Not so simple when a plain reading of plain words seems to guarantee one outcome and life delivers another.
Not so simple when pain obliterates hope and tears blind my eyes to a future that’s anything other than dark.
But is the problem with God and His promises or me and my expectations?
Before my lifestorm I could have worked up a lovely devotional on God’s promises and given good reasons why we should not doubt them. But God’s promises were no longer devotional material; they were real-life issues. I knew I could not go that class and tell those who gathered there how God keeps his promises, but I could assure them I was learning that he does. Even as I questioned his promises because of the pain that wouldn’t go away, I knew I was learning that the problem is not with God’s promises but with our bringing twentieth-century expectations and personal wish-fulfillment to those promises. The problem lies with our expectations of what God should do and how he should do it when life hurts. I was learning that I had to quit just looking at the promises of God and look to the God of the promises.
Verdell Davis, Riches Stored In Secret Places
I’ve written before about how easy it is to put God in a Box.
So often I interact with Scripture based on false assumptions, wishful thinking and my own idea of how God should work in the world. I want a God I can understand or (if I’m honest!) manipulate or cajole into doing what makes me most satisfied and most comfortable. I pick and choose among the promises and tend to focus on the ones that seem to guarantee health, wealth and happiness and I gloss over the ones that plainly describe the painful process of being conformed to the likeness of Christ.
I cannot answer all the questions my heart can conjure up and I don’t think God will answer them for me this side of Heaven.
But God doesn’t lie.
His promises stand.
How and when He chooses to fulfill them is not for me to say.
I am learning to lean into His faithful love, trust His heart and live in the mysterious space between what I understand and what I find incomprehensible.
When suffering is time-limited it is often more easily endured.
If I know six weeks of intensive though painful physical therapy will help me regain strength and use of a limb or joint, I can power through.
If restricting calories for a month helps me fit into that dress for a special event, I’m more likely to sacrifice for a short time so the pictures look good.
But if you tell me I’ll hobble around for the rest of my life because there’s nothing to be done about my bad back or crooked joints or you want me to change how I eat for good-well, that’s gonna take more strength than I have on my own.
When I realized-probably sometime near the end of the first year-that the sorrow and missing and pain of burying my son was going to be a burden I carried to my own grave, it was absolutely, utterly soul-crushing.
That’s why Habakkuk’s words resonate with my heart:
6 I heard and my [whole inner self] trembled; my lips quivered at the sound. Rottenness enters into my bones and under me [down to my feet]; I tremble. I will wait quietly for the day of trouble and distress when there shall come up against [my] people him who is about to invade and oppress them.
17 Though the fig tree does not blossom and there is no fruit on the vines, [though] the product of the olive fails and the fields yield no food, though the flock is cut off from the fold and there are no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the [victorious] God of my salvation!
19 The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!
Habakkuk 3:16-19 AMP
Habakkuk was a prophet in Israel just before the Babylonians came and wiped out the nation. He knew what was coming and asked God to spare them.
God said no.
No miraculous rescue coming, no divine intervention to prevent destruction, no manna raining down from heaven to stave off starvation.
Israel is going to suffer.
And Habakkuk, though righteous, will suffer too.
Habakkuk is not immediately infused with courage and fearlessness: “I heard [what the Lord had to say] and I trembled…” Habakkuk isn’t only afraid, he’s terrified (“rottenness enters my bones”) !!
He’s out of things to do, convinced he must simply wait for whatever is headed his way.
So he sits down and waits.
And in the quiet stillness of waiting, his heart turns to truth.
Even though he will suffer, even though everything he depends on for physical safety may be stripped away, even though destruction and devastation is coming, he begins to meditate on the faithful enduring character of the LORD.
And he rejoices!
Nothing has changed except his focus.
Instead of concentrating on circumstances he is contemplating his Creator.
I admit I focus all too often on circumstances but sometimes it’s practically impossible not to.
