How to Find and Maintain Hope in the Dark Seasons of Life

 

Some time ago, I listened to a sermon based upon Isaiah 45, part of which focused on the fact that God is the One who “forms light and creates darkness,” the One who “makes peace and creates calamity” [Isa 45:7a]—He says “I am the One who does these things” [Isa 45:7b]. This to me was amazing, since we do not typically think that God has anything to do with the darkness we often face—only the light in which we live. But there it is—our God declares that He is even in the dark chaos of our world, and for this reason we can take heart and maintain hope, for all is well with Him in charge.

What the prophet Isaiah is saying in this passage is that if bad conditions exist in our life, they are not there because some evil god has thwarted the good intentions of a kindly but ineffectual god, who would like us to have good conditions but cannot bring them about.

The darkness or calamity may be present in our life because we have sinned against His natural and moral laws, like [Sowing & Reaping], they may be there because by their means we can become more like Him, or they may be there for reasons that He cannot explain to us. But they are not there in spite of God.

What do we need to know?

Ask ourselves: Is it possible that we can gain blessings in our times of darkness that we cannot gain in the times of light?

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2 ESV

Greek word for testing is: δοκίμιον “or” dokimion translates as testing by trials.

Dross is the word silversmiths used for the impurities that would rise to the top as they were trying to make the silver as pure as possible.

Our testing Leads to Purification & Trustworthiness.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a life verse many people have claimed over their lives: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) Understanding the context is key!

The problem we run into is when we approach this passage of Scripture as a security blanket: believing simply that God has a plan for me that is good, so clearly any suffering I’m going through will end soon and then my flourishing will begin! But that is not at all what God was promising to the Israelites, and it’s not what He’s promising us, either. The heart of the verse is not that we would escape our circumstances, but that we would learn to thrive in the midst of them.

Here’s the context: the Israelites were in exile, a punishment from God as result of their disobedience. The prophet Jeremiah confronts the false prophet, Hananiah, who had boldly proclaimed that God was going to free Israel from Babylon in two years.

So Jeremiah calls out Hananiah’s lie, and then states the promise we read in 29:11. God did indeed have a good plan for the Israelites, and it was a plan that would give them hope and a prospering future. Sounds good, right?

The thing is, before he shares this promise, he gives them this directive from God found in verse 7: “Seek the peace and the prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” This means we are to pray for our enemies, especially during seasons of captivity and persecution.

This of course was not at all what the Israelites wanted to hear! They wanted to be told that they were going to go home. They wanted to be told that their suffering was going to end. Instead, God’s plan was for them to stay right where they were, and to help prosper the very nation that had enslaved them!

And then came the biggest blow of all. In verse 10, God says that He would fulfill this promise “after seventy years are completed in Babylon.” This meant that none in the current generation of Israelites would ever return to their home.

So, yes, of course God knows the plans He has for us. And ultimately, He will give us a glorious future. But, what we must remember is that the best growth comes through persevering in our trials, not escaping them entirely. And when we can learn perseverance, we will find surprising joy. Even if…

*** I believe there are seeds of greatness in each of us – dreams, goals, talents, and potential that will only come to life in the dark places of our life.

Like a caterpillar that must form a cocoon to undergo the metamorphosis to become a butterfly, what are we willing to go through to become what God intended for us to be?***

So, today I want to encourage especially those of us who are feeling as if it’s dark right now that our God is not as far away as we often imagine. He is right there in the dark with us, and the darkness will give way to the light of day. Seasons prepare us for what God is calling us to do.

Why do we need to know this:

To escape a season of darkness, we can’t be in faith about God doing something in our life and then go around talking and acting like it will never happen.

Key Point: Right now each of us can make a conscious choice to remain hopeful. This is important because our feelings will eventually catch up with our decisions & actions. Happiness not guaranteed but our joy is. This choice is as simple as turning on a light switch.

God has a great purpose for your life. He wants to use you powerfully to impact the people all around you. But in order to step into His purposes for your life, you have to actually take a step, even if that step leads into a season of darkness. Every time we step into another level with God, it is preceded by a choice we make. Each of us has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in our own life & in the lives of those around us

I love what Job 8:13 demonstrates, “Those who forgot God had no hope.”

“The forgetting of God was not a mere lapse of memory, but the willful decision to live with no regard either for God or for His precepts.”

If you want to be free from deception, you have to precede it by taking the action of obeying God’s Word.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

If you want your life to be filled with stability & purpose instead of drama & turmoil, it must be preceded by putting Jesus’ teachings into action.

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. (Matthew 7:24)

Even the times when God tells us to be still, it still requires action on our part. Hardest times! When God tells us to be still, He does not want us to be apathetic, but to do the hard work of trusting & waiting.

“Cease striving/Be still and know that I am God; for I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

How many times are we waiting for God to do something that He’s already given us the power to do? Ask Him what action steps He wants you to take. It’s always darkest just before the dawn and our Night of Misery can instantly turn into our Day of Blessing!

The problem we run into is we have a limited and finite understanding of our infinite God.

