Paul was well aware of what he could and couldn’t do. He knew his missionary work was far beyond his natural strength, so he relied heavily on the power of the Holy Spirit within him.
It’s the same with us. Only when we stop struggling and surrender to God can we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. When we become a conduit for the Spirit’s power, God helps us do impossible things, like give thanks even when we’re hurting.
Humanly speaking, you may not see anything you can be grateful for right now. Your circumstances are miserable, and you’re desperately praying they will change. God hears you. In a very real sense, though, you are focusing on the bigness of your circumstances and not on the bigness of God. God is all-powerful. He may allow your situation to continue, but know this: God is in control, not your circumstances.
I tell you this not by theory but by my own painful past. When I was unemployed for 18 months, it didn’t seem God was in control. When important relationships fell apart, I couldn’t understand. When my father died in 1995, I felt lost.
I had cancer in 1976. I was 25 years old and could not give thanks. In 2011 when I had cancer again, I was able to give thanks to God, not for the cancer, of course, but for his steady, loving hand through it all. The difference was that I was able to look back and see that no matter what happened to me in the past, God was with me and he brought me through it.
As you give yourself to God, he will help you through this hard time you are in now. One of God’s goals for you is to make you totally dependent on him. The more you depend on him and sense his support, the more you will want to give thanks.
If there’s one thing Satan hates, it’s when believers trust God. Satan encourages us to trust our emotions instead. He wants us to put our faith infear, worry, depression, and doubt.
Jesus Christ encountered this many times in his owndisciples. He told them not to be afraid but to believe. Negative emotions are so strong that they skew our judgment. We forget it is God who is reliable, not our feelings.
That’s why, when you’re hurting, it’s wise to read the Bible. You may not feel like it. It may be the last thing you want to do, and it’s the last thing Satan wants you to do, but again, there’s an important reason to. It brings your focus away from your emotions and back onto God.
When you’re going through trouble, Satan wants you to blame God. In the middle of Job’sworst trials, even his wife said to him, “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9, NIV) Later, Job showed extraordinary faith when he promised, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;” (Job 13:15a, NIV)
Your hope is in God in this life and the next. Never forget that.
Doing What We Don’t Want to Do
Giving thanks when you’re hurting is another one of those tasks we don’t want to do, like dieting or going to the dentist, but it’s immensely more important because it brings you intoGod’s will for you. Obeying God is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile.
We seldom grow more intimate with God during good times. Pain has a way of drawing us close to him, making God so real we feel we can reach out and touch him.
You don’t have to give thanks for the thing afflicting you, but you can be grateful for God’s faithful presence. When you approach it that way, you’ll find that thanking God when you’re hurting does make perfect sense.
Jack Zavada, a career writer and contributor for About.com, is host to a Christian website for singles. Never married, Jack feels that the hard-won lessons he has learned may help other Christian singles make sense of their lives. His articles and ebooks offer great hope and encouragement. To contact him or for more information, visit Jack’s Bio Page.
We are heading into the best time of the year – the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. I just love being with family and friends … enjoying great food, great fellowship, and great football (Go Longhorns!).
As we enter Thanksgiving, we tend to focus on our blessings and giving thanks for God’s goodness. While that is certainly a good thing, it is not the best thing. The best thing is to turn Thanksgiving into Thanks-living. Regardless of the day or the situation, God wants us to be thankful. Why is that?
1. Thanks-living lets God know you have confidence in Him, no matter how deep the problems or how dire the circumstances. Thanks is faith turned inside out.
2. Thanks-living changes your countenance and disposition. Instead of being down and discouraged, spreading gloom and despair everywhere you go, you begin to radiate the joy of the Lord. The best witnesses for Christ are those who are facing life’s trials with a song of thanksgiving on their lips.
