I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways. -Psalm 119:15
The habit of laying up a text of Scripture in the morning, to be meditated upon while engaged in the business of this world through the day, is both profitable and delightful. It is as a refreshing draught to a weary traveler!
Nothing is more helpful and practical in Christian living, than the habit of getting a verse or phrase of Scripture into the mind and heart in the morning. Its influence stays through the day, weaving itself into all the day’s thoughts and words and experiences.
Every verse in the Bible is meant to help us to live, and a good devotional book opens up the precious teachings which are folded up in its words.
A devotional book which takes a Scripture text, and so opens it for us in the morning, that all day long it helps us to live, becoming a true lamp to our feet, and a staff to lean upon when the way is rough, is the very best devotional help we can possibly have. What we need in a devotional book which will bless our lives, is the application of the great teachings of Scripture to common, daily, practical life.
The good times are to be expected, and the hard times are surprising and strange. Perhaps that unconscious assumption is causing us grief. Wendell Berry, in his book, Jayber Crow, describes the “old-timers” in a way that seems lost on many people today. He says: “As much as any of the old-timers, he regarded the Depression as not over and done with but merely absent for a while, like Halley’s comet.”
Though many wrongly interpret this disposition as fear, there is health in this way of thinking. For many of us, politicians have promised us the world, and we have believed them. We may indeed chuckle at the thought that a single person thinks they have that much influence, still, conservatives and liberals alike often feel that the state of our existence will continue to progress and that humanity will build its tower to heaven. This thinking, of course, is foolishness. There are good days and bad days ahead for all of us. Pandemics, economic collapse, and the threat of government overreach are nothing new. They have all happened in the past, and they will occur again in the future. Scripture itself tells us that when fiery trials come upon us, we should not think that something strange is happening to us (1 Pet. 4:12).
Bringing this to a more personal level, as long as our health is robust and our jobs feel secure, we think we can handle anything, but in the words of the late Rich Mullins, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” It does not take much for us to feel our weakness. The problem is that when our vulnerability is not apparent, a false sense of our competency begins to blind us.
For the Christian, hard times might not be the blight on our existence we think them to be. If we believe God’s word, which reminds us that God is working in our favor as much in the hard times as in the good, we have no reason to panic during the difficult days, as we are prone to do.
When I think, for example, about how quickly I am prone to forget about my daily dependence upon God through prayer, I thank the Lord for the days that knock me to my knees. I am much better off on my knees in prayer after taking a hit than walking confidently without Him. Charles Spurgeon said, “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.”
Maybe it is just me, but too many “good” days in a row, and I begin to forget that we are living in a fallen world. Even when evidence surrounds me, I deceive myself with a false sense of self-sufficiency, and it is not until life hits me with a reminder of my frailty that I am brought back to a favorable frame of mind. If this is true, then some of my “hard’ times are actually my good times, and some of my “good” times are my hard times. Some days it is abundantly clear how much I need Jesus. On the other days, I am delusional.
For the Christian, our eternal well-being is not bound up in the pleasures of this life. The scoffers will say this kind of talk reveals our deficiency, and they are right. I will boast all the more in my weakness. I contributed nothing to my salvation, and I have no strength of my own to contribute to the Christian life. I will praise God for the days I lay helpless at His feet because those days he has promised that in my weakness his strength will rest upon me. When the hard times hit, and we find ourselves entirely dependent upon our God, it is time to draw up under the wing of our Savior and start paying attention because his power is about to be revealed in his people.
If someone were to walk by, they would see a man at rest on the Lord’s day. He is sitting quietly, soaking up the sun on a beautiful spring day. The birds are singing, and a pleasant breeze is blowing. His posture is relaxed, and in his lap sits his Bible. In his hands are a highlighter and a pen. The pages of the black leather-bound book are open to 2 Corinthians; pages he has evidently read before because some of the highlights are of a different color than the highlighter he is holding. He is pouring over the words, frequently stopping to highlight and reread relevant phrases as he comes to them, and then jotting a few notes in his journal.
To many, it is a picture of serenity and peace: a moment of rest. There is, however, something deeper going on below the surface. There is an internal struggle raging. First, there is bodily fatigue. The body that appears relaxed is doing everything it can to stay on task and focus on the scriptures. The man has physical distress that keeps his body from finding the peace it desires.
Also inside, there is a sinful nature warring against the Spirit he is attempting to nourish. It is calling him away to other activities; activities of idleness that turn his eyes from things above and divert his attention to the pleasures of this world. He hears the sirens calling, and he is striving to resist them as he sits in what appears to be perfect tranquility.