For me in life, it’s often like this: You walk along in faith, doing the next right thing you know to do, then all of a sudden you get a moment of clarity. The mist lifts, and you get a little glimpse of what God is up to. Or, you find out that the light at the end of the tunnel is a speeding train…

Regardless, God’s purposes for your life are so much better than anything you can imagine, and He has the passion and power to bring them to pass. Our job is to co-labor with Him by quieting our heart, so we can hear His voice and then obey quickly. Even if it’s a whisper, God’s voice must be the loudest in our life!

Key Point: If you are in a foggy spot on the journey, don’t give up. Keep pressing in and moving forward. That’s what faith is all about. If you’re going to magnify something, don’t magnify your problems; magnify your God.

I love the story of the Conquistador Cortes when he sailed to Veracruz to take on the mighty Aztecs. His first order was to burn the ships they had just sailed on. He understood that retreat is easy when you have the option. In life, we can’t always be looking for a Plan B; we should instead strive only to follow God’s will for our lives.

The Christian life is a journey along a narrow road. Sometimes the road is straight, while others, it’s hard to see very far ahead. We may get glimpses and impressions of what lies ahead, but in order to discover what’s really there, we have to keep moving forward.

“When we can’t take anymore & darkness overtakes the righteous, light will come bursting in.” Psalm 112:4

I have regularly hit patches where I realize that everything I’ve been doing up until that point, has simply been in preparation for what’s ahead. All of the digging in to learn new things and the relational stretching isn’t really about those things in themselves, it’s about where God is taking you on the journey.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

Our circumstances don’t change the power or the promises of the Lord. If we truly believed this, we wouldn’t reinforce or listen to what the devil or the world says about us. Our identity and our worth is found solely in Christ Jesus. We are priceless!

On issues like this, God doesn’t always need to speak when He’s already spoken and often in times where it feels darkest, Corrie Ten Boon illustrates the Lord is simply hiding us under the shadow of His wings and it only feels dark because He is so near.”

And sometimes, the path set before us causes us to walk through dark times, but it is in these life-transforming moments when you can find Jesus veiled in the darkness. “Bold faith stands on the shoulders of quiet trust and our worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.” Corrie Boon

If I’ve learned anything in my walk it’s that God can use anyone & anything to accomplish His plans.

In Judges 6 & 7 we see Gideon being used by God to do something significant, despite him being fearful and questioning that if the Lord had truly been with them then why had all the bad things been happening.

And Gideon said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15 (ESV)

God tells him to do the very thing he was terrified to do: “Go into the enemies’ camp.” Now I don’t know about you, but if I was afraid of my enemy, the last thing I would want to do is confront them with only my servant by my side, especially at night! However, if we ignore or question what God is calling us to do, we’ll miss out on His blessings because there are a great many things we cannot attain when we remain in a place of safety.

Sometimes, by focusing on our own comfort, we actually prevent access to the very thing(s) we are asking for. Gideon would receive his courage in the very place he was so afraid to be, & he would hear of his enemy’s dream & fear of the Lord. In the natural, it may not seem safe, but in the supernatural & when we are sent by God, He makes it safe.

What Do We Need to Do?

Ask ourselves what have we kept ourselves from that could quite possibly lead to the breakthrough we have been praying for? What or who is holding us back? Sickness, Pain, Doubt, FEAR

Each of us has anchors in our life and we have previously talked about hope being the anchor of our soul and that without hope, we cannot have faith, since faith is the evidence of things hoped for.

So, when the trials and circumstances of life seem to overwhelm us, the natural tendency is to pull up our anchor and take over control, but if we would instead keep our anchor down and keep our faith and trust in the Lord, we would never be lost or disappointed.

While there are good anchors in our life, there are also bad anchors that we need to cut away because if we don’t, we’ll drift away from God and fall into a life of anger, bitterness, & doubt due to our circumstances.

Zechariah 9:12 puts it this way, “Return to the stronghold, you prisoners of hope. Even today, I declare I will restore double to you.” NAS translates it as “prisoners who have hope.”

The word prisoner generally has a negative connotation in modern-day culture, but to be a prisoner of hope means we are confined by the promises of God and cannot escape them.

Joseph is the perfect example. He was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit, falsely accused, and imprisoned, but because he remained faithful, he was eventually vindicated, promoted, and ultimately put in charge and used by God to save the people and even his own family from the famine.

Being a prisoner of hope means you can’t get away from it. It’s believing if God is for us, then who can be against us? There is nothing and no one that can snatch us out of His hand, when we remain prisoners of hope.

Key Point: Some things we can only learn in trials of affliction, our character is refined in these fiery trials & our character is much more important than our talents.

No matter what circumstances we are facing, God can turn them around. God’s answers are: “yes, not yet, or He has something better in store,” so we have to get to a place where we trust that His grace is sufficient, that His strength is made perfect in our weakness, and that His mercy endures forever. For every trial we face in life, we will either be delivered from it, through it, or by it.

Abraham and Sarah are also good examples. Romans 4 explains, “All human reason for hope being gone, Abraham hoped on in faith.” It took nearly 20 years for the promise of Isaac to be fulfilled, so just because your promise hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it’s not on its way. Keep praying and seeking God!

