The Peace of God in the Storms of Life

I need a word from the Lord this morning. I need to hear from the God who watches over little girls who are not where they should be and comforts broken-hearted Nanas. I wanted something like: “Don’t you worry, I’ll fix this.” But that’s not the word I got. The Spirit led me to Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Rejoice. You’re kidding, right? No, He’s not. Rejoice. Not just when it’s all good and the sun is shining. Always. Now. When it hurts. When you don’t understand.

Be gentle. Actually, He’s not commanding an act on my part, He is reminding me to bear forth the fruit of His Spirit – gentleness – as I deal with the people and the situation. God knew when He gave me that word at the beginning of the year that I would need it right now.

Don’t be anxious. I need to tell that to my knotted-up stomach and my hammering heart. Literally.

Pray. I like the way The Message says it: “shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.” And petition Him. “Go boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16 emphasis added). ASK. “ASK and keep on asking, SEEK and keep on seeking, KNOCK and keep on knocking” (from Mat 7:7).

With thanksgiving. Yes, thanksgiving. Because God has been trustworthy in the past. Because He loves her more than I ever could. Because He can be where I cannot. Because He is still writing this story.

And because He plants four words in the middle of this passage that we often overlook but speak volumes: “The Lord is near.”

Rejoice–because the Lord is near. Be gentle—because the Lord is near. Don’t be anxious–because the Lord is near. Pray with thankfulness–because the Lord is near. I can have the peace of God that is unfathomable–because the Lord is near. My heart and my mind – and my stomach – need God’s peace.

I didn’t exactly write this one for you today, I wrote it for me. But I’ll share it with you because it’s His Word for us all. And because, Beloved, through it all—the Lord is near.

When Your World Crashes

Murphy’s Law says, “Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” Robert Frost wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” In the south, we say, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise!” You get it, we make plans – big and small – and life happens. In high school, I planned to go to college, get married, be a journalist, and live happily ever after. Five years later I never made it to college, was working at a dead-end job, and going through a divorce. Not exactly what I had in mind. Perhaps you intended to get a big project finished at work yesterday, but an urgent task got tossed on your desk.  Your computer crashes in the middle of a big paper. Your child makes a huge mistake, your parent has a fall, road construction sends you on a long detour.  Something seems to always derail our plans. Flat tires, sick kids, an unexpected phone call, or the boss’s priorities can turn our day upside down. Divorce, cancer, layoffs, rebellious kids, and death can turn our lives upside down.

Aren’t you glad God is not subject to the winds of change and the whims of other people? Job testified, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1). God is the perfect planner because He is sovereign; that is, He has absolute authority to determine what will happen and He has absolute power to pull it off. He also has the advantage of seeing “the bigger picture.” Like putting a puzzle together, He sees each piece as it fits into its place and becomes part of the whole. In fact, He is the one who designed the picture in the first place. In hard seasons I find comfort in knowing that God is never taken by surprise when life takes a turn. He has already determined how this hard thing will fit into the complete picture of my life and the lives of those I love.

I’m learning some big lessons about trusting God right now.  I can’t go into details, but all is not right in my family and my heart is breaking.  I’ve been blindsided and can’t do anything about it.  But I am leaning on the truth that God was not caught off guard. He’s not sitting on His throne wringing His hands over the unexpected. Because nothing is unexpected to the One who rules over all. He’s got the whole world, and my little family, in His hands.

Joy!

One day the Lord will make it all right again. One day wickedness and evil will be cast away and righteousness and holiness will rule. One day God will pave “the Way of Holiness” where only the redeemed will walk (Is 35:8, 9). One day blind eyes will see, deaf ears will hear, the lame will leap, and the mute will shout for Joy” (v. 5-6). One day “sorrow and sighing will flee away and gladness and Joy will overtake [us]” (v. 10). One day all of God’s creation will “burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for Joy” (v. 2).

Did you notice all the Joy? It is the theme of this Psalm. It is the promise of God for eternity “Everlasting Joy will crown [our] heads” (v. 10). Not a “good days” kind of happiness. Not warm fuzzies because you got flowers at work. Not even the feeling you had on your wedding day or the birth of your children. Because we know that bad days will still happen. Those pretty flowers will wither away soon. Your spouse will disappoint you, even make you angry, and your kid will have an epic meltdown. The kind of Joy Isaiah spoke of doesn’t come from circumstances, your family’s behavior, or a day at the beach. This Joy is the theme of heaven.

