The arrival of autumn truly points to winter coming. I was reminded of this as Jack, our dog, and I headed out the door at 6:00am for our first walk of the day. All through the summer months the sun would be shining brightly by this time, but winter is coming. Days are shorter, darkness greets us in the morning and tells us to close our curtains much earlier in the evenings.
Jack has never been fond of the dark. We believe this might be because in his early months of life in America he was a throw-away puppy, living in a ditch in the countryside. He most likely encountered deer, opossum, raccoon, snakes, lots of coyotes, and perhaps even a bear or wildcat. From the time we rescued him we detected he didn’t like the dark. We have night lights in our hallways and the living room just for Jack.
As I opened the door this morning to the waiting world, Jack stepped out, stopped, his body alert, eyes on the lookout. Anything could be lurking in the dark. I patted him and urged him on towards the street that was illuminated. As soon as we stepped into the light, Jack picked up his pace, and enjoyment of the morning walk became evident by his relaxed manner in his sniffing pursuits.
As we made our way around the block I began to think of the battle between the dark and the light in our spiritual worlds. When we are steadily walking in the light of God’s direction and pursuing His character likeness, we feel at ease, peace flows. Alternatively, when we are tempted by some sin and veer toward the darkness, an uneasiness pricks our whole being. Like nerves tingling in frightful sensation should we see a car racing toward us, our senses warn us to get out of the way.
Such reaction should be ours every time sin comes slithering across our paths inviting us to visit for a while. Shivers of caution will tell us to run. The Holy Spirit will speak clearly in warning. Even so, we can ignore the plea to turn back to the light, or we can continue on into the darkness. Our spiritual eyesight will grow accustomed to the sin we find lurking in shadowed areas, but peace will fade, gradually at first, then it will disappear altogether. Fear kicks joy aside. Anger grows. Hope becomes a thing of the past.
Walking in spiritual darkness is never fun — never. It entraps us, betrays us, steals peace, kills hope; not some of the time but all of the time. We must take heed to Peter’s warning in I Peter 5:8, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”
IfJack has the good sense to beware what lurks in the dark, shouldn’t we?
Just this week I read an illustration by Dr. Tony Evans. It made me think about our attitudes toward God. I share it with you now. Dr. Evans said that a football coach, if he believes the referee made a wrong call, will toss out a red flag. The coach believes the referee got it wrong and wants a review. The red flag means the referee must reconsider. He must look at the playback to determine if the call was valid or incorrect. Dr. Evans was reminding us that we, too, at times, behave like the coach before God.
After reading that illustration, I had to admit before my Heavenly Father that I have, at times, tossed out the red flag. I have wanted Him to reconsider telling me “no,” or “wait.” I was certain I could convince God that my idea was such a good one, that He would reconsider for sure. Have any of you ever had a red flag moment?
Perhaps we are going through some difficulty. We pray, pleading with God to take it away, but the difficulty doesn’t budge. Maybe we have asked in total belief that God would bring something about, but it never happens in the manner we had hoped. We can’t believe what we are experiencing in our lives. Why, God surely got this one wrong, we tell ourselves. He needs to rethink. He hasn’t paid proper attention to our prayers. In daring accusation we throw out the red flag, demanding God review our situation and recall the play in our perceived favor.
In those red flag moments, we are forgetting something of utmost importance. It’s an attitude found in Romans 8:32, “Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?” God has already proved His love for us in sending His Son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for our sins— all of our sins. He has also given us His Holy Living Word to reveal the truth we need for daily living, for going through all of life’s storms. He has sent His Holy Spirit to live within us, being our teacher and guide, showing us the way and giving us courage and wisdom. He has indeed given us everything we need to get through anything at all.
You and I are not the coach who may dare challenge God on a wrong call. God is the coach and needs no referee to make any calls on His designs. He is Almighty God, the Master Potter who takes the clay of our lives and molds us into His image a little more each day — if we let Him. We have free choice. We can jump off the potter’s wheel, claiming it hurts too much to be molded, or we can be still in His presence, trusting that He loves us as much today as the day His Son died for us.
