Devotionals During COVID-19
From the CCC Intake Coordinator, Carol Landfried, MA
Except where noted, Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
God’s Transcendent “Otherness” and Our Impatience- June 24, 2020
“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)
How many times so far this week have you heard “I’m tired of wearing this mask!”? Ok, now fess up, how many times have you said it?
Most of us are, by nature, impatient people. We want patience…and we want it now! Why is this so? I’m sure there are several factors that contribute to our impatience, but here are three that may answer the question, at least in part. More importantly, Scripture shows us how “other” God is, how impatience is never a problem for Him!
We are fallen people in a fallen world. If patience (King James translates the word as “longsuffering”) is fruit, or evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit in believers (Galatians 5:22), then it must not come naturally, for Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit as opposed to the works of the flesh. While it is obvious that some of us are less patient that others, the truth is it takes the work of the Spirit to develop true “longsuffering” in our renewed spirit. And we still need God’s Spirit to do His work to develop patience in us.
On the other hand, Peter describes God as “patient.” “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).
We are “trapped in time.” We have minutes and hours, day and night, beginnings and endings, past, present and future. We’re not aware of how bound we are to time…that is, until we look at our jammed calendars, or suddenly realize that we have been binge watching TV for hours without knowing how much time has passed. And notably, we have begun measuring these recent times as “before the quarantine” and “when this is over.”
God, however, has no such limitations. His measurement of time defies our logic – “But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” (2 Peter 3:8). He announced to John, “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8).
Theologians try to describe the indescribable with the concept of “already but not yet,” and point to various verses that tell us that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. What???
We focus on temporal goals. It’s sad to say (and I confess I am guilty of this as much as anyone else), but we all too often live life as if this is all there is. We put so much of our energies and attention on finishing school, getting promoted, getting married, buying a house, losing weight, saving money for retirement, etc., that we forget this isn’t all there is. James describes our lives as “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
None of those are “wrong” goals – they’re just not the kinds of goals that grabs God’s attention. His personal goal for us is nothing less that having us become like Jesus! “For whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son…” (Romans 8:29). And how about this for a goal – “For God has allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: he purposed long ago in his sovereign will that all human history should be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth should find its perfection and fulfillment in him.” (Ephesians 1:9,10, The New Testament in Modern English, J.B. Phillips)! When was the last time we focused on that goal?
While we are still in this season of the pandemic and find ourselves, once again, succumbing to impatience (and reacting in unhealthy, sinful ways when we do), I suggest we ask God to see this time of history, both globally and personally, through His eyes.
This can dramatically change our prayer life. For example, when we pray for ourselves, and for others, let’s pray for the willingness to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He works to develop patience in us. And when we pray for our nation, the Church, and the world, let’s pray for His plan that everything “should find its perfection and fulfillment in him” to be accomplished. Let’s ask Him to show us how we can be a part of His beautiful plan. Let’s focus on these types of prayers this week.
Finally, remember God’s promise that He will complete the good work He has begun in you (Philippians 1:6)! When you are feeling tired of wearing your mask, and even more tired of becoming impatient and angry that it’s taking so long for God to “fix” you, may you be encouraged by this truth – God’s not finished with you yet!
God’s Goodness and Greatness- June 17, 2020
“For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You….For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God.” (Psalm 86:5,10)
Our world has been shaken. In the past few months, we have been assaulted by sickness and death, job loss and layoffs, home schooling and home staying, stress and fear, loneliness and depression. And then we were assailed by murders, brutality, injustice, anger, fear, hatred, and confusion. It is no exaggeration to say we have been attacked physically, relationally, emotionally, economically, socially, and spiritually.
It is not surprising, therefore, that many of us are feeling out of balance, as if we have lost our footing. It’s a natural reaction to being shaken. When that happens physically, when we are feeling unstable and unbalanced, we may benefit from crutches to help strengthen bruised or broken legs until we feel steadier and can walk up straighter. Let me suggest that right now we can certainly benefit from spiritual crutches!
