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The Help of His Face

September 21st, 2018

Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. (Psalm 42:5)

The psalmist knew what it was like to be on the mountaintop of successful ministry and to be in the valley of blame of failure. Anyone who serves the Lord very long will experience these two deceptive moments and must be prepared for them. Rudyard Kipling wrote: “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”

This type of thing happens in the careers of most people. Rarely, whether you are in business, education, medicine, or military, do you always go from success to success, from triumph to triumph. And it happens to those who serve the Lord as well.

The deception of triumph

Certainly it is more fun to be successful in any venture, than to seem to be less than successful. But success rarely depends on one single person alone. It comes due to a combination of realities – timing, mood, opportunity, chemistry, and unseen thoughts. Often the Spirit moves among a people, like the wind blows (John 3:8), and people respond to Christ and to His call to serve. And some situations there is less movement by God and less faith by people.

There is a scene in the film The Bear that depicted for me the reality of ministry. The film tells the story of an orphaned bear cub trying to survive in the wilderness. In a dramatic moment in the film a mountain lion chases the young vulnerable cub across the hilly terrain until the cub is cornered. But rather than cowering in panic, the cub stands its ground, letting out a brave roar, and the mountain lion stops its charge and runs away. Just as we think that the cub had successfully defended itself, the camera widens its view and we see a full grown bear standing behind the cub growling as well.

I thought to myself, how often we are like the cub, thinking that we in our courage, or creativity, or cleverness, have been successful in our lives, when in reality it was God who stood behind us and orchestrated the entire matter. He sent the right people, and the Spirit blew among the society, and success happened from His hand. We were just a simple part of a much larger work of God.

Christ told His disciples, when they returned rejoicing from the success of their mission: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). All that we have is really is what the Lord has prepared for us in heaven. And that is what we are to hold on to. In the heady moments of successful ministry we can delight too much in the fruit of our efforts and not enough in the Lord Himself.

The help of His countenance

We could also speak of the deception of disaster, to paraphrase Kipling. Keil-Delitzsch points out that it is the spiritual man that must comfort the natural man in our hearts. It is the new nature in Christ that is given us at salvation that must grow and lead within our hearts, and not our old fallen nature with its focus on outward results. The “help of His countenance” is the look of mercy from our heavenly Father. It is the nurture of the merciful face of God that lightens our burdens and enables us to rediscover our joy.

In many ways, the relatively fruitless times of ministry become greater blessings to our hearts than the seemingly successful times, because they require us to turn our thoughts to God, to look up to Him, to commune with Him and to rest in Him. Success in any field tempts us to take our eyes off of Christ, and seeming failure teaches us to look at Him afresh.

The New Testament speaks often of “bearing with one another” (Col. 3:13), meaning to endure and to continue even when it seems pointless and difficult. People who are agreeable and pleasant and enjoyable to be with are easy to serve alongside of, and it takes no special amount of character or spiritual discipline to do so. But we reveal that we have been with God when we are able to graciously endure difficult people and difficult circumstances.

We all need, in our souls, to spend time looking at the merciful face of God, to remove ourselves from the hustle and bustle of life and service to God, and just in isolation commune with Him. The psalmist was dealing with a period of his life that seemed relatively fruitless. In His younger years he had been with the multitude, leading them in excited worship, but now he felt forgotten by god, a source of reproach by his enemies. The only way out of this depression was the renewed vision of the merciful face of God.

This treasure in earthen vessels

One of the most meaningful passages of scripture to me is the fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians. There Paul explains how he kept going in service: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7). Then he goes on to say that we are “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed” (4:8), because the life of Jesus is within us.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (4:16). God is constantly at work within us. And it is exactly this reality that makes the Christian message compelling – not that everything is always pleasant, or easy, but that God is constantly at work. If we will let Him, I believe God can turn these seemingly dark times into beautiful periods of light and life, times in which we rejoice in Him and grow in Him more than ever before.

After all, the only problem we really have is with our earthen vessels we call our human bodies and minds. We have no problem with the power and grace and mercy of God. The Father is always at work (John 5:17). Our need is to slow down long enough to listen to Him and to experience the salvation that comes through seeing His face.

Daily Devotions, Evening Devotionals, Psalms

The Wellspring of Life

June 19th, 2018

Above all guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

Circumstances may discourage, but you are more than your circumstances. Environments may seem to limit, but there is more to you than can be discovered just from your environment. A hard and apathetic world may suggest that you are insignificant and your life does not count for much, but there is another One whose opinion on the matter is the one that ultimately matters. He calls you His child, His beloved, His friend, and His family.

The issues of life are settled in our soul, not in our surroundings.

A wellspring is a source of water that comes from deep within the earth and can exist even in an arid environment. Jerusalem was not watered by lakes or rivers; the inhabitants had to search for water elsewhere from rainfall or from underground streams. The inspired psalmist used this to depict spiritual truth as he wrote, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God … God is within her, she will not fall” (Psalm 46:4-5). He was saying that what we see on the surface is not all that there is to any circumstance, and this is especially true for believers.

We have a Source of strength who works within us by His Spirit, Christ Jesus the Living Water. As He said to a Samaritan woman, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). A few days later, Jesus spoke similar words to crowds in Jerusalem, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38), and then John explained further what Christ meant, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7:39).

A wise person does not put temptation in his own way, that is, he is careful about his circumstances, his surroundings, the company he keeps, and the places he goes. But more than these outward things we need to watch what is happening inside our hearts. The words above from Proverbs instruct us to be careful about the thoughts that we entertain in our minds. Set a guard up to block the wrong thoughts: jealousy, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, or anything impure.

As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6-9:

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. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

You are more than your circumstances. Your failures are not the final comment on your life. Your outward limitations do not deprive you of eternity touching your soul. An arid moral environment does not mean that you cannot be filled with the Living Water of holiness. Take care not to put temptation in your own way, but more than watching your steps, guard your heart and fill your thoughts with the true, noble, and pure things of God. This is your life and He is your Wellspring to give you strength and encouragement in times of difficulty.

Lord, we are dry vessels in an empty moral desert on this earth, and we need Your life that refreshes us and makes us glad. Today let us draw deeply from Your wellspring of life that satisfies and strengthens. Amen

Evening Devotionals