Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
All of us go through times in our lives when it seems like everything is coming apart. And there are times when the problem is not individual but widespread. There are times when the world is frantically searching for answers, and it seems like all of the things that people once depended on have failed to provide safety and stability. There are times when it seems like we have no hope and nowhere to turn. But there is never a time when a Christian has no place to rest, for there is never a time when we are not watched and kept by the Good Shepherd.
Sylvia Lockwood wrote:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest:
Oh, weary one, bowed down with care,
Come, lean upon My breast.
There is no load I cannot bear;
Nor burden that I will not share,
So cast on Me thine every care;
Come unto Me and rest.”
The need for restoration is universal. All of us need the strength and healing and encouragement and uplifting and restoration of the Lord. There is pain and heartache in life, and all of us need help to meet it. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is the Comforter. Jesus said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
At the start of 1867, England was going through very difficult times. The previous year's economy downturn had left thousands of people unemployed. There was a rebellion brewing in Ireland, and attacks by supporters of Irish independence left dozens dead across England. In those uncertain days, Pastor Charles Spurgeon chose John 14 as his text and said, “My Brothers and Sisters, some of us live at this hour in the midst of trouble. We do not remember any period more dark with portents of evil than the present watch of earth’s long night. Few events have occurred of late to cheer the general gloom. Think about whether any times have been more vexatious and troublesome than those which just now are passing over our head.”
The presence of trouble in the world is nothing new. Spurgeon's words sound like they could have come from today's news headlines. In fact, Jesus promised those who follow Him that they would experience hard times. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Yet no matter how bad things are around us, we do not have to allow worry and fear to grip our hearts. We are commanded to not be filled with trouble in our hearts and are encouraged to look forward to our Heavenly home.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
If anyone had reason to quit serving God, we would think it was Paul. His powerful and faithful witness brought many to faith in Christ, but it also brought much opposition and persecution. Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, slandered, and hated. None of that happened because he was doing wrong. The persecution came because he was doing right. Yet in all that he endured, Paul refused to stop proclaiming the gospel.
Paul was not focused on the outward circumstances, but on the eternal reward. He called all of his sufferings “light affliction,” not because they were not real and painful, but because they were temporary and fleeting, and he was looking for Heaven. The way we view our troubles is primarily determined not by how severe those troubles are, but by our perspective. Someone once said that the best question you can ask to keep your perspective is, “Compared to what?” How are we measuring our situation?
Jesus set the example for us to follow. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). When we have Heaven in view, the troubles of the outward man pale and the strength of the inner man is restored. Focusing on what is in store helps us stay on the right path no matter what troubles may come.
And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life. And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother.
2 Kings 4:16-19
Of all the people who contributed to the ministry of Elisha, the unnamed woman who lived in Shunem had her story memorialized for us in Scripture. She and her husband made a place in their home for the traveling prophet where he could stay and be refreshed on his travels. Their help was so meaningful to Elisha that he asked what he could do for her, but she replied that she was content. Gehazi, Elisha's servant, pointed out that the couple had no children, so Elisha prophesied that they would have a son, and the next year he was born. When he had grown up, he went to the field with his father, and had something like a heatstroke and died, then was raised to life again by Elisha. But when he fell ill, his father immediately ordered the servants to take him to his mother.
The impact of mothers is beyond measure. John Wesley said, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” Yet despite the value of a good mother, we see in our society a devaluing of motherhood. We must make sure that godly motherhood is valued and promoted and that gratitude is shown to those who are so often taken for granted.
And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
When Moses neared the end of his life, he called the people together for a final set of instructions. Included were specific blessings for the different tribes. In the blessing for the tribe of Asher, Moses relayed a wonderful testimony to the strength of God—and to the way in which He provides that strength to us. At a time when the tribe of Asher was about to go into battle against enemies that vastly outnumbered them, they were promised victory, not because of their power, but because of God's power.
