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Posts Tagged ‘trials’

We’re finishing up the second set of requests of the Lord’s prayer today, which have to do with our needs and concerns.

As we’ve seen we need the food, clothing and shelter necessary to sustain us day by day. We also need regular forgiveness and grace to maintain our relationship with God – and as a part of this we also need to give forgiveness and grace to others.

And then today we have before us what I’m calling the testing request; the final petition of the Lord’s prayer. It comes to us in two forms:

  • “And do not lead us into testing” – Luke 11:4
  •  “And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” – Matthew 6:13

Now, these are the same, except for the additional phrase that Matthew has, which is really just saying the same thing in the opposite way (antithetical parallelism). As we’ll see, to not lead us into testing is to deliver us from the evil one, who tests us.

Let’s begin with –

Three clarifications about this request

And first, we deal with a matter of translation. You are no doubt used to hearing this request with the word “temptation” in it, that is, “lead us not into temptation.” So, should it be “temptation” or “testing”?

Well, the Greek word here (πειρασμός) can mean temptation. But more broadly it means a test or trial. The reason I prefer the translation “testing” is that it refers to the whole process of faith testing.

You know how it works – we find ourselves in a difficult situation and then we have to make choices about whether we will be faithful to God or not. And this request doesn’t just refer to the moments of temptation, but to the whole situation of difficulty; the trial we’re going through.

A second clarification, God does allow us to be tested. We wouldn’t need to pray this, if God didn’t. So God may or may not lead us into times of trial, and we ask that he not do this. Here are just a few examples of God’s testing:

  • God tested Abraham. Genesis 22:1 says, “after these things God tested Abraham,” referring to when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac.
  • God tested Israel in the wilderness – Deuteronomy 8:2, specifically with regard to being hungry and relying on God for daily food.
  • And God tested Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry – Matthew 4:1-11.

As Proverbs 17:3 says more generally, “the Lord tests hearts.”

Why does God test us? God wants to know what’s in our heart; whether we will be faithful or not. This is what Deuteronomy 8:2 tells us.

Also Hebrews 12:10 tells us that God tests us – “for our good.” It’s not that we’ve done something wrong, although God can discipline us in this way. It’s that God wants to train us and help us grow in our faith and in our relationship with him.

And as he tests us, God is on our side. He wants us to succeed. And God is with us and helps us by his Spirit when we go through difficulties.

Third, in Matthew’s extra phrase, “deliver us from the evil one” should it be “evil one” referring to Satan or simply “evil/harm”?

 It’s true that tests always involve some kind of difficulty or suffering – so there’ harm to us. Faith testing does involve going through a hard time. The reason I prefer the translation “evil one” is because it’s broader. It includes both ideas. In a test we suffer hardship and the evil one is the instrument of the hardship.

For although God allows us to be tested, it’s actually Satan who tests us. He is called the “tester” – in Mark 1:13. It’s one of his names. And how was Jesus tested in the wilderness? “Jesus was . . . tested by the devil” – Matthew 4:1.

Satan asks to test us and God either allows it or doesn’t.

  • This comes out clearly in Job 1-2 – Satan asked permission to test Job.
  • And In Luke 22:31 Jesus says that “Satan demanded” to test the apostles when Jesus was arrested.

Why does Satan test us? He wants us to fail. He wants us to sin so that he can condemn and judge us (Hebrew 2:14). Peter tells us that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” – 1 Peter 5:8

So faith testing is a high stakes situation. God wants us to succeed and grow, but Satan is ever lurking to destroy us.

What this request means

It’s a bit strange, really. Even though we’re promised in Scripture that we will be tested (1 Thessalonians 3:4; 2 Timothy 3:12; Acts 14:22), and even though God uses testing for our own good, what Jesus is teaching us to pray for here is “spare us  testing!” Spare us trials, spare us suffering, spare us pain. “Father, have mercy!” “Deliver us from the evil one who wants to test us.”

When we understand how this works, we understand that to be delivered from Satan is to be delivered from testing.

So this is what’s going on: Satan comes before God to seek permission to test us. And we pray that God not allow it. “Don’t listen to Satan!” We’re countering his petition to test us.

Why pray this?

1. Because hardships are painful and distressing. And if you’re anything like me you should be highly motivated to pray this request. For, I firmly believe, when we pray this God does hear us and spares us testing that we would have otherwise undergone, if we didn’t pray it. So, unless you just like trials, you should have every incentive to be faithful in praying this request!

2. Because we’re weak and might fail God. This prayer is based in a sober awareness of our weakness and vulnerability to fall. In the context of encouraging his disciples to pray this prayer request just before his arrest, Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38.