The bad breaks we face in life don’t disqualify us from fulfilling our purpose and destiny, but they can surely distract us, causing us to take our eyes of Jesus. God wastes nothing and what He starts, He always finishes!

Key Point: We must never let other people talk us out of promises and dreams God has placed in our heart. Even when things don’t seem to be happening on the outside, doesn’t mean God isn’t working behind the scenes. Also, keep dream-killers out of your circle and don’t just go through trials; learn how to grow through them.

Drifting causes us to lose our passion, it causes us to worry, and be stressed out! When this happens, all we must do is put our anchor back down in God’s hope and remember that when bad breaks and circumstances do happen, it is because there is an enemy of our soul who doesn’t want to see our destiny come to pass.

An anchor also serves a second purpose, specifically when ships are going through storms. When it is lowered, it provides the vessel with more stability, much like outriggers do, as the waves crash against it.

Key Point: If we are not anchored to hope, we will find ourselves anchored to something else so keeping the right perspective is key. For example, when we look at the story of David and Goliath, we assume Goliath was sent to destroy David, but God’s divine plan unfolded by David receiving a promotion when he defeated Goliath. Tests turn into testimony and our messes become our message.

In a like manner, whatever we are facing today isn’t meant to stop us; it’s meant to move us towards our divine destiny. You see, when we are not hopeful, it physically makes us sick on the inside, so we must stay hopeful, especially in our seasons of drought.

Whatever we are facing in life can either become our excuse or it can become our purpose. The enemy doesn’t want us to live free and nothing is a surprise to God. Being anchored to anything besides hope will keep us from our destiny and from fulfilling our purpose, so sometimes we must cut the line to our worldly anchors.

Those with the most hope have the most influence!

The ache of the heart always is hope. What I mean is this: biblical hope is much different than worldly hope. Worldly hope is wishing something would happen, while biblical hope is the joyful anticipation of good or the excitement before something actually happens.

This biblical perspective allows us in the middle of our adversity to have hope. Even while our circumstances may attempt to deny or delay the very promises God has made to us, our hope anchors us to God’s joy and eventually to our breakthrough.

Any area of our life for which we have no hope is a lie! There is no situation we will ever face that we are not prepared for and that God doesn’t have the answer for. Remember, God’s hand is on the thermostat. He controls just how hot the fire gets and how long the trial lasts, so just remember the longer and hotter the fiery trial, the purer the outcome will be.

It’s interesting, when God delivered the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, it was far easier to get Israel out of Egypt, but it proved much more difficult to get Egypt out of Israel. There are many times in life when we want God to do something our way, but the Lord often has a much better way, because only He can see things in us that we ourselves cannot see.

Often, God creates detours around battles we are not yet ready to face. This is one of primary reasons a six-day journey to the Promise Land took the Israelites 40 years. Complain and you’ll remain, but praise and you’ll be raised!

Emotions like fear, doubt, anxiety, and intimidation are not sin; it’s only sin when we start partnering with these thoughts that we begin to sin. It’s when we begin to embrace these feelings that we lose sight of all the tools God has given us & what He wants to do in/through us.

Key Point: The offspring of fear is hopelessness! And anything you need to have in order to be happy can be used by the enemy to discourage and distract us, so hold firmly to what God has placed in your heart, but hold loosely to how He brings those promises to pass.

God has given each of us tools and giftings and sometimes He gives us an acorn instead of an oak tree.

He has a tendency to answer large prayers with small answers to see if we have the stamina, character, and focus to steward the answer He has revealed in small form.

Why Do We Need to Do It?

To become what God intends us to be, He engages us in a process, and He is trying to grow us into the person who can understand the answer without it destroying us. God uses our circumstances to wake us up so we’ll listen and obey.

C.S. Lewis said it best: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, He speaks in our consciences, but He shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

An interesting thing I have found in Scripture is how the demonic realm continually looks for dry places to rest. These dry places are our seasons of pain, isolation, drought, and wilderness wanderings. However, throughout Scripture, we also see rain, rivers, pools, and springs all referring to the work of God and the Holy Spirit.

Zechariah 9:11, “Because of the blood of your covenant, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”

Luke 11:24, “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places seeking rest.”

One of my favorite stories is Jesus casting the legion of demons into a herd of pigs found in Matthew 8:30-37; Mark 5:1-20; & Luke 8:27-38. Broke chains. When the demons begged Jesus to let them go into a herd of pigs, He gave them permission. They entered the pigs, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned. Jesus thereby made known His authority and thwarted whatever evil purpose the demons had. Satan seeks to destroy, or counterfeit all of God’s creation.

In the middle of our conflicts, we must remind ourselves that we belong to the Lord & that the most hopeful people are those who remain close to God.

Restoration of God: Job lost everything, and God restored twice what he had lost, the temple of Solomon was destroyed, but when it was rebuilt by Herod; it was twice the size.

Key Point: The concept of restoration in Scripture should make us all hopeful when we experience loss.