Lastly, there are the doubts and fears, along with worries and pains he is looking to address. This time in the word is not a laid-back time of reflection. He is in a battle, searching for fuel for his faith. Employment anxieties, cares at home, financial burdens, and concerns for others weigh him down.
The outside world cannot see it, but this internal war is raging. However, there is something deeper still going on. Something even the man himself cannot see. As he reads, the eyes of the Lord look to and fro throughout the earth to be strong on behalf of those who put their trust in him, and the Father has locked eyes on his child and will not turn away.
At the same time, the Son is interceding on the man’s behalf. Jesus is not praying the man be taken out of the world, but that he be kept from the evil one. The Savior is praying that the man be set apart from the world and be sanctified in the truth; the word of God he is holding in his hands.
As he sits and reads, engaged in this battle of the ages, the Holy Spirit surrounds him and begins speaking to his heart. There is an invisible light emanating from the pages and entering through the windows of his soul. The Spirit draws his eyes to the following words.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
The Spirit uses this to illuminate two truths showing him that the battle has a purpose. First, this fight makes him rely not on himself but on God, who raises the dead. Second, he learns that by being comforted by God in times of difficulty, he is taught to comfort others. This is something he longs to do.
The Spirit then reminds him, through the scriptures, he has a treasure in this jar of clay, and like Gideon breaking the clay pots to show forth the light hidden within, it is in his brokenness that the treasure begins to be revealed. Though the man may be afflicted in every way, he is not crushed. He may be perplexed, but he is not drawn to despair. He may be struck down, but he will not be destroyed. The Lord has heard him in his distress, bowed the heavens, and came down. He sent out his arrows and scattered the enemy, and is drawing the man out of many waters.
The man, still feeling the effects of a distressed body, breathes a sigh of relief and finds himself sweetly resigned to the Lord’s will. His heart is moved to spend the evening in prayer, praising God and interceding on behalf of those he loves. His joyful intimacy with his Savior reminds him that the weight of his troubles cannot compare to the weight of glory that lies ahead. That night, he sets his Bible by his bed and closes his eyes to pray, and, once again, the heavens begin to move. Our quiet times are rarely as they appear.
2019 was a great year for the Fight of Faith, and I am thankful to all of you who stopped by the blog. I am also thankful to Tim Challies who featured five of the articles below in his Al La Carte posts. The Fight of Faith readership increased by 410% over 2018. As a final post for the year, here are the top 10 most read Fight of Faith articles for 2019. Keep fighting the good fight of faith.
I could hear the voices whispering, “Persevere. Don’t give up. You need to press on.” The only problem was I was fairly certain these were the voices of the enemy. I was torn because persistence is something to honor. A sense of despondency and joy burned within me at the thought of ending several lifelong pursuits.
I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to say goodbye to what I loved, because what I loved was toxic. It was like a destructive friendship. Friendships are to be cherished, and it always seems wrong to dissolve them, but when they are harmful, the appropriate thing to do is to bring them to an end.
I realized I had a long and unhealthy relationship with the world. I loved it and I was attempting to stake my claim, and find my refuge, in its kingdom. The discovery that these dark skies of adversity have revealed to me is that the things of the world are unable to protect or satisfy.
Faith has been awakened, and it is pointing my mind to things above. I know at this point the way to press on is to bring all these worldly pursuits to a close. I must say goodbye to these lifelong loves, and deep inside I can feel the heartache that will ensue. If left to myself, I will not have the strength to do it. I will run back into their arms like a lonely man returning to an abusive lover.
I will persevere, however, not because I have the ability, but because I am starting to realize that true perseverance in the things of God is not of myself. I am, as Peter once said, being kept by the power of God through faith. Christ Jesus has begun a work He has promised to complete. I know my old nature will not give up easily, and it may win a few battles as I am being conformed to His image, but I will press on, because He has promised to never lose His child.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. – 1 John 2:15
Suppose a person were to go to a blacksmith and say to him, ‘I want you to make me a long and heavy chain — I will pay you well for it.’ The blacksmith, for the sake of the money, commences it; and after toiling hard for some time, finishes it. The person calls, and says on looking at it, ‘Yes, it is a good chain — but not long enough; work on it another week, I will then call and pay you for it.’ Encouraged by the promise of full reward, the blacksmith toils on, adding link to link. When his employer calls again, he praises him as before — but still insists that ‘the chain is too short.’ ‘But,’ says the blacksmith, ‘I can do no more; my iron is all gone, and my strength too.’
‘Oh then, just add a few more links, the chain will then answer my purpose, and you shall be well paid.’ The blacksmith, with his remaining strength, and last few scraps of iron, adds the last link he can. ‘The chain will now do,’ says the man, ‘you have worked hard and long; I will now pay you your wages.’ And taking the chain, he suddenly binds the blacksmith hand and foot, and casts him into a furnace of fire!
