Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
I was recently at the viewing for a friend I’d known for over 20 years. As I went around hugging necks and catching up on where everyone was in life, I decided to stop and take a moment. I sat down on one of the pews and watched the crowd as they interacted. There were a group of young men standing near the coffin silently staring at the body. I then noticed there were huddles throughout the sanctuary around the family members left behind. They were hugging and offering condolences. Then there was everyone else affected by this person’s life. They weren’t stationary like the others. They moved around making their way up front and then around and that’s when I noticed something out of the ordinary.
There were smiles on their faces. I checked another roaming group and they were smiling as well. I gazed back to the family huddles to look at their demeanor and it was the same. The atmosphere was not one of sadness, but of joy. It was then that I was reminded of I Thessalonians 4:13. Paul wrote, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope” (NLT). Here was living proof of this scripture. I was in a crowd of people smiling and enjoying themselves, while mourning the loss of a friend, because we have hope beyond the grave.
Yes, it hurts to lose someone who impacted our lives and there’s a big, gaping void in us that only they could fill. But we don’t have to carry on like those who have no hope. We don’t see this as the end of life, but rather that person’s birth into eternal life. Their spirit has been set free from the cocoon of the human body, and they have been released into the heavens. We know that one day we will cross from death to life as well and be reunited with them and a host of others who knew Jesus as their savior. That’s how we can smile in midst of such a great loss. It seems foreign to those who have no hope, but it’s natural to those of us who do.
I Thessalonians 4 concludes with these words, “Therefore comfort and encourage one another with these words.” We have comfort in sorrow and courage in despair because our loss is Heaven’s gain and we know that we will be reunited. Hope is a powerful force that can light up our darkness and give us strength to smile in the pain. It keeps us from the pit of despair and points us to better days. I’ll finish this post with the words from I Corinthians 13:12-13 that I think are fitting. “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (MSG)”
I took an assessment at work last year that reveals things about your nature and how you do things when it comes to sales. A question came up a few times that listed about ten vocabulary words. In each instance, i knew all the words except one. The answers were: a) I know none of these words, b) I only know a couple of these words, c) I only know some of these words, and d) I know all of these words. I didn’t like those choices since I knew all but one. I reasoned that I would write the word down and look it up later, then chose “d”.
When I looked up the words that I didn’t know, they didn’t exist. I then got my results back that called me a Hyper-Pro. It revealed that I care about Impressions and that I will embellish things to make me look good. It affects the way I dress, act, sell, and speak. As I challenged the result, I had to look inside to see if it was true. I then had to find out why it was true, where it came from, and then correct it. The assessment revealed what was going on inside versus what I was showing outside.
Proverbs 27:19 says, “It is your own face that you see reflected in the water and it is your own self that you see in your heart” (GNT). We spend a lot of time and effort trying to hide our heart because it reveals who we really are. We are afraid no one will love us if they really knew our heart. So we put our best face forward. The real problem is that we try the same thing when we approach God. We may be able to fool people, but we aren’t fooling God.
When Samuel went to choose a king for Israel, he looked at all of Jesse’s sons. He saw their outward appear and thought they were kingly, but God said, “Pay no attention to how tall and handsome he is. I have rejected him, because I do not judge as people judge. They look at the outward appearance, but I look at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Your heart reveals who you really are. That’s why God looks at it. Even if you have flaws like me, and you try to cover them up, God sees you for who you really are. You don’t have to put your best face forward because that’s not what He’s looking at. He knows who you really are, and He loves and accepts you as His child.
To demonstrate how difficult it is to accomplish even the easiest tasks while you are bound up, I once tried to preach a sermon with my hands tied behind my back. I wasn’t sure how it would play out, but it proved to be more difficult than I could imagine. My first problem was holding the microphone. Then I needed help turning the pages in my bible. After that, I needed to turn the page in my notes. Finally, I couldn’t use my hands then I spoke, which apparently I do.
So many of us try to do more than speak while we are bound up. We actually try to go through life while we are bound up in depression, addiction, grief, sin, etc. If you’ve been there, you know that even the smallest tasks can prove to be difficult. Go designed you to live a life of freedom. As Paul wrote, “It was for freedom that He set you free.” Jesus also said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
There’s a song called “Chain Breaker” that says, “If you’ve got pain, He’s a pain taker. If you feel lost, He’s a way maker. If you need freedom or saving, He’s a prison-shaking Savior. If you’ve got chains, He’s a chain breaker.” The words to this song remind me that I don’t have to live bound up in my chains. There is no chain so strong that God cannot break it in your life. There is no depression so dark that He can’t bring you out of it. I’ve been in the deep, dark prison of depression and He set me free.
I love reading Psalm 107 because it’s a reminder of what God can do for us. In verse 14 it says, “He brought them out of their gloom and darkness and broke their chains in pieces” (GNT). If you’re bound up by chains today or are in a dark place, call out to God. Ask Him to lead you out of that place and to set you free. I know if He did it in my life, He can do it in yours. It’s time we all got back to living the life of freedom that God created us to live.
Lamentations 4 and 5 are two of the saddest chapters in the Bible. Jeremiah was so descriptive of what life was like living under the control of their enemy. The people who were once wealthy were digging through the trash to find food. The kids were forced to do manual labor that was too hard for them. Anyone caught looking for food outside the city walls was killed. Confidence was replaced with desperation, and joy was replaced with a deep depression.
People no longer gathered to talk. No one sang any songs. The population was dwindling down because people were dying of starvation. It was a very dark period in Israel’s history. Jeremiah knew they were living under the enemy’s control because they had turned their back on God. He cried out in repentance and asked God how long would they suffer. Then he remembered that suffering is temporary, but God is eternal.