Yes, God gives us his Spirit to help us, as Jesus also said to them, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 14:38. But our request comes from humility. So we call out, “Have mercy on us in our weakness.” “God, we might fail the test and bring condemnation on ourselves and dishonor to your name. Spare us!”

Now, God will not always grant this request. He told Jesus no in the garden of Gethsemane and he will tell us no at times also. But even in this situation, we know that we have at least reminded God of our weakness and we can know that God will have mercy on us in the test. He will not allow us to experience the full assault of the evil one that would surely overwhelm and destroy us (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Some final thoughts

1. You can also pray this when you’re in a test, that it might end. So the sense is, “Do not lead us into further testing.” The request is not just preventative. “This test is very hard, God, please let it stop. I’m barely hanging on.” I have prayed this many times. (See Philippians 1:19)

2. The Lord’s prayer is “circular.” We pray to be spared testing – the last request, but also we go back to the first two petitions – Your name be hallowed, Your will be done. The end loops back around to the beginning. “God, if this test honors your name and is your will – may it be so.”

What I’m saying is that sometimes the first two petitions trump the last one, and we’re tested nevertheless.

  • When facing the cross Jesus prayed “remove this cup from me” in Mark 14:36, which is another way of praying “lead me not into testing.” But he also prayed the first petition, “your name be glorified” in John 12:28 looking ahead to the cross.
  • Jesus prayed to be spared in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he also prayed right after this, “yet, not what I want, but what you want” in Mark 14:36, which is another form of the second petition, your will be done.

We ask to be spared, but we submit this request to the first two requests – “your name be honored, your will be done.”

3. This is a corporate request. We pray “don’t lead us into testing,”  not just “me.” As we pray this we’re also praying for fellow believers in our congregation and throughout the world, many of whom are suffering greatly in times of testing – through poor economic conditions and political and religious persecution.

4. We should pray this diligently. We need to understand that we’re in a spiritual battle. Through baptism you declare yourself for the kingdom of God in a war between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of darkness. And so you become a target of Satan’s wrath.

Satan appears before God’s throne to seek to test us; to destroy us. And it’s God’s plan that we come as well and make our counter petition, “spare us.” Satan is not lazy, but persistently seeks our demise. But how often are we more like the disciples in Gethsemane, who don’t know what’s going on, who are not alert in prayer, and we fail.

We need to be diligent in our prayers and in praying this request.

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Our suffering as testing

This morning I want to lay out for you a framework for thinking about and processing emotionally and spiritually what’s going on when we suffer; when we experience distress and pain in our lives. This framework is the scriptural teaching on testing and how it works.

I’m using the word “testing,” but this word (πειρασμός/peirasmos) can also be translated as “trials” or “temptation.” And I’m also working with the idea of God’s “discipline” of his children.

Two things up front. Testing usually involves difficult situations of suffering, although we can also be tested by good times and abundance (Deuteronomy 6:10-12). But we’re focused on suffering.

And second, tests are not just about God disciplining us for our failures, although this does happen (1 Corinthians 11:30-32). But God also disciplines and tests us when we’ve done nothing wrong. Job was tested, but not because of his sin (Job 1:1). Jesus was tested, but was sinless (Matthew 4:1-11; the cross). As I said before, just because we’re suffering doesn’t mean that we’ve done something wrong.

Alright, let’s look at –

The parties involved in testing

1. God allows us to be tested. This is made clear in the Lord’s prayer, where Jesus taught us to pray, “lead us not into testing” (Luke 11:4). If God didn’t lead us into testing, there would be no need to ask him not to do this.

And, of course, there are numerous examples of God testing people in Scripture, as we have seen:

  • God tested Job (Job 1-2
  • God tested Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac, the child of promise (Genesis 22)
  • And God tested the Israelites in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:2)

With regard to Christians in the New Testament:

  • Jesus teaches that each day has “its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34)
  • He said, “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33)
  • We will experience “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2)

Even though God allows us to be tested, it’s important to remember that God allows it for our own good. As Hebrews 12:10 says, “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.” God wants us to grow and become more and more like Christ. God is training us in righteousness, just like an elite athlete is always being pushed by her coaches to get better through working out.

It may be hard for us to understand, but despite God’s great love and compassion for us – and he doesn’t enjoy watching us suffer – God is more concerned about our growth than our comfort, security or even our success in life and ministry. God is giving us his tough love. As Hebrews 12:6 says, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves.”