If you are in a season of drought and are not getting answers to your prayers:

  1. Talk to God about something He wants to talk about. Sometimes we must first get reacquainted with His voice to allow our heart to burn for what burns His. Begin and end your day with God. Prayer/Praise/Bible
  2. Pray for what God is already doing. Ask for rain, while it’s raining, which aligns your prayer life with His activity and positions you for the next thing He wants you to do.
  3. Praise Him before you get an answer; this is where strength is found. There is an entire generation amongst us waiting to see revival and the power of hope and praise, so they can live a joy-filled life.

We Must Be Prisoners of Hope: Over the years, I’ve learned how to lock myself up in a prison of hope, knowing that God has nothing but His best planned for me. Hope is what has helped me hold on in those seasons when it seemed like His promises would never come to pass.

Hopeful Anticipation: When things don’t seem to be happening, it can be very easy to develop a very negative outlook on life, which then leads to speaking negatively about it. This was a painful way to live life before I learned how to become a prisoner of hope. As I grew in my relationship with God, I learned how to trust Him, how to stand on His Word, and how to stand my ground in prayer when it got tough.

Double for Your Trouble Now: I do realize there are many things in life that can happen to us that aren’t so enjoyable. These seasons can make it difficult to grasp the idea of enjoying life. So, think of it this way: What are you hoping for? What are you expecting in life? What are you looking forward to? Focus on these things; not the past. Don’t forget past; learn from it.

I went through a season where my negative outlook was due to my attitude about all the bad things that had happened in my life. I was stuck in the pain of my past, so I didn’t believe anything good could/would happen in my future. With of all of the negative things that had happened, I was programmed to believe that negative things would always happen. As a result, I lost hope. Remember to draw from your past, but don’t let it draw from you.

But, God was there, and He knew that and over time He kept loving me and dealing with me, promising me what Isaiah 61:7 says: Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours (NIV). That’s a promise for us all…a promise of double for your trouble! Double the blessing!

Hope: I want to encourage you to make a decision to cultivate an attitude of hope in your life. Speak positive things about your future and refuse to be negative. You may not always feel hopeful but don’t give in to your feelings. Catering to bad feelings feeds and empowers them. But standing our ground and not giving in to negative feelings starves them and causes them to lose their power over us. By feeding the Spirit, you starve the flesh. Just ask the Holy Spirit to lead you. Line your will up with His and get excited about serving God. Hope releases the power of the Holy Spirit in these times. God is the Source & the Holy Spirit is the Supply of our Hope.

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Confession: Why, if it is so good for the soul, is it so hard?

It is hard to admit to God, to ourselves, and especially to another person the exact nature of our wrongs, but why?

James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”

Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness, but confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church:

(1) If we have sinned against an individual, we must ask him or her to forgive us. Our unforgiveness actually hinders our prayers and God’s forgiving of our own sins!

(2) If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support. Two are stronger than one and a cord of three is not easily broken.

(3) If we doubt God’s forgiveness, after confessing a sin to Him, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer for assurance of God’s pardon. Guilt and shame run deep with sin and often the last phase of the healing process is helping someone else walk through a similar trial, season, and/or circumstance.

In Christ’s Kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers and the Christian’s most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer. While many see prayer as a last resort, only to be tried when all else fails, this approach is completely backwards. Prayer should come first because God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, so it only makes sense to rely on it—especially because God encourages and tells us to do so.

We are as sick as our secrets and keeping our shortcomings, resentments, and sins from God is foolish because for starters, He already knows everything we have done and will do, and secondly because He has already declared us not guilty nor condemned, as soon as we turn to Him in repentance and cast our cares and burdens upon the Lord.

I believe the real issue arises when we are told to confess our sins to each other. Most of us know and still feel the sting of betrayal and constantly see people jockeying for position and capitalizing on the acquisition of information. With broken legs we chase perfection and it becomes a sick and twisted game of, “Do you know what so and so struggles with or did?” People then become defined by their mistakes and as a result, most people show up for church with their Sunday masks on and continue portraying a mere façade of truth and what is actually going on.

When we are able to confess our sins, we will discover the grace and mercy of God. God’s grace is receiving something we do not deserve: salvation & forgiveness, and His mercy is not getting what we do deserve: condemnation & judgment.

Romans 3:23-24 explains, “All have sinned… yet now God declares us not guilty… if we trust in Jesus Christ, who… freely takes away our sins.”

When we can arrive at a place where we have no more guilt and shame from our past wrongs, we are ready to face the truth, and to allow God to ease the pain. While pain is a cruel and effective teacher, our misery in the process is optional, because God replaces our pain with ease for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

The last step in finding peace through confession comes by stopping the blame game and instead choosing to trust God. We have gotten very good at rationalizing and justifying certain areas of sin, to the point where we can say, “This ______ sin is for their own or the greater good.” While this may sound crazy at first glance, I promise you the progression from thought to action and from action to stronghold does not take long and it is a depraved and warped process one can easily get themselves wrapped up in.

Our secrets isolate us and leave us vulnerable to attack. This is exactly where the enemy wants us and like a predator seeking to steal, kill, and destroy the weakest of the herd, he lies in wait for the exact opportunity to inflict the most harm, in an effort to take us out.

