Recently we have found ourselves with more time to reflect on the things that matter most in life, an opportunity to spend special time with our families, and a chance to grow in our relationship with God. To encourage our community, I will be sharing devotionals to embolden our Covenant families to trust in the Lord through this difficult and uncertain time. As a school community, we pray that it helps to encourage your spirits and strengthen your hearts in Christ.
Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” —John 11:40
In John 11, Jesus received word that his close friend Lazarus was dying. One would think that upon hearing this, Jesus would have immediately left for Bethany to see Lazarus; instead, Jesus decided to stay for two more days. Can you imagine the disappointment Mary and Martha, Jesus’ close friends, must have felt when Jesus did not arrive on their timetable? Perhaps you have expected God to come on your schedule and have been disappointed when He does not? God is sovereign, and He knows what actions must occur to provide Him the greatest glory. He has his own schedule. Though we are frequently rushed, He is not. God always delivers, just not always on our timetable.
During this episode, Jesus was careful to state that He loved Mary and Martha (John 11:5). When difficulties come our way, one of Satan’s most deceitful whispers is that God does not love us or He would not allow the event to befall us. Warren Wiersbe, however, reminds us that Jesus’ love is a perfecting love and not a pampering love. A perfecting love always seeks the Christian’s ultimate good. If we are honest, sometimes we want a pampering love from Jesus, one that allows us to remain comfortable.
Eventually, Jesus arrived in Bethany, but Lazarus had died and been buried in a tomb. Why did Jesus not come earlier? Better yet, why did Jesus not heal him from a distance? Why allow His beloved friend Lazarus to die? Because He had a greater glory to reveal—Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. In Scripture, Jesus only raised three people from the dead: Jairus’ daughter, the son of the widow, and Lazarus. Lazarus, however, was the only one who had been in a tomb, probably beginning to decay. Can you imagine the reaction of the people as they witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus to life? Can you imagine how beautifully God’s glory was demonstrated? Jesus could have chosen to heal Lazarus before he died, but raising Lazarus from the dead provided a greater glory. In all honesty, we might have been tempted to settle for Jesus merely healing Lazarus, not realizing that He was going to resurrect him. Think of what we would have missed. In this life, when things do not occur on our timetable or when we have to travel a more difficult path, we have to trust that God is working things out for a greater glory.
The world was not worthy of them. — Hebrews 11:38a (NIV)
Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as the Hall of Faith because it lists various men and women who walked by faith and so served to encourage and challenge us in our faith. For instance, Gideon reminds us that God uses the weak so that He is shown strong. Thus, we need never fear when we find ourselves in places of weakness and helplessness; our powerlessness only displays God’s powerfulness and our frailty beautifully demonstrates His strength. Joseph challenges us to move beyond places of anger and bitterness with our hurts and to realize that God will bring good out of some of our most hurtful experiences. Rahab encourages us to live by faith, even when it seems that God asks the unusual. She reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways nor are His plans our plans. She also shows us that God can redeem the most sinful of pasts and bring beauty out of them.
One of the most interesting parts, however, comes at the end of Hebrews 11, where it says, “Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment…They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them” (Heb. 11:36–38a, NIV). Did you catch those last few words? – “The world was not worthy of them.” As we walk by faith, the world will probably not applaud our efforts or award us prizes. Earthly obedience does not always correspond to earthly rewards. Quite the opposite can happen. We can lose a job for acting with righteousness. We can feel alienation from neighbors because we do not participate in certain activities or conversations. Some people may ridicule us, some may seek to hurt us, and some may even try to persecute us. We will not receive our rewards from this world, and we must stop trying to seek them here. No, the value of our faith will be evidenced in eternity.
What a great encouragement to us that just because the world does not value us does not mean that God does not value us. The world was not worthy of the saints in Hebrews 11, and it is not worthy of us either as followers of Christ. Let us persevere in seeking to bring glory to God regardless of the cost and rest in His great love for us.
O taste and see that the Lord is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! —Psalm 34:8
Do you believe that God is good…at all times…and in all circumstances? Most of us would say that God is good when we receive a job promotion, buy our dream house, or obtain a new car. But is God also good when we receive a job demotion? When circumstances do not happen as we envision, is God still good?
It is vital that we settle the issue of God’s goodness in our lives or Satan will use it mercilessly to weaken our faith. Every time we do not receive something for which we have prayed, Satan will whisper against God’s goodness, that God is somehow withholding the best from us, that God does not love us. Satan will accuse God’s motives and malign his character. He will try to sow doubt and uncertainty in us. If we believe that God is holding out on us, then we will end up walking by the flesh and perhaps even taking what we want for ourselves. We will end up defeated and our faith weakened.
