Archive for March, 2020
“And He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith’” (Mark 4:40)?
You can sense it hanging in the air—fear and faith—and that’s okay. When the unexpected occurs, fear is the natural response. From the angel’s Messianic pronouncement to Mary, to the first words spoken to the disciples by the resurrected Christ, the gospels are bookended with the comforting charge, “Do not be afraid.” Faith, however, is the supernatural response to life’s fearful uncertainties; it perseveres through them, believing that the purposes of God will triumph. Even so, a supernatural faith, that prevails over natural fears, emerges over time and the experience of enduring life’s hardships; seeing that the unexpected roads are the very paths used by God to venture us toward unimagined destinations. When faith and fear lie in tension, it is in these times that growth and understanding most often occur. It was true for the disciples then, and it is nonetheless so for us today.
“On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side” (Mark 4:25).
This opening statement in the account of Jesus calming the storm, indicates that the desire was to get his disciples from one side of the sea of Galilee to the other. I was struck by the thought that in the journey of faith, the Lord is always seeking to take us from where we are to where he would have us be. What seems equally true is that it most often takes a storm to get us there; some unexpected hardship to uproot us from the arrogance of our self-satisfaction and awaken within us a faith of humble dependence upon the Lord. The great storms of life should not be wasted. Their turbulent and tempest winds bring great clarity to what’s really important.
“A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, but when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13).
Knowing that the heart is the seat of our emotions, this proverb seems to indicate that a joyful heart has an external manifestation; evident in ones face, while a sad heart brings an internal response that breaks the spirit. While both joy and sadness are very real emotions of the human experience, it is we, and not our circumstances, that determine the state in which we choose to remain. “For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Think about it…and smile.
“But the boat was already a long distance from the land, battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them…” (Matthew 14:24-25).
The fourth watch? Why not the first, second, or third watch? Can the Lord not see when we are being battered by the unceasing waves of circumstances? Can He not hear our despairing cries over the winds that howl against us? The hours of 3:00-6:00 a.m. comprise the fourth watch. If you have ever “pulled an all-nighter” then you know these to be the most challenging, if not, for some, impossible hours to stay awake. For three watches we are sustained by our own will power; determination; resolve. Such is the way we deal with our hardships. While we may be praying to God during this time, we still, at the same time, pursue remedy and resolution by our own resourcefulness. By the fourth watch of our circumstances, we have nothing left to offer and the presence and deliverance of the Lord is undeniable. To experience His fourth watch appearance is both humbling, formative and, thus, necessary.
“Poor is he who works with a negligent hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Proverbs 10:4).
In recent days, a friend shared that for years he has longed for a block of time to clean and reorganize his workshop only to discover this week that time wasn’t the issue. In circumstances that find many having to work at home, the loss of familiar routines has become a struggle for some. Our lives are holistically enriched, and we function best, within structured environments and predictable patterns. This necessitates rebuilding and creating new routines that allow you to look back upon each day with a sense of worth and productivity. Begin by establishing a non-negotiable time for going to bed and arising each day. Shower, shave, get dressed, and make the bed (If you’ve done nothing else, you’ve done this) as you normally would. Eight hours of sleep and eight hours of work accounts for 64% of your day (One percent of the day is 15 minutes). Commit 30-60 minutes to such things exercise, discipleship and personal development, meal planning/preparation, ministry/service opportunities (Calls, texts, notes) and social connections, and you will soon find the day filled. The discipline to structure one’s day pays huge dividends.
“The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
What had the Philippians observed in Paul but a response to his circumstances that was both prayerful and thoughtful. It is the practice of these things that achieved the peace of God desired by all. Peace, from a biblical perspective, isn’t the absence of war or hardship. Even the Prince of Peace, himself, experienced crucifixion. The peace God offers emerges from a relationship of intimacy; one that is nurtured by the practice of prayer and the mindful pursuit of all things virtuous.
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
While circumstances are beyond our control, we can control our thoughts. To dwell upon something is to offer it deliberate and prolonged contemplation; to give weight to. Consider what has been weighing upon your mind in recent days. Has it added to your well-being? Today’s text, along with Paul’s charge to be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2), underscores the role of our cognitive processes as the Holy Spirit seeks to accomplish his ongoing work of transformation within our lives. The apostle is not espousing the power of positive thinking but, rather, a weighted focus upon virtues that lead to the development of Christian character.
“Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6).
Having previously declared, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (v.4), the apostle now states there is no reason to be anxious. Really?? Imprisoned, facing a possible death sentence, uncertain what tomorrow might bring, yet, there’s nothing to worry about? To be anxious refers to a divided and fragmented mind. It’s why James observes that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (1:8). The truth of the matter is, even in the best of times, there is no certainty of what might be lurking around the corner of tomorrow. Therefore, the healthiest response to uncertain times is to stay focused on the now; firmly grounded in today, offering thanks for it, and rejoicing in it.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Being unable to process the circumstances and negative emotions of life in healthy and appropriate ways can result in debilitating anxiety. For some it is a neurological issue requiring medical intervention, while for others it is a theological issue requiring prayerful intercession. Prayer is the grounding and centering activity for the followers of Christ. Because anxiety is a control issue, prayer is our acknowledgement of God’s control.
“He says,‘You are my battle-axe, My weapon of war; and with you I shatter nations, and with you I destroy kingdoms’” (Jeremiah 51:20).
Today it is a term utilized mostly in slang form but, historically, a battle-axe is a weapon specifically designed for warfare; according to scripture, for the destruction of kingdoms. As believers we are designed for combat not comfort. However, when we avail ourselves to God, and allow ourselves to become His weapon in the world, what we soon discover is that the greatest kingdoms to be overcome are the ones we have built for ourselves. Seek first the Kingdom of God.