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Hiding from God

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8 HCSB).

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the fruit from the forbidden tree and God came to walk with them in the garden, they responded by hiding themselves. Children who disobey a parent often respond in the same manner; they hide themselves. But God did not leave Adam and Eve in hiding; He searched and called for them. You could say that, from the time of the Garden, the story of the Bible is God in search of mankind.

The psalmist realized how intimately God knew him, and he recognized that even if he wanted to hide from God, he could not: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol [the underworld], behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:7-12 NASB). The psalmist finds himself overwhelmed with the realization that even when he wants to hide from God, he cannot. 

Think about this: Even in those moments when our disobedience and shame drive us to hide from our Father in heaven, He searches us out. He pursues us and doesn’t allow us to remain in hiding. When we want to wrap ourselves in darkness to hide from Him, He dispels the darkness in His pursuit of us. What an incredible reality!

When Adam and Eve came out of hiding, God provided clothing to cover their nakedness; He continued to care for them. He could have unleashed His fury, but He didn’t. The psalmist’s realization that God knows him intimately, that God pursues him to the ends of the earth, elicits in him the response of obedient surrender: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23-24 NASB).

While our disobedience may drive us to hide from God, His pursuit and searching of us should cause us to respond with a yearning to walk obediently in His ways.

PRAYER

Father, even in those times when I want to hide from You, You are there. You search me out and pursue me. Lead me in Your paths. Amen.

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Patient Endurance

“The word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘What do you see, Jeremiah?’ And I said, ‘I see a rod of an almond tree.’ Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it’” (Jeremiah 1:11-12 NASB).

This interchange between God and Jeremiah seems a bit strange. How does an almond branch connect to God diligently watching over His word to see it happen? To understand this interaction, we need to recognize two things: 1) a wordplay happens in Hebrew in these verses, and 2) the horticulture of the almond.

The word for almond in Hebrew is shaqed, and the word translated as “diligently watching” is shoqed. What Jeremiah sees—the almond branch—connects to God’s message that He watches diligently over His word to see it happen. That explains the connection between what Jeremiah sees and God’s message to him, but what does it mean?

Of all the trees in the land of Israel, the almond tree blossoms first. The appearance of the almond blossoms signals that spring has come. Yet, while the almond blossoms first, its fruit arrives last of all the trees. It’s first to blossom and last to fruit. Herein lies God’s message to Jeremiah. As with the almond, whose fruit you must diligently await, so is God’s word. If He has given His word—even if its fulfillment is delayed—He watches over it diligently to perform it. Like the almond’s fruit, God’s word, even if delayed, will come to fulfillment.

Do we have the patience to diligently endure until God performs His word? Do we trust that, even if the world around us looks like God has forgotten His word, He diligently watches over it to do it?

Patiently enduring is often one of the hardest spiritual disciplines to acquire because in our culture, in which everything is instant and immediate, we don’t like to wait. Patience is a struggle. But as anyone who understands agriculture will tell you, growing produce takes time, and there are specific seasons within the growth cycle of the fruit.

Don’t get in front of God. Wait patiently for Him to perform His word because He diligently watches over it to do it.

PRAYER

Father, sometimes patience is hard for us. Help us not to get out in front of You, but to trust Your goodness and timing knowing that You watch over Your word. Amen.

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The Lord is My Shepherd

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1-4 NKJV).

Sheep are animals that need to be led. In the land of Israel, shepherds often took their sheep away from settled areas to graze. This exposed them to various dangers—the weather, terrain, and human and animal predators. The shepherd was responsible for leading his flocks to safe areas where they could find nourishment, be protected from predators, and would rein in their tendency to wander away. Because of Israel’s climate, terrain and predators, the sheep depended utterly upon the shepherd.

The daily reality of the shepherd provided clear images for the psalmist to describe God. God is a good shepherd, one who leads His flock to places of nourishment, along right, safe paths, who protects each sheep from potential dangers. The sheep depend upon the shepherd to take care of these things, as a good shepherd does.

Often the farming and herding images of the Bible fail to connect with us as they did to the ancient readers, because in our modern developed world we do not interact with agricultural or herders’ lifestyles. But the psalmist painted a clear image of our need for God and His responsibility to lead us and protect us. Do we allow Him to shepherd us? Do we allow ourselves to be shepherded?

