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”

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.

Lord, I Believe, Help My Unbelief

Cabo da Roca, Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)
Cabo da Roca, Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)

Why do I find it difficult to believe in the person and promises of God?  Yes, I believe in my head, but my heart has a lack of complete trust in Him. Recently, God brought this to my attention while reading the account of the man whose child had an unclean spirit.

“And he said, Of a child.And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:22-24)

The father is in a desperate situation. He has no hope for his son; however, he pleads with Jesus that if He can help, please do something for his child. Jesus catches the doubt in this man’s heart as he said: “If thou canst do anything.” This man was speaking to God in the flesh; and yet doubted His ability to heal his child.

I have fallen into this same trap. I believe in who the Lord is, but deep down, I don’t think, He is able to do what seems impossible to me. I can’t see how he can save a loved one. I don’t see how He can change a person’s life. I don’t see how He can help me in a very difficult situation.

After the man speaks, Jesus encourages him to have faith: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” Jesus is saying that there is nothing too hard for Him. How often, I have looked at circumstances, at others or at myself, and felt overwhelmed. My heart says: “Can God handle this?” Doubt brings torment. Yes, I know in my head that God is All-Powerful, but doubt fills my heart. James says that “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)

In this story, God speaks to my doubting heart. He is saying: “Don’t look at the difficulty in front of you, but look to me. I am God. I am All-Powerful. I know what I am doing. I do have compassion upon you. Your mind says you can trust me, let your heart trust me as well.”

The man responds in tears with words that resonate in my heart: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” These words could come right from mine own mouth.  At times, my head says: “I believe.” However, my heart says: “I can’t believe”. God wants me to be open about my doubts; so that He can change my heart into a heart that believes in all that He is and all that He says.

I am not the only person who is double minded when it comes to trusting the Lord. The disciples once came to Jesus and made this important request: “Increase our faith”. They saw their need in light of their doubts that were overwhelming their hearts. Likewise, I need to constantly pray with the disciples: “Lord, increase my faith.”

In the end, Christ honors the man’s wavering faith and heals his son. This man’s struggle with doubt brought him to a greater faith in Christ. His struggle also helps me to see that Christ understands my struggle with trusting Him with my heart. There is great peace, comfort, and strength when I trust Him with both my mind and my heart.

“Dear Lord, I believe in all that you are in my mind. I know in my mind that you are All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Loving. I believe your Word from Genesis to Revelation. I believe in the miracles that you have done. However, when times get tough, when people don’t seem to respond to you, I begin to doubt in my heart. Please forgive me for my unbelief.  Bring me to a belief not only in my head, but also in my heart. Thank you for your patience in all that you are doing in my life. Amen.”

Prayers of Comfort from Psalm 37

Near Marshall, MI: Photo by: Mark J Booth

Trials are a part of every person’s life.  These trials can be self-induced or they can be caused by events beyond our control.  The question isn’t if we will have trials, but how will we face these trials.  Psalm 37 is written from the perspective of a man filled with trials.  God shows him the way he is to navigate through these trials.  Here are some prayers that go along with this very encouraging Psalm.  May God use Psalm 37 to help give direction and comfort to each of us.

“Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity.” (Psalm 37:1)  “Lord, I find myself filled with worry.  I worry about my walk with you.  I worry about my family, and the church.  I worry about my future.  I sometimes look at others and feel as though I am lacking something.  I also fret because evil seems to be gaining ground every day in our nation.  Help me to gain perspective upon the things that trouble me.  I need to grow in faith; so that I know in my heart that you are in control of everything.  I can trust you with my life and with what is happening in the world around me.  Amen”

“Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall thee the desires of thine heart.” (Psalm 37:4) “Lord, I often focus on my circumstances instead of focusing upon you. I forget to take delight in all that you are. Help me to focus upon all that you are and all that you do. May I delight in you today regardless of my circumstances. Amen.”

“Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in Him; and he shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5) “Lord, I often want to chart my own course in life.  I look at my future from my perspective and not from yours. Why do I find it difficult to commit my way to you? Lord, you do know what is best for my life. Your love for me is beyond question.  For this reason, I need to commit unto you everything I do.  Help me to trust you regardless of what may happen in my life. Amen”

“Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him.” (Psalm 37:7) “Dear Lord, I often live in anxiety because I don’t place my burdens upon you. I often run ahead of you instead of waiting for your perfect timing. Help me, to trust you enough to allow you to work in and through my life.  In the midst of my busyness, enable me to stop and remember that you are right here with me. Thank you for allowing me to rest in your everlasting arms! Amen”

“Cease from anger, and forsake wrath:fret not thyself in any wise to do evil.” (Psalm 37:8)  “My Lord, when I face difficult circumstances and people, I can easily become angry.  Usually I keep this anger within, but it does affect me.  It keeps me from pleasing you and ministering to others.  Thank you for your great example on the cross how you forgive those who placed you upon the cross.  Teach me to respond to others with graciousness and love.  Teach me to yield my rights unto you, because my anger is often a warning sign of some right that I haven’t yielded unto you.

“Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.” (Psalm 37:24) “Lord, I have stumbled and even fallen many times in my life; yet, you are always there to pull me up with your loving hand. Help me to never let go of your hand as I walk through this life. Thank you for your great love in watching over me. Amen.”

“And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked,and save them, because they trust in him.” (Psalm 37:40)  “Thank you for the concluding words of this Psalm of comfort and guidance.  Thank you for the times that you have delivered me from myself and others.  Thank you for all that you are, because you are truly worthy of my trust.  I gladly commit my ways to you today. Amen”

P.S. I often write prayers with the verse that I write out in my Journible.  If you are interested in learning more about the Journibles, here is my post about this excellent Bible study tool.
https://markjemilbooth.com/2012/07/29/how-to-profit-more-from-your-bible-reading-the-journibles/

Moving Beyond Fear to Courage

Sleepy Hollow State Park, MIchigan- By Mark J. Booth

When fear takes its grip upon our lives, it affects our view of circumstances, of others and of the future.  Fear causes us to doubt the love of God, the presence of God, the provision of God, and even the protection of God.  Fear keeps us from doing what God has called us to do.  How can we move beyond our fears and approach life with courage?

Courage is the willingness to move forward with our lives in spite of the obstacles and dangers that we face.  The nation of Israel, including King Saul, was paralyzed by fear on account of Goliath.  His size was overwhelming.  However, David had moved beyond his fear to courage.  David didn’t see the power of Goliath. He saw the power of His God. His courage has inspired us to face life’s situations with the understanding that God is greater than anything that is happening in our life.

How Can I Move Beyond Fear to Courage?

1. Remember the presence of God.  God is with us as we travel through this life. His presence brings courage because we know that we are not alone.  If we are passing through the shadow of death. we are not alone.  If we are facing some great trial, we are not alone.  If we are facing an unknown future, we are not alone.  “Fear thou not; for I am with thee:be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

2. Enjoy the love of God.  God’s love was clearly demonstrated upon the cross of Christ.  The fear of death was removed when Jesus died upon the cross for our sins.  His death and resurrection conquered death.  If his love has removed our greatest fear, it can also take away all other fears.  A baby in the arms of its loving mother has no fear.  Likewise, we are in the arms of our loving God.  Why should we be ruled by fear? “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) 

3. Develop a fear of God.  The fear of God has been defined as: “Realizing that God is watching and weighing every one of my thoughts, words, actions and attitudes.”  The fear of God places God in His rightful place in our lives.  When our walk with God is right, we can live our life with courage instead of fear. “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence:and his children shall have a place of refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26)

4. Walk by faith, not by sight.  When walk by faith in our loving, all-wise, and all-powerful God, we can face life with courage.  Fear cannot exist together with faith.  Fear flourishes when we see life from our perspective, instead of trusting our Great God.  When faith rules in our heart, we will have the courage to conquer any mountain that is before us.  “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Christ).” (Ephesians 3:12)

5. Study and memorize the Word of God.  Fear often is the result of ignorance.  When we study the Word of God, we see God working in the lives of people such as Moses, Joshua, Ruth, David and Daniel.  These people faced fearful situations; yet they faced them with courage because they knew their God. “But the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” (Daniel 11:32)  When we study the Word, we get to know God better.  The more we know Him, the more we will be able to trust Him.  Our fear will turn into courage, not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

6. Become familiar with the “fear nots” in the Bible. God knows our heart.  He knows that we are prone to fear.  We are prone to walk by sight and not by faith.  He encourages us with many of His “fear nots” in the Bible.  Here are just a few.

