Reassurance When the Master Compels Us

Black and white painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner 'The Disciples See Christ Walking'

“And straightway Jesus constrained [compelled] His disciples to get into a ship, and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea…And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:22-25,32).

Jesus had just performed the miracle of feeding more than five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fishes. This was one of many tests of trusting God for His disciples (and the people as well). And now God was planning another test for them concerning faith and obedience. Therefore, Jesus insisted that the disciples get into the ship and sail without Him to the other side. Then, after sending all the people that had just been fed on their way, He quietly slipped up into the mountain where He could get alone in prayer to His Father without anyone knowing.

Take note here how Jesus urged His disciples to cross the sea alone. He knew that something needed to happen that would test their resolve. But this would not be possible if He was with them.

They had to go on without Him. Yet, the key word here is that He compelled them to go—it wasn’t a mild suggestion. He left no option open to do something else. If He had, they might have sensed that the waters and sky were not normal and refused to leave. They might even have stayed at the shore and waited until He finished praying.

Jesus had to push them on out into the waters so He could have an opportunity to demonstrate His faithfulness in their time of need. Not long after they left the shore, the winds blew hard against them and the waves increased in height and frequency. As their boat was drawn farther out from their destination, it was very likely that fear and consternation developed in everyone on board. They were quickly losing control of the situation, but no one was around to help.

Yet all hope was not lost. Sometime between three and six in the morning, Jesus came toward them, actually walking on the water, moving in their direction!

Then, after Jesus had “…come into the ship, the wind ceased.” Jesus surely could have calmed the waters long before this point. Or He could have waited until they capsized and were struggling to stay afloat. Actually, in Mark 6:48 we find out what did happen—Jesus “would have passed by them”!

The point is, Jesus compelled them in the first place to enter into the ship and go. When the Lord presses us to go, we need to obey, even if it later seems hopeless.

It is actually reassuring when He compels us to enter in and go forth. He already knows what lies ahead, and He is not going to leave us alone. The Lord does this because He wants us to learn to trust in Him, not in ourselves. The disciples could have become so focused on their desperate situation that Jesus could have passed right by them unnoticed. It was only after they noticed Him and asked Him to come into the ship that calm ensued.

Where are you right now?—still waiting on the shore with uncertainty, even though He has already compelled you to get into the ship and travel to the other side?

Don’t contemplate the situation and agonize over it; do as He has commanded—go!

Maybe you have obeyed Him and are now struggling against the wind and waves, feeling very much alone and ready to give up. Remember that Jesus was the One who sent you forth alone in the first place, and, just as He did with the disciples, He will arrive at just the right time and tell you, “Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

[Image credit:Henry Ossawa Tanner [Public domain]]

The Vine, the Branch, the Fruit

A cluster of grapes hanging on a vine

“I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Jesus stated here that He is the Vine and His followers are the branches. This verse emphasizes the importance of a branch abiding in the vine it comes from, meaning that it is absolutely necessary for Christ’s followers to abide in Him. It is only the branches which abide in Him that will produce worthwhile fruit.

Look closely at a vineyard. You’ll see that the vine and the branches are attached, like your head is attached to your body. Jesus is referring here to branches that now are, or once were, in union with Him by a living faith. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12). Close union with Christ is the real message here.

An orange hanging on a tree doesn’t try to find a way to make itself plump and ripe. It just hangs from the branch, and, with proper care, when the right time arrives it becomes ripe and ready to feed someone. It is only natural for the vine to produce fruit through its branches. It doesn’t plan ahead or work at it. You need to just hang in there with Christ, and let the fruit He is producing in and through you develop naturally and mature. Then it will be of benefit to others. Christ is telling you here to just abide in Him, because you can’t produce fruit on your own. Are you abiding in Him? If not, there is no way you can produce fruit for Him by yourself. Your intentions may be good, but you can’t make plans and projections on your own to fulfill your goal of bearing fruit for Christ.

You can find all kinds of ‘Christian’ projects going on these days that look good, but they have not been initiated or directed by the Spirit of God. They are therefore actually just a waste of time and energy and money.

In fact, anything you do for God that does not come forth from abiding in Christ has as much value as wood, hay and stubble—which are only fit to be burned in the end.

You simply cannot bring forth any worthwhile fruit unto God separate from the power of Christ living within you. Only fruit produced as a result of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ will be worthwhile in the end.

