Do you ever look around you and think this world is completely out of control? These last two years especially have been filled with a global pandemic, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and an economy on the edge of collapse due to out of control inflation.
In this seemingly out of control world, I have some good news. Our God isn’t shocked by what’s going on. Even though things may look chaotic, He is still in control. He is our mighty God, God Most High!
Today’s post is the first of several covering names of God that begin with the word El, which is usually translated God, and is often used in conjunction with other words to designate various aspects of God’s character. Today we are looking at one of the most frequently used names, El Elyon.
El comes from a root word meaning might, strength, and power. In Scripture it is usually used in conjunction with other words to designate various aspects of God’s character. Elyon expresses the sovereignty and majesty of God, and His preeminence (having first place in everything), superiority and excellence, above all others in quality or rank.
El Elyon puts these two names together and identifies God as the sovereign ruler of the universe. This important name of God is used fifty-three times in the Old Testament, including twenty-two times in the book of Psalms.
The first use in Scripture of El Elyon is in Genesis 14:18-20, in the passage that speaks of Melchizedek, king of Salem, as priest of God Most High.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Genesis 14:18-20 ESV
One of my favorite uses of this name of God is found in Psalm 57.
“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” Psalm 57:1-2 ESV
When our circumstances feel overwhelming, it’s time to take refuge in God Most High. This prayer of David was written when he was in a cave, hiding from Saul who was trying to kill him. We may be walking through difficult and chaotic times, but they’re probably not as hard to deal with as what David was facing. David knew God Most High was his refuge and place of safety. Let’s remember, no matter what our circumstances, that our God is still in control and find a place of safety and rest in His presence.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:11 ESV
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James 1:17 ESV
These two verses have taken on new meaning in my life this week, each time I glance out the window or walk out the front door of our home and see one of God’s good gifts sitting in our driveway! After over a year of praying for the Lord to make a way for our family to replace our vehicle that stopped running over a year ago, His gift of provision is a daily reminder of two important truths of Scripture: that our God answers prayer in His own way and His perfect timing, and that His gifts are given because He is a God of grace and goodness, not because of anything we have or ever could do to earn them.
When the Lord provides for a major need in our lives in a way we would have never come up with in our wildest imagination, being grateful comes easy. The words on a neighborhood church sign that we drove by on our way home from the car dealer with our new mini-van last Friday said it perfectly: “God works in unexpected ways!” I never would have come up with the idea of meeting this need through a retired widow living on a fixed income, one who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years.
The provision to purchase a vehicle without adding to our debt came on the very last day of a month when God had been speaking many life-changing truths to my heart through an e-book by Andrew Murray entitled Waiting On God: A 31-Day Study. This timely study had reminded me that God works in His timing, that as we wait for Him to work in our circumstances He is first doing a needed work in us, that we must wait patiently as we focus on losing our will in His perfect will, that the Giver is greater than the gift and our waiting on Him is the only way to learn to find our life and joy in Him. These truths and a long series of other important reminders of God’s ways during the waiting have been a source of strength during the painful and stretching month of September.
But of all God has spoken to me in this amazing provision, what has stood out above all else are six short words spoken by the leader of our church iConnect Bible study class last Sunday morning, a dear friend who along with his wife has been walking with my husband and me through a situation that is still very much in progress, one where God is doing a major overhaul on our lives. The simple words, “What a gift of God’s grace!”
The very nature of God’s grace is that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. It is an undeserved gift from God. Faith is a part of the progress, but even that doesn’t earn us anything good from God. Scripture teaches a pathway to grace that God has been walking us down during this past six weeks, the pathway of humility. As James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
This week as I rejoice in the good gift God has given our family since my last Thankful Thursday post, I am equally grateful for the spiritual truths He has reminded me of during this situation we have been and still are walking through. As we move forward from here, the turning around of the overall situation we are dealing with is still definitely a work in progress. The work in my husband’s life and in my life are also still very much works in progress. But the lessons God has been teaching us about His character and His ways are settled a little deeper in our lives. And they are unchanging. We don’t know what lies ahead of us in the coming months. But we do know our God and His ways a little better than when this season first began.
As I began this new month of October, I started a new devotional series by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, entitled Growing In Gratitude: A 30-Day Devotional Guide. In the first devotional reading, she defines gratitude as “learning to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from God and from others.” She adds, “This means constantly being on the lookout for blessings, making each day a treasure hunt.” That final phrase immediately brought to mind a Bible verse shared in the comments on a recent Thankful Thursday post I wrote for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness.
