The Red Sea in Front of Me – Reaching for God in Despair

Today I’m sharing from Set Apart.

The Red Sea in Front of Me –
Reaching for God in Despair

By

There is no escaping the painful realities that surround my family. Our own Red Sea looms before us while the relentless enemies of physical and mental illness, financial strain, layered losses, and temptations to lose heart, pursue us from all sides.

While crushing circumstances involving physical and mental health, finances, marital pressures, and loss have been sufficient to defeat us; it’s the inner turmoil and constant temptation to sin against God by doubting his goodness and wisdom that make me plead most for my heavenly home.

In recent suffering, the Lord brought to mind the Israelites, who I imagine felt similarly as they stood before the Red Sea. Not long after the Lord had miraculously delivered them from Egypt they found themselves facing imminent death, walled in by an impassable Sea and enemies closing in behind them. I resonate all too much with their response to Moses:

Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: “Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?” For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:11–12)

Though their response was irrational, portraying a distorted view of the reality of slavery, they spoke out of a very real sense of fear and helplessness. They wondered, Why would God free us from Egypt, only to lead us to our deaths? At that point, even slavery sounded better.

Why Was I Led Here?

Much like the Israelites stood terrified before the Red Sea, I have wrestled with similar thoughts. Why would a God who loved me enough to save me lead me into such awful and seemingly never-ending circumstances? I cannot save myself. I cannot save my family.

And as much as I wish I could say that my response has continually reflected Moses’s words to this complaining people — “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord” — I admit that it often has not. Rather, fearing our pain will never end; I have stumbled, pounded my fists in anguish and wondered if God is still fighting for us.

As followers of Christ, we all must face the reality that we are helpless to save ourselves. Whether it’s merely a traffic jam that makes us late for a job interview, or a life filled with inescapable pain, God mercifully brings us to impassable seas to help us see our need for him.

So how do we respond when we see no way out, no hope this side of heaven? We need to see, stand, and trust.

Read the rest here.

Faithful is He who calls you

During my recent blog break, I spent a lot of time in the Word and in prayer. I started this blog in 2011 and the Lord has enabled me to continue, with similar breaks along the way. I have tried and discarded different blogging schedules, finally settling on my current twice-weekly one because it works best for me.

I’ve written before about the various health issues I live with, which often take over my life. 2019 started with 24/7 migraines which were amazingly worse than I could remember. A friend told us about a chiropractic method we had never heard of before, a more holistic approach to treating pain through specific spinal adjustments which are more gentle than the traditional adjustments I have tried in the past.

I’ve been into this now for almost three months and am extremely happy with the results. I still have migraines with fluctuating barometric pressure, but these migraines are ocular in nature rather than extremely painful. Now the only way I can tell I’m having a migraine is that my vision gets a little blurry and I have some nausea. I am also experiencing benefits in how my body processes/perceives daily pain by learning new breathing techniques and other gentle exercises to keep my body in better alignment.

So that’s my current health state, which I am constantly praising our Lord for as a huge answer to prayer! I am still going to keep my twice-weekly blogging schedule though because I am sure that the more my health issues get resolved, the more I will be able to do here at home. I am also looking forward to being able to do some traveling again, including going riding more often with Rick just for the sheer joy of it.

While thinking about my most recent blog break, it reminded me of a year-long hiatus from writing that I took about 15 years ago. I had no idea how that year would involve a huge amount of trust in Jesus, and in the process, He taught me much about how faithful and trustworthy He is. Here’s my story about that time.

Faithful is He who calls you
and He also will bring it to pass.
—1 Thessalonians 5:24

I’ve written many times about leaning on the Lord with faith and trust. Today I’d like to focus on how faith plays such a huge part in trusting and believing in the Lord’s timing.

By the way, “faith” (a noun) and “believe” (a verb) are both translated from the same Greek word. If you claim to have faith in God, then believing in Him is to put that faith into action. In other words, our faith leads to believing that what God says is true and more important than what we see or feel with our frail and easily persuaded human minds. God worked in my heart in a mighty way to show me how a believing faith can help me through everything in my life.

I don’t know about you but just when I feel comfortable with the way my life is going, that’s when I know God will start to shake things up a bit. I like to say He is moving me from one comfort zone to the next.

One of the examples of this in my life happened about 15 years ago. After several years of writing, my well of imagination seemed to have run dry. I had unexpectedly lost my desire to write.

Those who know me best suggested that I was probably experiencing writer’s block, but I learned that God simply had other plans for me. In the midst of my quiet times with Him, I felt Him telling me to stop everything writing-related for a time and focus on Him as I rested my exhausted body and mind.

As difficult as it was to understand this, I knew God was asking me to put into action what I believe to be true:

God is more than worthy of my faith and trust.

My writing hiatus came to an abrupt end about a year later when a writing assignment dropped into my inbox that I knew had to be from the Lord. I had sent my resume to a publisher the previous year and then forgotten about it. Now, this same publisher offered me an assignment that was tailor-made for my style of writing.

