We live in a country where persecution is real. Spiritual oppression is constant and the battle is exhausting. We have become accustomed to being vigilant and watching for the enemy. He is tricky and relentless. He desires to sift us. He battles for our minds. He battles for our testimonies. He battles for our time and our desires. We do our best not to let our guard down.
There are people in this country who are against us even being here. They try to trap Christians in their words, seek to have foreigners deported, and desire to cause trouble for the church in any way they can. Those are the enemies that surround us. They do not surprise us. We know they are against us.
But then their is another enemy. This enemy seems to catch us off guard. This enemy comes from a direction that is unexpected. This enemy has buttery smooth words. This enemy eats at our table. This enemy laughs with us and we counsel them and cry with them. They sit beside us in church or maybe even in our own home. This enemy is slithers in under the cloak of friendship, and we never see the attack coming. We give our trust and our affection to them, and then they strike. It leaves us reeling. David knew this kind of enemy.
Psalm 55:12-13 "For it was not an enemy that reproached me; then I could have borne it: neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; then I would have hid myself from him: But it was thou, a man mine equal, my guide, and mine acquaintance."
If it were the enemy, David said he could have handled it. He would have expected it. He was prepared for it. But this attack came a direction he didn't expect. This enemy's attack hurts more and cuts deeper. It leaves wounds and sometimes scars. David left his heart unguarded and gave his friendship and affection freely. He was rewarded with deception and injury.
What do we do when that happens? Do we guard our hearts from injury by refusing to trust people? Do we withhold affection and friendship? Do we learn to be cold and distant?
David has a different solution.
Psalm 55:22 "Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved."
When it hurts, cast the pain to the Lord. When it cuts, cast it to the Father. He will sustain you. He will heal the hurt. He will strengthen you. Keep loving and reaching out. It will leave you vulnerable sometimes, but God is there to heal your heart.
Have you ever seen those escape rooms? I really want to do one of those! They do not have them here, but maybe when we visit the States again we can try one. They are rooms filled with puzzles and gadgets that you and a team have to solve in order to unlock the door and get out of the room. That just sounds like so much fun!
Last year I hosted a July Fourth party at our house. I set up three mini escape rooms for three teams. They had to solve the puzzles in order to unlock a door. I had almost as much fun setting that up as I would have if I were a participant.
Here's the thing about escape rooms: you have to solve the puzzles before you can escape.
Psalm 55:6-8 "And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. Selah. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest."
David had a huge problem. This problem sent him into emotional turmoil. He was struggling! He spoke of his heart being "sore pained", of terrors of death, fearfulness, and trembling. He just wanted to escape! He wanted the wings of a dove and he wanted to just fly out away from his problems.
We do the same thing. We often default to escape plans rather than dealing with our problems in a Godly and Biblical way. We use mechanisms to unplug and distract us from the issue at hand. Whether it be jumping on social media for hours, watching television, reading a book, shopping, getting together with friends... These can all be escape tools. They are escapes from reality. Some of these things may not be bad things themselves, but when we use them to avoid dealing with or thinking about our problems they become destructive behaviors. When these things are used to mask and to relieve painful emotions so that we do not have to deal with them, they are not healthy choices.
In order to escape the escape room, we must deal with the problems. We must face the problems and seek the Lord for help.
Psalm 55:1 "Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication."
The solution is to go to the Problem Solver and His precious Word.
Psalm 55:16-17 "As for me, I will call upon God; and the LORD shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice."
It has been an emotional day. It's hard to explain, but sometimes the sacrifice is more keenly felt than at other times.
Today my oldest child hopped on a bus and headed to Army Basic Training. It isn't that we had to say our goodbyes. We are on the other side of the globe from him already. We said our goodbyes months ago when we left him Stateside as we returned to the field. Today is different though. Today I am reminded that I cannot be there for these big events. Today I didn't get to help him pack. I didn't get to nag him about running late. I didn't get to fix his last good breakfast. I didn't get to go with him to the bus station. Why? Because God has us in a distant land serving Him.
There are some Christians who say that serving the Lord is never a sacrifice. Maybe those who believe that are stronger Christians than I am. I think maybe they don't understand what the difference between a gift and a sacrifice is. I think maybe that they don't understand that it's okay to sacrifice and that sacrificing isn't a sign of spiritual immaturity. I think they don't fully understand what it means to be a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1) and what it means to give the "sacrifice of praise" (Jeremiah 33:11; Hebrews 13:15).
I don't think I grasped the meaning of sacrifice until we came to the field. The people here taught me the real meaning of sacrifice. Many times we have been invited to someone's home for a meal. We would arrive at their home for the meal. The home was often little more than a shack. Many times it would have dirt floors and often only one or two rooms. We sat on the floor or a bed because there was no table or chairs. Then the family would feed us a huge meal including meat. We knew this was more than they could afford and that they would feed us until we were full, even if it meant they would go hungry. They would always serve us first to make sure they had prepared enough to fill us. Sometimes a family would not eat with us for fear of not having enough, and other times it was because they didn't have enough plates to serve everyone at the same time. The people were so happy to feed us and serve us. They were not standing there hoping we would only eat a little. They didn't have worried looks on their faces wondering if they would get to eat. Yet if we ate too much they would go hungry.
