By Linda Rex
August 30, 2020, Proper 17—The pandemic and its associated quarantine have complicated our lives in so many ways. We are bombarded with new distractions, frustrations, and limitations. Some of us are way out of our comfort zone as we attempt new tasks or abandon comfortable routines. It may seem as though we are caught in the midst of a cyclone of mini-crises with no visible means of escape.
Perhaps it would be helpful to see ourselves on a journey where suddenly we are faced with a desolate mountainside to climb—struggling to carry ourselves forward, navigating dangerous outcroppings and unforeseen chasms in our effort to reach the other side. This journey is never made alone, but with the One who has made himself our companion—Jesus Christ. He says to you and to me, “Follow me.” He already knows the way and intends to take us safely to the other side, no matter what may we may face on the way.
The reality is that when Jesus calls us to follow him he knows that life is going to be a struggle for us. To leave behind our comfortable, cozy mattress to find rest in a sleeping bag on a rocky mountainside is not an easy decision. Along the journey, we may decide we’re done with traveling and start looking for a cushy oasis to settle down into. And our adversary loves to supply us with one if it means we will stop following our Lord and Savior and return to our life of sin.
We need to be like Moses, who when the Lord spoke to him from the burning bush said simply, “Here I am.” To simply offer ourselves to God one more time in this particular moment is to follow Jesus. In the offering of ourselves to God, though, we must remember that God will come to us, reveal himself to us, and call us to join with him on a difficult task. Moses told God, “I’m here” and God told him to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt—a breathtaking task for a self-effacing shepherd on a mountainside.
Jesus had just blessed Peter for recognizing him as Messiah, the Son of God, when he began to tell his disciples what the Sanhedrin was going to do to him when he got to Jerusalem. Peter emphatically refused to believe that Jesus would be crucified and die at the hands of the Jewish leaders. Without realizing it, Peter gave in to the adversary’s effort to distract Jesus from the path he knew he had to follow for the sake of all humanity. What seemed to be loving, brotherly compassion and care in Peter’s mind turned out to be a not too subtle temptation for Jesus in complete opposition to the will and purposes of God.
Strong-willed, impulsive Peter seemed to be struggling with the idea that God calls the shots in this world and that sometimes those decisions God makes are not what we think should happen. What is most important to us is not always what is most important to God. He lives in the realm of eternity—we live in the everyday of the temporary.
It seems that if we were to design the Christian life on our terms, it might look like this: A person comes to faith, says the right words, gets baptized, goes to church, everything in their life begins to start working out properly now, they never get sick, and they start making all kinds of money since now they are giving God his portion. Do you see the issue? Throughout this whole life experience—nothing goes wrong, no one gets hurt, and there is no suffering. But it’s not reality.
Jesus knew the human experience. He knew that the minute any of us stepped foot in one of his footprints, the adversary would be on top of them immediately. He knew how easy it would be for us to return to our old ways of thinking and acting instead of embracing our new life in him. He knew that the only path to true transformation of our humanity would be the one through death into resurrection.
So Jesus says to us that we must deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow him. There is a cost to following Jesus and it involves dying to our old ways of living and being, and embracing the reality that there will be suffering and struggle in the process. We need to realize that just as the crowds ridiculed and taunted Jesus, there will be those who oppose our choosing to follow him down the path to the cross. There will be tough decisions to make and difficult struggles to end unhealthy relationships and begin new Christ-centered ones.
And there will be circumstances which come up in our lives where we struggle to make sense of what God has done or is doing. Why does God allow some people to die when others who do so much evil continue to live and cause such destruction in this world? There are so many difficult questions for which we have no answers.
We must come back to that place where we simply recognize the holy ground of God’s presence, take off our shoes, and humbly say to him, “Here I am.” We are but creatures and he is the loving Creator, and he has joined us on our journey, shared our pain and suffering, died our death, and sent his Spirit to be present with us in every moment. We are not alone on this journey—and he will bring us safely to the other side. And that is enough.
When the apostle Paul describes the Christian life, he gives some examples of what it looks like. In Romans 12:9–21, he tells the followers of Jesus to love without hypocrisy, to hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good. He encourages them to be diligent and fervent in their service to the Lord. He reminds them to persevere in the midst of life’s trials and to devote themselves to prayer and providing for the needs of their spiritual brothers and sisters. Then he gets to the really difficult things—blessing those who persecute them, associating with the poverty-stricken and needy, and never exacting revenge on those who do evil or harm them.
The life of a follower of Jesus is never intended to always be convenient, simple, and comfortable. If anything, it is an arduous struggle. But it’s never done alone. We have the companionship of our spiritual brothers and sisters to lift us up, encourage, and strengthen us. And we have the intimate companionship of our Lord and Savior who indwells us by the Spirit. On our journey, he is present in every moment as we listen, heed, and yield ourselves to him, to give us direction, encouragement, inspiration, and correction.
