I grew up in the Buffalo area and was raised in a Christian home. We belonged to an independent Baptist Church, where I attended Christian school and accepted Christ as my Savior as a young child. When I was eleven, Dad accepted the call to be a preacher and was ordained in our home church.
“For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.” – Matthew 9:21
“And when the men of that place had knowledge of him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased; And besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole.” – Matthew 14:35-36
“For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” – II Chronicles 16:9a
I bought my first pair of readers the other day – the not-so-cool, low-prescription reading glasses displayed right next to the ultra-cool sport shades and sunglasses in your local drugstore. It was a traumatic development and a literal eye-opener at the same time – traumatic because of my ridiculous vanity, and an eye-opener because said vanity had reduced me to only being able to read print held an entire arm’s length away from my face.
My dear friend stood their patiently (and somewhat amazed, I’m sure), as I tried on more than a dozen pairs of readers – not to test their effectiveness, but their attractiveness. I finally settled on a pair with purple and black frames, which I have yet to wear in public. But reading in the privacy of my room later that night (with more ease than I’d experienced in months), I laughed at myself for suffering so needlessly and so vainly for so long. Pride can sometimes keep us from taking the help that is just an arm’s length away.
In Matthew 9 and Matthew 14, help was a mere arm’s length away. In both of these passages, Jesus is in ministering mode, making His way through pressing crowds, healing physical diseases while preaching on the disease of sin (Matthew 9:12-13, 14:14). The better-known of the passages is no doubt Matthew 9, where the woman with the issue of blood (a disease that rendered her physically, socially, and spiritually unclean in Jewish culture) approaches Jesus from behind and touches the hem of His garment (Mark 5:25-34, Luke 8:43-48). Power goes out of Jesus, and the woman is immediately made whole. But interestingly, she was not the only one to receive healing by merely reaching out and touching Him.
In Matthew 14, an unspecified number of people receive the same hem-of-His-garment healing. Jesus had just arrived by boat in a seaside town called Genessaret. He had just finished walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee, and after watching Him calm the storm, his disciples (despite helping to feed the five thousand earlier that day) had just proclaimed, “Of a truth thou art the Son of God.”
And then another healing marathon takes place. The men of Genessaret grasp the awesome possibilities of their latest visitor, and they compel people from the surrounding area to come and touch the “hem of His garment”, instantly healing them just like the woman in Matthew 9.
But there’s more to that hem than meets the eye. In the original Greek, the words used to describe the hem of Jesus’ garment refer to tassels that every Jewish man wore on their four-cornered tallit or prayer shawl. This particular feature was ordered by God in Numbers 15 (Verses 37-41). The tassels were a reminder of God’s laws and God’s authority in their lives, and they were a public declaration of their faith in God (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 4:10). There was no magic in those tassles, but to touch them on the garment of Jesus was to acknowledge Him as Lord and Messiah. From the woman with the issue of blood, to the nameless in need at Genessaret, healing started with claiming Christ as Savior and Sovereign Lord of all (Romans 10:9-11, Colossians 3:1-16).
And it’s the same for us today. No healing can take place until we give Christ His proper place in our hearts and lives (II Corinthians 1:5-7, Philippians 3:10, Colossians 1:17-19, James 5:16). We all want healing on some level – from heartaches, from our past, even from physical ailments and the cares of this world. But how often are we willing to allow His sovereign will to be done in the situation? How often are we willing to let God be God and completely trust the outcomes and the order of events to Him?
My advice to you today – let go of what you think should happen. Rather, give God a blank check. Stop trying to tell Him what to do and just surrender – really surrender – to what He wants to accomplish in you and through you (Proverbs 3:5-6, Ephesians 3:14-21, Philippians 2:12-13). His way may not be what you had in mind, but it will yield more than you could ask for or imagine.
Tell God you will do what He wants you to – and mean it. He’s not looking for conditional surrender. He’s looking for you to place your complete trust in His plan, His timing, and His authority. Surrender it all.
“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” – Isaiah 9:7
“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” – Isaiah 26:3-4
“With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” – Isaiah 26:9
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” – Matthew 1:23
This is the first truly peaceful morning I’ve had in a long time. Yesterday was our last day of school before Christmas, and yet, Christmas itself is still a couple days away. And right now, my coffee cup and I are resting on this sweet, little cushion of uncommitted time.
I’ve got to tell you, this is a good Christmas in the Brokaw household – not because of what we have, but because of who we have. After a year or more of struggles and strained relationships, God has brought some things full circle for us, and He has restored things that seemed forever-lost only last year.
