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Quietly Waiting

August 31st, 2010

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Lamentations 3:26

 

The quietness of our souls in times of distress reveals our character and our faith. By the time we begin to complain or accuse, already the thoughts had been formed in our hearts, and often murmured from our lips where others could not hear. Only faith in God and His promises can keep us inwardly calm when the world around us seems to be collapsing. Jeremiah expressed his own personal sense of suffering during the fall of Jerusalem, but he also spoke for the entire nation and it seemed as though Israel had fallen never to rise again. Though his language was graphic, he did not overstate his situation. They suffered terribly.

 

But faith looks at life differently: faith endures and believes in the light even when darkness encompasses us. When the light seems to have gone out, when health issues, financial woes, career setbacks, or family and personal problems increase, when life is other than we wish it were, there are three things we are to do: praise God (Lam. 3:20-24); quietly wait for Him to do His work (Lam. 3:25-26), and examine our ways (Lam. 3:40-42). When life seems to be spiraling out of control, it is important to remember that God is not defeated. Often we find that in the darkest moments the Lord has just begun to do His redemptive work.

 

We see it happen often in sports. One team seems to gain the upper hand early in the contest and they put some points up on the board, yet the other team has discovered a weakness they can exploit and in the second half of the game they come from behind and win. A fighter in the ring may endure punishing rounds, falling behind in the judges’  scoring, but then he senses that his opponent is tiring and somewhere in the middle of the match it swings to his advantage. On the tennis court, one player may score some early sets, yet by the third set, as fatigue sets in, the scale tips in the favor of the other player. In a distance race, one runner surges ahead of others but then tires and another comes from behind and wins. In each case, the ones who overcame knew something deep within their souls, they knew that they were not defeated, in spite of how it may have looked to others, and that faith and confidence pushed them to their limits but also made them victorious.

 

In life as believers in Christ, it is not our strength that will win, but God’s. He has already defeated the enemy and we merely wait quietly for His salvation to become fully revealed. In Jeremiah’s day it appeared that the Jewish nation would cease to exist, but the next century came Ezra and Nehemiah, with funding from the royal treasury of Persia to rebuild the temple and wall of Jerusalem.

 

We run our race of faith as did other generations, unable to see the final victory except through faith in God’s promises. As the generations of the faithful before us, we are often lost in the dust of the events of life, unsure of our progress, or even if we should be enjoying ourselves or not. The summation of the roll call of the faithful states: “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (Heb. 11:39). God’s full salvation awaits the coming age and the return of Christ, yet victory can also be ours today through faith in His promises.

 

And along the journey, God often works miracles that give us a taste of the glory that awaits us in His kingdom. It is good to sit quietly in our hearts and trust in the victory and salvation of God.

 

Lord, grant us the faith and the vision to quietly wait for Your salvation. Touch our hearts today with Your grace and love. Amen.

  

 

 

 

Evening Devotionals

Receiving, then Doing

August 30th, 2010

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.

Romans 1:16

 

The question the gospel stirs up for every soul is whether to earn or to receive. The Bible says plenty about both perspectives.

 

On the subject of “earning” it tells us to consider our ways in life, our thoughts and actions. “God is not mocked,” it says, “Whatsoever a man sows that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). To know and obey brings rewards into our lives and to disobey brings problems. Obedience is encouraged for our benefit and for the work of God in the world. In order to do His will we must do His will, not merely know it or think about it.

 

On the subject of “receiving,” however, the Bible presents this as the response of faith to the gospel itself. The response to the gospel is about receiving first, then doing. It is more about becoming than pretending. It is about being touched by the power and love of God first, then touching others through our good works. Being a Christian is about being converted in our hearts through the power of God, and then as God works in us, as we receive, then we do. Our doing as followers of Christ does not amount to earning. We cannot earn our salvation. Salvation is always beyond our grasp, beyond our capacity to merit. All that we can do is to receive what God in Christ offers.

 

The phrase “to become a Christian” is not found in the Bible; we have created it to fit our own circumstances. The words from Jesus’ own lips most often used were “come,” “follow,” “repent,” and “believe.” All of these fit into the general description of receiving. If “becoming” is an appropriate word to use, then it is because of the power of God making us to become something that we cannot become in our own strength. No one “becomes” a Christian, a true follower of Christ, by his own determination and will. But neither is this done through hypnotism, where the inner self opts out of the experience entirely. We come to Christ and repent, believe, and follow.

