Timing is Everything

 “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

If you have never read the Old Testament book of Esther, you should. It is an amazing story of God’s perfect timing and His providence in all things. Esther was just an ordinary Jewish girl, who God used in extraordinary ways to preserve His people, Israel.  As you read the story of Esther, you will see that the events of her life, some big and some small, led her to exactly where God wanted her to be. As the wife of a king, she was fulfilling God’s purpose not only for her life, but also for the nation of Israel. God used Esther to keep the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants forever.

Her uncle, Mordecai, asked Esther a crucial question, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” In other words, her being queen was no coincidence. It was God who put her in that place, at that time, so that she could influence the king. Notice that Mordecai makes sure to tell Esther that God’s plan for His people is not contingent on her. He says, “If you remain silent, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place…” God does not need Esther, but He wants to use her for His glory. If Esther had chosen not to speak up for God’s people, He still would have delivered them…but her history would have been drastically altered.

In Isaiah 46:11, God says: “From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that will I bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” The Mighty Creator has all things at his disposal. He can use anyone and anything to accomplish His plans. And yet, this gracious, sovereign God chose to use a Jewish girl named Esther to save His people. And He has chosen to use you and I as well.

Like Esther, we have a choice. We can choose to go with the flow – to live predictable, safe, comfortable lives. Or, we can choose to believe that God has been guiding our every step, bringing us to this place for such a time as this – to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His Word in our families, our communities, our workplaces, and in our world.

Almighty God, I know that You have a plan for my life. I am choosing to believe, today, that regardless of past mistakes, regrets, or hardships, You have always been in control of my life. I now willingly surrender to Your lordship over me. Please use me, Father, as You see fit. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Inseparable

 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:35; 37-39

Hardship and true Christianity are inseparable. Jesus said so Himself in John 15:20-21: “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also…They will treat you this way because of My name, for they do not know the One who sent Me.” Many professing Christians’ first instinct when life gets hard is to question, or even blame, God. Such a reaction is evidence of an immature at best, or even false, faith. After all, if Christ, the perfect Son of God, was misunderstood, mistreated, mocked, and hated, why should we think we deserve better?

It is time that we, the people of God, grow up in our faith. It is time to take God at His word and believe, deep down in our souls, that we are loved. It is time that the root of His love becomes our foundation – the basis for every thought, feeling, attitude and action. Our first instinct needs to shift from “Why?” to “Why not?” It is time to readjust our expectations from an easy life to a holy life. Our prayers need less, “Bless me” and more “Use me.”

Such change is impossible without a God-centered view of life. God does not view persecution, hardship and suffering as we do. In His infinite wisdom and love, He is able to achieve things for and through His people when they suffer that He cannot achieve otherwise. For one, suffering purifies our devotion to Christ. It separates the faith-full from the faith-less. God’s people accept, through faith, that it is His will that they should stand firm when trouble comes. Suffering also keeps our faith in Christ alive and growing. When we are forced to rely on Christ for everything, our faith and love deepens. These times in the “valley” are not pleasurable, but it is here that we find true joy.

Do you have a biblical view of suffering? Do you believe that nothing can separate you from God’s love in Christ? As the End draws nearer, we must ask ourselves these questions so that we may be found faithful when at last we meet Jesus face to face.

Loving Father, Please forgive me for wanting an easy life. I confess that often I would rather be blessed on my terms instead of on Yours. Help me to believe that Your way is always best for me, even when it is hard. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Stand Firm

 “You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.”

2 Chronicles 20:17

This verse is part of a great story of deliverance for Judah. Several nations that were enemies of God and His people set out to attack King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah. God’s people were greatly outnumbered; and Jehoshaphat knew it. We have all been there…perhaps not facing literal armies of enemies, but facing a situation with no obvious answers. Maybe it’s a financial crisis, a broken marriage, a prodigal child, or a grave diagnosis. Whatever the situation, it leaves us feeling hopeless, defeated and afraid.

King Jehoshaphat’s response to his seemingly hopeless situation is a great example for every follower of Christ. His first instinct was to seek the LORD. 2 Chronicles 20:3 says, “Alarmed, Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the LORD, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah.” Jehoshaphat’s first inquiry was not of his officers, his wise men, or his family and friends. He decided, right in the midst of shock and alarm, to seek God – and he led all of Judah to join him in fasting. Every family in Judah fasted and prayed – a symbol of humility and dependence on the LORD. And God honored their prayers.

The LORD’s answer came quickly. He answered, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Could God have given a more incredible answer? “The battle is not yours, but God’s.” He went on to tell them to march into battle the next morning. But they would not have to fight – only stand firm and wait for the LORD’s deliverance. And do you know who King Jehoshaphat put at the front of the army to lead the march?  Verse 21 says, “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise Him for the splendor of His holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for His love endures forever.’” The King had so much faith in God’s deliverance that he put the choir out front to sing praises as they marched to battle!