On the other hand, if we take refuge in God’s goodness, then we know that if God does not give us something, we are not meant to have it. It would hinder us in our walk of faith instead of helping us. Romans 8:31–32 reminds us that God is for us, not a few times, not sometimes, but always, seeking our eternal best. “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11b). God does not stand in heaven pitted against us, intentionally seeking to harm us. He is lovingly walking with us and enabling us to stand strong. God gave us his own precious Son to redeem us. What more could he give us to show how much he loves us? If God gave us his best, his beloved Son, then how would he not give us what we truly need now? If God does not give us something, it is not because he does not love us or has forgotten us but rather because it is not in our eternal best interest. Let us take refuge in God’s goodness so that we can experience victory in our daily walk of faith.
I cry out to you for help, but you do not answer me. I stand up, and you turn your attention against me. - Job 30:20
As we experience trials and hardships in our walk of faith, God sometimes seems eerily silent as we call out to Him, cry out to Him, and even beg Him at times. We may think that the Lord has not heard us or that He is not listening. Yet, the Lord often makes us wait in order to grow our faith and perseverance. All the while, God is still there, working around us and through us. God’s silence is not His absence. The Old Testament ends with the prophet Malachi, while the New Testament begins with the book of Matthew. In between these two books are about four-hundred years. During this period of time, God seemed silent to Israel for He sent her no major prophet. These were not easy times for Israel for she was under foreign rule, first by the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans. Israel continued to call out to God, and all the while God appeared quiet. Finally, God broke the silence in a remarkable way, and our Messiah, Jesus, was born. During that four-hundred year time, God was preparing to send Israel her great deliverer. Can you imagine how Israel must have felt during all those years? Can you identify with Israel? Have there been times you have cried out to God and heard nothing? Oswald Chambers interestingly commented that some of God’s silences occur because he trusts us: “When you cannot hear God, you will find that he has trusted you in the most intimate way possible— with absolute silence, not a silence of despair, but one of pleasure, because he saw that you could withstand an even bigger revelation.”1 God’s silence is not His absence. During times of silence, God is teaching us humility and growing our faith. In the midst of the reality we see lies a greater reality that we do not see—the work of our loving Father working things out for our eternal good and His glory. Can God trust us with His silence?
He came to his own, and those who were his own did not receive him. —John 1:11
The King of glory had come. The long-awaited Messiah of Israel had appeared. The promised of ages had finally arrived. But an interesting thing happened when Jesus came to the Jews: most of the Jews did not receive Him (John 1:11).
From the earliest of times, the Jewish people had anticipated the coming of a Messiah, a conquering ruler who would establish His kingdom on earth. Parents told their children about the Messiah, passing the story from generation to generation. The rabbis spent their lives studying the Law and anticipating His arrival. The people even cried out to God to be delivered from their oppressors. For hundreds of years, the Jews steadfastly believed in their Messiah.
Then the Messiah, the true hope of Israel, finally came to her people; but most of her people did not accept Him. Why? Because He did not come in a way they expected. He did not come as a conquering king but rather as a lowly servant; and so, many of the Jewish people missed their own Messiah. Though we may struggle to understand how so many Jews could miss Jesus, perhaps instead we need to ask ourselves if we ever miss the workings of God because we expect Him to act in a certain way. Do we limit God to our own traditions, cultural backgrounds, and societal norms, and then get upset when He does not respond the way we think? For instance, we may pray for revival and for a great work of God in His people. Then suffering and persecution come, and we may think that God has not answered us. Church history, however, reveals that most revivals have not come during times of ease and comfort but rather during times of hardship and difficulty. We must be careful to not limit God to our expectations or we can miss His magnificent acts and works. He is our creative and sovereign God, often acting in ways we could never imagine. We have to leave room for Him to surprise us. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “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).
- Do you sometimes find yourself limiting God in situations and expecting Him to behave a certain way?
- Recall an instance in which God worked in an unexpected way in your life or in the life of someone you know.
- Since God is an all-knowing, all-powerful God, will we always understand what God does and how He does it? Reflect on Isaiah 55:8-9.
- Wouldn’t it be boring if God always did things the same way? Do you need to pray that God would “open” your eyes to His innovative ways?
Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. —Hebrews 12:2a
One summer vacation, my family went to Zion National Park, which is a wonderful hiking park. The first day, my kids and I hiked many of the easy trails and loved it. The second day, however, we chose a more challenging trail. As we started, the trail became perilous with huge rocks in our path, so I told my children to keep focused on the goal. After we climbed to the top, we rested and enjoyed the beautiful view. It was absolutely breathtaking, but I also realized how important it was to keep the right focus. A wrong focus could have easily resulted in hurt or injury.
