Three Anchors of Hope
There are times in our lives when our most deeply held values and beliefs are tested with fire. This is God’s refining (or pruning) process. With it come genuine pain, heartache, and difficulty. Yet, ideally, the person who comes out the other side is closer to God and the likeness of Christ. It is during times like these we discover if we really believe what we say we believe.
Over the last twenty-something years, I’ve been greatly influenced by Scripture and godly authors who have deepened my understanding and conviction regarding three great anchors of hope for tough times. I have come to a place in my life in which I embrace these key truths as the only way in which I am able to trust God, regardless of the circumstances. They are,
I believe those three affirmations with all of my heart. My belief is no mere intellectual acknowledgement. These three truths are in my bloodstream. Thus, because I so deeply believe these things are true, I know I can always trust God. The God described in those three statements is the awesome God of Holy Scripture, the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Surely that is the God King Solomon had in mind when he wrote these words,
Proverbs 3:5 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Solomon goes on to say we are not to be wise in our eyes. But that’s exactly what we do when we suppose, even for a second, that we know better than God. It’s laughable to think we know what our best interest is in any situation, no matter how trivial. Among our many deficiencies, we have not been given an omniscient mind that knows all possible scenarios and outcomes of those scenarios. Such knowledge is essential in knowing how to discern what the very best plan for our life would be.
It really is arrogant to lean on our own understanding. Think about the words “lean” or “depend.” They carry with them the notion of putting one’s weight on or against something that will help provide stability. Would you really prefer to put all of your weight against something weak, fragile, and incapable of bracing you? Instead, wouldn’t you rather put your weight against an immovable, utterly dependable, trustworthy Rock? That’s the God of Holy Scripture.
Yet, how often do we turn to our own wisdom and understanding?
Enter, King Asa
I’ve had something of a roller-coaster ride of emotions as I’ve read about good King Asa in 2 Chronicles. Because good kings are so few and far between in the Old Testament, I’ve been celebrating his faithfulness to God. Notice what we read about him in the following verses.
2 Chronicles 14:2 – Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles 14:5 – He removed the high places and incense altars in every town in Judah, and the kingdom was at peace under him.
2 Chronicles 15:1-2 – The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.  He went out to meet Asa and said to him, “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:8 – When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim. He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple.
2 Chronicles 15:16-17 – King Asa also deposed his grandmother Maacah from her position as queen mother, because she had made a repulsive Asherah pole. Asa cut the pole down, broke it up and burned it in the Kidron Valley.  Although he did not remove the high places from Israel, Asa’s heart was fully committed to the Lord all his life.
Verse 17b sums it up all so nicely. I couldn’t help but cheer as I read those verses, asking God to make my heart just as fully committed to him as King Asa’s. But then…
If you don’t already know the story, then you experience the rug getting suddenly yanked out from underneath you. For in 2 Chronicles 16:1-6, we learn King Asa, who had placed his trust in the Lord, now put his trust in his own wisdom and ingenuity. To make matters worse, his plan seemed to work. He must have thought all was well. Yet we learn of the consequences of his plan in 2 Chronicles 16:7-9,
At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: “Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.  Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the Lord, he delivered them into your hand.  For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
What Could Have Been
These words of Hanani could have served as an impetus for repentance. The opportunity was there for Asa to see the foolishness of his ways and to get back on track with God. He could have admitted his rebellion and returned to God. Asa would have been no different than any of us who have wandered off the right path from time to time as we sought our own way, according to our own wisdom. Our loving and merciful God is always there at the ready to offer pardon and renewal. I’m astounded at how patient God is with me in my own life.
But Asa went a different way. He chose to respond in anger to the reprimand. He “shot the messenger” rather than taking heed to the message (v. 10). Thus, we read these sad words in verses 12-13,
In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the Lord, but only from the physicians.  Then in the forty-first year of his reign Asa died and rested with his fathers.
Sad indeed… even tragic.
I have a great desire to run the race of faith to its completion and finish well. Don’t you? But that journey is a lifetime pursuit. We must persevere. No matter how much God has blessed us we must never presume upon his grace. We must not assume God owes us any good thing. We must beware of taking our lives into our own hands and depending on our own wisdom to see our way through, even when (especially when) things seem to be going so well.
It’s during those exceedingly tough times in life you discover who or what you’ve really been placing your trust in all along.
Instead, a lifetime of humility before God is called for. Hosea reminds us in 14:9,
Who is wise? He will realize these things. Who is discerning? He will understand them. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.
Zephaniah too, calls us to seek humility.
Zephaniah 2:3 – Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.
I want to finish well. Whether my last day on earth is today or 50 years from now, I want to finish well. I want to hear those words every follower of Jesus Christ desires to hear,
Matthew 25:21 – “…’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
Therefore, between today and “that day” I must trust in the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding. In all my ways I must acknowledge him and he will make my paths straight.
