Jesus: Our Companion in the Valley

Near Fontana Dam, TN.
Near Fontana Dam, TN.

 

The valley is often a place of loneliness. We may feel that nobody understands exactly how we feel. As we experience sleepless nights, the loneliness and darkness of the night seem to settle like a foggy mist upon us. The hopelessness of our situation paralyzes us . Where can we find hope, comfort and companionship during these dark hours in the valley? The answer is Jesus!

Jesus gives us this promise in Hebrews 13:5: “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”  No matter how dark the night, He will not leave us. No matter how deep the valley, He will not leave us. No matter how painful the path, He will not leave us. As we trod through the valley, Jesus promises to walk every step of the way with us!

The valley no longer is a cold, dark, lonely place when we seek after the Lord and become aware of His presence. David faced many valleys in his life. God used the valleys in David’s life to create a longing for fellowship with Him. In Psalm 42,  David expresses his longing for God. “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:1-2)

The valley may not be our plan for our lives, but it is God’s plan for our lives. He knows how easy it is for us to drift in our relationship with Him. We can even slowly fall into the sin of the church at Laodicea. This church had become lukewarm because they no longer saw their desperate need for Christ. In our Christian life, there are times when we become lukewarm. The Lord sends us into the valley to restore our passion for Him.

Many of us would say that some of the sweetest times in our lives is our valley experience. Yes, the valley seems painful, lonely, dark and confusing, but it is also quite sweet. It brings us once again to the feet of Jesus. We become broken before our Lord. We don’t pray out of obligation, but out of desperation. We cling to Christ and He takes us unto His bosom and brings great comfort to us.

Christ’s presence changes our whole outlook of our valley. No longer is the valley a place filled with sorrow and bitterness, but a place to accept with joy. How does Christ change our valley from a place of bitterness to a place of sweetness?

1. The valley is a place of darkness, but Christ changes it into a place of light. “I am the Light of the World” (John 8:12)

2. The valley is a place of anxiety, but Christ changes it into a place of peace. “My peace I give unto you.” (John 14:27)

3. The valley is a place of confusion. but Christ changes it into a place of understanding. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

4. The valley is a place of heartache, but Christ changes it into a place of comfort. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

5. The valley is a place of rejection, but Christ changes it into a place of enjoying His love. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord”

6. The valley is a place of sleeplessness, but Christ changes it into a place of rest. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

7. The valley is a place of sorrow, but Christ changes it into a place of joy. “And ye now therefore have sorrow:but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. (John 16:22)

8. The valley is a place of uselessness, but Christ changes it into a place of ministry. “and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:2)

9. The valley is a place of weakness, but Christ changes it into a place of strength. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

“Dear Lord, thank you for making the bitterness of my valley into something very sweet. Thank you for walking through this valley with me. Thank you for allowing me to draw closer to you during this very difficult time. Though this valley is not my choice, your way is always the best. Thank you for not only taking me into the valley, but also through the valley. Your presence has made all the difference!  Amen”

The Struggle of Faith in the Valley

Charlotte, Michigan Photo by: Mark J Booth
Charlotte, Michigan Photo
by: Mark J Booth

The valley is a place of the unknown. The future is unknown. The next step to take is unknown. The reason for being in the valley is unknown. The unknown causes us to develop fear and anxiety. Faith seems to disappear in our lives. We know that God is with us. We know the promises of God. We want to trust God. We need to trust God! Yet we only see the dark road ahead of us. Why is faith so difficult when we need it the most?

I have tried to understand the answer to the above question. Why can’t I trust my loving God? Why can’t I trust my all-wise God? Perhaps the answer lies in the verse where Jesus tells us that we are to become as little children. “And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) A little child has great faith and trust, which is essential for us in our walk with God.

When I was very small, I trusted my parents in everything. I didn’t doubt anything they said.  When they said Santa Claus was coming, I believed them. When they took me to the doctor for a painful shot, I believed them when they said it was for my own good. They were my parents; so I trusted them.

