Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Four

So Habakkuk is listening for God. He has asked some seriously tough questions in the midst of a test of his faith. And God speaks. God said, “Look at the nations and watch — and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:5-6)

That’s stunning. Shocking. And hard to swallow. God’s raising up the enemy?

Basically, He told Habakkuk, a guy He had chosen to be His prophet and therefore His messenger to the Jewish people, “Here’s the thing: you’re right — My people have really sunk to a new low. And while it may feel like I’m letting things slide, really I’m not. In fact, I’m going to have to destroy the people of Israel because they’re so wicked. And I’m going to use the Babylonians to do it.”

I imagine Habakkuk’s jaw dropping as he expressed some deep, theologically mature response like, “Say what?” Essentially God said that things would get worse before they’d get better. The Babylonians were notorious for being ruthless, violent, and aggressive in the relentless conquest of other tribes and nations. Corruption and violence among the Israelites might have been bad, but it was nothing compared with that of the Babylonians. It would almost be like us asking God why He allows so much injustice in our country, only to have Him tell us that He was going to allow foreign terrorists to annihilate us.

When times are tough, the last thing we want to hear is that they’re about to get tougher. But we know that real life doesn’t always go the way we want it to. So what now?

When you’re going through a season of struggle with God, remember: Habakkuk’s name means both to wrestle and to embrace. You can wrestle with God about all that you don’t like, yet simultaneously embrace Him because He is good and trustworthy. It really comes down to how we respond to a crisis of belief. Usually when a person enters that valley, they go to one of two extremes.

Many want to return to their last spiritual high, that mountaintop experience in which everything with God seemed great. He was answering their prayers, life was good, and their faith felt strong. They deny all the doubts undermining their faith, telling themselves, “I’m going to pretend this crisis isn’t happening right now. I know if I can just get back up on that mountaintop again, everything will be all right.” Now, you can’t fault this person for their strong belief in God’s provision and providence, but sometimes we have to come down off the mountaintop and let God help us deal with the real world.

Some others slide into the valley and decide to descent even further. They say, “Okay, God, if you’re not going to do what I know you could do, then forget you! I’m going back to the life I used to know. If you could help, but you’re not helping, then you must not be good, so I can’t trust you.” They wrongly assume that God must not love them if He’s not willing to do what they want Him to do to alleviate their suffering. 

Thankfully, there is a third option. If, like Habakkuk, we’re willing to lean into the hardship we’re experiencing and wrestle with how God might use it to achieve His purposes (the bigger picture), then we can begin to climb out of the valley. You have to remember, through, that just because things aren’t going your way doesn’t mean God isn’t still working. But I will admit that from a human perspective, His interventions may seem mysterious or even capricious. 

Although we don’t understand, we continue to believe God, listening for His voice and waiting for His answer. And just like Habakkuk, we will cling to God and trust Him, even when He doesn’t seem to make sense. The I-want-to-believer who will continue to embrace God, even though things may not get any better at first, will grow much closer to God than he or she was in the past. If you look at the people you know who are closest to God, often they’re the very ones who have been through the most difficult times, and God has proved Himself faithful to them. Their intimacy was forged through honest and open conversations with Him — permission to speak freely — asking Him and then listening patiently. 

Once more – more next time 

I Am Afraid

Bill Lewis is a teacher and preacher who ministers apostolically and prophetically. Nearly 50 years of ministry is reflected in his writings. He currently lives in the State of Ohio, U.S.A. and is a friend and co-worker in the Kingdom.

I am afraid. I am not afraid. I think it is a threat and real. I think it is a hoax and a plot to manipulate. I am staying home. I refuse to stay home. You are a racist. I am not a racist. Black lives matter. All lives matter. The president is doing a great job. The president is insane. I love the president. I hate the president.

We live in a bowl of toxicity. No one is right; no one is wrong. Opinions are flying at the rate of a 100 mph fastball. No matter what you say or do; it is a swing and a miss.

Even sitting down to write this blog, (which I have put off for a long time) I am concerned to even express anything.

