Powerful Promises For The Discouraged

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The couple stood in my office, discouraged and downcast.

They were struggling in their relationship. They were new believers, newly married. The woman had a child from a previous relationship. They had very little money. They had conflicts. Communication problems. Very little income. They didn’t know how they were going to make it. They were frustrated at each other and had little hope.

I wonder what they thought when I urged them, “Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Keep seeking Jesus. Keep reading his word and praying and following him. If you do, I guarantee you Jesus will help you and change you. You may not see drastic changes from day to day, but I promise you that 5 years from now you will say to me you can’t believe how much Jesus has changed you.

They looked at me incredulously.

“Here’s why I’m so confident,” I said. Because I believe after talking with you that you are genuinely born again. That means the Spirit of God has come to dwell in you and he’s given you new hearts and new desires to obey God. And he has begun to transform you into the likeness of Jesus.

“Here’s why I’m so confident.  Because in Philippians 1:6 God says: ‘And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.’ Did you hear that? Paul said ‘I am SURE of this.’ What was he so sure of? That if God BEGAN a good work in the Philippians, he would COMPLETE that work.”

I went on. “And what is the ‘good work’ God has begun in you guys? The good work of making you into the likeness of Jesus.” Then I shared Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

“It’s a slow process,” I said, “but God never stops working. He began this good work in you and he won’t quit until you are completely conformed to Jesus’ image. Every day, little by little, he chips away here, adds something there, presses in here, squeezes a little there, and gradually we become more and more like Jesus. He won’t finish the work completely until he returns and we get our new resurrection bodies. But in the meantime, if you walk with Jesus, God will make you more and more like him.”

“So if you come back and see me in 5 years, you will say to me, ‘Mark, you won’t believe how much God has changed us. Our marriage is so much stronger today than when we came to see you 5 years ago.’”

I saw a glimmer of hope in their eyes. And after we prayed, they left my office, a little less discouraged.

They kept coming to our church. They kept pursuing Jesus.  And I got to watch God transform them. I saw God keep his promises to make them more and more like Christ. And 5 years after that initial meeting, they had a couple more children and a much stronger marriage and were still changing. Well, it’s been about 25 years now since our meeting. They had more children, moved to a different state, but continued serving Jesus. And they recently posted on Facebook thanks to Jesus for another new grandchild.

I can still see them standing in my office downcast and discouraged. And I still think about my bold promise that if they kept following Jesus he would change them. They did. And he did.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Are you struggling today?  Discouraged about your seeming lack of progress in Christ or slowness to change?  Keep following Jesus.  Keep reading his Word.  Keep praying and fellowshipping with believers.  Keep putting sin to death.  Keep doing good.  5 years from now you will be amazed at what God does in you.

I can’t wait to see that couple that stood in my office years ago, standing in heaven shining with the glory of Jesus. I can’t wait to remind them of that day a long long time ago when someone promised how different they’d be in 5 years if they trusted Jesus.

What You Can Do While You Are Waiting For Light To Dawn

Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. PS 112:4

Here’s a wonderful promise for all who are suffering – light dawns in the darkness for the upright. Don’t give up, there is hope. No matter how bleak your situation is, there is  light at the end of the tunnel. It will dawn.

Maybe you are in the throes of deep depression. Maybe your church is going through a terrible trial. Maybe your finances are a train wreck. Maybe one of your children is struggling in their walk with the Lord. Though you are in anguish, keep seeking the Lord. Keep pursuing him. Keep trusting him. Keep asking him for his light to dawn in your darkness.

In the meantime be as gracious and merciful as you can. Do all you can to bless others and give to the less fortunate. If you are able, give a gift to Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse or some other organization that feeds the poor. Bless someone who is down and out in your church. Give something, anything, even a dollar, to that guy in your church who is going to Africa to help an orphanage.

Then cry out to God, “Oh Lord, let your light dawn in my darkness. I have been gracious and merciful to the poor. I know you don’t owe me anything but you promise that your light will dawn in the darkness for those who are gracious, merciful and upright. You didn’t have to make that promise but you did. So please fulfill it!”

