Surrounded

One of my favorite Bible accounts is in 2 Kings 6. The prophet Elisha and his aide were pinned down by the Aramean army. Through God’s secret wisdom, Elisha had been giving away Aram’s location to the king of Israel, giving Israel a decided advantage in the war. The Arameans had surrounded the city and were preparing to rush in and capture Elisha. The prophet’s aide saw the army with its horses and chariots and soldiers and cried to his master “O my Lord, what shall we do?” (v. 15).

Ever been there? Me too. The money won’t stretch. The doctor said there’s nothing more he can do. You just got laid off. You watch your spouse walk away. You hand your rent money over to the mechanic. Your kids are hungry and your pantry is empty. “Oh my God, what am I going to do?”

I’ve walked with God long enough to know that that’s the heart of anxiety: What am I going to do? Like it’s all on your shoulders. Child of God it’s not. Let me suggest a different question: “Oh, my God, what are You going to do?”

Elisha told his aide, “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (v. 16). Then he called on the Lord to give the man spiritual eyes to see. “The Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (v. 17). He was seeing the army of the Lord that had encircled Elisha and stood between him and the enemy. The man of God – and his aide – were completely safe and secure.

God has promised to care for you – but it requires spiritual eyes to see Him surrounding you. Listen to His own Words: Deuteronomy 31:8 says “The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.” Isaiah 52:12 says “The God of Israel will be your rear guard.” Psalm 32:10 says, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man [or woman] who trusts in Him.” Beloved, whatever you are facing right now, your Heavenly Father is there with you, before you, behind you, and all around you. Just open your eyes.

The King Has Come!

It is a familiar scene in movies set in medieval times. The battle is fierce and the warriors are weary, many of their comrades have fallen on the blood-soaked field, and the few that remain try to swing their swords with leaden arms.  Then the cry rings out “Look! The king has come!”  Eyes scan the horizon to see a bright flag with the king’s crest lifted high above the ridge.  All is not lost!  Their king has come to aid them in the fight.  With renewed vigor, the men cheer as their sovereign wades into the sea of battle and leads them on to victory.  They did not see him at first; they only saw his standard rising high into the sky – but it was all the assurance they needed.  The king’s banner was the promise of his presence.

You and I fight a battle every day – we are at war against the enemy, satan, the lord of darkness, the devil himself.  He is a fierce foe and he fights dirty.  He has no mercy. My arms are weary, and my energy is spent.  I look over at you and see the same – as if you are my reflection.  There are tears in my eyes that match your own. It seems we’re just about done in. But all is not lost, my friend. Look! Our King has come!  There, on the horizon – don’t you see it?  It is the standard of our Sovereign rising high above the world. Though we do not yet see Him, His banner – a blood-red flag lifted high atop a cross – is our assurance that He is here in the fight.

He is Jehovah Gibbor Milchamah – The Lord Mighty in Battle (Ps 24:8). He is Jehovah Chereb – The Lord . . . The Sword and Jehovah Magen – The Lord . . . The Shield (Deut 33:29). He brings all His mighty angels as Jehovah Tsebaoth – The Lord of Hosts (1 Sam 1:3). The enemy is no match for Jehovah Maginnenu – The Lord our Defense (Ps 89:18).  Renew your strength, Beloved, the victory is sure.  We have seen His standard. His banner over us is love (Song of Songs 2:4).

Just Wait

What’s the hardest part of the Christian life? Dealing with the culture that has rejected God? Dealing with loved ones that have rejected God? Surrendering long-held sinful desires? Establishing holy habits of Bible study and prayer? Telling others about Jesus? Obedience? Yes to all of the above. But the one that is most challenging for me is waiting. You’ve experienced it too. We’re in good company. From Noah waiting in the Ark to Jospeh waiting in prison to Abraham waiting for the promised child, to David waiting to take his God-given throne, to Daniel in the lion’s den, waiting is a common struggle. It’s one of the biggest tests of our faith.

I have a friend who is dealing with a situation in her marriage, one she and I are praying over fiercely. God has told her to wait on Him to act. She’s trying. But she gets anxious and takes it on herself to try to turn him around. We recently talked about her latest attempt to force the change she so wants to see, and as expected, it only frustrated her husband and left her discouraged. “What was the last thing God said to you about it?” I asked. “Wait,” she said. “Did “Did He tell you He needed your help?” “No.” “Then wait. Just wait.”

David wrote a Psalm that is filled with good counsel as we wait. He said, “Do not fret,” “Trust in the Lord,” “do good,” Delight yourself in the Lord,” “Commit your way to Him,” “Be still,” “be patient,” “hope in the Lord,” “keep His way” (Psalm 37). Never once does he say, “worry about it,” “argue over it,” “take matters into your own hands,” “make it happen.”  

Here’s what I know from years of Bible study and especially from my own life. God never tells His child to wait for no reason. Waiting always means there’s something on the other end worth waiting for. That’s why we can have hope and trust in the waiting. Because we know that He is faithful. That’s how we can wait patiently.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for. But I know that God has never failed. Not in thousands of years of human history. Not in 61 years of my life. It may not happen as fast as you want, but if God tells you to hang on, Beloved, it will happen. Just “wait a little longer” (Rev 6:11).

Waiting for the Sunrise

Psalm 130 is a cry for the Lord to rescue and redeem His people Israel. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word, I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning” (v. 6). This is not just aimless waiting, it means “to hope in, to look for, to expect.” It’s the difference between waiting with doubt and fear of disappointment and waiting for something you are certain will come.   Notice that the Psalmist twice says he waits “more than watchman wait for the morning.” Have you ever gone outside before dawn, while the night was still black to see the sunrise? Would you have been out there if you didn’t think the sun would actually come up? We watch for the sunrise because we know it will come, and when it does it will be a glorious sight. The watchman stood guard through the night, scanning the inky horizon, knowing that when the first rays of light hit, he could go home to rest.

When we are in a position of waiting, whatever we may be waiting for, we must adopt the attitude of the watchman and trust that when the waiting is over, the sun will shine and our rest will come. We must follow the model of Joseph who put his hope in the word of God while he waited. He was confident that what God had promised him would come to fulfillment. If you know his story (Genesis 37, 39-50) you know that while he waited he served and ministered wherever he was – in Potipher’s house and even in prison. He knew that God had not forgotten him and He would be faithful to His promise.

What has God promised to you? Do you trust Him to fulfill that promise? Then spend your waiting season serving wherever God has placed you for the moment, and know that when the waiting is over and the promise comes, it will be more wonderful than you ever imagined. God never forgets His promises, Beloved. He is forever faithful, and even more dependable than the sunrise.

Glory!

Why does God deliver us out of our troubles? Why did He send His Son to die on the cross for you and me? Why does He “part the heavens and come down” and “draw [us] out of deep waters” (Psalm 18: 9, 16).

Because we are helpless and in desperate situations? Yes, but that’s not the only reason.

Because He loves us? Without question, but that’s not the whole answer.

Because He is the only one who can? That is true, but there’s more to the equation than that.

The most important reason God delivers us from our troubles and our sin is for His glory. He said, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will glorify me” (Psalm 50:15). When you and I are pulled from the pit of despair, God is exalted. When His hand lifts us up from our fallen state, He is lifted up before all men. When pitiful sinners become children of God, knees bow and tongues confess His glory and majesty.

In His “high priestly prayer” in John 17, Jesus said, “Father the time has come.” Time for what? His death? Our atonement? The devil’s defeat? Yes, and no. Jesus said the time had come for glory. “Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (v. 1). In just five verses, Jesus used the word “glorify” and “glory” five times. His vision went beyond the cross to something greater – glory. That is what it’s all about. David proclaimed, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1) Nature, the heavens, the nations, you and me –were all created to give God glory.  And we will. Paul said that “every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10,11).

Every knee. Every tongue. Whether they did in this life or not, whether they acknowledge His existence today or not, whether they want to not or not – they will glorify Him. Beloved, maybe we should start practicing now.

Hebrews: The Sinful Heart

In our last Hebrews devotional, we looked at the difference between unintentional sin and intentional sin, or as Hebrews 10:26 said deliberate sin. The word “deliberate,” means to sin voluntarily or wilfully as opposed to sins committed without forethought, and from ignorance or weakness. Isn’t every sin a choice we make? Yes. And no.

As long as we live in this evil world you and I are going to sin. It’s in our human nature as descendants of Adam and Eve. We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. And all sin is an affront to God. Sin doesn’t carry differing weights as “less” or “ more” sinful. So why does God seem to differentiate between unintentional and intentional sin? Because intentional sin reflects a heart that is not committed to God – the kind of heart, the Psalmist said, that cherishes sin (Ps 66:18) rather than God.

Paul talked about his struggle with sin in Romans 7 – you might identify with that chapter. He said that there was a war going on in his mind between his love for God and the ever-present pull of sin. It made him miserable. But for the man (or woman) who persists in deliberate sin, there is no war. There is no misery. There is no struggle against cherished sin because there is no love for God in his heart. Yes, this is hard to understand, and our cultural sensibilities chaff at such sharp tones.

But there is good news – John said that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin (1 John 1:7b). All sin. Intentional sin and unintentional sin. Sin we stumble over and sin we walk into with eyes wide open. John added that we must confess our sins to receive His forgiveness and purification (v. 9).

Most people who are trapped in deliberate sin don’t seek God’s forgiveness. They don’t confess their sin because they don’t want to give it up. I know someone who is deep in sin and likes it that way. He doesn’t want to repent and be set free because he cherishes his sin. Yet he has convinced himself that he is a Christian. I pray for him daily.

Is there a sin you just can’t let go of? Something you run after over and over? No sin is too much for the blood of Jesus – no matter how deep it runs. Beloved, why don’t you put that sin in the forgiving, cleansing hands of the Savior and be set free?

The Power of Deeper Roots

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“Look, mom, I watered your flowers!” My then seven-year-old son came bursting into the kitchen, tracking mud all across the freshly cleaned floor. He grabbed me by the hand and dragged me outside to take a look. “See! Didn’t I do a good job!?”  I smiled down at his eager face and gave him a big hug. “Yes, you did! Thank you, sweet boy!” I said noticing that the leaves glistened with moisture but the ground was barely damp. His idea of “watering my flowers” was to sprinkle water across the tops of the plants. When he proudly ran off to the back yard to play, I turned on the soaker hose that ran along the ground and gave the plants the good, long drink they needed to survive and flourish. I returned to the kitchen and sat down at the table with a fresh cup of coffee and my Bible. I had just started “getting serious” about reading God’s Word every day. I checked the reading plan and turned to Psalm 119:9-16. I started to close my Bible and get on with my day when I sensed a “Stop!” in my spirit. “Read it again. Slower.” So I sat back down and re-read the passage. I realized that the Psalmist wasn’t doing a quick reading of the Scriptures, He was soaking it in. Like my son’s idea of watering my plants, I was sprinkling God’s Word over the surface of my heart, but I wasn’t spending enough time in it to do my soul much good. Looking further into Psalm 119 I found verse after verse after verse about the power of the Bible for those who will give it more than a quick glance.

There’s no prize for reading the Bible through in a year.  But there is great reward in reading the Bible thoroughly. And you don’t have to read a lot each day; in fact, you will grow more with smaller, deeper bites. Knowledge takes time, but it pays off with deep roots. The kind that can stand strong in the fiercest storm. Beloved, it’s time to put away the watering can and pull out the soaker hose. Go deep in the Word of God and let God’s Words go deep in you.

The Path from Despair to Praise

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 “But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in You.”       Psalm 39:7

How do we reconcile our trust in God in the face of hard, devastating circumstances?  The writers of many of the Psalms were well acquainted with the conflict of faith amid disappointment.  I find tremendous help in their honest writings.

