This season of our lives has many challenges to living peaceably. A pandemic, riots, fires, elections and lifestyle changes. We don’t always feel safe. We feel anxious, instead. Added to these uncertain times, is a host of personal challenges such as aches and pains, household projects, and work stress. When all these things are added together, they can be awesome and overwhelming.

When we attempt to resolve these difficulties, we realize that they are beyond our abilities to conquer and maintain our peace. We want to be bold and courageous, yet we feel weak and timid. Like the disciples, we may say to ourselves, “We only have five loaves and two fishes to feed 5,000”. We can’t deal with this.

But it’s a matter of perspective. As I face my To Do list today I easily think I have to conquer it alone. When I do, I feel anxious and depressed. “How can I be happy today with chronic pain? How do I get rid of it? And many other thoughts that keep my eyes off God’s perspective. But I will try again today to develop the habit  of keeping my mind on God and his help. “You will keep in perfect peace, all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! (Isaiah 26:3)

Follow Him Boldly and Courageously

We may think we don’t have enough faith for God to act, so we trust in our strength. But if we stop and remember Jesus’ promise, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), we realize our self-effort will not been rewarded in heaven.

The Scriptures clearly teach that we meet our challenging times with boldness and courage by relying on God to give us the strength to obey him. That’s what God told Joshua as he was preparing to conquer the Promised Land. God said, “This is my commandment – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

God doesn’t want us cowering under the anxieties of uncertain times. He wants us to face them with confidence that he is with us every step of the way as we endure our pains and fears that come from following him. He infuses us with his Spirit that will enable us to become as bold as lions.

Even so, at times we will become afraid, but we can take these fears to God for his action. “When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer” (Psalm 94:19). He will also give us his wisdom to resolve the challenges as we ask him. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God and he will give it to you” (James 1:5).

Joshua was part of a team that scouted the Promised Land in preparation for conquering it. He and Caleb kept their eyes on God and the blessings he wanted to give Israel. The other spies were fixated on the challenges and meeting them in their own strength. These other spies died without experiencing God’s blessings. But forty years later, God used Joshua and Caleb along with the next generation of Israelites, to conquer the Promised Land because they trusted in him. The others were conquered by their fears and failed to experience it.

May we boldly and courageously face our challenging times. Like Joshua and Caleb, may we learn to expect the Almighty God to help us experience the Promised Land of the abundant life as we trust and obey him. (John 10:10).

We all have the tendency to be riveted on our circumstances and how we can make them turn out the way we want them to be. The thought that Jesus could help us face and overcome the challenges often escapes us.

I do recall a few times when I was so overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of my problems that it was easy to keep my focus on Jesus’ helping me to gain the strength to function.

One of those times was a job I had in the Air Force. I needed to put in 80 hours a week to adequately meet the demands – but I could only give an average of 45. I needed God to make up the difference. Each day was so loaded with challenges I couldn’t even worry about what needed to be done the next day. The whole time I felt my back was against the wall, with God behind me propping me up.

And he did. Not only did he keep me in relative peace, but he enabled me to accomplish enough to be awarded the Commendation medal for meritorious service.

This was the first exposure I had to the value of looking to Jesus to do the impossible rather than just relying on my limited resources to meet threatening circumstances.

Look what Peter was able to do when kept his eyes on Jesus,

“Lord if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come.” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him (Matthew 14:29-31, NLT).

As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus and depended on him to do the impossible, he did. When he took his eyes off Jesus and depended on himself, he failed to overcome the challenging circumstances.

This is an illustration of the fact that life was not intended to be lived apart from him. Jesus says to us “In the world you have tribulations, but take courage I have overcome the world” (John 16:24, NLT). Because we are looking to Jesus to help us, we also can overcome the world.

But we often try to meet the challenges in our strength or depend on something else. By keeping our focus on him and his Almighty power, we gain some of his strength to not worry, be joyous, and achieve what we could not by trying to control and figure out human solutions to God-size problems.

Isaiah says about God, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3, NLT).

In my Air Force job, I chose to fix my eyes on God because to do otherwise would have paralyzed me with fear.

With Peter, he kept his eyes on Jesus briefly, and walked on water. But then he took his eyes off him and tried to do the impossible in his own strength, panicked, and began to sink.

It’s not easy thing to stay focused on Jesus’ call to do the impossible as he did with Peter to walk on water. If we get much beyond our human limits we tend to panic, as Peter did. So, how do we develop the discipline and trust to keep our eyes on Jesus and experience his peace, even as we go through the threatening circumstances that swirl around us?