If your light doesn’t dawn today keep praying, keep seeking to be gracious, keep crying out, keep being merciful, keep trusting God. Keep waiting. It will dawn. As surely as the sun rises in the morning it will dawn.

Just Keep Sowing, Just Keep Sowing

It…is…so…frustrating! 

You spend hours and hours with a friend, helping them work through the same issues again and again, helping them carry their enormous amount of baggage. You tell your son not to punch his brother for the bajillionth (1 followed by, like, inifinity zeros) time. You desperately pray for the salvation of your parents for five years, ten years, even twenty years. You bust your butt (or “bottom” as we say in my child friendly house) to serve a difficult person in the church.

And yet, in spite of all your efforts, you don’t see any fruit. It appears that your friend is still carrying the same baggage. You son is still throwing blistering haymakers and jabs at his brother. Your parents seem to be even less receptive to the gospel than in previous years. And that difficult person in the church is still being…let’s see, how do we say this?…difficult. You’re doing the work, you’re not a slacker! (see What About Bob?). But you’re not seeing any results.

What is the point of it all? Why should you keep investing yourself in a person when you are seeing zero fruit? Why should you keep working on a relationship that just doesn’t seem to be working?

1 Corinthians 15:58 says:

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Paul knows we will be tempted to think our labor is in vain. A waste. Absolutely useless. So Paul reminds us of the truth. Our labor for God is never in vain. Our work for God is never wasted. God promises that he will use our labor and sweat and tears for his purposes, to bring him glory. Even if we don’t see results, we can be assured that God is working. Most of the time we have no idea how God is using our efforts. As Charles Bridges says:

Apparent must not be the measure of the real result…There may be solid work advancing underground, without any sensible excitement; as we observe the see that produces the heaviest grain lies the longest in the earth. We are not always the best judges of the results of our Ministry. (The Christian Ministry, 73)

In other words, our perception of what God is doing in a person is often very different from what God is actually doing in that person. It may appear that nothing is happening in a person, when in reality, God is at work all over the place. We have no idea what God is doing quietly, behind the scenes. We have no idea how he is pressing, convicting, and shaping a person. We have no idea how God is using our labors to draw a person to himself. We usually are not the best judges of the results of our ministry.

So we must be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work God has called us to. Be steadfast in raising, instructing, and training your children, even when it seems like you’re on a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. Be faithful in helping your baggage-carrying friend, even if it seems like the baggage is actually accumulating! Be abounding in the work of serving others, even when there is no thanks in return.

Why? Because YOUR LABOR IS NOT IN VAIN! God will use it. He will be faithful. Don’t hang all your faith on visible results. We don’t know what God is doing. We do know that our work is never wasted.

Don’t Let The Prosperity Preachers Steal All The Good Promises!

We Reformed folks have…issues…with prosperity preachers. We see them up on stage, stalking back and forth, wiping their sweat-sheened foreheads with silk handkerchiefs, saying, “No weapon formed against me shall prosper-uh,” and we think, deadly. By the way, all good Southern Pentecostal preachers end their sentences with a forceful, “Uh!” We hear them say, “Your best days are right around the corner-uh,” and we think, Not necessarily true. Our blood gets to boiling when they say, “God has good things in store for you, and he wants you to name it and claim it today-uh!”

When we hear these things, we feel compelled to remind everyone that God allows us to suffer for his glory and our good. We feel it is our doctrinal, biblical, dad-gum duty to tell the world that God does NOT necessarily want them to be rich, healthy, and always sleeping on a Tempur-Pedic mattress. “Do you think Job was sleeping on a Tempur-Pedic?” we proclaim, thrusting our finger into the air.

BUT…in our zeal to remind everyone that God allows and ordains suffering, let’s not let the prosperity preachers steal God’s incredible promises from us. See, here’s what the prosperity preachers get right: God’s promises are great and precious, and they are intended to give us DAILY hope.

Does God promise that we will be wealthy? No. But he does promise in Psalm 84:11 -

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

If something is good for me, God WILL give it to me. That promise is intended to be rocket fuel for my faith. I can stake my life on that promise. God will not withhold a single good thing from me. He knows what is good for me, and he gives me what is good for me.