“I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.” Isaiah 45:3 NKJV
These words from the prophet Isaiah have taken on special meaning in my life since this verse was shared the comments following that Thankful Thursday post. At the time, I was facing one of the hardest steps of obedience God had ever asked of me. I knew the right thing to do, was determined to obey, yet was in a major battle in my emotions. I made the correct choice, and while the full answer is still in process it was clearly a turning point in some extremely difficult circumstances we have been walking through.
The term treasures of darkness, in the original Hebrew, refers to the blessings God has stored up in His storehouse, ready to bestow upon us as we choose to walk in His ways. Deuteronomy 28:12 uses this same Hebrew word to describe the blessings God has stored up, ready to pour out on us when we walk in obedience to His Word.
“Darkness” can refer to literal darkness, as in Genesis 1:4-5, when God separated the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night. It is also used of figurative darkness, a night season or time of adversity.
The Lord has a storehouse of treasures stored up to lavish upon His children who walk in obedience to His precepts during the dark seasons when circumstances seem overwhelming and we have no light to see what lies ahead.
And why does God do this? That we may know that He is the “I Am”, the true God, the God who has the power to enlighten our darkness. “For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalms 18:28)
My husband and I have been walking through a dark season of great financial pressure, caused by serious damage to our home during hurricanes Ike and Harvey, very little help with repairs from our insurance company, some credit card debt we have been working to pay off, and our inconsistent and limited self-employment income.
When on top of all of this, we learned that our homeowner’s insurance was being cancelled because of the poor condition of our home, I felt like I was drowning emotionally and knew I was going under if I didn’t get some encouragement and help in dealing with my emotions. I reached out to a friend from our church, the wife of the retired pastor who leads our iConnect Bible study class.
Over four years before, when we began looking for a small group to be a part of in our large church, we read in the church bulletin that this small group was beginning a study on Genesis and Creation. This especially caught my husband’s attention since he had recently written a screenplay that included scenes from the Creation story of Genesis. We visited the next Sunday and have been a part of this close knit class ever since.
The first “treasure of darkness” God gave in this situation was the understanding that we thought wechose this small group over four years ago, because the study posted in the bulletin that was about to begin caught our interest. But in truth, God spoke to my heart, He chose this group for us because He knew we would need the friendship and hard-earned wisdom of this couple in this situation several years later. When I made the initial contact because I needed help dealing with the emotional overload caused by our circumstances, I had no idea that my friend and her husband had walked through a similar situation earlier in their marriage. But God knew.
Other times, especially after difficult steps of obedience, God opens his storehouse and bestows a treasure so big we stand in amazement at His goodness. This past Sunday, we received a blessing that left us in tears and speechless. In the midst of great financial stress because of thousands of dollars of damage to our home, we have also been depending on rental cars and friends for transportation since our car broke down over a year ago and the repairs to get it running again were well beyond our means and the value of the car. For over a year, we have been praying for God to make a way for us to get a dependable vehicle without us adding to our debt (which we have been working to pay off). Sunday, God answered that prayer, through a retired widow who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years. This former nurse for our special needs son came by for a visit and to bring some supplies for David and an anniversary card for Mitch and me. I opened the card and was a little puzzled by the message she had written. “Prayer do change things. Here is some help for your transport needs”… until she handed Mitch and me a certified check which will allow us to buy a dependable used car.
God usually uses people in the treasures of darkness that He bestows upon us when we walk in obedience to Him. But the thing in common no matter how big or small these treasures are is that we know without a doubt it is a gift from God and a clear revelation of His love for us. God’s treasures bestowed in darkness may come through people, but God is their ultimate source and recognizing that makes us fall more deeply in love with Him. Through His treasures of darkness, we know He is the true God, the one who is bigger than any dark circumstances we currently face or may face in the future.
“BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6 NASB
The above Bible verse has been one of my favorites for many years. I memorized it at least ten years ago. I’ve tried to live it out whenever circumstances came that caused anxiety, even studied Max Lucado’s book Anxious For Nothing last year and found help in overcoming some anxiety I was battling during that time.