The battles that we face will quickly exhaust us if we try to rely on our own strength. Often we experience what Annie Flint described:
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
The secret to victory is found in our reliance on God's strength. His grace is always sufficient for whatever we need. His strength never fails. And for each day and each trial, we have the promise of that strength being available to us. God offers us a refuge if we will flee to Him, and He holds us with arms that never grow tired. This is His promise. As someone said, “When things go wrong, God is strong.”
Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.
1 Corinthians 4:13-16
You might say that the church at Corinth was the “problem child” of first century churches. They were riven by division, confused about spiritual gifts, and tolerated immorality in the church. They had trouble with giving and didn't understand the resurrection very well. Some of the members were not happy when Paul wrote to correct their errant behavior and conduct. They even critiqued his speaking style and his appearance.
Yet in spite of all of the problems and all of the turmoil, Paul still loved them. He stayed in Corinth for eighteen months on his first visit, much longer than he spent in most cities. Paul had given his heart to those people, and that did not change when he left and went on to other places. Bible scholars think the first letter Paul wrote (1 Corinthians) was four or five years after he left Corinth. Yet he was still thinking of them and loving them like a father loves his children.
If we are not willing to give our hearts to our family, to our churches, to our classes and fellowships, and to our friends and neighbors, we should not expect to make a deep and lasting positive impact. The costs of making that kind of difference may be high, but much like parents with their children, it is worth making the investment. Putting your heart into something that matters may be painful and costly, but it is required to be like Jesus.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
When Nicodemus talked to Jesus about eternal life, he had a great deal of difficulty understanding the concept of being born again. It was not a lack of intelligence or education, but a misplaced focus that clouded his view. So Jesus gave him an illustration from the history of Israel to make the point. When the people complained, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp. When they repented and cried out for forgiveness, God told Moses to make a serpent out of brass and lift it up on a pole in the center of the camp. Those who had been bitten would have their lives saved if they simply looked at the brass serpent.
In using this as a picture of Him being lifted up on the cross, Jesus was highlighting the way that salvation comes. Those who believed Moses when he told them their lives would be spared if they looked at the brass serpent, looked—and then they lived. Those who did not believe the promise, of course, did not look, and they perished. Just as the brass serpent was the cure for the snakebite, Jesus is the cure for sin. But the cure is only applied and effective for those who believe His promise of eternal life and receive it for themselves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
All of us are born sinners, bound in the darkness that blinds us to the light. But though the darkness is powerful, it can defeat the light. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). When we are saved, we are delivered from the bondage of darkness. We are given the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to allow us to walk in the light. However the lure of the darkness remains, and as long as we live, we face the temptation to go back to the comfort and familiarity of the chains of darkness.
Because we have been delivered, we have the responsibility to live like it. Paul warned, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). The responsibility for our conduct rests squarely on our shoulders. We cannot blame the world or the flesh or the devil when we sin. Those are powerful enemies, but they cannot overcome us without our acquiescence.
Those Christians who try to live with one foot back in their old lives always find themselves back in bondage. We cannot overcome sin unless we are committed to walking in the light. The pleasures of sin are temporal and fleeting, but the pleasures of holiness are eternal.
For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is. Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.
Henry Francis Lyte suffered from poor health most of his life. His sickness forced him to leave his congregation in Brixham, England, for months at a time, but his love for the people kept him on the job. At just fifty-four years of age, Lyte contracted tuberculosis. Despite the advice of his doctors and family, Lyte determined to preach one more time to his church before leaving for treatment. After preaching his final sermon, just a few weeks before his death, Lyte gave a family member a poem and tune he had written.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
In His final instruction to the disciples before returning to Heaven, Jesus said, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20). That promise of His presence is still true today, and it is our comfort when the rest of the world around us seems to be falling apart. God has never forsaken His children; He is—and always will be—with us.
Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
It is normal for people to pray with greater intensity when times of trouble come, and there is nothing wrong with that. But prayer should be our constant, continual, habitual practice—not just when things go wrong, but all the time. “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10).
Prayer is not an empty exercise. God hears when His children cry out to Him. It is a tragedy for us to fail to take advantage of the privilege we have been given as Christians to enter God's presence and pour out our hearts to Him. Unlike idols worshipped through the years by so many people, God actually hears our requests. We do not have to convince Him to listen—His love has already opened the door.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereuto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.” Prayer is not optional for the believer. It is impossible for us to live as God commands and fulfill His purpose unless we are people of prayer.
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
In the week before the crucifixion, Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a man named Simon, a leper Jesus had healed. At this dinner, a woman came and poured out a box of very expensive perfume on His feet. When her action was criticized, Jesus rebuked those who objected. He pointed out that the woman had taken advantage of the opportunity to honor Him, an opportunity she would never have again. If she had not acted when she did, we would never have heard of her.
Each new day brings new opportunities. We meet people with spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial needs; and if we are able, we should do what we can to meet them. Paul wrote, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
If we have an opportunity to share the gospel, speak a word of encouragement, or meet a need, we do not need lengthy periods of prayer to determine what God's will is. He places these opportunities before us so that we will act on them. Nothing is gained by delaying to do something good, and many times the opportunity will be lost unless we act on it. Even if it requires sacrifice on our part, as the woman who anointed Jesus' feet, it is worth it to do good things for the Lord.
For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
2 Corinthians 5:13-15
After his conversion, Thomas Chisholm gave up his newspaper career and trained for the ministry. But not long after he became a pastor, ill health forced him to leave the pulpit. Rather than giving up the idea of serving God, Chisholm put his literary skills to work and began to write poems, many of which became well-known hymns. One of the best known is Living for Jesus.
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please him in all that I do,
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee,
for thou, in thy atonement, didst give thyself for me;
I own no other master, my heart shall be thy throne,
my life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for thee alone.
One of the most extraordinary traits of Jesus was His sacrificial love for others. He deserves all glory and praise and worship and service, but rather than insisting on His rights, He devoted Himself to meeting the needs of others. “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). If we are going to truly live for Jesus, we must live like Him. And to live like Jesus, we must acknowledge His right to rule and reign over every part of our lives, including being willing to put our own interests and desires after those of others.
And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
When Jesus cautioned His followers against worrying, He used examples from nature to illustrate God's love and care. To the Jewish people, ravens were unclean birds, unfit to eat according to the Mosaic Law because they were scavengers. The people then didn't care anything about such birds and regarded them as a nuisance. Yet Jesus said that God takes care of them. Since our Heavenly Father does this for even insignificant and unloved birds, why would we doubt that He will take care of us?
God's promises are just as certain and sure when things are going badly as they are when things are going well. He has not lost His power to deal with our situation, or His love that moves Him to do what is best. If we give in to worry, we are slandering the nature and character of God. Dr. John R Rice said, “Worry is putting question marks where God has put periods.”
The rain falls on ravens. Storms blow around them. Predators may attack at any moment. They do not have any means to make provision for the future. Ravens have very little value in the eyes of the world. Yet the God who created them loves and cares for them. And to Him we are much more precious. We do not need to worry whether He will able to meet any need that we may have. God has given us His precious promises, not just so that our needs will be met, but so we will not worry.
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Dr. A. C. Dixon told a story he heard from a friend who lived near a forest where many hunters sought their game. He said, “Rising early one morning, I heard the baying of a score of deerhounds in pursuit of their quarry. Looking away to a broad, open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across, and giving signs, moreover, that its race was well-nigh run. Reaching the rails of the enclosure, it leaped over and crouched within ten feet from where I stood. A moment later two of the hounds came over, when the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. I felt, just then, that all the dogs in the West could not, and should not, capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength.”