Does God promise me a suffering free life? No. But he does promise to be with me, step for step, as I walk through the Valley of Death (Ps. 23:4). He promises that I will not be burned when I walk through the fire (Is. 43:2). He promises to work and weave every circumstance together for my good and his glory (Rom. 8:28).

Yeah, the health and wealth gospel is unhelpful, unbiblical, and very harmful. But they get the faith part right. They understand that when life stinks, there are really only two options: faith or fear. You can curl up in the fetal position and let your circumstances pummel you, or you can stand strong in faith. Faith is the God-honoring, biblical response, and through his promises God has given us every reason to have extreme, uplifting faith.

How will you walk through this day? Will you walk in faith or fear? Will you exercise the muscle of faith by grabbing hold of God’s promises? Yes, you may suffer. Yes, God may ordain sadness for you today. But don’t let the prosperity preachers steal all the good promises! Fight for faith!

Sip Your Americano, Then Pick Up Your Sword

“Mark,” Ted* said to me, hanging his head and staring at the floor, “I blew it again.”

“This time I charged a new computer. I figured I would just use it while it was still under warranty then return it and charge another one from somewhere else.”  His compulsive behavior was destroying not only his finances but taking a huge toll on his marriage.

Ted and his wife were regular fixtures in my office at the time. He was a serious slave of sin. He’d turned to Christ a couple years before and seemed to truly despise his sin, but kept sliding back into it.  He’d never deny it or make excuses for it. He’d freely admit it and was clearly fighting it. He’d run strong for a couple weeks then plunge headlong again.  He had an accountability group of guys who took turns calling him every day. He and his wife removed everything tempting they could from the house. Yet he kept falling. At times I wondered if he was truly born again or if his marriage could survive.  But he never gave up.

After a few years Ted and his wife sensed God leading them to a different church. When they left I really hoped their marriage would make it.

I was glad to see Ted’s face not long ago when I walked into a local coffee shop.

Taking a sip from his Americano, he said, “Mark, I’m a testimony of the Lord’s faithfulness. All these years God has kept me. I’m still married, my kids are serving the Lord.”  He’s an active member of his church.  ”In fact,” he said, “One of my kids leads a Bible study I attend.  God has been good to me.”

Ted’s a living example of Philippians 1:6:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

God is relentless. He’s not phased by our failures. He is determined to complete his good work of transforming every believer into his own likeness. And he will not fail. If we cling to Jesus, he will vanquish our sins little by little, day by day, year by year.  Jesus will have the final word. He will be victorious.  He will be successful in his transforming work.

So have you failed again? Fallen again? Get back up and get back in the race.  God hasn’t quit working in you, so don’t you quit working.  If God hasn’t given up on you, then don’t you give up on God. He is infinitely greater than all your sins. If God could raise you from the dead and give you spiritual life he can give you victory over your sins as well.

Ted never gave up. Every time he fell he’d get back up and try again. He’d confess his sins and ask for prayer. He’d dust himself off, retie his shoes, take a deep breath and get back in the race. And now, some 20 years later, he sips his Americano and proclaims, “God is faithful.”  I could almost see his spiritual sword laying across the table, nicked and dented from many battles, and his shield of faith, stained and battered, propped up against a chair.  Someday he won’t need them anymore.

So sip your Americano, then pick up your sword and grab your shield of faith again. Jesus isn’t finished with you yet.

*not his real name

The Incredible, Unfathomable, Steadfast Love of God

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and musing about the steadfast love of God. Well, not really “musing”. Musing implies that I’m sitting in a high-backed chair, in front of a roaring fire, smoking a pipe, wearing a robe, and sipping on sherry.

My love for the Lord and others is so fickle. Some days I’m hot, some days I’m cold, some days I’m thankful, some days I grumble. If someone does something to irritate me, my affection for them dries up. If I wake up with a headache, I’m more tempted to grumble than to rejoice.

