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Archive for April, 2016

You Know My Path

April 29th, 2016

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then You knew my path. (Psalm 142:3)

I read in Oswald Chambers this morning a great thought about the surprise of God and “The Graciousness of Uncertainty.” Of course, he was right, as he usually is. He wrote:

Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life: gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. Immediately we abandon to God, and do the duty that lies nearest, He packs our life with surprises all the time. When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him. Jesus said, “Except ye…become as little children.” Spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, but uncertain of what He is going to do next. (Oswald Chambers)

Chambers had a way of bringing spiritual matters down to the level of life, of pointing out profound matters of faith in simple language, of setting complex spiritual attitudes before us in plain ways so that we know how to respond. We should embrace the unknown with “breathless expectation” because of God, rather than with dread and fear. That is stated in brilliant simplicity.

Chambers’ weakness is that he did not, in my opinion, have a very strong pastoral heart. God gifted him as a spiritual mystic with great insight, as an incredible man of faith and preacher on the subject of spiritual renewal. Our faith is incredibly enriched today for having his writings available to us.

Yet there is the point of helping others experience the life of Christ. While we should look at the unknown with anticipation, hardly a single one of us does. And, even more to the point, did not Christ himself struggle with the cross? Is the only spiritual response possible constant delight? Is there no place in an obedient and spiritual human heart for consternation, disquietude, and perturbation?

This is the tension of being a believing human being in this world. We seek to follow Christ, but sometimes he seems to vanish from view, and we have lost sight of him, and in that moment the evil of the world seems overpowering. As David wrote of himself, so it is true with us, that often our spirits are overwhelmed and we cannot see beyond the circumstance. Then it is that the simple biblical creeds speak to us - Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, coming.

In the overwhelming moment, then it is that we come back to the truth that God knows our path. When we cannot see ahead, when even his footprints vanish from view, then it is that we need to look up. Some children delight with adventure, but are usually poor about responsibility in the daily routines of life. Some children take comfort in the routine, but complaint about facing the unexpected. These are the personalities that God has given us, and who is to say if one is better than the other? They both are, and that is that.

And among Christians differences persist. There are Marthas and Marys, there are bombastic “Sons of Thunder” around us, and there are quiet skeptics like Nathaniel. Some of us are steady and sure in our work, plodders in the things God has given us. Others are enthusiasts, capable of seizing the great moments. But which we are does not really matter. The question is whether or not we have allowed God to make progress in our souls, and not whether we sporadically measure up to some standard upon one instant only. God’s Spirit is shaping us into the perfect human, the character of steadfast love and undying faith, unbending commitment to the eternal yet coupled with attentiveness to the simple, earthly, and mundane - the character of Christ.

There is great therapeutic value in knowing and stating the truth of Scripture. When we feel overwhelmed by circumstances, when the right path seems lost in the fog of the day, then it is we need to turn, as David did, to the truth that God knows our path. Stop a moment to praise him, to thank him, to worship him, and do not be overwhelmed with the matters you do not know. Leave them in his hands. There is no conflict in knowing the Bible and following the Spirit - he is, after all, the Author of the Book.

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God Brought Me Out

April 28th, 2016

I waited patiently for the LORD; and He inclined to me, and heard my cry. He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. He has put a new song in my mouth - Praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3)

How often these verses from God’s Word have spoken to our hearts! Have not we all, at one time or another, in one way or another, felt overwhelmed with troubles and sorrows - as though we were thrown into a miry pit of clay, with no handholds, no footholds to climb our way out. If God did not help us, no one would, nor truly could. But then God does act, and He releases us from the prison of our circumstances and from the greater prison of our poor imaginations.

Deliverance from dire circumstances: In this day and age, we are more likely to be treated for depression than to be told how to get out of our difficult dilemmas. It is essential to remember that not all problems are in our minds only, or even mostly. There are physical and material problems that bring us down - the threat of a law suit, the diagnosis of disease, the unfaithfulness of a spouse, the failure of our child, the loss of a loved one, the sudden requirement to move away from friends to a new and unknown place, the betrayal of friends, the constant taunting of enemies, the burden of debt, a difficult boss or colleague, etc. Is it only in our hearts that God brings victory, or does he also deliver us from the miry pit?