Now, we think we know what’s good for us, and in our view what’s good equals no suffering. But God knows what’s truly good for us and sometimes it does involve undergoing suffering.

Although God allows us to be tested, 2. It’s actually Satan who tests us through his agents.

One of his names in Scripture is “the tester” (Mark 1:13). This is a part of his function in the order of God, to test and then to punish those who sin (Hebrews 2:14). He seeks permission from God to test us. We see this in Job 1-2 and Jesus tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him and the other disciples like wheat in Luke 22:31. His goal is to cause us to stumble and sin so that he can accuse and punish us (Zechariah 3:1; Revelation 12:10).

So, God wants us to grow, but Satan wants us to be destroyed.

And finally 3. Christians are the ones who undergo testing.

In terms of our humanity two things need to be pointed out. First, there is “the flesh.” This refers to our human weakness. As Jesus said in Gethsemane – “the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). Now, this is not something alien in us; another nature. The flesh is simply who we are apart from God. It refers to our own human desires, longings and fears.

And when we are put under pressure, the flesh makes us vulnerable to give in and take another way than God’s way. (And this is the real source of our test, not God or Satan. Without our weakness we would never be tempted to sin. This is the point of James 1:13-14).

Second, there is our heart. This is the seat of our choice or will. We are not simply our fears and desires. There is more to us than that. And in a test we choose which way we will go.

And also God doesn’t leave us alone. As Christians the Spirit dwells within us and helps us in times of testing. As Jesus said in his greatest time of trial, “the flesh is weak,” but “the Spirit indeed is willing” (Mark 14:38). The Spirit pushes us forward and gives us strength in our times of weakness.

How testing works

 We are put into difficult situations, most of which involve suffering. Here are some examples:

  • When you don’t have enough to eat, will you still trust and obey God? (Exodus 16; Deuteronomy 8:2)
  • When tragedy strikes, will you curse God? (Job)
  • When an opportunity for sexual immorality occurs, will you take it? (Numbers 25; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 10:8)
  • When God asks you to do something that’s very hard, will you sacrifice for him? (Genesis 22)
  • When you face the loss of comfort, reputation or even your life is threatened because of your commitment to Jesus, will you deny him or compromise to avoid this? (Luke 8:13; 1 Peter 4:12)

These difficult situations provoke an inner struggle within us. The trial we are going through puts pressure on us. Our flesh wants us to take the easy way out when God is calling us to take the hard way of righteousness, self-control and self-sacrifice.

Our flesh doesn’t like difficulty and suffering and Satan appeals to this weakness. But the Spirit helps us. The Spirit leads us to do what’s right. So our flesh pulls one way and the Spirit pulls another. As Paul says in Galatians 5:17 – “what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other . . ..”

Which leads us to the point of testing, we have to choose. God wants to know what’s in our heart (Deuteronomy 8:2). And this becomes evident in our actions (Matthew 7:20). Will we trust and obey God when it’s really hard or will we take the easy way out? Will we stay true to God or will we be unfaithful?

Finally –

Some things to remember in times of testing

Our testing and suffering is part of a bigger cosmic struggle; a spiritual battle that is going on in the world. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

So our faithfulness in times of testing and suffering matters not just for ourselves, but for God’s larger purpose in the redemption of his creation. We want God’s kingdom to advance.

Also, we can have joy even in testing and suffering. I will mention this several times as we talk about suffering, because we need to hear it.

First, we can have joy because God is working in us. As James 1:2, 4 says, “count it all joy.” God is working in us that we may be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” And second, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “this slight, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

We can affirm this, by faith, even when we can see no possible way that what we are going through could bring about any good in our lives or in the lives of others. We will not understand or be able to explain all of our suffering. That all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28) is in God’s hands and that may well be beyond what we will ever see or experience in this life. Our joy is based on our faith that God is nevertheless working and his promises are true.

Finally, although we are told that we will be tested in various ways we can pray to be spared testing. Just as Satan comes before God to seek permission to test us, we can come before God and ask, “lead us not into testing, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13). Jesus is encouraging us to seek to be spared. Why aren’t we praying this all the time!

Our reasoning can be articulated in the terms of the first two petitions of the Lord’s prayer. “God we are weak. Have mercy. If we fail you, we will bring dishonor to your name and your kingdom will be thwarted.” So please spare us.

But ultimately these same two petitions trump the last petition to be spared. Jesus prayed to be spared testing in Gethsemane when he prayed, “remove this cup from me” (Mark 14:36).