The LORD delivered His people in a mighty way; and they did not have to shoot even one arrow. Unbeknownst to them, their enemies were ambushed by God Almighty as their praises went up to heaven. Whatever situation you are in, whatever enemy you face, remember that the battle is not yours, but God’s. You must only believe, sing His praises, and stand firm.

Almighty God, Help me to stand firm and trust You. So many times I try to fight my own battles, forgetting that You are for me. May all my energy be in praising You and seeking You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Remember Who You Are

“Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his commanding officer.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4

Because we live in a fallen world, hardship is part of life. As soon as Adam and Eve chose to do things their own way, life got hard. Within moments of sin entering their lives, their world changed completely. For the first time in their existence, they worried. Then came shame and fear. And because of sin they would have to work hard to survive – even the earth was cursed. Sin ruined everything…or did it?

The hardship, suffering and destruction that sin brings are endless. It’s devastation is greater than any tsunami, hurricane, earthquake or tornado could ever be. And while we will always have to live with sin and its effects during our earthly lives, we do not have to live in it. Jesus offers something much greater than sin – hope. In Him is hope that we can endure, and one day overcome. He offers a different life, a better life – one lived by faith and not by sight. He offers a life that chooses to live for what will be instead of for what is right now. In Him we can see past circumstances, believing that each hardship is for our eternal well being and God’s ultimate glory.

The Apostle Paul compares such a life to that of a soldier. Hardship is non-negotiable, but a good soldier endures. He doesn’t waste his time and energy on civilian affairs because his focus is on pleasing his commanding officer. Like a good soldier, Christians can choose to live above our circumstances. The civilian affairs of success, pleasure, popularity, wealth and ambition need not control our lives. As soldiers in God’s army, we can direct all of our energy towards pleasing our Commanding Officer.

It is so important that we remember who we are…soldiers in the greatest and most powerful army of all time. Our cause is the gospel. Our goal is the glory of God. We fight for the broken, the poor, the oppressed, and the helpless. Our weapons are truth, love and the Word of God. We march in justice and compassion. Our enemies are unseen, and our stakes are eternal. But most importantly, our victory is assured.

Are you entangled in the civilian affairs of the world, or are you marching with an undivided heart towards eternity? Remember who you are today, a good soldier seeking only to please your commanding officer.

Almighty God, You are powerful and gracious, holy and compassionate. I am humbly reminded today that I exist for Your glory alone. Please help me to live to please only You.  Help me not to become involved in the things of the world as I strive to faithfully follow Jesus today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Don’t Slow Down

 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

If you are a Christ follower, you are a missionary. Many of us grew up thinking that missionaries were a select group of people who were more “spiritual” than everyone else. They lived in strange, faraway places like countries in Africa that we had never even heard of, or the jungles of South America. If you were raised Southern Baptist, you likely heard stories of these super-spiritual Christians during various Wednesday-night children’s and youth activities. The truth, however, is that all Christians have been gloriously saved by the same God, indwelt with the same powerful Spirit, and commissioned by the same Lord to go and make disciples of all nations. For some this command will be carried out at home by raising children to love and follow Jesus. For others, it is accomplished in a secular job as a light in the darkness. Some will be called to carry out their calling by leaving behind all that is familiar and comfortable to make disciples in a foreign land. Whatever the case, our purpose within the Body of Christ is the same.

There is a race marked out for all of us, as the author of Hebrews puts it. We have the same finish line, the same prize, but different courses – different routes but the same goal. The command in this verse is to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” and “run with perseverance” the race marked out for us by God. It is so important that all Christians understand their divine calling. Until we see our days as divinely mapped out, our encounters as divine appointments, and our resources as divinely entrusted to us, we will never be used by God the way we could be. And I have never met a Christian that didn’t, at least deep down, desire to be used by God in ways that were bigger than anything he could do on his own.

Hebrews 11 gives a long list of such Christians – examples of ordinary people who God used in extraordinary ways. And based on this list, the author of Hebrews tells us to be motivated by their example to persevere on our God-given courses. It is interesting that he makes a point to warn against both hindrances and sin. We are to rid our lives of everything that hinders us as well as the sin that entangles us. What is the difference in the two? A hindrance is anything, even a good thing, that is prominent or heavy in our lives and interferes with the work God has called us to do. And the heavy weight of self-imposed obligations is often harder to “throw off” than sin. And yet that is what we must do in order to persevere.

What is hindering you from persevering in the race God has marked out for you? Any hindrance is not God-given, and must be thrown off along with all sin so that we can bring glory to God as we faithfully endure each day.

Dear Father, Please forgive me for allowing the cares of this world to creep in and hinder me in the work You have given me to do. Give me wisdom to know what I need to throw off, and how to do it. I want to run with perseverance, being used by You in ways that are far beyond my own strength and ability. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.