“Let the whole world bless our God and loudly sing his praises. Our lives are in his hands, and he keeps our feet from stumbling. You have tested us, O God; you have purified us like silver. You captured us in your net and laid the burden of slavery on our backs. Then you put a leader over us. We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.”
Giving thanks is such an interesting thing to think about. We can be so trivial with our thanksgiving, so conditional. Sometimes, it seems like we never really grow out of our 11-year old selves that tell our parents how much we hate them when we don’t get our way. Then we turn around and shout, “Thanks! I love you!” when we do get our way. This may seem like a dramatic example to you; but really think about your own life. How conditional is the thanksgiving in your day to day? How married is your joy with your current circumstances?
The thing that I love about this Psalm, and about the gospel, is that God provides for us in the darkest of times. The writer of Psalm 66 is praising God and giving thanks to him for the years and years of slavery that the Israelite people went through; not because following God is about being happy when things are hard, but because God is always faithful in his rescue of us. The psalmist is clearly speaking of Moses as the leader that God put over his people to bring them out of slavery; but our leader is Jesus. He was put over us; sent to lead us, and teach us, and then to save us and bring us into eternal life with him. Be thankful today, and this week, for God’s steadfast love and provision; and that no matter the fire and flood around you, Jesus has taken on the world for you, bringing eternal victory and hope.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 ESV
I grew up on a family farm here in central Illinois. My dad loved to farm and one of his hobbies was to collect arrowheads that surfaced on the field in the spring after the long winter had pounded down the ground and left a smooth surface of dirt. Exposed pieces of light grey and white flint are easy to spot, but you have to pay attention to see them. While working the field in the spring my Dad loved to scan the unturned ground looking for treasures that might be breaking out of the dirt. Most of the time his hunt turned up only white rocks, but sometimes he found pieces or whole arrowheads.
No doubt you have experienced a few winters of your own. Harsh seasons or trials that smooth and work on your rough edges, giving you a richness and humility that only the testing of your faith can provide. Once on the other side, there are treasures to be found. Sometimes these treasures are easy to identify such as lessons learned, attitudes altered, and true friendships that surface, but sometimes you have to pay attention to see them. Many of the greatest discoveries happen while experiencing God’s grace and provisions in our circumstances. Counting it all joy goes against our nature, but being perfect and complete, lacking in nothing is a pretty sweet reward!
Some of our hardest times in life yield our best growth as a follower of Christ. Don’t forget to look for the treasures and thank God for bringing you through those winters.
“And now little children, abide in him so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.” (1 John 2.28)
The Hebrews 11 “Hall of Faith” has been a popular chapter for sermon illustrations and children’s camps. We are inspired by the testimonies of God’s faithfulness in cooperation with willing servants. But the verse just before chapter 11 reminds me that the God-fearing life is rarely a cake walk – in fact, throughout history, it’s met with regular hostility.
The author of Hebrews writes to a persecuted people and reminds them before recounting the “Hall” that we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but are of those who have faith and preserve their souls (Heb. 10.39). John’s language mirrors this and connects us to a vital hope in the Christian life.
As those who remain in Christ, we have every reason to be confident when He returns. To be honest, I have a little fear in me when I read the book of Revelation – the kind of fear that forces you to utter “God save me” rededication prayers. I don’t know why, but the end times make me a little uneasy and anxious.
But then I read what John has to say. I am a “little child” and I strive to “abide in him” every day. “When he appears” I can “have confidence and not shrink back at his coming.” In my moments of fear, it helps me to envision Jesus coming home to His bride, swooping her up in His arms and rewarding our faithful endurance with Eternal Paradise. With that image, I joyfully anticipate, rather than fear, His return. How eager are you for His appearance?
“You follow me”
“When Peter saw him [another disciple], he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is it to you? You follow me!’” John 21:21-22
We live in a world where comparison is the norm and we all face the temptation to compare our stories and the purpose of our lives to someone else’s. We may look at others and wish we had the qualities or personality they have, or we may even envy a role they play in serving. In today’s verse Jesus has just called Peter to the purpose he has for Peter (See John 21:15-22). Peter’s first question is to wonder what Jesus has called his friend to do. Jesus reminds Peter that it doesn’t matter what others are asked to do – he needed to simply follow Jesus.