As I grew older. I started to doubt what my parents said. I doubted their rules. I doubted what they thought was best for me. I doubted the way they raised me. I still loved them, but I thought I knew better. I lost my childlike trust of them. I weighed everything they did from my very narrow teenage viewpoint.

In my relationship with God, I find it easy to lose my childlike faith. I see my life from my viewpoint. I try to understand what God is doing instead of trusting what He is doing. I try to interfere in what He is doing, instead of submitting to his way of working in a certain situation.

As a child, my parents would take me to various places in our car. I never doubted that I would arrive there safely. I never doubted that they had my best interest at heart. I never complained about the journey. I would sit in the back seat and look around at the scenery and accept that this is what my parents wanted.

Why is it when God is taking me through a valley experience, I don’t trust Him? Does He not know what is best for me? Does He not use the valley experience for my benefit and for the benefit of those to whom I minister? I need to have a childlike faith and believe that God knows what is best. Romans 8:28 is still true: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

The struggle of faith exists because we act too much like adults. We need to see before believing. We need to understand before we believe. We need to know the results before we believe. We need to feel like there is something that we can do to resolve the trial. The more we think like an adult, our faith diminishes.

How can we grow in faith in the midst of the valley? The valley challenges our faith. It batters our faith. We need faith desperately. The first step of faith is to return to a child-like view of God. We don’t have to understand what God is doing. We don’t have to understand what will happen in the future.  We don’t have to know why all of this is happening.  We can look unto our Heavenly Father and know that He has everything under control. His path is always the best way to go; even if it takes us through a dark valley.

“Dear Father, I thank you for your patience with me. I approach you quite often with the attitude that I need to understand everything. I need you to explain everything to me. This has hindered my faith. Please help me to trust you with the heart of a little child. I know that you will resolve my struggle of faith when I surrender my perspective, my ideas, and my dreams unto you. Thank for being my loving Father in whom I can place all of my trust. Amen”

When Disappointment Comes, Twenty Truths to Remember

Guincho Beach in Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)
Guincho Beach in Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)

Life is filled with disappointments. People disappoint us. We disappoint ourselves. Circumstances disappoint us. The question isn’t: “Will disappointments come, but how do we respond in the midst of our disappointments. When we view God in the midst of our disappointments, the disappointment will become a means of a greater love and appreciation for our Great God. Here are twenty truths to remember in the midst of our disappointments.

1. God is on the throne.  “That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah,art the most high over all the earth.” (Psalm 83:18)

2. God still loves me. “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”
(Jeremiah 31:3)

3. God won’t ever leave me, nor forsake me. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have:for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5)

4. God is my Shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.” (Psalm 23:1-2)

5. God is my Father. “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)

6. God hears me when I cry out to Him. “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6)

7. God is my defense. “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.” (Psalm 18:2)

8. God is my guide. “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalm 32:8)

9. God will bring comfort. “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

10. God is merciful (He forgives me even when others don’t). “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.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

11. God has a purpose for my life. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

12. God makes all things work together for good. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

13. God teaches me new lessons. “And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. (Romans 5:3-5)

14. God gives me a testimony to others (I need to remember my testimony in spite of what others do.) “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

15. God gives me His strength. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1)

16. God gives me His grace in times of great need. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee:for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 17. God encourages me. “And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters:but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)

18. Christ is interceding for me. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)

19. Christ is preparing a place for me in heaven. “Let not your heart be troubled:ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions:if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

20. Christ will take my burden upon Himself because I can’t carry it. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

God’s Will or My Will? (Psalm 31:3)

Blue Ridge Parkway-Photo by: Mark Booth
Blue Ridge Parkway-Photo by: Mark Booth

“God’s Will” are words that are commonly used by Christians for many decisions that they make. It sounds spiritual but is this really true? In doing “God’s will” can we be doing our own will? The Psalmist David often struggled with God’s will for his own life. As king, he faced many tough decisions. He knew that his decisions, not only affected him, but many other people. What was David’s guiding principle in acknowledging God’s will for his life? “For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore FOR THY NAME’S SAKE lead me, and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3)

David understood that doing God’s will had nothing to do with his own desires and goals.  God’s will had everything to do with God’s glory. David knew that motivation was the key in recognizing God’s will for his life. When David pleased himself, he brought harm to himself and others. When David sought to bring glory to God, he brought blessing to himself and others.