When we are in the dark and we are afraid, let us not dare toss out a red flag, claiming God rethink His plans; let us choose to praise Him in the dark, thanking Him for the Light in our hearts, clinging to Him in steadfast hope, knowing that His love is unbreakable, unshakable, eternal. His plans for us are often different than what you and I would design, but His plans are without mistake and are always performed in love — not some of the time, but all of the time.
In the ministry God has called me to for 41 years now, I have boarded so many airplanes that I long ago lost count as to how many. Considering the numerous flights I have taken, and all the countries I have travelled to, it’s amazing that my luggage was only lost twice (in both instances it arrived eventually) and only missed or flight cancelled, four times that I recall. (Trains, taxis, trucks, jeeps, helicopters, tuk tuks, boats, and horses are another matter.)
On one such flight that had been cancelled, when I really needed to be somewhere at a certain time, and feeling frustrated about it all, my father calmly said, “You won’t know until you get to heaven, but maybe you’ve been protected from something on the other end of this journey, like a car accident. Could be.” Immediately I felt a calm come over me. Yes, I reasoned, could be. From that time to this day, when plans don’t go as I had hoped or planned, his words come back to me.
Such instances also remind me of the story of Elisha in II Kings 6. The King of Aram was furious with Elisha to the point he planned to kill him. He sent troops, horses, and chariots in great number. Elisha’s servant saw them and cried out in fear, but Elisha was unfazed. He told his servant in verse 16, “‘Don’t be afraid, for there are more on our side than on theirs.” Elisha asked the Lord to let his servant have a glimpse into the unseen world. At that very moment the servant saw horses and chariots of fire in great number, all from God.
You and I cannot see everything that takes place in our spiritual worlds because we are still limited to physical eyesight. Even so, be assured just as Elisha was, that the angels of God are indeed encamped all around us. Sometimes these angels appear in human form. We know this from Hebrews 13:2, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.” Could it be angels, in human form, who at times delay us, in keeping with the purposes of God for our lives?
I smile when I think of my father’s words that day my flight was cancelled. I won’t know until I get to heaven, the times that a delay has been a God arrangement, keeping me from some calamity. It will surely be exciting for all of us to find out such things.
The next time a plan goes amiss, take a moment to remind yourself — when we are perplexed, God is not — when we are late, God is always right on time — when we are frustrated by delay, God is never surprised by it. God is in our every moment. He is with us today, and when tomorrow comes, He is already there waiting.
When our dog, Jack, comes to me, makes eye contact and then turns toward the door, Jack is illustrating faith that I will come and take him for a walk. He has no doubt. He doesn’t glance back to make sure I’m coming. He just walks to the door and waits. He knows I will be there. Has Jack somehow whipped up some faith from within himself? Of course not, Jack’s faith is simply him believing in me.
In Matthew 17 we read about the disciples of Jesus attempting to cast out a demon and bring healing to a boy suffering from this demonic hold. The disciples couldn’t do it so they asked Jesus why? Jesus responded with the words in verse 20, “You don’t have enough faith. I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” I’m sure we all understand that this is not a lesson in moving literal mountains. The earth would be in great chaos if mountains kept moving around.
The words of Jesus, “You don’t have enough faith,” has caused a great many to berate themselves over and over because somehow, they cannot manage to muster up enough faith that their prayers would bring about a miracle. Doubt sets in. Depression follows. Satan is having a good day when he sees one of God’s children walking around ineffective due to their own self loathing. You see, the lesson here is not to concentrate on our faith to do something powerful. The lesson is to concentrate on Jesus, knowing that He can do something powerful. That is pure faith.
In Matthew 8 we read the story of a Roman soldier who came to Jesus asking that He heal his servant. Jesus told the officer that he would come, but the officer replied to Jesus, “just say the word from where you are and I know my servant will be healed.” Jesus replied, “I have not seen faith like this in all of Israel.” The officer wasn’t trying desperately to whip up faith that his petitions would bring about what he desired for his servant; rather, his faith was in Jesus, that Jesus alone could bring about what he desired for his servant.