Once you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you start out grafted into the Vine, which is Him. You slowly become part of the Vine and it feeds you. If you continue to grow with Him, your life will start to bear fruit. It will not be much at first, but soon you will have more than you started with. And it won’t be long before you will have much fruit coming forth from your life. It is the power of Christ’s presence and His Holy Spirit in you that will enable you to produce the fruit of the Spirit. Then the love and peace and righteousness of Jesus will come forth from you and through you.

Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and you are the branches” (John 15:5a). He meant that you need to be united to Him and to commune with Him by sincerely believing in Him. As you faithfully stand for Christ and practice your faith in Him with action that is steady, serious, and energetic, it will be accompanied with His blessing and assistance. The Holy Spirit will inspire you to do what Jesus wants. This is where you will find the only way for a believer to become fruitful in holiness.

So continue steadily in your love and attachment to Jesus by living a life of constant communion with Him. Make it a habit to fix your heart on Him daily in full confidence and faith.

This will be your indisputable method to get all the supply you need from Him. You will gain both the influence of His Holy Spirit and His comforting presence. He will protect you and provide for you and direct you by His Word. Continue on united to Him. Doing this on a regular basis, like daily exercise, will become necessary in order to produce works of righteousness, both from within and without. Then you will be like a branch on a vine, laden down with fully developed fruit!

But if you defect from your loyalty and relationship with Christ, you will lose His influence over you and what you produce. No one who is separated from the True Vine can bear any fruit that is worthwhile. Only the one who abides in Christ is able to produce worthwhile fruit. Christ alone is the vine and the fountain and spring and source of life. His branches don’t have any life or power apart from Him. You need the grace of God and the power of Christ in you, or you cannot produce action that pleases God, any more than a dry, withered branch can produce succulent fruit. You are nothing, you have nothing, and you can do nothing at all that is truly spiritual and acceptable to God if you do not abide in Christ.

Jesus told us: “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). Underline that in your Bible. How often we try to do things for God which always fail in the end. Then we realize, when we are finally able to see the truth of the matter, that apart from Jesus, “I—can—do—nothing!” But Paul declared in Philippians 4:13: “…I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

Keep foremost in your mind these two statements which go together:
Apart from Christ, I can do nothing.
But through Christ, I can do all things!

 So remember: Christ comes before fruit. Remain attached to Him and trust in Him. Depend on Him by remaining near His heart on a regular basis. In this way He will be your constant source of strength and fruit, because He will be in you. And then, the more fruit you bring forth, the more you will abound in what is good, and the more He will be glorified!

[Image credit: Jassy Onyae/unsplash]

Can Trials and Tribulations Be A Good Thing?

Black and white photo of an old car stuck in the mud

When you first accepted Christ into your heart, you most likely felt like you had conquered the world and that the problems you had up to that point no longer seemed so difficult. What a pleasant time it was, with little to fear. But it was not long before the euphoria faded and new concerns and struggles started to appear. Then you began questioning why you made this choice in the first place. It can seem that, as soon as one difficult situation is taken care of, another arises—sometimes even more than one! Now those problems you thought you had overcome when you became a child of God are coming at you with a vengeance. Does it have to be this way? Will you have to forever fight against these difficulties? Will you ever find peace and rest?

Your answer is twofold. First, if you are not following God’s plan for your life, by insisting on going your own way (or continuing your old habits), then these problems will always plague you. They are the product of disobedience. You may not be intentionally rebelling against God, but you are still not obeying His commands and following in His paths. Many times you blame someone else, or even the devil, for what is actually the consequence of your own wrongful actions. You also may blame God, thereby only adding to the violations you have already committed against Him!

Man bent over laying bricks

Secondly, God will send various circumstances and trials your way to strengthen and shape you into the person that He has already pictured you becoming. God is building you in a manner resembling a bricklayer forming a wall. A wall is never begun from the top or the middle. The bricklayer first lays one row of bricks on the bottom foundation, then another on top of that, and another, until eventually the top of the wall is reached. Just as it is with these bricks, each test God permits to come upon you provides support or preparation for the next one. Some believe that God is just preparing us with these problems and situations for the future when we will rule and reign with His Son after He returns to Earth. But actually, all of this is for the time we are now living in. God wants us to be able to manage each future difficult situation patiently and in full confidence—not in ourselves—but in Christ Himself. The Apostle Paul said, “…we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope” (Romans 5:3,4).

Many were brought up with the mindset that we must try to avoid all problems that could occur in our life. Therefore, when God sends trying circumstances our way, we do our best to evade them. We often succeed in bypassing the trial, but that does not mean that we have passed God’s test. God will send the circumstance back to us in another form instead, and will continue to do so until we stop avoiding it and learn to turn to Him for help in overcoming it.