The key to rejoining the community and fellowship with God is humility and transparency. While we are created in the image of God, we live in a fallen world, one in which we are called to be salt and light. Only when we are comfortable in our own skin, by discussing the hurts, habits, and hang-ups of our past, will we have the opportunity to come alongside those walking through similar situations. Only by offering them love, acceptance, and forgiveness will we be in a place to then comfort those in need and point them to Christ, the perfecter of our faith and the Holy Spirit, our comforter and counselor.

Lastly, only once we take the plank out of our own eye will we be able to see the world through the lens of the cross and only by maintaining our communion with God will our hearts break for what breaks His. To confess and be forgiven is so freeing, while harboring unforgiveness makes us a prisoner to those we choose not to forgive, much like resentment leads one to drink poison, all the while expecting the other person to die. Instead, we must give it all to God, because His Word promises He will use ALL things for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose and He swears by His own name because there is no name higher!

Psalms of Lament

psalm-13-lament

Fifty or one-third of the Psalms are classified as laments. Gary Yates further explains, “Laments are times when the psalmist prays to God in times of trouble, distress, sadness, and in life-threatening situations.”[1] Walter Brueggemann classifies laments as psalms of disorientation as the relationship between the psalmist and God is conducted in an honest engagement, and where pain and hurt are acknowledged rather than denied and avoided.[2] The basic elements of the laments consist of: (1) an opening address or an introductory cry out to God in a very personal way; (2) a lament where the psalmist gives a description of present troubles, often in a very figurative, extreme, and over the top way, to make God aware of the dire circumstances; (3) a petition or prayer, which consists of what the psalmist is actually asking God to do; (4) a confession of trust and faith that God will act; and (5) a vow of praise where thanksgiving and sacrifice are offered when the Lord delivers the psalmist from his trouble.  Logan Jones describes the depth of pain in laments, “was the characteristic way of expressing and voicing the hurt, [but] the distinctive movement from plea to praise [demonstrated] an act of boldness. This movement does not stay stuck in the plea of brokenness and grief; [it] moves beyond to praise and unparalleled transformation with joy, wisdom and hope.”[3] This transformation did not deny the reality of brokenness or grief. Instead, the lament provided trust, confidence, and gratitude towards God.

Yates also illustrates, “The Bible does not command us to fake joy; it promises us a deep and real joy that is so satisfying because we know God is with us, regardless of what we are facing in life, [enabling us to] come to Him with complete honesty, especially in times of desperation.”[4] Jones adds, “By praying the laments, Israel had a way of directly facing the hurtful dimensions of human life. Israel did not try to explain them away, deny them, or avoid them. Instead, Israel held to the premise that all of life – even the hurtful dimensions – was embraced by it covenantal relationship with God.”[5] The psalmist’s relationship with God is deep, personal, and authentic. In Psalm 13, Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. explain:

The prayer is spoken from a situation of severe crisis… The original crisis may have been a physical, emotional, social, or economic crisis. But two things are clear. First, the psalmist definitely understands the crisis as a spiritual and theological crisis — the relationship with God. Second, the psalm is now available to any believer for reuse in a variety of life situations.[6]

Craig Broyles further demonstrates, “This psalm allows believers to voice the mixed emotions often felt toward God while in the midst of hardship, namely complaint and trust.”[7] In Psalm 79, the lament depicts a community crying out for help and most likely refers to the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. Everything the nation of Israel had believed and trusted in was gone and the people had no hope. However, in every lament, there is a wonderful transformation that occurs, where heartache, pain, and misery turn into joy, thanksgiving, and praise.

Laments are cries for help and Yates makes a valid point that “Part of dealing with pain is being able to express it.”[8] As Roland Murphy demonstrates, “The psalms are about honest dialogue where nothing is held back. The words of the psalms speak to the very core of human experience in ways other language cannot begin to approach. In this way, the psalms teach us how to pray, how to stand faithfully before God, asking and even demanding response, action, and answers.”[9] The psalms also teach us to bring our hopes, praise, and joy to God and they call us to bring our fear, pain, and sorrow before God. In desperate times, Jones illustrates “the psalmist gives voice to the anguished part of our human experience, [where] questions are asked that have no answers: How long will God forget? How long will God be hidden? How long must pain be born? How long will the enemy be exalted?”[10] These are valid questions, which every believer has wrestled with. Jones suggests some of the greatest reasons for the laments are to help believers make it through seasons where there is no hope and a cry for deliverance, for healing, for life, for mercy, for forgiveness, for help, for vengeance, for relief, for hope, for attention, for presence, and for strength.[11]

Jones then explains, “bad things happen, circumstances change, loss occurs, and grief and sorrow break the heart, [which] leads to the first movement [as] the cry of lament speaks of the terrible truth of disorientation.”[12] However, when the pleas and petitions reach God, Jones illustrates disorientation does not last forever. Instead, the laments petition God to be true to His character and as a new orientation emerges, blessings and breakthroughs in life are witnessed and praise and worship are given for all God has done. However, spiritual growth does not happen over night; it is a life-long pursuit of trusting and praising God, despite the circumstances.