Last week I noted the truth that we all have disabilities. We are broken people in a broken world. We, along with all of creation, groan, waiting for the redemption that only God will bring (2 Corinthians 5:2-4; Romans 8: 22, 23). In the meantime, we are all in need of spiritual crutches to enable us to walk straight, steady, and sure in the path God has for us.
Gary Collins, in his book, The Biblical Basis for Christian Counseling for People Helpers, has categorized God’s many attributes into two groups – His goodness and His greatness. His goodness includes His holiness, righteousness, justice, love, and truth, while His greatness is His omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, and immutability. God provides a perfect balance of these two groups in Himself.
How wonderful it is to be able to lean on these two groups, to walk with these spiritual crutches! How gracious God is to reveal Himself to us and to invite us to lean on Him! Here are just a few of the numerous verses that remind us of God’s goodness and greatness. Go ahead and lean on them – they’ll hold you up!
- “How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have worked for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men!” (Ps. 31:19)
- “O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Ps. 34:8)
- “…You provided in Your goodness for the poor, O God.” (Ps. 68:10)
- “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” (Psalm 136:1)
- “For the LORD Most High is to be feared, a great King over all the earth. He subdues peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” (Ps. 47:2,3)
- “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, His holy mountain.” (Ps. 48:1)
- Your way O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples.” (Ps. 77:13, 14)
- “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD, my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters; He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks upon the wings of the wind; He makes the winds His messengers, flaming fire His ministers.” (Ps. 104:1-4)
In our prayers this week, let’s ask God to show His goodness and greatness in all of our requests
God’s Ability and Our Disability- June 10, 2020
“Then Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth.” (I Samuel 17:33)
As with most challenging times, this pandemic has revealed our weaknesses, both personally and globally. We were not able to predict this deadly coronavirus. We were not able to stop its spread from nation to nation. We have not been able to find a cure or vaccine, although scientists are working hard (remember to pray for them!). Nor have we been able to stop the impact it has had on our economy, although government leaders are making attempts (they need our prayers, too!).
Closer to home, some parents have found they are barely able to home school their children, on top of working from home. Some families are not able to pay their bills because they have lost their jobs. Others have not been able to successfully handle the isolation. In short, many of us are feeling our “dis-abilities.”
And now, with the murder of George Floyd, we are faced with the hard truth that we have not been able to end racism. We are not able to eliminate violence. We are not able to eradicate hatred.
The Bible has several examples of those who were not able, or believed they were not able, or who were told they were not able, like David in the verse above. Consider just a few others:
- Moses – “I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me.” (Numbers 11:14)
- The majority of the men sent out to spy the land – “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We are not able to go up against the people, for they are too strong for us.” (Numbers 13:31)
- Rabshakeh to King Hezekiah – “’Thus says the king [of Assyria], ‘Do not let Hezekiah deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you from my hand…’” (2 Kings 18:29)
- The truth is, we all have disabilities, we all have things we are not able to do. In fact, Jesus said, “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5).
What we do have the ability to do, however, is choose how we handle them. All too often, we choose to focus on our disabilities, make them our identity, and quit trying because we believe we can’t do anything. Or we refuse to accept them and pretend they don’t exist. Or we try to overcompensate for them, trying to hide them by striving to excel in other areas. Some of these responses are healthier than others, but none of them are ideal.
God has called us to live in truth. David wrote, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being…” (Psalm 51:6). In light of this, I believe the healthiest way to respond to our disabilities is to acknowledge and accept them…but don’t stop there, don’t put a period there. Instead, use a comma and finish the statement with, “but God is able!”
What is God able to do?
- God is able to deliver: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17)
- God is able to keep His promises: “and being fully assured that what He had promised He was able to perform.” (Romans 4:14)
- God is able to make us stand righteous before Him: “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)
- God is able to provide: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything you may have an abundance for every good deed.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
- God is able to help us when we are tempted: “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)
- God is able to save us forever: “Therefore He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
- God is able to keep us from stumbling: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24)
In our prayers this week, I suggest we listen to David’s longing to fulfill God’s desire for “truth in the innermost being.” Let’s be honest with God, let’s tell Him specifically what we are not able to do – and then repent and ask for forgiveness for trying to do it in our own strength. Then let’s change our focus from what we are unable to do to what God IS able to do – and let’s watch what He does!