Many believers around the world struggle with the same afflictions year after year. Some continue to follow a manmade method to circumvent these ordeals, without having the slightest realization that God wants them to go through the trials, not around them. Others give up on God entirely and fall back into the old sinful worldly system they were once delivered from. They conclude that living for God is too much trouble, not realizing that all they needed to do was to learn to turn the problem over to God and leave it there.

God wants you to make good use of the trials and tribulations you encounter as a means of correction and growth. He never intended for them to drag you down and, ultimately, away from Him. When a situation arises that is greater than you can handle, do what the psalmist did: “When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” (Psalm 73:16,17). He came to the point where he could not understand or resolve the problem he faced on his own. He found that the best thing to do was to go before God for the answer.

Woman looking downward with book in hand near face with bluish fog and trees in background

When problems come your way, seek the Lord first and inquire whether the latest problem arose as a result of your own actions. He wants us to know that it is a good thing when trials and tribulations come after He sees areas in us in need of strengthening. God does not want our problems to leave us fearful, upset, or discouraged. Instead He tells us, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations [various trials or testings]; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect [blameless] and entire, wanting [lacking] nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Are you in a perplexing situation right now, or sense that one is on its way? Don’t hang your head low in defeat. Look up, and rejoice that God wants to improve your life! He alone is the source of your victory over whatever problem or obstacle you may encounter. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication [petition] with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:5-7).

[Image credits:flickr/Mennonite Church USA, maxpixel [1] & [2]]

Are You Holding God’s Hand—or Is He Holding Yours?

young couple holding hands while walking down a railroad track

Two young children decide to take a walk together across an empty field near their backyards, holding each other’s hand. Then a gander and several geese suddenly burst forth through a broken portion of a back fence. One child notices that two of the geese have become stuck in part of the damaged section of the fence. He is concerned, and a little too eager to help them. He pulls the other child along, very noticeably against her will, in the direction of the noisy new arrivals. But as the children approach closer, the geese—out of fear—manage to get themselves free. Then, with no warning, the ever-vigilant and protective gander races toward the children, its beak angrily honking and snapping at them. They both run back to their homes, screaming and crying—quite scared and upset!

Two lovers casually stroll alongside a foggy, secluded lake. The young man gently holds the girl’s hand as they approach a narrow footbridge stretching over a wide canal that feeds the lake. They cross the waterway quickly, but the young couple becomes detached when the girl is distracted and lets her hand slip out of her boyfriend’s grasp. With her hands now by her side, she feels lost, her heart filled with longing and emptiness. With fog drifting across the bridge now between them she is confused, unsure whether to go forward, or to wait, or to turn back. The young man is now far ahead and out of sight. But then she hears him calling out to her, and runs toward him. In just a few minutes, she approaches him as he eagerly reaches for her with his arm stretched out. She leaps forward with a quick bound, and slides her hand back into his grasp. Then he gently but firmly clasps his hand around hers, pulling her along as they reach the other side of the lake. Back on the path again, they resume their casual walk around the lake hand-in-hand, the girl now wiser and willing to be more dependent on the young man than she was before.

A middle-aged man stumbles around in the middle of a congested downtown street corner after sunlight reflecting off a window temporarily blinds him. He tries to find his way himself, but has to resort to calling out for help. Some think he’s crazy. Others laugh at him, that is, until he heads toward the curb at Forty-Fifth Street where traffic is moving rapidly in both directions. Some scream and yell when they see where he’s headed. Others quickly turn away, unwilling to watch the impending disaster unfold. But one older gentleman ignores everyone and takes the initiative. He quickly and carefully grabs the man’s hand, while coaxing and leading him away from the maddening flow of vehicles. At this point, all the blinded man really needs to do is to keep his hand in the hand of the other man, remaining fully dependent on him until he is safe.

In their zeal to please God, many people are eager to solve the problem that has just arisen by themselves, like the child who wanted to free the geese, but gave no thought to what the consequences might be.

They are willing to let God hold their hand, but instead of waiting on Him when an unexpected circumstance arises, they end up rushing ahead. As a result, they grab God’s hand and try to pull Him along with them, contrary to His will and plan for their lives. They want to help so much that they end up ahead of Him, and in dangerous places. Twice God warns about such actions: There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25). But Psalm 25:5 says: “Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me: for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day.” And in Psalm 27:14: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”

There are others who love the Lord dearly, but tend to become easily distracted in their relationship with Him. Like the girl who crossed the bridge with the young man, they let their hand slip out of His as He moves on and they are left behind.