  • But he also prayed, “Father, glorify your name” in John 12:28, that is the first petition, “hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
  • And he prayed “not what I will but what you will” (Mark 14:36) that is the second petition, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

And like with Jesus, when God does not spare us, we need to move forward focusing on bringing honor to God’s name and doing God’s will in our time of testing and suffering.

 

 

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Series on baptism

Today’s message is about applying things we’ve learned about baptism to our lives when things get really difficult. The title is “Baptisms of suffering: Going through life’s deep waters.”

I would like to begin with a Scripture reading from Psalm 69 (vs. 1-3; 13-17).

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold. I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me. I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness. Deliver me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters. Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant; for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.

In this Psalm we encounter “the waters” once again. In this case they refer to times of chaos, turmoil and evil in David’s personal life circumstances.

We all know, of course, that we will face deep waters throughout our lives. Even though we have passed through the waters of baptism, the waters will continue to confront us.

And they become personified in all kinds of ways in various people and circumstances in our lives. Here in Psalm 69 David’s enemies are the embodiment of the waters. We saw this supremely in Jesus where he calls his suffering and death a baptism or water experience in several places.

We will all continue to have times of suffering, grief, persecution and testing. And along with Jesus we can say that these are additional water baptisms, or baptisms of suffering – where we go through the deep waters of life; where we are inundated by the deep.

Now, my point today is that if our times of suffering are in fact water baptisms, then, I believe, we can learn something from our literal water baptism that can help us get through these additional baptisms of suffering. We can learn something that will help us navigate the deep waters we encounter, so that in David’s words, “the deep does not swallow (us) up.” But rather by God’s grace and power we can pass through to the other side.

So here are two things to remember when the floods come.

1. God is able to defeat the waters

Just as he did in our initial salvation experience – pictured in our water baptism – so he can continue to do so, no matter how they come at us. And we need to remember this.

Who is our God? God is the one who overcomes the deep.

  • Psalm 65:7 speaks of God as the one “who stills the roaring of the seas; the roaring of their waves . . .”
  • Psalm 89:9 says of God, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.”

In the same way, God is able to still the seas for us– the churning, destructive, chaotic, forces of evil in our lives

Who is our God? God is the one who overcomes all the hosts of the waters.

  • Psalm 89:10 says, “You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm” – referring to the creation.
  • Psalm 74:13-14 says – “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters. You crushed the heads of Leviathan; you gave him as food for the creatures of the wilderness” – referring to the parting of the Red Sea.

In the same way God is able to defeat Satan, for us – that ancient serpent, who tests us and seeks to destroy us. As Paul says to the Romans in 16:20, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”

It is an essential defining quality of who our God is, to say that God can defeat the waters and all their hosts.

So, we need not fear the waters! Not because they are not fearful, they truly are, and without God, we are without hope.

No, we need not fear the waters because our God is the Lord even over the deep. As Psalm 93:4 says, “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is mighty!” The waters are mighty, but God is mightier. And so we should look to him in faith and hope as we go through our difficult times.

2. God will bring us through to the other side

Just as he did in our initial salvation experience – portrayed in water baptism – so he can continue to deliver us. We need to remember this as we go through trials in our lives.

  • He might do this by lifting us up over the deep, and then setting us on dry ground, as with Noah
  • Or he might do this by parting the sea so that we can walk though it to the other side, as with Israel

 However God does it, he will not allow us to be swallowed up, but will deliver us and bring us to the other side. Isaiah 43:2-3 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you . . . For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” He will be with us and he will save us.

David testifies to this in Psalm 18:16-19, again from his personal life experiences. “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me . . .”

We don’t know when he will do it, but we have this promise in 1 Peter 5:10 – “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” And this gives us hope, even in our difficult times. God will bring us through to the other side.

Finally . . .

The other side of the deep waters will sometimes be the other side, that is, our death and going to be with Jesus and then the life that is to come in the new creation. And with regard to this, we can have strong confidence and hope that even the deep waters of death must submit to our God. Just as they did for Jesus, so they will for us – because Jesus goes before us and we are following in the path he has made.

  • We look forward to the day when Satan will be fully defeated. As Isaiah 27:1 says, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.”
  • And on that day there will be no more deep. Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.”
  • And on that other shore, as Revelation 21:4 says, there will be no more death and no more tears.

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Our lives can certainly be difficult. I think we can all testify to that. We have our daily stresses and hardships. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (He is talking about securing our food and clothing needs.) So we have it on Jesus’ authority that each day has more than enough problems in it.

On top of this we go through times of intense testing, crises that stretch us to the breaking point. Speaking of this kind of testing, Hebrews 12:11 says, it “always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time.” So we have it on Scriptural authority that testing is indeed painful.