God’s Calling During Times of Injustice- June 3, 2020
“Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” (Psalm 139:23,24)
Last week I noted how challenging times can bring out the best of us. Sadly, we have seen this past week how these same times can bring out the worst in us. We have been awash with images and words of death and violence, fear and confusion, anger and hatred, sadness and grief.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to feel. I don’t know what to do. A blob of confusion has been swirling in my soul. But as I prayed, Psalm 139:23, 24 came to mind, at first gently, then with more insistence and urgency. The verses became a prayer, asking God to search me to see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me. And as God’s Spirit searched my heart, He kindly led me to repentance (Romans 2:4) – for times I have jumped to conclusions or made assumptions; for times I have responded in fear based on first impressions; for times I have harbored anger for those who have done the same to me. As I confessed my sin, He forgave and cleansed, not for my name’s sake, but because He is faithful and just (1 John 1:9). I have committed to God to continually ask Him to search my heart and thoughts specifically to convict me of prejudices and lovelessness and am confident that He will continue to do so.
But now what? I’m still confused, I still don’t know what to say or think or feel or do. Again, as I prayed, other verses came to mind that I am compelled to share. These verses may not give step by step solutions to racism; rather, I think they are guideposts to direct our paths.
But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” (John 8:7) Jesus didn’t say, “He who is without the sin of adultery,” but “He who is without sin.” We may have never committed a violent act, we may never have killed, we may never have been guilty of racism – but none of us can say we are without sin. However we choose to respond, we must begin here, with our acknowledgement that we have sinned and are in need of a Savior.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) We need to humbly ask God for wisdom to find that combination of justice and kindness so we won’t lean too far on one side or the other.
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, ad if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21) Our anger at what has happened can’t begin to compare with God’s wrath. As much as we may want vengeance, the right to act in revenge does not belong to us, it belongs to God, who is just and the justifier (Romans 3:26).
“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism….But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” (James 2:1, 9, 10) James points out the sin of favoritism but is quick to remind us all of our guilt. As my pastor said, “The ground is level at the cross.”
“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9,10) I read the end of the book- we win!
My mother used to say, “When you point your finger at someone, remember three are pointing back at you.” I humbly share these Scripture with no pointing fingers – except up to God, asking Him to give us all His grace.
God’s Testimony Through the Church- May 27, 2020
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
As with many challenging times, this pandemic has brought out the best in some of us. There has been an outpouring of support for our first responders, the doctors, nurses, EMTs, hospital staff, etc. who have been working so hard for the past few months, as have workers of essential businesses like grocery and drug stores. Millions and millions of dollars are being donated to nonprofit organizations to help those who have been impacted by the virus, either directly or indirectly. Volunteers are tirelessly giving of their time at food banks and other programs.
Many churches have especially stepped up to the challenge, using and expanding ministries already in place, or creating new ones almost overnight. Church members are connecting with other members to see how they are handling the isolation and if there’s anything they can do to help. Other believers are meeting online or on the phone to pray for those who have been hit by the coronavirus. Believers are striving to meet the physical, relational, emotional, and spiritual needs of their Christian family members.
It’s a beautiful thing to behold – the Church being the Church! Local congregations are reaching out and helping their members and their communities. Churches are working together with other churches to pool and thus multiply their resources.
This isn’t surprising. The Church has been caring for their “members,” their “church family,” from the beginning (see Acts 2:44-47; 4:34-35). In fact, when the Church is being the Church, we are fulfilling Jesus’ command to love one another.
It’s easy to see how we can love one another when difficult times come…and it’s good to see the Church doing what it needs to do. When it’s smooth sailing, however, we may tend to forget this command or push it onto the back burner. When there isn’t a specific, tangible need to be met, “love one another” can seem rather vague; and when that Is the case, it can be a challenge to really determine if we’re still obeying this command.