Yet when I learned about three weeks ago that our home was no longer insurable due to extensive damage during the last two hurricanes that hit the Houston area – that to have continued insurance coverage on our home we had an estimated $40,000 of repairs (not covered by our insurance company) that we needed to find a way to cover – I still had a major battle with anxiety. Yes, I tried to cast my burdens on the Lord, but the anxiety remained. I prayed, but I still was waking up in the middle of the night feeling so anxious about this situation that I couldn’t get back to sleep.
Knowing I needed to find a way to deal with this before it started causing major problems with my health, I prayed and sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that I needed to reach out for help. We had already shared some of the details of what we are facing with the couple who lead our iConnect Bible Study class at church, so I made a call and explained the problem I was having to my friend Donna.
After listening patiently to my explanation of what had been happening, my friend gave me several practical suggestions to use to conquer my fears. First, she reminded me of the above Scripture. We discussed some of the specific fears that were keeping me awake at night. Donna asked me to make a list of those fears and others that came and then find Scriptures I could use in prayer to combat the nighttime fears. And she reminded me of the second action called for in Philippians 4:6, giving thanks to the Lord in the midst of our current circumstances. She also gave several other practical suggestions, which I’ve been putting into practice.
This was nearly two weeks ago, and nothing in our circumstances has changed. But my outlook on the circumstances has turned 180 degrees. Yes, I’m still having an occasional battle with anxiety keeping me from getting a full night of sleep some nights. But the combination of identifying my fears, reminding myself of what God’s Word says about the things I’m fearing, and looking for things to thank God for in the midst of this situation has made a big difference.
Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:
“No matter what our circumstance, we can find a reason to be thankful.”
I don’t believe Philippians 4:6 is telling us to give thanks FOR the problems we are walking through but rather IN the troubles that are causing anxiety. Frankly, I’m not thankful about the damage that happened to our home or the fact that neither the government disaster relief agency nor our insurance company did anything to help after hurricane Harvey last summer. I’m not thankful that our attempt to find a new insurance company that would actually do more than take our money ended up causing our insurance to be cancelled because my husband was honest about the current condition of the house. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to give thanks for in this situation.
I am thankful that the damage to our home last summer did not mean we had to move out, which would have been a huge problem with the medical needs of our son David. Many in the Houston area were not so fortunate. I’m grateful that God provided enough money to repair the leak in the roof so that future rainstorms did not result in even more damage. And I’m thankful for supportive friends who are helping us through this difficult time in a way that encourages us to honor God and His Word. And above all, I’m grateful that God has been with us as we walk through this difficult season, doing a work in both my husband’s life and my life.
Prayer is an important key to getting past our anxious thoughts. But remember when Philippians 4:6 gives us counsel on how to overcome anxiety it adds something to prayer. Thanksgiving.
My husband and I have prayed about our situation, reminding God that without His help there is nothing we can do to turn this around. We are doing the things He has shown us to do. And we are thanking Him daily for His blessings in the midst of the hardship.
Are you currently battling anxiety over some circumstances beyond your control? If so, I want to remind you that they are NOT beyond God’s control. He loves you with an everlasting, steadfast love and He has a track record from Creation till now of faithfulness. So instead of giving in to anxious thoughts, pray. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him for who He is. Thank Him for how He has come through for you in impossible situations in the past. And even look for something you can thank Him for in your current stressful circumstances.
The situation may not change overnight – but I suspect YOU will begin to change. And according to Romans 8:28-29, that’s one way God uses everything we face for our good and His glory, as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Add giving thanks to your prayers and see what happens.
God’s Word, the Holy Bible, is our guidebook for how to walk in peace in each area of our lives. Last week, the focus of my blog post was on peace in our relationship with God. If you missed that post, here is the link.
This week, I’m shifting attention to peace in our relationships with others in the body of Christ. God’s will for His people is to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3 ESV) In practical terms, how do we do this?
For Christians, how to act in a specific situation is often black and white. Option 1 is obedience to a command of God’s Word, option 2 is disobedience and living according to our fleshly desires. But there are also many areas of our daily lives where right and wrong are not so clearly spelled out. These are areas where we need to seek understanding from the Lord concerning what He wants us to do, where with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we form our own personal convictions.
Once we have formed our own personal convictions and are seeking to live according to them, we need to understand how these relate to our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. If God has shown us something is right for us, does that mean it is right for every Christian? Not necessarily. This week’s verses for the Perfect Peace study begin with Romans 14, which deals with areas of personal conviction, things which the Bible does not say in themselves are right or wrong.