The life of faith in Jesus is full of moments of joy, peace, hope, and fellowship. We do not walk alone, but have fellow travelers with us on our journey. Yes, there will be difficulties, struggles, and disappointments. But in the midst of whatever may be occurring, we can know that we need only say, “Here I am” and we will find ourselves encountering the living Lord. He is as near as his name on our lips— “Jesus.” He is as close as the breath we breathe—the Spirit who dwells in us. Take a moment right now to feel his presence in you and with you—and commit once again to following him wherever he leads.
Heavenly Father, you are the source of all things—our life and our existence are in you. Jesus, you went before us, living our life and dying our death so that we might rise with you into new life. Spirit, remind us again that we are not alone on this journey, but we have God’s real presence in us and with us as we follow Jesus wherever he leads. We are here, Lord—bring us to where us want us to be. In your Name we pray. Amen.
“From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.’ Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?’” Matthew 16:21–26 NASB
By Linda Rex
MARCH 15, 2020, 3rd SUNDAY IN EASTER PREPARATION—Have you ever felt weary from the journey, wanting to just sit down, exhausted from the journey on the rocky road of life? Has life come at you full speed, ripping out of your hands everything that to you is precious and worth having? We all come to places there we find ourselves in the dry, barren wilderness where we wonder if we will ever again be in a place of joy, plenty, and peace.
As this area of middle Tennessee still reels from the impact of the tornadoes earlier this week, I am reminded again of the fragility of human life. Our technological wonders become impotent when the power goes out. Our cities become a mass of traffic snarls and, sad to say, even human predators begin roaming the streets, looking for ways to take advantage of those already in crisis.
In the midst of our suffering and struggles, we can so easily begin to gripe and complain, much like the Israelites when they came to the wilderness of Sin at Rephidim and there wasn’t any water (Ex. 17:1-7). The circumstances they found themselves in spoke more loudly than the past experiences of God’s presence and care as they journeyed. Even though they had been given plenty of evidence that God was with them and cared about them, they still questioned the reality of it, asking, “Is the Lord among us, or not?”
How easy it is for us to forget the living, loving presence of God! The psalmist in Psalm 95 speaks of how impossible it was for the people of God to find rest in him when they kept forgetting who he was—the loving Lord who had redeemed them from slavery and had brought them into covenant relationship with himself. They had forgotten the simple truth—God was theirs and they were his. If they had simply trusted in this God who was united with them in covenant love, they would have had peace and comfort in the midst of their struggles, and would known he was going to provide for their every need on the journey.
In the story in Exodus we find that Moses was told by God to take his rod and to strike the rock at Horeb, so that water would flow from it so they could drink. In Psalm 95, the psalmist calls God himself “the rock of our salvation.” He is the one who “is our God, | And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.” This is the God who sat by the well in Samaria, wearied from the journey, simply asking for a drink of water.
It was not enough for God to sit up in heaven watching us go through life, stumbling and hurting, and failing to love and be loved. He solidified his relationship with the creatures he had made by taking on our humanity and dwelling for a time in the midst of our human existence, experiencing all the temptations we face during our lives here on earth. In Jesus Christ, the One who is God in human flesh, the immovable crag, the solid Rock of our salvation, we find the source of our refreshment and renewal.
Just as the rock in the wilderness was struck by Moses, Jesus was abused, tortured, and killed by those for whom he came. But we read in Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (NASB). The greatest expression of the covenant love of God toward humanity is found in this gift of Jesus Christ, for in him and through him, we are given life.
Jesus told the woman he met at the well in Samaria, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14 NASB). God came in the person of Jesus Christ, was crucified for our behalf, but rose again, drawing all humanity with him into the presence of the Father. In the sending of the living water, the Spirit, we are invited to drink of eternal life, the life which Jesus forged for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
In spite of how we may feel at the moment and in spite of what we may see happening all around us, the spiritual reality is that we are held in the midst of the love and life of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We are included in their divine life, and by the Spirit we participate in the eternal loving relationship between the Father and the Son. We are held at all times in the loving hands of our heavenly Father—no matter what our personal experience at the present time here on earth may be.
As long as we keep our eyes on our circumstances and refuse to believe in the living Presence of our loving God, we will find no rest or peace. Our anxiety and negative outlook find their roots in the lingering question in our hearts and minds, “is God among us or not?” We can look at Jesus as though he is a boulder—hard, cold, and impenetrable. We can refuse to believe God cares at all about us or the circumstances in our lives. But we would be believing a lie, a lie which prevents us from seeing or hearing the One who is truly present with us at all times.
