Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”
Being at rest during a time of turmoil requires a change of focus from our circumstances to the One who reigns over them. As I prayed about today’s post, I had a difficult time concentrating. Inner rest seemed far away because the outward circumstances were grabbing my attention.
When I’m feeling discouraged, reading from the book of Psalms often is helpful. I like to slow down and take the psalm phrase by phrase, meditating on its meaning. Psalm 100 is just five short verses, but those verses are filled with ways to turn our focus off of our circumstances and onto the Lord.
1 “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! 2 Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! 3 Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!” This refers to any loud shout, but can also mean a shout of victory. Is anyone feeling like it’s time for a shout of victory over the recent unsettledness of our circumstances? Proverbs 21:31 says victory belongs to the Lord. And all the inhabitants of the earth are invited to enter into His victory.
Serving the Lord can be with drudgery or with gladness. It’s our choice. We can serve our God with gladness, and come into His presence with singing. Thanksgiving and praise draw us near to Him. Remembering His goodness to us in the past, His unchanging love for us, and His continual faithfulness not just to us but to all those who are His adopted sons and daughters – all of these bring us into a more intimate relationship with our God.
I encourage you to take some time today to read some Psalms aloud in praise to our faithful God. And lift your voice in thankfulness and praise. Turmoil becomes rest in the sweet presence of the Lord.
During times when we can’t see or understand what God is doing, it’s easy to become so focused on what we can’t do or on what isn’t working that we lose hope that God is still able to work in and through our circumstances. That’s where I was earlier this week when I learned that another door I was hoping would lead to some relief from the pain and swelling in my left knee had closed.
If you are a born-again child of God, even during times when all you see are the overwhelming circumstances you are facing and the closed doors that are keeping you from making progress, the truth is God is still at work. His hand may not be easily visible, but if we understand His heart toward us we will be strengthened to keep moving forward in His plan.
Today, I wanted to shift our focus off of the unknowns concerning our present circumstances to some things we canknow if by faith we take God’s Word as our guidebook through life. Today I decided to use the New Living Translation as the Bible version, simply because it presents these truths of Scripture in an easy to understand format. These are some of the truths I have been personally holding onto during these difficult circumstances that I can see no way out of.
We canknow God will go before us and be with us no matter what happens. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8
We canknow God is faithful and loving. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” Deuteronomy 7:9
We canknow God always keeps His promises. “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” Hebrews 6:18
We canknow we will see God’s goodness in our situation. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14
We canknow nothing is impossible with our God. When we can see no way, He can make a way. “He (Jesus) replied, ‘What is impossible for people is possible with God.’” Luke 18:27
Remember, no matter what you may be currently walking through or what uncertainties lie ahead, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you haven’t been left on your own. You and I have the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and the written Word of God as our guidebook through life. Our circumstances may look impossible, but remember the God we serve is the God of the impossible.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 NIV
Sometimes life is filled with emotional ups and downs. This has been such a week in my life. On Tuesday, after over six weeks of waiting, I finally got a call from the home health agency my doctor’s office uses to schedule my physical therapy assessment. Then on Wednesday, this long-awaited appointment finally happened. I was encouraged and ready to get started as I waited for the therapist to arrive.
The therapy supervisor started by going over my medical history to get a clear picture of what was going on. He did the routine exam, then we started talking about what to expect as a result of therapy. I totally agreed with what he shared – I’ve had many sessions of physical therapy over the years, so I already knew this would not make major changes in my condition. The goal was to gain some strength in my leg muscles and help in setting up a daily exercise plan that would be safe to continue on my own. Yet by the time he left, I was feeling discouraged, thinking “what’s the use of going through the pain of doing PT when it’s not really going to make much difference anyhow.”
The temptation to grow weary and give up in the midst of my recent health challenges has been one of my biggest struggles. It’s also a struggle Joni Eareckson Tada has experienced and wrote about in her devotional book Holiness in Hidden Places, which I grabbed off my bookshelf this morning to encourage myself in the Lord.
“It happens whenever we find ourselves on an interminable, straight stretch in the same direction… it’s hard not to become weary. Someone once said the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we bulk when patience is required over the long haul. We don’t much like endurance.”
So how do we keep going when we become weary? The key is a change of perspective. Stop focusing on what we’re walking through and turn our eyes onto the Lord and onto the fruit He is developing in our lives during this season. See your circumstances from an eternal perspective. Joni concluded her devotional on Galatians 6:9 with the following words.
”Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a harvest . . . so don’t give up!”
On this Thankful Thursday, let’s turn our focus off the trials and onto the fruit that is growing in our lives as a result of them. As I shared on Tuesday, we are to “count itall joy” and to “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) Let’s look at the daily struggles of life with an eternal perspective, remembering that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Part of my scheduled Bible reading for today was Psalm 42, which begins with a superscription identifying it as a Maskil of the sons of Korah. What is a maskil?
Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes a maskil as a song enforcing some lesson of wisdom or piety, a song intended to give instruction. So as I read this psalm, the first question I asked myself was what is the intended instruction? I think the answer to that is found in the following verses.
I believe the lesson God is seeking to teach us through this psalm is how to deal with circumstances that cause us to feel “cast down,” to experience discouragement or even despair. When we walk through problems that seem to stretch on and on, one of the biggest struggles we face is holding onto hope. In this psalm, the message is clear. God is our source of hope, so to experience hope we must shift our focus off our circumstances and on to the Lord.
Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”
When we walk through on-going trials, the key to victory is fixing our eyes on the One who reigns over everything that touches our lives. God alone can bring peace and rest in the midst of circumstances that bring tears to our eyes and sorrow to our hearts.
Or as Hebrews 12:1-2 says, to find renewed strength to continue the race God has set before us, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Our Savior was strengthened as He turned His focus beyond the Cross He was facing to the joy to come after, when His death and resurrection would provide the way for us to be forgiven and restored to relationship with the Father.
I received a free excerpt from Kelly Minter’s newest Lifeway Bible Study, Finding God Faithful, in my email on Tuesday, opening and reading it soon after I returned home from an appointment with a new orthopedic surgeon that morning. It looks like a great study on the life of Joseph, one I’d love to do sometime soon, but that’s not why I’m sharing it here. I wanted to share the following quote that began the enclosed excerpt from the study – which as soon as I read it “jumped off the page” as if if were on a neon sign.
“We can get through just about any pain or suffering if we know the Lord is in it with us. But when we feel forsaken or abandoned, our pain becomes unbearable. In a most trying circumstance, the psalmist expressed what the Lord’s presence meant to him with the imagery, ‘Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me’ (Ps. 23:4, emphasis mine).”
This last nine weeks have been very difficult physically for me. But they have also been some of the most encouraging in recent years as God’s presence has been amazingly near. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, this situation I have been walking through since the last week of May has been a reminder not to lose heart, for even though my outer self – my physical body – is wasting away, my inner self – my soul and spirit – is being renewed day by day. And why is that? God’s presence in these trying circumstances has been the one constant.
At least a couple times a week, I’ve heard a clear message from the Lord concerning how I was to walk through this difficult season. As I read the above quote early this afternoon, my eyes were opened to the fact that each message I’ve heard from the Lord had one central theme: His presence is what you and I need to make it through this and every season of suffering.
Never once has He given me a word that had to do with my symptoms or what I was to do about them. When I left for today’s appointment, none of my questions about what treatment was best in this situation had been answered. Each time, God’s message centered on His presence being the answer I was needing to make it through this difficult season victoriously. Each time I prayed and sensed a word from the Lord, it focused on Him.
There was the word that He was taking me on a detour from my planned route to my destination, but the message I heard emphasized His control over the detour and His purpose in it. Then the Lord reminded me through Deuteronomy 31:8 that He would go before me and be with me, He would not leave me or forsake me. I was not to give place to fear or discouragement. Instead, I was to fix my eyes on the Lord and not on my circumstances.
I was reminded of His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I was encouraged by the truth that His steadfast love and faithfulness go before me (Psalms 94:14). God brought to my mind the truth that I needed be still before the Lord so I could hear His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). And as I read the familiar verses at the end of Matthew 2811, three simple words stood out to me, “Come to me.” (Matthew 11:28).
On this Thankful Thursday, let’s give thanks to God for His sustaining and strengthening presence that enables us to make it through the tough seasons in our lives. No matter what we are currently facing, the Lord’s presence is what we’re needing above all else.
Have you noticed sometimes your plans and God’s plans don’t seem to mesh? You’ve been seeking direction from God, the path projected ahead of you is clear, and you’re ready to start moving forward. Then suddenly circumstances change and there’s a major detour in the road.
A few months ago, God had strongly impressed upon my heart that He had some work for me to complete before my time on earth was done and I went to be in His presence. I had recently celebrated my seventy-first birthday, so there was a sense of urgency to get started on what God was calling me to do. I had clear direction concerning my next writing project, putting together an original Bible study for our small group at church, and had made a commitment to do this. My health was the best it had been in years, and I was ready to begin moving forward.
Then suddenly overnight everything changed. One day I was able to walk for thirty minutes with little or no pain. I was able to do my part of the weekly housework without a struggle. Things were going exceptionally well, as they had been for several months. The next day even walking from my bedroom to the living room caused excruciating pain and swelling in my left knee. The housework wasn’t getting done. Pain was robbing my sleep several times a week.