Remember the disciples in the boat with Jesus? A storm blew up and was tossing them back and forth all while Jesus slept soundly.
Fear really wasn’t a disproportionate response to a very real and present danger.
When the wind and the waves are high around me, and I realize how powerless I am to do anything about them, fear easily overtakes my heart.
But the disciples were not alone. The One who could calm the storm was in their midst.
The One who can calm MYstorm is here with ME.
Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and the disciples finished their journey in safety.
God did not save Israel (or Habakkuk) from the Babylonians.
The Lord did not miraculously preserve Dominic’s life and He may not miraculously (or otherwise) save me or my family from the fallout of Covid19.
But whether He intervenes or does not, I know He sees me.
I know He loves me.
I know He longs to comfort me and strengthen me.
He IS my “personal bravery and invincible army”.
Often Western Christianity focuses on “victory in Jesus” and tends to associate victory with safety or deliverance from uncomfortable or frightening or seemingly impossible circumstances. Habakkuk not only suspected God was not going to avert disaster, he’d been promised disaster was coming. How do YOU interpret “victory in Jesus”? Do these verses give you a different perspective? Why or why not?
It’s kind of been a joke that people rushed to stockpile toilet paper during the frenzy surrounding this pandemic. Apparently having enough TP made them feel a little more prepared, a little less frightened. We all have some tangible things that help our hearts stay calm. What are yours?
Fear is not a sin. Doubt is not disbelief. It’s perfectly OK to voice your fear, doubt and concern. But if you rest there, if you don’t then turn to truth, you will spiral downward into despair. What practical steps are you taking for yourself and family to keep the truth of Who God is in front of your eyes and foremost in your hearts?
For those of us who get our groceries from Walmart, the complete devastation described in Habakkuk may not be evident. Let me paraphrase for a modern audience: “Though the grocery store shelves are empty and there are no tasty snacks left in the fridge, though the last thing I had to eat was only enough to meet my caloric needs but not enough to satiate my appetite, though there is no hope that things will return to normal anytime soon and I may suffer more than I can imagine, I am going to shout for joy because I know God is in control and He has secured my eternal destiny!” Can you take these verses and rewrite them so they are specific to YOUR circumstances?
If I’m honest (and there’s no reason not to be since You already know my heart!), I want to be rescued. I do not want to live through whatever this stupid virus is going to do to my community, my country, the world. I don’t like the thought of weeks of uncertainty, forced isolation, reduced or nonexistent paychecks, figuring out how to keep kids that should be in school occupied and learning.
I hate this!
When I read the headlines or listen to the news, it feeds my fears.
Help me to be like Habakkuk and appropriate the strength You provide so that I will not only endure, but will thrive! Speak courage to my heart when I would falter. Make me stalwart in the face of fear. Teach me to trust You when I would doubt Your lovingkindness.
Be my personal bravery.
He [Christ] said not, ‘Thou shalt not be tempested, thou shalt not be trevailed, thou shalt not be dis-eased,’ but He said, ‘Thou shalt not be overcome.’
It’s a commonly repeated untruth that there are 365 “fear nots” in the Bible.
But there ARE a lot of them.
While many folks like to interpret these commands as admonitions to the trembling hearts standing, kneeling or falling on their face before the Angel of the Lord or begging to be delivered from a perilous situation, I think they are an invitation.
I think they are an invitation to walk into the perfect peace promised by the King of Peace.
They are an invitation to rest in His Presence.
They are an invitation to admit my weakness and appropriate His strength.
I love the book of Psalms because in many ways it feels like the most accessible and “human” book of the Bible.
David and others poured out their hearts to God-no filter, no mask, no pretense-the good, the bad, the ugly, the hopeful, the desperate. So while we could explore many other “fear not” verses, I will start here.
“I will bless the Eternal, whose wise teaching orchestrates my days and centers my mind at night. 8 He is ever present with me; at all times He goes before me. I will not live in fear or abandon my calling because He stands at my right hand.
