While reading in II Timothy (4:8) where Paul talks about the crown that was “laid up for him,” I realized that he wasn’t just taking about himself, or about others who preached and evangelized and did mighty works by the Spirit of God. He said anyone who meets just one criterion can anticipate a similar reward: “All those who love Christ’s appearing.”
Jesus has a way of showing up where least expected, and I think this means we are called to love him wherever we encounter him. Perhaps in an aging spouse who needs our care, or a sad child, or an overworked store clerk. Let’s keep our eyes open and pray that we will recognize the Lord wherever we see him, and that we will love him enough to walk beside him wherever he leads.
We’ve all had multiple chains, large and small, that weighed us down and kept us from being free. Sometimes it’s years before we even realize that something is a chain. Over time, as we grow in grace, we begin to recognize chains that have bound us all along: perhaps habits, mindsets, attitudes that we have practiced from childhood.
What do we do with those chains? It’s best to pray earnestly and ask God to remove them, and then to do our part—whatever that is—to help get rid of them. But that’s usually hard to do. Sometimes we just sit around, polishing the chains, making them look bright and shiny while they continue to hold us back.
O God, help us recognize and relinquish our chains.
My pastor, Jay Hogewood, often closes Wednesday night study sessions with a prayer that includes these words: “Send us into the night.” I love hearing him say that.
Very often we find ourselves in dark, scary, confusing, and uncertain situations. They aren’t comfortable and we’d rather stay in cozy, well-lit surroundings.
But when God sends us into the night, it’s for a purpose. It’s with assurance that we are never alone, never without resources. It’s with confidence that there is treasure to be found in darkness (Isaiah 45:3). And it’s with the knowledge that we are on our way home.
A military leader was discussing the logistics of warfare. “Just because you can capture a city doesn’t mean you can hold it,” he said.
This made me think of the numerous times when I’ve been trapped by calamity, illness, bad choices (my own, and others’), and poverty of various sorts. The enemy of our souls works against us, seeking to capture us and cause our destruction.
We can be trapped, momentarily held back. Restricted. Bound, not free. But we cannot be held forever. Divine Love and Truth will liberate us. In this awareness is confidence, power, and hope.
Abraham is remembered as a person of strong faith, but it didn’t develop automatically, or overnight. How did he grow his faith?
Just last night I read Romans 4:20, a verse that I underlined long ago, and then forgot. It says Abraham “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” Here is the secret: We grow our faith by praising God.
We honor God because of who God is, not because God has answered prayers to our satisfaction. God is always present, always holy, always loving, always eager to bless us, always faithful….the list goes on. Even in our distress, pain, and fear, God is all this and more.
So we can always praise God. When we offer praise, our focus shifts to Divine Love, and we are strengthened to go onward.
Grappling with my offspring’s upcoming move to a faraway state, I was worrying at work one day when an energetic young colleague interrupted me. “Oh Mary, it’s going to be grand!” I rolled my eyes at her, but a mental switch was flicked. What if I could hope for that, believe that?
So much has been so hard for my child in recent years that I found it hard to reach for “grand.” Sometimes it’s even hard to hope for just “okay.” But doesn’t faith teach us that God’s plan is glorious? How could I square the pain of the past with the grandness of the future?
I didn’t come up with all the answers, but here’s what I’m working with: Yes, it’s going to be grand, with asterisks and definitions. *It = God’s design and plan *Going to be = In God’s timing and in God’s way *Grand = According to God’s definition
My job is to trust, cooperate, manage my expectations, repent when necessary, grow, and love love love.
There is much that we do not understand. It often seems that the world becomes scarier and more confusing every day. When our concept of God does not square with our pain, sometimes we are tempted to turn away.
But I am realizing—again—that God is the unchanging factor which everything else has to fit around. Instead of expecting God to conform to my expectations and understanding, I have to focus on three foundational truths that are in the center of everything: God is LOVE. God is PRESENT. God is ACTIVE on my behalf. No matter what.
This is true for you, too. We don’t understand abuse, pain, sickness, war, injustice, and other cruelties. But we are called to focus on these three truths, and hold on in faith until we know more.
Jeff Millican, a chaplain at the school where I work, was in a small group that recently met for prayer on campus. We were discussing how Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, and Jeff reminded us that Jesus didn’t scold the disciples, or shame them. (“What a bunch of losers! You deserted me at my lowest point!”) Instead, he pronounced peace.
Let us work to remember this merciful truth. Jesus is with us now, always. But if we hear an accusing, critical, harsh voice, it is not his. Of course there will be times of reproof or correction, but always with love. Always “Peace be with you.”
What’s next? I find myself asking that question, these days, in sadness and fear. With bad news swirling around us, it’s easy to focus on trouble. I imagine the Israelites wandering through the desert, post-Egypt, worrying: What’s next?
I have to remember that I can ask the same question with excitement, in anticipation of good things. This is not to say that we should ignore danger, scarcity, sickness, or tragedy. Hard times come to everyone, at some point. There are real challenges to be concerned about. But God’s loving presence trumps the scary things.
Let’s focus on hope—not in people, but in God. Let’s be confident—not in our abilities, but in God. Then the answer to What’s next can be Whatever it is, God will be there with me. And then we can rejoice. Not in what we see, but in our relationship with the Creator, Savior, Redeemer.
What’s next? Maybe water flowing from a rock. Or daily bread, falling from heaven. God is able.
After the drama, tension, and excitement of Holy Week, I imagine Jesus’ followers would have welcomed some peace and quiet. And predictability. Instead, there was a world of uncertainty. There were changes and new responsibilities. New decisions, new fears. Perhaps the biggest worry was, “What’s next?”
For them then, for us now, what’s next is simply to keep following Jesus, wherever He leads. Our focus has to be on our Lord, though, and not on the following. If we become obsessed with following perfectly, we will lose sight of our Savior and stray from His path. But if we keep our focus on Him, He will take us where we need to go, and eventually lead us home. When the time is right.