I honestly thought this was just a flare in one of the long list of chronic illnesses I live with, and I expected it to turn around in a few days. It didn’t. I was facing a major detour from the path I had thought laid ahead.
The process started of trying to find out what was causing this drastic change in my level of pain and ability to function. It’s now over a month later, and I’m still waiting for a diagnosis and treatment plan. My circumstances feel out of control – they are out of my control, but I know they aren’t out of God’s control.
FacingChallenging Circumstances with the Right Attitude
Retired NFL football player and coach Tony Dungy shared an important truth about controlling our attitude toward difficult circumstances that God permits in our lives, in his book Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices and Priorities of a Winning Life.
“You can’t always control circumstances. However, you can always control your attitude, approach, and response. Your options are to complain or to look ahead and figure out how to make the situation better.”
My first challenge during this time of waiting has been to control my attitude and response to these unexpected changes. The natural response to unwanted change is to focus on the circumstances we don’t like and give place to a complaining attitude. The response that pleases God is one that acknowledges He is still in control, He has a purpose in this situation that just looks like an unpleasant detour in my limited understanding.
It takes strength – and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit – to respond to situations such as the one I’m currently facing in a way that pleases God. It takes purposeful effort to take our eyes off of the current disappointment and focus on what can be done to improve the situation causing us distress. Seeing this detour from my plans through the lens of God’s unchanging love, goodness and faithfulness has been a challenge.
Why Does God Sometimes Take Us On a Detour?
There are two main reasons for detours. Sometimes, our disobedience and lack of faith will cause God to place a detour in the path He has called us to walk. The story of God’s chosen people Israel is an example of this type of detour. As a result of their failure to trust and obey the Lord, they spent forty years wandering in the wilderness. One whole generation failed to make it to the land God had promised them. This type of detour is a call to repentance.
The second reason we face detours in our walk with the Lord is that we aren’t yet ready for the next thing He has called us to do. These detours are times of preparation for the future. Joseph is a biblical example of this type of detour. The Lord’s plan was to use Joseph to preserve His chosen people during a time of famine. But as a young man he lacked the needed maturity for this calling. So God walked Joseph through a series of difficult circumstances to prepare him for the work he would eventually do.
On this Thankful Thursday, let’s give thanks to the Lord for the truth that He is at work even in the circumstances we wish we could change. Are you facing a detour from the path you expected to be on at this point of your life? Seek understanding from the Lord concerning what’s going on. If He shows you a sin you need to repent of, be quick to respond. If He shows you this detour is to prepare you for the work He’s calling you to do, choose to cooperate with His process. Even though detours are usually difficult and for a season it seems as though life is getting worse, they are really part of God’s design to prepare us for our future.
Let’s hold onto hope in the midst of circumstances that seem to be taking us away from what we honestly believe are God-given purposes for our lives. He knows what He’s doing!
In my walk with Christ, I’ve noticed that the world often presents us with alternatives, counterfeit versions of the spiritual disciplines we are taught in God’s Word.
For example, God’s Word clearly teaches the key to success in life is to meditate on and then obey God’s Word. Joshua 18 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” The world promotes other types of meditation that have nothing to do with God or His Word.
The Bible also calls us to the discipline of giving thanks in all situations. One well known Scripture that teaches this is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The world likewise acknowledges the value of giving thanks.
Earlier this week, I received a video on a secular app I use to help me in my weight management entitled “Gratitude Meditation.” It basically combined the two spiritual disciplines of meditation and giving thanks, but in a strongly distorted way. And it opened my eyes to the truth that while the world sees value in the practicing gratitude, it isn’t the kind of gratitude we as Christians are called to express.
The world’s idea of gratitude often begins with looking inward and is little more than a form of positive thinking. It looks at blessings, but fails to see their true source.
Christ-centered gratitude begins with looking upward. It is centered in the unchanging character of our God and the promises of His Word. A life of gratitude without Christ misses the mark – it is still empty and purposeless, because it leaves God out of the picture.
It’s much healthier spiritually to turn our focus on Christ-centered gratitude. The best description I’ve found of Christ-centered gratitude comes from Bible teacher Kay Arthur.
“God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.”
Therefore today I am grateful for…
☆ 1. Christ’s provision for today’s needs, even when I’m not sure how the overwhelming needs ahead of me will be met.
☆ 2. The strength I have in Christ to do the things He has called me to accomplish today, even in the midst of my physical weakness.
☆ 3. His grace and loving care, even in the midst of a day of physical and emotional pain.
Christ-centered gratitude acknowledges the reality of what we are walking through, but it also acknowledges and gives thanks to the Lord as our help in the midst of the storm.
Remember, Christ-centered gratitude is possible because no matter what you are going through, Philippians 2:13 reminds us we are not left to our own resources, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”