However, in studying history, we have as humans been here many times. Even in American history we have survived events like these time and again. Going back to the American Revolution we had folks split down the middle on issues to the point of demonstrations and  loss of life. Even a few years later the country was divided breaking into political parties and branding one another as un-American. Moving to the Civil War period the country was divided deeply and Lincoln was vilified to the end that he was assassinated. Pre World War Two, there were many Americans who thought Hitler was a great leader moving Germany out of financial collapse. Later, of course, Hitler’s true colors were revealed. When we live in that moment, it is hard to see clearly at times. History tends to sort it out years later. As they say, “Hind sight is 20/20.”

As a minister of the Gospel, the real issue comes to the wicked heart of man. Man is fallen. His nature, without redemption, is self centered, wholly carnal, hedonistic, and spiritually lost. While the world swirls around us, there is one thing that remains true; the sovereign will of God will be executed in the long run. There is a definite plan revealed in the word that brings things to a culmination. Jesus indicated that nations would rise and fall, wars and rumors of wars would persist. He said that there would one day be a false peace.

Personally, we, as believers, need to focus on principles of God’s word. We lose the power of the Gospel when we trade heavily in political parties. We become enmeshed in the platforms of the philosophical and political agendas of those parties. We slowly become more avid about the platform than the Gospel.

I am not advocating un-involvement, nor a position of disengaged pacifism. I know there are principles that must be upheld, talked about, embraced, and action taken. However, the real answer is Jesus. Seemingly simplistic, I know. Rather a pat answer you may say, maybe even trite. But contained in that simple statement is salvation, humanitarian reform, Prince of Peace, love, dignity, value, altruism in its best form. “Come unto me”…rings true today as it did when spoken for the first time.

I do not know when all this will end, but I do know that the Gospel is the best answer. Historically, America in its worst times, has been the seed bed for evangelical revival. The gospel has risen in each crisis to bring hope and restore civility. This should be our prayer and answer…Jesus.

I sincerely believe we need a move of God and thus I pray

Permission To Speak Freely –  Part Three

We have been looking at the prophet Habakkuk and his boldness to ask God all the hard questions that were on his heart. He may have known that sometimes just allowing yourself to ask these questions can take you a long way toward reconnecting with God and learning to, once again, trust Him. It’s hard to love someone — even the Creator of the universe — if you’re holding grudges and hiding your true feelings. Habakkuk clearly loves God but that didn’t keep him from respectfully challenging God (not testing Him; there’s a difference) with a request to help him understand the huge gap between what he believed and what he saw around him.

Once the prophet had finished asking his questions, he knew it was time to listen. The same is true for you. Habakkuk wrote, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts;

I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint”   (Habakkuk 2:1, emphasis mine)

I love those images. I will stand at my watch and look to see what God will say to me. As basic and obvious as this may seem, sometimes the reason we’re not getting answers to our questions is that we’re not willing to pause and wait long enough for God to reveal Himself to us.

Sometimes when we rave and rant, what we really want is simply to vent our emotions, not to engage in a conversation. When we allow our anger, doubt, and fear to control us, our questions can drown out what God wants to say back to us.

Other times, we may pose our questions to God, but then, because we’re so preoccupied with the many things that are pulling at us, we don’t pause to listen for His response. We hear but we don’t listen.

Why don’t we slow down to hear God’s still, small, comforting voice? Honestly, I think it’s because too many of us are overwhelmed. We’re so busy juggling work, home, school, church — not to mention whatever crisis ignited our doubts in the first place — that we don’t take the time to stop, to quiet our hearts before God in silence.

The writer of Psalm 46:10 quotes God: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When was the last time you stopped everything and just sat completely still, listening for God’s voice?

Notice that God did not say, “Be busy, and know that I am God.”

Be said, “Be still.”

Be.

Still.

And listen.

How do you actually listen to God? You can open His Word and let His Spirit bring truth to life. God speaks through circumstances, if you pause long enough to reflect. He speaks through people, offering divine wisdom from heaven. And He can speak directly to you through His Spirit. When you belong to Him, spend time with Him, and quiet yourself before Him, you will learn to recognize His voice. Only then!

Think about it this way: one of the unexpected benefits of going through a difficult season — walking in and through the valley — is that it gives us the chance to stop and reevaluate our priorities. To refocus. In fact, some say that the Chinese word for crisis uses two characters: one means “danger,” and the other means “opportunity.” When hard things happen, we often see more clearly what means the most to us. Spending time alone with God should be at the top of our list, even if the conversation with Him will be a difficult one.