In Isaiah 26, Emmanuel comes full circle, and peace, good will to men, is restored on the earth. This chapter refers not to the Bethlehem birth, but to the second coming of Christ, following the Tribulation (Revelation 19:11-16, 20:1-6). And although it paints the picture of peace during the thousand-year reign of Christ (the Millenium), it also provides some keys to our personal peace in a wearied and troubled world.
I point you to this passage because I know how hard it is to preserve your peace in this messed-up, upside-down world. I know what it’s like to go through Christmases where all is not right with the world in general, and with your world, in particular. But I must tell you that the baby in the manger was just the first coming of Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23, Luke 2:11-16) – a silent night where understanding was by invitation only, and most of the world slept restlessly through the royal birth. It was marked by obscurity, humility, and an unimpressive cast of characters, as God’s greatest plans so often are (I Corinthians 1:27-28, II Corinthians 4:7). But Emmanuel’s second coming will be an every-knee-shall-bow, kicking-down-the-door, glorious kind of arrival, where the Prince of Peace will finally and forever make His presence known throughout the whole earth (Isaiah 9:6, Philippians 2:7-11).
We wonder how the Jews could miss their own Messiah, but it’s easy to understand when you read Isaiah. They were looking for the conquering, earth-shaking Messiah that Isaiah spoke of over and over (Isaiah 60-66) – not realizing that their Messiah’s mission began with the humility of a manger, a cross, and a borrowed tomb. and will someday culminate in a triumphant return as the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
But I digress. Let’s get back to the peace we need right now to cope with the world we live in right now. It starts in Verse 3 of Isaiah 26. The most perfect peace we can know in this life starts with a mind fixed on God – not on your problems, not on your to-do list, not even on the people around you, but on God. Emmanuel came to be with us, but how often are we with Him? Are we so wrapped up in the cares and calls of this world that He doesn’t even have a foothold in our thoughts?
The second key to peace is in Verse 9, where Isaiah’s soul desires God in the night, and then early in the morning. I don’t care how busy you are. There is a time in the wee hours of the morning where your thoughts are your own, and YOU decide how to spend those moments. And when you lay your head at night, you control the last few minutes of consciousness before you drift off to sleep (Psalm 1:2, 16:7, 42:8, 63:6, 77:6, 92:2, Philippians 4:6-7). Have you given any of that precious, private time to God? It may just be the missing piece to your peace.
This Christmas, Emmanuel is waiting at the door of your heart (Revelation 3:20), and you can rest in the promise that someday, He will return in glorious fashion to right every wrong (Isaiah 25:8, Revelation 21:4, 22:10-13, 20). In the meantime, may we fix our minds on Him (Romans 12:2), and pray, “O Come Again, Emmanuel.”
Have you truly invited Emmanuel into your heart and into your life? You don’t have to spend Christmas without hope. Emmanuel came to save us, and He’s coming again.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” – Isaiah 9:2
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
“…For every one is an hypocrite and an evildoer, and every mouth speaketh folly. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” – Isaiah 9:17b
I have a dear friend who is in a rough, rough place right now, and her need has driven us both to our knees like never before. The answer has not come as quickly and cleanly as we would like. Weeks have turned into months and my friend’s need remains. But although our prayers have yet to yield their intended results, we are seeing some of God’s intended results.
It’s been the worst of times, but in many ways, the sweetest of times, as our prayers have been stretched – stretched in time, in content, and in intensity. And while the need that started it all continues to stretch my friend to the limit, it has also stretched our prayer muscles considerably. And by God’s grace, we have seen countless other answers to prayer (big and small) that have served to stretch our faith.
In Isaiah 9, God is the one doing all the stretching – but His is a stretch of mercy, the kind of mercy that endures forever and graciously endures fools like me.
When Isaiah delivered this prophecy to King Ahaz of the Kingdom of Judah, God’s people were in a rough, rough place. Attacked from all sides, Judah was stuck with a bad king and his equally-bad ideas. During Ahaz’s reign, Judah had already endured a revolt by the Edomites (who lived among them) and an invasion from the Philistines (the boys next door), and now the northern tribes of Israel were teaming up with Syria to launch another assault on Jerusalem (II Chronicles 28:16-18, Isaiah 7:1-2).
Ahaz’s brilliant idea? An alliance with the worst of them all – Assyria (II Kings 16:7-9). It was the Old Testament version of teaming up with the schoolyard bully who takes your lunch money in return for his protection. In no time, Ahaz was stripping gold and other treasures out of the temple to make his protection payments to Assyria.