Heavenly Joy sounds wonderful. But we’re not there yet. What do we do while we’re still here on earth? “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come . . . He will come to save you’” (v. 3-4). We strengthen and steady ourselves and encourage one another. We keep our focus on the Lord and remember His faithfulness, power, and love. We soak up His Word. We bring our concerns to Him in prayer. And we come together to lift one another up with the hope of His return.

I’ve had to take my own advice this week. Some important things are out of my hands and I’ve had to constantly cry out to God, lay my anxiety down, and mentally redirect my thoughts. And I’ve had good sisters in the faith praying and encouraging me. Yes, everlasting Joy is our promise. But hope is our strength as we wait. I’ll tell you what I’ve told myself all week: God. Will. Not. Fail. You. Be encouraged. Beloved. Your God will come.

The Rest of the Story

I’m living in the middle of a story that is causing me a lot of anxiety. I can’t see what is happening, I have no control over the particulars. I don’t know how this will end – or when. I am keeping an open prayer line to God and running to it often when panic wants to raise its ugly head. Somebody reading this can relate. I know a father with a demon-possessed son could too.  Please take a moment and read Mark 9:17-27 to get the scope of the story.

When we read accounts in the Bible today, as Paul Harvey said, we know “the rest of the story.”  But the people in the story didn’t.  Think about this from the father’s perspective – in real-time – as he stands before Jesus with pleading eyes, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).  Stay in the moment as we see Jesus turn to the child and speak with authority, “I command you to come out of him and never enter him again” (v. 25).  Watch as “the spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out” (v. 26)” But wait, what did Jesus do?  The boy looks dead – like a corpse!  The father brought his boy to Jesus and Jesus made everything worse.

Now, freeze the scene right here and consider this: just as the father lived out his story in real-time, you and I are also living out our story without the advantage of a written script that tells us how it all ends.  All we know is, right now, at this moment, the anxiety is high.

“But Jesus . . .” these are the most precious words in the Bible to me.  “But Jesus took [the boy] by the hand and lifted him to his feet” v. 27).  Wonder of wonders, the boy is not dead – he is alive – and healed!  He runs into his father’s arms with a smile of triumph. His father bends to kiss his son’s head with a look of amazement and Joy.

May I remind you not to give up on Jesus?  He can see the end from the middle. That moment when all seems lost, just as it was for this father, might be the moment just before all is found. Bring your need to Jesus, give Him room to work, and don’t lose hope. Beloved, your story isn’t over yet.

I Want to See You, Lord

I sang with the congregation: “Open the eyes of our heart, Lord; open the eyes of our heart, we want to see You; we want to see You.” In the breath between the first and second stanzas, I sensed God say, “Do you, really? Then why are your eyes closed?”

“Well, I’m offering this to You as my own prayer.”

“Then open your eyes.”

In that brief moment, I was impressed with the thought that the church asks God to give us a vision of Himself, but we close our eyes so that we cannot see.

As I am writing this, God has directed me to Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord. The prophet wrote, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Is 6:1). He was surrounded by seraphs, unlike anything man had ever seen. Now that’s a vision!

Isaiah’s response to the awesome vision of God was conviction, repentance, and surrender to the Lord’s call. But there’s another time when God revealed Himself to men. In Exodus 24, after Moses received the Law, God issued an extraordinary invitation: “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel” (Ex 24:1). And they did. “Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel . . . they saw God, and they ate and drank” (v. 9, 11). They. Saw. God. How did it affect them? A few chapters over we have these same elders urging Aaron to make an idol for the people to worship. And he did. In Leviticus 10, Nadab and Abihu are put to death by God for disobeying Him.

The seraphs in Isaiah’s vision declared, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory” (v. 3). Do you see it? “The whole earth is full of His glory.” John Calvin, the 16th-century theologian said, “There is not an atom of the universe in which you cannot see some brilliant spark, at least, of His glory.” Now, I’m not preaching a naturalistic theology. We worship the Creator, not the creation. But we can see Him everywhere – if we open our eyes.