Our walk of faith will have many challenges, so we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus or the circumstances of this life will overcome us. In the Greek, the phrase “fixing our eyes” means to look steadfastly and intently toward a distant object. We are not to focus intently on our problems or obstacles but rather to focus intently on our Lord. If we are honest, some of the problems in this life are absolutely overwhelming, and constantly focusing on the problems becomes a big black hole that does nothing but drain us emotionally and spiritually. Instead, we need to keep focused on our Lord and rest in him. He is more than able to help us. There is no problem so great that he cannot solve it.
When we truly focus on the Lord, everything else will pale in comparison. In Matthew 17:1–3, Jesus took three of his disciples—Peter, James, and John—to the top of a mountain and was transfigured before them so that they could see his glory. As they gazed at him, I doubt they thought about the minor problems and difficulties of their lives. Instead, they undoubtedly stood mesmerized by the beauty and magnificence of their Lord. That is what we need in our lives—that kind of focus; because if you are like me, it is so easy to become ensnared by this world, its hardships, and its problems. When life begins to engulf us and completely overwhelm us, let’s make sure we keep our eyes focused on our Lord. Let’s picture our Lord lifted up in all his glory and majesty.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. —Hebrews 10:36
This life is challenging. Difficulties abound. Hardships sometimes seem to swallow us. If we are honest, there are times when we are so overwhelmed that we want to quit. Persevering in our faith is not always easy, but it is always worth it. Several years ago, I had the crazy idea that I should join a friend and run a half marathon (neither of us are what you would consider true marathoners). As we started our training, it was a grueling and difficult process. My friend started getting sore ankles and bleeding feet, while I started having backaches and sore knees. At the time, it would have been easy to dwell on the pain and to simply give up. Instead, we chose to persevere and push through the pain. Eventually, the day arrived…and we ran our half marathon. All the pain and suffering from the prior months were eclipsed by crossing the finish line, receiving our medals, and seeing our kids smiling at us!!
Knowing this journey is challenging, God encourages us to persevere in our faith. The Greek word translated as perseverance means “bearing up under, patience, endurance as to things or circumstances…that quality of character which does not allow one to surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial.” Perseverance is persistence, endurance, steadfastness. It is the act of continuing regardless of circumstances, hardships, or trials. Sometimes, it seems that the more we act in faith, the harder our circumstances become; but that is only from an earthly perspective. Our reward is coming - we just have to patiently wait for it!
No matter the difficulty or hardship, God wants us to persevere. We may currently be experiencing a sowing season, but the reaping season is around the corner if we will persevere. One day, I was reading through Numbers 7, which at first glance is a long list of names. Then, it occurred to me that God had taken meticulous note of each leader’s name and his offering. What a great encouragement to us that God carefully observes everything we do in faith. There is no act, no matter how small, that goes unnoticed; and truth be told, in the kingdom of God there are no small acts. Though this world and its people may never see our acts of faith, God does and he will reward us for them. Can you imagine your beloved Lord turning to you and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. I am so proud of you!” So, let us persevere in our faith during this challenging time!
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. —Jeremiah 17:7
The Bible character Caleb has always intrigued me because of his consistent faith in God. After four-hundred years of oppression and slavery, God delivered Israel from Egypt. Israel then stood poised to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. The land was theirs, but they would have to exercise faith to claim it (Num. 13–14). So Israel sent a scouting expedition that included twelve men who were leaders in their tribes. When the delegation returned, it affirmed the goodness of the land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But then, ten of the men noted some problems: the cities appeared fortified and the people were strong warriors. The negative report swayed the rest of the Israelites, and they rebelled against the Lord, choosing not to claim the Promised Land. As a result, God disciplined Israel, and no one over twenty years old, other than Caleb and Joshua, were allowed to enter.
In the midst of the rebels stood two men, Caleb and Joshua, who tried to convince Israel to trust God. They saw the same problems as the other ten men, but they believed God would enable them to take the land. These twelve men saw the exact same thing but had completely different reactions. Sometimes in our walk of faith, we think it would be easier to trust God in different circumstances. But the truth is faith is not about our circumstances but our relationship with God. And it is not that Caleb minimized the problems. Faith never minimizes the problems or obstacles of life; it always magnifies God. It understands that God is greater than any situation, person, or problem that we face. It does not disbelieve the problems but rather believes God for deliverance. Faith trusts that what God has started, He will finish. It understands that God’s calling always involves his enabling. When we remain focused on God, nothing seems impossible. When we focus on ourselves and this world, however, everything seems insurmountable.
So in the midst of uncertainty and disbelief, Caleb exercised faith and chose God. Unfortunately, Caleb did not receive the fairy-tale ending, at least not in the short-term. He was left to wander in the desert with the other Israelites for forty long years—that is about 14,600 days. Can you imagine wandering in the wilderness for 14,600 days not because you sinned or made a mistake but because someone else did?