But there was a problem: not only was the deadline a mere three weeks away, but I needed to research and write while battling severe daily migraines.

The migraine issue was not a new thing, but I just cannot think clearly when in the midst of one of these nausea-creating, light- and sound-bothering, hair-hurting migraines hits me. And it was happening on a daily basis.

Nevertheless, I struggled through this assignment day after day, sometimes praying through my tears. And—day after day—God provided me with the ideas I needed plus the necessary strength to get this enormous amount of writing done in such a short period of time.

The finished book was a compilation of prayers written by several authors, including me. By the grace of God and by believing that He would faithfully help me complete this assignment on time, I met my deadline of composing 31 prayer devotionals.

You read that right: 31 devotionals in 3 weeks!

In great pain, I toiled through the writing of every single one of those devotionals but God was faithful in giving me the sufficient amount of strength I needed exactly when I needed it most. From time to time I’ve shared some of the devotionals here that I contributed to that book titled, Anytime Prayers for Everyday People, and I’ll continue that every so often.

Beloved, are you facing something in your life that seems too much for you to handle? Maybe—like I did—you think there is nothing you can contribute because of your circumstances or illness or limited energy.

If you take away anything from what I went through, it should be this:

When God wants us to do something for Him, He does not expect us to do it on our own. He just wants us to have faith and believe that He will walk with us through it.

Remember, He is the Great Enabler and will always grant us exactly the amount of strength and stamina we need to finish whatever He calls us to do!

Taking a Break

My life these days has been very hectic and busy from too many medical appointments and other commitments. This all adds up to a lot of stress, which affects my health badly and fuels the need for me to take a short break. I hope and pray that I feel refreshed enough so I can get back to my usual Tuesday and Thursday blogging schedule in a couple of weeks. I am and will be praying  my favorite Bible verse for all of you and for me too:

You will keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You.
—Isaiah 26:3

Through All The Seasons. . . God Is Loving and Powerful

Today I’m sharing an article by Dr. David Jeremiah that was published recently on FaithGateway.

Through All the Seasons…
God is Loving and Powerful

By Dr. David Jeremiah

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 — Why has this passage endured the ages as one of the oldest philosophical poems in our literary canon? It’s certainly among the most pensive passages of God’s Word, a beautiful meditation that casts a near-hypnotic spell over readers of any generation.

The author was the wisest and wealthiest man who ever lived, and this book is a chronicle of his lifelong quest for true happiness and joy. Solomon tried wealth, wisdom, work, and wild living. At the end of his wide-ranging experiments, he concluded that everything was an empty exercise in vanity. It was like trying to capture the wind in his hands.

As we come to the third chapter, we find Solomon facing an even bigger challenge, a “problem with God.”

I know all about the “problem with God.”

I would not have chosen cancer as a path to spiritual growth, nor would I wish such fear and pain on anyone. On the other hand, I do not see my illness as a random event, some miscellaneous accident of health. And I do not believe there was a moment when God was absent from the physical, emotional, and spiritual crisis I endured.

In fact, I found Him everywhere during that time. I found Him as never before. I glimpsed His face among the doctors and nurses who cared for me so skillfully. I saw Him there in shining power among the family of my church, and intimately among the family circle of my wife and children. He met me in the private chapel of my soul, where with each passing day I felt deeper in His grace and comfort. I found my Lord more present and more powerful.

Knowing there must be pain and suffering for us all, I dearly wish everyone could travel the road I did. I wish every human soul could see the face of God in the fear and turmoil. 

So many walk a very different path; they experience only His absence.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People, when his own three-year-old son contracted a rare disease that took his life at a young age, penned his conclusions about God and suffering in order to provide answers to others in similar circumstances.

Kushner’s conclusion was a popularization of an ancient theological conundrum:

How can God be both perfectly good and perfectly powerful? The suffering in the world suggests that if He is God, He is not good; or that if He is good, He is not God. In other words, there must be something lacking in either His love or His strength, or He would cure every little pain.

Rabbi Kushner worked through the old enigma. He concluded that God is all-loving but not all-powerful. He cares deeply about the people He created, but after creating the world He backed away and allowed it to run without His interference.

Solomon had a different view entirely. He concludes that God is sovereign and in control, regardless of the imponderables that remain. Solomon sees God as being present with us but not helpful enough. The king wants to know why God does not improve the standard of life, do something about the aging process, show more favoritism to His children, and perhaps discontinue the program of human pain.

In his poem, there are fourteen negative statements and fourteen positive ones, and they fall into three separate categories. The first describes the influence of time on our bodies, the second focuses on our souls, and the last deals with our spirits.

And Solomon’s main thought? Well, it doesn’t take a Hebrew scholar to notice that the word time occurs twenty-nine times in these verses.

Time and Your Physical Life

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, And a time to die;

A time to plant,

And a time to pluck what is planted;

A time to kill,

And a time to heal;

A time to break down,

And a time to build up.

Solomon begins his contemplation with a sobering observation: birth and death both have their appointed times.