A gift is something you freely give. It costs you something. But a sacrifice goes deeper. A sacrifice costs you something precious and valuable. It hurts. It causes a loss. Like hunger pains in the night because you gave your food away, sometimes there are pains in the heart because you gave something more precious than food away. Does it make a missionary less spiritual because they cry when they feel the sacrifice? Actually it makes the sacrifice more precious in our Father's eyes. When we shed the tears and still willingly lay the sacrifice on the altar, we declare, "Lord, it hurts, but you are more precious to me than this very precious thing!" He isn't looking for dry eyes and pasted on smiles as we offer our sacrifices. He is looking for a willing heart that doesn't begrudge the sacrifice even when it hurts. He wants us to freely (willingly and liberally) sacrifice.
Psalm 54:6 "I will freely sacrifice unto thee: I will praise thy name, O LORD; for it is good."
Yes, today I feel the heart hunger pains. Today I had to reexamine my heart to make sure that I was still freely sacrificing. Today I had to remind myself just how worthy He is of my praise and my sacrifice. He is worthy of this and much, much more.
Go ahead. Shed the tears. It doesn't make you less Christian, less spiritual, or less holy. But remember the sacrifice He made for you. Through the pain, through the tears, through the hurt... He still laid His life down on the altar because you were precious to Him. You were more precious to Him than His own life and all the comforts and glories of Heaven. Take your sacrifice, lay it on the altar, shed the tears, and then say with your whole heart, "You are worthy, Lord."
Today it hurt. But I can honestly say He is worth it.
I live with him. He really is just an average guy. (Well, actually I think he is pretty special!) My husband is a fairly typical male. He struggles finding things, loves tools and big engines, tinkers with projects in a storage room/workshop, and whines a lot when he is sick. See? He's just an average guy.
Most pastors and missionaries are just average people. If you met them, you would realize that they aren't super Christians. My former pastor used to say he was going to write a book called "Pastors are People Too!" And they are.
But there is one thing about these men that is special: They have the call of God on their lives. God has separated them out and called them for a special purpose. That's why God blesses those who honor His man and He rewards evil to those who set themselves against His man. It isn't that the man is special. It's that God's calling upon the man is special.
Psalm 54:4-5 "Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul. He shall reward evil unto mine enemies: cut them off in thy truth."
David wasn't a pastor or missionary, but he was God's man, set aside for a special purpose. Even David recognized that God rewards us according to how we treat His man. When Saul was king, David refused to do Saul harm. Saul was trying to kill David, but David would not lift his sword against Saul. Why? Saul was God's chosen vessel. He was set apart by God for a special purpose.
How do you treat your pastor? How do you treat missionaries? How do you treat preachers? If your husband is one of these, do you remember to treat your husband as God's man? Do you talk bad about men of God? Do you cause them harm? God will reward us according to our treatment of those He has set apart for a special purpose.
Here's something that might ruffle some feathers: How do you treat the President? Do you realize that the President is set apart for a special purpose? It doesn't matter if a person likes the President or not, God has established him as the leader of the country. His office given to him by God deserves respect. God has a special purpose for each president. We do not have to agree with the man, but just like David did for Saul, we should not lift our sword nor our tongue against him with disrespect. How do you speak of the President? Is it with respect to his office?
Do you pray for these men?
It happens every year. April 1st rolls around, and as it approaches, my youngest child makes big plans of jokes he will play on that day. We have told him of grand adventures we used to have when his Daddy and I played April Fool's Day jokes. Daddy has warned him that Mommy is a masterful April Fool's Day prankster and that he should not ever get in an April Fool's Day war with me. My husband is speaking from experience and can tell stories of his wounded pride as he fell victim to my pranks. He and I have agreed on a truce and have not played jokes on each other for many years. He conceded to my superior April Fool's Day skills.
When the day finally rolls around, my youngest child usually has forgotten his evil April Fool's Day plans. The day passes uncelebrated until it is too far spent. The only acknowledgement of the day is found on social media. As I scroll through posts from many friends and family I often see the same words: "Happy Atheist's Day!" This is always followed undoubtedly by part of a verse.
Psalm 53:1 "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God..."
Since an atheist declares there is no God, many Christians have deemed April Fool's Day as Atheist's Day. Oh, I do agree that an atheist is a fool. It is hard to comprehend someone looking at the organization and beauty of creation, and still convincing one's self that we arrived as an accident of chemical reactions. Quite foolish indeed! But the rest of the Psalm has something to say about us all. It brings every man, woman, and child under the banner of fool.
Psalm 53:3 "Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."
The rest of the Psalm declares that we are all fools because there is none righteous. There is none that seeks after God. Before salvation, we are all fools drowning in our own filth of sin and tainted self righteousness. What about after salvation?
Every time I operate my life without regard to God's Word or His will, I am saying in my heart, "There is no God that I need to seek..."
I am a fool!
Every time I cover my sin I am declaring in my heart, "There is no God that I will answer to..."
I am a fool!
Every time I neglect prayer or Bible reading or church attendance, I am announcing proudly, "There is no God that I need to learn from..."
I am a fool!
When I operate my life independently of my Creator, that is when I have revealed what is truly in my heart. That is when I am saying, "There is no God!"
April Fool's Day is not just "Atheist's Day". It's a reminder to me that my heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, too. Maybe we should say, "Happy We-All-Need-the-Lord Day" because we are all fools.