, God not only answered my prayers as to how next to proceed, but He showed me in three different ways:

  1. He gave a close friend the above verses in 2 Chronicles as she was praying about my problem, and then she obediently shared them with me.
  2. Next, the sermon the following Sunday was based on Luke 7:46-49, which compares building your house on rock versus building it on sand. My house (my relationship with the Lord) is definitely built on rock ─ The Rock ─ so no matter what the enemy does to try and shake me up, his storms cannot blow my house apart. And the Lord, my Rock, will enable me to withstand any storm that will come my way.
  3. God showed me during a Bible study that He had indeed used my praying friend to speak His will to me.

I freely admitted to God that I am weary of the fight, but I had His assurance that He would fight the battle for me. I also realized that the outcome doesn’t matter as much as my faith and trust that God would work everything out for my best interests while I simply waited and watched for what would happen next.

Beloved, are you currently in the midst of a frightening or bewildering situation? Are you wondering what to do or how to cope? Claim God’s promises and acknowledge that He only wants the best for you, right where you are now, and then trust that He will work everything out for your good and His glory.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please forgive us for our selective memories. We know that you are always working in our lives, yet there are so many times when we forget that You are totally in control. We praise You for always being with us and taking care of us so well, and we ask that You help us recall Jehoshaphat’s words during the difficult times: “For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Oh, Lord, we praise and thank You for who You are, our All in All!