We find hope in the midst of our struggles when we come to know and believe that God is present in us, with us, and for us in the person of Jesus Christ by the Spirit. Trusting in Jesus enables us to find rest in the middle of tragedy and suffering, offering us peace in spite of what is happening all around us. The apostle Paul writes, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love” (Romans 5:3-5 NLT)
It is essential that we remember and believe who God is—the God who loves us so much that he was willing to come and be present with us in the midst of our human suffering, struggles, and death, and to lift us up into life with himself. This is the God who has committed himself to us by taking our very humanity, our life and death, upon himself so we can be with him both now and forever. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:38-39, “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love … revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NLT). Now that is a promise—and a Being—worth resting in.
Thank you, Father, for your faithful love in spite of our forgetfulness and unbelief. Holy Jesus, thank you for your immeasurable gift of yourself and for sending the Spirit from the Father so we can begin to know and believe we are loved, held, and cared for at all times, no matter our circumstances. Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to receive the flowing waters of eternal life, allowing ourselves to be immersed both now and forever in God’s love and grace, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“He named the place Massah and because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?” Exodus 17:7 NASB
“Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, | As in the day of Massah in the wilderness, | When your fathers tested Me, | They tried Me, though they had seen My work. | For forty years I loathed that generation, | And said they are a people who err in their heart, | And they do not know My ways. | Therefore I swore in My anger, | Truly they shall not enter into My rest.” Psalm 95:8-11 NASB
See also John 4:5-42 and Romans 5:1-11.
By Linda Rex
November 17, 2019, Proper 28—Many years ago, I was faced with the reality that I was going to be on my own with two children to provide for. It was a hard thing to face because up to that point, it had been my commitment to be at home with my children so I could be fully involved in their lives. Reality is not always pleasant but it must be dealt with, and being a single mom meant I needed to find a job as well as hire a caregiver for my kids.
Life as a single mom was difficult for me, but many of the people around me struggled with even harder situations than what I had to deal with. Many of my co-workers juggled two jobs in order to be able to pay for childcare and their monthly expenses. Jobs in that farming community for the most part didn’t pay enough for single income families to make ends meet.
When life was hardest and the mountains around me seemed to grow taller and taller, I wrestled with fear, despair, and depression. The gracious God taught me during that extensive time of wrestling that all I needed to do was to hold his hand and take the next step and do that next right thing. Every month when the bills came due and I wasn’t sure if I would have enough to cover them, I would end up thanking God—he seemed to always come through for me.
During those years I learned that God was faithful and could be counted on, in spite of what I might be going through at the moment. As a follower of Jesus, I discovered that even if people around me ridiculed me and rejected me for living honestly, chastely, and responsibly, God was still present and at work in my life. Over time, as I intentionally began to build healthier relationships with other believers of many different faiths, he surrounded me with loving people who became our extended family, providing emotional and spiritual support through a very painful and difficult time.
Following Jesus is a life lived in the reality that God is our loving Father and we are his beloved children in his Son. When we follow Jesus, we begin to discover that even though each and every person around us is included in the Father’s love, not everyone knows nor do they believe this is the case. This means that as we live in the truth of being God’s beloved, living in agreement with our identity in Christ as image-bearers of God, we will come up against those who live in opposition to him and to us.
Some of the most painful experiences we have as believers are when our own family members and dear friends ridicule us, shame us, or even reject us because we have begun to follow Christ. We may long for these dear ones to share the joy of transformation we are experiencing, but find instead that they will have nothing to do with the truth of God’s love and grace. Life gets really tough when those we love refuse to participate with us in Christ.
Jesus often tried to help his disciples understand the cost of discipleship, of following him all the way through death and resurrection. They couldn’t quite get their minds around the reality that Jesus was not there to be the conquering king messiah—he was anointed by his Abba to be the Suffering Servant messiah, an entirely different concept. The entrance of his people into the kingdom was not going to come about by him waging war on the Romans, but by offering himself up to humanity as a lamb for the slaughter.
The people of Israel had worked so hard to get their temple rebuilt and adorned as an appropriate dwelling for God. But Jesus told them it would be torn down and destroyed. And that it would be okay, because Abba was creating a new temple, a dwelling place for himself—the body of Christ, the church, where individually and collectively God would dwell by the Holy Spirit. In order for this to happen, Jesus would need to experience suffering and death, followed by resurrection.
In the same way, the process of redemption and sanctification for us individually includes our participation in the death and resurrection of Jesus. We participate in the sacraments of baptism and communion as an expression of our inclusion in the death and resurrection of Christ. But we also participate as we experience the consequences of following Christ, of living and walking in the Spirit rather than in our flesh—by sharing in the sufferings of Christ as we find ourselves opposed, resisted, and even rejected by those for whom Christ is offensive.