Such are the wages of sin. It promises much — but its reward is damnation!
“The wages of sin is death!” – Romans 6:23
What! is the reward for all that hard toil — death? Yes, death! Oh, extraordinary wages — but more astonishing still, that any should be found to work for them!
If the only wages for sin were those received in a lifetime, we could be calmer. But oh, Eternity, Eternity is sin’s long pay-day — and the wages paid is Hell!
…But never forget, there is a way of escape in Jesus.
The storm is a gift. This was the thought that was running through my mind as wave after wave crashed upon me. In part because I knew it was true and partly because I hoped it was true. When the skies turned dark they caught me off guard. I found myself lost in confusion as every bit of my weakness was exposed, but that was only a portion of the battle.
As the tempest raged against me from the outside, something else started happening on the inside. My flesh began to rebel. It had been active for years, as I now realize, but it started to let me know that it was upset. As I entered one of the darkest times of my life, my sinfulness began to rear its head in ways I could have never imagined. It was showing me its power.
I never really saw myself as someone who longed for or loved the things of the world, but the minute the pleasures were no longer available, a passion for them stirred in my soul. The fact that they were no longer at my disposal caused a despondency in my spirit that made me feel ill. I thought, “What if all those days of pleasure are gone? I can’t live without them, they are part of what makes me who I am.” The notion that they were no longer mine was more than I could handle.
It was here that I realized the conflict between flesh and Spirit was clashing within me in a battle more fierce than I could ever remember. The problem is, when you already feel you are spinning out of control because of the circumstances in which you find yourself, this type of inner conflict brings your sinfulness to the surface compounding the trial. Once once my sinfulness was added to the mix, I was devastated. I had nothing left: everything I thought I was standing on was systematically dislodged from beneath me. I don’t think I could have plummeted any lower.
This, however, was exactly were I needed to be. When the conflict between flesh and Spirit heightens within us, it is more often a sign of spiritual progress than decline. When the Lord sends us troubles that are designed to mold us to His image, the first thing we tend to notice is how far we fall short. In other words, sanctified affliction seldom seems sanctified because the Lord is drawing the dross to the surface, but never forget, He is drawing it to the surface to wipe it away.
A.W. Tozer once said, “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” This may not sit well with many in the church today, but it is important to remember that God is more concerned with our spiritual growth than our worldly prosperity, and often He will sacrifice the latter to promote the former.
Even the disciples, who had seen Christ perform many miracles, didn’t marvel until it was their own boat that was at stake. We tend see Christ’s power to calm the storm as interesting until it is our life that is on is on the line, then it becomes imperative. Our Savior is not looking for people who admire His power from a distance, His children are the ones who know their very lives depend upon Him. Though everything I thought could support me crumbled beneath me, when it had all been destroyed, I found myself standing on the Rock of Christ Jesus. In an act of God’s grace, the storm killed my idols.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. – Proverbs 17:3
Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. – Micah 7:18-19
Even as Christians, the greatest storm we face is the sin that rages in us. It crouches at our door, its desire is for us, and its only fruit is destruction. It threatens to sear our consciences, hinder our prayers, and even cause our love for Christ to grow cold. But even when we fail, and some of these things begin to be seen in our lives, let us never forget that our God will have compassion on His children. He delights in mercy, He will turn again to us to subdue our iniquities, and cast’s our sins to the depths of the sea.
Do you see dear believer what hope is found in this Scripture? God is not looking to help you because you have been perfect and you deserve to be helped. He desires to pardon your iniquity. He knows you have sinned and need to be delivered. He has placed the wrath that your sins deserve on Christ your substitution. And though your sinful heart still threatens to toss you where it will, like a lost vessel on an angry sea, our God anchors you with a strong and secure hope.
Grab hold of Christ who is that hope. Like an anchor securing a ship on a stormy sea has plunged beneath the veil of the water and cannot be seen, so Christ has entered within the veil; where he has gone as a forerunner on your behalf (Heb. 6:17). And though we cannot see Him at this moment, the hope he has given us is like a secure chain anchored to the throne of God, which is pulling us home through the tumultuous sea.
As the storms grow stronger, by His grace He strengthens our hold upon this hope, as we learn that nothing else can save us. The tighter we hold to our hope, the more tight the line between us and our true home becomes, until we can feel it pulling us homeward.
Though the storms of sin surround, take heart that your sins have been removed, and you are anchored to the distant shore through Christ. Fear not, for no surer hope has ever been tested, and as your love for this world slowly weakens, you will notice the chain between you and your true home has become that much shorter. When you see this, you will know He has turned to you, and is having compassion upon you, because this is work that only He can do.
