New Strength is Coming!

CC BY-NC, theothernate, Flickr

CC BY-NC, theothernate, Flickr

Isaiah begins his 40th chapter with prophetic words of comfort detailing the deliverance of God’s people from impending captivity. “The Sovereign Lord is coming in power,” he says; then he transitions into a marvelous exposition on God’s omnipotence.

Starting with nature, he compares the greatness of God and the weakness of humans—“Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?” (v. 12, NLT). “Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice?” (v. 14).

The nations are nothing to God, for he can lift the earth like a grain of sand. His worth is incalculable: “All the wood in Lebanon’s forests and all Lebanon’s animals would not be enough to make a burnt offering worthy of our God” (v. 16).

Idols are laughable and only speak to the foolishness of human hearts—“at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman to carve an image that won’t fall down!” (v. 20).

For the Lord sits atop the earth as upon a throne, the King of every king.

A Sobering Indictment

After this illustrious oration, Isaiah directs a pointed question to God’s people: “O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles? O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?”

It is the prophet bringing correction: “You’ve stood in awe of this boundless God, but you have not understood him.”

Do we not act the same way when our cares have us submitted and down for the count? We feel the Lord doesn’t see. In our dark moments we miss God’s intentions with our trials and sometimes forget that he is for us. But he never forgets us.

Strength to Run

What comes next is truly grand:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 28-40, NKJV).

Isn’t this moving?

We get excited about the “they that wait” part. But the really exciting truth is why those who wait renew their strength—ever stop to consider that? Is it merely because they…wait? We find it at the start of the passage: “Did you not hear or know that the Lord doesn’t faint or get weary?” When I finally saw this—WHAM!

Our strength can be renewed because his strength never fails.

I realized how I could wait on God through trials completely confident of his onrushing aid.

The visual is easy: if you and a friend are holding candles and yours goes out, you will relight your candle with the one that still burns. Well God’s fire never goes out! There’s no good or logical comparison for God—match-to-Sun?—but you get the picture.

Perhaps you’re waiting on God right now with every ounce of your strength. You’re fainting or have fallen to a knee; your flame has gone out. I want to assure you that your renewed strength is guaranteed and imminent because the One you trust never loses his strength.

Put another way—God’s coming to light your fire!

More on this topic: God of the Process and God, You’re Killing Me!

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How to Make a Mess of Adversity

CC BY-NC, chris-on, Flickr

CC BY-NC, chris-on, Flickr

Life guarantees each of us some heartache. No need to search for it; it will find you. The scriptures add the possibility of God ordering us to pass through trial for the perfecting of our faith. But whether it is life’s distress or God’s higher purpose at work, trouble can be overwhelming at times and bring us to the brink of despair.

A conversation I’ve had with God during these times has often begun—and ended—like this: “Lord, I’m failing this test!” Frustrated, I’ll start praying and then stop because I’m sure God is sick of hearing me about that same ole thing. I know I am.

This usually happens when I’m at my wits end and don’t know my next move, or I feel that I’ve botched something. It springs from a heart that sincerely desires to please the Lord but is near despair because there seems to be no solution to the problem.

Soul Grief

Sometimes it’s relieving to look at our Bible heroes and see that they dealt with the same emotions we face. Consider these words of Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed…about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

Keeping it in perspective, my cares don’t compare to Paul’s active engagements on behalf of the souls in his young churches. Yet we all steer a state of mind that must be held at an even keel, whether we deal with real, urgent risks or matters of play. And Paul pulls the covers back for a moment and shows us a low point, which should encourage us.

‘Saved and on my way to Heaven’ doesn’t exempt one from dealing with the gamut of human emotion. Faith should determine how we deal with our emotions, although we won’t be happy perpetually or sad forever.

God vs. Our Image

Another thing that won’t be perfect is how we handle trouble. This is where I have often erred, especially in those times when I knew God was sending me through the wilderness. It is the crux of my ‘failing’ prayer. Let’s keep reading Paul’s words: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (v. 9).

Interesting: Paul submits that his life-threating ordeals occurred so that his team could fall upon the great strength of God to rescue them.

The Holy Spirit showed me how I stopped relying on his grace to face my cares and opted to confront them in my own strength and pride, attempting to persevere with tidiness and perfect form. The truth is, however, the wilderness kills those who don’t adapt. It’s a place of change. And you don’t get the luxury of looking good in the desert. Instead, God leads us there to get better things in and out of us—and that ain’t ever glamorous.

Trial is not pretty and never perfectly endured. But such a mindset only proves that we are not relying on the grace of God, which is perfect, to carry us, start to finish.

My “I’m failing this test!” prayer only demonstrates that I need to chill out and cease trying to please the Lord and score “A’s.” Instead, God’s tells me, “You already please me, and I’m not disappointed in you. Just learn what I’m trying to teach you.”

That means deal with the variables or the aftermath of the situation with faith and dutiful attention, as you must, but keep your heart open to the lessons the Spirit wants you to grasp.