Our participation in Christ, following Jesus through every experience of life, is a journey, one in which we may experience both joy and sorrow, blessing and suffering. The key is that we are indwelt by God himself and whatever may be occurring in our lives at the moment, he is present and involved and aware. He upholds us in the midst of our struggles, and celebrates with us when we experience the triumphs of life.
Jesus Christ didn’t promise his followers a pain-free life. But he did promise that he would be with them to the end—that in their endurance, they would find true life. The life Abba has given us through Jesus in the Spirit is an intimate knowing and being known. Our knowledge and understanding of who God is grows as we wrestle with hardship and pain, and the other difficulties of life in relationship with him through Jesus in the Spirit.
We, in Christ, are the beloved children of God—and we are to act like it from now on, no matter how difficult it may be to do so. But, remember, we are not alone as we do this—Christ is present and active, participating with us in everything we are going through, keeping us in the midst of God’s life and love, and enabling us to endure to the end. And when we feel we just can’t hold on any longer, as we turn to him in faith, we will find he’s been there all along, holding on to us.
Father, thank you for being present in every circumstance of life. Thank you, Jesus, that we are privileged to share in your sufferings, your life and your death. And thank you, Holy Spirit, that we never do any of this on our own, but always and ever through you in the loving embrace of the Father and the Son. Enable us this day to face the pain and difficulty one more time. Give us the courage to do the difficult thing we don’t want to do, and the faith to trust you when everything around us tells us not to. Grant us the grace to endure, through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” Luke 21:16–19 NASB
“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10–13 NASB
By Linda Rex
During the time of my personal spiritual upheaval in which I went from the legalistic underpinnings of my youth in Worldwide Church of God to the grace-based reality of life in Christ I experience today, I wrote a letter to a high-school friend, explaining how God had changed my heart and mind. My purpose in writing this letter was to renew our friendship and to try to make amends for any harm I may have done through my misguided theological beliefs.
In my letter I explained the transformation in my understanding and beliefs, and how it was all through God’s grace. I was hoping I would not offend this dear friend by my zeal to share with her the wonderful blessing of God’s work in my heart and life. I most certainly did not want to alienate her in any way.
I was grateful to receive back from her a letter filled with warm understanding and appreciation of our friendship and of the change which had occurred in my life. She also wrote that she envied my strong faith. That surprised me. For the last thing I ever thought about myself was that I was strong in my faith.
I’ve had other people tell me something similar whenever I share with them what God has done in my life and try to encourage them to grow in their relationship with their Abba through Jesus. It seems that having faith is a nebulous yet longed for goal in people’s lives. We want to believe in something or Someone, but we don’t know where to begin, especially when we find nothing within ourselves to be the source of that faith. We think we have no faith at all, when in reality, we have a source of faith within ourselves that is abundant and always accessible.
This source of faith is the person and power of Jesus Christ by the indwelling Spirit. The faith we long for will not be found in our own broken humanity, but in the perfected, glorified humanity of Jesus Christ, which was poured out on each of us through his Holy Spirit. To embrace the faith of Jesus Christ is to open ourselves up to the work of God in us by the Holy Spirit.
Maybe one of the reasons we struggle so much in this area is because we think if we had great faith, everything would go well in our lives. If we needed something, we could just ask God for it and believe God would give it to us, and he would. Maybe we think if we could just drum up enough faith, God would come through for us every time we asked him for something. We wouldn’t have any problems in our lives because we were strong in our faith and living good lives.
There is a fundamental flaw in this way of thinking and it has to do with what we believe about God and about ourselves in relationship with him. For this is what faith is all about—believing the truth about Who God is as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and who we are in Christ as God’s adopted, forgiven and redeemed children—and trusting in the gracious love of Abba as he works to bring to completion all he has begun in us through Christ and in his Spirit.
The faith we need isn’t our own faith, but the faith of Jesus, Who lived eternally in relationship with Abba in the Spirit as the Word of God. When the Word of God took on our human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, his complete, implicit faith in his Father, his Abba, was evident at every point in his life. It was most effectively expressed in his final moments on the cross when, even though he did not feel the presence of Abba in his humanity, he entrusted his Spirit and his being into the care of Abba. He trusted implicitly and entirely in this relationship of love which he had had with his Father since before time began. He knew to the core of his being he could never be separated from his Father’s love.
We need to take heed to Jesus’ words of warning and comfort: “…in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV) Each of us, no matter who we are, no matter how “good” we are, no matter how faithful we are, is going to have trouble in this world. Hard times will come. Suffering will happen. Life will be a struggle. But Jesus says to us: “…take heart, I have overcome the world.”
What we can rely upon is the reality no matter what we are facing, in Jesus we can find the strength, the courage and the faith to endure it. No matter what our needs are, we can find in Christ, by the Spirit, the ability to touch the heart of God and to know he cares for us and will carry us through our emptiness to the other side where he has enough for us—maybe even an abundance for us.