What are obstacles in your life that make it difficult to trust God during the good times? During the tough times? What are some spiritual practices you can begin today to help you grow in your ability to trust God? Set a meeting with a godly friend and share your ideas and ask for prayer.
Grace and Truth,
Jeremiah 32:38-39 - They will be my people, and I will be their God.  I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them.
The Promise Keeper
Our covenant-making, covenant-keeping God is ever pursuing and sustaining us. This passage from Jeremiah reminds us of this. God’s people had done every abominable thing imaginable in rebellion against God. They disobeyed him, ignored him, and chased after idols. And there were consequences. There always are.
Yet God had made a promise to Israel’s ancestors. And God keeps his promises.
A Promise Renewed
God once again renewed his covenant and declared he would draw his people back to him. Furthermore, he said he would “give them singleness of heart and action, so that they [would] always fear [him]…” What a blessing it is to have a single-minded passion and mind for God and the things of God – to serve him only! Such single-mindedness gives birth to a proper fear, or reverence, of God. For it is when we cease to fear God that we wander off in our own direction, after idols.
Compared to God, we are mere babes who do not know what is good for us. God has our good in mind, but not at the expense of his glory and honor. He will never sacrifice or compromise his character just so we can feel good about ourselves.
Pray for Revival
We must pray, even now, that God will revive our weary hearts, minds, and souls with singleness of heart and action so it might go well with us. But not only for us, but also for our children, the text reminds us. For God seldom works only with an individual in mind. Instead, he makes and keeps covenant with families and communities in mind – for a thousand generations.
Let us remember our covenantal faithfulness affects more than just ourselves. It touches those in our lives whom we may never even know in this life, but who may yet do great things for God. Let’s also remember our unfaithfulness has consequences as well.
O Lord, give us a singleness of heart for you and your Kingdom all the days of our lives. In Christ we pray. Amen.
Our hearts, minds and souls must be awakened by God. Today, start praying for your own revival and that of your family, church, workplace, community, city, nation, and world. Develop a weekly prayer-schedule that will include all these spheres of influence. Ask the Lord to give you a singleness of heart and mind for him and his Kingdom.
Grace and Truth,
Colossians 2:6-7 - So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Off to a Great Start
We start off so well. With great gratitude and enthusiasm we bow before the throne of our King. Upon placing our trust in Christ alone – “receiving” him – we take on the world in his name.
But motivation and inspiration can wane. That which does not become habit and done out of joyful and obedient self-discipline will not last for the long haul. That is why church history is littered with travelers who fell by the wayside on the narrow road to the celestial city. Jesus taught that the seed of God’s Word sometimes falls on shallow soil and does not take the necessary root it needs to live and grow (Matthew 13:1-23).
Continue In Him
Thus, Paul exhorts us to “continue to live in him.” This is much more than simple encouragement to attend church and have your quiet time, both of which are good. He is indeed saying followers of Christ are to persevere in such means of grace. But even more than that, Paul is declaring that our very power source is the Lord himself. He is our power, foundation, anchor, and compass - our all in all. The Lord Jesus Christ must not be sprinkled on our lives to simply add a little flavor to an already okay meal. Instead, he is to be our life. To claim we are in Christ means we died with him in his crucifixion and are raised with him in his resurrection. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
Root, Shoot, and Fruit
I love the language Paul uses to undergird his thesis. He adds that we are to be “rooted and built up in him.” In John 15:1-8, we discover Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, he tells us, we can do nothing. If we would bear fruit, we must remain connected to Christ. He must be our root, for it is only then he will bear fruit in and through us. If we as branches ever become detached from our vine, we become useless.
Our Chief Cornerstone
Changing our imagery, Jesus is our chief cornerstone and we are to be built up in him. He is our only sure foundation. All else is shifting sand. If we are not built up in him, we will crumble during the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
What does it mean to be “built up” in Christ? Paul helps us here. He says it means to be strengthened in the faith we were taught. When those in the early church first came to faith in Christ, they sat at the feet of the Apostles and learned from them (Acts 2:42). Today we have their authoritative teaching in Holy Scripture. We are built up and strengthened in Christ when we meet him in his Word and listen to his instruction. More than that, we must obey what we hear (Matthew 7:24-27).
And so be encouraged. You have the greatest resource at God’s disposal to enable you to bear much, good, and lasting fruit in your life, Christ Jesus our Lord and the power of his Spirit. Without him you cannot do anything. With him, all things are possible.
I have provided Scripture references throughout this devotion. Look up these texts and meditate upon them as you reflect on the following questions. What is the hardest part for you when it comes to persevering with Christ? Does it encourage you to know God has provided his greatest resource to help you live your life well? What are three ways you can deepen your roots in Christ? Share your answers with a friend and start “deepening your roots” today.
Grace and Truth,
Ephesians 5:15-17 - Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise,  making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Scripture says we are like vapors which are here today and then, POOF, gone in an instant. Some of us may live to the national average or even past it. Others will not live that long. Whatever the case may be, Scripture reminds us, “man knows not his time.” Therefore, since no one knows when they will be called home, doesn’t it make sense to make the most of every day as though it was our last?