Thankfully, Scripture gives us several ways we can show God’s love to members of His family. They are sometimes grouped together in the “one another” verses. I have a list of 40 one another verses (No, I’m not going to list them all – that calls for a whole series!). Here are a few of them, quoted from The Amplified Bible:
“Love one another with brotherly affection [as members of one family], giving precedence and showing honor to one another.” (Romans 12:10)
“Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty (snobbish, high-minded, exclusive), but readily adjust yourself to [people, things] and give yourselves to humble tasks. Never overestimate yourself or be wise in your own conceits.” (Romans 12:16)
“Then let us no more criticize and blame and pass judgment on one another, but rather decide and endeavor never to put a stumbling block or an obstacle or a hindrance in the way of a brother.” (Romans 14:13)
“So let us then definitely aim for and eagerly pursue what makes for harmony and for mutual upbuilding (edification and development) of one another.” (Romans 14:19)
“Welcome and receive [to your hearts] one another, then, even as Christ has welcomed and received you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7)
And that’s just from Romans! We’re also called to show love to another by comforting, encouraging, and stimulating one another; and by not lying, slandering, or grumbling against one another.
Whew! How is this possible? It’s possible because we know how much Jesus loves us. Remembering His love for us enables us to love one another. Jesus perfectly acted out all the “one anothers” when He was here on earth, ultimately by dying on the cross for us. We can be sure He isn’t commanding us to do anything He hasn’t first done for us.
Let’s do it. Let’s strive to live a life that shows the world we are Jesus’ disciples by having and showing love for one another. One way we can begin today is by sharing our joys and concerns with one another and by lifting each other to the Throne of Grace. Let’s love one another when we pray today.
God’s Working Presence in Our Doubting Moments- May 20, 2020
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Peek-a-boo is a simple game that has thrilled babies through the ages. In their little, developing minds, when they cover their eyes and don’t see you, you’re not there. Then they giggle and squeal with delight when they open their eyes and – abracadabra – you’re back again. As entertained as we are playing peek-a-boo with children, our adult minds know better than to believe that because we don’t see someone, he’s not there.
Or do we? How many times have we wondered if God is really there? How many times have we doubted His love when we don’t see Him at work in our lives? How many times have we questioned whether He has forsaken us?
We’re not alone in our questioning – the psalmists often had the same queries:
“Why did You stand afar off, O LORD? Why do You hide Yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)
“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” Psalm 13:1)
“O God, You have rejected us, You have broken us; You have been angry; O restore us.” (Psalm 60:1)
Sound familiar? None of us is immune to these thoughts. Even Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 on the cross when He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
When we doubt God’s presence in our lives if we don’t see Him, when we’re playing “spiritual peek-a-boo,” it is because we’re looking through the eyes of flesh rather than the eyes of faith. Remember, faith is the “conviction of things not seen” (italics mine). It doesn’t mean we don’t have faith; we’re just not tapping into it at the time. So if we catch ourselves looking at our situation through our eyes of flesh and questioning if God is there, we need to, as the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…” because He is –
- The God who sees: “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, ‘You are a God who sees’…” (Genesis 16:13)
- The God who hears: “And God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.’” (Genesis 21:17)
- The God who knows: “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
- The God who loves: “The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have drawn you with lovingkingness” (Jeremiah 31:3)
An old hymn came to mind this week that is an appropriate prayer for ourselves and for those we know and love:
“Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
Ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!”
So as you pray, take confidence that God sees and hears and knows and loves, and ask Him to open our eyes to see Him at work in our situations!
God’s Interventions in Our Tears- May 13, 2020
“…Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
Last week I referred to Psalm 30:5 in my thoughts about joy. The verse is also appropriate for this week’s meditation on tears. Although it’s not always the case, there are several times when the Bible connects joy and tears, sorrow, or pain – Esther 9:22; Nehemiah 8:9-10; John 16:20-21 are a few examples. The fact that Scripture links tears with joy is more evidence that the Bible is true, for it acknowledges both the pain and brokenness of this world and the promise of joy that Jesus brings.