God allows us to go through these things. Now notice, I’m not saying that God causes these things to happen in our lives. We live in a sinful and broken world and bad things happen all the time. But God definitely does allow us to go through them. And these things can weigh us down and wear us out. So I want us to look at four things this morning that will hopefully encourage us and give us strength to carry on.

Know that even in hard times, God loves you

When you’re in a time of testing you can definitely feel forgotten, alone and abandoned. So it’s easy to think that God doesn’t care about you. We ask, “Why would God let me go through this?” But we need to understand that even if God lets us go through tough times, God still deeply loves and cares for us.

We know this first of all because we see that God let his own beloved Son, Jesus, go through difficulties. And we know that God loved Jesus above all. So there is allowance of hardship and love together.

Second, Hebrews 12:5-8 teaches us that God will also let us, his beloved children, go through hardship. Again there is allowance of hardship and love together. Let’s look at these verses. The readers were having hard times for sure, experiencing persecution.

The writer says, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children? “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every child whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as children. For what child is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate and not children.”

In this we see that God allows and uses hardship for the benefit of those he loves. In fact, God’s allowance of hardship actually shows that God loves you and owns you as his own child. You are not abandoned, but loved. God is concerned about you and your well-being.

This leads us to the second thing we should remember –

God can bring something good out of your suffering

Now, this is not something you can share with someone flippantly. When you are going through hard times this isn’t usually what you want to hear. Or even need to hear. It is nevertheless true.

It was true for Jesus. Hebrews 5:8 says, Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered.” And we also learn through our suffering about following God and being righteous.

Scripture talks about this in a number of places:

  • God allows us to be tested “for our own good, in order that we may share his holiness” – Hebrews 12:10.
  • Going through difficult times “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:11.
  • Romans 5:3-4 says, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”
  • Testing “is intended to make you worthy of the Kingdom of God” – 2 Thessalonians 1:5.
  • James 1:3-4 says, “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

God is doing a great work within us as he allows us to be tested and tried.

Romans 8:28 is a familiar verse and it comes from a context of talking about suffering. It says, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Whereas for so many in the world, their suffering seems to be pointless and for no reason, the promise of God to us, his children, is that whatever God allows us to go through he is able to use for our good; and for the good of others. He can bring something good out of it. And we can hold on to this, even if in our trial we can’t possibly see how it is so at the time.

God won’t let you be tested beyond what you can bear

1 Corinthians 10:13 is a great verse. It says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When we are going through hard times, these become a test of our faith. The question is, “Will we remain faithful to God in the midst of it?” What this verse says is that God will not let us get into a situation that we cannot handle in terms of remaining faithful to him.

Satan will try to discourage us, and cause us to give up. But God always provides a way of escape. God will make sure that we have the grace and strength we need to get through it, or that the situation will change.

This is God’s promise to us and we need to remember it when we think that we can’t handle our testing. The fact that God has allowed it, means you can handle it.

You will be blessed if you endure

Let’s look at some Scriptures:

  • Paul said, “let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” – Galatians 6:9.
  • Jesus says to us, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” – Revelation 2:10.
  • As Paul said, “if we endure, we will also reign with him” – 2 Timothy 2:12.
  • James tells us, “Blessed is anyone who endures testing. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him” – James 1:12.

As difficult as our trials are, we can know that the blessings will far outweigh them. As Paul says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” It is more than worth it.

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The literary structure of Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is really powerful; full of intense and honest struggle, but also faith. And I want to hold it up for you as a model for when you are being overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.

As we get started, a few words about –

Psalm 13

It is the shortest prayer for help in the book of Psalms. There are shorter Psalms, but these are not requests to God.

In terms of how it is put together, there are three obvious parts to this psalm.

  • In vs.  1-2 the Psalmist pours out his heart to God.
  • In vs. 3-4 he makes his request
  • And in vs. 5-6 he expresses his faith and hope in God

And each of these sections has the name of God or “Yahweh” in it, indicated in English by the capitalized “LORD.”

We don’t know the specifics of his situation, but it involves enemies and the threat of death. This is a Davidic Psalm (written by him or in honor of/about him) perhaps referring to his time in the wilderness hiding from King Saul, who was trying to kill him. Whatever the case may be he is facing a very serious situation and needs God’s help.

Let’s look at the first section, which is a cry of despair.

1How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?”

There is no indication in these verses that the Psalmist has sinned or has been unfaithful so that his difficulties are the result of this. He is simply in an overwhelming time of testing and trial.