You may be going through a dark time in your life right now as well. It may feel like God has abandoned you and that you are living under the enemy’s control. I know what it’s like to live through that. I know what it feels like to lose everything and wonder if you should still try to keep going. I can let you know that the suffering is only temporary. It does end and the sun comes out again. God has not abandoned you no matter how alone you feel.
I pray Jeremiah’s prayer in Lamentations 5:21 over you today. It says, “Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again! Give us back the joys we once had!” (GNT) I’m living proof that God restores what the enemy stole, and that joy returns. When God restores you, He will rebuild everything better than it was. When He gives your joy back, it will be greater than before. What feels like forever is only a season. Restoration is coming.
It was 14 years ago today that I hit rock bottom in life. I had endured five months of everything going wrong in my life, and on September 25th, I lost my job to top it off. Every time I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did. It was almost a daily occurrence. I laid down on the floor of my living room and told God, “If one more thing happens, I give up. I refuse to go down any further.” I went to my calendar and wrote, “The Bottom,” on today’s date. I vowed to climb out if that hole until I saw daylight again.
I didn’t know it would take about a decade before I got out of the hole that those five months created. I suffered some set backs through those years, but I never went further down than I had been that night. I was on the edge of ending my life because I couldn’t take the failure and the pain anymore. I was embarrassed of where my life was, and I knew I was going to have to make some changes to how I was living if I was going to get out of the hole. For starters, I was going to give control of the rebuild to God.
Clearly my way didn’t work. My life had been life a block tower that a kid built. It got to a point that it could no longer sustain itself, and it all came crashing down. I knew if I gave God control it would be built the right way and would be more stable. Fourteen years later, I can tell you that was the best decision I made. God has been good to me and has restored the years that were stolen. He has taken me farther than I dreamed I could go, and has given me more joy than I could have imagined.
Today, instead of focusing on the bottom, I like to focus on the good things He’s done for me. It’s no longer about where I was. It’s not about where I’m going, and it’s all because of who God is. Psalm 103:3 says, “Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me” (NLT). We need to all make the decision to quit reflecting on past failures and pains, and instead focus on the good things God does for us. I can tell you it made a difference in my life, and I’m sure it will make a difference in yours.
I’ve been on a few mission trips where we’ve done construction work. On day one, they like to go around the circle and have each person talk about their skills. One guy says he can build shelving. Another says he’s good at framing. One always says he can do it all. Inevitably it always comes around to me. I like to say, “I’m the best gopher around. If you need nails, I’ll go for them. If you need a certain tool, I’ll go for it.” My skill set makes me feel very inadequate on a construction site.
Even when it comes to ministry and my calling, I often feel inadequate. I was at a conference of ministers earlier this year. They started off with introductions and sharing all they’re doing. As they went around the table, I began to compare what I do to what they were doing. I sent my wife a text and said, “What am I doing here? I don’t belong. They’re sharing all they’re doing in ministry, and I’ve got nothing.” I was feeling very insecure.
If you look at where God has you or think of what God has called you too, you’re going to feel inadequate. It’s easy to say, “God, I’m not qualified to do this,” or “God, there are other people who are better at this.” I’m sure David, being a shepherd, felt inadequate in front of all those soldiers when Goliath came out. I’ve learned that God doesn’t always take our skill set and put us where it should fit. He looks at our heart, and puts us where he needs that most.
When I feel inadequate, I take comfort in knowing the apostle Paul felt that way too. In 1 Timothy 1:12, he wrote, “I’m so grateful to Christ Jesus for making me adequate to do this work” (MSG). He understood what we need to learn. It’s God who makes us adequate to do what He’s called us to do. It’s not our skills or anything else. Our inadequacies cause our faith to grow and helps keep pride out. It is not us who do the work. It is Christ through us, and that makes us more than adequate to do anything God asks us to do.
What would happen if you held a pen out in front of you and let go? If you did it a hundred times? A million times? You’d get the same result. The pen would drop to the ground. No matter how many times you let go, that pen will fall to the ground. Why? Because the Law of Gravity is at work. No matter what you do or what else happens, each time you let go of that pen, it’s going to fall because of the Law of Gravity. It works 100% of the time no matter what.
The same is true when it comes to the faithfulness of God. You can trust it 100% of the time. No matter how many times you rely on God, He will be faithful. Why? Because it’s part of who He is. As much as the Law of Gravity is a part of our world, faithfulness is a part of who God is. It’s something you can rely on over and over again no matter what happens in your life. Your circumstances don’t change the faithfulness of God. The sooner we understand that, the greater the relationship we can have with Him.
Over and over again, we look at things that happen to us and we blame God. We think He must not care or that He’s mad at us. Ever since the Garden of Eden, the Law of Sin has been at work on our world. It is what causes death, decay, destruction, and the things that affect us negatively. It is the ongoing consequence of sin entering the world. It has nothing to do with God’s faithfulness and everything to do with our unfaithfulness. God is the one who comes to bring us life, and has redeemed us.
One of the greatest lies of the enemy is that the bad things in the world are a result of God not being faithful to us. Paul understood this and wrote, “But the Lord is faithful,” (NLT) in 2 Thessalonians 3:3 to remind us. He knew we would need to be reminded over and over again that God is faithful no matter what happens. He is the one who works in all circumstances for your good. It’s time we quit blaming Him for the bad things that happen to us, and start learning to trust His faithfulness to work them out for our benefit.