Keep Your Courage Up and Believe God

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The 276 people aboard the ship bound for Rome bobbed about in the sea at the mercy of the fierce Euroquilo (northeaster) storm that battered the ship’s sails and rigging to the point that the captain ordered them taken down, leaving the ship subject to the storm’s capricious will. The fierce squall raged for days unabated in its fury, bringing with it misery upon misery for the passengers and crew. Acts 27:20 says, “Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.” Between verses 20 and 21 of Acts 27 it appears a few more days pass for the narrative states, “And when they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst” encouraging them that no one would perish from the storm, though the ship would be lost.

In verse 23 Paul tells the passengers and crew that an angel of God appeared to him that very night telling him, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you. Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told (verses 24-25).”

Oh, wouldn’t it be just lovely when we are experiencing our own northeaster storms and our hearts are tempted to despair that all hope is lost, we could, like Paul, have a direct messenger from God, telling us not to be afraid? Such a message would be so particular and tailored for us that we immediately take heart. Yes, it might be tempting to somewhat envy Paul’s personal encouragement from the Lord. Yet, there really is no need for envy on our part, for we have received just such a kindness from the Lord, in fact, even better, for the multiplied promises of deliverance contained in the Scriptures cover every circumstance we might ever undergo.   

Paul encouraged all on board the ship to keep up their courage because, as he said, “I believe God (Acts 27:25).” Knowing that God always keeps His Word, Paul chose to believe God’s promise of deliverance would come to pass. Paul trusted in God’s character of faithfulness to fulfill His promises and render aid to His children. Paul’s words of faith and trust—I believe God—can encourage us today when we face our own storms.

Will you keep up your courage and believe God?

God says He is always with us. The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’ (Hebrews 13:5-6).” That universal promise of the Lord’s presence is meant to bolster our courage and lead us out of fear, so that we can respond with that same faith and hope as Paul—“The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid!”

God says He is the God who delivers. Psalm 107 is a testimony to the delivering nature of God. He comes to the rescue of His children—always, as the oft repeated phrase attests, “Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses (Psalm 107:6, 13, 19, 28).”

God says He is an active and ever present helper to us. Psalm 46:1-2 proclaims, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.”

God says He brings us through the trials. Psalm 68:19-20 encourages us, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, the God who is our salvation. God is to us a God of deliverances; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.”

If we continue to look at Paul’s story in Acts 27, we also learn that though Paul received God’s comforting message that all would be saved from the storm, it’s also helpful to note that deliverance wasn’t immediate. There were still more hours of soul-numbing and body-bruising buffeting from the storm before God’s rescue would be realized. In fact, the text says they endured the storm a total of 14 days, going that long without food as well. It wasn’t until Paul again encouraged them all to trust God, and cheerfully led the way in eating some food, that they themselves finally took heart and partook of some nourishment (verse 36).

Trusting God means keeping your courage up. Keeping our courage up comes from focusing on the Lord's character and His complete faithfulness. Trusting who He is, helps us wait well for our deliverance. David understood this when he wrote in Psalm 27:13-14, "I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord."

We learn from Paul’s example, and other writers of Scripture, that we can trust God, believing His promises, even when the pledged help and aid isn’t given immediately. Can’t you hear Paul? “God said He would preserve us from the storm, so He will. We can believe God, even though right now, the storm continues to rage. He will bring us through, so let us trust Him! Our God is faithful!”

Without a doubt, it is difficult to keep trusting the Lord when there are no changes in our circumstances or when the situation even worsens. Yet even then the promises of God are true, no matter what our situation. We often have an idea of what our deliverance should look like, but God rarely rescues us in the way we expect. He will, however, deliver us in His way, in His time, and in the way that will produce the most spiritual profit in us and promote praise in our hearts.

Therefore, keep your courage up, for I believe God.

