Archive for the ‘Dealing with Difficulties’ Category

The Season of Isolation

May 18th, 2018

You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me;
my companions have become darkness. (Psalm 88:18)

We prefer those psalms that speak of the overcoming love of God, such as Psalm 23 that proclaims “The Lord is my shepherd,” and “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” We rejoice with the psalmist who explains his feelings of weakness and poverty but then breaks through with faith in God, such as Psalm 40:17 that says, “I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinks about me.”

But Psalm 88 is also inspired of God for the upbuilding of our souls. In this psalm the psalmist feels isolated, but there is no break through of victorious faith in the midst of his aloneness. There is only the isolation. What should be our thoughts in the days of isolation, when friends avoid us, when even God seems to have deserted us, and our faith is feeble and weak? Rest assured that such days come to us in life, when, due to sickness, or perhaps a shameful thing in our life, or perhaps for no reason at all except that we are falsely accused, that those who should befriend us and comfort us desert us. And in such circumstances our faith is so weak we can no longer feel God’s presence – even though He is certainly there. He will never forsake us (Matt. 28:20).

A Cry to God

The first thing that recommends this psalmist to our hearts is that despite his circumstances and his feelings of aloneness he had the faith to cry out to God. Often that is the first key that brings us out of depression – not the faith to claim the victory, we are not ready for that, but the faith to complain to God. To claim is better than to complain, but at least the complaining prayer leads us to speak to the Author of Life.

An Acknowledgement of God’s Steadfast Love

The second positive attribute we notice is that the psalmist knew that God’s love was steadfast, reliable, steady and dependable. God loves us because of who He is, and He relates to us in His grace. The psalmist did not change his definition of God’s love. He retained it in his mind for what it was and what it shall always be – strong, eternal, gracious, and steady.

Many a person in isolation will let his soul’s doubts pollute his mind. He’ll say to himself, “I guess God is not loving as I thought Him to be,” or words to that effect. But this isolated psalmist retained the knowledge and the expectation of biblical faith. He said: “Is your steadfast love declared in the grave?” (Psalm 88:11) He did not say to God that His love was not steadfast. He used the word chesed that is also translated as God’s “loving kindness.”

He Identifies the Heart of the Matter

The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. He does not accept that any type of life worth living can be achieved away from God. The psalmist did not complain merely because men had rejected him, but because he felt that God had also rejected him. It was not the absence of God’s hand that hurt him, so much as the absence of God’s face. He said to God:

But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me? (Psalm 88:13-14)

An element of faith is found in that expression. If life was not what he wanted it to be, he still did not cast away the definition that God had given him. He continued in prayer and in calling on the Lord. His prayer was a duty, but not merely so. It was not a dead action that he thought would reap some results. Prayer was for him communion with God, as one speaks with his dear friend.

He Left the Matter with God

Even in the abruptness of its ending this psalm teaches us something. The author does not break through to praise and faith. He ends his prayer as he began it, in a sense of isolation. And there is how we often end our prayers. We must let God answer in His way and in His time.

I recall a man in a church where we had previously served experiencing a severe isolation like this, after we had gone to serve oversees. He was falsely accused of a sexual crime against a minor. Of course, the matter needed to be investigated, but during the police investigation the man and his entire family felt overwhelmed with isolation. The church people did not know what to believe. The mother had formerly sang in the middle of the adult worship choir, and she had a lovely face that was expressive and encouraging. Suddenly, due to this false accusation, she felt rejected, alone, isolated, and shamed, as did their teenagers and especially the husband himself.

It took most of a year before the matter was legally resolved and the man was pronounced innocent, but how many sleepless nights did they experience during that time? How many times did they pray such a prayer as Psalm 88 to the Lord? Some supported them through it all, but even then, people wondered if the accusation was true. During this painful process the family found out who their true friends were, and they were not who they had thought they were.

The reasons we may feel isolated are too many to name. But in such times, and I believe we shall experience them at least once in our journey of life on this earth, take the matter to God. If you do not have the faith to claim, then at least have the faith to complain to Him. And as long as we are still talking to Him, God can guide us through it all. Remember, it was Job’s complaints and accusations against God that sparked God’s response. And though God rebuked him, He used it to also comfort and restore him.

Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties, Psalms

Placing Our Cares in God’s Hands

April 13th, 2018

Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.  (1 Peter 5:6-7 KJV)

What a powerfully worded message this is. Both humility and trust are essential. To only have one without the other will misshape our hearts. One who only humbles himself and never learns to trust or to give his worries to the Lord goes around in a depressed spirit. One who casts all his cares on the Lord but does not humble his heart is haughty and proud. But when embraced together, when we are humble before the Lord and when we cast our worries upon His back, then we have peace and are prepared for whatever God places in our hands.

Breaking down these verses, each word gives insight into the meaning. “Humble” means to bring ourselves low. And the Christian, though he may raise his head high among all men and never think less of himself as a human being when compared to others, lowers himself before God.

This lowering is under the “mighty hand of God.” God is “mighty,” with sovereign power, and there is nothing too difficult for Him. The word “hand” places the exercise of His power in our world in concrete ways. We should never imagine that God is only a spiritual being and that His power is merely metaphysical. God’s hand moves in our lives and in our world in tangible ways. His mighty hand may humble us, as it did Paul, by entrusting to us a thorn in the flesh. Or it could be a difficult and perplexing situation, a task for God that is onerous and difficult, or an individual that we find extraordinarily difficult to work with.

In such situations we are to entrust ourselves to God, and not to quit the circumstance outright. If all people quit when they became fatigued or sick, when things got difficult, and when colleagues proved less than enjoyable to work with, then nothing important would ever get done. If all people quit when they could not see how to go forward, or when they felt unequal to the task, or unsupported in their leadership, then all people would quit all the time. Then it is that the believer must humble himself before the Lord and willingly accept the matters that the Lord has entrusted to him.

The point of humility under God’s hand is not just an exercise in itself, but that God may exalt us in His time. Our own timetable for our exaltation seems to not be in accordance with God’s timetable most of the time. We want exaltation and recognition, as well as support and cooperation, all the time. God, though, holds these things back until the right moment. He rewards the attitude of faith and humility before Him, so He looks for this in our hearts. When we are content to be humble before Him, desiring nothing but His glory, being obedient as Christ was obedient unto death on the cross, then it is that He will exalt us.

We should never begrudge our burdens, for in them God is teaching us that His grace is sufficient for us. And that is the greatest lesson for us to learn in life.

And verse seven says to “cast” our “cares” upon Him – meaning to toss, to let them fly. It means to take our hands off of them and give them to Him. Some things we call burdens are our personal preferences or worldly cares – “the worries of this life” (Mark 4:19) – and not burdens that God has given us. Those we should get rid of, or see them in their proper place. It is spiritual senselessness and simple worldliness to loose sleep and become anxious over a matter that is completely worldly. “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). We all have such things in our lives, worldly things that we need to attend to, but they should never replace the things of God in our affections.

Our true “cares” are the responsibilities and circumstances that God has entrusted to us. As Paul wrote, using this same word, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). And these concerns we are to roll on His back, cast our concerns upon His shoulders, and allow Him to carry them.

Is there another way to do this other than prayer? I cannot think of one that does not begin with prayer. We say to God, “Lord, here is my concern – naming the specific circumstance – and I place the care for it into your hands. Guide me daily in the path I should take and in all my decisions.” This does not mean that we glibly walk away from a legitimate responsibility. Apathy is never the answer – these matters are our “cares” that God has given us and God never condemns us for having legitimate cares.

A parent cares for his children and they are never off of his mind, but he should live in the faith that God loves his children more than he does. A responsible leader, likewise, cares for the things that God has entrusted to him, they also are rarely off of his mind, but he must trust that God cares more. He can cast those things upon the Lord, and in so doing experience the peace and life of God, as well as His power and strength.

Oswald Chambers wrote:

We must distinguish between the burden-bearing that is right and the burden-bearing that is wrong. We ought never to bear the burden of sin or of doubt, but there are burdens placed on us by God which He does not intend to lift off, He wants us to roll them back on Him. “Cast what He hath given thee upon the Lord” … If we undertake work for God and get out of touch with Him, the sense of responsibility will be overwhelmingly crushing; but if we roll back on God that which He has put upon us, He takes away the sense of responsibility by bringing in the realization of Himself.

It is the realization of Himself that our souls long for.

Do not despair when the hand of the Lord seems to be dealing with you very harshly, when your legitimate burdens seem overwhelming, and when you even feel alone in your circumstance. Humble yourself before Him – under His hand, or under the specific burden – and hand the matter over to Him in prayer. Trust that He cares even more than you do.



Daily Devotions, Dealing with Difficulties , , , ,