9 This is a good life—my heart is glad, my soul is full of joy, and my body is at rest. Who could want for more? ” ~ Psalm 16:7-9 VOICE
The Psalmist says a lot in these three verses:
he relies on the truth found in God’s Word to guide his days and focus his thoughts at night
he trusts that God is with him always
he knows God will fight for him
therefore he can rest secure
When I spend time in Scripture, saturating my heart and mind with God’s Word, I have truth readily available to combat the lies of the enemy.
Satan wants me to worry and fret, to doubt my Father’s goodness and faithful love and to shake my confidence that God is for me.
The more I sit with Jesus, the more I listen to HIM and learn His voice, the less power the enemy of my soul has over me.
Another favorite :
I am hardly fearless.
In fact, I struggled with fear of the dark until I was nearly 40 years old. I only overcame that fear when necessity forced me to face it and I walked out trembling reciting every verse I could remember about not being afraid.
This was one of them.
I face different fears now.
When the one thing you think won’t happenDOES happen, the thought it might happen AGAINis never far from your mind.
So all this virus talk is working on that fear. People I love might get sick. People I love might die. I know exactly the wreckage death leaves behind and I don’t want to live through that again.
But I might have to so I’m clinging to the truth David sang hundreds of years ago:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
Psalm 27:1 KJV
the Lord is my light-He illuminates my path and my heart
the Lord is my salvation-He alone can save me (in this life or in eternity through Christ)
the Lord is the strength of my life-He made me, He keeps me and I am His
with the Creator of the universe caring for me, what can anyone or any force do to me without His consent?
I have nothing to fear
When I accept my Father’s invitation to crawl up into His lap, rest in His arms and rely on His strength, I am fearless.
But like a child I often run away just when I most need His comfort.
I love this translation of Psalm 94:19 because it reflects my temptation to bring my anxiety, sorrow and fears to God but then to take them back:
After the multitude of my sorrows in mine heart; thy comforts made glad my soul. (And after a multitude of sorrows gathered together in my heart; once again thy comfort gladdened my soul.)
Psalm 94:19 WYC
God knows I am made of dust. God knows my heart is prone to fear and worry. God knows my feelings often drive reason right out of my head.
He’s not surprised by my trembling knees and weak hands.
He doesn’t turn away because I am afraid.
“Thy comforts made glad my soul”-God will comfort me in my distress. He will wait for me to turn to Him and will wait for me to turn to Him again when I turn away. “[O]nce again thy comfort gladdened my soul.”
He never tires of holding out His arms to me.
He says, “Fear not, little one.”
I see you.
I love you.
Come here and let me comfort you.
Use an online or print concordance to find at least 3 other Psalms that speak about God’s desire to comfort us when we are afraid. Copy out one of them and put it where it will encourage your heart.
What frightens you most today? How can these verses help your heart hand that fear over to your Father?
Do you consider yourself a fearful person? Why or why not?
Have you conquered any fears? If so, think about who or what gave you the courage to do it. Can you weave your previous experience into your current situation?
List at least three times you have been afraid of something that MIGHT have happened but DIDN’T happen. Did your fear contribute in any way to the outcome?
How can thinking about “Do Not Fear” as an invitation instead of an admonition strengthen your faith?
Father God, When I look around at how impossibly different the world is today from only a few weeks ago my knees buckle and my heart trembles. I know I’ve never really been in control but at least there was the illusion of control.
I am afraid.
Thank You that I am not defenseless in the battle against fear and worry. When anxiety rises up within me let Your truth be my sword and shield.
Help me run to You. Help me climb into Your lap and rest in Your Presence. Deafen my ears to the lies being whispered and even shouted that threaten to undo me.
Speak courage to my heart and sing comfort over my soul.
I tend to look at a problem and immediately marshal available resources to find a solution.