The Means God Uses to Instill Hope

The Means God Uses to Instill Hope

The end result of tribulations is hope—emphasis on end result. Often, when we’re gasping for air, trying to wrestle down hope to gain some relief, we create a short bridge in our minds from verse 3 “we exult in our tribulations” to verse 5 and the “hope that doesn’t disappoint.” I think it’s safe to say most in-the-midst-of-trials people are “hope challenged.” It’s why we so quickly make the jump in our minds from “tribulations” to “hope that doesn’t disappoint.” There’s just one problem. We miss the means God uses to grant us that non-disappointing hope.

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He Will Not Reject Forever

O, tried and tempest-tossed one, hear these words, “The Lord will not reject forever.” Think upon the reality of those words. Your present circumstances will not last forever. Even if they last the rest of your days on this earth, they will not last forever. For each believer “forever” holds special import. Forever means life with Jesus. Forever means seeing His dear face. Forever means no more sin, no more sorrow, no more pain. Ah, let us think on forever. Revelation 21:3-4 tells us, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’” Think on the sweetness of this “forever” truth from Revelation 22:3-4, “There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.”

“The Lord will not reject forever.” You may feel rejected and abandoned by the Lord, yet nothing could be further from the truth. The Scriptures, upon which we gain our footing, tell us a much better “reality” for the state we now find ourselves in. From Hebrews 13:5 we learn that Jesus Himself said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Or if you like, listen to Isaiah 49:14-16, “But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me. Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” We must learn to line our feelings up with the facts.

Often we feel rejected by the Lord because we forget the love, care, power, and might He infuses into every detail of our lives. We view our circumstances from an earthly perspective, when what we really need is a God-has-eternity-in-view perspective. More often than not, we need to remind ourselves that God is more concerned about our holiness than He is our happiness. He intends to complete His wondrous work in our souls, which most often is accomplished through trials and difficulty and sorrow.

“The Lord will not reject forever.” Hear the certainty of those words. He will not. Our compassionate and loving God absolutely, positively will not reject forever. There will come a day when things will change. Psalm 30:5 reminds us, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.” How long we’ll weep we cannot say, but we do know this—one day, one morning, there will be joy! David relied on this truth and comforted himself with this knowledge in Psalm 27:13-14, “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage, yes, wait for the Lord.”

Let us counter our discouragement and despair with these words from Lamentations 3:21-25, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.”




Keep Your Courage Up

Acts 27 records Paul’s long-awaited journey by ship to Rome. With winter approaching the centurion in charge wants to press on toward Rome rather than finding harbor safely in port. A ferocious winter storm attacked the ship that Paul, other prisoners, Romans, and sailors traveled in. The storm was so mighty that Luke remarked, “all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned (Acts 27:20).” They all feared for their lives as the storm relentlessly pursued them. Everything that wasn’t tied down, and even some things that were, had been thrown overboard to lighten the ship in the tremendous squall.

Paul being Paul earnestly prayed for the Lord to rescue them in some way. Listen in on his words to all those aboard the ship recorded in Acts 27:22-26, “Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on a certain island.”

I’ve read Acts many times over the years, yet in all the times I’ve read about Paul’s perilous voyage to Rome, which eventually ended in shipwreck on the island of Malta, I’d never really noticed the soul-calming wisdom of verse 25 until recently. What were Paul’s words? “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told.”

How I needed those words that morning! How I need them now! Paul and all those aboard the Rome-bound ship grew weary and despairing when the storm failed to abate. There’s something about the relentlessness of a long-term storm that tests us in ways we never knew we needed. The winds have blown for so long that we abandon hope of ever being rescued (Acts 27:20). We find it’s difficult to get out of bed on some mornings. I know about storms like that, which is why Paul’s words in Acts 27:25 ministered to my heart so much. Keep up your courage. Believe God. Everything will turn out just as He intends.

 In times of trouble, keep up your courage. In verse 25 Paul tells the poor storm-tossed inhabitants of the ship, “Keep up your courage.” They needed this soul-cheering word from the apostle! The storm had raged against them for too long; they had long since abandoned hope that they would come out of this alive, especially since the ship was being driven along so mercilessly. Yet, even there the Merciful One was at the helm. Keep up your courage. The Lord knows how often His children need that same encouragement when we find ourselves tossed about by great storms, when our souls are weary and our bodies worn down by the trial, when our store of worldly resources have dwindled down to a pittance, even then He tells us, “Keep up your courage.”