By praying the laments, individuals will be able to face any hurt, betrayal, or anxiety, by looking to God and embracing the covenant relationship he or she has with Him. Jones explains, “The movement from orientation to disorientation to new orientation… is a way to move deeper into a faith which is transformative, where God indeed makes a difference.”[13] Laments illustrate why it is important to lift one’s petitions before God because as Jones explains, “Our pain can be spoken and named, our hurt can be lifted up and heard, our cries can come from our heart, and we can rest assured nothing, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God.”[14] The believer must simply understand and trust that God hears every prayer and He is continually working in the lives of His children, according to His perfect plan.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Jones, Logan C. “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow.” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47-58. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

Murphy, Roland. “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235-238.

Yates, Gary. “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

________. “The Lament Psalms: Part 2.” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

 


[1] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 17:54. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[2] Logan C. Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” The Journal Of Pastoral Care & Counseling 61, no. 1-2 (2007): 47. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed November 3, 2016).

[3] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 48-49.

[4] Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 1.”

[5] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 49.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 158.

[7] Craig C. Broyles, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 87.

[8] Gary Yates, “The Lament Psalms: Part 2,” Filmed [2011], Liberty University Website, OBST 660 Course Content, Week Two Video Presentation, 14:18. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_328279_1&content_id=_14949919_1 (accessed November 1, 2016).

[9] Roland Murphy, “The Faith of the Psalmist,” Interpretation 34, (1980): 235.

[10] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 52.

[11] Ibid., 52.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 50.

[14] Jones, “The psalms of lament and the transformation of sorrow,” 54.

Tasks and Roles of a Pastor

         1_23_Sr._Pastors_Roles_Change_as_Church_Grows_715561077

       Understanding the tasks, as well as the traits of a pastor are both crucial to fulfilling the calling God has placed on one’s life. Additionally, as John MacArthur points out, “To understand one’s role as a minister, one [also] needs to understand the role of the church.”[1] Only by answering the questions as to why the church exists, and what purpose it serves today, can one truly quantify the specific and relevant tasks of any given pastor. While the Bible does indicate several things a pastor should do, much more emphasis is placed on how they should conduct themselves. Additionally, the tasks between pastors will vary depending on the specific calling placed on their lives. God can use those He calls anywhere, so some will be called to shepherd, while others are called to preach, visit the shut-ins, care for the needy, or evangelize. The important thing to remember is one must be willing to serve wherever God plants them, while also trusting in His plan and His perfect timing. For the purposes of this assignment, the role of the pastor can best be compared to that of a shepherd caring for the flock of God: His children, the church.

Top Five Tasks of a Pastor and Why

          As a shepherd, the pastor’s first and primary task is feeding the flock and this comes in the form of teaching them the Word of God.[2] Without sound teaching and biblical doctrine, the flock will starve and when they do not understand the Word of God, they cannot apply its truth to their daily lives. This was something Paul ran into with the Corinthians. He told them, “I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready.”[3]
As Gordon Fee explains:

With the words “you were not yet able,” Paul brings to a conclusion the long rehearsal of his former association with them. Both his preaching and their response to it are living evidence of the power and wisdom of the gospel. If they failed to see its wisdom, the fault was theirs, not his. Now he moves to their present situation as the evidence that the problem lay with them, not with him. He begins by repeating what he has just said, but now in the present tense. “Indeed, you are still not ready,” i.e. “you are not even now able.”[4]

         To be a shepherd was a mighty charge and in Paul’s final letter to Timothy, he wants him to know first of his steadfast suffering of the gospel and also what would be required of Timothy. Paul considered all of his converts as brothers and sisters and his love for God flowed directly to those he ministered to. Philip Towner demonstrates, “In the Greek world, formulaic charges of similar tone were made in installment ceremonies. Moses, who called on heaven and earth as witnesses, also made such charges.[5] The gravity of this charge being spelled out would not be missed.”[6]  This instructional task is still crucial today in leading and equipping the saints to do the work of the church.

         The secondary task of the pastor is protecting his or her flock as overseers.[7] This role is rooted out of the first, since the sound teaching of doctrine is vital to repelling the attacks of wolves and wolves in sheep’s clothing. Another facet of this role is the administrative aspect, which also points to exercising oversight and leadership. In Paul’s letter to Titus he lists seventeen qualifications the leader must possess: (1) blameless; (2) husband of one wife; (3) household under control; (4) not overbearing; (5) not quick-tempered; (6) not drunk off wine; (7) not violent; (8) not pursuing dishonest gain; (9) hospitable; (10) one who loves what is good; (11) self-controlled; (12) upright; (13) holy; (14) disciplined; (15) trustworthy to the message as it has been taught; (16) encourage others; and (17) refute those who oppose the Word of God. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck explain, “Not only must an overseer meet moral and spiritual standards in his [or her] personal life, but he [or she] must also be a reliable [person] of the Word.”[8]

        The third task of the pastor is fighting against what attempts to attack the flock. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV) illustrates, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This task of the pastor runs in this same vein as training and equipping the flock to stand in the gap for each other, while also sharing one another’s burdens. F. F. Bruce illuminates,