  • Fear not in your life’s journey. “And the Lord appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee,” Genesis 26:24
  • Fear not concerning your daily needs. “And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth.” (1 Kings 17:13-14)
  • Fear not when in danger. “And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”  (2 Kings 6:16)
  • Fear not in times of weakness. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee;” (Isaiah 41:10)
  • Fear not in times of trials. “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee,I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee;and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned;” (Isaiah 43:1-2)
  • Fear not in times of failure.  Here is what God said after the Israelites’ failure at Ai. “And the Lord said unto Joshua, Fear not, neither be thou dismayed:” (Joshua 8:1)  God did bring the victory after their previous failure.  
  • Fear not in times of sickness or nearing death. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

“Dear Lord, thank you for assuring me that you are with me throughout this life and for all eternity.  Thank you that you give me the courage to move forward in my life in spite of the obstacles that are before me.  Please, give me the courage to live each day for you. ”

Author’s Note: This is the second article in the series called “Moving Beyond!”

Moving Beyond Doubt to Faith

Morning sky over Sydney, Australia-Photo by: Mark J Booth

Faith in God can often be elusive in our lives.  We know that we should have faith in God; yet everything around us is crying out saying: “Can you really trust God?”.  “Why is God taking so long.?” “Where is God in all of this?”  How can we move beyond these doubts and live in faith towards God?

How do we doubt God in our daily lives?

  1.  We doubt the protection of God.  We feel vulnerable when events bring hurt into our lives.  Like the Israelites, we feel that God has left us on our own.
  2. We doubt the promises of God.  God’s Word is full of promises, but we don’t accept them for our own lives.  We feel undeserving.  We may be ignorant of his promises.  We think these promises don’t apply to our circumstances.  Thus, we lose out on the blessings that these promises provide.
  3. We doubt the presence of God. God says that “He will never leave us nor forsake us.”  We look for God, but we can’t seem to find Him.  We may think that he doesn’t care.
  4. We doubt the power of God.  Paul says: “I can do all things through Christ which sterngtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13)  However, we fail to experience this power when we are expecting God “to come through for us.”
  5. We doubt the provision of God.  God says that He will take care of us; yet we fret and worry about our money and possessions.
  6. We doubt the plan of God.  God is not working in our lives in the way we would like.  We decide to go our own way. Joseph could have doubted God’s plan because the path was dark and difficult to which God had called him.

What causes us to doubt God?

  1. We doubt God because of our own human nature.  One of the conflicts we have in our Christian life is that we choose to walk by sight and not by faith.  We allow our circumstances to cloud our view of God.  Sin blinds us to the reality of God’s Word and His Promises.
  2. We doubt God because of the influence of others.  When those around us doubt God and His Word, they can infect us with this same thinking.  The ten spies influenced one another to doubt God.  Caleb and Joshua had enough faith to withstand the pressure from the other spies.
  3. We doubt God because of the many obstacles that happen in our lives.  Job had some difficulties with his faith because his whole world had collapsed.  Likewise, we tend to doubt God in the tough times.
  4. We doubt God because of his “divine delays”.  God doesn’t work His plans in our time.  Because of this, we become impatient and we begin to doubt God.  We say: “Why hasn’t God done something!”

How do we move beyond doubt into faith? 

We know that we should walk by faith and not by sight.  We know that living by faith pleases God, but we still struggle with our doubts.  What can we do to cultivate our faith.