Do you see the subtlety of focus here? It is easy to misunderstand the lesson of the mustard seed, and to spend wasted time trying to conjure up our faith in our prayers, when all along the lesson is about having faith in Jesus that He can and will do what is needed. It is nothing of ourselves, but everything of Jesus. It is trusting in Him, His timing, and His way. It is trusting when He says yes, no, or wait.
You may still ask yourself if you indeed have faith the size of a mustard seed. Have you prayed to receive Jesus as your Savior? Do you believe in your salvation? If you answered yes, then you have faith the size of a mustard seed. You concentrated on Jesus alone to save you; concentrate on Him alone all the days of your life, and faith will blossom. It’s all about on whom you focus.
Most of you reading will be familiar with the Old Testament story of David. Before he became king of Israel he was hunted by his enemies. David wrote many Psalms concerning this dark period of his life. To add to the turmoil of keeping away from those who wanted to kill him, we read in Psalm 55 that he had been betrayed by a trusted friend. In this Psalm David pours out the anguish of his heart. In his agonizing situation he writes something most interesting; rather peculiar, in verse 22, “Give your burdens to the Lord, and He will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” You may well be thinking, what’s so interesting or peculiar about that? We know of a certainty that God helps us in our times of need.
The peculiarity comes when looking at the original Hebrew text. The word “burdens” is the Hebrew word jehobecha which means “gift or portion.” Now do you see why this is rather peculiar at first glance? We see here that the very burden we are to give to the Lord, actually came from Him in the first place — as a gift!
This makes me think of military boot camp. My father spent 22 years in the United States Air Force before going to seminary and serving God as both pastor and missionary for over 40 years. My father said boot camp was no picnic. The drill sergeant, who was training the men to succeed, was the very one who put obstacles in their path. The assault courses were just that — an assault on the body and mind. At first glance it seemed insurmountable. The men were often angry at the drill sergeant, but they pressed on in the challenges given to them.
By the end of boot camp, these same men were strong mentally and physically. They could act independently or as a team reaching out to each other. By the time graduation came these men could actually thank the drill sergeant for the gift of the assault course. Without it, they would never have grown so robust and courageous. They would have doubted their ability to stand strong in situations the future held for them.
When we understand this, can’t we also say with David, to our loving Heavenly Father, “I give you my gifts of burden and hard times to mold me in strength and character, and I thank you, knowing I have the strength I need, because of You, to see me through the darkest of days.”
In the Old Testament books of Genesis and Jeremiah, there are nearly identical verses that asks the question, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” In Genesis the words are spoken in regard to the promise that Sarah and Abraham would have a son even though they were both old and well past child bearing. In Jeremiah the words are spoken in regard to Israel’s abandonment of God, their punishment, and the promise that when they came back to God they would be blessed again. Nothing is too hard for God, and He keeps His promises to us, even when we know we don’t deserve it.
Think about this: You and I may make a promise of some sort to God, but it’s not surprising to us when we break that promise. You and I may make a plan, knowing it will succeed, but it’s no surprise to us if the plan fails. You and I may set out to overcome something in our own strength, believing that all will be well, but it’s no surprise to us if we find ourselves weak, unable to achieve what we set out to do. We fail often — God never does.
Therefore, doesn’t it make sense that in hard times we look to God, asking for His guidance? Doesn’t it make sense that we read His Words and follow His instructions? After all, we know His Words are without mistake. Doesn’t it make sense to tell Him all of our troubles? Doesn’t it make sense to make God our first port of call when our ship is in a storm? Doesn’t it make sense to worship Him in our most difficult of moments, just because we know He is God who loves us more than we can measure? Doesn’t it make sense to trust Him in the dark when we can see no way out, because He promised in Jeremiah 29:11, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for good and not bad, to give you hope and a future?” Doesn’t it make sense to climb into our Father’s lap and cuddle up in His comfort? Why would we want to do anything else or be anywhere else in times of trouble when He loves us, and when we know that nothing is too hard for Him?