One of the hardest things in this life is that we sometimes suffer for the choices and sins of others. We live in a fallen, sinful world, and bad things happen to godly people. For instance, a drunk driver hits your car, and your child is hurt. Someone else’s bad choice has impacted your family. So how do we deal with it? Do we become angry and bitter with God? Do we merely endure it? No, during a wilderness or difficult time, we want to continue to trust God. I am not saying these times are easy, but I am saying we can trust God with them. Sometimes the pain and suffering just cloud our judgment. We must go back to the basics, to what we know is true. God is faithful; He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). And He is doing things around us and through us that we cannot even begin to imagine.
Corrie ten Boom, a Christian concentration camp survivor, aptly said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” When we encounter a wilderness or hardship, we do not give up. We sit still and trust our Great Engineer for he is working things out for our eternal good and His glory (Rom. 8:28)!
Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. —Luke 22:42
A huge part of walking by faith means surrendering control of all parts of our lives to God, but surrendering control is a hard thing. Deep down, many of us want life our way and want to control the things in our lives.
One weekend in our ladies’ Bible study class, one of my co-teachers explained her surrendering control to God by using a car analogy. At first, Jesus was in the car with her, but He was in the backseat. Slowly over time, she gave God some control of her life and moved Him to the front seat, but she still would not let Him drive. Eventually, she gave Jesus control of her life and allowed Him to drive. When she said that, another lady remarked, “I have no problem with Jesus driving, as long as He takes me where I want to go.” At that point, I laughed because isn’t that the truth? Even with Jesus driving, I still want to go where I want and, I might add, on my timetable. If we are honest, we often want life our way with God thrown in when we need Him; but that is not how God meant for us to live our lives. Have you fully surrendered to God or are you still trying to live life your way?
Control is a hard thing to surrender, and so sometimes, we only partially surrender our lives to God. The part that we hold back, however, will wreak emotional and spiritual havoc with us every single time. It is so much better to give God control over all aspects of our lives. And when we do, we will experience incredible joy and freedom. We no longer have to worry over every detail of our lives or when plans get disrupted because we can trust God to work everything out for our good and for His glory. Is there an area of your life you need to surrender to God? To help us in this challenging area, maybe we need to start our days on our knees, telling God that we will surrender control to Him for that day so that we can bring Him glory.
- Do you struggle with releasing control to God? Why or why not?
- Reflect on a time when you refused to release control to God. What was the outcome? Did you experience peace and joy?
- What do you learn about your creation and uniqueness from Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 29:11?
- According to Ephesians 2:10, what were we created to do?
- How can knowing that the Lord made you for a special purpose with unique talents encourage you to surrender control to God to fulfill His will for your life?
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 36:7
These last few weeks have been challenging to say the least. As the trials of life begin to overwhelm us, it is easy to question God, His goodness, His sovereignty, and His love for us. And yet God’s love for us is unconditional, unfailing, and certain in times of uncertainty. We must not equate our circumstances with God’s love. When our circumstances go well, we tend to feel like God loves us; but when circumstances are difficult, we feel God is distant or unloving. The truth, however, is that God’s love is constant and enduring. "How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings" (Psalm 36:7).
God reminded me of his unfailing love in a very unique way. One day, I decided to make my children breakfast before school. Now, I have to confess this is not my normal practice; my kids are older and usually make their own breakfast, and I give them a hug as they leave. But this morning was going to be different. So there I was in the kitchen making my kids pancakes, sprinkle pancakes no less. As the kids came down for breakfast, they were all surprised; but they ate their breakfast and got ready for school. As they were leaving, my husband looked at me and said, “So now, why did you make them breakfast?” Clearly, he was so shocked by my making breakfast that he thought maybe he had missed their birthday or something. Before I had time to answer, my daughter jumped up and down and said, “Because she loves us!” I smiled at her and gave her the biggest hug, but then I said, “you know I love you even when I don’t make you sprinkle pancakes, right?” (just wanted to make sure she didn’t think I was going to make sprinkle pancakes every morning). She said yes and everyone left for school.
I thought about her reaction all morning and how it related to God. He loves us the same on the day we receive the sprinkle pancakes (i.e., during the good times when we receive the house we want, the promotion, the car) as the days when we receive the quick shove out the door (i.e., during the hard days when we are laid off, are told we have cancer, etc.). God’s love is consistent in our lives; we just sometimes experience it differently. Too often we walk by how we feel and not by what we know. Even though we may feel God does not love us or is distant from us, we know that he does because Jesus died for us. God’s love for us was beautifully settled at the cross. During this difficult and uncertain time, rest in the fact that God’s love for you and your family is constant and unfailing!
- Do you feel secure in God’s love or do you tend to question it during difficult times?
- Can you recall a time when God revealed His love to you in a special way?
- How do Psalm 31:16, Ephesians 3:17-19 and Romans 8:29-99 describe God’s love?
- How can you remain secure in God’s love and not question it during hard times?