Two ironies come to light. First of all, Assyria (Ahaz’s new best friends) would be the next to invade Judah (Isaiah 8:6-8). Secondly, despite the constant, willful rebellion of Judah, God’s hand of reconciliation is “stretched out still” – a promise that is spoken no less than three times in Chapter 9 (Isaiah 9:12, 17 and 21).
Judah has failed repeatedly – idol worship, child sacrifices, occult practices (II Kings 16:1-4, Isaiah 8:19) – unspeakable sin. But the invitation stands to leave behind unspeakable sin for amazing grace. A child will be born – some 700 years later – and the salvation plan that will eventually undo and outlast Judah’s failures will spring into action (Isaiah 9:6-8).
I love the picture of the very Hand of God, stretching down from heaven to lift us out of the swill of our sin. I am so grateful that no matter how low we go, how far we stray, or how bad our ideas, that Hand is still stretched out to us. I think of that Baby Who would save His people from their sin – tiny arms stretched up from the manger, the perfect little fingers of Emmanuel personifying heaven’s reaching for us (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:21, John 1:14, Philippians 2:6-8, Hebrews 1:1-2, I Timothy 1:15).
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Those words were written for the people of Judah, and yet, I have walked in darkness. Better yet, I have seen THE Great Light. I have deserved the anger of God, but I have received the Hand that is stretched out still.
What amazing grace. What a mighty God we serve. What a reason to celebrate the Child born unto us.
Have you taken hold of that outstretched hand? Whatever your need, God is reaching out to you. Let Him be your Mighty God, your Wonderful Counselor, and let the Prince of Peace give you the peace that passes understanding this Christmas.
“Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” – Psalm 30:4-5
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” – II Corinthians 1:3-4
“In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” – I Thessalonians 5:18
A part of me is dreading Thanksgiving this year. Oh don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for more than I can possibly explain. God has been good to me, and I love family get-togethers, extra days off, and fancy feasts – and that’s where the dread comes in. In recent months, I’ve made some drastic changes to my eating habits. By God’s grace, the results have been great, and unlike my many other weight-loss attempts, I’ve truly been praying my way through this process. And that, and that alone, has made all the difference.
But Thanksgiving dinner is going to be like forty days in the wilderness. It will be the ultimate carb-laden, gravy-soaked temptation (I’ve always been a sucker for stuffing and all varieties of pie). A part of me wants to lock myself in a closet with a giant salad and pray for the dawn of Black Friday. If I can just make it to the morning after, I think I’ll be okay.
In Psalm 30, David is praising God for the morning after. The title of this Psalm tells us that it was written for the dedication of “the house of David”. Some scholars believe that David wrote it upon completion of his own palace in Jerusalem (some 7 years into his reign), but others believe it was written in faith-filled anticipation of the building of the temple many years later by his son, Solomon.
Either way, whether in the early years of his 40-year reign or in the final years, David had seen his share of morning afters. He knew what it was to cry out to God in despair – for rescue from his own sins and from the sins of others (Psalm 34:4, 18:35, 51:10-17, Lamentations 3:22-25, Daniel 2:21). And as a man of war and Saul’s favorite moving target, he knew the humbling terror of a brush with death, as well as the need to live every moment in total dependence on God’s promises (I Samuel 18:7-12, Psalm 16:7-9, Psalm 23, Psalm 77).
But more than that, David knew that God’s deliverance was a constant in his life (II Samuel 22:4, 47, Psalm 40:1-3, Isaiah 45:22) – not once, not twice, but over and over again. He talks about multiple divine rescues – from enemies (Psalm 30:1), from sickness (Verse 2), from near-death experiences (Verse 3), and from his own pride (Verses 6-8).
And David’s conclusion is this. Because of God, the weeping always ended in joy. The tragedy always ended in triumph. And the morning after brought a new memory of God’s goodness. The morning after brought thanksgiving, not the turkey-and-gravy kind, but the kind that has to testify to the greatness of God – the kind of thanksgiving that has to tell others, the kind that stores up hope for tomorrow, because it saw the strong hand of God in the darkest night (Psalm 42:8, 136:12, Isaiah 50:4).
Maybe your long night is enduring. Maybe it’s lasted longer than you can bear, and you think morning will never come. I’m here to tell you to hold on. The God Who rescued David over and over has rescued you more times than you know, and He has not changed. And though your night will eventually give way to the morning, God’s mercy, His love, and His sovereign hand in your life endure forever. They will outlast every trial, every tear, and every terror.