Notice the phrase “How long?” This is used several times in scriptural prayers, but this is the only place where it is repeated four times, and in such a short space. There is an intensity in this prayer in asking this question of God. These questions also show us that it’s OK to ask God questions like this. God can take it. We don’t have to put on a smile, or fake it when we come into God’s presence. After all, he already knows what we are thinking and feeling. We only need be careful that we do this with proper respect for God.

You can feel the raw emotions and the brutal honesty of this prayer as you read these two verses.

  • In relation to God the Psalmist feels abandoned and ignored by God. God has hidden his face, that is it feels like God has turned away and is not looking out for him; he feels that God has forgotten him.
  • In relation to himself he feels greatly distressed within. “Taking counsel in his soul” perhaps has to do with trying to sort out what he should do, since God doesn’t seem to be acting for him; it has to do with anxious worrying. And he has sorrow in his heart.
  • In relation to his problem , his enemy, he feels defeated. His enemy has the upper hand and this means that his life is in danger.

Also notice the time indicators, the “how long?” questions, the word “forever” and the phrase “all the day.” The sense is that he is barely hanging on. He is worn down. He is at the breaking point. The test is so hard that he can’t take it anymore. So if God doesn’t act soon, it will overwhelm him and be too late.

Next we have his request to God.

3Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, 4lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.”

In general, he wants God to consider him or take note of his situation to answer him. He’s saying, ‘God, don’t forget me or hide your face from me.’ He wants God to act to bring him help him in the midst of his difficulty.

Specifically, he wants God to “light up his eyes.” In Scripture to have dim eyes means that you are overwhelmed, weak and weary (Job 17:7; Deuteronomy 34:7). And to have eyes that are lit up has to do with being strong, full of life and vigor (Deuteronomy 34:7; Ezra 9:8; Proverbs 29:13). Even today we can tell how someone is doing by their eyes, right? We can tell whether they are full of energy and life or whether they are worn down and discouraged. You can see it.

So, being worn down by his trials, he is asking God to give him strength, new life, vigor, encouragement and hope.

And he doesn’t just make his request for help, he gives God three reasons to act:

  1. lest he die, because he is in danger of death.
  2. lest his enemy win
  3. lest they rejoice at his downfall

In this situation the Psalmist understands himself to be in the right; he is doing God’s will but is being persecuted by evildoers. And so, yes, he wants to be saved and vindicated, and have his enemies put down. But it is bigger than this. He is appealing to God in all this to act for your Name’s sake. Since he is representing God and the righteous, it’s not good that evildoers think that God doesn’t care about their evil, or about the well-being of his own. He needs to act for his Name’s sake and for the sake of righteousness.

In section one the writer is hanging by a thread. In section two he is asking God to give him strength. And then we have a tremendous change of tone in vs. 5-6 where the Psalmist speaks of his faith and hope.

5But I trust in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. 6I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Two things are going on here:

1) He is given strength to trust in God. God has indeed begun to enlighten his eyes, even as he has been pouring out his heart and asking God for help. (It is healing to pour out our hearts to God.)

 Now, instead of seeing just his outward circumstances and choosing to give up, he sees God’s faithfulness; that is his “steadfast love” or “unfailing love.” This is God’s covenant love or commitment to him and his well-being. So he has his circumstances on the one hand and then God’s character and promises on the other and he chooses God. This  is called faith.

2) He now looks forward to God’s salvation; for deliverance from his trial and testing. We know he is not yet delivered because his salvation and rejoicing is spoken of as a future reality. But he can now move forward in faith and hope that God will save him, since his faith has been renewed.

  • Even though he may still have some “sorrow in (his) my heart,” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when “(his) my heart shall rejoice” – v. 5.
  • Even though his enemies are exalted “over (him) me” – v. 2, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when God will have dealt bountifully “with (him) me” – v. 6.
  • Even though his enemies are “exalted” – v. 2 over him and seek to “rejoice” – v. 4 at his demise, now that his faith has been renewed he can look forward to when he “shall rejoice – v. 6 in God’s salvation.

And this will not just be a minor thing. God will “bountifully” deliver and save him.

Finally, I want you to look at –

Psalm 13 as a model prayer

It is a model for when you find yourself in times of testing and are ready to give up. Follow the threefold pattern we find here:

1. Pour out your heart to God. Be honest with God. Express your emotions to God – about how distant he seems; about how you are in inner turmoil; about how your problem has the upper hand. And ask God questions, What’s going on? Why, God? Or as here, how long?God, I’m barely hanging on.