Have you ever been asked what you would do if you only had one week or month left to live? Often, when we’re asked such a question, we offer a sweet, sentimental, or even profound answer that stresses urgency. Yet, few “live out” their answers because they suppress the truth of reality and mistakenly believe they have an infinite supply of time and opportunities before them.
In our Scripture, the Apostle Paul says this is unwise.
Making the Most of Time
Paul instructs us to be careful in how we live. He says we need to be wise, not unwise, and make the most of every opportunity. Many of the great saints of Christian history referred to this as, “redeeming the time.”
Beloved, your life is a gift from God. You are called to be a steward of it. In a real sense your life is not your own. In Romans 12, the Apostle Paul said followers of Christ must offer themselves as living sacrifices to God. He lived during Israel’s sacrificial system in which the animal “gave up its life” on the altar. If we are called to be living sacrifices, we must daily put ourselves back on the altar before God in dedication to him, because living sacrifices tend to crawl off of it by the end of each day.
There is cost involved here to be sure. To give ourselves to the Lord in this way will require sacrifice, commitment, and self-discipline. To redeem the time we have been given, to make the most of every opportunity, we must change the way see and think about our daily lives. A change of perspective is required
An Eternal Perspective Needed
God can be glorified in our most mundane tasks. Whether we are driving to work, mowing the yard, or wrestling with our children, we can do so to God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). What matters is the motivation of our heart. Martin Luther is often quoted as saying a cobbler who makes excellent shoes on Monday glorifies God as much as the pastor who preaches the Gospel on Sunday. Both require an eternal perspective and motivation that transcends themselves.
Isn’t it a relief to know you can glorify God without necessarily moving to the other side of the world as a missionary or becoming an ordained pastor? You don’t have to be doing something “religious” to redeem your time. The Apostle Paul said whether you eat, or drink, or whatever you do, do it for God’s glory. What’s more ordinary than eating and drinking? What you are doing is not as important as why and how you are doing it. So, brothers and sisters, redeem your time.
How can you change the focus and motivation of your daily life from the temporal minutiae to an eternal perspective that seeks God’s glory? What are three ordinary things you do on a daily basis that can be transformed by wisely making the most of them? Share your ideas with someone you can trust to hold you accountable and who will pray for you.
Grace and Truth,
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12)
Extending the Kingdom
One of the emphases of my teaching ministry is to call followers of Christ to “extend the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.” The word “extend” means to stretch, lengthen, prolong, continue, expand, enlarge, offer, put forth, give, impart, and present, just to name a few. While each of those words is similar, each represents a slightly different emphasis which is key in understanding our Christian mission.
However, in our text today, Jesus focuses on his Kingdom “advancing.” This has a military ring to it. Jesus adds that forceful men lay hold of this forcefully advancing Kingdom. My NIV footnote says,
“They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever-increasing persecution.”
John Piper says advancing the Kingdom of God in such a way requires a “wartime mentality.” The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing yet the kingdom of darkness actively resists it. As men seeking godliness, we are daily fighting for our lives and for the lives of those we love and who’ve been entrusted to our care. The world, the flesh, and the devil are formidable adversaries. If we do not maintain a wartime mentality, being ever vigilant and standing firm in our faith, then we, and those we love, will suffer the ravages of war, the consequences of our poor preparation.
Therefore, we must fight the good fight of faith. We must enter the battle through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). This narrow gate is Jesus himself. Living life as his disciple means entering into new life through him and traveling the “Kingdom road” he has set before us, regardless of how narrow and hard it is. Peter says many will leave this Kingdom road and wander off because they love the wages of wickedness (2 Peter 2:15), which results in death (Romans 6:23). The battle rages all around us, but we must stand firm in our faith, or we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).
Standing firm takes a wartime mentality. We cannot assume we are ever safe from attack. We must be ever watchful and on our guard. We are called, commanded, and expected to fight, persevere, press on, and stand firm. But we are never asked to do this in our strength, but the Lord’s.
The wonderful paradox of Scripture is that while we persevere, our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. The battle is ultimately his.
Forceful men lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which our Lord causes to advance in and through his power. Therefore, we work through his power (Colossians 1:29). God’s Kingdom advances as faithful men represent their King in every sphere of their lives, even in enemy-occupied territory.
Such faithful witness will not be easy. After all, it is a war. There will be a cost which we’re commanded to consider before we enter the fray. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at us daily (Ephesians 6:16). He hides and waits to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The world sends out its false teachers to lead us astray (2 Peter 2:1ff).
And yet the Kingdom advances still.
What are three things you can begin doing today that will help you foster a “wartime mentality?” What are three practical ways you can “stand firm in the faith” in the various spheres of your life – home, work, community, etc.? How can citizens of “enemy-occupied” territory resist the Kingdom of God? How can you graciously and lovingly represent your King in such situations?
Grace and Truth,
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