Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: joy

Still searching for comfort

Last week I wrote about finding comfort in God.  It sounds “spiritual”.  It sounds “Christian-y”.  But is it possible?  In this up-side-down, hyper-political, messed up world we live in – life can feel overwhelming, even too big for God to step in and fix.  Every day, we get more than our fill of discouraging news from around the world.

It’s not only us modern-day believers who look at the state of the world and struggle with God’s apparent…(dare we say it out loud?) ...absence?  …lack of involvement?  …delay of justice?

We saw last week that Paul counseled the Corinthian believers regarding God’s involvement in their afflictions.  But we can go further back and still see similar questions being asked of God.  When the psalmist who wrote Psalm 94 looked around at the state of the world and how his fellow Israelites were treated, he had this to say:

Psalm 94:3-7
Lord, how long will the wicked – how long will the wicked celebrate?
They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
Lord, they crush your people; they oppress your heritage.
They kill the widow and the resident alien and murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord doesn’t see it.  The God of Jacob doesn’t pay attention.”

What he sees seems a lot like what we see – wickedness and arrogance ruled the day.  People selfishly acting as if God doesn’t notice or doesn’t exist.  Although he doesn’t see an immediate end to the state of affairs, the psalmist knows where to find some measure of relief…and he still believes, that at some future point, God will come through for Israel:

Psalm 94:12-15
Lord, how happy is anyone you discipline and teach from your law
to give him relief from troubled times until a pit is dug for the wicked.
The Lord will not leave his people or abandon his heritage,
for the administration of justice will again be righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

And while looking forward to a God-fixed future can provide some measure of hope, he didn’t end the psalm there.  The next part of the psalm is what caught my attention:

Psalm 94:16
Who stands up for me against the wicked?
Who takes a stand for me against evildoers?

The emphasis is personal now – Who stands up for me…Who takes a stand for me?  The psalmist knows that rescue and justice and right-ness are all coming at some point, but what about me: right-here, right-now, in all the mess I’m living with?

He continues:

Psalm 94:17-19
If the Lord had not been my helper, I would soon rest in the silence of death.
If I say, “My foot is slipping,” your faithful love will support me, Lord.
When I am filled with cares, your comfort brings me joy.

Earlier, the psalmist acknowledged that God’s discipline and teaching from the law gave him relief from troubled times.  Now, the psalmist affirms that if not for the Lord’s help, he would be overcome by the wicked and evil present around him.

Lastly, we can all identify with the feeling of being filled with cares.  We even have phrases to describe this – When it rains, it pours | Bad things come in threes | That was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  But the psalmist has shown us that it is the culmination of God’s discipline, teaching from the Scripture, and trustworthy help that brings us supernatural comfort and joy.

God will fix it all in the future, but He hasn’t abandoned us.  He hasn’t left us to go at it on our own until the time He finally brings justice to the world.  His comfort is here for us now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Follow the leader (part 2)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The second one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.


Some days, it’s great to be the leader.  You get to help people understand God and His purpose.  You see the fruit of your efforts paying off as your people mature.  People say ‘thank you’.  Sometimes, they do something to say ‘thank you’.  The sun shines and you can see God moving in the community through the work of those you lead.

Other days…being the leader doesn’t feel all that good.  People who are supposed to care about each other end up selfishly hurting each other.  They want you to fix it.  Maybe they blame you for it happening – or they blame God and you just happen to be a more convenient place to blow up.  You offer a helping hand to the community, and instead of taking it, they reject it…and you.  To the surprise of many, your own family has struggles and issues.  The pressure to be ‘perfect’ is constant.  You are always ‘on call’ – expected to effortlessly represent God and be the calm voice of reason in any situation that happens.

As members of the church body, we need our leaders.  We need them to guide us when we are walking close to God, and we need them to correct us when we are wandering (or running) away from Him.  We look to our leaders for acceptance and love, even when life has gone completely sideways and we feel like a hopeless mess.  Their reliance on God helps us believe that we can trust God, too.