Training is one way. Allowing God to take us back to the challenging circumstances over and over again until we learn. In my case, I face a battery of medical test each year to insure my cardiovascular system is still okay. This is due to major heart surgery I had seven years ago. I burn a lot of energy stressing over the test results each year so that at the end of the three or four months of testing, I am emotionally exhausted.

But God is training me to learn to trust him with my life and not good test results. He promises he will help, strengthen and uphold me through the tests. The best that tests can promise is good results, which may not happen.

Another way we can learn to rely on Jesus when faced with overwhelming circumstances is to pray for increased faith. One of my favorite verses is, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, NAS). I know God works through this verse because this is what I prayed when he made me a Christian.

A third action we can take is to learn and obey the Word. Knowing the Bible is not enough. We also need to do what it says as God helps us grow in maturity. “Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong” (Hebrews 5:14, NLT).

May we learn to keep our eyes upon Jesus as we face the storms of life. May we put to death our tendency to trust good circumstances we can handle in our strength. Instead, may we look to Jesus and trust our challenges to God Almighty who promises us through him we can live in peace (Isaiah 26:3).

We all feel disappointment at times when circumstances fail to be what we want. I just received notification that a devotional I had submitted a year ago to an international magazine was rejected at the final review meeting.

I felt frustrated and some grief at coming so close to possibly ministering to millions of Christians.

I have also felt disappointed over the elimination or modification of many of my daily activities because of the pandemic. I feel sad that my days have lost some of their color and joy and have been replaced by some dullness and loneliness.

The more important the thing, the more disappointed we are when we don’t get it. We often feel sad when this happens.

Part of the reason we get disappointed is because we are limited in grasping what is best for us. God tells us, ‘“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord, for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” Isaiah (55:8-9, NAS). His plan for us is better than the expectations and hopes we have for ourselves.

Although my devotional was rejected for publication, it was still a work of God. Sure, it will not be encouraging any of the 2 million readers of the magazine, but in God’s eyes the writing of the devotional under his guidance was the work of God. I had no control over whether or not the devotional was published. But I did have control over doing my best and allowing God to guide me in writing it. And that is what counts to God. So, I have no grounds to be overly disheartened.

So how do we respond to our disappointments that we experience every day? Should we aim low so we won’t be discouraged? Must we always expect the worst so we won’t be hurt if it turns less than we wanted?

No.

God want us to trust him in our disappointments. “Trust in him at all times” (Psalm 62:8, NIV). He wants us to know he controls these disappointments and will use them for his good purposes. We need to be realistic in our expectations and not demand our wishes instead of his perfect will.

It helps me to accept my disappointments to remember that the One who controls my circumstances loves me and respects me greatly. It also helps to remember that our identity is not tied to the ups and downs of circumstances. He says to us, “I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to me. You are honored, and I love you” Isaiah 43:4, NLT). Therefore, our disappointments don’t diminish us in any way with God.

We may never understand what God had in mind when he bought us the disappointing circumstances. But we are to trust in his goodness anyway as Job did, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15, NAS).

Disappointments are painful. They sometimes block our quest to reach a goal, which angers us. But may we embrace, learn, and endure them and keep doing what is right.

May we learn that our disappointments are merely circumstances that are different from what we wanted and are not bad. May we practice giving God thanks even in our disappointments for he says, “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NLT)

We can learn much from the past. Or, we can ignore it and risk committing the same mistakes over and over again.

In some cases, I have learned from my prior mistakes. One example was when I was searching for a wife. In the early days of my search, I tried to pretend I was an exciting, adventurous, and fun-loving man. The only problem was I was actually a serous-minded and slightly introverted person.

However, a pretty sorority girl thought I was what I pretended to be. I think I could have married her if I had kept up the charade. But I knew I couldn’t. So, I ran away.

I resolved I would never do that again. I would learn from my past – and I did. In my next serious relationship several years later, I was authentic – maybe too authentic. I freely shared my faults and made no attempt to go out of my way to impress her. I even took her ice skating on our first date, which I had never learned how to do. Boy, was she impressed! She figured I was genuine if I was willing to demonstrate such weakness. She eventually became my wife.

One reason we don’t learn from our foolish mistakes is because of the human tendency to cling to our foolishness. “You cannot separate fools from their foolishness, even though you grind them like grain with mortar and pestle” (Proverbs 27:22, NLT). We have an innate tendency to stubbornly repeat our mistakes. It hurts our pride to admit we are wrong, so we don’t. We can become like “an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive instruction (Ecclesiastes 4:13, NAS).

Another reason we don’t learn from the past is we don’t remember it. Recently I was reviewing my journal from ten years ago. To my surprise I was dealing with similar issues then as I am today. First, I was surprised life hadn’t changed that much. But I also gained perspective about resolving my challenges today through reviewing what worked from the past. Journaling our thoughts, feelings and behaviors and then reflecting on them, can help us correct our mistakes and not repeat them. “I considered my ways and turned my feet to your direction” (Psalm 119:59, NLT).

