Don’t Give Up! Keep Running Your Race of Faith Without Looking Back

Do you ever feel stuck in the past and discouraged by how hard it is to move forward? You’re a Christian and you know that’s supposed to give you hope, but somehow that just doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s disheartening to feel as if you can’t move forward from your past or that there is no way out of your present. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something so wrong or your circumstances are so hopeless that there’s no point trying to fix things. These sorts of worries weigh us down emotionally and spiritually. They can make us feel heavy, foggy, and hopeless (and may lead to other symptoms of depression as well).

Jesus never promised that life as a Christian would be without trials. He only promised to help us through those trials, and since He has all power and authority in heaven and earth this is an incredible promise (Matt. 28:18). It can be easy, though, to lose sight of the big picture and get distracted by all sorts of nasty things that cling to us, weighing us down and making it hard to keep moving forward. We might wonder how to get unstuck, or even if it’s possible.

The Cage Door Is Open

One thing I’ve realized is that most of the things that are holding onto me are also, at least to some extent, things that I’m holding onto right back. Jesus promises to make us free and to wash us clean of any sin. If we stay in a cage or keep rolling in the dirt, then it’s not because He has failed in some way. It’s because we’re still susceptible to the attacks of the enemy and the pulls of the world.

I don’t say this to make us feel guilty or ashamed (that’s another thing that weighs us down, and shame is not a productive emotion). I want to encourage you to shift your perspective. Instead of seeing yourself as a victim trapped in a locked cage made from whatever’s holding on to you (fear, past sins, personal shortcomings, etc), you can picture yourself as someone in an open cage where God is holding the door and asking you to come out. He knows it’s hard. He knows it’s frightening. He knows there are often circumstances outside your control that keep pulling you backwards. But He isn’t giving up and He’ll be there patiently helping you for as long as it takes. Read more

Trusting God When You’re Confused By Him: A Study of Lamentations 3

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the practice of lament. It’s something we rarely discuss in modern Christianity, but it makes up more than 1/3 of the psalms and you can find lament throughout the rest of scripture as well. Instead of hiding their pain, people who lament take it to God in prayer. They turn to Him, bring their complaint in an honest, heartfelt way, ask boldly for help and then, equally boldly, choose to trust in God. I ended that first post about learning how to lament with a quote from my favorite passage in Lamentations:

This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. It is because of Yahweh’s loving kindnesses that we are not consumed, because his compassion doesn’t fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. “Yahweh is my portion,” says my soul. “Therefore I will hope in him.” (Lam. 3:21-24, all quotes from WEB translation)

This passage is lovely and hopeful, but it’s not the whole story of Jeremiah’s lament. It’s not even his concluding thought for this particular poem. Lament isn’t about convincing yourself to be happy. It’s about trusting God even when you’re not sure you want to. It’s about inviting Him to help you deal with hurt, loss, confusion, anger, and other complex, painful emotions. Hope is part of it, a key part, but there’s a lot more going on as well.

Feeling as If God Is Failing You

The third poem of Lamentations (each of the 5 chapters in this book is a separate poem) begins with the words, “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.” Unlike other poems in Lamentations, Jeremiah doesn’t start by talking about all of the Lord’s people and how their sufferings affect them. This is about him and what God has done to him, personally. Jeremiah begins this poem talking about how it feels to believe that God is targeting him in particular for intense suffering. Read more

Getting Through Affliction With the Help of God’s Law

I was reading Psalm 119 the other day and one of the verses that caught my eye reads, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71, all quotes from WEB translation). Most of us don’t think it’s good when we’re depressed, chastened, weakened, oppressed, and bowed down (those are all meanings of the Hebrew word anah, H6031, which this translation renders “afflicted”). In fact, we’re pretty sure those things sound terrible, especially now that we’re all experiencing some of them as a result of the current pandemic. And yet, this psalmist said affliction was “good” because what they endured helped them learn the Lord’s statues (choq, H2706, could also be translated ordinance, limit, or law).

There’s no getting around it. Christianity is tough. When you think about it, though, it’s not any tougher than life outside the faith and if you’re inside you have God’s help so that balances things out in Christianity’s favor. Jesus promised us His help, presence, and protection but He also assured us that we would face trials, persecution, and suffering. Better teachers than I have tried to explain why — The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis and Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey, for example — but one thing we can’t get around is the fact that pain is a part of life. And that’s true whether you’re a Christian or not.

One of the ways Christianity helps make sense of suffering is by saying it is a product of a world that has gone wrong. God didn’t want things to be this way, but they are now and until He comes back to set things right He’s going to find ways to make good come out of afflictions.

Delight in the Law

Psalm 119 is an acrostic psalm divided into 22 stanzas, one for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are several verses within this psalm that talk about affliction, and we find the first in the zayin stanza.

Remember your word to your servant, because you gave me hope. This is my comfort in my affliction, for your word has revived me. (Psalm 119:49-50)

A later verse in the lamed stanza puts this idea even more strongly:

Unless your law had been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for with them, you have revived me. (Psalm 119:92-93)

It is not just knowing or obeying God’s law, but finding joy in it that helps get us through tough times. All the knowledge of His words we can gather won’t do us much good unless we really care about what He tells us. But when we hold fast to Him — and by extension His word and the things that He cares about — it’s possible to find comfort, joy, and help even in afflictions. The psalmists did, and we can too. Read more

Learning How To Lament

Do you ever feel like maybe God isn’t living up to His promises? That He has abandoned you? Isn’t answering your prayers? Or that He should have done something to fix things and hasn’t?