And this long night is not in vain. In God’s hand, it is a building block of faith – for you and for those that God has entrusted to you. The morning will be your opportunity to testify to the goodness of God and to point the weary and the brokenhearted to Him. God is good. God is working. And your next deliverance may inspire faith in the hearts of those that need it.
The mercies of the morning after are God’s timeless promise to His children. Wait out the night, my friend. Pray, cry out, and hold out for the morning.
Don’t give up on the morning. If you can hold on in prayer, God will bring blessing out of this long night. Believe the promise, and thank Him for it.
“Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” – Joshua 1:9
“And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” – II Kings 2:9
The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. – Isaiah 50:4
This was the summer that Joey discovered BMX racing. Being one of those fearless, non-stop kids who practically lives on his bicycle, he took to it right away, and by September, we were driving to Long Island for the state championship. The trip home took us through the heart of New York City, and Joey was wide-eyed the whole way. But the part that most caught his imagination was the drive through Chinatown. He’s since taken to telling people that he’s “been to China”, and there’s no convincing him otherwise. Joey knows what he saw from the window of our rental car, and in his 7-year old mind, it was the real thing.
In II Kings 2, Elisha knew that Elijah was the real thing, and he craved an anointing that equaled and even outdid his mentor. Elijah was incredibly used by God during the utterly God-less reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Now, having outlived Ahab and his son, Ahaziah (I Kings 22, II Kings 1), Elijah is taking his last journey, knowing that God will soon take him home.
We don’t quite know how, but all of the prophets knew that Elijah’s time was short, including Elisha – and this intern isn’t going anywhere. Three times, Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind (II Kings 2:2, 4, and 6). Twice, the other prophets try to discourage Elisha (Verses 5 and 7), but Elisha is sticking to Elijah like glue. And while 50 prophets watch from the cheap seats on the other side of the Jordan, Elisha follows God’s man across the parted waters to ensure his front-row seat and his final request (Verses 7-9).
Having passed the “how bad do you want it” test, Elijah asks Elisha exactly what he wants, and Elisha doesn’t miss a beat. His request for a double portion sounds selfish when taken out of context, but in the context of eternity, it is a request that touches the heart of God (II Kings 2:9-10).
You see, the whirlwind was coming, and Elijah would soon be gone (II Kings 2:11-12), and at a time when the kingdom of Israel still rotted in the hands of evil kings (and Jezebel was still the queen mother), Elisha was going to immediately step into the very big shoes of Elijah. And with his mentor gone, he desperately needed the anointing, the equipping, and the Spirit-filling that only God could provide.
In that culture, “the double portion” was the inheritance given to the firstborn son (Deuteronomy 21:17), and it was a package that you couldn’t even put a price on. It was right and responsibility and power and authority. It was an immediate anointing to accomplish whatever needed to be done. Elisha knew he would inherit Elijah’s title (I Kings 19:19), but the job required so much more than that – it required the unparalleled power of God (Isaiah 41:10, Zechariah 4:6, Acts 1:8).
So what’s the implication for modern-day Christians like you and me? Does the double portion mean Cadillacs, condos, and mountains of cash? No, no, and most likely, no. It means that God is a Good, Good Father Who never leaves us less-than-prepared for the work that He wants us to do (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:12-13). And His heart is touched by those who follow hard after Him, seeking His face, chasing His will, and longing to be His most faithful and trusted servants (Psalm 42:2, I Chronicles 16:11, Jeremiah 29:13, John 15:4-5).
And remember that Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. In recent weeks, I have taken to asking God for a double portion of the spirit of those who have mentored and ministered to me. And I’m convinced that God delights in that request, because it’s really just a prayer to be more like Him. Those people are simply the tangible evidences of God’s goodness in my life.
I don’t know about you, but I so want to be the “real thing” – not the richest, not the coolest, not the bestseller or the fan-favorite – but the faithful, profitable, ever-chasing, ever-seeking servant of God (Matthew 25:21, II Timothy 4:11). I want to stick to God like glue, so that I never miss the opportunity to go where He wants me to go. And I want a double portion of His Spirit, so I can do what He desires, and He can do what He desires in me.
What has God called you to do? Know that He will never leave you unprepared or ill-equipped to do His will. Chase Him. Stick to Him like glue. And He will use you in spite of you.