God calls to us and says to us over and over, “Trust me. Trust in my love for you.” And we don’t, because we are frail, broken creatures who have only experienced disappointment, loss and betrayal throughout our lives. It can be almost impossible to trust a God Whom we don’t know, or Whom we see through the lens of all the hateful, hurtful people in our lives who have let us down, abused us or betrayed us.
So we go through life, over and over facing opportunities to learn the deepest truth of our lives: God loves us and he is trustworthy and faithful, no matter what. We experience the pain and suffering of our humanity in the midst of the reality we are held—held in the grip of God’s grace in love through his Son Jesus Christ and his presence by his Spirit. Indeed, if we are open to receive it, God never leaves us or forsakes us, but is always present in every moment, ready and willing to carry us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
In every relationship there are ebbs and flows, ups and downs. There are times when we are close to one another, and others where we cannot stand to be in the same room with one another. Some relationships are stronger and deeper than others, whereas some are just simply a sharing of time and space with one another as circumstance indicates.
In this same way, our relationship with God ebbs and flows and has its ups and downs. We come to see, over time and through many experiences in the difficult times in life, that God is always a good God, always faithful and trustworthy, always willing to listen and to understand, always willing to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves. God allows things to test our trust and faith in him, knowing through these experiences we will grow into a deeper love for him and faith in him as we turn to Christ in the midst of these difficulties.
It is Christ in us by the Spirit who trusts Abba through all these difficulties. It is his faith at work in us in the midst of trials and struggles. It is Jesus’ perfect knowledge of the Father we participate in when we hold on to God in faith while struggling with pain, suffering or loss. When we see all we are going through as merely a sharing in Christ’s pain, suffering and loss, we find within ourselves a capacity to endure and to trust in spite of it all.
Lately, God has shown me how I have not been trusting him as completely and implicitly as I could and should do. Intellectually I can believe in the goodness and love of God, but the reality of what is going on in my heart can be heard in the words coming out of my mouth in casual conversation as I struggle with these changes and challenges in my life right now.
It is how we put the faith of Christ in us to work in the midst of difficulties which shows the quality or completeness of our faith—and so God allows us to struggle. The tree on the edge of the cliff, blown by the wind and tested by the storms, is the tree which puts its roots down deepest into the soil. It is not our faith which will hold us, but the faith of Christ deep within us, by the Spirit, which holds us in the midst of our struggles. May your faith and mine be proven to be genuine and real as we bear the storms of life.
Abba, thank you that it is the faith of Jesus in us by your Spirit which really matters in the end, not our own faith. Thank you for being near and being faithful no matter what is happening in our lives. Grant us the grace to trust you and in your perfect love in every situation, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2–4 NASB
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3–9 NASB
by Linda Rex
I’ve notice in the past few weeks as I have been making a transition in my life there is sometimes a sense of underlying anxiety in my heart. This creeps in here and there as I am facing the changes and decisions which come with the closing of one church and the need to move closer to the other.
It is easy to get caught up in the decision-making and the concerns about what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. And to get caught up in it to the place where I become anxious or worried about what to do next, or whether everything is going to be all right. When I feed this anxiety, it can get to the place where I’m afraid it is all going to fall apart and I’m going to be left destitute and on the streets. This isn’t healthy.
This anxiety never presumes God isn’t there in the midst of my problems. But I do believe there is a subtle unbelief which drives it, which says, “I know God is love and all that, but he doesn’t really care about these little details in my life.” It questions God’s heart—does he really love me? Does he really care that I am struggling or that things are getting hard for me? Does he know and understand my heart and my feelings?
We are instructed in the Word of God to take all our anxieties to God and to rest in him. Peter, who wrote this passage, instructs us at the same time to be on our guard, for the evil one seeks out the weak and the stragglers, hoping to find someone to prey upon. This is why it is so dangerous to feed our anxieties rather than casting them upon God.
Focusing on our anxieties rather than turning them over to God keeps us in that place of unbelief where Satan would like us to stay. Staying in unbelief, in not trusting God to care for us and to love us, in believing God’s heart is evil and not good toward us, opens the door for Satan to go to work in our hearts and lives, twisting us into tighter and tighter knots of anxiety, despair and unbelief. We can even get to the place where we stop trusting in God at all because we no longer see God for who he really is, the God who loves us and wants what’s best for us.
The thing is, we sometimes expect God to be a person who only does fun, happy things in our lives. We figure if he’s a good God, then he never allows bad things to happen. Our God-concepts are a little immature, I believe. At least, I find mine often are. I want a god who does everything I want him to do when and how I want it done. And that’s not Who the Triune God is. He is not my flunky who waits on me hand and foot and gives me everything I want when I want it. And my carnal humanity doesn’t like that.