They become confused as to which direction to go next. Their heart still desires Him, but their mind is caught up with something else. They become disoriented and try to figure out their next step without Him. Before long, they cry out in despair—until His voice can be heard after a while in the distance calling to them. Then they race toward Him, and place their hand back into His outstretched hand. So often we think God has left us behind to figure out our way on our own. Yet the opposite is true. We let go of His hand and no longer keep up with Him. Nevertheless, God promised us in His word that He will not abandon us. “…the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Finally, there are those who, for one reason or another, are not able to spiritually perceive the way before them. They know where they need to go, but are not able to get there safely on their own.

They grope around, hoping to find the right path so they can go forward on it. They know dangers are all around them, yet they can’t fully perceive where they are to avoid them. They need the help of one who knows the road ahead and can discern the perils all around. The Bible alludes to their answer in Isaiah 42:16: “…I [God] will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

If you are a child of God, where is your hand today? Is it firmly clutched around His hand, ready to pull Him along your way? Or is it gently resting in His, the same Hand that “…leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3)? Perhaps your hand is by your side, nowhere near Him. So often in our desire to obey God and His Word, we lose track of where we should place our hand. We cannot let distractions keep our hand out of His. Neither can we lead Him along by trying to place His hand in ours. God wants us dependent on Him. This is the day for you to decide to put your hand into His and keep it there—trusting Him from now on to safely lead you every step of the way on the path He has chosen for you,. Then you will experience the peace, satisfaction and assurance that only He can bring into your life.

[Image credit: pixabay.com]

New Year, Same Sin

At the beginning of each new year, it is the same old thing: a large majority of us want to improve some area of our life. Almost everywhere we look, from gyms to retail stores and restaurants, even to financial institutions, like banks, investment firms, and tax preparers, there are promotions of some kind regarding a new outlook on life. Churches and ministries are now getting in on the trend with various programs to revitalize and enhance us physically and spiritually. Most follow the tagline of ‘New Year, New You’ or some other variant. Yet, with all of these means in place to assist us, why do we still need them all over again next year and each successive year thereafter?

The key lies with something that each and every one of us has to deal with all of the time. It is called sin. No matter what effort we take to hide or overcome it, sin will always be there. In essence, sin is disobedience to God’s Word. It is also something that keeps us from entering into God’s Kingdom. God cannot tolerate any sin, even the tiniest amount.

Sin brings us into a period of pleasure while we are committing it, and then leaves us in a state of emptiness, despair, and disappointment afterward.

Therefore, we are never satisfied with just one act of sin. We continually seek more and greater ways to sin in order to reach a point of gratification.

Sin escalates while, at the same time, it degrades. Sin is never isolated to just the one who is sinning. Many feel that as long as it is hidden, then everything will be fine. Yet, whether the results are seen or not, our sin impacts some thing or someone else. From the rocks to the animals to the oceans to the sky, and everybody in between, the whole earth is ultimately affected by our sins. Since the time of Adam and Eve to the present time, the world has been steadily in decline. Every attempt throughout history to save this world from destruction has been nullified by our continual sin.

Nothing in our own efforts will solve the sin problem in our life or anyone else’s. While not all of our ills are directly caused by our sin, we are still impacted by it. Sin is like quicksand—the more you try to escape, the deeper you sink into it. It may not have hurt when you slipped in, and may not be painful while you are in it, but you still are descending slowly to your death.

The only solution to the sin problem is to turn to someone who is greater than sin itself.

We can’t get out of the quicksand through some self-help program or a fitness or dietary regime. No amount of financial planning or seminars will help. We might be able to stay afloat for an extended period of time, but it is not until we grab hold of a lifeline, like someone’s hand or the equivalent, that our rescue is possible.

That ultimate help is Jesus Christ. He is the only one qualified to deliver us from the hold and finality of sin. He willingly left His place in Heaven and came to this sinful earth to rescue us. He took all of the sins of the world – past, present and future – upon Himself and was crucified on a cross so to pay for them so that we could be free. He paid a penalty that was impossible for us to pay on our own. He gave us the means to come before God through Him. When we acknowledge and accept the sacrifice He made for us as our own, ask for forgiveness of our sins, and allow Him to live in our heart and life, then He will pull us out of the grip of sin. His blood shed for us will cover our sins, never more to be seen by God.

