The dark clouds roll in, and the sky goes black. The clouds begin to glow with sporadic flashes of light. Then comes the rumble in the distance.
When I see these storms roll in, I love to go sit on the front porch and watch. As the storm gets closer, the thunder booms louder. It echos and rattles off of the concrete buildings around me. Sometimes it explodes so loudly I can feel the impact on my chest and my ears cringe. I feel so small as I sit, watch, and listen to this parade of cannons in the sky. I feel helpless and surrounded. I don't mind these physical storm displays as long as I am somewhere safe. Spiritual storms, however, sometimes leave me feeling vulnerable. Just like physical storms sometimes keep me awake at night, spiritual storms roar and rumble in a barrage of thoughts. Sometimes I feel unsheltered. Forsaken. Alone. The rain cascades down my cheeks.
And I call out.
Just like the Psalmist in Psalm 77, storms can make us feel exposed and vulnerable. They can make us question God. Unlike when I sit on the porch sheltered from the rain while watching the storm roll in, sometimes we get caught out in the middle of the storm. We feel drenched by the rain as it covers us and soaks us.
And we call out.
There are five areas that it is easy to begin to question God when we endure a storm. These five areas can make us feel alone and vulnerable.
Psalm 77:7 "Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more? Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore? Hath God forgotten to be gracious? hath he in anger shut up his tender mercies? Selah."
When we pray to the Lord in a storm, what exactly are we looking for? When we are in a dark time and calling out to God, what are we hoping for?
to be pleased with, set affection, to approve, delight, enjoy
In a storm, we quickly question if God is still please with us. We question His love and His delight. But did you know that even in a storm of chastisement, the storm demonstrates God's love?
Hebrews 12:6-7 "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?"
Other storms are meant to refine us because He loves us and wants us to grow.
1 Peter 1:7 "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:"
1 Peter 4:12-13 "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."
In a storm, it's easy to question God's kindness. In our pride sometimes we think, "What did I do to deserve this?"
Lamentations 3:22a "It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed..."
God has given us many promises, but when a storm comes along, sometimes we forget those promises. There are promises that He will be with us. There are promises that each trial has a purpose. There are promises that we have the hope of eternal life... the Biblical definition of hope... confident expectation!
2 Peter 3:9 "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
Sometimes we question God's graciousness. Does He hear me? Is He listening? Can I come to Him and intreat/humbly beg? Does He give ear to my cries? He hears us!
Psalm 116:2 "Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live."
Lamentations 3:21-23 "This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness."
God has not changed no matter how difficult our storms may be. He still loves His children, works in our lives, and cares deeply. This God... our Father... loves us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. It would make no since that He would love us that much to then think He doesn't hear us or care about our problems. Quite the contrary! He loves. He hears. He keeps His promises. And He cares more than our human minds can comprehend.
So how do we combat those feelings that question God's very nature and character while we are going through storms?
(To Be Continued...)
We all have fears. There are general fears like the fear of snakes or spiders, the fear of heights, or the fear of closed in spaces. What's on my list? I really hate spiders, snakes, and rats... and I am not too crazy about heights either. Those are general fears. They may scare the heart, but they aren't personal. They don't keep me up at night! Well, unless I feel something crawl across my face at 3 am! But they aren't matters that pierce the heart.
What are some matters that pierce the heart? What are fears that are more personal?
We usually don't like admitting those. I have no problem telling you that spiders are my enemy and that I struggle to muster up the courage to kill even tiny ones. But the personal ones are the ones that I like to keep undercover so that no one knows how they grip my heart. You have those kind of fears, too.
The fear of a bad diagnosis from the doctor
The fear of a child getting injured or killed
The fear of losing a loved one
The fear of not being able to pay an important bill
The fear of losing a house
The fear of death
I don't know if I have hit any that are your personal fears, but you surely have at least one or two. Just let the right circumstance happen and suddenly that fear surfaces. There's a lump that you need to have a doctor check. You child is a little late returning home and hasn't called. Your grandmother gets sick. And suddenly your heart reveals you have fears that you didn't even know you had.
Psalm 76 is about fear, but it's about the right kind of fear placed in the right thing. Psalm 76 gives a list of fears, but then it gives the right place to place our fears.
Things that cause fear:
Psalm 76:3 "There brake he the arrows of the bow, the shield, and the sword, and the battle. Selah."
Psalm 76:6 "At thy rebuke, O God of Jacob, both the chariot and horse are cast into a dead sleep."
Weapons of the enemy caused fear for the soldier, and yet the Lord broke them like toothpicks. Not only can He destroy the things that cause fear, He can destroy the battle itself! What things in your life cause you to fear? What battles do you face?
Places that cause fear:
Psalm 76:4 "Thou art more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey."