  1. We cultivate our faith through reading and studying the Word of God.  Romans 10:17 says:  “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  The reading of the Word enables us to learn more about God, His promises, and His working in our lives.  The more we know God; the more we will trust Him.  The heroes of the faith in Hebrews knew their God.  This resulted in their unwavering faith.  How well do we know our God?
  2. We cultivate our faith by learning to cry out to God.  Once Jesus met a man whose son was demon possessed.  This father understood his need to cry out to God:  “And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)  Crying out to God is saying: “I can’t do it.”  “I can’t continue without you.” God will respond when we cry out to Him.
  3. We cultivate faith by choosing faith when doubt is crying out to us.  When we choose faith, we are siding with God and His Word.  We put aside our viewpoints and opinions and accept the ways of God.  2 Corinthians 5:7 says: “(For we walk by faith, not by sight:)”  Paul made a choice to choose faith in spite of all the obstacles.  Our problems should be stepping stones to our faith and not stumbling blocks to our faith.

God is totally worthy of our faith.  He doesn’t need to prove Himself to us.  When we choose to move beyond doubt unto faith, we will live a life that is pleasing to God.  “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)  Faith in God brings pleasure to God because it shows that we know Him, we love Him,  and we need Him.

Faith is a choice in the midst of obstacles.  Let’s move beyond our doubts and place our faith in Him.  Doubt will make cowards of us all.  Faith will enable us to face life with courage.  Doubt will keep us from moving forward in our Christian life.  Faith will keep us walking close to God.

“Father, I doubt you quite often.  I choose to walk by sight instead of by faith.  Like the man who cried out to you to help his unbelief, I cry out to you: “Increase my faith.”

Lean Hard! What to Do When the Burdens are Heavy.

Outside of Mexico City from a plane: Photo by Mark Booth

Is your burden too heavy to carry?  Are you facing difficult times?  Are you without hope? Are you without direction?  Does anybody care?  Yes, there is One who does care. His name is Jesus Christ.  What does God say: “Casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) God is ready and waiting for us to place our burdens upon Him.

Here is a devotion written by Octavius Winslow that expresses God’s desire for us to Lean Hard upon Him.  Octavius Winslow was a pastor during the 19th century who was known for compassionate and doctrinally sound preaching.  He is one of my favorite authors.  I would encourage any of my readers to look up his books and download them for free.  Enjoy the following devotion and don’t forget to Lean Hard! 

Lean hard!

(from Winslow’s, “The Burden Cast upon God”)

“Cast thy burden upon the Lord; and
He shall sustain thee.” (Psalm 55:22)

It is by an act of simple, prayerful faith we
transfer our cares and anxieties, our sorrows
and needs, to the Lord.

Jesus invites you come and lean upon
Him, and to lean with all your might upon
that arm that balances the universe, and
upon that bosom that bled for you upon
the soldier’s spear!

But you doubtingly ask, “Is the Lord able to do this
thing for me?” And thus, while you are debating a
matter about which there is not the shadow of a
shade of doubt, the burden is crushing your gentle
spirit to the dust.

And all the while Jesus stands at your side and
lovingly says, “Cast your burden upon Me and
I will sustain you. I am God Almighty. I bore
the load of your sin and condemnation up the
steep of Calvary, and the same power of
omnipotence, and the same strength of love that
bore it all for you then, is prepared to bear your
need and sorrow now. Roll it all upon Me!”

“Child of My Love! Lean hard! Let Me feel the
pressure of your care. I know your burden, child!
I shaped it- I poised it in My own hand and made
no proportion of its weight to your unaided strength.
For even as I laid it on, I said I shall be near, and
while she leans on Me, this burden shall be Mine,
not hers. So shall I keep My child within the circling
arms of My own love. Here lay it down! Do not
fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the
government of worlds! Yet closer come! You are
not near enough! I would embrace your burden,
so I might feel My child reposing on My breast.
You love Me! I know it. Doubt not, then. But,
loving me, lean hard!

Will we LEAN HARD upon Him??

P.S  Here are a couple of websites with more writings by Octavius Winslow.  Enjoy!
http://www.gracegems.org/BOOKS/Octavius%20Winslow%20books.htm
http://octaviuswinslow.org