However, as Habakkuk discovered, when you ask God the tough questions, you have to be prepared to listen to His answers, even if you don’t like them. Hopefully, if you are hurting and you press into God’s presence, He will direct you, guide you, and comfort you. But in Habakkuk’s case, God had other things to do first. And the news would be difficult to hear. 

More next time.

Permission To Speak Freely – Part Two

I am a fan of space movies and have watched most of the Star Trek series on television and the big screen. I enjoy the plot of each episode or movie and the action. It stretches my imagination and helps me to wonder about the universe. When the situation is difficult or demanding in the story often a junior officer will say to the senior commander “Permission to speak freely.” This means off the record and deep, personal honesty usually with some risk.

Habakkuk, as we saw yesterday, is having one of those “permission to speak freely” times with his superior officer and “boss” – the God of Israel. He is going through a deep valley and is questioning what is happening to him and his people. Wondering where God is in all the things that are happening. And, as we saw, it has been quite a conversation. It might be good to reread yesterday’s blog to refresh your memory. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

I agree with C.S. Lewis that God’s highest agenda is not our immediate happiness. I believe that God is much more committed to our eternal joy, our spiritual growth, and the condition of our hearts. This means what we need to grow out of spiritual infancy into a richer, ever-maturing belief in a God who is infinitely wiser than we are. We need to learn to trust Him even when we can’t feel Him, believe in Him even when He doesn’t make sense, and follow Him even though we’re not sure where He’s leading us.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). As counterintuitive as this may sound, I don’t think James is telling us just to suck it up and keep going. I think he is reminding us of that bigger picture, the larger story, that sense that something greater is going on than the trial we find ourselves caught up in. Here’s something curious: James don’t tell us that we can’t ask God what’s going on; he tells us only to count our problem as joy.

The point, as Habakkuk seems to have grasped, is asking honest questions while also trusting God and His Word. Think about it: you can have a sincere faith in God even as you are wrestling with unanswered questions. God is big enough to handle it. And He loves you enough to be patient with you as you learn about parts of His character that were too deep for you to comprehend before your crisis of belief.

Apparently, this prophet was also willing to listen when God responded. The good news is that God will meet you in your moment of greatest need. Just as He responded to Habakkuk, He will respond to you. In fact, God has plenty to say to us about how we should face our trials – the valleys we walk through. Again, He never says we can’t ask Him our honest questions. On the contrary, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)

So if you have questions, ask away.

Just be prepared when God answers. 

Permission To Speak Freely – Part One

We have been chatting about mountaintop and valley experiences. Habakkuk knew firsthand what we have been talking about. He clearly slipped into the valley and experienced a crisis of belief. What he saw and what he knew about God didn’t line up. It was just hard for him, as a prophet and as a believer, to grasp that the God of Israel would sit on His hands and allow the kind of atrocities that Habakkuk was witnessing. He wrote:

“Lord, are you not from everlasting?

My God, my Holy One, you will never die.

You, Lord, have appointed them to execute judgment;

you, my Rock, have ordained them to punish.

Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;

you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.

Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?

Why are you silent while the wicked

swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”

Habakkuk 1:12-13

Can you feel his pain? His doubts? His sense of injustice? Basically, he asks, “Aren’t you the eternal, all-powerful God? Why don’t you do something?” He goes on to remind God that God was the one who chose the people who are now punishing the innocent. The innocent, in Habakkuk’s eyes, being Israel. In an almost sarcastic tone, Habakkuk says, “You can’t even look at evil, but you allow it.” Like many of us, Habakkuk can’t figure out why God doesn’t do what he things God should do.

Keep in mind: Habakkuk is a man who loves God! This is in the Bible, not in an angry blog post from some smug person who hates Christians. Habakkuk didn’t hold back.

And neither should we.

God can handle any question we dare to ask Him. He may not answer in an audible, booming voice. Most likely He won’t. But He isn’t angry with us when we do ask. It’s not as if He’s going to storm out of the room when we throw a tantrum. He understands. Even as we’re pouring out our emotions, He wants to draw us closer to Himself.

We have His permission to speak freely.