When my grandson, Ryland, was born, I flew to Baltimore for the event. As I peered through the nursery window at this beautiful new citizen of the world, it struck me that only a corridor away, some other citizen was being dispatched. Some family had gathered for the agony of farewell. It is not a lengthy walk between the nursery and the intensive care unit. We spend our own time making that trek between entrance and exit, womb and tomb.

Meanwhile, there is a time to plant and a time to harvest. Solomon refers to the food supply because he knows that God sets the boundaries of the seasons. God has built certain rhythms into His world. The steady repetition of the seasons provides comfort and a workable cadence to life.

We are a bit discomforted to read that there is a time to kill as well as a time to heal. Yet our bodies are in the process of dying every moment. Scientists tell us that every seven years we replenish all the cells within our bodies. There is an ongoing maintenance department in the human machine that is constantly changing out the old for the new. And it is governed by time.

Cancer cells, infection cells, or simply worn-out cells must be killed — so even killing has its time, and we are grateful. There must be a time to kill so we might also have a time to heal.

And what of “a time to break down, and a time to build up”? We build up in our early years, and we start breaking down as we get older — painful but true. How old is old? I was enjoying a birthday when David Todd, my six-year-old grandson, crunched the numbers on my age. He said, “If Poppy was a dog’s age, he’d be dead!” He was right.

There is a time for breaking down, but God is there. He is as powerful as He is loving, and you have the opportunity to experience His power all the more effectively and vividly when you turn to Him in the breakdowns of life.

Read the rest here.

How God Changes Our “Why Me?” Questions in Suffering to “Why Not Me?”

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

How God Changes Our
“Why Me?” Questions
in Suffering to
“Why Not Me?”

By Randy Alcorn 

There was a time when I could not fully accept any explanation for evil and suffering that didn’t make sense to me, start to finish. However, over the years, and through the process of writing my book If God Is Good, I’ve come to trust my own understanding less, and God’s Word more.

I find a strange delight in being swallowed up by the immensity of God’s greatness and by the divine mysteries that once disturbed me. Know­ing that I’ll sit before God’s judgment seat—not He before mine—I choose to trust Him. And the more I do, the more sense the story makes to me.

And I am certain about this: the best answer to the problem of evil is a person—Jesus Christ. I’m convinced He is the only answer. The drama of evil and suffering in Christ’s sac­rifice addresses the very heart of the problem of evil and suffering. And one day it will prove to have been the final answer.

So whenever you feel tempted in your suffering to ask God, “Why are you doing this to me?” look at the Cross and ask, “Why did you do that for me?”

In this excerpt from his 2018 book God’s Grace in Your Suffering, David Powlison writes about how God changes our “Why me?” questions in suffering. (My thanks to Justin Taylor for sharing this ohis excellent blog.)

So often the initial reaction to painful suffering is

Why me?

Why this?

Why now?

Why?

You’ve now heard God speaking with you. The real God says all these wonderful things, and does everything he says.

Read the rest here.

To Those Hurting Christmas 2018

You’ve probably seen this one here a couple of times before during the Christmas season. It is such a good piece that I have decided to share this as a Christmas post each year.

To Those Hurting This Christmas

by John Knight

I know some of you are praying you’ll make it through Christmas—just make it through—not anticipating anything good will come from gathering with extended family and friends. It has become a cliche—right next to the article on what second-graders are excited about for Christmas is the article on the rise in depression during this last month of the year.

You know the sadness is real. While you change the diaper of a teenager, or administer complicated medications, or prevent your non-verbal ten-year-old from hurting himself again, or explain yet again the complicated life of your five-year-old without a diagnosis for her disability, your nieces and nephews and young friends are playing and running and eating, happily talking about the toys they want or travel they’re excited about or things they are doing in school. They easily do things your child will never do, no matter how many therapies or medications or prayers are offered.

Or maybe the disability in your family member means you can’t gather with other loved ones, and the heartache is almost more than you can stand.

Jesus knows.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15, italics added)

More than that, he endured and is victorious!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2, italics added)

And there are some of you who can’t see it. There is still hope!

From Pastor John’s book, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy,

It is utterly crucial that in our darkness we affirm the wise, strong hand of God to hold us, even when we have no strength to hold him. This is the way Paul thought of his own strivings. He said, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (Philippians 3:12). The key thing to see in this verse is that all Paul’s efforts to grasp the fullness of joy in Christ are secured by Christ’s grasp of him. Never forget that your security rests on Christ’s faithfulness first.

Our faith rises and falls. It has degrees. But our security does not rise and fall. It has no degrees. We must persevere in faith. That’s true. But there are times when our faith is the size of a mustard seed and barely visible. In fact, the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God’s sight, but his. Yes, it is possible to be so overwhelmed with darkness that you do not know if you are a Christian — and yet still be one. (216, italics added)

Jesus understands. Jesus is victorious. Jesus is the answer. May you find him, and in finding him, find hope and peace in these hard days.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)


John Knight is Director of Development at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments and a seizure disorder. John blogs on issues of disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.