Let us be clear on this issue. God does deliver from dire circumstances, and this deliverance is not only in our hearts.

As a father pities his children,
So the LORD pities those who fear Him.
For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)

Thank God he promises more than only emotional help. He is, as the psalmist wrote, “A very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). The scholars who have sought to translate this Psalm 46:1 passage are struck at the emphasis of the original Hebrew, that is so very deep and profound that the thoughts are difficult to get across in a succinct way. God’s help has been found to be constant, and is continuing to be found to be constant. His help is more than we would imagine, so that his deliverance is greater than we had hoped. As great and magnificent and wonderful as God is, so in these terms, in this manner, in like-character, he displays his help to us.

Never hesitate to ask for physical deliverance from your problems. God is not ashamed to be our God, neither should we be hesitant or ashamed to bring any matter before him in prayer. Often we have not simply because we have not asked him. He is ready, willing, able, and desirous to deliver us, to heal us, to redeem our circumstances, to save our lives from danger, if we would only ask him (James 4:1-3).

Deliverance from hopelessness: Yet no problem exists only in the material or physical circumstances. They each find their way into our hearts - even those that are mostly physical. I do not only need to be healed in my body; I must also be healed in my soul and spirit. We see it quite often that we are delivered out of the miry pits, but still feel trapped inside them.

Many people who come from abusive homes, for example, who have been delivered from them, still live their lives in fear of being returned to them. Many who have been healed of disease still live like they are yet sick. And these are those who have been delivered physically. How much more is this true of those who have been entrusted by God with long term difficult burdens to bear.

The track of this deliverance is beautifully laid out in the psalm, and we can see the assurance growing in his heart at each stage:

  1. First, the assurance that God heard his prayer. Assurance that God cares and listens is gained through faith in his Word that tells us so. This is the victory of our faith, that when we pray we do not look upon the matter as still forlorn and us as forsaken. God is active and He cares. He is our Shepherd who tends his flock lovingly and faithfully. “He inclined unto me” - does not that have the ring of compassion in it, like a mother who knows the sound of her baby’s cry, like a shepherd who recognizes his sheep by their bleating.
  2. Next God brought him up out of the dire circumstance - physical deliverance.
  3. He set his feet upon solid ground so that he would not slide back down. The deliverance was full and complete.
  4. He established his steps - what he could not do before, now he is able to move and follow. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3).
  5. He put a new song in his heart - God not only delivered him, but God told him of his deliverance, and assured him of his victory. The greatest victory in our hearts comes not through the lifting of the oppressive circumstance alone, or even mostly, but through the assurance of God’s faithfulness. “A wise lover values not so much the gift of the lover, as the love of the Giver” (Thomas a’ Kempis, The Imitation of Christ).
  6. “Many will see it and fear” - a Christian should not provoke pity from people, as though we are the forgotten and mistreated of the world. There should be something enviable about us, something admirable and desirable in the freedom, joy, peace, victory, and love in which we live our lives.
  7. “Many … will trust in the LORD” - but the great goal of our testimony and of our life, is not merely to be impressive in ourselves alone, but to lead people to Christ.

A man told me once, “I am a broken man, but I am not sure you can trust any man who has not been broken.” What he meant is that our sorrows and difficulties, our troubles and tribulations, even our failures, have a way of kicking our legs out from underneath us, until we learn to stand upon the solid ground the reality of God. No human knows only victories in his life; we all have our failures and set backs. But it is in the miry pits where we learn to trust in God, where we find and discover his faithfulness, and we allow him to write over them all a new song of praise and peace and life.

Deliverance at death: We also find in these words a very visual description of our death - out of the miry clay of the grave God shall raise us from the dead and clothe us with a new glorified spiritual body, and put a new song in our mouth. Death comes for us all, but so does the resurrection from the dead - the righteous raised to life and the unrighteous raised to judgment and hell. We are righteous not because of our works, but because of our faith in Christ and his payment for our sins, and in his resurrection. The heart of the Christian faith is the constant hope of the resurrection. We need not fear whatever the world throws at us because we know Him who is resurrected - who is the resurrection and the life.

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