Let us end with a short verse by Charles Spurgeon, who inspired most of the content of this devotion.
Let the winds blow, and billows roll, Hope is the anchor of my soul. But can I by so slight a tie, And unseen hope, on God rely? Steadfast and sure, it cannot fail, It enters deep within the veil, It fastens on a land unknown, And moors me to my Father’s throne.
“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” -Lamentations 3:41
Prayer is the spiritual pulse of the renewed soul; its beat indicates the healthy or unhealthy state of the believer. Just as the physician would decide upon the health of the body from the action of the pulse, so would we decide upon the spiritual health of the soul before God, by the estimation in which prayer is held by the believer. If the soul is in a spiritually healthy, growing state, prayer will be vigorous, lively, spiritual, and constant; if, on the contrary, the heart is wandering, and love waxes cold, and faith is decaying, the spirit and the habit of prayer will immediately betray it.
The spirit of prayer may decline in the believer, and he may not at once be sensible of it. The form and the habit of prayer may for a while continue—but the spirit of prayer has evaporated, and all is coldness and dullness—the very torpor and frigidity of death! But of what real worth is the habit of prayer, apart from the spirit of prayer? Just what this planet would be without the sun, or the body without the living, animating, breathing soul—what but a cold, lifeless form? Yes, and a believer may be beguiled into this lamentable state, and not a suspicion of its existence be awakened; he may observe his accustomed habit, and use his empty form, and not suspect that all is cold and breathless as death itself. Oh, it is not the rigidly-observed form that God looks at; nor is it great volubility, and eloquent fluency, and rich sentiment, and splendid imagery, and rounded periods, that God regards: far from this; a man may not be able to give expression to his deep emotion in prayer, his thoughts may find no vehicle of utterance, language may entirely fail him; and yet the spirit of prayer may glow in his breast—and this—the true language of prayer—finds its way to the ear and to the heart of God. Reader, look well to the state of your soul; examine your prayers; see that you have not substituted the cold form for the glowing spirit—the mere body for the soul. Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart: have you this? It is communion and fellowship with God: know you what this is? It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of His goodness and His love shed abroad in the heart: is this your experience? Again, we repeat it, look well to your prayers; test them, not by the natural or acquired gift which you may possess—this is nothing with God; but test them by the real communion you have with God—the returns they make to your soul.
There should be the searching out and the removal of that which hinders prayer. Many things weaken true prayer: unsubdued sin—unrepented sin—unpardoned sin (we mean the secret sense of it upon the conscience)—worldly-mindedness—light and trifling conversation, vain disputations—much and frequent communion either with unconverted individuals, or cold and formal professors—all these combined, or any single one, will, if suffered to prevail, unfit the mind for converse with God, and cause a decay of the spirit of prayer in the soul. Regard that as injurious which touches the devotional frame of your mind, which abridges the hour of prayer, and removes the fine edge of its holy enjoyment.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” – 1 Thess 5:11
Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote this passage for believers living in a land where they were at odds with the sinful culture around them. He implored with them that, at all times and in all places, Christians are to help one another with their burdens and cares as they navigate through the trials of life.
Well before Paul wrote any of his letters, before the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, and even before the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament, God demonstrated his grace in the life of Moses. After leading the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage, Moses was overwhelmed with the quarreling and day-to-day disputes among the people and his expected role as the one who would resolve all conflicts. He was in desperate need of wise and godly counsel.
For Moses, wisdom was given by his father-in-law Jethro, who offered insight to help decrease the burdens Moses was experiencing. And notice that in Exodus 18:21, Jethro mentioned the qualifications of those who were to share in carrying these burdens:
• Haters of dishonest profit
We should be people who exhibit these qualifications, and these qualities should also be applied to the people with whom we share our own burdens in today’s world.
Now the question is, how do we go about sharing our concerns?
Many self-described Christians stay away from church, saying there are too many hypocrites inside. But God’s Word tells us that we should not neglect “to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” Church fellowship is more than just a service we attend once a week on Sunday morning. It is a group of people from the larger body of Christ that God has, in His divine providence and mercy, placed directly in our lives to rejoice with, share with, pray with and be encouraged by. This is a gift of fellowship that we need to take advantage of every day as we seek to build one another up in the faith in which we are also being sanctified.
May God encourage all of us to continue in fellowship with our brothers and sisters as we seek Him while being co-laborers in all of our struggles.
And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. – Gal 6:9-10
-Written by Dan Seager – Dan is a good friend of mine with a great grasp on Christian truth. He is starting a new blog called Barnabas Brothers. Be sure to check it out. Content coming soon!