God delights in rescuing and delivering and defending His children when they cry out to Him for help. We do not have to convince or persuade Him; we simply must seek His protection and He will provide it. “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). No matter how difficult our situation may be, God never abandons us. He is always in charge of every situation.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Because God created the world in the first place, He understands exactly how everything works. At the very core of His creation, made from nothing and spoken into existence, is the ongoing love and care of God. He is the one who holds everything together. He put the natural laws that govern the universe in place, and He is the one who ensures that they continue to work. He designed a perfect world, and though it has been marred by sin, He still sees to it that it continues. The sun holds its place in the solar system. The planets revolve around it. The seasons continue throughout the year.
None of this is an accident, nor is it the product of billions of years of chance and happenstance. It is all part of God's plan. And His plan predates the existence of the world. “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10). God is not making up responses as He goes along. He is not reacting in surprise to events and then scrambling to make the best of things. He is sovereign and rules over all the world. No matter how upset, confused, distressed, or endangered we may be by what is going on around us, God is still in control.
Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled. Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?
He always wanted to be a pilot, and when he joined the military, Gail Halvorsen was assigned to fly C-47 and C-54 bombers. During the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948, he became part of the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen flew planes loaded with food every other day. On one trip he saw a group of children gathered by the fence to watch the incoming aircraft. He gave them two sticks of gum—all that he had—with thirty children, who broke it into tiny pieces so everyone could share. Halvorsen told the children that on his next trip, he would bring more candy.
The “Berlin Candy Bomber” as he came to be known used a handkerchief to make a parachute and began dropping gum and candy on each trip. Soon other pilots joined in contributing from their own candy rations. When news of what they were doing reached America, individuals and corporations alike began contributing. By the time the Berlin Airlift ended in 1949, more than 23 tons of candy had been dropped, using more than 250,000 handkerchiefs. One lady later said, “It wasn’t the chocolate, as much as knowing we weren’t forgotten.”
Simple acts of kindness may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but they can have far-reaching implications. There are needs all around us, and they are not hard to find. What we should do is look for any way in which we can help build up and strengthen those in need. The members of the body of Christ are meant to encourage and build up those around them.
Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.
In our day, we tend to think of communication strictly in terms of talking to others. We have more means to communicate at our disposal today than at any other time in human history. Most people carry a device with them that is capable of sending messages around the world. Most phone companies don't even charge for long distance anymore. Lately various video conferencing tools have brought people together and allowed for communication for those who could not meet in person.
But the original meaning of the Latin word from which we get the English word communicate was “to share”—not just in words, but in actions. The Bible uses communication to talk about our giving, and reminds us not to neglect this important responsibility. While God is certainly able to miraculously provide for any need, He has ordained for the work that is done for Him to be supported by His children. Hudson Taylor said, “Depend on it. God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds, and He can just as easily supply them ahead of time as afterwards, and He much prefers doing so.”
The resources that are needed to carry on God's work have been entrusted to His children. It is our responsibility to see to it that we are faithful to give. Whether times are good or bad, if we are faithful in our giving, we will not suffer because of it.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
2 Timothy 2:1-4
There are many reasons that motivate service to God, but the most important one is a desire to acknowledge the love He has shown to us by acting in ways that please Him. Paul's life was transformed by meeting Jesus Christ, and the man who had led the persecution of believers became the greatest missionary of the early church. But Paul’s new life was not an easy life. He faced opposition, persecution, and great hardship; yet his service to God never wavered. The love God had showed toward him created an obligation on Paul's part to do the work to which God had called him. He wrote, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
If our motive for serving God is not right, it will not withstand the trials and hardships of life. Many people start out serving God only to later turn aside. If we recognize that our lives are not about pleasing ourselves but about pleasing God, it changes the way we look at both service and difficulty. When our hearts are filled with love for God and appreciation for the love He has freely given to us, we will be quick to serve. We will be willing to give up certain things, even those to which we may have a right, in order to be a more effective servant of Jesus Christ.