The psalmist knew that the sheep could not survive within the hazardous wilds without the shepherd. There were no self-made sheep. Too often today, the world idolizes rugged individualism; we do not allow ourselves to be led. We do not recognize our limitations. This is where worry comes from: when we seek to take control of the things that belong to God.

Do we recognize that our Shepherd is a good shepherd? Do we trust Him to lead us and allow Him to do so? We can rest assured that if we do, we shall not want.

PRAYER

Our Father, our Shepherd, lead us, guide us, protect us for Your name’s sake. Amen.

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Rejoice in Desolation

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18 NLT)!

The Bible describes the land of Israel as “a good land of flowing streams … a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). The land is elsewhere described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:17). Milk refers to goat’s milk, and honey to date honey, meaning that it is a land good for shepherd and farmer alike.

Habakkuk, who prophesied in the days leading up to the Babylonian destruction of the kingdom of Judah, envisioned a land where fig trees did not blossom; where there was no fruit on the vines. The olive produce failed; there was no wheat in the fields. Flocks and herds were cut off. The bounty of the land was gone; it now lay desolate.

The agricultural and herding prosperity of the land spoke of God’s blessing, but now the armies of Babylon were coming, and ruin and destruction were coming with them. God brings judgment upon His people because of their disobedience. The land, its livestock and produce, all lay desolate.

Faced with such disaster, how does Habakkuk respond? “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation” (3:18). We don’t know what happened to Habakkuk; the Bible doesn’t say. He, like Jeremiah, was likely swept up in the devastating events and outcomes of Babylon’s destruction of Judah and Jerusalem. He likely never saw the prosperity of the land again in his lifetime. “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

It’s easy to rejoice in the Lord during the good times, when the land yields its fruit. But what about when our world is desolate? When the prosperity we have known is gone? Habakkuk was a prophet, and presumably a righteous person, yet he suffered the consequences of others’ disobedience to God. We can sometimes handle the desolation our choices bring to our lives, but when we suffer because of what someone else did? “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.”

Are we consistent in our faithfulness, or do the circumstances and fluctuations of life sweep us away in an emotional rollercoaster? Can we stare in the face of desolation and rejoice in the Lord? The answer to that question depends upon our chosen response.

PRAYER

Father, no matter the circumstances—in plenty or in want, in fullness or in desolation—we will rejoice in You, the God of our salvation. Amen.

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God, What are You Doing?

“How long, O Lord, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises” (Habakkuk 1:2-3 NASB).

Have you ever heard someone ask, “If God is all powerful and loving, then why does He allow suffering, hardship, and evil within our world?” When presented with such a question, we often provide some half-hearted reply about living in a fallen or sinful world, but rarely do we join our frustration to that of the person asking that question. We don’t allow ourselves to openly exclaim that our beliefs about God don’t always make sense within the world that exists before our eyes. We would never permit ourselves to say, “God, what are you doing?” To do so would seem to indicate a lack of faith.

The prophets did not look at things in such a manner. When life’s circumstances challenged their theology, they didn’t default to an answer about a fallen world; rather, they expressed their frustration with God. The prophet Habakkuk was especially outspoken in this regard. He recognized that the people of Judah had sinned and fallen short of God’s mark, but God was judging Judah with the Babylonians, who were even worse than the Judahites: “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days—you would not believe if you were told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans” (Habakkuk 1:5-6). Today we might wonder: How did that make sense? How could God judge Judah for its unrighteousness by a people even more unrighteous than they?

Habakkuk never sought easy answers to the difficult questions or to the circumstances and events his world presented. Nor did the challenge that such events posed to his conviction of God cause him to jettison his faith. Rather, he sought answers. He never received the precise answer to the question he posed, but God did answer him. That is a sign of a robust faith—faith that neither turns from the hard questions posed by life and circumstance nor abandons its conviction that God is indeed Who He said He is.

It’s hard not to look at our world today and occasionally wonder what God is doing or where He is. Our faith should have the courage to voice such frustrations and affirm those who express them, as did the prophets. At the same time, do we have the firm persistence, a persistence born from a conviction that God does answer, to say, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; and I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved” (Habakkuk 2:1).

PRAYER

Lord, when we look at the world around us, it is sometimes frustrating and confusing. Where are You? Why does evil persist; why do the innocent and righteous suffer? How long, O Lord, will this continue? But in the midst of our frustration and confusion, we acknowledge that You are a God who answers, and so we await Your reply. Amen.