Not only are our sins removed, but we are given a whole new nature—one that is no longer bent toward sinning and desiring the sinful ways of this world.

Instead of trying to make ourselves better each year by our own strength and efforts, we just need to yield to Jesus and turn our concerns over to Him, “casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Only He can bring about real success and change in our life—when we let Him. Won’t you do it today?

For more direction on how to let God remove the sin in your life click here.

Fixated on the Master’s Hand

An older man in Elizabethan period dress looking outside from a doorway

If you dine out at a fine restaurant, you will usually find that the person who waits on you will be extremely attentive to your dining needs. Drop a fork or knife, and your server will appear almost immediately, replacement in hand. When the level of the beverage in your glass begins to run low, your server is already present, refilling your glass or exchanging it for another previously filled before even a word has been spoken. Should a question or need arise on your part, a simple glance in the server’s direction will be all that is necessary to bring him or her to your assistance. It seems like the server’s eye is constantly on you. If you are a regular patron there, the wait-staff might even have become so knowledgeable and observant of you that your movements, your habits—your very body language—will attract their presence so that there is no need for an additional indication from you.

This is not limited to a restaurant only. In the home of someone of significant wealth or stature, there is usually a butler or trained employee who is so focused on the commands of the owner of the house that they are able to immediately and discreetly detect the signaling of their employer’s hand and its meaning. The signal might be as simple as a raised, bent index finger indicating that a particular dish is cold and needs to be replaced. Or the hand could be uplifted slightly to the left, signaling for a particular hat or coat. Whatever the indicator used, the servant is always fixated on the employer, remaining ready to fulfill any upcoming request or need at once.

This is the concept the psalmist was referring to in Psalm 123: “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that [lives] in the heavens. Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God…” (Psalm 123:1,2). But for many, their eyes do not remain focused on the Master, even though they genuinely have the desire to please Him. They allow themselves to be distracted, looking at something or someone else when they should be attentive to His call, no matter how small. As a result, they miss the subtle cues and indicators that they should have noticed and responded to at once.

When Peter, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, had his eyes focused on Christ, he actually walked on the water one time to meet Him. “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30). He allowed himself to be distracted by the stormy wind and took his eyes off of the Master. He was doing fine before, but it was then that he began to sink.

A man in linen garment holding a portion of fishing net in hands

In our relationship with Jesus, we need to be constantly looking to Him in order to reach the point that we know just what He wants us to do. We cannot allow ourselves to become spiritually inattentive to His needs and desires. Just imagine how we would feel if we went into a posh restaurant and were ignored for a good portion of our visit. We sit and wait and wait for a server to take our order. Then several side dishes are delivered which are either incorrect or already cold. We raise our hand to signal the server, but only after a lot of vigorously waving do we finally catch the server’s attention. Our beverage glasses remain empty so long that all of the remaining ice has melted. We look forward to having dessert after the main meal, but the wait-staff is too busy or inattentive to even look our way. We very likely become angry and upset at this point, so we get up and leave the restaurant. After all of their initial efforts to please us and do what is right, the servers have allowed themselves to become distracted to the point that they have driven us away!

But how often have we as believers in Christ done this to our Master? We go to church, we read the Bible, we pray to God. Yet, in all our efforts to please Him, we have failed to keep our eyes continually attentive to the movement of His hand. He has subtly spoken to our hearts, but in our zeal to do what we think is right, we have missed it. Instead of just trying to do what is right before God, why don’t we go beyond that point and strive to reach the place where “our eyes wait upon the Lord our God”?

Lord, help us to be so close and established in our relationship with You that we are able to know and discern the meaning of every movement and indication of Your hand. Amen.

 

[Image credits: Tamas King/freeimages & Veronica Moore/freeimages]

Born to Die?

Since the time of creation billions have been born into this world, lived out their lives and then died. Yet out of these there was only one who was born to die. Over two thousand years ago Jesus Christ was born as a man to make a way for all of those who accept and believe in Him to have life for eternity.

No king, queen or leader of a nation, no prophet, apostle or leader of a religious organization was ever born to die for every human being who lived, is living or is yet to be born. Not a single person in the history of the world ever sacrificially gave their life like He did.

Jesus came to this world so that we could have everlasting life. He took on Himself all of our sins to the cross where he willingly gave His life. He loved us so much that paid a debt that we could never possibly repay, a debt He did not owe.

Whether it is Christmas day or any day of the year let us remember the One who was born to die so that we, if we accept Him, might live forever.