And the same is true for me and you. You have been uniquely made and gifted. You have circles of influence, talents, and characteristics that I do not have. And together, each on the path uniquely paved before us, we can reach the world with Jesus’ love. How has God gifted you and what does he want you to focus on today?
Father, please give me eyes to focus on what you have for me today and not what you have for anyone else. I want to follow you.
Read: Enthusiastically read aloud God’s Word below.
Psalm 13 The Message
A David Psalm
Long enough, God—
you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
Long enough my arrogant enemies
have looked down their noses at me.
Take a good look at me, God, my God;
I want to look life in the eye,
So no enemy can get the best of me
or laugh when I fall on my face.
I’ve thrown myself headlong into your arms—
I’m celebrating your rescue.
I’m singing at the top of my lungs,
I’m so full of answered prayers.
Think & Pray: David clearly wants God’s attention in this Psalm. Do you feel the same way? Do you relate to this feeling that God has ignored you and your life wants? Take an inventory of your heart’s desires today. What are the practical things you want? It could be that you are craving a meal from a certain restaurant today, or it could be that you want a project at work to go well. Take some time to pray out loud that more than all your earthly wants, God is your number one desire. Confess to God that sometimes you settle for less than Him and get distracted by the glitter of this world that is passing away. Throw yourself into his arms and trust that your Heavenly Father will meet all your needs and satisfy your deepest desires.
Live: Multiple times today, simply pause and pray, and tell God that you want Him more than anything this world has to offer. If that is not true of you today and you’re wrestling with loving the world, then pray that God would help you in your desire for Him. Rest in the truth that God really does hear and answer your prayers.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me.”
Psalm 23 is probably one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. The writer, David, wrote this Psalm out of his own experience as a shepherd. There are more than 400 metaphors about sheep or shepherds throughout scripture. Sheep are completely dependent on their shepherd for food, direction, and protection. The New Testament calls Jesus the Good Shepherd (John 10).
This passage took on special meaning to me when my family made a 4 hour drive with my 89 year old Grandpa to visit my Grandma’s grave in a small town in Southern Illinois where they grew up together. My Grandma had died 5 years earlier and my Grandpa had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. We knew this would be his final visit to the grave of his bride of 68 years, before he would soon be laid to rest beside her.
As we were traveling in the car, my Grandpa began to recite Psalm 23 by memory (KJV of course!) and shared what it meant to this faithful man of God that would soon meet his Creator. With tears in his eyes, he explained how two words in this chapter were especially meaningful to him: “through” and “shadow.” He shared how the word “through” is just a journey not a destination. It is a walk through the valley. Then he described how a “shadow” can’t harm you. A shadow of a spear can’t hurt you, the shadow of a snake can’t sting you. For the Jesus follower, death can’t hurt or harm us.
Only one person can walk us through the shadows- Jesus Christ.
Are you following your Good Shepherd?
“So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through him you Gentiles are also being part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.”
Haven’t you ever been somewhere or around certain people and you can just feel that you’re not welcome? It’s like there’s something in the air; and you know for a fact that you’re out of place. That’s the worst. There’s usually a reason for this; whether it’s something that you’ve done or said to burn some bridges or maybe you’re not the “right” type of person for whatever gathering you’re a part of. There’s nothing quite like feeling excluded, on the outside looking in; that’s why acceptance and belonging are so high up on our priority list. Church, be assured today that God opens the door for you. Even though we’re messed up and we have lists of sins that are miles long. And God is perfect and holy and without fault or blemish; his grace, his love is so over the top and ridiculous that we have a seat at his table, a place on his family tree. Be encouraged that you aren’t an outsider; you’re not an enemy. You belong in the loving hold of God the Father, and nothing can steal you away.