Prey is something being chased and slaughtered. These mountains of prey were the places where people were hunted either by bandits and robbers or by wild animals. What places make you feel vulnerable?
People that cause fear:
Psalm 76:5 "The stouthearted are spoiled, they have slept their sleep: and none of the men of might have found their hands."
Stouthearted people are strong and confident. They can be very intimidating. They can make us feel inadequate. They can bring persecution. Are there people in your life who bring you feelings of fear and failure? Are there people in your life who literally seek your harm?
Who we should really fear:
Things, places, and people can bring fear into our lives, yet this Psalm reminds us that God is bigger than those things. Focusing on and fearing people is like being afraid of a spider when a lion is in the room. It's quite silly to fear the spider when there is a lion! The amazing thing is that this Lion is for us. He isn't against us. He is powerful and glorious and He loves us! He is angry with the wicked. His wrath is reserved for them.
Psa 76:7 Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?
What should this do? It should remind us as His children to respect and reverence Him, because though we are not His enemies, our Father still chastises His children. It should also remind us that God's wrath abides on the lost. It dangles over them like an ominous cloud. His mercy is restraining Him, but that mercy will not restrain His holy judgment forever. We need to get out there and warn the lost.
We live in a noisy city. One of the noisiest things they do is honk their vehicle horns constantly. They honk to let you know they are passing. They honk to let you know they aren't stopping. They honk to let you know they are going to pull out in front of you. Sometimes I think they honk just for the fun of it. They recently passed a law restricting honking. There are "No Horn" zones where you are not allowed to honk at all. In the rest of the city, the rule is only honk for emergency. I bet you are wondering how the law is working...
Well, the city is somewhat quieter... relatively... sort of. There is less honking, but that's like saying there are less fish in the ocean because you caught a few. People are addicted to their horns and everyone is used to them. The horn is a simple, yet often annoying, way of saying, "Hey, look at me!"
Have you ever heard the phrase "tooting your own horn"? It comes from the days of heralds when there was a horn blower sent before someone to announce the arrival of someone important. Tooting your own horn is when you arrogantly draw attention to yourself by bragging or boasting. But tooting ones own horn goes farther back in history, too. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught about people tooting their own horn. When the people would give alms for the poor, sometimes they would blow a trumpet to get people to look and see what they were doing. They wanted people to see how gracious and giving... and rich... they were to give so generously. And then there were those that stood on street corners and prayed out loud so that everyone would hear how spiritual they were. Their own voices became their horns. Jesus said for us to stop tooting our own horns and do things in secret.
But the horn thing goes back even farther.
Psalm 75:4-7 "I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn: Lift not up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another."
This horn wasn't one to be tooted or blown, but the heart of the matter is the same root problem of the heart! This is talking about an animal horn. Have you ever seen a deer with a huge rack on his head? He regally lifts it up by straightening and stiffening his neck for everyone to see the majestic nature of his stately antlers. His "horns" are his beauty, his power, and his crown. Speaking of crowns, do you know what animal horns were used for in the Old Testament?
1 Samuel 16:1 "... fill thine horn with oil, and go, I will send thee to Jesse the Bethlehemite: for I have provided me a king among his sons."
The horn was filled with oil to anoint the king! It was lifted up above the chosen man's head and poured over him. Psalm 75 is saying, "Don't stiffen your neck in pride and lift your own horn of oil over your own head and anoint yourself!" This passage even declares this attitude, this pride and arrogance, to be the behavior of fools and of the wicked.
And here comes the "ouch".
How often do we do things to be seen?
How often do we show off things we have done so that we can receive the praise of people?
How often do we post our accomplishments on Facebook so that people see our beautiful, majestic "horns" on our head?
Let me make it even more personal:
How often do I share my completed to-do list so that people will see how awesome I am?
How often do I show off my spiritual opinions and counsel and wisdom so that people will think highly of me?
How often do I share "How I do it" and set myself up as an example for others to follow?
How often do I, even in an outward seemingly humble manner, try to exalt myself so that I teach a class, lead a group, lead a devotion time for ladies, etc?
(Just being honest!)
If we are in Christ, we live in a "no honking zone". We ought not draw attention to ourselves. We ought not try to volley for position. God is the one who sets up and God is the one who removes leaders. We need to soften our necks and humble our hearts. We need to bow the heart and knee to the real King, the Lord Jesus. We need to stop anointing ourselves, and we need to start pointing to Him.
Galatians 6:14 "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
We stepped into the home. It wasn't an ordinary home. Most homes are not so grand and do not require a ticket to enter. The splendor was breathtaking. Every corner was decorated. Every wall was adorned. The floor was not neglected in the scenery either. Carpets or expensive tile canvased every place where we would tread. There was not a detail that was overlooked.