The writers of the New Testament over and over remind us there will be suffering in this life, especially for those who choose to follow Christ. Bad things will and do happen. Life can be quite difficult and painful at times. But none of these things alter Who God is. And none of these things alter God’s love and care for us in the midst of what we are going through in our lives.
What these struggles and difficulties in our life provide are opportunities to trust God. These are opportunities to once again believe the truth about Who God is and how much he loves and cares for us. These are opportunities as we trust and walk with Christ by the Spirit through them for God to form Christ in us, to transform our hearts by faith. These struggles and difficulties become opportunities for God to be glorified by healing, restoring, renewing, or just sustaining us in the midst of them. God loves us through our struggles and pain.
I think this is why Satan looks for people to prey upon when they are at their lowest. He knows when we trust God in the midst of difficulty, struggles, and pain our relationship with God deepens. We end up closer to God than when we began. And we grow in our Christ-likeness. And those are the things the evil one seeks to destroy—relationship, community, love, and the restoration of humanity in the image of God in which he was made.
So as anxiety is creeping around the corners of my mind and heart, I keep turning to Christ. He is the one who holds in my place, and in yours, the perfected peace and trust we need in the midst of all these things which are happening in our lives. We can cast all our anxiety upon God, because God in Christ came and shared in our humanity, and knows and understands all we are going through. God knows our hearts and cares for us. His heart toward us is good.
As we turn to Christ in the midst of all we are going through, God works to perfect us, to restore our true humanity, to strengthen us and plant us with a firm foundation in Jesus Christ. God draws us closer and closer to himself into deeper relationship with him.
And God also works in community to strengthen and help us. God places us within a spiritual community, the body of Christ, so there are others to come alongside and help us through our difficulties, whether through prayer, support, encouragement, or physical help.
One of the greatest blessings for me has been the gift of a new family here in middle Tennessee through the churches I have been blessed to pastor. I am comforted by those who pray for me and my family. And I am encouraged by all those who have offered physical help and support. This reflects the Triune life and love in our humanity, and demonstrates God’s unconditional love in tangible ways in my life. And this also helps to ease the anxiety which is a natural part of our human response to change.
It is good we are learning how to show love to one another in healthier and more tangible ways as the body of Christ. It is through this loving one another in the midst of difficult times we demonstrate the love of God, and enable others to experience a taste of the Triune life and love. May we continue to grow in Christ by the Spirit so others can experience God’s love and grace more and more as time g
Abba, thank you for your gracious love and grace. Thank you we can turn to you in all our anxiety and distress, and you care for us and lift us up. Grant us the grace to turn to you and to trust you in the midst of every difficulty, struggle and joy, and to provide support and love to one another as well. We give you praise and thanksgiving for your faithful and abundant love, through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:6–10 NASB
By Linda Rex
Ash Wednesday/Lent: Yesterday I was reading about Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness (from which the forty days of Lent is drawn), and it occurred to me that each of us comes to times in our lives where we live in wilderness places. There may appear to be wild animals who might devour us at any minute, and we may feel the intense hunger which comes from not having our needs met in the way we expect them to be met. We may wander about in our sins or our sorrows, aching because there seems to be no relief in sight.
Many times our wilderness experiences are as a result of our wandering off the path God places before us. We may have made foolish decisions, or been in unwise, unhealthy relationships that have taken us places we never meant to go. We may be dealing with the consequences of things other people have done to us, and we’re not sure we’ll ever get over what happened.
And oftentimes, this is when the tempter shows up. He’s happy to keep us in these miserable places, or to even help us get even more lost and despairing than we already are.
Being in the real wilderness is a thrilling and invigorating experience for me. I love being out in nature in this way. One can feel very close to God out in an open field with the big blue sky over her and the beauty of creation all around. The silence, the sun shining down, the wind blowing through the trees and the grass, all make you feel the presence of God and his glory and greatness.
Yes, there is some concern for me regarding rattlesnakes and mountain lions, but I realize that one must go prepared, and one must be careful. But I’m sure if I was out there for 40 days with no supplies, I imagine I would be quite hungry, and things would indeed look pretty bleak toward the end. I would genuinely be set up for the right person to suggest I do something to help myself have something to eat.
Isn’t it interesting that Satan suggested Jesus turn stones into bread, but when Jesus fed the thousands bread, he didn’t use stones. He just took what he had—a few loaves, and multiplied them. He didn’t need to do an ostentatious miracle in order to help people. And he refused to do one to help himself.
In each of the three temptations put before Christ, he was asked to do two things: 1) to question the love and character of the Father, and to presume upon it; and 2) to renege on his covenant relationship with humanity and his calling by the Spirit to walk in penitence with us—sharing Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness, and sharing our wilderness journeys as well—by walking in repentance and faith with us and for us.