Jeremiah 29:13 says “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you . . .” Do you want to see God? Are your eyes open? Are you looking for Him? And when you see Him, Beloved, what will you do?

Come to the Throne of Grace

David was in it up to his neck (Ps 69:1). He could find no foothold to regain his stability; he felt like he was sinking in deep waters (v. 2). Though he cried out for help, he couldn’t see God coming to his rescue. He said, “My eyes fail looking for my God” (v. 3). David spoke of his enemies and we see their hatred toward him. His woes are understandable. But wait. Look at verse 5: “You know my folly, O God; my guilt is not hidden from you.” David is the cause of his own despair. David has put himself in the miry depths. The text doesn’t reveal his actions, but he talks about being “scorned, disgraced, and shamed” (v. 19).

David is suffering the consequences of his actions. Can you relate? I know I can. Most of my struggles and difficulties have my own fingerprints all over them. And my tendency when I fail is to withdraw from God and assume that I must lay in the bed I made. I have a hard time bringing myself to ask for His help when I messed up.

But David had no such qualms. He wrote, “But I pray to you, O Lord, in the time of Your favor; in your great love, O God, answer me with Your sure salvation” (v. 13). He pleads: “Rescue me . . . Deliver me” (v. 14). “Answer me” (v. 16). “Redeem me” (v. 18). “Protect me” (v. 29). David is convinced of God’s love and salvation. He appeals to the “goodness of Your love” and “great mercy” (v. 16). He knows that “The Lord hears the needy and does not despise His captive people” (v. 33).  He could have also written Hebrews 4:6 – “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

I don’t know what is keeping you from God today. But I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt: no matter what you have done, God’s mercy, grace, and love are yours for the asking. Because of Jesus, “nothing – not even your failures, sins and mistakes – will be able to separate [you] from the love of God” (Rom 8:38-39). Just ask Him, Beloved. Then receive it.  He loves to rescue His children.

Somebody is Listening

I am wearing an old green t-shirt this morning that Joy always liked. It reminds me of the days when she was learning colors and she would always point out that “Nana’s shirt is green.” She was so proud of herself for it, and of course, so was I. God has been nudging me about the example I am before her. For instance, the image that accompanies this devotional. Before covid, I taught a weekly Bible study for the women on the campus where I work. My daughter-in-law would come and of course, Joy came with us. She was just starting to cruise and would move from person to person around the chairs that kept her corralled. She stopped at my knee that morning and was listening intently to me teach.  Her mommy snapped the picture and it serves as a constant reminder that she always is watching me and learning from me – whether I am intentionally teaching her or not. That’s a huge responsibility, one I don’t take lightly.

The Lord pressed that point home to the Israelites when Moses taught them God’s Law and how important their daily lives were. He told them: “The [these words] to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut 11:19). In other words, in everything you do all throughout your day, be a walking, talking, living, breathing testimony to the Lord God.

What happens when we don’t? When the Jews returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity and resettled the city, Nehemiah discovered that “half of their children spoke . . . the languages of other people and did not know how to speak the language of Judah” (Neh 13:24). Sound familiar? And I’m not talking about linguistics – I’m talking about the language of truth, righteousness, and holiness. The language of God. The children didn’t know the language of Judah because the generations before them fell into speaking the languages around them so that they might fit in. Again – sound familiar?

This is not just a parenting/grandparenting message. The same applies to the church’s influence – or lack thereof – on the culture. We cannot represent Christ to the world if we sound just like them. Everything about us should speak Jesus. Because, like Joy, someone is watching and listening – whether you realize it or not. Beloved, what are they seeing and hearing in you?

Lean on God

My son called us early this morning fully dressed in his army uniform and hat with an anxious expression on his face. I remember that look well. I saw it on his first day of school. I saw it when he was a teenager and had to explain his actions to a police officer. I saw it when he faced things that were scary and unknown. That look of “I don’t know if I can do this.” He’s a grown man, but the boy was there on the screen, wiping away a tear from his eye. He starts the full run of basic combat training. It’s going to be hard. They will break him. The worst part, he said, is he won’t be allowed to call home for the first couple of weeks. Talking to his wife and daughter and mom has gotten him through. But we won’t have us for a while.