How to live by my personal convictions yet not insist that others adopt the same convictions was one of the first lessons I remember God teaching me as a new believer. Some things God clearly says are right or wrong (sin), but in many areas the choices we make are between us and the Lord. We are not to force our personal convictions on others.
As God was teaching me this lesson, I was invited out to dinner with some dear family friends who were Christians but belonged to a church that tends to be rather legalistic in areas like abstaining from certain foods and gathering for worship on a specific day of the week, both areas mentioned in this chapter. I was asking God how I should handle this invitation. He lead me to Romans 14 and told me to accept the invitation, order only the type of foods they would be comfortable with me eating, and avoid the trap of trying to change their personal convictions.
I love this chapter in The Message – it makes this lesson so clear and easy to apply. Here is the Message paraphrase of Romans 14:1 which gives a good summary of the message Paul was trying to get across, and I’m including the link to the entire chapter below for anyone interested in reading more.
“Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.”
Where God does not say one choice is right and another is definitely wrong, He gives us some guidelines in His Word to help us make decisions. Here are a few mentioned in Romans 14.
We are to welcome other genuine believers in Christ with open arms.
We are to seek peace and walk in love toward all of our true brothers and sisters in Christ.
The forming of personal convictions is between each individual believer and the Holy Spirit that lives in the believer’s heart. I am not to attempt to do the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of my brother or sister in Christ.
Once God has shown us what is right for us in these areas, we are to be fullyconvinced in our mind. God will hold us accountable for our own choices and behavior.
Quarrelingover personal convictions does not maintain peace among believers, so this is to be avoided.
Judging others in areas where right and wrong is not spelled out in the Bible is not our responsibility.
We are to avoid actions that would be stumbling blocks to others who are seeking to follow Jesus Christ.
Walking in love with others in the body of Christ, especially with those who don’t see things the way we do, can be a challenge. But with the truths taught in Romans 14 we have some clear guidelines in how to promote harmony and peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s begin using these to begin bridging some relationship gaps so we will be a clearer representation of what it truly means to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Another school year was starting. My kindergarten students were sitting at their tables, usually very shy because they didn’t yet know one another. Once everyone was seated, I handed out the first worksheets of the year. I carefully explained that they were to look at the pictures in the fist row and put a big X on the picture in that row that was different and therefore did not belong. And we did this one row at a time, until the assignment was completed.
To me as the teacher, this was a simple exercise to determine how advanced each child was in their learning. But looking back many years later, I’m wondering about the message this accepted activity gave some of the slower children. When we went over the correct answers, did some of these precious four and five year olds receive the message: You are different, so you don’t belong?
I suspect all of us have felt like we didn’t belong at times. I know I have. But I don’t believe this is how God meant for us to be. He made us to be part of a community. Starting with the family unit, God wants us to feel a part of a group. In the church, community is also important. We are not meant to be alone and self-sufficient. We will all have times when we need the support of others.
This has become especially clear to me in recent weeks. Other than being around my immediate family, if it weren’t for social media, this would have been a very lonely time. The only times I’ve been able to leave the house have been for medical appointments. It’s been more than a month since I’ve been able to attend a church service or social event, because of one health problem after another. But I haven’t lived in a vacuum.
While I’d rather be in the physical presence of my friends, being in contact through social media is a close second. Because we have already built relationships, a quick chat on Facebook or a series of emails does wonders in helping me get past the feelings of loneliness. So does reading blogs written by my writing friends and responding. And being an active part of God-Living Girls, a Christian Bible study and support group for ladies with chronic illnesses, makes it easy to talk to someone who understands what I’ve been going through. I’ve built solid, caring relationships in my life, some in person and some through social media, and because of this I always have a place where I feel like I belong. Having a healthy social network provides a place to vent when I feel overwhelmed, to be supported during the difficult times, and to support others who are facing difficulties. And it helps me to see my circumstances from a clearer perspective, from others whom aren’t so close to the problems I’m walking through.
As it says in Ecclesiastes, two are better than one. Whether it’s two friends, husband and wife, and parent and child, this is always true. I encourage any of you who do not have a support network in your lives to begin building one. Then, no matter what happens, you will know that you belong!