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Don’t Trust in Horses

“Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses, but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7 NRSV).

The land of Israel sat at the crossroads of the ancient world. Its geographic location made the land strategically significant. For this reason, throughout Israel’s history, people and empires fought to control this international crossroads.

Within the ancient world, the horse and chariot represented the height of military technology. The armies that had superior cavalry and chariot forces often won the day and exerted their control over a region.

Throughout the Bible, Israel’s ability to remain within this strategic land depended upon their obedience to God. If the people of Israel obeyed the commandments of God, they stayed in the land. If they did not, God would remove them. The prophets and psalmists cautioned against trusting in horses and chariots. In other words, Israel’s military would not keep the Israelites in the land; instead, the people’s obedience to God would. Trusting in horses and chariots meant that they sought within the military technology and strategy of the day the source of their power and sustainability at the crossroads of the world—instead of obedience to God.

In Deuteronomy, we are told God commanded that when the people established a king he “must not acquire many horses” (17:16). The prophet Isaiah admonished, “Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 31:1). Israel would remain at the crossroads only when obedient; if they obeyed, they could trust that God would defend them and protect them against foreign threat. This is why the psalmist notes that while some trust in horses and chariots, Israel’s hope is in the name of the Lord.

Our modern world seeks to woo us into trusting our technology, our might, and our selves. Like Israel, we run the risk of losing sight of what keeps us anchored in our world—the source that sustains us. We find ourselves distracted by all the shiny new innovations that show up in today’s world, thinking that through this or that technology we can gain greater influence—even influence for God.

But the answer isn’t pride in our technology or in our ingenuity; it’s trusting in God, remaining obediently faithful to Him at the crossroads of our world. This, in fact, is the greatest witness we can have to His greatness—looking to Him and obeying Him, not trusting in our world’s sources of power and ingenuity.

PRAYER

Father, we look to You; we trust in Your name. Help us to remain obedient to You at our crossroads. Amen.

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Delayed Promises

“Now the word of the Lord came to him [Abram]: ‘This one will not be your heir; instead, one who comes from your own body will be your heir.’ He took him outside and said, ‘Look at the sky and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then He said to him, ‘Your offspring will be that numerous.’ Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness. He also said to him, ‘I am Yahweh who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess. … But you will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a ripe old age. In the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure’” (Genesis 15:4-7, 15-16 HCSB).

We often read the Bible to seek out the promises of God for ourselves. Reading them gives us peace and hope that God is with us and that He will bring us through our circumstances. Abraham offers a figure to whom God made tremendous promises, who proved faithful to God. But have you ever noticed that Abraham never lived to see the fullness of God’s promises? Abraham saw Isaac, but he never saw his descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens. He never saw his seed inherit the Promised Land.

We search the promises of the Bible to bolster our faith that God will take care of us or see what He will do for us. Remember that in the Bible, the “we” is always more important than the “me.” Had Abraham only sought God’s promises for himself or looked for their fulfillment in his lifetime, he could never have been the father of faith. But Abraham was believing God.

He recognized that God’s plans extended beyond him—that he and his faithfulness had a role to play within God’s bigger picture. But he did not see the fullness of the promise. He trusted God. And he did his part; he played his role faithfully.

Does our spirituality focus primarily on what God has done, can do, or will do for us? Or are we content to be faithful and serve him, playing our role within His will, not ours? Do we need to see His promises realized in our circumstances, immediately, or will we remain faithful in light of the possibility that we may not see the promise realized in our lifetime?

Abraham went to his grave with only God’s promise that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars and that God would bring them back into the land. Yet he remained faithful. Do we have that degree of faith?

PRAYER

Father, enable me to serve You and faithfully perform my duty to You, so that Your will is done—even when I don’t see it. Amen.

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Comforted by God

“I will give thanks to You, O Lord; for although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me” (Isaiah 12:1 NASB).

As children, we made mistakes. Sometimes a lot of mistakes. And, yes, sometimes our mistakes roused our parents’ anger. If we had good and loving parents, nothing was more comforting than when they looked past their anger and disappointment with us, saw our sadness and disappointment, and comforted us. We still make mistakes. And we still seek comfort.

We may not have comprehended it all as children, but somehow, we understood that in those moments when our parents chose to comfort us instead of acting on their righteous anger, we gained a genuine sense of awe for our parents. We knew that they had the right to their anger; we had fallen short. But they chose to comfort us instead.

