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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - The Strength of Our Heart

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. - Psalm 73:26

I realize we've already discussed God as our strength and our portion, but I want to cover the phrase "the strength of my heart," because while it is similar to strength as a whole, it is also very different.  To fully understand the concept, we must focus on the first part of the verse:  My flesh and my heart faileth.

Let's put that in today's terms.  I'm weary and tired.  I'm weak and frail.  I'm ready to give up, and my body is spent.  I'm sick in both spirit and body.  Can you relate?  Have you ever been to the place where you felt too tired and discouraged to keep going?  You knew you shouldn't quit, but to continue would take more strength and energy than you had.  That's where the psalmist finds himself.  Too weak to go on.  Too frustrated to keep trying.  Too helpless to do much of anything.

Fortunately, the psalmist had a hope to which he could cling.  He knew God and understood that when he was weak, that's when God was at His strongest.  Yes, the psalmist realized that God lay at the end of his strength and failures.  When he felt he didn't have what it took to carry on, He tapped into strength from another source.  But not just any strength.  Strength of the heart.

As I mentioned earlier, we've already discussed God as our strength in the sense that He gives us courage and makes us physically and spiritually strong.  But now, we see that God also makes us mentally and emotionally strong.  He not only provides us with the strength to fight the battles, but He also gives us the desire and motivation to do so.  God strengthens our hearts.  He gives us the will to keep going, to keep fighting, to keep on keeping on.  Without Him, we're doomed to fail.

Perhaps you're in a place right now where you feel you can't take another step.  Your body is tired and weary.  Your heart aches.  Your emotions are frayed.  Your eyes burn from the constant tears.  Your mind feels like some amusement park ride that spins you around and around.  You know you need to keep going.  You know it's never right to quit.  But you also know you have nothing left to give.  Your tank is empty.

If that's you, take comfort from the psalmist's reminder.  Even when your flesh and heart fail, you can depend on God to get you through.  It may not be quick or easy, but He will bring you to the other side of your suffering.  He will be the strength of your heart that provides what you need to keep pushing through.  Pushing through the pain.  Pushing through the doubt.  Pushing through the confusion and frustration.  No, there's no need to despair.  You can keep on keeping on.  You merely need to tap into the strength of your heart.  He's waiting.  All you need to do is ask.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. - II Corinthians 12:9

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Falling Apart or Falling into Place?

I'm taking another short break in our series in Psalms to share with you a lesson I learned this weekend.  As you know, Barnabas (our new dog) suffers from severe anxiety issues.  As he's gotten to know and trust us, he's gotten much better, but he still has a difficult time with separation anxiety. . .especially where Jason is concerned.  Yes, we realized that he reacts much better to my absence than he does to Jason's (talk about feeling loved!).

Anyway, in route to our hiking destination this past weekend, we needed to make a quick stop on the way.  Jason typically goes into the store, leaving me to sit with the dog in the car, but with Barnabas' issue, we've been swapping roles.  However, as we discussed this, we realized he would never learn if we didn't put him in the position to learn.  Here's the gist of what I said, "I know he gets upset and freaks out, but he will never figure out how to deal with these issues unless we make him face them.  I hate to do it to him because I know how anxious he gets, but I hope that, over time, he'll experience this type of situation enough to realize that everything is under control, and it's no big deal."

There's that heavenly thump in the back of my head.  The words came out of my mouth, but I heard them in a different voice altogether.  Instead of me talking to Jason about Barnabas, it was as if God was speaking to Jesus about me.  "Yes, I know she gets upset and freaks out, but she will never figure out how to deal with these issues unless we make her face them.  I hate to do it to her because I know how anxious she gets, but I hope that, over time, she'll experience this type of situation enough to realize that everything is under control, and it's no big deal."

I learned that exposure to stressful situations is not some cruel, cosmic joke or some form of punishment for the wrong I've done but rather a teaching experience.  Through this experience with Barnabas, I feel I better understand what it means to go through tough times and what God expects from us.  He hopes we will learn, grow, and increase our faith.  He doesn't long to see us tired, weary and anxious, but He knows it's the only way we'll learn to trust Him fully.  Sometimes, the only way to overcome a problem is to face it head-on time and again until we are victorious.