Sometimes I think we’re afraid of expressing our questions not because we’re worried about God’s response but because we’re worried about our own. We’re afraid to say what we’re feeling, deep down in the dark corners of our souls. We’re terrified that if we admit how we’re truly feeling, then our faith will crack. But the opposite is true. It’s when we suppress the pain of what we’re experiencing, stuffing it down, and denying it, that our faith becomes so hard and brittle that it breaks.

Maybe this explains why, when some of us slip into the valley, we try to force our way back up to the mountaintop. We want that closeness we used to have with God. But denying that things are the way they are, refusing to believe the truth, is like trying to run up a sand dune.

A woman who’s been downsized might say, “It’s okay that I lost my job. I know that God can provide a better job. So I’ll just sit here and wait for it come to me.”

Or a man might refuse to believe his doctor’s diagnosis. “Nope. Not me. I’m just going to pray and trust that God will heal me. I don’t need to seek any kind of treatment.”

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not discounting that God can (and does) provide jobs out of the blue and heal people miraculously. But when we retreat and refuse to feel the pain of our disappointment, then we’re not really trusting Him. We’re using Him. And maybe missing greater opportunities for growth. Peaks are nice, but you don’t see many farms on mountaintops. Why? Because things grow better in valleys. Your time in the valley (with your many questions, doubts, and feelings) may not be pleasant, but it’s in the valleys of life that you grow closer to God and stronger in your faith. 

More next time… Part Two

Integrity Deficit – Part Three

Let’s look at four serious benefits of living a life of integrity. While there are many more, these are some of my favourites:

1> You’ll walk closely with God.

Think of it like this: If I can clearly impart my family values to my children, and they choose to live their lives according to those principles and values, then obviously, this will increase our harmony with each other. On the other hand, consider what would happen if I clearly shared my important values with my children, and one or more of them decided to go their own way, contrary to what I had taught them. Now, of course, I’ll still love that child, but certainly their choices are going to interfere with our intimacy, our communion, and our ongoing fellowship. Our relationship with God follows a similar dynamic. When you live according to His values, you’ll naturally walk with Him, enjoying His presence daily.

2> You’ll have divine GPS.

Proverbs 11:3 says that “the integrity of the upright guides them.” When you allow integrity to lead you, you don’t have to guess what’s right. Decisions become much easier when they’re based not on what you think you can get away with but on what’s right in God’s eyes. It’s the difference between following your best guesses on how to reach your destination versus using a first-rate GPS that tells you how to proceed every step along the way. We must allow our integrity to guide us.

3> You’ll feel constant peace.

This is the benefit that means the most to me. When I lay my head on my pillow at night, I don’t ever lie there worrying, “Man, I sure hope nobody finds out what I’ve done today.” When you live with integrity, you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder, fearful of getting caught, wondering how long it will be until you’re found out. When you simply do the right thing, you abide in constant peace. There’s no fear, guilt, shame, or regret; just peace.

4> You’ll gain trust, respect, honour, and influence.

If you want to lead and inspire your family and friends, be a person of integrity. If you want great children, be a parent of integrity. If you want influence in the business community, be a person of your word. When you live with integrity, people will follow you and honour you. They’ll listen when you speak. Over time, they’ll even begin to seek out your wisdom and advice. Such is the legacy of integrity.

The benefits of integrity may seem obvious, yet they remain out of reach for many people, including those who should be the best examples — Christians. One of the most common complaints I hear from people outside the church is that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, clearly a problem since a hypocrite is the opposite of a person of integrity.

Hypokrites, the Greek word that we translate “hypocrite,” means literally “an actor or stage player.” In the tradition of ancient Greek drama, each actor played several different roles. They used a different carved wooden mask for each of the various characters they were playing. Maybe you’ve seen the smiling comic mask alongside the frowning tragic mask used as symbols for the theatre or to represent drama in general. When an actor in ancient Greece needed to switch to a different character, he simply picked up a different mask and held it in front of his face. It was as simple as that.

I think many of us do exactly the same thing. For each social circumstance we find ourselves in, we present ourselves in the best possible light, even if it’s not honest, accurate, or authentic. We calculate who we think someone wants us to be, and then we select the appropriate mask to play that part for them. But it’s only a mask. It’s not who you really are; it’s just who you’re pretending to be.