The psalmist said, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4). It’s God’s mercy, His ability to turn from His anger and comfort us, that ought to draw us closer to Him. That He desires and is willing to do so is incredible. 

Do we allow Him to comfort us? We seek His comfort when we are hurting from life’s circumstances, but do we allow Him to comfort us when we have failed Him? Do we recognize that He desires to comfort us, even when He’s been angry at us?

God often forgives us more quickly than we forgive ourselves. God’s comfort in our lives, however, brings us to a place without fear: “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2). It enables us to trust Him. 

When our parents sought to comfort us, despite our mistakes, it played an important role in building our trust with them. We most likely came to see that their love for us did not depend upon circumstances but instead was rooted deeply in their relationship with us.

We can trust God because He turns aside His anger with us to comfort us. He is for us. We need to allow Him to comfort us today.

PRAYER

Father, I thank You, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away and You comforted me. Amen.

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The Fruits of Repentance

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. … Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. … Don’t collect any more than you are required to. … Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay” (Luke 3:8, 11, 13, 14 NIV).

Repentance is usually seen as something between God and us. We sin and disobey; we come to Him in repentance. John the Baptist led a spiritual revival calling the people to repent and return to God. For him, repentance had to bear the fruits of repentance as evidence that the people’s repentance was genuine.

While John called the people to return to God—“Prepare the way of the Lord”—when they inquired what they should do to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance,” he gave them rather practical actions. Perhaps even more significant than their practicality is that the actions John advised all pertained to how they related with others instead of God: Give clothes and food to those who are without, don’t extort, don’t rob.

As Christians, we often compartmentalize our spirituality from our daily life. When I’m spiritual, that pertains to my relationship with God. How I behave as I go through my day, well, that’s just life. Yet the biblical view does not accept such segregation. The way to God is through others. In other words, the true evidence of my spirituality and relationship with God is manifested in how I treat others, including practical issues like caring for the poor and hungry and conducting business relationships and interactions.

John not only called the people to repent, preparing the way of the Lord; he also instructed them to bear the fruits of repentance. And what were those? How they treated one another. How they cared for the poor and hungry. How they behaved in business dealings with each other.

Too often we broadcast our love for God, even seeing ourselves as His defenders within our current age, yet our treatment of those around us, those we encounter in our daily lives, does not bear the fruit of the relationship we claim. John expected those who embraced his movement to show in their treatment of others the fruit born from their repentance.

PRAYER

Father, as we turn to You today, may we bear the fruit of our repentance in our daily lives and relationships, with family, friends, and strangers. Amen.

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How Do You Treat Your Enemies?

“Don’t gloat when your enemy falls, and don’t let your heart rejoice when he stumbles, or the Lord will see, be displeased, and turn His wrath away from him” (Proverbs 24:17-18 NCSB).

How we treat our enemies says a lot about our relationship with God. Society today takes great joy in the falling and stumbling of those seen as our adversaries or opponents. Such attitudes permeate our civil and political discourse. We rejoice whenever our enemies fail.

We grow up like this. How often, as kids, did we mock someone who physically fell or stumbled? It’s natural that as adults we rejoice in the falling of our enemies. Sometimes we even attach divine justice to their stumbling as proof that God prefers us and looks out for us against our enemies. Such sentiments, however, are evil in the eyes of the Lord.

Jesus commanded His followers, “I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27-28 NLT). He called upon His followers to love their enemies; in fact, for Him, this was the principal characteristic for those belonging to the kingdom of Heaven—love your enemies.

While rejoicing in our enemy’s failures and failings is simple human nature, love of our enemies requires our obedience to Jesus. In a world where the misfortune of our enemies provides cause for rejoicing, Jesus demands His followers to live differently, to love their enemies. Even the misfortunes of those hostile to our faith and God we cannot celebrate, for God causes His rain and sun to come upon the righteous and unrighteous alike (Matthew 5:45). God does not distinguish between friend and foe in His mercy, and neither can we (Luke 6:36).

The test of our faith is not how we treat those who think like us, act like us, or even like us. The test of whether we are true followers of Jesus is how we love those who don’t think like us, who are not like us, and who don’t even like us. “Don’t rejoice when your enemies fall; don’t be happy when they stumble.”

PRAYER

Father, may I walk in obedience to You today by loving my enemies and showing mercy to them, as You show mercy to them. Amen.

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