Barnabas is figuring this out as well.  Jason went in the store, and while our poor pup pitched a bit of a fit, it was a smaller tantrum than it had been in times past.  We also made another stop on the way home.  This one was longer, but Barnabas did reasonably well.  He's learning.  He's understanding that he doesn't have to freak out every time he's unsure of what's taking place.  He's beginning to comprehend we love him and have his best interest at heart.  It may take several more tries before the fits stop altogether, but progress is progress, so I'm happy.

I wonder, though, can God say the same about me?  Am I learning?  Am I understanding?  I believe I am.  No, I haven't arrived, but progress is progress, and God is still working on me.  He's still working on you too, so don't despair when you find yourself in difficult straits.  Know that He loves you enough to do what's necessary to help you grow.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Monday, October 16, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Hope

For thou art my hope, O Lord God: thou art my trust from my youth. - Psalm 71:5

What is hope?  In the days in which we live, the word "hope" seems to have a limited meaning compared with its usage several years ago.  For many, the word "hope" is synonymous with the word "wish." I hope it doesn't rain.  I hope I get the job.  I hope the deposit goes through before the bills come out.  I hope.  I wish.  I desire. I want these things to happen, but in truth, it's only wishful thinking.

But if you look up the word "hope," you'll discover that it means "to cherish a desire with anticipation, to desire with expectation of obtainment, or to expect with confidence." It goes far beyond wanting to the realm of expecting. And it is this genuine hope that is one of the greatest gifts God bestows upon us.

When viewing God as our hope, however, we must be careful that we accept Him as our expectation and not merely consider our expectations of Him.  In other words, we must beware against expecting God to be at our beck and call, treating Him as some genie in a magical lamp.  We must also guard against expecting Him to do for us things He never promised He would do.  These types of expectations only lead to doubt, discouragement, and disappointment.  We cannot expect God to be what we want Him to be.  On the other hand, there are many things we can expect from God—all of which have Scriptural backing.

With God as our hope, we can expect the following:

God will always be God. - Psalm 48:14

God is good. - Psalm 145:9

God is just. - Deuteronomy 32:4

God is holy. - Revelation 4:8

God will fulfill all His promises. - II Peter 3:9

God will never leave us or forsake us. - Hebrews 13:5

God will always love us. - Romans 8:38-39

God will come again and take those of us who are saved to Heaven to live with Him eternally. - John 14:2-3

God can be trusted. - Psalm 22:4-5

God is the same yesterday, today and forever. - Hebrews 13:8

God is not a respecter of persons. - Romans 2:11

God is in control. - Job 12:10

Yes, in these truths (and many more), we can have confidence.  We can expect God to be true to His nature, and in that, He is our hope, and He gives us hope.  Hope for a brighter tomorrow.  Hope for a beautiful future.  Hope for answered prayers and wiped away tears.  Hope to live and breathe day after day.  Hope to be all He wants us to be.

My mind drifted away for a moment to a line from my favorite television show.  In the midst of a dark situation, one of the leading characters asks the wise physician, "Is there no hope?  No hope at all?"  The physician answered, "My lady, there is always hope."  Amen to that!  God is eternal.  He has no beginning or end.  And if God is hope (which according to today's verse, He is), then hope is also eternal, with no beginning or end.  Yes, as long as there is God, there is hope!

Friday, October 13, 2017

Activate Your Faith

Activate your faith.  What a simple, yet profound statement.  I heard it proclaimed yesterday at a ladies' meeting.  The speaker spoke of how the phrase changed her life, and in the moments after she said it, I realized it was going to change mine as well.

I had always compared my faith to an automatic function like that of the adrenal gland.  The adrenal gland is the part of the body that senses danger or excitement and automatically activates to send the body into "fight or flight" mode.  You know--adrenaline rush.  This process is not something we have to think about.  When being confronted by a frightening situation, we don't have to tell our hearts to beat faster.  It just happens.  It's a reaction.  It works the way God intended for it to work.   It's our bodies' automatic response.