 

John Newton, the old sea captain and former slave trader and reprobate became a believer and finally served as a pastor. He wrote many hymns but his best known by far is Amazing Grace. People loved to hear Newton preach because he spoke just like many of them felt. As he aged, as it will probably happen to you and me, he began to be more forgetful. One of his most famous statements when he was old was this: “I have forgotten many things, but I remember that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” In his autobiography he told a brief story of the turning point in his spiritual life.

 

He was sick during this time with a high fever, and as he said, “That put me on my back where God could reach me. He broke the pattern I was stuck in and brought me back to my senses.” Memories came back to his mind, memories of all the times he had tried and failed to be a good Christian, memories of the goodness of God and of his “wicked, ungrateful responses.” Then he wrote these words: “Weak and almost delirious, I got out of bed and crept to a secluded part of the island. There I had a freedom in prayer I had never had before. I made no more resolutions to be a better man. I simply cast myself on the Lord to do with me whatever He wanted. I did not have a shred of power to do anything right. All I could do was throw myself at His feet, receiving the good of Christ’s death for me in a way I had never done before. I prayed for His forgiveness and found the burden lifted from my conscience. Not only did my peace come back, but my health, too … I make that day as the turning point in my spiritual experience.”[1]

 

The journey toward our spiritual maturity will take us over this ground many times – do I earn my blessings or do I receive God’s blessings?  In some ways it seems like a bit of both, because we know that even non-Christians can have more blessed lives if they seek to be moral people. Yet the biblical perspective always emphasizes receiving over doing, that God is at work within us, and even our seemingly “good works” are the result of His work in our lives. Like John Newton, we will only have true peace and victory when we come to the end of our selves, cease trying to impress God with our good works, and come to Him in our weakness and need, pleading our guilt and our need of grace, and receiving His grace that Christ had purchased for us on Calvary.

 

My wife, Lana, mentioned to me today how she appreciated a chapter from a book by Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, where he described the difference between “driven people” and “called people” in Christian service. The driven are those who from within their own personality and desires seek to accomplish something in life, and this may show up in the church or in Christian ministry. I have met many like this – mothers who have driving ambitions for their children to become world famous evangelists, wealthy entrepreneurs for Christ, or church elders and pastors. Growing up in such an environment can create a driven personality – someone who seeks to impose his (or her) will on others or to accomplish much in life. This is not all bad – it seems like most of the inventions and benefits we derive from modern living came through such driven people. Yet in the church, in ministry for both lay and vocational servants, we must emphasize the call of God.

 

It is this quality of certitude for which we seek when we compare driven persons and called persons. Driven people are confident they have that quality as they forge ahead. But often, at the moment when it is least expected, hostile events conspire, and there can be collapse. Called people have strength from within, perseverance and power that are impervious to the blows from without.[2]

 

All believers are called by God in some sense, called to believe and follow Christ, and in that sense to serve Christ. None of us can opt for the sideline and leave the service to the “professionals.” We who are vocational ministers are also to equip believers to serve the Lord.  I have seen driven persons hang onto church positions stubbornly, unwilling to release them into God’s hands. Their specific church position was dearer to them than the ministry and sense of call itself. They could not look beyond the structure or specific job they held because they had either never been called or had neglected the sense of calling.

 

The driven person is earth-bound, linked to institutions, positions, and organizations on earth. The called sense the upward call of God in Christ, that transcends time and space on this earth. They often come from humble backgrounds. Herbert Butterfield wrote these words,

 

Both in history and in life it is a phenomenon by no means rare to meet with comparatively unlettered people who seem to have struck profound spiritual depths … while there are many highly educated people of who one feels that they are performing clever antics with their minds to cover a gaping hollowness that lies within.[3]

 

God forbid that a “gaping hollowness” might dwell within our hearts, that only self-will and human determination might empower our service and Christian walk. Whatever is accomplished by mere human determination, by merely “clever antics,” even if they own the name of Christ, is temporary and fleeting.

 

The called know the grace that is bestowed by mercy, the Lord who dwells within, and the life that is empowered by God. This is freedom: Receive and, then in God’s power, do!

 

Lord, in weakness and doubt, scarred by temptation’s victories over our old nature, we come to You. We plead our guilt and our weakness and ask for Your mercy and grace. Cleanse us and empower us and build us up for Your purposes. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] John Newton, Letters of a Slave Trader freed by God’s Grace (Moody Press, 1983) P. 73.

[2] Gordon MacDonald, Ordering Your Private World, (Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 1984), p. 52.

[3] Herbert Butterfield, Christianity and History (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1949), p. 115

Evening Devotionals