To find out more about accepting Jesus into your heart and life please click here.

 

[Image credit: Jeff Jacobs/pixabay & Derek Boggs/freeimages]

Your True Strength—the Joy of the Lord

A beam of sunlight shining through grey clouds on a body of water between two low mountain ranges[Image Credit: Davide Cantelli/Unsplash]

“Make no attempt to leave, thirst and mull over your spoiled gruel and keep it all for yourself, regardless of how much worse another’s condition is: for this night is full of sinful revelry to our Lord the devil: make every effort to feel sorry for yourself; for the misery and disappointment of the devil is your weakness and hopelessness.” Doesn’t this fictitious passage from an “anti-Bible” sound depressing? Yet it could describe just another day and night in the life of many people today. Why is it that way? It is from to a lack of real joy in their hearts.

We most commonly equate joy only with happiness. We can have happiness along with joy, but happiness is not all that joy is. Happiness is only a temporal and often conditional state of mind or being. It will come and it will go. We humans have often proven ourselves capable of going from happiness to misery in an instant. But real joy holds fast, regardless of our current condition or situation. The fact is that true and lasting joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.

Here’s that verse from the “anti-Bible” again, this time in its proper biblical form: “…Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Here the Israelites, who had been in captivity in Babylon over one hundred and sixty years, were just now returning to Jerusalem. While they were removed from their homeland for such a long period of time, they had been kept from really knowing the law of God (the first five books of the Old Testament—basically the “Bible” of that period). When, at long last, the people were able to hear God’s word read and explained to them again, they were grieved in their hearts and down in spirit as they became aware of their ignorance and disobedience.

As a result, Nehemiah, the governor of the land, made this proclamation to the Israelites, in order to encourage and remind them that it was a time of renewal and restoration of God’s covenant.

He and the priests did not want the people to focus on their failures, but on the One who could bring them out of their hopelessness and helplessness.

The “joy of the Lord” in this verse means reliance on the unfailing nature of God. But when men build their hope up on this sinful world, they will be disappointed every time. Joy is one common thread woven throughout the whole Word of God. It is not based on what we do, or don’t do, or only on our current circumstances. Joy is something that Jesus places within those who have committed their heart and life to Him. Joy is not found in what Jesus does, but in Jesus Himself and His unfailing nature.

When Jesus came to this Earth as a man, He didn’t just bring a smile to someone’s face and then move on. That would only be happiness. Instead, His life became the perfect example of joy. No matter what trial or situation He went through, He put “the joy of the Lord is your strength” into practice. He did not wonder or agonize over how, or if, He was going to make it through. He put His whole trust in His Heavenly Father instead, who always made His joy complete. He knew without any doubt that failure was not part of His Father’s nature.

Open Bible laying flat on hardwood table with hands folded and resting partially near lower portion of book[Image Credit: Pixabay]

How can we have the joy of the Lord? Simply by keeping His commandments and obeying His Word. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:9-11).

How do we effectively keep His commandments? By not trying to physically accomplish them in our own incomplete capacity. Obedience to God’s Word is not like a collection of merit badges that we must try to earn in order to be in right standing with God. Due to our inherently sinful self, it is impossible for us to fulfill all of God’s law and requirements in our own strength—although untold millions have tried to, always without success. That is why He sent His Son to Earth—to be our source of strength. Jesus is fully qualified and capable of fulfilling all God deems necessary to be in right standing with Him. Instead of trying to do everything to be obedient to God by our own efforts, we should look to Jesus—which is just what God has wanted from us all along. All the way from creation to today, He has wanted man to trust and be dependent on Him alone.

All too often we focus only on misery, doubt and disappointment, which are inspired by the devil. But they only keep us in bondage.

No matter how hard we attempt to overcome the trying circumstances that we are in or will be going through, we will never be totally victorious without Jesus Christ. We can even be the happiest and most joyful-looking people around, but that is not lasting joy. True joy is Jesus Christ. He alone is our strength. Always turn to the One who cannot fail. He will carry us through, regardless of the difficulty of the trial or situation. Then we will know for ourselves that the joy of the Lord will be our strength.

When Prosperity Comes, Head to the Brook

A postcard of the brook Cherith from 1921
[Image credit: Picryl/Library of Congress

Have you, as a child of God, ever noticed that when a prosperous season comes to you, God will often send you away to a place of separation? It won’t necessarily be to an isolated shack in the middle of a desert or a forest; in fact, you may never even leave your own home. Instead, it will most likely be to a place where you are removed from regular contact, perhaps with close friends or relatives, or maybe those you work with. You would very likely have difficulty fulfilling even your daily needs through them anyway. You may try to seek assistance instead from someone else you know, or perhaps through some public service, only to be politely turned down. You will probably reach a point where your main source of sustenance seems to just disappear.