While they probably are not the first item on anyone’s wish list, tears are actually precious gifts from God that offer numerous benefits. Physically, tears clear away debris, like smoke or dust, from our eyes; they lubricate our eyes and help keep them from infection. They can dull pain as they release oxytocin and endorphins. They are a healthy way to self-soothe because they activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps our bodies rest and digest. They can improve our mood. When we sob, we breathe in more air, helping to lower our brain’s temperature, which is more pleasurable to our bodies and thus put us in a better mood. (Marcin, A., April 14, 2017, “9 Ways Crying May Benefit Your Health,” www.healthline.com).
Relationally, tears can be a way to show others that we are hurting when we don’t have the words to say. They can be a distress signal that we need support. Similarly, when we see others crying, we can help them by giving them our compassion.
Spiritually, our tears can be a way to draw closer to God. Although we can be assured that God is always with us (Hebrews 13:5), He is especially near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).
This is a time for crying. We are experiencing losses – individually and globally – that call for mourning. If we haven’t been personally touched by the loss of a loved one or loss of a job or loss of a sense of safety, we are still called to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). In this pandemic, in this season of pain and loss, we mustn’t be too quick to try to bypass it or minimize it or get over it. We mustn’t be too quick to stop crying.
And while we are crying, we can meditate on these few thoughts from Scripture that exemplify why tears can be considered gifts from God:
God redeems our tears. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a short of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). Pastor Tim Keller notes that sorrow and suffering can produce joy when we think about how Jesus suffered for us, giving us the joy of our salvation. Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before Him – the joy, in part, of spending eternity with us (Hebrews 12:2)! Just as God redeemed, or exchanged, our sin for Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21), He redeems our tears or suffering for joy.
God remembers our tears. “You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Thy bottle; are they not in Your book?’ (Psalm 56:8). Collecting tears in ancient Hebrew culture suggests they are something of great value. Just think – our tears are precious to God! He doesn’t waste them, He collects them. I believe tears can be a kind of wordless prayer that God collects (Revelation 8:4).
God relates to our tears. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus knows what it feels like to grieve over the loss of someone He loved. He knows the anguish of sorrow. Jesus, as our High Priest, can sympathize with our tears (Hebrews 4:15).
God removes our tears. “And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). What a wonderful promise we have from God, how we look forward to that day!
God’s Joystick in the Morning- May 6, 2020
“…Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)
Last week I shared the good news with my prayer group that the Lord provided me with a new joystick for my wheelchair. A long-time friend’s response was classic – “Did your joystick come in the morning?” Because we’ve been friends for nearly 40 years and because we’re so like-minded, I knew she was thinking about the above verse and started laughing at her clever pun. Another friend caught the pun immediately and joined in. The “Zoom prayer room” became enveloped with a spirit of joy, totally unexpected, but totally welcomed and cherished.
Joy can be as difficult to define as it is elusive to find. Joy can sneak up on us when we least expect it, as it did in our prayer group. C. S. Lewis said, “It is a by-product. Its very existence presupposes that you desire not it but something other and outer.” (Surprised by Joy). Looking at it now, experiencing that joy seemed rather ironic. We had been coming together for prayer through Zoom since the pandemic began, and so our purpose there was somber at times. And the reason for rejoicing was because a part of my wheelchair was replaced. Viruses and wheelchairs aren’t usually joyful topics; but in the midst of the heaviness the joy bubbled up. We weren’t looking for it, we weren’t expecting it. As I thought about it, I understood the “other and outer” Lewis described was the experience of sharing God’s provision with women I deeply love when we were spiritually together in the very presence of God, the Source of joy.
I’ve been meditating on joy all week and while I still don’t have a good definition, I have found some truths from scripture:
1. Joy comes from being in God’s presence. “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fulness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11) How wonderful of God to allow us to experience joy in His presence!
2. Joy is powerful. “Then he [Nehemiah] said to them, ‘Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) How wise of God to direct Nehemiah to encourage the people to rejoice in God and His Word rather than grieve about the past and what they had lost!
3. Joy is promised. “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21) How generous of God, not only to invite us to work for Him, but to promise to reward us with His joy!