“And Bilhah Rachel’s maid conceived again, and bare Jacob a second son. And Rachel said, With great wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister, and I have prevailed: and she called his name Naphtali.” – Genesis 3:7-8
“The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” – Psalm 16:5-6
“Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” – Hebrews 13:5
As the oldest of three sisters (with one crazy brother thrown in for good measure), I’ve always been intrigued by the story of Leah and Rachel. As a teenager, boys never noticed me, but my younger sister never had that problem. And in my mind, I felt somehow cheated and struggling to catch up. It took me a long time to find the joy in God’s plan for me, and now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I hate to say it, but it’s a very real aspect of the sin nature in women to envy one another, and it doesn’t go away after high school. It’s a fool’s game to look for comfort in comparison – wanting what she has, instead of counting our own blessings – and it’s a surefire formula for failure.
In their defense, Leah and Rachel were undeniably set up for failure by their less-than-lovable father, Laban, in Genesis 29. Jacob thought he was a pretty clever schemer, until he met Uncle Laban, who used a wedding night bait-and-switch to scam an additional 7 years of free labor out of his nephew. Jacob was stuck with Leah, but Jacob was still stuck on Rachel (Genesis 29:21-29).
Once Jacob had married them both, a crazy childbearing contest would ensue, with God Himself tipping the scales in poor, unloved Leah’s direction (Genesis 29:30-31). Desperate to outdo each other, they even pulled their handmaids into the fray, offering them to Jacob as a way of upping their count of baby boys (Genesis 30:1-5, 9-13).
If you listen closely to the naming of Jacob’s sons, each boy’s name is like a well-aimed shot at the other sister (Genesis 29:32-35, 30:6-13, 17-24). It’s a sad, sick competition, and in the end, nobody wins (Job 5:2, Proverbs 14:30, Philippians 4:11-13). Rachel dies birthing Jacob’s last son, Benjamin, and although she bears more sons than her sister, Leah never wins Jacob’s love.
We shake our heads at the immaturity of Leah and Rachel, but we can be just as foolish. We tell ourselves that we’ve been through more, lost more, and have been cheated out of more than others. And we deny that we’re holding on to more, refusing to forget “what is behind”. Instead of laying aside every weight, we drag it all around with us like a ball and chain (II Corinthians 5:17, Philippians 3:13-14, Hebrews 12:1-3). And we envy those who have simply made peace with God’s plan for their lives (John 16:33).
The enemy may tell you that you want “what she has”, but I’ll tell you what she has. She has every bit as much pain and sorrow and disappointment as you. It may not take the same form as yours. She may not wear it the same way or speak of it often, but her struggles, her longings, her regrets, and her empty places are no less pronounced. In the flesh, we all have our discontent, and the only Giver of contentment is Christ (Psalm 73:25-26, Isaiah 26:3, Philippians 4:11-13, I Timothy 6:6-8).
Self-pity, anger with God, and wounded pride are snares that Satan lays out for all of us at one time or another. Those who avoid the traps are those who have set the Lord always before them (Psalm 16:8, Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 7:24-25). He is the Sovereign Truth that transcends all of our unsatisfied questions, all of our unfulfilled desires, and our flawed, human sense of fairness.
And if the object of your envy doesn’t know Christ, then you are jealous of an illusion, a fragile facade of contentment. What she has doesn’t matter (Proverbs 3:31-32, I John 2:15). What she needs is your prayer (Job 42:10, Matthew 5:44-46, Galatians 6:2, I Timothy 2:1-4, Titus 3:3-6).
You may not have everything you want, but you have more than you know in Christ (Isaiah 54:4-8, Jeremiah 31:3, I John 4:19). Trust Him. Know that He is greater than all you’ve lost or could ever hope to gain, and make your peace with His plan.
If you’ve been struggling with a sense of unfairness, take it to the cross. Confess those feelings to God, and ask Him to release you from the trap of envy and covetousness. You have more than you know in Christ.
“For they all made us afraid, saying, Their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done. Now therefore, O God, strengthen my hands.” – Nehemiah 6:9
“So the wall was finished in the twenty and fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty and two days. And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” – Nehemiah 6:15-16
“Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.” – Psalm 31:24
Richard is an over-sized rubber chicken. My dear sister won him at a carnival game, named him “Richard”, and then lovingly bestowed him on my seven-year old, Joey. Of course, Joey was elated, and my sister gave me the kind of playful smirk that told me she knew just how thrilled I was to have Richard on board. Awkwardly long and just plain ugly, Richard is the cherry on top of the endless pile of clutter that is Joey’s room. And Joey has developed such an affection for him, that Richard will occasionally clutter other rooms, the backseat of my car, and the kitchen table as well.
My sister is loving every minute of it, and I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Richard isn’t going away anytime soon.