It is at this point that you will likely question God about your current circumstances, with the thought that something has gone seriously wrong here! Feelings of self-pity begin to spring up from sources previously unknown to you. Your thinking begins to be dominated by the mindset that “practically everyone else is doing well, so why can’t I do well too?” What you fail to realize is that this is just the place where God wants you to be! He doesn’t want you feeling sorry for yourself. In your time of desperation, His goal is for you to no longer be centered on self-reliance, but on developing and increasing your God-reliance.

We find Elijah, a prophet of God in the Old Testament, at a time when he was also separated from others and led into a position where he was forced to be dependent on God.

At that particular period, Israel had drifted away from God, and He brought a drought into the land through Elijah as a result. “…Elijah …said unto Ahab [the king], As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word” (1 Kings 17:1).

Even though the rains did stop and the dew no longer formed, the land did not immediately cease being prosperous. Yet God told Elijah, “Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there” (1 Kings 17:3, 4). Elijah knew that he had to remove himself from the presence of the king and his officials after publicly making the proclamation of no rain. But he could have discreetly stayed somewhere in the region for a while. After all, the land was still producing abundantly and the people still had plenty. Yet he “did according unto the word of the Lord: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan” (1 Kings 17:5) before the drought began to take its toll.

Notice that God sent him to a brook, not a river. This particular brook was a seasonal stream anyway, and it would not last.

“…it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land” (1 Kings 17:7). God surely could have led Elijah to the Jordan River, or some other large body of water. And even Elijah’s food was brought in by the birds, since there were no herds that could have continually sustained him grazing nearby. Once again, God had Elijah where He wanted him, just like He has you.

God wants His children, in flourishing times or in lean times, to be dependent on Him. Elijah’s assigned brook was feeble, but God could have kept it continually flowing, and He could have even provided additional birds to deliver more food. Elijah could have tried digging a well, or searching for work with a sheepherder or farmer. It would have been a very difficult journey, but the possibility existed for him to go to another region or country that had plenty to eat and drink. But to do so would only have separated him from the will of God.

It was God who placed Elijah into this situation, but it was not permanent, because God did not intend for him to stay there long. When the brook dried up later, Elijah was forced to move on. But even after it dried up and the birds ceased to provide for Elijah, God still made a way through a widow nearby. Not only was Elijah sustained then by her, but the woman and her son were also blessed to overflowing! If God had sent Elijah to a large river instead, he would have very likely taken God for granted, and would not have left the area.

During a season of prosperity, the child of God can stop being dependent on Him so easily.

But He wants us to look to Him, not on what He gives us, or on what the world provides. Even if your rain and dew do not stop, the brook will still cease to flow. The birds will also no longer supply your needs. This is not accidental—God has intended it to be this way. As your Heavenly Father, it is not His desire for you to be independent of Him and self-reliant. Follow Elijah’s example by looking to Him and depending on His faithfulness, and not by looking to others or the world around you for your sustenance.

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in Him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for Him, to the soul that seeketh Him” Lamentations (3:22-25).

Where Were the Carpenters After They Built the Ark?

Drawing of workers constructing oNoah's ark by A. KircherImage Credit: Wellcome Collection

“God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before Me…Make thee an ark…” (Genesis 6:13-14).

For almost 6,000 years, God has allowed man to follow his own path to progress by permitting him to bring his principles and methods of accomplishing his goals to full development. By the time of Noah, what was the final outcome of the first sixteen centuries of “progress”? All Earth’s inhabitants had broken entirely free from any moral restraint and become wholly corrupted. Lack of belief in God and disobedience to Him had ruined the moral nature God had given them so much that no hope remained.

All flesh had reached the point where it couldn’t get any worse. So God had nothing left to work with. All He could do was to totally destroy them, saving only the few who were righteous and still obedient to Him. Only one man and his family qualified when the climax of evil had been reached. All the rest of mankind had become devastated. Now God alone could provide the remedy for the future of the human race.

Today man is exposed to a similar situation of danger. The Lord has declared that He’s soon going to call the whole world to judgment for its sins against Him—yet we do not prepare for it in any way.