A Spiritual Learning Curve

There is a spiritual learning curve for each of us, and it comes with some hardship. If it weren’t challenging, we wouldn’t grow and couldn’t achieve mastery. In time, however, we learn that it is challenge and resistance, along with the grace of God, that raise our lives from one state of glory to the next. Paul finishes:

“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” (v. 10).

Paul is suggesting one clear message: the triumph of God’s grace in our adversity. Later, he renders it this way: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (12:9). Did you see it that time?

Friend, lets lay aside those crooked prayers and rest in the mighty grace of God. We’ll gain confidence in his purpose with our pain and ease our troubled minds.

“Thanks” Series—Guest Post by Chris Hendrix

CC BY-NC, @DartmoorGiant, Flickr

CC BY-NC, @DartmoorGiant, Flickr

This post is the second in this week’s “Thanks” series that features quotes on thankfulness given by notable Christians. Chris Hendrix, writer of Devotions By Chris, reflects on the following quote by early American theologian Albert Barnes.

“We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.”

As things in my life went downhill ten years ago, my brother helped me to keep things in perspective. Over the course of a few months, an employee of mine, her husband, and child died in a crash; I got pulled into a legal fight for the remaining child; my wife had an affair while I was distracted by the legal battle; she then left me for the other man; and my business went under and I filed for bankruptcy.

While having a pity party one day, my brother looked me in the eye and said, “Believe it or not, someone else has it worse than you do. You can be thankful you’re not them.” No sooner than his words hit my ear, they pierced my heart. I had been feeling like my life was worse than what Job had experienced; the truth was my life wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

When my thoughts of pity changed, my perspective changed. I quit trying to find others to feel sorry for me and started finding reasons to be thankful. My situation hadn’t changed; in fact, it got worse. Instead, what changed when I decided to become thankful was how I saw myself in the storm I was in and the purpose of the storm.

Not a Victim

Instead of asking “Why me, God?” I began to ask “What am I to learn from this?” Being thankful changed me from being a victim to a student. Even in my darkest hour God had something to show me and was desperately trying to get my attention. I had been stubbornly ignoring his call and living how I wanted to live. I had ignored his gentle warnings and signals to change how I was living; now his attempts at getting my attention grew louder and louder. God wasn’t content to let me live my life my way; he wanted me to live it his way. I’m thankful now that he didn’t leave me in the life I was living.

The theologian Albert Barnes said, “We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning.” In my life I’ve always remembered that someone has it worse than anything I will ever face. I am thankful when I think about that. When times are tough and life isn’t going the way I think it should or I feel I’ve been dealt a bad hand, I no longer pretend I’m the victim. I know now that even when things appear bad or like they can’t get worse, God is there in the storm with me. He hasn’t left me or forsaken me. He’s enduring it with me and wants to use the experience for his glory.

An Attitude of Gratitude

If you’re in the middle of a storm and you feel like things can’t be worse, I challenge you to find something to be thankful for. Are you still breathing? Then you have something to be thankful for. Your life isn’t over. God can rebuild it from the ruins where you are now.

Lose the victim mentality and become a student of what God wants to show you. To change your perspective you have to change your mindset. A changed mindset begins with a thankful heart. Things may not get better right away, but being thankful will give you a purpose in hard times. That purpose, combined with a thankful heart, will pull you through.

Read more by Chris on his blog Devotions By Chris.

The Way of Our Father

CC BY-SA, mariachily, Foter

CC BY-SA, mariachily, Foter

God is not as reticent as we think he is.

I’m learning to pray, Lord, help me not to miss crucial little things about my present life and circumstances that will explain lessons later. I’ve come to realize that God is not insensitive to us when we hurt and beg for answers, yet he answers on his own terms. Moreover, he responds in love and with the wisdom of his precise timing.

Think of a book you once read and didn’t comprehend: perhaps you finished it and more than likely you didn’t. A few years later you decided to read it again, especially since everyone except you seemed to love it. This time, however, you read it and couldn’t get enough of it. You were amazed that you never noticed all that was happening the first time.

God is that way with us. Sometimes we feel he’s not explaining himself too well, but it is his will to share with us about the matters we face.  “Call to me,” he says, “and I will answer you; I will tell you wonderful and marvelous things that you know nothing about” (Jer. 33:3, GNT). Still, some lessons are deeply formative ones to our faith—why something happened, why he didn’t act—and God, perhaps nestled above on the rock, tarries until we’ve climbed to where he’s waiting to speak with us.

Walk with God long enough and you’ll discover that for many lessons he patiently awaits our growth into them. It’s not always that we’re immature or lacking in some way, but rather certain experiences—the ‘crucial little things’—enjoined with our matured faith and his guiding voice cause us to BEHOLD what we never could have understood about his purpose at the time we demanded an explanation of him.

He’s too wise for our own good.

Let’s praise him for taking his time to speak to us about our cares. Let’s endure circumstance and not waste valuable experience. Let’s care to know only what the Father wishes to share because that’s all we’ll need to trust him later. Let’s never forget that what we learn becomes our ministry.

Another post on this topic: Hail the Morning Light