When we are walking in a spiritual, mental, emotional wilderness, where it seems we have been abandoned by God and everyone else, we will find ourselves assaulted in similar ways. Often times the struggles we have and the things we are wrestling with cause us to question the love and character of God. Does he see and does he really care? How can he leave us like this if he really, truly loves us?
“Why?” is a really good question and often haunts us. And we can often entertain the idea that it would be better to be rescued from our struggles immediately than to walk in faith and trust in reliance upon our covenant relationship with the Father, through Jesus and in the Spirit.
We are tempted to take matters into our own hands and come up with our own solution to the problem instead of waiting on God. We may see good reason to make a little agreement with the devil through compromise or embellishing the truth rather than being willing to do the hard work of integrity, transparency and authenticity. Or we may cast ourselves headlong down an unwise path “trusting” that God will uphold us because that’s what he’s supposed to do.
What we can forget in the midst of our wilderness wanderings is that we are not alone. God is present with us and in us. And he cares about everything that is going on in our lives. He feels our pain. He shares our sorrows. His love for us is not altered by the circumstances in our lives.
Our wilderness wanderings are the perfect opportunity for us to go deeper with God. We can begin to learn a deeper trust in the faithfulness of God. And we can grow in greater spiritual maturity as we learn to wait on God and give him space to do the things that only he can do. We can grow in our sensitivity to the Spirit and to his small, still voice guiding us, encouraging us and teaching us. We can learn true obedience to the Spirit and the Word of God as he leads us along the broken pathways of our lives.
The Spirit had a reason for leading, even throwing, Jesus out into the wilderness. God wasn’t planning to abandon Jesus out there. He didn’t go anywhere. Jesus learned obedience by the things which he suffered (Heb 5:8)—and so will we, as we turn to God in the midst of our struggles and trials and begin to see with the eyes of faith, not the blind eyes of fear, anxiety, guilt and shame.
It was after the wilderness struggles and his determination to be faithful to his Father and to keep his identification with all of us, that the angels came and ministered to Jesus. God the Father responded in compassion and understanding, and relieved Jesus’ hardships after the testing was over. We may have to wander in the wilderness for a while, and we may have some tough decisions to make, and some dangerous temptations to resist, but when all is done, God will be sure to mend, heal and comfort in every way that is needed.
Following Christ doesn’t mean everything in our lives will always be wonderful. Yes, we will experience an abundant life we have never experienced before, but it will be in terms of our relationship with God and our relationships with others. When it comes to loving and being loved by God and others, the beauty of true communion is unsurpassed.
But sometimes the Spirit calls us out into the wilderness because he has something he wants to do in us and in our lives. We may not enjoy every facet of the experience, but when we turn to Christ and go deeper in our relationship with God in the midst of it, we will come out as Jesus did, filled with the Spirit and empowered for greater ministry. Drink in of the wonder of God as you wander about—he is faithful and will bring it all to a good end.
Heavenly Father, thank you for your faithful love. Thank you that even when your Spirit leads us into a time of testing and trial, you are with us in the midst of it, and through Jesus you share in it with us. Thank you for bringing us safely to the other side as we trust in you, and allow you to hold on to us and carry us through. May all our wilderness wanderings draw us closer to you, open new reservoirs for the Spirit and make us more aware of Christ in us, who is our hope of glory. In his name, we pray. Amen.
“Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him.” Mark 1:12–13 NASB (See also Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13)
By Linda Rex
The house is quiet tonight. All I hear at the moment is the sound of the concentrator as it pulls oxygen out of the air and pumps it through the line into my mother’s lungs. She’s been sleeping for hours now, and I’ve been unable to coax her to eat anything since lunchtime yesterday. Although I am sad about all that’s going on, I am happy that I can be here for her. Right now, being by her side is more important to me than the sleep I sorely need.
How I wish that rest were so easy for me at this moment! It would certainly help me to feel better, and to have more energy when I get up in the morning. But it doesn’t look like sleep is going to happen any time soon.
I read a devotional yesterday that spoke about rest as being a way in which we worship God. Now that is a spiritual discipline I could really get into at the moment—a true, deep rest would be really nice.
But such a rest isn’t going to happen unless and until I am ready to fully let go of all my concerns and give them all up to my heavenly Father. There is a rest that is mine that I have in Jesus, but I can’t participate in it until I’m willing to let go of my insistence upon handling everything myself. God calls each of us to take Christ’s yoke on and to learn from him—this is how we find rest.
Even in the midst of heavy, weighty issues in our life, we can feel light-hearted and at peace when we are fully trusting in the love and faithfulness of the Father, and are turning to Jesus Christ for all we need. Somehow, through his Spirit and by his living Son Jesus, God gives us the ability to weather catastrophes and griefs, and to come out the better for having experienced them.