To those who lead a church, in any capacity, God takes their role very seriously.  He expects the leader to maintain His perspective, so that they can keep watch over your souls.  One day, those who lead will give an account of all they taught others about Jesus – through their words and their actions.  Remember how Jesus’ harshest criticisms and biggest frustrations were because of the hypocritical Pharisees?  When it comes time to give an account, God is not going to be any easier on today’s leaders who take a similar, selfish path.

So, let’s be honest – Being a church leader is not an easy job, but the author of Hebrews says there a couple of ways we could make it easier on them.

First, he says to obey your leaders and submit to them.  I will guarantee that your church leadership will not always ‘do church’ exactly they way you want them to.  But before we go to complain, we need to check our motivations and make sure we’re not just advocating for our personal preferences.  There are likely other factors influencing your leaders’ decisions, and if God is leading them – then you don’t want to be fighting against God’s direction for your church.  By all means, we should feel comfortable bringing issues and concerns to our pastor’s attention; however, let’s be very careful and selective in what we find fault with.

Second, he says our interactions with our leaders should help them do their job with joy and not with grief.  A leader who dreads dealing with those he is responsible for is someone who will lead others as little as possible.  Certainly, a hands-off pastor would be unprofitable for you

When we obey our leaders and submit to them, we show that we trust them to follow God’s lead.  While that trust is a big responsibility, being trusted by the congregation gives our leaders confidence to do God’s work with joy and profitable to those who follow them.

So how can we support our leaders in their all-important (and sometimes draining) work?  The New Living Translation of Proverbs 11:25 is a good place to start:

Proverbs 11:25
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.


Let’s be refreshing to our leaders when we interact with them.  Don’t bring them the unnecessary burdens of self-centered complaints.  Trust them enough to obey and submit to them.  If you don’t need something at the moment from them, then show/tell your leaders they are appreciated.

Let’s love on them, so that they can do this with joy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding strength in joy

Ever notice that feeling “blah” often goes hand-in-hand with feeling “weak”?

I’ve never had a moment where my mood was kinda “eh” and I was also feeling strong, or empowered, or engaged in life.  Instead, when I’m discontented or feeling a little down…it seems like everything takes additional effort – thinking, handling routine responsibilities, or just moving my body all seem to be a chore.

As he opens his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul tells them what he has been praying for them.  He’s been petitioning God for three specific things – first, that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will; second, that God would strengthen them with His power, so they could have both endurance and patience; and now, we’ll take a look at Paul’s third request.

Paul is still asking God to give the believers strength; however, this time, Paul wants them to find strength in joy.  We can all recognize that a lack of joy usually accompanies a lack of strength, but the idea of joy actually giving us strength might seem a little strange.  To fully understand his reason for connecting both strength and joy, take a look at where Paul says that our joy should come from:

Colossians 1:11-12
May you be strengthened…with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

The Colossians’ joy, and ultimately their strength, was directly tied to their perspective.  If they were looking only at their present circumstances, their own failings, or the hopelessness in the world around them, they would not be able to find any lasting enjoyment. 

Instead, Paul prays that they would recognize the benefits the Father bestows on His children.  He is the one who made it possible for them to share in the saints’ inheritance.  There was no way for any of us to merit eternal life, or to merit becoming part of God’s family.  Eternal life and the opportunity to share in the family inheritance are both gifts of God to us; all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

Think back over the other gifts that God has given you…if He is able and willing to bless His children in so many ways while we still wrestle with our sinful desires, imagine how great our inheritance will be when our sin-natures have been left behind!

Thinking about such big ideas and big topics leads us to wonderment and thankfulness for what the Father has done.  Whenever we stop and honestly thank someone, we are shifting the focus off of us.  We look at the gift and the giver in full appreciation; we stop looking at ourselves.  It is in this attitude of thankfulness that we find joy, because being thankful towards God puts Him in the proper place in our lives.

As we joyfully thank God for who He is and what He has done, we are strengthened.  We can deal with the sin-soaked world that pulls us down, because we see more than just the circumstances and difficulties that are momentarily in front of us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Intentionally written, intentionally read

There are times in our lives when we recognize that we are lacking, that we need to remember certain information or develop a particular skill.  The wise response to this realization is the choice to grow, but it is also just the first step in the process.  The hard part is to actually put forth the effort and energy to make sure we retain the desired information or develop the required skill.

