Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow…

“Give us this day our daily bread…”
(Matthew 6:11 ESV)

Its Wednesday again, and here I am wondering What am I going to write about today?  Relentlessly Wednesday keeps coming, and I struggle to find something that will be a blessing to you.  I am so thankful for the encouragement that you give me, telling me how what I have written has encouraged you, how the midweek message is just what you needed to hear.  Sunday’s don’t bother me as much.  I’ve been preaching for almost 10 years now, I know how to study and prepare.  But this weekly writing is new to me.  I still get anxious for Wednesdays.

Each of us has that one thing (or many things) that we get anxious over.  What will I write about?  Will I get that job?  Will he/she ask me out for the Homecoming Dance?  Can our marriage survive this?  Will my family/children be provided for if something happens to me?  Will I recover from this illness?  Will I be welcomed and secure in my new home?  Can I find the strength to overcome this temptation and avoid sin?  Sometimes the thought of what is coming tomorrow can crush us today.  We can be so overcome and overwhelmed by anxiety about what may come that we lose hope and begin to despair.

One of the most repeated commandments of scripture is, “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus knew the tendency of our hearts was to lose sight of what God has done in the past, to fixate on the uncertainty of our future, and to be overcome with anxiety and despair.  This is why He taught us to pray to God for our daily bread – to teach us and remind us to trust in God daily for the grace we need to face the day.  Just as God provided manna in the wilderness (Exodus 16:35), just as God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies in all their splendor (Matthew 6:28), God will provide for you.

Simply telling you not to worry, though, is only half the solution.  Often times, we have to supplement a negative behavior with a positive one (I used to vacuum whenever I wanted to snack at night).  The same thing applies to your spiritual life.  Unless you supplant your anxiety with something else, you will soon return to your fears and doubts.  So what can you do?

Think about today…  Jesus pointed out the futility of our anxieties, “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life…  Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious enough for itself” Matthew 6:27).  Stewing over the problems we face and our inability to deal with them only compounds the problems.  Too often we rely on our own resources and our limited vision, and wind up in a bigger mess than when we started.  But when we realize that our God is bigger than the problems we face, we can find great strength and encouragement.  Lamentations 3:22-26 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.  It is good that one should wait patiently for the salvation of the Lord.”  We need to learn to wait for the Lord, to trust in his grace that he has given for this day.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not;
As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Prayer and Thanksgiving… Paul teaches in Philippians 4:6, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”  How many times do we run headlong into a problem without ever taking it to the Lord in prayer?  Don’t we usually find ourselves up to our necks in our own undoing before we finally cry out to God?  Take a moment right now and think of those things that you are most anxious about.  Now tell God about it, make your request before the throne of God, and be sure to thank God for listening and for the ways He’s worked in your life before and continues to work today.  Go ahead… I’ll wait.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Trust in His promises – One of the things that prayer and thanksgiving does is it helps us to remember God’s faithfulness in the past, and his promise for the future.  When the Israelites began to wonder whether God would deliver them, they would be reminded of the way His mighty right arm and delivered them from Egypt and provided for them in the wilderness.  When the early church faced persecution and oppression, they were encouraged by remembering the mighty work of deliverance through Jesus our savior.  Even today, when we wonder if maybe this obstacle is too big for God, let us remember all that God has done and have hope for what he is about to do.  God has promised good things (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28), and “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

SDG

And the answer is… No

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…”
(2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV) 

 

Not long ago, the family was gathered around the table for supper – my favorite – Tator-Tot Casserole.  We took a moment to pray, thanking God for our family and the food He provided.  When everyone said, “Amen,” my son looked up and said, “We need to pray again?”  “Why,” my wife asked.  To which his response was, “Cause I want jelly-butter instead.”

It took a while to explain that that’s not exactly how prayer worked (actually, it took longer to convince him to eat his supper).  We didn’t want to discourage his young spirit from taking everything to God in prayer.  He needed to know that even though God didn’t change his dinner options, God still listened to his prayer and loved to hear him pray.  Still, he also needed to know that sometimes God answers our prayers with a “No.”

My son doesn’t like to hear “No,” but if we’re honest, neither do any of us.  How many times do we come up with what we think is a great idea, only to be told “no” by those who have greater insight and understanding.  “No, you can’t buy that,” “no, you can’t have this promotion,” “no, you have to stay right here.”  It can be frustrating, disappointing, and discouraging to hear “no.”

Sometimes, we hear “no” and think “not yet,” or “maybe.”  We continue to push forward in the things we want, the plans we’ve made, only to set ourselves up for even greater disappointment.  “I know this is the right thing for me, even though everyone else says it’s not.  Even though they say ‘no,’ I say ‘yes.’”

We do this with God.  We pray that God will guide us as we make our choices.  Then, when the doors seem to shut in our face, when friends and counselors tell us to look elsewhere, we ignore God’s “no” and press forward anyway.

Here’s the simple truth: If God says “no” to your prayers, it’s because He has something better in store for you.  So many times we go to God, asking Him to approve of our choices even though they may not be honoring to God or beneficial to ourselves and others.  We think we’ve thought through all the possibilities, and that God should see our wisdom and say, “I wish I had thought of that.”  Instead, God, who is infinitely wise, powerful, and sovereign, knows what is right and best for His people.  If we go to God in prayer, and the answer to our prayers is a resounding “no,” shouldn’t we listen and obey?

Paul had this experience.  He had been given “a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan,” he calls it, to keep him from being too proud of his ecstatic vision of heaven (2 Cor. 12).  Whether this “messenger of Satan” was a physical injury, hardship and oppression, or just a really cranky and obnoxious dissenter in his church, we will never know.  We do know that Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to have this thorn removed, and every time the Lord’s answer was clearly, “NO!”

Why?  Why wouldn’t the Lord remove this obstacle from Paul so that he could continue in to thrive in his ministry?  Is God the ultimate kill-joy, withholding His power so that His people would suffer?  Surely God could remove this burden from Paul if He desired.  Couldn’t God see how much better life would be for Paul if He would only answer this prayer?

It was precisely for Paul’s ministry, and for his joy in life, that God said “no.”  God’s answer to Paul was this, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  God could have removed whatever had been causing Paul such pain, but then Paul would never have learned to rely so completely on the all-sufficient grace of God.  Paul would have trusted in his strength, rather than in the power of Christ that rested upon him.  Paul would never have learned to be content in God through “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.”  He never would have come to the point of saying, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Friends, if God is telling you “no” when you pray, learn to trust that His “no” is gracious and kind, that God has something greater in store for you.  His plans for you are good, not evil, plans for a future and a hope (Jer. 29:11).  Faithfully wait in His “no,” and see how His grace is made sufficient for you, how His power is made perfect in your weakness.

Grace and peace,

SDG