But incredibly, God’s love is steadfast. Immoveable. Unchangeable. Faithful. In Lamentations 3:22-23 it says:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Pause for a moment. Read that verse again. Let your mind be blown. Read the verse until you actually believe it. I’ve got to admit, this verse is a hard one for me to believe. God’s steadfast love for me never ceases. His mercies toward me never come to an end. I can’t out run or out sin God’s steadfast love and mercy. I can’t escape God’s faithfulness.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. (Psalm 25:10)

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness. As I walk with the Lord, the road ahead is littered with steadfast love, and faithfulness, and mercies that are new every day.

This week has been a rough one. Jen came down with the evil step-mother of all stomach viruses, which meant that she was out of commission for the last three days, which meant I’ve been taking care of the girls for the last three days. I’m not good at taking care of the girls by myself. I need Jen! Our house looked like a tornado bomb went off in it. I also didn’t feel that great myself on a couple of those days, which didn’t help.

But in the midst of the insanity, and stress, and arguments with Ella over whether she was going to wear Winnie the Pooh underwear or Belle underwear, and me sinning in impatience, God’s love for me was steadfast. In the midst of all my ups and downs this week, God’s love for me did not fluctuate. His mercies were new each morning, and each hour, and each minute.

I’m so grateful that God’s love for me is steadfast. If his love for me was tied to my love for him, I would be in deep trouble. But his love is steadfast. His mercies are always present. And he is faithful. I need to regularly call this truth to mind, both for my spiritual health, and my sanity.

When The World Is Spinning Out Of Control

“Nothing is or ever has been permanent; everything is on the move and the only constant is change.”

That is one of the saddest sentences I’ve ever read. To live in a world with nothing that is permanent is to be adrift in a sea of meaninglessness. But the author, a secular history writer, is expressing something true about reality. Every honest person recognizes that we live in a world in constant flux. Change is everywhere: on an international scale as nations and leaders of nations come and go, at a personal level when jobs change or children leave home. Friends move away. Physical health can change in the blink of an eye. Our emotional world alters daily. Think back to the concerns and worries you had last Christmas and New Year’s. Are they the same as those you face right now? Probably not. After all, a lot can happen in a year.

Living in a shifting world of constant change is grueling, perplexing, and at times exhausting. We feel like the man trying to balance on a spinning log: no rest and constant, frenetic activity just to stay on top. Not a very encouraging picture, is it? Small wonder that from our seat here on the front row of Planet Earth any one of us might come to the conclusion that “nothing is or ever has been permanent.” But there is one exception to that dismal view of the world.

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6). Theologian Herman Bavinck writes about the unchangeableness of God: “[This] is why, in Scripture, God is so often called the Rock. We humans can rely entirely on him. He does not change in his being, knowing, or willing. He eternally remains who he is.”

Christian, we live in a world of constant change but we are upheld by an unchanging God. Circumstances may change – no, will change – but the Lord God Almighty will never alter, will never waver, will always remain the same. What he is for us, he always will be. His goodness, power, wisdom, and love are not touched by a shadow of change. And therefore, praise be to God, we have an everlasting Rock in whom we can take refuge!

Deuteronomy 33:27: The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Isaiah 26:4: Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

+ Photo by Roy Luck

13 Scriptures To Meditate On When Your Future Is Uncertain

At one time or another, all of us will face times of uncertainty.

Maybe you’re about to graduate from college and have no idea what you will do this coming January. Perhaps you just lost your job. Or you’ve just moved to a new area where you know no one.  Maybe you’ve just started a new job and feel overwhelmed at the challenges that loom before you. Maybe you’re single and wonder if you’ll ever get married. Your life may even be so uncertain you don’t know where your next meal will come from.