The heavenly realm may be envisaged as comprising a succession of levels, with the throne of God on the highest of these and the hostile forces occupying the lowest. The level, which they occupy, is probably identical with “the domain of the air,” ruled[9] by “the spirit which now operates in the disobedient.” At any rate, these are real forces of evil, which are encountered, in the spiritual sphere, and they have to be withstood.[10]

         The fourth task of the pastor is modeling their life after Christ,[11] so that the way they conduct themselves is a living example of what their flock is also called to do. In most cases, this is a role that is often caught and not so much taught. When the flock knows and sees the pastor spending time in prayer, meeting the needs of others, and showing care and compassion to the lost and hurting, it speaks much louder than any sermon could accomplish. Peter Davids shows, “Jesus had clearly pointed out that the way of world at large was for leaders to domineer over the led, expecting obedience and the “perks” of leadership. But that was not to be the model His disciples were to follow.[12] His disciples were to be servants, not bosses; ministers, not executives.”[13]

        The fifth and final task of the pastor is to remain faithful to his or her calling. Bible knowledge will only get the pastor to a certain point. To be effective in their calling, the pastor must also maintain a moral life centered on godliness. MacArthur demonstrates, “[While] the focal point of any ministry is godliness, ministry is, and always must be an overflow of a godly life.”[14]

          Trying to define and understand the role of the pastors, elders, teachers, or leaders is not something new. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, Fee illustrates, “He is dealing with their theological misunderstanding of the gospel, the church, and the role of their teachers.”[15] This was something that continually had to be addressed in both new and old churches. In James’ letter, he goes as far to caution, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”[16] This is not a very encouraging statement for those debating going into ministry, but as James Adamson demonstrates:

James turns to wisdom, and begins with a salutary and sympathetic caution to sincere Christians, warning them of the higher standards expected of leaders in wisdom, and the greater risks involved, since in speech, in which most of the teacher’s work is done, it is even harder than in bodily action to avoid the sin of error, willful or involuntary. All men commit many sins (including—but not only—teachers): that is precisely why men should be chary about incurring the risk of greater punishment, as we shall if we become teachers, entrusted, as teachers are, with increased knowledge.[17]

         As pastors, it is important to live a life of integrity above reproach, so when problems and misunderstandings arise, they are equipped to handle them. This ability is rooted in godly character and as MacArthur explains, “Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity, possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy.”[18] Pastors are held to a higher standard, so knowing one’s roles and the role of the church is vital to becoming an effective pastor. Being a pastor is a mighty responsibility and as Bicket said, “If you can be happy outside the ministry, stay out. But if the solemn call has come, do not run… In the long run, ministry is what we are as much as what we do.”

Bibliography

Adamson, James B. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Bruce, F. F. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Fee, Gordon D. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

MacArthur, John. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005.

Towner, Philip H. The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

Walvoord, John and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty. Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.

 


[1] John MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2005), 50.

[2] II Timothy 4:2

[3] I Corinthians 3:2 (ESV)

[4] Gordon D. Fee, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle to the Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 126.

[5] Deuteronomy 4:26

[6] Philip H. Towner, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Letters to Timothy, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 595.

[7] I Timothy 3:2

[8] John Walvoord and Roy Zuck, ed., The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 1985), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 762.

[9] Ephesians 2:2

[10] F.F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 406.

[11] I Peter 5:1-3

[12] Mark 10:42

[13] Peter H. Davids, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The First Epistle of Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 180.

[14] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 94.

[15] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 156.

[16] Davids, The First Epistle of Peter, 180.

[17] James B. Adamson, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Epistle of James, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 138.

[18] MacArthur, Pastoral Ministry, 91.

Finding Joy

joy of the lord

Finding joy in the midst of trials and circumstances can seem like searching for hidden treasure without a map or a shovel. However, if we seek God’s presence, He will grant us eternal blessings. Psalms 16:11 (ESV) says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” In this passage, David was assured that the Lord would preserve his life, even in the face of death. He rejoiced because God enabled his body to rest securely even when confronted with uncertainty. The reason David could find joy and rest is because he knew God would never abandon him.

When we turn our attention to the Lord, the light of His countenance and presence shines upon us. The more we depend on God, the more He will make us complete. Even in our weakness, He makes us strong. As we learn to live within His loving embrace, we will come to realize nothing can separate us from the love of God.

How to Combat Pride

2-samuel-20-pride

“Pride is insidious and you must root it out of your life—this often takes surgery of the heart and it always takes submission of the will!” Upon reading this, I was reminded of Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of all joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” The word sword is translated as sharper than the sharpest sword, but as precise as a surgeon’s scalpel. The word of God in many ways also acts like a mirror in our life exposing the areas, which are not of God, and when we allow the word to penetrate our hearts, it will cut away the malignant masses holding us back from imitating Christ and bringing glory to God. Daily we must be reading the word of God learning His ways so we can put into practice what we have learned.