2. Ask God for strength. God, enlighten my eyes. Give me renewed life, vigor, vitality and encouragement. And tell him why; so you don’t give in and fail in time of trial and thus dishonor his Name; so that others will see and know that God is faithful to his own and upholds righteousness.

And then, 3. Receive renewed trust in God to make it through. Let God work a work in you as you pour out your heart and as you make your request known and as you think of his unfailing love for you and commitment to you.

Receive the strength to choose to trust in God and stand on his character and promises despite your difficult circumstances. And having been renewed, look forward to God’s salvation; deliverance from your trial when you will rejoice and sing praises to God.

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Anytime you are involved in the work of the Lord you can be overcome by fear.

  • Perhaps God speaks to us powerfully or calls us to do something special. This can make us afraid.
  • Perhaps God asks us to do something that is really hard or involves risks. This can make us fearful.
  • Or perhaps we are serving God and are going through trials and hard times. This can cause us to be afraid.

Fear isn’t good. It doesn’t help anything

  • When we are afraid we become reactive so that we make quick, impulsive decisions; we can’t think straight or hear God.
  • When we are afraid our mindset becomes distorted; we just see the problems around us.
  • When we are afraid we just want to retreat or give up.

In short, fear will keep us from doing what God wants us to do.

For all who are feeling fear this morning, God is calling us to faith, which is the opposite of fear. It’s not that there aren’t things to be afraid of, it’s that we are called to trust ourselves into the hands of the one who can lead us through anyway.

And so we have to release our fear into God’s hands, so that we can hear God and what he wants us to do, so that once we have heard from God – we can move forward in faith.

This threefold pattern of releasing fear, hearing from God and acting in faith shows up in three examples from the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. I want us to look at these, and the first one is –

The story of Zechariah: Luke 1:11-20

  • Something happened to him.  v. 11 says, “And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.” Gabriel, was his name (v. 19).
  • And this caused him to be afraid. v. 12 says, “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him.” Surely the presence of the angel could cause anyone to fear and maybe he even thought he was in trouble with God.

And what is the first word given to him from God? 1. “Do not be afraid” – v 13.  You can’t hear God or do what he wants when you are overwhelmed with fear. So step one is to set aside your fear.

What’s next? 2. He listened to what God had to say. Gabriel goes on to say that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son, even though she has been unable to and they are older. And this son will play an important role in God’s plan; he will be a great prophet – John the Baptist.

And once the message is heard, 3. He was to act in faithNow, at this step, Zechariah doesn’t fully measure up. In v. 18 he asks several questions that reveal doubt in his heart. How can they have children? And because of this he is sentenced to not be able to speak until the baby is born.

And so here we have a warning that we should act in faith when God speaks to us, or at least with more faith than Zechariah demonstrates.

Next is –

The story of Mary: Luke 1:26-38

  • Something happened to her. v. 28 – Gabriel (the angel) greeted her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”
  • And this caused her to be afraid.  v. 29 – “She was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” There is an angel, and, given the greeting, it sounds like God is about to ask her to do something special. And so she is afraid.

What is God’s first word to her? 1. “Do not be afraid Mary” – v. 30.

What’s next? 2. She listened to what God had to say. Gabriel told her that she would have a son, even though she was a virgin. And that her child is the promised Messiah.

Once the message is heard, 3. She acted in faith.

Interestingly, in v. 34 she also asks questions, about a virgin birth. But these did not come from doubt. And her faith rings out loud and clear in v. 38 – “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

The final example is –

 

The story of the shepherds: Luke 2:8-20

  • Something happened to them. v. 9 says “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shown around them”
  • And this caused them to be afraid. v. 9 says, “And they were filled with fear.” What’s going on? What does God want from us?

And what is the first thing that the angels said to them? 1. “Fear not” – v. 10.

And then, 2. They listened to what God had to say. The messiah has been born and they are to go and see him; to be witnesses of this amazing event.

3. They acted in faith. 16 – “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.”

What about us?

  • Well, sometimes things happen to us, hardships and trials.
  • And like in all these examples, our temptation is to be afraid.

But what do you think God’s first word to us is? 1. Do not be afraid. Don’t let fear and anxiety overwhelm us so that we can’t hear God, so that all we see are the problems, so that we just want to give up.

We must release our fear to God and choose to trust God, knowing that whatever happens he will take care of us. Yes, we don’t have all the answers, we don’t know the future and there might be a basis for fear and concern. But despite all this, we choose to trust and to put ourselves in a place to be able to hear from God and then move forward with whatever he says.