The reality is that none of us are secure in this world except in Christ. Nothing is certain.  We aren’t guaranteed our next meal. We aren’t even guaranteed our next heartbeat. Even when we feel secure, we are incredibly fragile and completely dependent on the Lord for every breath. But when we are particularly tempted about the future it is important for us to meditate on these bedrock truths.  My suggestion would be to copy these verses and put them somewhere so you can see them regularly, like in your Bible or on your fridge.  Even if you only meditate on the first three or four, God will use his word to encourage your heart.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Psalm 32:8

Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. Psalm 37:37

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.  Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:17-18 

My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste.  Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 24:13-14

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6: 31-33

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:27-29

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:2

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Isaiah 26:3

I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.  Psalm 37:25

Take My Wife…No Seriously, Take Her

Abraham is the man when it comes to faith. In the book of Hebrews, the author dedicates six verses to the life of Moses, the great leader of the people of Israel, the man who struck the rock and caused water to burst forth. But Abraham? He gets twelve verses, praising him for his great faith in God. Stick that in your ephod and eat it Moses!

But Abraham’s great life of faith was punctuated by some bizarre episodes. For example, when he and Sarah (then Sarai) were about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai:

When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” (Genesis 12:11-13 ESV)

What the heck? Abraham uses his wife as a human shield in order to protect his own skin. Even though God had promised him that he would have a son, he is still worried that the Egyptians will kill him and steal his wife. What gives?

The problem was that Abraham began to take circumstances into his own hands rather than trusting in the promise and protection of God. When the threat of violence arose, he didn’t commit himself to the sovereign hands of the God who had called him. Instead he began scheming for his own protection. He devised a plan that he thought would protect both him and Sarai. He tried to take control of the situation.

As I think about Abraham’s boneheaded plan, I realize that we’re not much different. When trouble arises our first response is to try to brainstorm our way out of it. When money gets tight, our gut reaction isn’t to confess our trust in the God who has promised to meet all of our need according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. It’s to take a closer look at the budget and tighten our belt a few notches. When one of our children isn’t doing well spiritually, we resolve to be more stern, to correct more frequently, and to quickly stamp out any nonsense. Instead of committing them to the only One who has the power to melt a heart of stone, we try to be the Holy Spirit. When condemnation rises in our hearts, we try to work our way out of by praying more, serving more, and reading our Bible more, instead of believing God’s promise that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.

Abraham blundered when he tried to take control of a situation instead of relying on the promise of God. Thankfully, we can learn from Abraham’s mistake and not end up accidentally giving away one of our family members. Let God be God. Don’t try to be sovereign.

+photo by Zach Dischner

Sometimes I Get So Durn Weary

original photo by spoon

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9 ESV)

Doing good for an extended period of time is plain old tiring. Reaching out to a neighbor again and again takes effort and planning. When you don’t see any fruit it can be frustrating . Taking care of a sick parent can be brutal. I saw my mom honor her dying mom by taking care of her almost every night. It was tiring, exhausting business. Leading a Bible study where attendance is spotty at best and people don’t talk and you feel like you’re rambling for an hour straight can be maddening. And wearying.

My daughter Ella is in what child rearing specialists call the “insane, ripping everything off the walls, then crying and flopping on the floor when I say ‘no’” stage. When I’m home I feel like I’m correcting / disciplining her a thousand times throughout the day. My daughter Charis is in the “it’s my party, I can whine if I want to” stage. It seems like every discussion is me correcting her about whining. And I get so tired of it! Because it seems like nothing is changing! It’s the same thing over and over and over. In the words of Pee Wee Herman, “It’s like you’re trying to unravel a cable knit sweater and someone keeps knitting and knitting.” Will I ever see progress?

Galatians 6:9 encourages me. God encourages us not to grow weary in doing good, and then he promises that we will reap fruit. When will we reap that fruit? In due time. In God’s time. At the right time. It’s possible that the right time will be next week, and your Bible study will be overflowing with people. It’s possible that the right time will be when you inhale your final, ragged breath, and stand before Jesus and hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But the key is, we Must. Not. Give. Up. By the power of the Holy Spirit, keep going. Keep pressing on. Keep faithfully caring for your aging mom. Keep faithfully leading your Bible study. Keep raising your children in the fear of the Lord. God will reward your faithful labor. It’s not in vain. It’s not a waste of time.

When you’re feeling weary, run to the one who gives rest to the weary soul. Don’t simply give up. Run to the one who gives rest and refreshment, then get back in the trenches. You will see fruit in due time. Keep on going until that time comes.