It is this redemption I am counting on. I do not understand the why or how, but I know that God does. All he asks of me is to trust him and to rely on him in the midst of this journey through the dark valley. And I don’t do that alone—Jesus is present with me, in me and is for me as I go through it all. He is my peace.
And the other blessing that comes with this struggle is the nearness of others who are helping to carry the weight with me. The peace and rest that I find in dark times is often best experienced in the midst of loving, caring relationships with others who pray for me and lift me up even when I don’t ask them to. This creates gratitude which quickly turns to praise to God who so blesses me with and surrounds me with such love, compassion and grace. I am truly grateful for all of you who are lifting us up in prayer. May God bless you abundantly in return.
Dearest Lord God, thank you for offering each of us the rest that comes when we lay down our burdens at your feet and take on what you want us to carry instead. Grant grace and peace to those who are struggling even now, and pour out on them the strength they need to walk through the dark valley with you. May we each faithfully trust in you to work all things for our best benefit. We know you are a faithful God and you will do this through Jesus and by your Spirit. Amen.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28–30 NASB
By Linda Rex
It never seems to fail that when someone I know is suffering through a really bad experience and is finding it impossible to bear any more suffering, that a well-meaning soul will say, “God never gives us more than we can handle.” I cringe inside because I’ve experienced the reality that sometimes God does give us more than we can bear. So when I hear that phrase, everything inside of me wants to scream out, “He does too!”
This is an unfortunate reading of 1 Corinthians 10:13, which actually talks about temptation to sin, not about suffering or affliction in general. In the NASB it reads:
“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”
The context of this verse, then, focuses on temptations rather than afflictions or trials. In my opinion, overwhelming trials and afflictions are not what Paul is talking about here.
When reading Paul’s epistles, we see that he talks a lot about trials, afflictions and sufferings that are beyond our ability to bear. He talks about participating in Jesus’s sufferings and death so that we can share in his life. We learn from Jesus and his apostles that it is in dying that we live. It’s all about death and resurrection.
And suffering and grief are not just random events that have no purpose or value. They may be tools of the darkness and be designed to defeat and destroy, but the Light has come in Jesus. All these things must submit to the lordship of Christ, and fulfill the will and purposes of Almighty God. As the scripture says, we overwhelmingly conquer in Jesus.
The point is that God has in mind our perfection, our full reflection of his image. He also has in mind the renewal of all things. We don’t see the things God sees, nor can we fully understand his purposes or his methods. Our view is severely impacted by the pain and sorrow and suffering we may be going through at the moment and we may be unable to see that God does redeem and heal and restore in the end. Our humanity limits our ability to grasp the significance and purpose of all we experience in our lives.
God does indeed allow us to be “burdened excessively, beyond our strength”, even to the point where we despair of life. We are constantly “delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake”, but for a reason. God is refining us “as silver is refined.” He is teaching us to quit trusting in ourselves and to start trusting him completely. He is teaching us to die to ourselves so that he may fully live in us and through us. He is reminding us that we are the clay pots in which his divine Presence dwells.
The key to it all is what we believe about God and about Jesus Christ. Do we believe, really believe, that Jesus is who he said he is—the Son of God and the Son of man, and that he lived, died and rose again in our place? Because in the end, death is destined to end in resurrection. Just as Jesus died and rose again, so we too will have times when death seems certain, if not preferable, but which will in the end result in God raising us up to new life.
There is healing after loss, after divorce, after abuse. There is restoration after brokenness and destruction. We don’t always experience it immediately or completely, but God has declared it done and complete in Jesus Christ. He is our assurance that there is never anything he won’t go through with us, in us and for us. He said that nothing can separate us from the love he has for us in Christ.
So when God gives us more than we can bear, we can ask him for the grace to bear it. We have the opportunity to trust Christ to be for us in the Spirit all that we need in our moments of despair, struggle and grief. God doesn’t always take away the difficulty—we may have to go through it completely from one end to the other. But he will never fail to bring us in the end to the glorious result he had in mind from the beginning. So don’t lose heart. Don’t lose faith. Because Jesus is a risen Lord and God is faithful and he is love.
Dear God, in the midst of our struggle, loss, despair and grief, remind us that you have given us a risen Savior, a resurrected Lord, who has brought us, is bringing us, and will bring us, to new life in himself in the Spirit. Grant us the grace trust you to do what is best in every situation and to carry us through to a glorious and joyful end in your presence forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“For You have tried us, O God; you have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; you laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance.” Psalm 66:10-12 NASB
“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us,…” 2 Cor. 1:8–10 NASB
“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Pet. 5:10
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” 2 Cor. 4:7–11