In Nehemiah 4, Jerusalem’s newly-appointed governor is facing violent opposition, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. After a divine appointment with the King of Persia (Nehemiah 2), Nehemiah has returned to the broken-down city of Jerusalem with God-given timber, title, and tenacity. His first mission: to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem. It is a matter of national pride and, more urgently, national security (Nehemiah 2:10, 18-20).
But of course, naysayers abound. The Samaritan governor, Sanballat, and his Ammonite henchman, Tobiah, enjoy seeing Jerusalem vulnerable, defenseless, and beaten down, and they intend to keep it that way (Nehemiah 4:1-3). While Nehemiah sets to work, they try to set him up – over and over again. They rally the Jews’ enemies on every side, threatening to attack the builders (Verses 7-8). They use the Jewish nobles (who they had in their back pocket) to try to destroy the work from the inside (Nehemiah 3:5, 6:17-18). And when the wall nears completion, they attempt to lure Nehemiah away to an ambush point on the outskirts of the city. They even threaten to write slanderous letters to the King of Persia, naming Nehemiah as a traitor (Nehemiah 6:1-8).
Despite their constant bullying, Nehemiah will not be moved (Psalm 18:29, 27, 40:2, 55:22, 121:3). He is standing on God’s promises (I Thessalonians 5:24). God had already turned a king’s heart in his favor (Nehemiah 2, Proverbs 21:1), provided all the materials needed to repair the walls, and protected him all the way from Shushan to Jerusalem. These hope-wreckers never get a foot in the door with Nehemiah, and within 52 days, there’s nothing left to do but install the gates. The wall is completely rebuilt (Nehemiah 6:15-16).
Although Nehemiah seemed outnumbered and the assault was constant, Nehemiah wielded the weapon of prayer to fend off those would-be hope-wreckers. He had prayed his way into this, and he would pray his way through it. As a result, Nehemiah displayed the kind of godly discernment that is only cultivated in a proactive prayer life (Psalm 116:1, Jeremiah 29:11-13, James 1:5, 5:16b). After months of prayer, he knew exactly how and when to petition the king. In Jerusalem, he turned words of fear and discouragement into intelligence and armed the builders (Nehemiah 4:12-13). And when Sanballat and Tobiah repeatedly requested a meeting with him, he knew better than to leave the wall for a face-to-face with these two hope-wreckers (Nehemiah 6:2, 12).
All too aware of the danger all around them, Nehemiah and the builders each worked with a sword at their side (Nehemiah 4:18). And if your hope is under constant attack, I would encourage you to do the same. When hope-wreckers come calling, when they try to beat you down where you stand with words of discouragement, when they try to lure you away from all that God has commanded you to build, when doubt and fear harass you night and day, keep building with your Sword (the Word of God) at your side (Psalm 119:81,114-116,147, 130:5, Joshua 1:8-9).
Stand on the promises. Fight the good fight of faith. And build your house on the Rock. Our God is awesome and able and faithful. Build your hope on nothing less.
If you are waiting on God and praying His promises for your situation, keep going! Don’t let anyone distract you, discourage you, or derail you. God is faithful. Hold on to your hope.
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” – Numbers 23:19
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” – John 16:7
“Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.” – Ephesians 1:10
Honestly, I’m a little freaked out. Seasons are changing, new challenges are coming, and what seems like a walk in the park to others feels like a dive in the deep end to me.
I’d explain myself in more concrete terms if I could, but it’s hard to put into words (and I rarely run out of words). All I can tell you is that God is moving, and I’m trying to keep up.
In John 16, Jesus is moving, and the disciples aren’t keeping up at all. The Last Supper has been served, and Judas has excused himself from the table. Jesus knows that His betrayal has already been set in motion, and Calvary awaits His arrival. He is prepping His disciples for life without Him, although they have a hard time believing that it could ever come to that (John 13:1-3).
He spoke of preparing a place for them in John 14 (“And if I go…I will come again”). He reminded them to abide in Him in John 15 (“for without me, ye can do nothing”). But in Chapter 16, He lays out the essential order of God’s plan to transform them from the inside out.
The key comes in Verse 7. Jesus explains that He will go away – but His leaving is actually a good thing, because their spiritual maturity depends on His departure. Jesus tells them that the Holy Spirit cannot come to them until He leaves them, and in doing so, He reminds us that there is always an essential order of events in God’s plan.
In their three and a half years of following Jesus, the disciples had mimicked the behaviors of Jesus, rarely understanding what they were doing and why they were doing it. The Holy Spirit would finally internalize their faith (John 14:16-18, 15:8, 26-27, I Corinthians 2:12-14). They would be more than just the hands and feet of Jesus. They would transform into men of both action and understanding, with eyes wide open to the heart and mind of Christ (I Thessalonians 4:1-3, 7-8).