But sometimes, there is really. truly not one single thing I CAN do and it’s then I fall prey to those niggling “what if” thoughts.
You know the ones.
The kind of things that keep you from drifting off to sleep at night or visit you in your dreams when you do. The unbidden and unwelcome scenarios that flash across your mind when the phone rings too early in the morning. The spiraling downward plunge of your heart when headlines scream disaster and it seems to be coming closer and closer to your own home and your own family.
Paul tells the Philippians to shape those worries into prayers:
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Philippians 4:6-7 MSG (paraphrase, not translation)
I think I was in my mid-thirties, knee deep in raising and educating my children and experiencing some health problems when I realized that worry is really all about trust.
Do I trust God or not?
Is He the loving, perfect, faithful Father the Bible tells me He is or not? Will He bring me through (either physically safe and whole or onto Heaven) or not? Is there a single thing on this earth (disaster, disease, schemes of men or even the devil) that can separate me from His love or not?
IDObelieve God is a loving, perfect and faithful Father.
IDObelieve He holds me in the palm of His hand.
I’ve had many, many times when I needed to remind my heart that was really what I believed. I’ve had to drag out those promises, write them down, post them on my fridge and bathroom mirror and ignore all the ways the world and my own mind drove me to worry.
When Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, it almost destroyed my trust in God.
Not my faith that He IS or that He is in control, but rather that what He allows is so absolutely awful.
I had to start over and learn again to shape my worry into whispered prayers.
Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 PHILLIPS (translation)
There is no magic to lift the weight of worry from my shoulders. I must choose, as an act of will to take whatever is pressing down on my heart, making me anxious, speaking lies to my soul and give them to God.
When I do that, He is faithful to set a guard over my heart and mind.
Jesus invites me to pour out my worries at His feet. He begs me to lay down the burden I am unable and unfit to carry and let Him bear it.
He promises to replace my questions and fears with His Presence and His peace.
Schools closing, businesses closing, the world practically shutting down all while a virus makes its way across the globe and may already be at your door is enough to make any heart fret.
For many, it may be the very first time they feel as if there’s truly nothing to DO to protect themselves and the ones they love. And that is its own kind of panic.
Even here, even now Jesus is waiting for you to wrap those worries in prayer. A whispered prayer will do.
He will overwhelm your anxious heart with His peace if you let Him.
If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.
Julian of Norwich
I do not expect that I will necessarily be safe from this disaster but I know I will be kept safe in His love.
Do you worry? Do you think it helps in any way? Why or why not?
It’s been said that we can’t help the thoughts that fly around our head but we can decide which ones get to make a nest. Do you agree?
Write down three things you worry about. Use a concordance to find a verse or two that speaks directly to the things on your list. Copy them out and hang them up where you can see and be reminded of God’s faithfulness when you are tempted to doubt it.
What does it mean to YOU that the “peace of God…will guard your heart and mind”?
Read the quote by Julian of Norwich. Is it comforting? Why or why not?
So often we want God to make us comfortable and safe. From your own knowledge of Scripture, do you find that to be the norm for His people?
How can you turn your worries into whispered prayers?
These are trying times.
So, so many things to fear and so, so many things out of control. The very people I could normally depend on to guide the way or save the day are just as impotent as I am to fight this battle.
It seems the whole world is hiding away and hoping against hope it won’t get as bad as some predict.
But I am not without hope.
I have a Great and Good God who welcomes my petitions. I have a Mighty and Merciful Savior who loves me and wants to bear my worry burden.
Help me shape those worries into prayers. Help me hand off the things I can’t control to the One who can. Help me rest secure in the promise that nothing -No. Thing.-can separate me from Your love.
Let this be my watchword: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in You.” ~Psalm 56:3
It’s no secret I have a particular fondness for biblical passages on shepherding.
For over twenty years I’ve kept goats and sheep in varying numbers and every day discover one more way I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd.