Faith is not like that at all, and until yesterday, I hadn't really thought about it.  To be honest, I've often felt that I must be the lousiest believer on the planet because every time stormy circumstances come my way, I find myself running for cover instead of braving the winds.  Faith?  What faith?  Why can't I be like Paul who boldly said, "Infirmities.  Persecutions.  Trials.  Bring it on.  It's no big deal"?  What? Are you insane?  Of course it's a big deal.

But now I understand the difference between Paul and myself.  Paul activated his faith; I've merely been waiting for mine to automatically kick in.  It just doesn't work that way.  Activating our faith takes time, effort and a willingness to be uncomfortable for a little while.  Activating our faith requires us to study, memorize and claim God's promises.  It requires us to be on guard against the deadly darts of the devil such as destructive thoughts and attitudes, "little sins," and feelings of envy or bitterness.  It requires a conscious decision of "No, I will not give in.  No, I'm not running this time."  And it requires us to give up the reins.  We must stop trying to live our lives by our plans and agendas, and must instead completely surrender to God.  (I never said this would be easy!)

Activate your faith.  It doesn't work on auto-pilot.  And the process will not be an easy one.  But I guarantee you this:  it will be rewarding!

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

*Excerpt from Rise Up and Build Devotional:  52 Inspirational Thoughts for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Who Do You Think I Am? - Our Habitation

Be thou my strong habitation, whereunto I may continually resort: thou hast given commandment to save me; for thou art my rock and my fortress. - Psalm 71:3

While we haven't yet discussed the term "habitation," we have looked at its meaning through several of the other terms we've studied thus far.  The word "habitation" refers to a dwelling place, a refuge, a safe place, or a place in which we can abide.  God is that place.  In Him, we are protected from harm, but more than that, we can be ourselves and be at rest.  In Him, we are free to be comfortable and at peace.  In fact, He longs for us to feel at home in His presence.

As if all of that weren't awesome enough, look at the descriptive phrase that follows the word "habitation" in the verse above—whereunto I may continually resort.  The word "resort" means "to enter into," and I think we all know what "continually" means.  God is not just a place we can sometimes go.  He's not just a refuge in the storm or a habitation during the good times.  He is always available to us.  We may enter into His presence continually.  As often as we'd like.  As many times as we need.  He will never turn us away.  Never will He give us a dismissive wave of His hand.  On the contrary, every time we are welcomed with open arms and a loving smile.  He never grows weary of our company or wishes we would go away.

As I think on this, I'm reminded of the events that took place moments after my return from my prayer walk this morning.  I slipped out while Barnabas was eating his breakfast, so the leaving was fairly simple.  However, I didn't make it back until after Jason had left for work, which meant poor Barnabas had been alone for about thirty minutes.  He doesn't like to be alone.

Anyway, I opened the door and found an empty house.  Within seconds, fifty-five pounds of black dog came tearing through the doggie door and hurried to my side.  I led him to the couch and sat down.  Suddenly, all I could see was dog.  Evidently, he missed me enough that sitting next to me was not sufficient.  He had to sit in my lap.  For the next several minutes, we sat on the couch together—his massive body curled up in my lap, eating up whatever attention I gave him.  And while I felt my legs might break under the weight, I felt happy and loved and appreciated.  Whether I'm gone five minutes or five hours, the welcome is generally the same.

I imagine that's how it is with God.  Whether we last spoke to Him an hour ago or a week ago, He can't wait to hear from us again.  No matter the last time we were in His presence, He longs to see us again.  And every time we go to Him, He welcomes us with that love and affection that makes us feel happy, loved and appreciated, even though we're not worthy of any of that.

What a privilege to know God is always available to us, and we can abide in His presence continually.  We never have to leave, and if we do, it's our choice.  But know this, we are always allowed to return.  God is our habitation, and He wants all of His children to come home.