It may be hard to see it in yourself, but each of us lacks integrity at some point or other. But it seems like we can always justify our pet behaviours, whether it’s by calling them “little white lies” or telling ourselves that we’re protecting the feelings of others. But consider how God looks at our “little quirks.” While Jesus openly welcomed repentant prostitutes, adulterers, and other vile sinners into His Kingdom, He was relentless in condemning hypocrites. Here’s what He says in Matthew 23:25-28:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

Jesus exposed them for what they were. He essentially said, “You fakers. You play actors. You have zero integrity. You put on your game face and you look religious. You look nice and righteous on the outside. But inside, your heart us absolutely filthy with sin.”

It doesn’t make any difference if people appear to be righteous. What matters is to be pure on the inside. Woe to you if you lack integrity, full of hypocrisy. We must start with what’s inside us, allowing Christ to transform us, and then our actions will follow suit. Through Christ, we clean the inside of the cup before we move on to the outside. We sacrifice our selfish, deceitful, ego-driven impulses on the altar of truth so that our behaviour reflects God’s righteousness. Integrity starts from the inside out, not the outside in. 

Integrity Deficit – Part Two

With integrity we see a consistency of character. A person of integrity is the same no matter where he is or who he is with. One of the best examples of a person of integrity is the biblical Samuel, from the Old Testament.

Toward the end of his life, Samuel recaps his record of faithful service before the Israelite people:

Here I stand. Testify against me in the presence of the Lord and his anointed. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these things, I will make it right.”“You have not cheated or oppressed us,” they replied. “You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.”

(1 Samuel 12:3-4 NIV)

At the end of his life, Samuel stood before his entire community and said, “Have I lived a life of integrity? If I’ve ever wronged any of you, just tell me, and I’ll make it right.”

And they answered him, “No, you’ve always done the right thing. You are a person of integrity, Samuel. You’ve been faithful.”

At the end of my life, I want to be able to ask the same question and get the same response. I want my children, my grandchildren, and generations of Howes after me, to be able to do exactly as Samuel’s community did. At the end of my life, I want to be able to say honestly, “Here’s your free shot. Did I do what I claimed I would do? Did I practice what I preached?”

People may even answer, “Well, we didn’t like your sense of humour or the way you dressed or your style of ministry. But, yes, you are a person of integrity. All the things you said you believed you actually lived.”

Another biblical man of integrity was David, perhaps made more credible because he failed big time and tried to hide it but in the end couldn’t live with himself. He offers another picture of what integrity looks like. In one of his psalms, David asks, “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” And then catalogs the traits of such a godly person (Psalm 15:1-5):

Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?

Who may live on your holy mountain?

The one whose walk is blameless,

who does what is righteous,

who speaks the truth from their heart;

whose tongue utters no slander,

who does no wrong to a neighbour,

and casts no slur on others;

who despises a vile person

but honours those who fear the Lord;

who keeps an oath even when it hurts,

and does not change their mind;

who lends money to the poor without interest;

who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things

will never be shaken.

David asks, “LORD, who gets to enjoy your continued presence? Who gets to walk with you and fellowship with you?” In each case, the answer is the person who lives a life of integrity, and the promise is that “whoever does these things will never be shaken.”

When we live this way, we will never be shaken! Do you realize what an incredible statement that is?

So, the question remains: Are you a person of integrity? Be really honest with yourself. And, if there are some areas where you could do better, where your walk and talk don’t line up … decide today to make some changes. You may be able to make the changes on your own or you may need someone to walk with you through them. But, the bottom line is simple: do what it takes to be a person of integrity.

Integrity Deficit – Part One

Isn’t it tragic that we live in a world where people are more shocked by a display of integrity than a lack of it? More and more often, people seem surprised when someone does the right thing instead of when someone fails the morality test. This inversion is a sad indictment of how corrupt and self-absorbed our culture has become. Our ethics are determined by what we want and when we want it. It is all about us.

Integrity is living what you believe. It is walking on the outside what you believe on the inside. As Tony Dungy so brilliantly stated, “Integrity doesn’t come in degrees: low, medium, or high. You either have integrity or you don’t.” Integrity is living with all aspects of your life lining up into one whole.

You don’t have to look far to find a story about people who lack integrity. Maybe it’s a professional athlete everyone looks up to. He’s the best at what he does, but on top of that, he selflessly gives of himself to some charitable organization that’s making people’s lives better. Then one day the news comes out: he had a whole other sordid secret life that we never knew about.