A third reason we don’t learn is we don’t want to change. We don’t want to grow but feel comfortable. But the irony is when we choose to follow Jesus, he will change us. Sure it’s painful. But God promises us that “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful, yet to those who have been trained by it,  afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11, NAS). But are we willing to pay the price for peace?

One way we can learn from the past is from the Bible. God says, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4, NLT). Many teachings and examples of wise and foolish behavior are given to us in the Scriptures.

We can also learn from the experiences of others, especially mature Christians who have grappled with similar challenges.

Most of all we can ask God to give us an open and teachable heart. We need God’s help to soften our hearts to changes he wants to make. He calls to us when he says “Today when you hear my voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled” (Hebrews 13:5, NLT). May we learn from the past so our lives will grow and better reflect the love, joy, and peace he wants to give us.

The coronavirus helps us realize we aren’t in control. When simply going to the grocery store is like going into a war zone where the enemy is invisible and deadly, it makes us fearful. It doesn’t help our peace of mind that the newspapers and TV trumpet threatening news almost non-stop about the virus and the economy.

So, in times like these, I search for guidance and comfort from God and his Word. He has been a reliable refuge for me for 49 years. I firmly believe he is in complete control of circumstances and he has purposes in allowing this pandemic to occur. What those purposes are we can’t fully know.

I found myself depressed this morning as I looked over the week of denial of rights and privileges. Going shopping without the fear of catching the virus, face-to-face contact with friends, babysitting our grandkids, getting the car washed or going walking without masks are no longer privileges I have. And I felt sad watching my portfolio shrink by 15% in one month.

One way I cope is by looking on the bright side. This morning I thanked God for ten positive things this virus has brought to me. These included more time with my lovely wife, more opportunities to read and write, learning new technology for on-line meetings, and practicing better hygiene. This pandemic is also helping me to turn to God for feeling safe as I depend of him to control circumstances.

But we may still question why God would allow such a bad thing to happen? So many people dying. It’s in these times in which we feel weak that we are more motivated to allow God to access our lives. When we feel self-sufficient, we often muscle him out of our lives, which defeats one of his main purposes for creating us – to have an intimate relationship with us.

Another possible reason is when we depend on this world too much to meet our needs, we don’t hope for a better life. That better life is in heaven with God forever. Moses hoped for a better life when he chose ill-treatment with the people of God rather than enjoy the passing pleasures of this life because he was looking to a better place – which was in heaven (Hebrews 11:24-26).

So, how do we respond to this pandemic? Or any other tough time?

One of the first things we can do is to focus on the truth, not lies. The truth is God is still in control and will bend these circumstances to cause good. He promises to all believers that he “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” (Romans 8:28, NLT)

We can also continue to take it a day at a time and do the next responsible thing until the day is done – leaning hard on his promise that with each step, “as your days, so shall your strength be” (Deuteronomy 33:25, NKJV).

Finally we can pray. This time triggers fears within us. Will I get sick? How much will it hurt my finances? How will I adjust to the changes? God’s counsel to us is to “give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7, NLT).

We talk to ourselves all day long. Some things we say are true and some are lies.

When I was a child, I told myself I needed to be taller to be important. That was a lie. Instead, I needed to tell myself the truth that I was important even though I was the shortest kid in the class. Because I believed this lie, I struggled with self-esteem through much of my early years.

As an adult, I told myself I could do any job. But that was a lie. I boldly applied for many jobs just because they were promotions. I told myself once I got the promotion, I would be able to figure out how to do the job. But that didn’t happen. There were a few jobs I just couldn’t do – and I had to endure much pain and humiliation in discovering this.

In recent years, I have told myself I was immortal. But that was a lie too. I’m not. It took a life-threatening physical condition for me to face the truth I was going to die someday. This lie had kept me clinging to life too much and hindered my hope of living in a future life that is far better than this one.

So, why do we lie to ourselves?

Sometimes the lie may feel better. “You can do any job you set out to do.” Feels good, doesn’t it? But is it true? No, it isn’t. But God says we can do any job he leads us to do if we depend on him (Philippians 4:13). May we tell ourselves the truth when we are contemplating a new job and avoid the pitfalls of a bad decision.

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I had a lot of questions after reading the exam reports from the hospital. Some of the findings were downright scary. I had checked into the Emergency Room a few days earlier because of feeling a tightness in my chest and wanted to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack or aneurysm.

But after all the tests, they didn’t think there was anything seriously wrong.

