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Courage and Waiting

June 7th, 2018

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
all you who wait for the LORD. (Psalm 31:24 ESV)

“Be firm,” says the Lord, not weak or vacillating, but steady, consistent, and reliable. “Let your inner person be bold!” Do not despair or turn away in your mind from what God has given you to do.  Expect oppositions, but power through those shadows in the reality of God.

The key ingredients this verse teaches us are this blend in our minds of courage and waiting, or of boldness and faith. Surely faith comes first, and waiting upon the Lord in hope is an expression of faith.  We may wait without hope, and, in fact, we often do. I have known some to say, “I’m waiting for God to do such-and-such,” yet there is only resignation and not expectation. They feel that life and hope and God have passed them by, but they are aware enough of reality to know that only God can change their lives, though they do not expect Him to. If there is no hope in our hearts, no expectation of God’s coming and moving, then there is no faith.

True faith always has this element of courage about it. It is the courage to get back up in faith after life has knocked you down. It is the courage to believe in God’s goodness despite man’s betrayals, even to the point to bless those who cursed you (Matt. 5:44 and Rom. 12:14). In the midst of difficult and depressing circumstances, the believer says in his heart, “I do not expect things to always be like this. God will come and bless me again.”

If you have seen someone of faith who has endured loss of something, or someone, precious, yet continued courageously to live in hope, then you have seen someone of real faith. My wife and I were both blessed with parents like this, who endured loss and tragedy but reacted in courage and faith, expressed in simple waiting on the Lord. Their faith kept them going in the midst of loss, and where others would despair they stood boldly expecting God to bless them again. After great losses, they continued to serve in the church as Bible teachers, they continued to give to the church our of their love for God, and they continued to be encouragers to those around them. And God did bless them again, and the second (or was it third, or fourth?) was sweeter than the earlier one because of the condition of their hearts.

While we wait on God there is much we can do. The farmer who lost last year’s crop still plants and expectantly waits. The investor whose portfolio has been decimated by the sudden downturn of the economy still invests again in hope. The individual who loses friends and loved ones, still opens his heart to new friends. Waiting on the Lord is seen in doing the simple things of faith.

Our hearts must change, and even to ourselves our faith is proven by how we endure loss. The psalmist said to himself:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (Psalm 42:5 ESV)

This is an expression of courage and waiting, to get up in the morning after the storm has destroyed everything we know and begin to build again. And it is often only in the loss of things that we see what is of true value in life. Courage and faith are much more valuable than this world knows!

Christ, when the multitudes turned away from Him, kept discipling His apostles. At the end that was all that mattered, not how many of the fickle crowd stayed with Him for the sake of entertainment, but how He had genuinely and lastingly touched the apostles. Often loss is God’s way of removing the unfruitful distractions from our lives. Better to have a few good friends than many who are mere acquaintances. Better to have one treasure that you enjoy than many that merely gather dust. Better to make a profound difference in one life than to be merely a novelty and curiosity to many. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Prov. 15:17).

How is your faith expressing itself in courage today? How are you waiting on the Lord in boldness? Be like the iceberg, that obeys the deep water currents even when the surface wind blows in the opposite direction.

 

Psalms

Merciful or Crooked?

June 4th, 2018

With the merciful you show yourself merciful;
with the blameless man you show yourself blameless;
with the purified you show yourself pure;
and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. (Psalm 18:25-26 ESV)

It is a general rule of life that as we treat others, so they treat us. None of us can escape this and though there are notable exceptions in our journey of life, as a general rule this fact is true. As Christ said, “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged” (Matt. 7:2).

We see life through the lens of how we see God

It is also a rule of the spiritual life that how we see life will be determined by how we see God. If we see God as loving and kind, as gracious and patient, as holy and righteous, as powerful and wise, then our expectations of life will be hopeful and positive. We will expect that the Lord will take care of us and that He daily watches over us. We will say like the psalmist, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks of me” (Psalm 40:17).

This fact extends to our treatment of others, that it will be based on how we have perceived the Lord, how we understand His nature and how that nature, or that Person, treats us. We read:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:18)

The glory of God that we behold, or the nature of God that He reveals to us, will also become the image into which we are transformed. His Spirit will take His word and bear this biblical and true witness in our hearts, and He will work, both by conscious means and by subconscious means, to change us into that image.

Sometimes in our Christian lives this molding into God’s image, though mysterious, has an element of intention behind it. We study a topic or a subject, or we learn of a personal weakness where God’s grace needs to build us up, so we focus on certain things. At other times, however, we are quite unaware of the specifics that God is using. We have simply put ourselves into the general areas of knowledge and prayer and worship and fellowship with God’s people, into an atmosphere of growth, and God changes us. Albert Barnes wrote:

It is by [meditating on the glory of the gospel] we are purified. It is by keeping it constantly before the mind; dwelling on it splendor; thinking of its glorious truths, that we become transformed into the same image, and made like God. I… We should pray much – for thus we come in contact with God and his truth. We should read the Scripture much. We should commune with the good and the pure. We should make our companions of those who most love the Lord Jesus, and most decidedly bear his image. We should think much of a pure heaven. Thus shall we be moulded, insensibly it may be, but certainly, into the image of a holy God and Saviour, and be prepared for a pure and truly heaven.

There is a blessed naiveness in people who walk with God. They see life and others in a more gracious hue, less harsh and cruel than the unholy do. They expect the best of people and tend to see them in light of their potential in Christ, rather than through the lens of failure. The scripture says that Jesus did not entrust himself to any man, “for he knew what was in man” (John 2:25). God knew the sinfulness and the judgmental spirit of unredeemed human nature. But in His treatment of others He was gracious and hopeful.

“Woman,” He asked to the woman caught in adultery, “Where are your accusers?” The answer was that they were all gone, none of her accusers remained. “Neither do I condemn you,” He said. “Go and sin no more.” The Christian should be able to go into the blackest moral pit on this earth and still see the potential in each life there for the grace of God to take hold of them and save and transform them.

We see God through the lens by which we see life

But another rule of the Christian life is that we generally perceive God through how we see life. This is what the verse above from Psalm 18 affirms. God shapes our view of life, and our view of life shapes how we see Him. So the psalmist says that the merciful man sees God as merciful, that the blameless man sees God as perfect and blameless, and that the purified and sanctified man, made holy by the grace of God in Christ, sees God as pure and blameless.

And the person who is crooked and unreliable sees God as unreliable and His hand as tortuous. The original word in the Hebrew means twisted. “To the twisted you show yourself twisted,” is a literal translation. Sadly the twisted person did not become that way all alone. He had others twist him in the process, and he now sees the world and God Himself as twisted also. The most evil person has had evil influences in his life that influenced the misshapenness of his own soul.

Yet the scripture says that we are all twisted, fundamentally flawed, that nothing good dwells in our fallen nature (Rom. 7:18). Though there may be some good in the worst of us, there is also some evil in the best of us. Only by the grace of God and the kindness of others do we become otherwise. Yet our view of God and of life can be changed through the preaching of the gospel, through the new birth, through the conversion of the heart of an individual.

When we believe in Christ we will have started on an entirely new and radical reorientation of our life. The old has passed away and the new has come in the goodness and grace of God.

So, where are you standing today? Is your heart right with God? Are you rejoicing in His mercy and purity? Or are you dwelling mentally in the twistedness of the world? Live in God and you will live confidently in the reality of His love.

Psalms