3. Thanks-living opens the door for God to work. God hates it when we grumble and gripe … but He loves it when we praise and give thanks. As we begin to live a life of thankfulness to God, He begins to work, even through the toughest trials and tests of faith. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison … and they sang a hymn of praise to the Lord. And when they finished singing, the Lord sent a jailhouse rock, and the prison doors were opened. You mark it down: God does miracles on our behalf when we choose to thank Him and praise Him, even in the deepest, darkest pit.
Let me challenge you as I challenge myself. Discipline yourself to give thanks in everything. Thank Him for the mountains … and thank Him for the valleys. He is worthy of all your thanks and praise.
A Prayer You May Need to Pray
Dear God, I hate to say it, but I have been guilty of grumbling and griping about all my problems and trials. I have failed to be thankful and to remember that You are at work in my life, even through all the troubles. Please forgive me, God. I want to be a person who keeps my eyes on You and praises You, no matter what may come my way. So, thank you God for these blessings (name them) and these challenges (name them). I know You are in control of all things. I know You love me and work all things together for my good. I choose to trust You, Lord. Teach me to be a “praiser” who always finds the good … and not a complainer who always finds the bad. In Jesus’ name, amen.
P.S. Would you let us join you in prayer? Leave your prayer request on ourPrayerWorks link and allow people from all over the world to pray for you. You can also receive an email alert when someone does pray for you … and it is completely anonymous. Thanks for letting us be a blessing to you.
Jeff Schreve is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Texarkana, Texas. He and his wife Debbie have been married for over 20 years and are blessed with three wonderful girls. Jeff began From His Heart Ministries, a radio and television ministry, in January of 2005. This ministry is completely listener/viewer supported. It continues only through the faithful and generous gifts of people like you. Pastor Jeff takes no salary from this ministry. All gifts go to further the broadcast.
Are you worried about a specific relationship or circumstance? This index, derived from Rx for Worryby James P. Gills, M.D., lists some key Bible verses you can use to battle worry and fear. These verses are God‘s promises that He is with us and will be our support and strength. Read them. Believe them. Let His Word become the foundation in your struggles!
Are you worried, anxious, afraid, or troubled? God will give you peace.
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. … He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. —Psalm 18:6, 19
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.—Psalm 46:1-2
When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? —Psalm 56:3-4
You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. —Isaiah 26:3
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.—John 14:1, 27
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.—John 16:33
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 your minds in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 4:6-7
Are you worried about the future? God will guide you.
He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.—Psalm 25:9
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. —Psalm 32:8
If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.—Psalm 37:23-24
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.—Proverbs 3:5-6
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. —Proverbs 16:3
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. —Isaiah 41:10
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”—Jeremiah 29:11
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.—James 1:5
Are you afraid of feeling alone? God will never leave you.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.—Deuteronomy 31:6
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. —saiah 58:9
The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.—Zephaniah 3:17
I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.—John 14:18
Are you worried no one loves you? God loves you. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.—John 3:16
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:38-39
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. —1 John 3:16
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. —1 John 4:10
Are you worried that God could never forgive your sins? God’s salvation overcomes all sins and guilt.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. —Psalm 103:12
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9
Do you feel depressed? God will comfort you.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. —Psalm 34:18
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. —Psalm 42:11
Are you worried because you face opposition? God is with you.
If God is for us, who can be against us? —Romans 8:31
Are you worried about physical needs? God will provide.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.—Matthew 6:25-34
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!—Matthew 7:11
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. —Luke 12:6-7
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? —Romans 8:32
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.—2 Corinthians 9:8
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Do you worry about your safety? God will protect you.
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. —Psalm 4:8
The Lord will keep you from all harm-he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.—Psalm 121:7-8
Do you worry so much that you can’t sleep? God will ease your fears.
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. —Psalm 3:5
I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. -Psalm 4:8
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. —Proverbs 3:24
Are you worried about your appearance? God looks at your heart.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” —1 Samuel 16:7
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. —Ecclesiastes 3:11
Are you worried about your health? God will give you strength.
A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. —Psalm 34:19
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.—Isaiah 58:11
“But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,” declares the Lord, “because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no one cares.”—Jeremiah 30:17
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. —James 5:14-15
Are you worried about getting old? God will stay with you.
The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.—Psalm 92:12-14
Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. —Isaiah 46:4
Are you worried about dying? God offers eternal life.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.—Psalm 23:4
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.—John 3:16
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. —John 10:28
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” . . . Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. —1 Corinthians 15:55, 57
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil-and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. —Hebrews 2:14-15
Now on this Sunday night before Thanksgiving Day… take your Bible and turn to the book of Thanksgiving and Praise. And of course… that would be the book of Psalms!
Once there… head straight to the 103rd Psalm. Now as you’re finding Psalm 103… let me tell you that the Hebrew word translated “Psalms” comes from the Hebrew word “Hallelujah” which means “praise the Lord.”
So… when somebody says, “Hallelujah”.. what are they saying? They are saying, “Praise the Lord!” And by the way… this word “hallelujah” cuts across the language barrier. It translates the same in every language!
Well… that’s what the book of Psalms is all about: Praising the Lord Jesus Christ! Do you know what that means to us? It means that if we are going to learn how to worship God in Spirit and in Truth… that we’ve got to invest some time in the book of Worship and Praise: the book of Psalms.
Think of the book of Psalms as God’s introduction to Worship: 101! And most of us need to enroll! I don’t believe there is a better time of the year to enroll than during the Thanksgiving Season.
Now I can hear some negative naysayer tonight saying, “Now Pastor, I know it’s Thanksgiving week and all… but I don’t have any reason to give thanks. My life is a disaster waiting to happen.”
Well… I want to say to you tonight that if you don’t have much to be thankful for… why not be thankful for some things you don’t have?
I mean… if you cannot muster up any thanks for what you do have… muster up some thanks for what you don’t have.
There is always something to be thankful for. You say, “Thankful? I cannot even pay my bills.” All right then… you can be thankful that you are not one of your creditors! You see… there is always something to be thankful for! Amen?
Now in our time together tonight… from Psalm 103… we read about The Soul Music of Thanksgiving! Psalm 103 is a psalm of praise to God that begins deep within the soul! That’s why I call it Soul Music!
Now let me say that this kind of Soul Music is not for everybody! This kind of Soul Music has nothing to do with the color of your skin… it has everything to do with the condition of your soul.
This kind of Soul Music comes from the saved soul! And the saved soul is the soul that’s been saved by the blood of the Lamb!
Now once you have a saved soul… you can sing this Soul Music of Thanksgiving every day! You say, “But what about those times of disaster and difficulty? Can I make music then? Can I give thanks to God then?”
Especially then! It is Soul Music that gets you through those times of disaster and difficulty.
Paul says in 1 Thess 5.18, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Do you remember Paul and Silas when they were in prison. The Bible says that around midnight that they …
Police officers are required to qualify with their service weapons on a regular basis. At our agency, we qualify every month, shooting a standard qualification course in our range. This qualification includes what we call a “failure drill”, testing our accuracy under stressful conditions. When officers use their weapons in the field, it’s in response to a life threatening challenge; their lives are on the line. Accuracy is critical. It’s not enough to shoot at the person who is trying to kill you; officers must be accurate enough to stop the assailant quickly and completely. There’s no room for error. It’s not enough to have tried; in that critical moment, the only thing that matters is accuracy. For this reason, our range masters will not allow officers to work in the field unless they can pass the weapon qualification at a high level. I’ve been in the range when an officer missed passing by a single point (a single missed round). Many have tried to talk their way out of having to practice and take the test again. Many were sincere in their efforts and missed passing by the smallest of margins. Our range masters are unflinching, however. If you don’t pass, even by a single misplaced round on the target, you can expect to start all over again. Our range masters know: When your life’s on the line, accuracy ends up being the most important attribute an officer can have.
It’s no different when it comes to our spiritual lives.
Many of my friends are not Christians. I was not raised in a Christian environment and most of my extended family members are either atheists or Mormons. I also have many friends who claim one version of theism or another, and most of these have developed a rather personal view of God, unrepresented by traditional religious systems or denominations. Our notions of God are different and contradictory. We define the nature of god, the nature of Jesus, the nature of the afterlife and the nature of salvation very differently. These contradictions between theistic worldviews present a dilemma. We can all be wrong about what we believe, but we can’t all be right; our views are contradictory, after all. None of us may have an accurate understanding or one of us may have an accurate understanding, but all of us can’t be accurate, given our conflicting beliefs about God.
In the context of our earthly conversations and interactions it’s tempting to simply tolerate the variety of beliefs we encounter in order to get along with one another, as though these beliefs are simply a matter of subjective opinion. This may be the correct approach when the subject matter under consideration is relatively benign. If we’re discussing our music preferences, for example, accuracyis an irrelevant concept. If the subject matter under consideration is a matter of life and death, however (like our preference in treating a particular form of cancer), accuracy is once again critical. I’m reminded of a friend who once purchased a new telescope in preparation for an historic appearance of Mars in the northern hemisphere. There was a particular Wednesday when Mars was going to be closer to earth than it had been (or would be again) for another 550 years. On that specific Wednesday night, he set up his new telescope but discovered he couldn’t see Mars much better than he could a month prior with his old telescope. Why? Because he was wrong about the date of the sighting and missed it by exactly one year! He made a sincere effort to see the red planet, but was sincerely wrong about the timing. His inaccuracy cost him the opportunity he was seeking.
Spiritual accuracy is even more important. Jesus understood the importance of accuracy and repeatedly called his followers to precision when it came to understanding his identity and the specific nature of Salvation:
John 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”
John 14:9 “He who has seen Me has seen the Father…”
John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me”
John 8:24 “For unless you believe that I am He, you shall die in your sins”
The followers of Jesus understood the importance of accuracy in these matters. Peter recalled the words of Jesus many years later:
Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved”
And Paul agreed:
I Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”
Genuine beliefs and sincere efforts may be sufficient in many areas of life, but when your life is on the line, accuracy is even more important. That’s why I eventually decided to examine the claims of the New Testament for accuracy and reliability. That’s also what drove me to start the investigation I’ve chronicled in Cold CaseChristianity. I took C. S Lewis’ words seriously (from God in the Dock) when he wrote:
“Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
Christianity is of infinite importance because, if it is true, it is the one accurate description of our world, the God who created it and His plan for Eternal Life.
Not long ago, a friend of mine made a major decision that eventually led to the breakup of his family. I spoke with the friend about the wrong thinking that was controlling his actions. His reply was the common Christian retort: “Well, I’ve prayed, and I have peace about it.”
I was shocked by his response. I could not see how a mature believer could claim, that as an answer to prayers for wisdom needed in a tough situation, the Lord had supplied “peace” toward a course of action that was in contradiction to the Scriptures.
The Lord intends for believers to enjoy peace in many areas. Christ, through his death and resurrection, removes God’s enmity with us—we have peace with God (Rom. 5:1). In Christ, the Lord destroyed barriers that limited fellowship between Jew and Gentiles—he provided peace—making believers of every race “one new man” in Christ (Eph. 2:14-15). Christ desires believers to minimize conflicts within a local assembly, sharing in one mind about the ministry—working together in peace (Phil. 4:2).
Also, our Lord offers to provide supernatural relief from anxieties to those who seek him in prayer: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7). But this promise is often wrongly used as a way to feel a sense of “peace” about what one has determined for himself to be the will of God.
Is it just me, or is it rare to meet believers who claim to have peace about decisions that would lead to enduring pain? Even fewer people seem to have peace about serving a poorly resourced ministry, or sharing one’s faith boldly at risk of social ostracism. I have served young adults who claimed “peace” about moving in with their parents when they are experiencing financial hardship. However, they do not have peace about getting a better job to offset the family’s budget expansion created by their return.
It would be a precious thing to meet the church leader, who, when asked to step down from leading, will return and say, “I have prayed, and I have peace about it. If someone else would be a better leader, then I will step down.” Instead, many tend to appeal to having peace about stepping down only when ministry hits a rough spot, and when leaving will insert a harmful discontinuity to the church. Could it be that the “peace” we claim from on the basis of Philippians 4:7 is merely us settling on the desires that are most agreeable with us?
We impose the notion of “God’s peace” on these desires (even when they contradict Scripture) because they will lead to the absence of pain. God’s will, in contrast, tends to involve harder paths that demand suffering and endurance.
I once asked a married couple to consider serving in the ministry to children. Within two days they returned to me with the “we-prayed-we-have-peace” mantra. When I explored their reasoning, they could not explain how they came to have such peace. They had the time, gifts, and abilities to serve. Ministry to the children, however, involved great sacrifice and yielded little prestige. Sadly, when asked by another person to serve in a position of church governance, this couple had peace, noting, “God would want us to lead others.” Aren’t children “others?”
Pastorally, allow me to recommend three ways to avoid confusion between our own desired outcomes and the will of God:
First, we should run our thoughts past the spiritual leaders responsible for our souls (cf. 1 Thess. 5:12; Heb. 13:17). Those who are faithful in their stewardship of shepherding are able to bring a perspective we have not considered because the thought of pain hinders us. Godly shepherds, elders, teachers, and parents have a responsibility to speak into our lives everything that is right.
Second, related to the first, we should seek out the voices of mature friends rather than either of the voices of immature friends or unbelievers whose lives seem to be fairing better than ours. When a marriage struggles with intimacy, it is easy to envy the friend who left his marriage and appears to be happy in an adulterous relationship. This type of friend cannot be a measure for determining the will of God, because he is living in sin. Rather, the Christian friend enduring a less-than-perfect-marriage with joy is the one you should seek. We should go to such friends and share the depth of our suffering so that they can walk with us through our trials.
Third, remind yourself that whenever we are in pain, we want to be free from pain, and that desire affects how we “hear” the voice of God. Some of the essential things needed for the free-from-anxiety-peace of Philippians 4:7 are truthfulness, and the abilities to both commend the decision to others and offer praise to the Lord for the decision: “Whatever is true… whatever is commendable… if there is anything worthy of praise… and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). If we do not hold our decisions to these standards, we are not being honest about having peace.
Our Lord Jesus, with a full understanding of the wrath facing him at the Cross, came to a settled decision in prayer: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:42). By embracing suffering rather than letting it be the missing piece in determining God’s will, he was able to provide us the peace we need to endure our trials as the will of God.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:19
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is an invitation to a wonderful life. It includes the dichotomy that Jesus talks about where sometimes he says it’s an “easy yoke,” and then other times he says it’s a “narrow, difficult road.” Which is it? Easy or difficult?
The best way to illustrate the answer may be this story about a young man that I knew years ago. He worked at Blockbuster. A brilliant guy, he got the best scores you could possibly get on the SAT and ACT tests. So, he decided to go for it. He applied to Harvard and he got in on a full-ride scholarship! This guy working at Blockbuster had an opportunity to go to one of the most prestigious universities in the world…but he turned them down. Why didn’t he go?
The unlimited video rentals? I hope not. I imagine thinking about competing with the other Harvard students was scary. Maybe he had low self-esteem, or the effort seemed daunting. So, he didn’t go and continued to work at Blockbuster. When I left Tulsa, that was the last time I ever saw him. That Blockbuster, by the way, is now out of business. I wonder what he’s doing today.
When you look at the Sermon on the Mount and you think, “This life is too hard for me; I can’t live that way,” you are like this young man at Blockbuster who didn’t take his free ride to Harvard. Yes, when living a Sermon-on-the-Mount life, you’re going to be challenged. But, imagine how different, how rich, how full, how flourishing your life will be if you do.
Prayer: Dear Lord, I must admit, there have been times when I believed that life was hard, sometimes too hard to want to go on. Nevertheless, as I have continued to seek your presence and wisdom, my life becomes richer, fuller, and more wonderful with each passing day. Amen.