Pride is the result of elevating ourselves above others or even God. It is manifested in my life by my desire to be successful. I care what others think of me and often care more about how the world views me than how God does. God has given each of us desires and among them, the desire to be significant is at the top of the list, but that same desire to be significant by the world’s standards is what keeps us from intimacy with God. Desires must be satisfied within the covenant relationships and designs, which God has established. A perfect example is found in the story of David and Saul. Upon defeating Goliath in battle, the men were returning home and the people were singing, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” Saul should have lifted David up and praised God for the victory, but he could not stand to lose his significance and we see Saul become angry and keep a jealous eye on David and the next day an evil spirit from God came forcefully upon Saul.

Humility before God and everyone we come in contact with is the only way to prevent pride from rising up and causing us to fall. We must trust in the mighty hand of God, that He will exalt us at the proper time. Even the person with the most money and the most accolades still dies and can take none of it to heaven. The only thing we can invest in that we take to heaven is what we invest in the lives of the people we come in contact with. Our hunger for significance can destroy us and chasing after things of this world to find happiness will only leave us unsatisfied and wanting more. The more we try to find purpose and happiness in worldly things, the more we are telling God He is not good enough for us. The world through its hallow and deceptive lies tells us our significance is bound up in the things of this world and nothing could be further from the truth.

The story of Jesus at the well is a perfect example as he explains, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I will give him or her will never be thirsty again.” If we are prideful of anything, as Paul said, it should be that we know Christ because the only thing any of us truly deserves is hell and everything we have in our life is a blessing from God. If we keep this mindset our response to the manifestation of pride will be halted in its tracks. As Nathan Smith said regarding an attitude of humility, “It is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” Life is not about us; it is about God. Each of our lives finds its greatest purpose and happiness when we make everything about God. The holier and more righteous each of us becomes, the more self-evident we should become to the sin in our life. If we really understood how broken we all are, it would fuel our compassion for those around us since true greatness is making much about God and less about us.

We should avoid pride and sin because of our desire to be like Christ, to pursue Him, and to bring glory to His name. We must keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus because the moment we lose sight of Him, we begin to sink and open the door for prideful thinking. As Ben Forrest says, “Pursuing God is a posture of submission and repentance because when we recognize the holiness of God, it bends our knees and bows our head.” We will never truly know ourselves except when we endeavor to know God. Teresa of Avila said it best, “It is only by considering His greatness we discover our bareness; it is only by contemplating His purity we discover our own filthiness, and it is only by beholding His humility we shall discover how far we are from truly being humble.”

Living Above Your Circumstances

God vs. Satan

When things seem to continually go wrong in life, we must continue to trust God. When the reins of life slip from our fingers and we are no longer in control, we must still continue to trust God.Live a positive lifeYou see our response to adversity has the potential to lift us up above any challenge we may come across. Unfortunately, the natural human response is to turn to negativity and start complaining. This mindset only leads deeper down the rabbit hole to depression by darkening our perspective.

Instead of complaining, we should be crying out to God and we should be thanking Him in all things. I realize this can be hard to do, especially during times of great loss and suffering, but if you are already in the habit of looking to God in the good and the bad, it will be much easier for you to lean on and trust in God’s plan when disaster strikes.start next chapter in lifeRemember that Satan is waiting for the opportunity to inflict the most damage in your life to take you out and that can easily happen the longer life is grand and God gradually takes a back row seat in our priorities. However, with an attitude of praise during times of turmoil, you will experience an unfathomable peace regardless of what is going on in your life.

Many times in life, we have not because we ask not, so what we must never forget is the Spirit of God dwells inside every believer and His power is infinite. As we pray, praise, and trust God, we channel that power to move mountains and do miraculous things.lion-and-lambThe problem arises when we try to do things on our own with our own strength, which is finite, because Jesus tells us the main reason He ascended to heaven was so He could send the Holy Spirit to be our helper and ever-present help in time of need. In life, it is not by might or by power, but by the power of the His Spirit says the Lord Almighty.
CaddyshackOur joy in trials and tribulations is something we must also guard especially in seasons and chapters of life that seem to have no end. Our joy is not dependent on our circumstances; true joy is the by-product of dwelling in God’s presence. The joy of the Lord is our strength, so any adversity we face should not negate joyous living, in fact, we should consider it pure joy! When God is first in our lives, we can find joy even during the most difficult trials and circumstances. Even though we don’t know what tomorrow may bring, God does and our breakthrough or miracle may be right around the corner.

We must walk by faith and not by sight and in II Corinthians; Paul actually says we are to live by faith and not by sight. When we worry about whatever we are walking through or what may happen, we deafen the voice of God in our lives. Where does our help come from? It comes from the Lord and He is waiting for His children to call out to Him and to trust Him in all things. We must entrust God in every area of our lives because His ways are so much higher than our own.
Don't let things bring you downIn all things we should rejoice, for this is the day the Lord has made and we are to be glad in it. If you can wake up and start the day with that as your first thought, I promise your days ahead will be far better than your latter. It does not mean you will no longer face adversity, but it ensures that God is with you in whatever and whenever something or someone may attempt to steal your joy, so always remember to give thanks in all circumstances and God will never forsake you.