I wander, I’m afraid when I don’t have to be, I do foolish and self-harmful things, I push and shove to get that certain bit of food or space or whatever when all the while there is an abundance, and I often make it hard for the One who loves me best to guide me to the safety and rest of His fold.
That’s one reason the Twenty-third Psalm is especially beautiful to me.
But there’s another reason-hidden inside the original Hebrew-that makes it a favorite Bible passage and a very appropriate one for these frightening times: within the verses are references to seven names of God.
And unlike we who are named according to our parents’ whimsy, God IS His name.
“The Lord is my Shepherd”
– Jehovah Rohi (The Lord is my Shepherd and my Guide) – “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will GUIDE you into all truth” ~John 16:13
My goats and sheep will follow me anywhere. Why?
Because they know I won’t lead them into danger and if we happen to stumble upon it, I will protect them and fight for them.
My Shepherd King is so much more trustworthy than I am.
He knows the end from the beginning and loves me more than I love myself. If I will only follow closely behind Him, I can rest assured that wherever He leads, I am in His loving care.
“I shall not want”
– Jehovah Jireh (The Lord is my Provider) “My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:19
My critters are utterly dependent upon me to make sure they have the basic necessities-food, water and a safe and dry place to sleep at night. They can’t run to the grocery store if I forget to toss them grain or hay.
But they don’t pace back and forth afraid I won’t do what I’ve always done.
I waste so much energy and time worrying that somehow God will forget to provide what I need.
It’s that simple. I am not promised everything I WANT. I’m not even guaranteed everything I think I need. But I am absolutely certain that in Christ I have the most needful thing-forgiveness of my sins and right standing with the Father.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters”
– Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is my Peace — my calm in the midst of a storm) – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23
Shalom is a big word.
According to Strong’s Concordance (7965) Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.
Peace isn’t a place or only a promise–it’s a Person.
And that Person is Jesus, my Shepherd King.
When my little flock hears something that frightens them, they run straight toward me and wait to see if I am frightened too. My presence brings them peace.
I am often more foolish than my dumb animals! I run to so many people and things of the world hoping one or the other can bring me the peace I so desperately crave. But I can only really rest when I place my full confidence in Jehovah-Shalom-the One who IS Peace.
“He restores my soul”
– Jehovah Rapha (The Lord my Healer) – “And by His stripes we are healed” ~1 Peter 2:24 (and Isaiah 53:5)
Anyone who has spent time with me here knows I’m no fan of “sunshine” Christianity. I’m no “name it and claim it” crusader. So I do not believe that God my Healer means I won’t ever suffer.
That’s why I really love the phrase “He restores my soul”.
Because isn’t that really what we ALL want? Restoration of the very core of who we are? Rest in the center of our being?
Jesus has restored my soul more than once.
When I reach out and touch the hem of His garment, He heals the most broken places in my soul.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”
– Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord is my Righteousness; in Him I have right standing with God) “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” ~2 Corinthians 5:21
Let’s be honest, I can always find somebody that makes me look good. There’s always someone whose a little badder than I am.
Problem is, that’s not how God does things. He doesn’t use a sliding scale or a grading curve to determine who meets the mark and who misses it.
God is holy, set apart, completely righteous, pure and good.
I am none of those things.
And there is absolutely no way I can make myself those things.
But He has provided righteousness for me through Christ’s perfect atoning sacrifice if I choose to believe.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me”
– Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is There; He is our Ever-Present God) – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” ~Hebrews 13:5
This may actually be my very favorite name of God. “The Lord is There” is an amazing concept!
“Immanuel”-God with us! The Lord Himself come down to dwell with men.
The God who made the universe, made me. The God who counts the stars and sets them in their place, counts the hairs on my head and set me in this place at this time.
This virus crisis FEELS like the shadow of death.
It feels like some creeping thing slinking around the edges of my family, waiting to devour us. I can’t see it and I can’t stop it.
But I am not alone. Jesus is here.
HE is here.
And I can rest in His promise that whatever I may face, I will never, ever face alone.
“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
– Jehovah Nissi (The Lord is my Banner, my standard, He covers me) – “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him” ~Isaiah 59:19
In the Song of Solomon His banner over me is love.
In Ruth, His banner is Kinsman-Redeemer, covering my weakness with His strength.
In the gospels, His banner is victory over sin, death and the grave.
You may be hunkered down in your home, wondering how we all got here- questioning whether this may be a work of evil men or the evil one and when or if we might be rescued.
I can’t answer the why or when.
But I can point you to the Who-the One who wants to love you, to give you strength and to assure you that even death doesn’t have the last word.
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
My Shepherd King cares for me when I’m distressed and He fills me with Himself until my soul overflows.
His goodness and mercy pursues and overtakes me!
I have spent many, many hours hunting down a lost sheep or goat. I’ve had some wander off so far in the woods we couldn’t even hear them, much less see them.
But I do not give up. I do not stop looking. I do not go to bed and say, “I’ll find them tomorrow”.
I pursue them until I can bring them back in the fold. There they dwell in safety, fully cared for as long as they live.
I am worth so much more than a sheep. God will not forget me or dismiss me or allow me to wander forever.
He will come find me and bring me home to His heart and His path.
And one day-one glorious day-He will take me to my forever Home.
Does the image of Jesus as Shepherd help your heart find hope? Why or why not?
Psalms 22, 23 and 24 are considered by most biblical scholars to represent three images of Christ (22-Suffering Savior, 23-Shepherd, 24-Victorious King). Read them together and see if you agree.
Is there one of the names of God included in this study that is particularly precious to you?
Write out each name of God and see if you can find one other verse not previously mentioned that deepens your understanding of what the name means.
What does it mean to say God IS His name? If you have access to an online concordance, find one or two other names of God that might encourage you right now.
You are a good, perfect and loving Father. You are my Shepherd, my Provider, my Healer, my Righteousness, my Banner and YOU ARE HERE.
Help my heart lean into this truth.
Provide the most needful thing-Yourself-as I walk fearfully through this Valley. Restore my soul and flood it with Your peace.
Thank You that You are my righteousness-I am not left in my sins to receive the punishment they deserve. Thank You for Jesus.
Spread Your banner of love over my heart. Spread your banner of strength over my weakness. Spread Your banner of victory over my feeble attempt to ward off worry.
Let me feel Your Presenceand help me trust Your heart.
My friend and fellow bereaved mom, Margaret Franklin, Ryan’s mom, shared a beautiful Dutch word with me “Sterkte” (pronounced STAIRK-tah).
It literally translates “strength” or “power” but culturally means much more. It means bravery, strength, fortitude and endurance in the face of fear and insumountable odds through the empowering strength of God in me.
I have loved Scripture as long as I can remember. When I was in second grade I got the notion to read the whole Bible straight through-in the King James Version. I made it to Leviticus before I threw in the towel.
By the time my kids were grown I had read and studied Scripture for decades.
But three years before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven I realized my reading had become rote-I felt like I “knew” all the stories. So I slowed my study to a crawl-only one chapter a day-and I usually copied the whole chapter plus my notes into a journal. I had just finished this time through the Bible in January before Dom was killed in April.
And all that truth stored in my mind and heart was what I “read” for months when my eyes were too full of tears to see print on a page.
When my perfectly healthy, strong and gifted son was killed instantly in a motorcycle accident on April 12. 2014 my world fell apart. My heart shattered into a million pieces. And after three and a half years, I’ve yet to even FIND all of those pieces much less put them back together.
So what does a heart do when that happens?Because, try as I might, I cannot stop time.
Even THAT awful day only lasted 24 hours.
When the sun rose again, the pain was still there. And behind that pain and mixed with it was something else-disappointment, disaffection, distrust.