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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

All of God’s Paths

August 30th, 2018

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalm 25:10 ESV)

In life, we will either embrace the ways and the paths of God, and in meekness submit all of strength and talents and spiritual gifts under Christ’s Lordship, or we will do as Paul did initially and “kick against the goads,” or fight His leadership like a stubborn farm animal.

The leadership of the Lord encompasses both how we do things and what we do in life. If we will keep His covenant and testimonies we will hold on to both of these matters of how and what – just one of them is not enough. The “covenant and testimonies” of God are His covenant of grace toward us and His Holy Word the Bible. In David’s day, the Mosaic Covenant was the means by which God’s grace was expressed.Today, we are in the New Covenant or New Testament and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ in faith.

The Expositor’s Bible sums this up like this:

They who accept His teaching, and order their paths as He would have them do, will learn that the impulse and meaning of all which He does to them are “mercy and truth,” the two great attributes to which the former petitions appealed, and which the humble of heart, who observe the conditions of God’s covenant which is witness of His own character and of their duty, will see gleaming with lambent light even in calamities.

A small and rather obscure devotional book, entitled Beyond Call, has been a continual blessing to me in my walk with Christ, especially since I have served most of my years overseas in cross-cultural situations. Baker James Cauthen, the long-time General Secretary of the Foreign Mission Board of Southern Baptists (now the International Mission Board), compiled this book of the devotions he gave to the missionaries that they were sending out to serve around the world. They were originally commencement type addresses given at the completion of missionary orientation.

But they speak to every Christian and every servant of God. In one of these devotions, he spoke on the verse above:

The thing about this  verse of Scripture that is most striking and helpful to me is the very first word with which it begins: “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness.” Now, that is often hard to understand, and a little hard to believe in the gray days because not all the paths are pleasant to walk. Some paths are very difficult. It would be quite unrealistic to think that the pathways before you in missionary service will always be pleasant. The labor to which you have given yourself is labor characterized by a cross.

When you become willing to do whatever God wants you to do, even if it appears undesirable, you discover that what God has for you is much better than anything you plan…

Walking these pathways is not a matter that is in proportion to your understanding, but in proportion to your faith in him. Put your trust in him, and let him make the plans, and revise your own plans. Let him determine the bright days and the dark days; let him give the victories and the defeats, and let him shape life as he sees best. You will then discover that as you hold on to him in this covenant of faith – the pathways for you are filled with love and faithfulness.

And there is in this entire matter the issue of just being yourself, of obeying the will of the Lord for you, and not for someone else. My paths that I choose outside the will of God will not bring the love and faithfulness of God that God desires to give us. John the Baptist said, “A man can only receive that which is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). God’s will and His leadership will bring us joy and peace, the joy of a clear conscience, and the peace of knowing that we have done what God made us to do, and did it how He called us to do it.

An old story was told about a young Christian girl who was unhappy with her life. She knew the scripture that she must bear her cross, but her cross seemed too drab, too common place, and even too heavy sometimes. She longed for a better life. One night she dreamed of different crosses that she could bear.

One was made of gold and decorated with jewels, and she thought that she would like to bear that cross. But as she tried to lift it and to carry it, she found it was much heavier than she thought, and after a few steps she faltered and knew that she could not carry this one.

Then she saw another cross decorated with flowers, the cross of beauty, and again she thought that it was much better than her drab cross, so she lifted it on her back to carry. But she found that beneath the flowers were thorns that tore into her back, and the pain was much greater than she thought.

One after another, she tried other crosses with a similar result – too heavy, too rough, unfitting, not right.

Then she saw another cross and she came to it to lift it, and it fit perfectly on her back. It was her original cross that God had made for her to carry.

We should not envy the paths that God has called others to walk – paths of wealth, beauty, fame, power, talent, health, or whatever. Their crosses are for them to carry and not us. We should simply in gratitude embrace the path God has called us to walk and the cross that God has called us to bear. That is the path of peace and joy, of His love and His faithfulness.

 

Daily Devotions, Psalms