There are many people who say they are doing “God’s will”, but it is very questionable. Their motivation seems self-centered instead of God-centered. Sometimes, we ignore Biblical principles in doing “God’s will.” Sometimes, we break commitments in doing “God’s will”. Sometimes, we possess an angry spirit in doing “God’s will. Sometimes, a fear of man is the determining factor in doing “God’s will.” Are we using God as an excuse for fulfilling our own plans and desires?

When we seek to understand the will of God for our lives, we should start where David started. Am I doing this “For His name’s sake”? Will God be glorified in this decision? We often make decisions based on how it will affect our lives, but do we think about God and His glory?

David longed to do God’s will because he knew that in doing His will, he would bring glory to the very One he loved. Every aspect of our lives should bring glory to our God whom we love. When our family is in the will of God, we glorify God. When our use of time is in the will of God, we glorify God. When our service unto God is in the will of God, we glorify God. When our relationships with others are in the will of God, we glorify God.

In conclusion, when we say we are doing “God’s will” let us be very careful to look deep into our hearts and check our motivation for doing “God’s will”. The guiding principle is: “Am I doing this for my name’s sake or for His name’s sake?”

“Dear Lord, as we seek your guidance, we often look at what makes us comfortable, and what makes us happy. We totally forget what brings glory to your name. Please help us, to keep our eyes upon you as we make decisions. The important thing is not what we want, but what you want. May we not confuse the two. Amen.”

 

A Prison of Mine Own Making: Am I a People-Pleaser?

old-prison-2-1093527-mA prison is a place of confinement, a place without freedom, a place of loneliness. Nobody would voluntarily enter a prison. However, many people have entered into a prison of their own making.  This prison is the prison of being a people-pleaser.  A people-pleaser is one who desires to please others before pleasing God. By trying to please others, they face the great problem of trying to please competing interests.  A people-pleaser doesn’t make decisions in light of what God says, but what others expect.

We are susceptible to become a people-pleaser. It is natural for us to want others to like and accept us. Being a people-pleasure is difficult because there are many competing interests that are coming from various directions. What one person thinks is the right decision; another person takes the opposite view. As a people-pleaser, we live our lives by the opinions and demands of others, instead of seeking to please our Lord God.

One Christian who found freedom from the prison of being a people-pleaser was the Apostle Paul. In his ministry, Paul constantly received criticism from others. Paul could find acceptance with various people by surrendering his ministry to the opinions of others. However, Paul chose not to enter the prison of being a people-pleaser. He found freedom by desiring to please only one person, God, His Father. “Even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

The Lighthouse at Port  Sanilac, Michigan.  Photo by Mark J. Booth
The Lighthouse at Port
Sanilac, Michigan. Photo by Mark J. Booth

How can we find the freedom that Paul found?  First of all, Paul understood the danger of being a pleaser of men. He knew that it would be impossible to please God, if he was always seeking to please people with their ever-changing opinions, desires and goals. He also understood that men, being sinners, could not always see life from God’s perspective. Paul knew that when he kept his eyes upon what men thought, he would soon forget to keep his eyes focused upon God.