This will be the hardest thing he’s ever done, and he’s overwhelmed. Maybe you understand. You might be in the middle of the hardest thing you’ve ever faced right now and you don’t know how you will make it. I will tell you the same thing I told him. This is when you lean hard on God. When grief and sorrow overwhelm you, lean on God. When your body is racked with pain and fever, lean on God. When you walk out of your workplace with your possessions in a box, when the gas tank, the pantry, and your purse are empty, when the one who vowed to love you walks away, when you sit helplessly beside your loved one’s hospital bed . . . lean on God. When you head off to boot camp, lean on God. And when my son wipes away tears of anxiety 425 miles away, I’ve got to lean on God too.

What does that look like? A lot of prayer. A lot of time in the Word of God. And more prayer. And when the wave of anxiety or depression or anger or grief hits I pray more and read more and lean more. Because God is faithful. Every scenario I mentioned, I’ve lived through – or I should say God carried me through. He was with me in every one. He was my strength and my comfort. He was my hope and my peace. And now, I am entrusting my son into His hands. I reminded Troy of that before we signed off the call together. I’m reminding myself of that too. Beloved, whatever you face right now, lean hard on God. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . .” (Prov. 3:5). You’re in His hands – and there’s no better place to be.

Stand on that Rock and Sing!

I hope this doesn’t shock you, but I have a past. I did not always walk with Jesus, and it showed. I was self-centered and lived for the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Paul lists some of the “acts of the sinful nature” in several of his letters, and I exhibited more than a few of them. I’m not saying that with pride, but rather to show you the contrast between who I was and who God is shaping me to be.

To borrow from King David, when God saved me . . .

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:2)

How foolish would I be to cling to the pit?

Yet I see and hear so many of God’s redeemed people referring to themselves by their past. Why? That’s not who you are anymore. I love how Paul declared, “You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live . . . But God . . . .” God rescued you out of his great love and rich mercy and made you “alive with Christ” through whom you have been saved (Eph 2:1-5 – emphasis added). Do you see it? You were steeped in sin, but now you are filled with Christ. You were lost, but now you are found. You were condemned, but now you are set free. You were God’s enemy, now you are His child. You are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17).

If God has lifted you out of the pit of sin and set your feet on the solid Rock, why do you keep looking back into the mud and mire? No matter what you’ve done in the past, if you are in Christ, your identity is no longer there. You are made new – holy and righteous. Beloved, you are not that sinful person anymore. Stand tall on that rock and sing a song of praise to the Lord.

God = Love = God

I am a follower of rules. I think it came from growing up as a military kid. There were rules living on base and everyone knew what was expected of them – even us kids. Even now I want to know my role and not have to wonder what I’m supposed to be doing. But even more, I want a way to know if I am measuring up. I want to be able to look at the list and say, I have done everything that is expected of me, therefore I am acceptable. I guess it goes back to my childhood. “Have you made your bed? Have you brushed your teeth? Have you done your homework? Have you finished your chores? Yes? Good job! No? Why are you so lazy? Why don’t you do what you’re supposed to do?” The unspoken words still ring loudly in my head: “You’re only good if you check off all the boxes.”

It’s taken me my whole life to realize that lists are great for work, but they are not the measure of my relationship with God.  Nor are they yours.  God doesn’t love you and me because we follow all the rules and check off all the boxes.  He loves us because He loves us.  Because that is His nature.  John made it very clear in his first letter: “Love comes from God” (1 John 4:7), “God is love” (v. 8, 16), “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us . . .” (v. 10), “We know and rely on the love God has for us” (v. 16), “We love because He first loved us” (v. 19).

 Love originates from God. We would have no love within us if not for God’s love lavished on us (3:1). John added, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, [our]love is made complete . . .” (vs. 16-17). God’s love is perfect (4:18). It is steadfast (Psalm 118). It is eternal (Psalm 136). It is selfless (John 3:16).

And here’s what is so comforting: you can’t be good enough to make Him love you more and you can’t mess up enough to make Him love you less. He loves you because of who He is. Beloved (see what I called you), the next time you look at your life and wonder if you measure up remember this:  you don’t – but God loves you anyway.