Some politicians do this same thing. They run for office on a platform to make things better, and one day we discover they’ve been living covertly s though they’re above the law. It even happens to Christian leaders – pastors, ministers, evangelists – who preach God’s Word but are taking drugs, visiting prostitutes, or embezzling from their churches. They are living without integrity. They are not ‘integrated’ or functioning as a unified whole. They live contrary to their beliefs. They say one thing and live another.

All of these things are so “normal” that they don’t really take us by surprise anymore. It’s only worse, it seems, when the same thing happens to a close friend. You thought you knew them. You loved them, trusted them, and then boom, the curtain falls and you see the mess that was going on all along behind the scenes.

So if the lack of integrity is clear, what is true integrity? Here’s a simple definition: Practicing integrity means that your behaviour matches your beliefs.

That’s all there is to it. All the parts of your life seamlessly form one united whole. There are no secret compartments or double lives. What you say actually matches what you do. Your lifestyle is integrated. Your private life matches your public life, with no surprises. What other people see is that they get no matter what the setting in which they meet you. You may have heard the term defined  this way: “Integrity is what you do when no one else is looking.”:

Just to clarify, personal integrity is not the same thing as your reputation. No, your reputation is who other people think you are. Your integrity (or lack thereof) is who you really are.

God’s Word tells us, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3). How true. Just think of all the people who were destroyed when their house of cards – built on the shaky foundation of deception – came crashing down. I think many segments of society are being destroyed today by the duplicity of leaders, even entire organizations, who claim to believe one thing, yet practice something else. 

Some biblical examples next time (Part Two)

Success and Distress

It’s easy to ignore God when life is good, but He sure seems appealing in the middle of a storm when life is going sideways.

Jonah knew a thing or two about that. He’d rebelled against what God had told him to do and made a run for it in the opposite direction. But through a series of unusual events, Jonah’s actions caught up with him at sea. He was thrown overboard and swallowed by an enormous fish. Jonah himself described the life-altering incident this way: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and He answered me … When my life was ebbing away, I remembered You LORD, and my prayer rose to You…” (Jonah 2:2, 7). Notice when Jonah remembered God: it was during distress. I can’t think of many people who remember God during their success, but I know plenty who do during their distress.

When you are drowning, you need a life preserver. When there’s a storm, you need shelter. When you’re hurting, you need a comforter.

God allows storms in our lives for a variety of reasons, and one of them is to draw us closer to Him. And like when the disciples crossed the sea and a storm arose threatening to sink them we need to remember, as they did, that Jesus is in the boat and thus in the middle of the storm with you. 

I have learned that I experience Jesus better in the valleys than I do on the mountaintops. Sure, I appreciate Him when things are good, but I need Him when I’m low. David walked through the valley of the shadow of death and said, “I fear no evil because You are with me.” In the same way, I decided long ago to trust God in all situations when I have nothing else to trust but Him. And, even when there are other alternatives that I might lean towards to fit the current life situation I am facing, I still trust in only Him. 

To trust God regardless of your circumstances, remember two things when you are caught in a storm.

First, God’s presence is with you, no matter how alone you may feel. 

He is always with you. Mark wrote in his gospel, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped” (Mark 4:37). Notice this wasn’t just a spring shower; it was almost too much for the small boat and the frightened disciples (some of whom were seasoned fishermen) to handle. But even though the circumstances seemed too much to bear, the disciples were not alone. Mark states, “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion” (verse 38).

So many people think that they wouldn’t be going through their struggles if God were really with them. But that’s simply not the case. Having Jesus in the stern beside you doesn’t mean the storm won’t rock your boat. It just means the storm won’t sink you. Never forget: He’s with you, both in the spring shower and in the worst tornado imaginable. 

Second, not only is God with you in the storms, He will also use them for His purposes in your life.

No matter how terrible it may seem in the moment, God always has a higher plan and a good purpose because He loves you more than you can imagine.

Think about the story we’ve been talking about. Who decided to take the boat ride? Did you even notice that detail? It was Jesus. After teaching, Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side.” Why did He plan this short trip? Because He knew that on the east side of the lake there was a man in need. So He loaded up His buddies and started the journey to go help this suffering person. And since Jesus was God in the flesh, He knew the storm would come. Going in the storm was always part of His plan. 