Secondly, Paul understood that God was his Master. We don’t serve ten masters or twenty masters. No, we serve one Master. Our goal is to please the very One who loves us and knows what is best for us. We submit to Him as Lord. Yes, in living for our Master, we may serve others, but our eyes are always upon pleasing Him. When we become a people-pleaser, we no longer are submitting to the Lord as our Master. Many people have ruined their lives because they sought to please others at the cost of pleasing the Lord God

Thirdly, people are very quick to wrongly judge our motives; God knows our motives because he knows our every thought and attitude. Paul understood that God is the One who will ultimately test our hearts. God knows not only what we do, but why we do it. A people-pleaser can’t please everybody thus they feel frustration and guilty. People are often quite harsh in their judgment of our actions. God sees our hearts. If our hearts are clear before God then we will be free from being a people-pleaser.

Fourthly, people tend to be selfish. They want to control or even bully others to follow their desires, opinions and goals. Their desire is self-focused instead of God-focused. God’s will is not only for His own Glory, but for our benefit. Others can’t see the big picture, God sees it. He loves us and wants what is best for us. When we focus on God’s wisdom and plan, we will be free from the limited understanding of those around us.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we ignore the people we love and serve, but it does mean that their opinions should not imprison us. God can use the thoughts of others to give us direction, but we must not take our focus from the One whom we are truly serving. Yes, we can try to make those around us happy, but it must never be at the cost of displeasing our Master. When we become imprisoned by the desires of others, we will never be free to serve our True Master.

“Dear Lord, I find myself tempted to be a people-pleaser. I don’t enjoy the criticism that comes my way when I make decisions. I want you to use me in the lives of others. However, I realize that when I become imprisoned by the desires of others, I can no longer be useful to you or to others. Please help me to keep my focus upon you. Help me to discern the difference between my will and your will. I know in my heart, that in pleasing you that I will reach my full potential of being a blessing to others.

 

Do Not Fear God’s Plan. Embrace it!

The Smoky Mountains at Sunrise (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)
The Smoky Mountains at Sunrise (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)

A young girl was suddenly confronted by a strange visitor whom she had never seen before in her village of Nazareth. This visitor greeted her with very strange words. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.”

What was going on in Mary’s mind as she heard these words? The Bible says that she was troubled in her heart and was quite perplexed.  She probably couldn’t understand why this visitor was talking with her.  In her humility, she couldn’t believe what the visitor was saying about her character and her close walk with God.

Mary’s life would soon change in a way that she would never imagine. God chose her to give birth to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Because of God’s plan for her life, she would almost lose her future husband Joseph.  She would face misunderstanding.  She would give birth to the Messiah in a stable.  She would see her son suffer and then die upon the cross.  Mary didn’t choose this type of life, but God chose it for her.

Mary had a choice when her visitor, God’s angel, shared God’s plan with her. She could fear God’s plan and reject it, or she could heed the words of the angel: “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.” (Luke 1:30) Mary chose to embrace God’s plan when she said: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38) Mary cast away her fears and embraced God’s plan for her life in spite of the obstacles she would face.

God’s plan can create fear in our lives.  We fear surrendering ourselves totally to God because His plan may include pain, suffering, rejection, and sacrifice.  Our fear causes us to forget that our loving God knows what is best for us and for those around us.  We find it difficult to say: “I am your servant. Do as you please with my life.”

All through the Bible, we see people who did not fear God’s plan, but embraced it.

  • Abraham embraced God’s plan when he left all that he knew to go to an unknown land.
  • Moses embraced God’s plan when he left the quiet life in the desert to lead God’s people.
  • Joshua embraced God’s plan when he defeated Jericho according to God’s plan of action.
  • Ruth embraced God’s plan when she left her land of Moab to go to Israel.
  • Jeremiah embraced God’s plan in spite of the persecution he faced.
  • Hosea embraced God’s plan when it didn’t make sense to him.
  • Steven embraced God’s plan though it meant certain death.

Will we listen to God’s voice when he says: “Fear Not”?  Will we embrace His plan regardless of the consequences?  When we embrace God’s plan, we will not only be blessed of God, but we will also be a blessing to others as Mary has been a blessing to the world.

David shares His desire to embrace God’s plan when he wrote: “Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.”
(Psalm 143:10) God is good and His plans for our lives will lead us into a life of blessing and joy. Let’s not fear God’s plan today, but let us embrace His plan with all of our hearts.

