Psalm 73 is a wonderful Psalm of hope and strength. It is clear about the trials and temptations of life that plague us all. Yet the Psalmist’ focus always goes back to his only source of hope. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” (vs.25) This should be true for us in all times, whether good or bad. If God is our desire, our focus, the longing and hope of our life, then all things take on a different perspective. God takes all life’s situations, and all people we encounter, helping us to deal with them by His cleansing, strengthening, guiding touch. All parts of life look different with God’s hand upon them. “As for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge.” (vs.28)
On the road leading out from our home to the main street is a large plot of ground that has been overgrown for as long as I can remember. Now that it is fall, and leaves are off the trees, it is easier to see deeper into the wooded area. Back in the woods I was surprised to see the remains of a house, and what looked to be a smoke house for curing meat. What struck me is how this piece of land tells a story of a family long gone, and what would have been a productive, and we could conjecture, happy farm life. But all earthly things change, and in time return to the earth from which they came. There is only One who is enduring. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” says the writer of Hebrews 13:8. He alone invites us to share a life that is eternally enduring. We are saddened by what is lost to decay in this life, but our hope always looks beyond this life to what will never decay.
The report has come out about Steve Jobs final words before he died. “O Wow. O wow. O wow.” They were likened to Edison’s final words when he said “It’s beautiful over there.” We have reports of many near death experiences, and supposed glimpses of what is beyond death. They can be interesting, and perhaps encouraging, but we also have to be extremely caution in what we take from them. Neither Jobs nor Eidson were noted for their Christian faith, actually quite to the contrary. Scripture does teach us that for those in the Lord, there is great beauty in life on the other side of death. Scripture also says that “There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”(Acts 4:12) That name is the Lord Jesus Christ. We have our life, our joy, our hope in the living Lord Jesus. This is where we are called to stand. It is not our place to point fingers and declare anyone in hell. That is God’s job alone. But for us, we can do nothing but say with St. Paul, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”(I Corinthians 2:2)
The Prophet Jeremiah was in a bad spot. He was confined by the royal guard in Jerusalem because of his prophecies. Babylon was about to destroy the country, the great Temple in Jerusalem, and carry the people into captivity. In the midst of all this calamity, Jeremiah’s uncle came, wanting him to buy a field in his home town of Anathoth. What possible reason would Jeremiah want to do this in such a dark time? Yet God instructed him to buy it. God said, “Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.'” (32:14-15) In the midst of the darkest hour there was hope. It would take more than 70 years for the promise to be fulfilled, but it was fulfilled. Our God is a God of hope, regardless of the darkness that presently surrounds us. He can be trusted to bring us through.
We all have times when we feel cold and distant from God. Maybe these seem too frequent. But there certainly are other times when our prayers are answered, and we do see our Lord working in us and in those we care about. All is not silence. When we are in those times of seeing the Lord’s hand we can rejoice, give thanks, and sing. When we are in between those times, we still call them to mind, knowing that God has not abandoned us, but is using our circumstances for His good purpose and for our best good. We still rejoice, give thanks and sing. Look around today. The Lord is near. He is answering your prayers. Rejoice, give thanks, and sing.
I was reading WORLD magazine yesterday. That, or any other news magazine, gives a long list of the problems we face as a nation, and in the world. There are also a variety of solutions given. Am I optimistic or pessimistic about solving many of these problems? That is probably too simplistic a question for such great issues, but when I look at the world I am very pessimistic about man, and very optimistic about the Lord. We may make a few small positive steps, but man’s sin is too deeply rooted, in too many areas, for too long, to make any real change on his own. The world will face God’s judgment. However, I am optimistic about the Lord, but that is not even a good word to use. My trust is only in the Lord, for He, alone, will bring the change that is needed. It is shown throughout Scripture, that God responds to the humble, repentant prayers of His people. Ballot boxes are important, but I long to see more effort in the prayer closet, crying out to God for mercy and deliverance. To that God will respond.
The Assyrians were preparing to attack Judah. King Hezekiah encouraged the people saying, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to fight our battles.” (II Chronicles 32:7-8) The Apostle John will repeat this many years later saying, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. “(I John 4:4) The heart of our faith is in trust of our Lord who is over all, and who “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, … to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21) We don’t know what is before us, but we walk forward holding our Father’s hand, knowing that He is more than able to meet all of our needs.
Paul was a man who went through a lot of difficulties in life, yet he would say, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”(I Thess.5:16-18) “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”(Phil.4:6) He didn’t know what the outcome of any given situation would be, but he knew that the Lord was with him constantly, and he kept his eyes always looking toward Jesus. This is not easy to do because we see the problems with our eyes, and feel the hurts in our bodies and minds, but in spite of this, our Lord has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”(Hebrews 13:5) In this knowledge we can join with the Psalmist in saying, Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the Lord!”(Psalm 150:6) And in this we can know that “the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:7)
I love the books of the prophets in the Old Testament, especially Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is not that they are so prophetic in giving a road map for what is going to happen in life. Rather, they are clear in describing who man, fallen rebellious man, really is, and what God, in his grace, will do about it. They can be very harsh in places where words of judgment are necessary, but they also reach out with great hope in God’s redeeming strength. They are books to be taken seriously to deflate our pride, and bring us to humility before the Lord. They clearly show our inability to improve our own lot in life, and God’s supreme ability to bring us to the right place for our best good and His great purpose. These books give us the assurance that God will complete the plan He set in place at creation. It will be glorious, and it will include all who look to Him in hope.
What does it mean to trust, especially to trust God? We say it all the time, but we usually have a “back up” plan in case God doesn’t come through the way we think He should. This is especially true in our affluent world. We solve many of our problems with money. We really don’t know what it means to have to pray for our next meal, as some Christian workers have had to do. Or pray for safety from hostile peoples. Truly trusting God is to be out on a limb with no way back. If God doesn’t help, we are lost. It is not a question that we have to be in poverty or danger to learn to trust God. Rather, we need to see Him as our single source of provision, strength, and hope in all situations of life. God is trustworthy. He has proven it time and again.