Those are the sorts of thoughts we often feel guilty for thinking. After all, being a “good Christian” involves trusting God (which we often assume means not questioning Him) all the time no matter what, right? And so we try to ignore these kinds of thoughts and bury them deep where they won’t offend God or make us look bad to the other people in our church. But is that how God wants us to handle our painful questions?

There’s a Biblical practice called lament that models how to deal with anguish, pain, grief, and confusion. People of faith in scripture didn’t bottle up, hide, or ignore these feelings. They took them to God, turning questions we mistakenly think of as a lack of faith (or as a reason to give up on God) into a prayer. Over 1/3 of the Psalms are laments — “a prayer for help coming out of pain” (“Biblical Laments: Prayer Out of Pain” by Michael D. Guinan). There’s also a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations. Lament is found throughout scripture, from prophets, to psalmists, to Jesus. Lament is a good and godly practice and, if we learn how to do it, lament can help us hold on to trusting God even when we can’t figure out what He’s up to.

Praying through a sorrowful mood

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? My God, I cry in the daytime, but you don’t answer; in the night season, and am not silent. (Psalm 22:1-2, all scriptures from WEB translation)

The feeling of abandonment and despair is one that David felt, most of us can sympathize with, and Jesus echoed on the cross (Matt. 27:46). We know God does not leave or forsake His faithful ones, but that doesn’t stop us from sometimes feeling as if we’ve been forsaken. Last week, we talked about moods of faith in the Psalms, specifically a confident, celebratory mood in Psalm 91. Here in Psalm 22 we get another mood — one that is equally valid for Christians and no less worthy of taking to God in prayer. Read more

Sheltering In The Almighty’s Shadow

I’ve been thinking about Psalm 91 quite a bit since the coronavirus became a world-wide concern. The rabbi at my Messianic congregation recently wrapped-up a six-part sermon series on this psalm, and none too soon since the very next week churches were asked to stop meeting. There are hospitals overwhelmed by patients, non-essential businesses being ordered to close, and “stay at home” orders coming from governments. It’s scary out there. But we don’t have to let fear take over our lives.

Psalm 91 contains some of the most stunning assurances of God’s care and protection in the Bible, and it’s a good reminder that we need not fear no matter how bad the things around us get. And things are going to get bad. None of us know when Jesus will return, but we do know we’re getting closer. As that time approaches, we were warned to expect “wars and rumors of wars … famines, plagues, and earthquakes” before the end comes (Matt. 24:6-8). None of what is happening now (or which has been happening for the past 2,000 years) should be a surprise for Bible-readers.

We’ve also been told how to handle it when things get bad. We should watch, be ready, pray, stay faithful, and fear not. Easier said than done, though, especially in these times when fear and panic are running rampant. One way to keep ourselves from getting swept up in unfruitful anxiety is by holding onto the promises in God’s word, like those found in Psalm 91.

God’s Power To Deliver

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of Yahweh, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2, all quotes from WEB)

Hebrew words often have a variety of meanings. The one translated “dwell” (H3427, yashab) can also mean remain, abide, inhabit, and marry. It’s that last one that seems out of place to us English speakers. How can marriage and dwelling mean the same thing? But if you think of marrying someone as giving a dwelling to them it starts to seem a little less unusual (Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew lexicon). The connection also makes sense as part of the recurring imagery of the Lord marrying His people and providing dwellings for them (Matt. 22:2; John 14:1-3).

This place spoken of in the psalm is a secret or “covered, hidden” location (H5643, sether) that belong to the Most High God. Dwelling here lets you rest under the shadow of the Almighty. Using these names helps remind us that God has all power and is perfectly capable of living up to the expectations the psalmist will speak of in the lines to follow. In addition, use of God’s personal name, Yahweh, demonstrates the closeness of relationship the psalmist has with Him and reminds us that He is the I AM who delivered Israel (Ex. 3:14-15). Read more

Let Us Press On To Know The Lord

Are you settling for salvation?

This interesting phrase is one I’ve heard used by the Rabbi in my local Messianic congregation to describe those who accept Jesus as their savior and then don’t really pursue a deeper relationship with Him. Maybe they go to church most weeks and go through the motions of being a “good Christian,” but they don’t tap-in to the fullness and depth of their faith.

Shallow faith has been a problem throughout God’s history with His people. Evidently it will be a problem to the end, for Jesus questions if He’ll really “find faith on the earth” when He returns (Luke 18:8). But we want to be found faithful. I don’t think any Christian would say they don’t want to know Jesus better or strengthen their faith (and if they would we should pray for them!). So how do we get to deeper faith?

The Problem of Inconsistent Faith

For many of us, our faith waxes and wanes. We’re excited about God when we first meet Him and we turn to Him when things get bad, but the rest of the time it’s easy to become complacent. In a sense, we set Him on a shelf until we want/need Him.

Come! Let’s return to Yahweh; for he has torn us to pieces, and he will heal us; he has injured us, and he will bind up our wounds. … Let’s acknowledge Yahweh. Let’s press on to know Yahweh. As surely as the sun rises, Yahweh will appear. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring rain that waters the earth.” (Hosea 6:1, 3, WEB)

Hosea records these as Israel’s words when they turned back to God once again after a season of punishment. This was a cycle for them — they’d fall away from God, bad things would happen, they’d turn back to God, and then the whole thing would repeat. God forgave each time they repented, but He got tired of the cycle. Read more