Reflection: Have you ever believed life was too hard to go on? What did the Lord do to help change your mind?
The Bible says in 2 Peter 1:3 that as we grow in our knowledge of God, through his divine power he gives us everything we need for life and godliness. Jesus relied on the Word of God alone to overcome obstacles, including the devil. God’s Word is alive and powerful (Hebrews 4:12), useful for correcting us when we are wrong and teaching us what is right (2 Timothy 3:16). So, it makes sense for us to carry God’s Word in our hearts through memorization, to be ready to face any problem, every difficulty, and whatsoever challenge that life can send our way.
Faith Building Bible Verses
Presented here are a number of problems, difficulties and challenges that we face in life, along with corresponding answers from God’s Word:
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 your minds in Christ Jesus.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Matthew 5:4 (NIV)
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)
No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:39 (NIV)
I will turn their mourning into joy and will comfort them and give them joy for their sorrow.
Jeremiah 31:13 (NASB)
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!
1 John 3:1 (NLT)
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
Where do you go for comfort when the rug is pulled out from under your feet? I am talking about those surprising events in life where you wake up on a regular day and then you get surprised with something serious. Perhaps even something tragic.
In the last year or so I personally have seen a significant uptick in these types of surprises. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. More likely it is because I live in a broken world and this happens. I have found myself hunkering down in two particular passages of the Bible. They are conveniently located right next to one another, Revelation 4 & 5.
In chapter 4 we read of God the Father enthroned receiving the worship due him by his creation. The exclamation is that God is infinitely holy, eternal, forever worthy of worship. The exclamation is not limited to voices either. We read of this in verses 5 & 6:
5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, 6 and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
With rumblings and flashes of fire and light reminiscent of Sinai (Ex. 19.16) this reminds us that God is the law-giver and judge. He overlooks and sees everything on earth. There is nothing that escapes his notice and nothing that will not ultimately intersect with him and his sovereign plan. The Creator sees and sustains this world. He knows. This truth, combined with the thundering chorus of worship, causes me to smile and be reassured amid the uncertainty of this world.
When surprises happen to me the record doesn’t skip in heaven; the bass is still bumping at the infinite decibels.
In chapter 5 we read of another scene. In this one there is a scroll in the hand of the one on the throne. According to chapter 4 this is the Father. He has this scroll which is overflowing with content and sealed. What is this scroll about? Based upon what we see in chapters 6 and following, I would understand this scroll to be the impending judgment of all that opposes God and the final restoration of things. With the opening of this scroll the process whereby the planet is purged of its wickedness and Kingdom of Christ comes in all of its fullness.
If we read chapter 5 we see that there is a slight problem. The angel searches for one who is worthy to open the scroll and declares that there is no one. None in heaven or under heaven that can do this. This grips John and shreds his heart (Rv. 5:4), as he begins crying. Why is he crying? Well, if the scroll cannot be opened then this is the end. No kingdom, no restoration, no hope, no anything. We as Christians are of all people the most to be pitied.
This is not the end. There is one who is worthy; it is Christ! He is the one who has conquered and is worthy to crack the seals and execute its contents!
Christ was slain for our sins, conquered the grave, and is enthonred in heaven. He is willing and able to open the scroll and execute its contents!
When it seems like I am surprised by life’s events I have to remember that there is a King and a Kingdom. He is able to bring it to pass. Christ Jesus is alive and eagerly anticipating his Second Coming. He will bring judgment, salvation and restoration. It is certain.
When we are surprised we need to remember that the record doesn’t skip in heaven! Christ remains enveloped in an incense cloud of his own merit with the praise of angels and saints surrounding him!
At the core I get unsettled because I feel like John, “Oh no! What now? What are we going to do?” The answer is the glory of God in the face of Christ. Read Revelation 4 & 5. Peer into this heavenly portal and see: God reigns. This is good for my soul. Now the heavenly soundtrack is playing in my soul again.