Now, I was headed to my doctor’s office for his interpretation of the results. He is a “no sweat” doctor who is good at putting medical jargon into its proper perspective. I was desperately trying to depend on God’s promise to help, strengthen and uphold me (Isaiah 41:10), but I was still nervous. I had several imperfections in my body that made me feel fearful. I leaned heavily on God’s promise to run interference for me. Since God is sovereign, I asked him to control what the doctor said to me and pictured Jesus leading the way, telling me to “Stay behind Me, I will handle this.”

And he did. He used the doctor to address each of my ten concerns. Some issues were not a big deal, but on others he coached me on things I could do to reduce the problem. I came away from the appointment greatly relieved and encouraged.

I trusted God to keep his promise to uphold me. I relied on the truth, and received his help.

But it’s hard to trust the truth we know. It’s like knowing  God will protect us if he wheels us across Niagara Falls in a wheel barrel, but not so sure we are safe when we are sitting in the barrel being wheeled across. It’s much easier to depend on truth when we don’t have to deal with our doubts and fears.

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Gazing Upon God

How can we gaze upon God when we can’t see him? He is invisible. No one can see him and live he tells us. Yet he wants to reveal himself through the eyes of our faith. We see him through the Word, nature, circumstances and in many other ways. But he also can reveal himself through our contemplation. What’s that?

I recently read a book entitled Embracing Contemplation – Reclaiming A Christian Spiritual Practice. Many of my thoughts that follow are based upon this book.

Biblical contemplation is gazing on the face of God as he reveals himself through the Spirit. “One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (27:4, NIV).

We depend on him to reveal himself. We don’t conjure up the presence of God and dictate what we see. Instead, we expect to receive an experience of his presence as he chooses.

This makes my “skin crawl” even as I write this. I am a conservative evangelical and have been trained to cling to the Word and mediation to insure purity of experience of God. In practicing contemplation, we depend on God to show himself to us as a direct experience through the Spirit, not indirectly through nature, circumstances, and people’s lives.

We trust God to use the Word to reveal himself in a deep way to our hearts. It’s one thing to know God loves us; it’s another to experience it. “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully” (Ephesians 3:18-19, NLT). God uses his Word and our minds to reveal to our hearts how much he loves us.

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God is always with us, but mostly we live as if he weren’t. Jacob wrestled with him all night and didn’t realize he was wrestling with God. “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16, NAS) Jacob later said. How often do we fail to realize God is in our circumstances, although he controls them all?

Many days I fail to see God in most of my circumstances. I seem go through a day as if I were on my own again, making life work through my wits and wisdom. I feel good about the pleasant things and complain regarding the painful ones.

God expects us not to fear because we always have him with us to protect and help us through every painful and scary circumstance. “Do not fear, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10, NAS) he says to us.

And yet I fear – why? Because I am more aware of the overwhelming circumstances which I believe I am going to face alone than his promise to help, strengthen and uphold me in them. The challenge is to believe what God promises, not what my sinful nature is screaming at me. May we grow in obeying the commandment to put to death the screaming of our old nature by depending on the Spirit, and listen to the quiet comforting from Jesus that we are safe (Ephesians 4:22-23).

His presence shows up in little ways – in the eyes of a child, in the plea for help from someone needy, in the life of a godly person, as well as in the life of Jesus. “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9, NAS).

So how do we become more aware of Jesus throughout the day and depend on his presence?

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I have found contentment to be illusive. “The glass seems to always be half-empty” for me. I never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I always seem to want better or more.

When I was getting promoted quickly in the Air Force, I noticed my fantasies for the future kept becoming more grandiose. I am embarrassed to say that they eventually reached imagining being President of the United States.

As I view my life from a more mature perspective, I am finding greater chunks of my life where I do feel satisfied. My wife, family, income and home are where I feel most pleased. Other areas are a work in progress.

So, what does it look like to be content?

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The dictionary says it is being satisfied, pleased, happy, and fulfilled.

So, what keeps us from being satisfied?

The Bible says none of us will be content in the long-run. “Human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20 (NLT).

That sounds pretty grim.

“Won’t I be satisfied by the next promotion, car, or success of my kid?” we ask ourselves. Well, no.

John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil.  He was at one point the world’s richest man and first ever American billionaire.  Considering he was a billionaire in the early 1900’s he is still considered the richest person in modern history.  When a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” He responded, “Just a little bit more.”

Saint Augustine prayed “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

But we don’t rest in God. We depend on ourselves and pursue riches at the expense of higher priorities, like our relationship with God and our families.These riches include power, reputation, and pleasure.

But God says, “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with these; Those who want to be rich, however, fall into temptation and become ensnared by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction (1 Timothy 6:6-8, NLT).

So, how do we become content?

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