Psalm 77, for example, ranges from raw angst and discouragement – “Has [the Lord’s] unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time?” (v. 7) to glorious praise – “You are the God who performs miracles; You display Your power among the peoples.” “You lead Your people like a flock,” (vs. 14 & 20).  How did he swing from despair to exultation? Verses 10-12 are the pivot point in this Psalm. After heart-wrenching despair, he says, “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal; the years of the right hand of the Most High.  I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all Your works and consider all Your mighty deeds.’”(v. 10-12)    Asaph determined to turn his thoughts around and meditate on the long history of God’s miracles, works, and mighty deeds.  And as he followed this line of higher thinking, you can sense his spirit lifting as the words build to a crescendo that bursts forth in praise: “Your ways, O God, are holy.  What god is so great as our God?” (v. 13) He comes to the foundation upon which all faith must rest: God. Not just what He can do, but who He is. After digging through my exhaustive concordance, I lost count after 200 times that I read “That you may know Me…” It is the whole point of our faith.  Jesus said, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3). Beloved, if your burden is heavy today, follow the path the psalmist laid out. Come to him in your honest despair. Ask the hard questions that weigh on your heart. He can take it. Remember His faithfulness to you in the past as you meditate on who He is.  Then let your angst be lifted up in praise.  I know it works – it is the road I traveled this morning.

Where can I find Peace?

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“You are my hiding place; You will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Psalm 32:7

For as long as I can recall, even from childhood, I have been searching for a protector.  It seemed that the ones who were in a position to protect me ended up being the ones who hurt me, or just left me vulnerable and alone.  I wanted to know someone heard my fears and would “take up my cause.”  Through my adult years, I’ve more or less learned how to fend for myself.  But still, there is this ache to know that I can let my guard down for just a little while because someone is watching out for me.

So this morning, when I read this verse, it touched that vulnerable place deep in my heart.  I do have a protector.  It is my Heavenly Father.  When my weary heart cries out: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (Psalm 36:7), I know that He will be my hiding place and I can “take refuge in the shadow of [His] wings” (Psalm 57:1). Nothing can touch me there, no foe can reach me, and no disaster can overtake me because [He] will protect me from trouble.

That is the sweetest word I have heard in a long time.  I am tired, my mind, body and spirit are weary.  My Father knows that and bids me come to that protected hiding place and to “lie down and sleep in peace, for You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). I do not have to climb high mountains or walk through burning deserts to reach my safe place.  I only have to cry out to Him and He will “come quickly to help me” (Psalm 22:19). Then I am to take refuge and restto lie down and sleep in peace, knowing that He is on guard, ever vigilant, with His wing tucked securely around me.

There is no greater refuge than this.  There is no greater peace than this.

Are you weary?  Do you also need a protector?  Have all the “safe places” of the world failed you?  Friend, seek the only place of true safety and peace.  Come and find rest in the shadow of His wing.  Let Him “quiet you with His love” (Zephaniah 3:17). Fall asleep amid the sound of Him “rejoicing over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1

Home

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My dad served in the U.S. Army for more than 30 years so we were accustomed to packing up and relocating. It was a way of life for us. The scenery changed often, Texas, Okinawa, Georgia, Alabama, Germany, back to Alabama. Yet there were certain things that always went with us. Wherever the next duty station took us mom always had her Bible and her sewing machine. Every three years or so my school and my friends changed. But home was wherever Mama’s Bible was opened on the kitchen table and her trusty Singer hummed.

Since I’ve been grown and on my own, I’ve moved around more. From Dothan to Midland City to Tallahassee to Woodville to Crawfordville to Tuscaloosa, and now back home to Dothan. Like Mama, one thing that has always gone with me is my Bible. It is the last thing that gets put in the moving van and the first thing that comes into our new home. If I have to be out of town for even a few days, my Bible is the last thing in my suitcase – sitting right on top where I can find it when I get settled.  That’s because where I go, long-term or short, I want God to go with me. I am home wherever God is. And He is always faithful to accompany me on my journeys.

Moses said, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Psalm 90:1). He knew something about moving around. Forty-plus years of it. But God was the constant in every step he took. I’ll be honest and tell you that not every move was a good move and not every place we lived was happy. But God was – and continues to be – my faithful Companion. No, more than that – He was – and continues to be – my Dwelling place. I don’t know where you are right now – physically or emotionally or spiritually. You may be in a mansion or a hovel. You may be on a mountain top or at the bottom of the deepest pit of your life. I do know that if you are in Christ Jesus, God is there. Dwell in Him Beloved, and you will always be at home.