The author of Psalm 119 apparently felt this way also.  The psalm forms the longest chapter in the Bible, with 176 verses.  However, the structure of the psalm is just as striking as the subject matter.

The psalmist’s main topic is his relationship with God, through His revealed word.  The psalmist marvels at the depth and riches provided by the Scriptures as they point toward the ultimate relationship of our lives.  The author thought so highly of the topic, that not only did he discuss it for 176 verses, but he intentionally wrote the psalm in a format that would make it easy to memorize.

Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections of 8 verses each.  Each section corresponds to one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In fact, each of the 8 verses in every section begin with a word that starts with the same letter.  For example, the first word of the first 8 verses always begin with the letter Alef; the first word of the second 8 verses always begin with the letter Bet; and the pattern continues through all 22 Hebrew letters.

Why would the author go to this level of detail? 

The psalmist is providing the ABC’s of a relationship with God, in a format that would make it easy to memorize.  This level of intentionality shows how important the psalm’s topic is to the author.  Pick a letter, any letter – because having even one section, just 8 verses, committed to memory would form a bedrock reminder of how our relationship with God is founded upon our handling of God’s Scriptures.

We’re going to look though several sections of Psalm 119.  I would highly encourage you to read through all 22 sections…but not in one sitting.  This psalm isn’t a microwave meal, it is meant to be slow-cooked and allowed to simmer in our minds.  Since the author intentionally wrote it that way, let’s handle it that way also.

The first verse sets the tone for the entire psalm:

Psalm 119:1
How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the law of the Lord!

Other translations render the first word of the “Alef” section as Joyful or Blessed…and this feeling, this state of mind, is a direct result of us living our lives according to the law of the Lord

Do we believe him?  Given the amount of effort the author has put forth for this psalm, let’s intentionally look at the Scriptures and find out.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

In Jesus' name (part 3)

To do anything “in someone’s name” is to represent that person to another.  Not only did Jesus instruct His disciples to pray to the Father “in His name”, but He also warned them about representing Him to others:

John 15:20-21 Remember the word I spoke to you: ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…they will do all these things to you on account of My name

As Jesus continued to warn them of His impending death, He said:

John 16:20-22 “I assure you: You will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice.  You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.  When a woman is in labor she has pain because her time has come.  But when she has given birth to a child she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world.  So you also have sorrow now.  But I will see you again.  Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy.

Although they wouldn’t fully understand Jesus’ metaphor when He said this, they would certainly recognize the joy they would feel when the saw Him again after He rose from the grave.  Their rejoicing wouldn’t end, either.  Their newfound joy would resonate within them for the rest of their lives.

Then for the third time in final teachings after the Last Supper, Jesus returns to the topic of praying to the Father “in His name”:

John 16:23-24 In that day you will not ask Me anything.  I assure you: Anything you ask the Father in My name He will give you.  Until now you have asked for nothing in My name.  Ask and you will receive, that your joy may be complete.

Shortly after His resurrection, Jesus would ascend back to Heaven to be with the Father.  Although the joy of seeing Him alive would remain with them for the rest of their lives, Jesus would no longer be physically present for them to ask questions and make requests…their Rabbi of the last three years was going to leave them.

However, Jesus is giving the disciples permission to make requests of the Father – as if they were representing Jesus Himself.  No observant Jew would make any request of the Father without going through the High Priest and having the proper sacrifice…but now Jesus instructs His followers to interact with the Father directly, just like He does.  To make sure the disciples completely understand how they are going to pray, Jesus tells them:

John 16:26-27 In that day you will ask in My name.  I am not telling you that I will make requests to the Father on your behalf.  For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.

Direct access to the Father…and assurance that the Father loves them.  Simply because they have loved Jesus and believe that He is who He claims to be – the Son of God, and God the Son.

It’s from within that relationship the disciples would find their joy, and their joy would overrun their lives.  So much so that they would emulate Jesus and then confidently make requests of the Father “in Jesus’ name”.

We can also participate in the same relationship with Jesus and the Father, since we love Jesus and believe that He is who He claims to be.  In Him we find our complete joy and our model to emulate…we also find direct access to the Father to make our requests “in Jesus’ name”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken