I was reading an article this week, written by Jay Lowder, an evangelist who has spoken several times in our church. The subject of his article was overcoming fear so that we can walk in faith during this uncertain time. He wrote:
“The past few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time of fear for many, even me. I’m a full-time evangelist whose work has come to a halt, and I have a daughter with an incurable disease that is highly susceptible to illness. Even as a person of faith, it’s hard not to have fear about these things which are completely out of my control.”
It’s easy to see that the circumstances we are living through are beyond our control. The good news is they are not beyond God’s control. We may not understand all of God’s purposes in this season, but we can choose to walk in faith in the God who wasn’t surprised by this pandemic.
In her book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore wrote, “Faith is not believing in my own unshakable belief. Faith is believing an unshakable God when everything in me trembles and quakes.“
To walk in faith during seasons when everything in us is trembling and quaking requires something or someone unshakable that we can hold onto. Faith isn’t positive thinking. It is rooted in knowing and trusting the One who cannot be shaken. Faith is believing that God will do what He has promised to do and then acting on that belief.
Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker speaker and writer during the late 19th century, said of walking in faith,
“Sight is not faith, and hearing is not faith, neither is feeling faith; but believing when we neither see, hear, nor feel is faith; and everywhere the Bible tells us our salvation is to be by faith. Therefore we must believe before we feel, and often against our feelings, if we would honor faith... Faith, like sight is nothing apart from God. You might as well shut your eyes and look inside, and see whether you have sight as to look inside to discover whether you have faith.“
In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith said the biggest obstacle to walking in faith is a life filled with supposes.
As we move forward in this season of uncertainty, let’s remember that the Lord Himself is our strong tower. Let’s make this cry of David our prayer when we feel our faith being shaken.
“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-3
“Those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable, as unmovable as mighty Mount Zion!” Psalms 125:1 The Passion Translation
Instead of living in the supposes, let’s run to our place of safety and rest. Let’s run to the Lord, our dwelling place. When we do, we will be held up by His everlasting arms.
“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. ” Deuteronomy 33:27a
“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark 4:35-41 ESV
On Tuesday, a Facebook group I’m in began a new study entitled “Jesus Calms the Storm,” based on the above Scripture. It’s a familiar story to those of us who have been Christians for very long, and when passages from the Bible are well-known it’s easy to just skim over the verses. But this morning, I saw these verses in a different way – from the viewpoint of the ones who were there with Jesus, His disciples.
After a busy day of ministry, it was around sundown and they were physically weary. So when Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side,” they were ready to follow. They weren’t anxious about the trip, it was just one of many they had taken across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still with them and they were at peace.
This was a routine trip, a short eight miles across to the other side. Mark 5:1 tells us they were headed to the country of the Gerasenes, and there were other boats in sight. Among the disciples were several men who had fished these waters for many years, before they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him. They were skilled at handling the boat, so when Jesus said He wanted to lie down and rest awhile, they weren’t concerned.
Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the routine trip the disciples were expecting. Storms were not unusual on this area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by hills. When the winds from the Mediterranean come across the hills, the air is cool and dry. When this air comes in contact with the warm, moist air around the sea, it causes large temperature changes and strong winds dropping to the sea. The disciples were familiar with this, but what they saw this evening was frightening even to these experienced fishermen.
Suddenly, they found themselves in a very dangerous situation, when the high winds and huge waves began breaking over the boat one after another. The boat was quickly filling with water, and the experienced fishermen aboard knew they were in a life-threatening situation.
So where was Jesus in the midst of this? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. But His nap didn’t last very long. The frightened disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke from his sleep and rebuked the wind, speaking to it “Peace, be still.” And just that quick the storm was over and the water was calm.
Didn’t Jesus care about these men who were handpicked by Him and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?
How sad the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” After this experience, they were amazed and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
No one is exempt from the storms of life. Remember, the boat Jesus and the disciples were on wasn’t the only one around. Mark told us that other boats were around them, so the men on these boats who may have been unbeliever’s also faced the storm. The Gospel does not tell us anymore about them, but they faced the frightening situation without Jesus. When we go through storms, we have an advantage over those who do not know the Lord. We are never alone in the storm; the One Who has power over the wind and the sea is with us.
Peter, one of the disciples who went through this storm with Jesus, later wrote of us experiencing storms in life that cause us great grief. When they come, he encouraged us to rejoice, because trials test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold. As we go through the storms, we can know we are being guarded by God’s power as we place our faith in Him.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV
Another thing we know is that the disciples had a promise that they were going across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. When we face a storm in our lives, one thing that I’ve found helpful is spending time in God’s Word, asking Him to give me a promise to hold onto.
In a recent article, Pastor Greg Laurie compared the Coronavirus pandemic we have been going through this year to one of the powerful storms on the Sea of Galilee.
“This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.
“Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.”
The Mark account of Jesus calming the sea ends with the disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” As we trust Jesus during the storms we face, the storm may not stop immediately. God is sovereign, and His will will prevail. But we can be assured that we will come out of our storms with more understanding of the greatness of our God.
This week’s focus in the “I Give Up” Bible study on surrender focuses on the HOW of surrender. Laura Story says, “Surrender requires a willingness to change, it requires trust, and it requires active participation.”
But the truth that is central in this week’s teaching is that surrender isn’t about striving and human effort. Rather, it’s about GRACE and ABIDING IN THE VINE.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:5-8 NIV
To abide in Christ means to intentionally remain in an ever-growing relationship with him. The result is over time being transformed to be more and more like Him. Abiding in Christ means not giving up, but continuing on despite our doubts or hardships. Abiding in Christ means allowing God to continue the work He is doing in us by staying attached to our source of life and strength.
Abiding in Christ is the key to living a fruitful life. Charles Swindoll wrote, “Jesus never commanded believers to produce fruit. Fruit is the purpose of the branch, but it is not the responsibility of the branch. The branch cannot produce anything on it’s own. However, if it remains attached to the vine, it will receive life-sustaining sap, nourishment, strength, everything it needs.”
As I was doing some research online I came across an article byLaura Story on what it means to abide. Abiding, she says, is “learning to be a branch.” What does a branch do? It simply remains attached to the vine, and allows the life of the vine to flow through it. Without making any effort itself, it bears fruit.
Laura says, “First of all, Jesus isn’t against doing. He calls us to do a great many things, yet the source of the strength for the doing MUST come from abiding.”
She adds, “I took a moment to gaze out my living room window and noticed something about the trees.None of the branches seemed to be struggling to connect with the trunks, or vines, if you will. It is the most natural thing in the world for these branches to stay attached to their source of life and strength and nourishment.”
So how do we walk in a lifestyle of surrender? It begins by acknowledging in ourselves we lack the ability to do this. We learn to be a branch. We remain attached to the Vine, which is Jesus Christ. We walk by faith, spend focused time daily with the Lord and abiding in His Word. And then we step out to do whatever He instructs us to do, expecting His life to flow through us.
Linking up today with Five Minute Friday. Today’s writing prompt: QUESTION
Jesus was a question asker! As you read the gospels, it becomes obvious that was one of His favorite ways of interacting with the people around Him. Questions make us think, they force us to make decisions. And without these important steps, we will never grow.
One of my favorite passages where Jesus asks a question is found in John 6, one of the accounts of the feeding of five thousand. A large crowd had been gathered to hear Him teach, and Jesus didn’t want to send the people away hungry. Verse 6 says Jesus already knew what He was going to do, but this was a teaching moment, a time to impart some truth to His disciples, and He began with a question which the text tells us was a test. He addresses His question to Philip,”Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”
Philip’s response makes makes it clear that his eyes were on their limited resources. His answer was in essence, “If we use all our money to buy bread, it still wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a bite.” I think it’s easy to see he failed the test!
Andrew was nearby and he responded to Jesus’ question with another question, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” Still not the response Jesus was looking for.
At this point, Jesus moves forward with His plan, involving the disciples in the process. The large crowd not only leaves with satisfied stomachs but they’ve witnessed another miracle, a sign that Jesus truly is the Messiah they had been looking for. The disciples left with twelve baskets filled with the surplus, one for each of them to enjoy. And they also left will a clearer understanding of who Jesus truly was.
As I listened to our pastor’s sermon this past Sunday on John 6, and as I read the entire chapter earlier this week, I learned my own lesson. If Jesus used questions so often in His teaching, what better example is there to follow when I’m teaching? Whether in our small group at church where I’m on the teaching team or in the online posts for a Christian chronic illness support group I help lead, I want to be more alert to using this important teaching method that Jesus so clearly modeled for us.
Today, I’m trying to recover from two physically exhausting days of medical appointments and two nights where the pain kept me awake. Life with chronic illness can be difficult, especially when new symptoms start popping up and we don’t know the cause of them. Doctor’s appointments, lab work, medical tests – they can all be challenging when you’re already feeling at the end of your strength.
But as I was taking some time in prayer this morning, God gently spoke to my mind in the midst of all the unknowns to turn my eyes on what I DO KNOW. I may not know why the Lord has allowed this interruption in my plans or what the future holds. But I do know I’m not alone. No matter what today or the future holds, I know I can continue moving forward because the Lord is at my side.
I do know I can choose to draw close to God and find comfort in His presence and His Word.
I do know He is my loving Father, who wants the very best for me.
I do know He is my faithful God who always keeps His promises.
I do know His grace is sufficient for me in every situation He asks me to walk through.
I do know He invites me to cast all my cares on Him because He cares for me.
I do know He proved without a doubt how much He loves me when He paid the ultimate price of giving His Son Jesus Christ to make a way for me to draw near to Him in both good times and in times of need.
I do know He is God over all I don’t know, over every pain, fear, and unanswered question. Even when I don’t know all the answers I can rest in the assurance that my God does!
No matter what fears you’re battling today or what unanswered questions you have, you can know we serve a God who is God over ALL we don’t know.
It’s been a long time since I wrote a post for Five Minute Friday. But this week’s writing prompt: GOAL, was too fitting for me to pass up. Recently, God has given me a new goal that has become my new purpose in life.
During May, I led a group of ladies in God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness through a mini-Bible study entitled Verse by Verse, Growing Closer to God. The study we used was written by Jodie Barrett and Donna Fender of Faithfully Following Ministries, and I had already planned to do the study so I volunteered to lead it in our group.
What I didn’t know at the time was that God was going to use this study to speak a very clear word to me personally, a word that has given me a new purpose in life.
As I went with our group of ladies through this study, I kept hearing one message over and over and over again. It was simply this: Your focus needs to be on finishing the work I have called you to do.
After losing our special needs and medically fragile son David last November, my husband and I had been sensing one long season of our lives was over and it was time for a new focus. For thirty-four years, meeting David’s needs had been the center of our lives around which everything else revolved. So both of us had been praying for God’s direction for the future. And during this mini-study, I found the direction I was seeking.
Writing has been a love of my life for several years, and it’s time to move forward with God’s plan in this area. In prayer, I’ve sensed two specific focuses for my writing, and I’m now in the process of taking my new Goal and turning it into a plan to make it more than just a wish. And it was time to put that decision down on paper.
I’m currently working on doing more articles for God-Living Girls and my blog, as well as in the planning stage of writing my first Bible study. Since I celebrated my seventy-first birthday earlier this year, I don’t know how many years I have to finish the work that God created me to do. But in this past month, doing that has become my burning desire.
With the health problems I live with daily and my need for a walker to get around, my husband or I usually check the weather forecast before the two of us leave the house. If the odds of bad weather are high and the outing is one that can be postponed, I usually end up staying in the safety of our home for another day.
Acts 12:1-6 describes a situation where the odds for Peter were not very promising. His friend and fellow apostle James had just been beheaded, and Peter was in prison, chained to two guards with two more outside the cell for double protection. And this time, the arrest was officially made by the king who lived to please the Jews. Passover was causing a delay in Herod Agrippa I carrying out his plans, but it was nearly time for the planned release of the prisoner to the Jewish leaders who wanted Peter to suffer the same consequence of preaching in Jesus’ name that James had already suffered.
Yet God did the unexpected. God’s plan for Peter included such a miraculous deliverance that even those who were gathered to intercede for him were shocked at the answer to their prayers. https://biblia.com/bible/nasb95/Acts%2012.13-16
As I’ve heard this story taught in the past, the fact that those who were gathered praying for Peter were surprised when he showed up at their prayer meeting, so surprised that he was left standing at the gate knocking when the servant girl realized he was there, was given as evidence of their unbelief. A careful study of this passage shows me that’s probably not what was going on. Verse 5 makes it clear that these believers were fervently praying for Peter.
“Fervently” means they were praying with a right spirit, earnestly and without relaxing in their effort. That doesn’t sound to me like God’s view of their prayers is in agreement with this idea that their’s prayers somehow fell short of what pleases God, that their response reveals their prayers reflected unbelieving hearts.
It sounds like they were human, struggling with the recent death of one of their leaders and seeking to align their hearts with God’s will for Peter, whether it was his death or his deliverance. Their first thoughts appear to have been that Peter’s work was done and God had taken him home to be with Him, as He had Stephen (in Acts 7) and James (in Acts 12:1-2), and that the one at the gate was actually Peter’s angel, there to announce his departure.
Instead I see this as a rather humorous account of a miraculous intervention by God. If one of those gathered in prayer had simply responded to the knocking, they would have recognized God was at work in their midst. And as I read this passage, I had to stop and ask myself if my prayer qualifies as fervent. I learned I deinitely have room to grow in this area.
So what are the characteristics of fervent prayer?
Fervent Prayer is intense and earnest, coming from a heart seeking to please God.
Fervent Prayer perseveres until an answer is received.
Fervent Prayer involves genuine contact with the living God through faith.
Fervent Prayer seeks the will of God and not our will.
Fervent Prayer is based on the Word of God and the promises in the Word.
Fervent Prayer seeks God’s glory, never the glory of those who are praying.
In Acts 12, those gathered to intercede for Peter were praying with intensity and perseverance. I believe they were seeking understanding of God’s will in this particular situation, not assuming God would do what they wanted. They knew Jesus’ teaching about counting the cost of being a disciple, and they knew deliverance wasn’t God’s will in every situation.
I believe in the weakness of their humanity they were seeking to align their will with the will of God, to what would bring Him glory in this situation. But what they were missing was a clear revelation of the will of God in this particular situation. What they didn’t know is that this time God’s will was not the same as His will for Stephen and James. Peter still had work to finish, his purpose was not completed, so in this case there would be an amazing deliverance, one that was possible only with the power of God.
An interesting side note to this story. Peter’s deliverance was the fulfillment of a promise Jesus gave him of living until old age when He forgave, restored and called Peter to serve Him after he had denied Jesus three times. In John 21:18 Jesus said to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. ” When the angel came to set Peter free, on the night before he faced probable death, he had to be roused from a deep and peaceful sleep before the angel could carry out his instructions. According to extra-biblical history, Peter probably lived around twenty-four more years before he became a martyr for the faith.