In Verse 12, Jesus tells the disciples that they can’t handle the truth. He is longing to explain things to them, but they don’t have the capacity in and of themselves to process it (Mark 9:32, Luke 2:50, 9:45, 18:34). They need the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to connect all the dots and guide them to a knowledge of the truth (Verse 13).
But here’s what I want you to take away from this. There was a preordained order of events (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Isaiah 44:6-8, Lamentations 3:25-26). God knew what He was doing. And what seemed like an awful development was actually the birthing of something beautiful (John 16:21-22). Salvation would come through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, but sanctification (the lifelong process of becoming more and more Christ-like from the inside out) would come through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Do you understand that your life works the same way? If you know Christ as your Savior, God has a plan to sanctify you (to grow you in holiness). There are preordained events that will take place (Psalm 37:23, Ephesians 2:10, ) – some of which may be uncomfortable, painful, and even downright awful – but they are never without purpose. There is an essential order to them, designed to refine you and to internalize your faith on a deeper level.
I’ll break it to you as gently as I can. Sometimes things have to leave our lives to make room for the next piece of God’s plan. Sometimes they’re things that we love and desperately want to keep, but God’s way is perfect. His plan is always good, and He alone knows when the fullness of time has come and the next season needs to begin.
Surrender to God’s essential order. Let Him usher in a new season in your life, trusting that your surrender, combined with His sovereignty, will contribute to your sanctification. It takes time to be holy, and sometimes, it takes a new season to deepen our faith. Press on. Press into Him. And prepare to go deeper.
Do you feel a new season coming on? Are you being forced to leave behind a season that you love? Trust God’s essential order, and ask Him to grow your faith during times of transition.
“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” – Isaiah 46:9-10
“Thus saith the Lord; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord…Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.” – Jeremiah 17:5, 7
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” – II Corinthians 4:7
Joey has a limited menu. Despite my best efforts, he will only tolerate three vegetables (cucumbers, corn, and carrots), and the current staple of his diet is what he calls a “toasted cheese sandwich”. Invented by his uncle, it consists of two slices of toasted white bread with one slice of cheese (note: two slices of cheese is unacceptable).
My dear hubby recently emerged from the store with an alternative brand of cheese slices, as our usual was out of stock. I knew at once that we were doomed to failure. I made the sandwich happily, as if nothing was amiss, and placed it in front of Joey. After just one bite, he declared that the cheese tasted “fuzzy” (yes, “fuzzy”) and chose the starvation option in our “Eat It or Starve” kitchen policy.
Joey’s cheese sandwich has to be made precisely to plan, and there is no work-around.
In Matthew 26, Peter was sure that he knew the plan, and he was sure of himself. Jesus had stated and restated what was about to happen to Him (Verses 2, 11-12, 21, 31), but Peter and the disciples just couldn’t wrap their heads around anything Jesus was saying. And Peter was just audacious enough to think that he could protect Jesus from death, and just foolish enough to think that Jesus needed his protection.
Worse still, Peter thought he was strong enough to face any fear, fight any temptation, and defeat any foe. He thought that Jesus was counting on his strength (Jeremiah 17:5, 7, II Corinthians 12:9). But instead, Jesus was counting on Peter’s failure (Matthew 26:33-35).
So often, we convince ourselves that God’s plan and purpose for us boils down to one moment, one choice, or one decision on our part. We tell ourselves, “If only I had done this…” We torture ourselves trying to understand every last detail of God’s plan. And instead of moving forward in faith, we freeze when we don’t think we have enough to go on.
From his inability to stay awake in the garden, to his misguided swing of a sword, to his three-peat denial of Jesus (Matthew 26:40-41, 51-54, 69-75), the night would prove that Peter had nothing to back up his bravado. And yet, this same night would accomplish everything that God intended, in spite of Peter’s failure. Prophecies would be fulfilled, salvation’s plan would be furthered, and Peter’s faith would be forged – not in his own strength, but in the plan and purpose of the Almighty (Matthew 26:26-28, 56, I Peter 5:10).
You don’t have to figure it out. You don’t have to be the strong one. You don’t even have to get everything right (and trust me, you won’t – Proverbs 24:16). As Micah 6:8 says, you just have to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Stick close to Him. Follow His Word and follow His lead, and He will take care of the rest – even when you fail.
Outside of salvation, there is no one moment that will make or break God’s plan for you, and to think that God’s plan hinges on our wisdom and strength is pride at its most poisonous.