Don’t miss this: The disciples didn’t experience the storm because they were out of God’s will. The disciples experienced the storm because they were in God’s will. Their ordeal wasn’t some accident, some freak event that took Jesus by surprise. He knew the storm was coming. And He knew it would serve a higher purpose in the lives of those He loved.

Now, you might be asking, “Did God cause the storm?” That’s a great question, and a fair one. You might ask that about some area of your life or about someone you care about. Did God cause me to lose my job? Did God cause me to get depressed? Did God cause this bad thing to happen? We need to be honest and admit that brilliant and sincere Christians passionately debate this question. Does God cause everything to happen, or does God simply allow some things to happen?

Some say that God never causes anything bad to happen. Since God is a good God, they suggest that He causes only good things, and all bad things come from our evil opposition. Others argue that God is so big and sovereign that He rules the whole universe and causes everything that happens on earth and in heaven.

Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not God. I can’t tell whether God causes the storms or just allows them. But one thing you can count on is this: God always uses storms. When we love Him and we’re pursuing His purposes, He’s always working things out for our good (Romans 8:28).

When we recognize this truth, we can decide ahead of time that no matter what happens, no matter what life throws at us, we’ll trust God.

If you know that God is always with you and that He uses everything for your good, why are you so afraid?

Simply trust Him!

God’s Ultimate Over Your Immediate

Here is something we all need to keep in mind: “You will very likely overestimate what God wants to do through you in the short run. But you will very likely underestimate what God wants to do through you in the long run.

Remember that ministry and impacting others with the Gospel of the Kingdom and the love of God is a marathon and not a short sprint. 

Our walk with God and our daily lives is really a series of small decisions that we make and choices that come along that don’t seem to be life-changing or earth-shattering. Just small every day choices and decisions that will determine the future that we will have. The impact we will have. 

There were two brothers – Esau and Jacob. Esau was the oldest and he was a hunter. He was, of course, his father’s favourite. And because he was the oldest son he was given very special treatment as he would be the heir to his father when Isaac died. He came in one day from hunting and was seriously hungry. He made one small decision that impacted the rest of his life and the history of the world as we know it. He traded his birthright for a bowl of stew. After all, he was hungry and was not thinking long-term or even short-term repercussions of this one decision.

The same is true of us. We generally have short-term vision and think only of the immediate need or want. We make decisions based on our feelings and current situation without much thought – if any thought – about what will change in the future because of this one small decision or choice that we are making in the immediate – the now! So, really we need to let the Holy Spirit guide us in every minor and major decision of every day.

Paul told us to “let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). As God’s Spirit guides us, we won’t be seeking the bowl of stew, another Oreo cookie, or a scoop of ice cream. The Holy Spirit replaces our lower, self-serving, demanding desires with God’s higher, Kingdom-serving, selfless ones.

Think about this for a moment. For centuries God’s name has often been tagged by the patriarchs who loved and served Him faithfully. You’ve probably heard God referred to as “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” If you pause and reflect on the story we mentioned above, you’ll see something that will stop you in your tracks.

Esau was the older brother with the birthright. When Jacob tricked him into giving away his birthright, Esau traded the ultimate for the immediate. If he hadn’t made that devastatingly destructive shortsighted decision, throughout history you would have heard God referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. Esau lost his standing.

You’ll be wiser. I know you will. When faced with temptations, you’ll look beyond the moment. You’ll remember that patience is better than power. Self-control is more important than conquering a city (See Proverbs 16:32). You’ll choose God’s ultimate over the immediate. You’ll never trade your birthright for a simply bowl of stew. You’ll no longer sacrifice your destiny for distorted or daily desires.

As you realize how much God has planned for you to do in this world, I pray you will live with a long-term perspective – a Kingdom perspective – making decisions that will honour God and propel you forward over time. You sacrifice your own ego-driven agenda in order to experience the perfect timing of God’s plan and purpose for your life. Instead of demanding that you want now, you’re often infinitely better off waiting. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city” (NLT).

Living with patience is better than muscling forward to demand what you want before the time is right. Self-control often unlocks the door to blessings that are longer lasting and more meaningful. Patience comes from knowing you already have enough of what you need the most because you are God’s child and He knows what you have need off even before you ask. And He has given to you all that you need certainly to life and to godliness.