When There is No One Else (Confiding in God)

Cabo da Roca, Portugal Photo by: Mark J. Booth
Cabo da Roca, Portugal
Photo by: Mark J. Booth

“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)

“Will anybody listen to me?”  Have you ever caught yourself thinking this very thought?  Yes, throughout life there are times when we feel alone.  We think no one understands.  When these times occur, we must not forget that there is One who is always available to listen.  He understands exactly how we feel.  Are we prepared to confide in Him?

When we confide in the Lord, we are saying:  “I trust you, and I know that you care about me.  I pour out my heart to you, because I know that you understand.  Please show me what I need to do.”

Why do we need to confide in the Lord?

Has a situation ever come our way and we don’t know what to do?  We feel helpless in the midst of what is happening around us.  Many years ago, King Jehoshaphat of Judah faced the near certain defeat of his army.  Within himself there was no strength or wisdom to handle this dire situation.  He did what we all must do when we are confused and helpless. He went to the Lord. “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.” (2 Chronicles 20:12) God is waiting for us to confide in Him in the midst of our confusion.  At times, we don’t confide in God because we are reluctant to admit our need of Him.

Another reason we need to confide in the Lord is that our own viewpoint can lead us astray.  You have heard the saying: “Let your heart be your guide.”  However, God tells us why our heart is not a reliable guide for our life. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? ” (Jeremiah 17:9)  God makes it clear that our heart is not to be trusted.  We often make decisions based upon our own selfishness or bias.  When we confide in God, we will see life from His perspective.

Trials, heartaches, and difficulties fill our life.  We can’t travel the hard road of this life without continually confiding in our Lord.  Jesus said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  When tribulations come, do we forget that the Lord is greater than any trial that comes into our life?  When we cry out to Him in midst of our pain, He responds to us.  When an emergency happens in this life we call 911.  Why are we so reluctant to cry out to the Lord in the midst of our pain?

People say: “I  would be a good Christian, if it wasn’t for other people.”  Yes, other people may hurt us, misunderstand us, ignore us and dislike us, but there is a friend who is always there.  His name is Jesus!  David confided in God when he faced powerful enemies; so can we. “Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise;” (Psalm 55:2) The Lord is a Friend who will never leave us or disappoint us.  Will we learn to confide in Him when we have problems with others?

Finally, we need to confide in God because of His Greatness.  He is worthy of our faith.  God is our all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful Lord and Friend.  He is our High Priest to whom we can go at any time. He is a refuge in the midst of any storm. “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8) God’s greatness is like a magnet that draws us to Him.  He can handle any situation that we take to Him. 

How do we confide in the Lord?

Confiding in the Lord is simply to share our requests openly with Him. He already knows what is happening in our lives, but He wants us to come before Him in complete faith and honesty. “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God.” (Psalm 59:1)  The Psalmist understood that he could share any request with God, and He would hear him.  Our God desires us to seek Him.  His love means that His ears are always open to our cries unto Him.

As we confide in Him, we must also remember the importance of having a grateful heart. Gratitude is a way of confiding in the Lord that we are totally dependent upon Him.  In Philippians 4:6, Paul writes: “In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving.” When we cry out to God, we thank Him for all that He is doing in our lives, and all that He will do in our lives.

Confiding in God is also demonstrated when we come before Him in desperation.  We don’t see God as part of the solution, or maybe a possible solution. No! God is the only solution.  The Psalmist writes: “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.” (Psalm 34:6) Our desperate cry is saying: “I need you, Lord.  You alone can help me.”  God will respond to this humble cry.

We are often tempted to seek to handle life in our own wisdom and strength.  Yet, the Lord is always there. He is always ready to listen.  Why do we choose failure in our own strength and wisdom, instead of choosing success in His strength and wisdom?  God is waiting to hear from us today!  Will we confide in Him?