In truth, God is forever working around our shortcomings (Matthew 6:25-33, Philippians 1:6, 2:13, Hebrews 11, 13:20-21). When we are weak, He is strong, and His grace is sufficient. Satan wants you to believe that if you miss the next step or take a wrong turn, all will be lost. I submit to you that you have missed more steps and taken more wrong turns than you know, and God’s grace has covered it all.
Peter thought he had come so far, but the work that God would do in him and through him was just beginning. And so it is with you and me. Our flesh will fail, this fallen world will trip us up, and we will overestimate our own importance over and over again (Psalm 73:26, Romans 12:3, I Corinthians 10:12). But God is a Master at the work-around. He takes the broken pieces, the ashes, and the sinking sand of our best attempts and somehow works them into His perfect plan (Isaiah 61:1-3, Jeremiah 29:11-13, Romans 8:28).
This does not depend on you. YOU depend on HIM. Settle into His sovereignty. Accept your inability. And praise God for His work and the work-around.
What fight are you fighting in your own strength today? What is the one moment or the one move that everything seems to hinge on right now? Give it to God. Let Him accomplish His will and His work – in that situation and in YOU.
If I had a nickel for every time I posed the question, “What do you say?”, to my little boy…well, let’s just say I’d have a whole lot of nickels. I come by it honestly, as I can remember my parents using the same line in our household a million times over. More of a cue than a question, the right answer depended on context. If you had crossed a line, it was a cue to apologize promptly. But if no one was in obvious trouble and nothing was broken, then it was a call to gratitude – a firm reminder to say “thank you” for everything from breakfast to birthday presents.
In Psalm 66, the writer answers the question, “What do you say?” His response is in Verse 3, “Say unto God, ‘How terrible (awesome) art Thou in Thy works.” Like so many psalms, Psalm 66 is a call to gratitude, a firm reminder to Israel to say “thank you” to God. But there’s more to it than that. While there is the general call to the nation of Israel to remember the incredible works of the Lord, with particular emphasis on Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Verse 6, Exodus 14), there is also a call to offer the same thanks for the hard, awful times.
Scholars believe that Psalm 66 corresponds with the events of Ezra 3. The Book of Ezra begins with Cyrus, King of Persia, releasing the Jewish captives that his kingdom inherited with their defeat of Babylon (Ezra 1). By Chapter 3, those exiled Jews have returned home and are finally able to resume the morning and evening sacrifices (atonement for sin) and their God-appointed feasts in Jerusalem. But as they prepare to rebuild the temple, the worshippers are gripped with a mix of emotions.
Those born in captivity, experiencing Jerusalem and the prospect of a new temple in that holy city for the first time, are overcome with joy. But the older generation, those who remember the beauty of Solomon’s temple before its destruction, are overcome with tears for the long-lost glory of Jerusalem. Ezra 3:13 tells us that the shouts of the people were so overwhelming that no one could distinguish between the cries of joy and the cries of sorrow. But it all culminates in the praise offered in Psalm 66.
Psalm 66 is believed to have been sung during this historic gathering of the returned exiles. In Verses 8-12, the psalmist recalls the losses, the times of oppression, the trials that proved the faithfulness of God. And there is just as much of a call to gratitude in those times. Because this firm reminder will prepare the nation – and the individual hearts of the people – to both praise and proclaim the works of God (Psalm 99, 103, 119:164-165, II Kings 17:38-39, Isaiah 43:21, Revelation 19:6).
You see, with God, there’s no such thing as an isolated incident. Every gift, every blessing, every trial, every tear is used over and over again – reused and recycled into the strength and wisdom and hope that will be required just up around the bend (Romans 5:3-5).
And regardless of circumstance, there is always cause for gratitude with God (Psalm 29, 34:1, 40:3, Ezra 3:11, Nehemiah 9:5-6, I Corinthians 15:57, II Corinthians 2:14). He is in everything. He is using everything. And nothing is wasted. The same God, Who allows us to bask in His sunshine will use rain to produce the growth that we need.
But let me tell you, it’s Verses 16-20 of Psalm 66 that really hit me where I live. Here the psal
mist testifies to the mercies of God, the undeserved forgiveness, and the unworthy prayers that God is still always willing to hear. What a comfort. What a gift. What a Savior. What a reason for praise.
Now, what do you say?
Are you giving God the praise that He deserves? Whatever your situation, He is working all things together for your good. If you find yourself taking His blessings and His mercies for granted, take some time to praise God for His faithfulness.