In fact, many laugh and sneer at the very idea. Nevertheless, God’s wrath is going to fall. Why did God tell Noah “make thee an ark”? Because His sentence of death has been “passed upon all men” (Romans 5:12) already.

But along with the sentence of death, God made a promise of deliverance. Whenever God makes His darkest threats, He always reveals a way of escape. He sent the flood, but also provided an ark. Lot had to flee from Sodom before God destroyed it, but He provided the little city of Zoar for him to escape to. And God warns us today of the penalty for sinning against Him, at the same time providing the message of Christ—that He is full of mercy, unwilling for any to perish.

Noah had a firm belief in what God said He was going to do, in spite of the unbelief everywhere around him. He was in awe of God and had made up his mind to take advantage of any means God might provide to escape the coming wrath. Nevertheless, God did not make an ark and hand it to Noah. Man had to construct it himself from materials of this Earth.

A photograph of a life-sized replica of Noah's arkImage Credit: Greg Reese

At the same time that other men were chasing after wealth and freely indulging in pleasure and sin, Noah was using his wealth and substance to build the ark. It was a gigantic ship, the largest to that time, about a third of the size of the largest modern aircraft carrier. His holdings must have been sizable to be able to provide enough funds to construct such a monumental project.

Certainly his three sons would have helped build it, but even so, much more manpower would have been needed to complete such an undertaking.

There were men living then who had prospered in just about everything material. Some would have gladly received a contract to work in Noah’s shipyard, all the while having contempt for his reasons for building the ark. But, in spite of their attitude, every time they hit a nail or sawed a board, God provided another chance for them to repent of their man-centered evil ways and come to Him.

God offered all the people a way of safety, of salvation, to see if they would believe Him and accept the only way out. But they were not willing to consider living in an ark for months, because they were not willing to believe that a life-destroying flood was coming. Who would trust the ark to be their salvation if they truly thought they could manage an easier way? The first and hardest step toward helping people to get saved is convincing the careless and the prospering that their way of salvation will not save them. Yet they are not capable of saving themselves.

Noah believed God when He told him a massive flood of destruction was coming for all mankind. He knew he had only two choices: destruction or deliverance. So he took the necessary steps to conduct himself in a way that he would be allowed to escape the coming disaster. We have to obey God’s instructions to us as much as Noah had to obey God’s instructions to him. He had to have an ark built to be saved. But all we have to do today is to get into the Ark God already prepared for us.

Noah’s eyes could not see a flood forming, but his eyes of faith did see, and he believed in the reality of it, more than the reality of all he could touch and see right around him.

This made it possible for him to ignore the endless taunts thrown at him day by day and year by year. The direction his life was going to take was either pure foolishness, or it was more real than anything else at that time. A hundred and twenty years might have passed from God’s warning to Noah until the Flood actually came. Yet Noah held to what he believed God had told him. He did not let his faith waver the whole time. Then he was taken away, just as the very apex of human evil arrived, before God’s judgment had to be poured out.

And what about our faith today? Are we even aware of the coming destruction that looms just ahead? Do we believe God as He forewarns us to come into the Ark of safety? He has provided a similar means of escape for us like He did for Noah. He has provided His only begotten Son as the Ark for all who will believe. They will be able to board the Ark, but it will not remain open for the multitude that refuses to believe. Those people think their own good works will be sufficient to save them, but their works are about as useful as a raft in a flood! Who would be foolish enough to provide himself with just a raft if he knew a monsoon was coming?

A graphical image of Noah's ark floating in water during heavy rains with dark grey sky all around.Image Credit: Jeff Jacobs

It’s possible that many workmen who signed up to work on the shipbuilding project may not have made fun of Noah. But where were they when Noah went up the ramp into the ark? The neighbors of Noah most likely helped him obey what God had told him to do also. They may have helped make the way of salvation possible, yet they never obeyed God themselves. They also stood watching as Noah and his family went into the ark. What happened to them? Every last one of them drowned in the Flood.

Faithfully building the ark in response to God’s command was one way Noah preached righteousness to those around him. Yet none of them took advantage of his invitation to come aboard and escape the inevitable destruction of themselves and all around them. Even the woodcutters, carpenters, and other builders were ultimately destroyed—because they would not come into the very ark they had built! They failed to consider the future while they worked on the present project. So they ended up outside the ark of safety, and when it was too late, they realized that it had been built for them!

Have you climbed aboard the Ark yourself? You may be one of those who helped build it, yet not be on it when judgment comes! Where were the carpenters after they built the ark?