I remember taking eye exams as a child and being quite proud that I could stand back twenty feet from the sign with all the random letters and read each one. I’ve had 20/20 vision for as long as I can remember. I’ve never worn glasses—never needed to.
Lately my perfect eye sight isn’t so perfect. The revelation that my eye sight isn’t up to par came one night as I was attempting to drive in the rain. It wasn’t a downpour, it was a normal rainfall, yet I found myself squinting to see the white lines and everything looked like a bright reflection. Reflection of what, I don’t know, but I knew I couldn’t see. Then later I realized I couldn’t read signs that were far away. I finally accepted that I no longer have 20/20 vision and needed to go to see an eye doctor.
As I’ve continued to walk with the Lord I have also had seasons of blurred vision. When we first become a Christian the future seems bright, everything is exciting, and there may even be freedom from past sin. But then the reality of the Christian walk sets in. We battle with sin, trials come, dry seasons leave us parched for the Lord and we realize what once bright and clear and wonderful has become confusing and difficult. We are in a torrential downpour and unable to see through to the other side. Our vision of God gets distorted and we can become discouraged.
Because of our inability to see the future and our temptation to forget the Lord we need endurance for the race set before us. I imagine the writer of Hebrews knew our tendency to forget God’s grace and purposes as we run the race of faith. Running a road race requires significant endurance. Each time I run a 5K I am well aware that I have to complete approximately 3.2 miles. At the starting line my mind is clear and my vision for the finish line seems secure. But around mile two I’m ready to quit. Surely we are finished I think to myself.
That is why Hebrews reminds us to run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). The Christian walk requires endurance because we battle along the way. We aren’t promised to have an easy race ahead of us and we need 20/20 vision to understand God’s good grace to endure.
Here are just three reasons we need endurance:
1) To fight against sin: Our battle with sin requires endurance. Paul explains that we have not arrived at perfection upon conversion. Though we want to do good evil is right there beside us (Romans 7:15-20). And as Christians we hate this. We don’t want to sin because we know it’s against the God we love. We battle our flesh as we wait for the day when we will be freed from this earthly battle that clings so closely to us. Our battle with sin can tempt us to discouragement or even condemnation. But we know that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). We can run this race with endurance battling sin along the way knowing that one day we will be united with Christ, glorified (Colossians 3:4). And we wait knowing that he will finish the good work he began (Philippians 1:6). We wait resting not in our good works but in His finished work on the cross.
2) To endure trials: Trials will come. God warns us not to be surprised when the fiery trail comes (1 Peter 4:12). God tells us that trials test our faith and ultimately are for our good (James 1: 2-18). Trials aren’t beyond the sovereign plan of the Lord. He gives and he takes away (Job 1:21). He also gives grace through trials. Trials are difficult, Jesus knows and endured trials and death on our behalf. He was tempted in every way but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). It is Jesus who gives us the grace to endure the trials of the Christian walk. He will give us the grace to wait patiently through our blurred vision as we might not see all of God’s purposes in them. But future grace awaits.
3) To experience discipline: There are times in our walk when we experience the consequence of sin. Those are definite times of discipline that we must endure in. But it is not only consequences of our actions that we experience as discipline. There may be hardship or reproof from the Lord as well. Whatever the case, we know that God is treating us as children—as his sons (Hebrews 12:8). The writer of Hebrews doesn’t make light of our hesitance towards receiving discipline. He understands that “for the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but there is a great encouragement for us to endure until the end. All discipline seems painful but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (12:11).
Enduring Until the End
So how do we respond when our vision gets blurry? We look to Jesus who is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). We look to the One seated at the right hand of the throne of God. We aren’t running this race alone. Jesus is cheering us on—but not on the sidelines—He is right in the middle of the race with us interceding each step of the way.
Run the race with full assurance of faith knowing that the prize has already been won through Jesus. Our sight is blurred now but soon we will see clearly. Soon our faith will become sight.