And 2. We need to listen to what God wants to say. This involves praying and listening to God. It involves seeking wisdom for what God wants to say to your situation. What does he want for you? What is the path forward?

3. Then we must move forward in faith. Move forward based on what you hear God saying, with trust and boldness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We have just come through the holiday season of “thanksgiving” and so I would like for us to think about giving thanks to God this morning. And specifically, giving thanks when we are suffering. We all know various ones who are going through hard times and perhaps we ourselves are. My goal today is to encourage us to give thanks to God, even in our difficult times.

Too often, I believe, our thanksgiving is based on our circumstances and our feelings about those circumstances. And so, if things are good we are thankful; but if things are bad, we are quiet, or worse – we complain or curse. This ought not be so sisters and brothers. For –

Scripture teaches us to give thanks in all circumstances

As Paul the apostle says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” And David said in Psalm 34:1 – “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

And we have many –

Scriptural examples of giving thanks in hard times

Let’s look at three this morning. The first is Habakkuk in Habakkuk 3.

What are his circumstances? Well, God has brought judgment on the nation of Judah. The Babylonians have come and have wreaked havoc and destruction. And they have carried off the rest of the people into exile. God had sent them to judge Judah, but they had gone way beyond what was necessary.

As the prophet surveys all that has happened, amazingly, he still rejoices in the Lord. v 17-18 – “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”

His rejoicing is definitely not based on his circumstances or his feelings.

Then we have the example of David in Psalm 57. 

What are his circumstances? His life is in danger. The superscription to the Psalm says that it is about when David fled and was hiding from king Saul in the cave.

Listen to his prayer in vs. 1-2 – “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”

vs. 4, 6 – poetically describe his trouble -“My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts – the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords. . .. They set a net for my steps; my soul was bowed down. They dug a pit in my way . . ..”

But even with his dire situation, he gives thanks to God. In both vs. 5, 11 he says, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!”

And finally we have the example of Paul in Philippians 1.

What are his circumstances? He is in jail for preaching the gospel. And even in jail some of his adversaries are trying to take advantage of his this to promote their influence at Paul’s expense.

But Paul rejoices. v. 18 – “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.”

His rejoicing comes in spite of his circumstances and his feelings.

What about us this morning? Can we be like Paul, David and Habakkuk?  Let’s look at –

Why we can give thanks in all circumstances

We can give thanks 1. Because of who God is. Apart from anything that God does, God is worthy of praise. God is glorious and awesome. God’s character and power are beyond anything we know. And so we should praise him for who he is.

Psalm 106:1 praises God’s character, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

Whether things are good for us, or not – whatever our circumstances – God is still God, and is worthy of our praise.

We can give thanks 2. Because of what God has done. Even in times of trial, we can count our blessings and see what God has done.

James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father . . ..” We should give thanks for life and breath itself, for all the gifts that God has given us, for family – and on and on. Whatever good thing you are or have is from God.

And so despite whatever else may be going on, we can give thanks for God’s blessing to us.

We can give thanks 3. Because in God we have hope and a future. God allows us to go through hard times. Sometime really, really hard times. This is a fact. But whatever happens to us in this life, we have a hope for something better. This life is not all that there is. In fact, we are to live for the life that is to come, not this one.

In 1 Peter 1:6 Peter tells his readers that “now for a little while . . . you have been grieved by various trials.” Just before this he said, “in this you rejoice.” Why do they rejoice in their trials? It’s because of what he had just mentioned in vs. 4-5. They have “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven . . . a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

This hope puts things in perspective for us as Christians. Yes, we will go through difficult times. But we will be blessed in the world to come.

We can give thanks 4. Because God can use difficulties to bless us. God is able to bring good out of pain, suffering and tears. This doesn’t mean that God causes the pain, only that God is greater than whatever harm befalls us.

Paul makes this point in Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God is able to work in and through all that happens to us to bring some good to us. God cares for us in this way in the midst of our difficulties.

We can give thanks 5. Because God gives us the strength to do so. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” and so when we suffer we easily give in to despair and want to give up. But as Jesus goes on to say, “the Spirit is willing” (Mark 14:38). The Spirit can strengthen us to give thanks in our difficult times.

In Habakkuk 3:19, after rejoicing in difficulties, the prophet says, “God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” It is the Lord who enables us to rejoice in hard times.

So for all of these reasons –

We can give thanks this morning as a congregation

1. Because God is awesome

2. Because God has blessed this congregation is so many ways

3. Because in God we each have hope and a future no matter what we go through

4. Because God can use these hard times to work good in our lives

5. Because God gives us the strength to do so

May he strengthen us even this week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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