4. Joy is a prayer. “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” (John 17:13) How thoughtful of Jesus to lift up this prayer for us in the last days of His life here on earth – not only joy but full joy!
5. Joy is proof that God’s Spirit is working in us. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22, 23) How loving of God to give us His Holy Spirit to produce His fruit in us to make us more like Jesus!
May you all experience God’s joystick in the morning!
God’s Directives in a Politicized World- April 29, 2020
“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:1-3)
Hold on to your hats, folks, I’m about to get political. No, I’m not going to magnify or malign the current president or other government leaders. Nor am I going to take a stance as to political party or leaning. Rather, I want to explore what the Bible has to say, because God’s Word has no qualms about broaching the subject of politics and government leaders. Specifically, here are three admonitions from Paul that can hopefully help us to be biblical in our thinking as it relates to the government during this pandemic.
1. Pray for our government leaders.
I have heard that for every negative statement a child (or adult!) hears, it needs to be counteracted by at least five positive statements. I wonder what would happen if five prayers were lifted for our government leaders every time someone expresses something negative about them! Can you imagine if our leaders were lifted up to the throne of grace that often? Here are five suggestions for praying for them. You can insert the names of our president, vice president, speaker of the house, state governor, mayor, etc., into the verses:
A. Pray for their salvation: Lord, You desire that…be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:3)
B. Pray for wisdom: Lord, we ask for Your wisdom on behalf of…; You promise to give generously and without reproach (James 1:5)
C. Pray that their motives align with God’s requirements: Lord, may…remember what you require of your people – to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)
D. Pray for wise counsel to surround them: Lord, may…not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers (Psalm 1:1)
E. Pray for a heart that acknowledges God as King Nebuchadnezzar did: Lord, may…praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His words are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride (Daniel 4:37)
2. Live “a good and tranquil life in all godliness and dignity.”
Disrespect, gossip and slander have nothing to do with godliness and dignity, for God hates that kind of talk. Likewise, surrounding ourselves with those who are disrespectful can agitate our souls, squelching the tranquility God desires for us. It would be well if we would ask God to set a guard over our mouth, so those kinds of words are not a part of our vocabulary when we are talking about those in authority.
3. Remember that God is the ultimate authority.
Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” We have no need to fear whoever is in a position of government, because God is the King of Kings!
We can take our cues from Daniel, who showed great respect to the kings of Babylon, even though he was a captive; at the same time, he was not disobedient to God’s commands. So this week, let’s get political the way Daniel did!
God’s Creative Ways in our Limited Options- April 22, 2020
“Then in the midst of the assembly the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel… and he said, ‘Listen, all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: thus says the Lord to you, ”Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God’s….You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem….”’ They rose early in the morning…and when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the Lord your God, and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.’ When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’ When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were routed.” (2 Chronicles 20:14-17, 20, 22)
Last week we learned the importance of focusing on what we know when we are facing uncertain times; and one of the things we know is that God hears our prayers (Psalm 4:3 and 1 John 5:15). How comforting to know we have the ear of the King of Kings, the Creator of the Universe! And while we can be certain of this truth that God hears and answers our prayers, we aren’t as certain about how He chooses to answer them.
When you think about it, God’s ways of answering prayers are sometimes, well, creative, to say the least, if not downright bizarre. Whether it was through a direct command from God, or a word from a prophet, or the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit, God directed His people to do some very odd things. He told Joshua to march around Jericho shouting and blowing trumpets; He ordered Abraham to sacrifice his son; He led David to pick up a sling and a few stones to kill a giant; He had Elijah drown an altar (during a drought, no less) to start a fire. And in the above verses, He directed Jehoshaphat’s counselors to have him send in the choir ahead of the army!
What can we learn from these examples? God will NOT be put into a box! While we can boldly enter the throne room of grace to present our requests before Him, we cannot, dare not, presume to tell Him how to answer our prayers, or to assume we know what He will do.
Because we are His children, we have a right to ask God to heal our world of this deadly coronavirus. But it is His choice as to how He will answer. He is all powerful – He can obliterate every trace of the virus in a second! And who knows, He still might. Or He might give scientists wisdom to develop a vaccine. Or He could send a wind to blow the virus away so that no one else will become infected. Or He could allow it to run its course. This is totally up to Him.