As we toured the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina, we were particularly captivated by the elaborate furnishings. Each chair and table was not merely a chair or table. They were pieces of artwork. It was clear that every piece of wood was carefully designed and carved by a masterful artist. There were curves, lines, and even floral decorations hand cut by a professional. Oh, the hours of labor and heart that must have gone into every inch of the wood!
Psalm 74:5-8 "A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees. But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers. They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground. They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land."
A man was known for his skill in taking a piece of wood and transforming it into precious art and furnishings. These furnishings capture the eye and the wonderment of those who look upon the work. And yet how quickly those things can be destroyed. These treasures can be consumed in mere moments, and what tragedy it is when it happens. The pain is keenly felt by those who have experienced the beauty of the work. As the pieces lay scattered across the floor, our hearts would break knowing the time, effort, attention, labor, and heart that went into even one article from the master woodworker. Tears would flow.
God, the Master Designer, has carefully carved and created many things. Two of His most precious designs are the home and the local church. Beautifully and perfectly crafted by the Master, these two items should give us pause and amazement. Often we pass by them without even glancing at their splendor, yet they are a fabulous treasure whether we value them or not. But there is a tragedy. The enemy has entered into the sanctuary and has plundered, scratched, and destroyed. Homes are wounded. Local churches are ravaged, and we pass by without a tear.
When is the last time you have shed a tear for the condition of homes and churches? When is the last time you have intensely studied and prepared to care for and protect these precious masterpieces? (Oh, how it must grieve the Master Woodworker to see these treasures ignored, undervalued, neglected, or damaged!)
When is the last time you have studied how the home and the local church are Biblically operated? When is the last time you have focused on fortifying, edifying, and protecting these two masterpieces? How have you invested recently in strengthening the foundations of these treasures?
It isn't good enough to simply value these treasures, but we must care for and guard them. They are more priceless and precious than our bubblegum machine trinkets and entertainments.
It matters where my eyes are. When running, if I look around instead of looking forward, there is a good chance I am going to trip. There is also a good chance if I look to the side that I will veer to the side and get squashed by a vehicle. If I don't look forward, there is even a really good chance I will step in a pile of cow dung from where cows are aloud to wander around anywhere they please. And the ever beloved open manholes are waiting to swallow up the person who takes their eyes off the road ahead. Yes, running has taught me to look forward and keep my focus on my task.
My son is in Basic Training in the Army. We found out he won a shooting competition in his battery. He has learned how to shoot well. Part of shooting is focusing on the target. When shooting, the rifleman cannot be looking at other shooters. They have to focus on their own target. If their eyes wander even slightly, their aim will be effected. The motto is "Aim Small, Miss Small." In other words, pick a very specific point on the target and the likelihood of missing the target itself is very minute. But the eyes must stay focused on the target.
The psalmist Asaph knew this concept well. He learned it the hard way. He was "running his race," but almost slipped because his eyes were in the wrong place.
Psalm 73:1-3 "A Psalm of Asaph. Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.
But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.
For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked."
Asaph got his eyes off on the wicked. He knew God was good. He knew God was just. But he started focusing on the prosperity of the wicked. What happened when his eyes wandered? What happened when his focus was distracted? Much like when I run without focusing on the road in front of me, he stepped in the lie that the wicked were flourishing and successful. He tripped on the deception that they had it better than he did. He was almost swallowed by the open "manhole" of discouragement.
Psalm 73:13-14 "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency.
For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning."
He actually started believing that the wicked had it better than he did. He actually let the thoughts play in his mind that he followed God in vain. "I have wasted my time! I am over here with trials and chastening, while the wicked are living the good life! Why did I bother?!"
He believed these things until he went to the sanctuary. Then he was refocused on truth. His eyes were redirected on the target.
Psalm 73:17 "Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end."
In the sanctuary, Asaph was reminded that the wicked have and end. They seemed like they were prospering, but they were on a slippery slope. It was only a matter of time. Asaph, however, was on a firm foundation. Asaph was slipping because he chose to get his eyes off the target, not because he was on slippery ground. When Asaph got in the sanctuary, his thoughts were redirected toward truth. His eyes were refocused on truth.
Why is it so important to go to church? It's a place of refocusing. It's a place where a corporate body of believers get their minds strengthened with truth so that they can keep their eyes focused on the target... glorifying God. God is good. He has a plan and purpose for every detail in our lives, even the painful and difficult things. If we get our focus on other people, we will forget the goodness of God. We will fall into discouragement. Are you struggling with discouragement? Make sure you are faithfully getting with other believers in church and getting refocused. Purpose to keep your eyes on your goal. Stop looking around at others. Keep your eyes on Him.
Psalm 73:28 "But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all thy works."