No matter how God chooses to answer our prayers, though, we can be certain that His answer will reflect His character – His holiness, His righteousness, His justice, His mercy, His love. We can also be certain that the answer will be promoting His Kingdom. Since that is the case, we can be assured that our prayers will be answered when we pray in line with His character and His Kingdom. Some verses that are helpful in focusing our prayers that reflect His character and His Kingdom are John 6:40 and John 17; Romans 14:17; Ephesians 5:17-21.
Let us keep on asking, presenting our requests before God. But let us also be careful not to put God in a box – He is WAY too big!
God’s Assurance in Uncertain Situations- April 15, 2020
“O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)
Jehoshaphat was one of the few good kings of Judah; he “walked in the way of his father Asa, doing right in the sight of the Lord.” But, as we know, that doesn’t guarantee a life free of enemies. Judah was being attacked by a coalition of nations bent on destroying the nation. Jehoshaphat was afraid – naturally. So what did he do? “Jehoshaphat was afraid and turned his attention to seek the Lord; and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.” (2 Chron 20:3).
Notice there’s not a period, not even a comma, between the king being afraid and “turned his attention to seek the Lord.” It was his immediate response. He didn’t consult his advisors; he didn’t take a survey of his troops and supplies; he didn’t try to negotiate with his enemies. Those aren’t necessarily bad actions; they might even be wise responses. But the king’s first response was to turn his attention to see the Lord. He had his priorities right!
I’ll get into God’s answer to Jehoshaphat’s prayer and the results next week. But there is an important principle here I don’t want us to miss.
Several people have been describing our current situation as “uncertain times.” Although we’re slowly learning more about coronavirus, there’s still so much we don’t know.
We have all had “uncertain times” in our lives, times when we are afraid and don’t know what to do. In those times, I often tell my clients – and myself! – to “turn my attention” on what I do know. It’s not uncommon for my clients’ initial reaction to be “I don’t know much of anything” – and, yes, sometimes that’s my initial reaction, too. What helps me – and, hopefully, them – is to be reminded of some important truths we do know. Here are a few (extra capitalization is mine):
“As for me, I KNOW that my Redeemer lives. And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.” Job 19:25
“I KNOW that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” Job 42:2
“But KNOW that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him.” Psalm 4:3
“For I KNOW that the Lord is great and that our Lord is above all gods.” Psalm 135:5
“I KNOW that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor.” Psalm 140:12
For the Lord GOD helps me, therefore I am not disgraced: therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I KNOW that I will not be ashamed.” Isaiah 50:7
“And we KNOW that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
“For we KNOW that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Corinthians 5:1
“For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed, for I KNOW whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12
“Beloved, now we are children of God’ and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We KNOW that when He appears we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” 1 John 3:2
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13
“And if we KNOW that He hears us in whatever we ask, we KNOW that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.” 1 John 5:15
These are just a few examples of Biblical truths we can know. I suggest that we actually visualize them, perhaps as a banner that waves in the sky above us, or ticker tape scrolling in the front of our minds; or put them to music, making them our own melody, or finding a chorus someone else has written. What is important is that we “turn our attention” to what we can know when, like King Jehoshaphat, we don’t know what to do.
God’s Mercies in a Time of Lamenting- April 8, 2020
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people!” (Lamentations 1:1)
This probably isn’t the first verse that comes to mind when we’re looking for encouragement. The book of Lamentations probably isn’t the most dog-eared, highlighted one in our Bibles. It is definitely not a book for those with weak stomachs and faint hearts. But this was in my reading plan this morning and as soon as I read it, God’s Spirit dropped a few thoughts into my mind I believe He wants us to remember during this pandemic.
Lamentations was most likely written by Jeremiah; each chapter is a beautiful, haunting description of a nation brought to her knees for her refusal to follow after God. I am not saying our current situation is happening for the same reason, that’s not for me to know, nor is that what the Spirit wants to share today. What is for us to note is what is right smack dab in the middle of Jeremiah’s laments:
“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:21-26)
These powerful verses are right in the midst of the laments. And that is what God is encouraging us to do today – to sing of His lovingkindnesses, His compassions and mercies, His great faithfulness – in the midst. God is worthy of our praise right now, in the midst of the pandemic. Today, this moment, He is loving and compassionate and merciful and faithful. Our current situation doesn’t change God’s attributes one iota! We fear or become distressed or distraught when we aren’t focusing on these unchanging attributes, but instead on our temporary situation, or our uncertain future.
Notice Jeremiah declares these attributes are “new every morning.” Another reason we become fearful or depressed is because we’re looking at the future without His mercies. He gives us new mercies every morning, not every week or month or year. When we look at the future that goes beyond today, we’re looking at it without His mercies for that day. Remember Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34). Jesus didn’t mean we shouldn’t plan for tomorrow, just not to be anxious about tomorrow – because we don’t have tomorrow’s mercies today.
Finally, Jeremiah tells us that God wants us to hope in Him, wait for Him, seek Him. Many of us have been forced to slow down. Our work load may be less, and we don’t have to deal with the frustrating traffic on the way to and from work or the crowds at the malls. Or our work load may have increased with conflicting obligations for our time for vocation, parenting, home-schooling, and care-giving. Either way, it can be more difficult to slow down in our minds – in times like these they may be racing around even more than usual. Yet God wants us to do just the opposite. Hoping, waiting, seeking – these all involve a slowing of our minds. Again, one effective way of doing that is to focus on the attributes of God Jeremiah mentions.
Let’s try to follow Jeremiah’s example and sing of God’s lovingkindnesses, compassions and mercies and faithfulness “in the midst!
God’s Love in a Besieged City- April 1, 2020
“Blessed be the LORD,
For He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me in a besieged city.
As for me, I said in my alarm, “I am cut off from before Your eyes”;
Nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried to You.
O Love the LORD, all you His godly ones!
The LORD preserves the faithful, and fully recompenses the proud doer.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” (Ps. 31:21-24)
When I was asked to share some devotional thoughts during this period of pandemic, isolation, and sequestering, these verses came to mind right away. How appropriate for such a time as this!
We definitely are being besieged. Our enemy is different from the writer of this Psalm, though. He was able to see his enemy, able to count the horses and riders, the archers assailing his city with fiery arrows, the soldiers with swords and shields attacking him, his family, his neighbors.
Our enemies aren’t as easy to see. We’re being besieged by invisible enemies – a virus that can only be seen through powerful microscopes, and a myriad of emotions that can be felt rather than seen and touched.
But though our enemies are different, we can learn from the psalmist. Here are a few principles we can glean from him:
- Acknowledge your anxieties and doubts. The psalmist wasn’t afraid to confess his alarm and fears that God wasn’t there or couldn’t see what was going on or couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything about it. He didn’t pretend the enemy wasn’t there or try to minimize the situation. He faced the facts and expressed his initial reactions to them.
- Be aware of your focus. At some point the writer had to look up from his enemy, had to stop counting the soldiers coming against the city and quit following the fiery arrows with his eyes. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to see God’s lovingkindness. We need to be informed about what’s going on…but if we continue to focus on the news, in whatever medium we’re watching or reading or hearing, we won’t be able to see God’s lovingkindness all around us. Lift up your head, look around, see what God is doing in the midst of this besieged city. And see what He wants you to do to show His lovingkindness.
- Change your tune. The same psalmist who wailed “I am cut off from before your eyes” sang a different song with these words: “Blessed be the LORD”…”O love the LORD”…”The LORD preserves the faithful”…”Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the LORD.” I imagine it wasn’t easy, it took an act of his will to change his tune. But it was a choice he made that changed his whole perspective, which changed his whole attitude. That’s something we all can do as well.
So there you have it – the ABC’s of this Psalm! There’s nothing new here. We may have encouraged others with these words, but it’s time to say them to ourselves, apply them, and determine to live in them.
Carol Landfried, MA
CCC Intake Coordinator