Jesus told the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2).” He told the poor woman with the 12-year hemorrhage, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well (Matthew 9:22).” When the disciples were terrified at seeing Him walk upon water, He told them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27; Mark 6:50).”

David echoes Paul’s words when he says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:14).” Will you keep your courage up? Will you let your heart take courage? We don’t want courage filled with sawdust that scatters and dissipates as the wind blows; no, we want courage that recovers, that regains its footing no matter how long the storm rages. Jesus understood this, which is why he encouraged His disciples with these words in His final days on earth, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” 

When is it the most difficult to keep up your courage? When everything looks black, when it appears there’s no hope of rescue, when the Lord seems silent—even then we are told to take courage, to keep our courage up, to not be afraid. The only way to do this is by reminding ourselves of God’s character, remembering His power and might, compassion and mercy, patience and faithfulness, and perfect wisdom and sovereignty. Only a sight of the Lord strengthens our hearts when we’re afraid and need courage to face the future. Run to the Scriptures and let your heart take courage.

In times of trouble, believe God. Paul told the men, “Keep up your courage, men, for I believe God!” Paul challenged the men with those words. It was as if he was saying, “I believe God, do you?” Remember, when Paul spoke those words he was still in the midst of the storm. And so we must consider that challenge carefully as well. Will you believe God when everything in your life looks as though God is not in control, that He does not care, and that things will never get better ever again? Will you still believe God even then? Jesus reiterated this truth to His disciples in John 14:1 when He said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.” Isaiah 12:2 says, “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the Lord God is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.” Believing God is trusting God; they are one and the same.

Charles Spurgeon wrote the following about believing God in relation to this passage in Acts 27. It comes with a spank, so be prepared, but it is a spanking we often need. “Thus he treated God as he should be treated, namely, with unquestioning confidence. An upright man likes to be trusted; it would grieve him if he saw that he was regarded with suspicion. Our faithful God is jealous of His honor, and cannot endure that men should treat Him as if He could be false. Unbelief provokes the Lord above any other sin: it touches the apple of his eye, and cuts Him to the quick. Far be it from us to perpetrate so infamous a wrong towards our heavenly Father; let us believe Him up to the hilt, placing no bounds to our hearty reliance upon His word.”[1]

In times of trouble, believe God’s Word. Third, not only does Paul believe God, but he also believes that things will turn out exactly as he has been told. An angel of the Lord came to Paul, strengthening his heart and filling him in on the future in store for the storm-tossed ship. We don’t have the privilege of an angel of the Lord visiting us with a personalized message from the Lord, but we have something better; we have the more sure Word (2 Peter 1:19). In the Scriptures we find every promise God intended us to have from Him for the express purpose of strengthening our hearts in the storms God blows our way.

Abraham put his trust in God’s promises. Look at Romans 4:20-21, “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” We can trust the promises of God. They may come to pass in our lives in a far different way than we imagined, but the Lord will stand by His Word. We can trust Him—even when our little dinghy appears ready to capsize—our God stands near.

 

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, According to Promise (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1887), 98.

 

When a New Year Means More of the Same

A new year, a fresh start, different opportunities, hope—all come to mind when we think of a new year. I fully intended to write from that perspective. I wanted to search the Scriptures and see what God has to say about new things and starting fresh, but I’m shelving that idea for now. I’m shelving that idea because…well, because sometimes a new year means continuing in the same. For us, it means continued waiting for the Lord to bring a church for Jack to pastor. Instead of quickly slipping into ministry, as we thought would happen 3 years ago, the Lord has taken us so deeply into the wilderness and on such a twisted track that the only way we’ll ever find our way out is when the Lord leads us. So, for us, for right now, another new year means more of the same.

I read these words in James 1:12 yesterday, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” What caught my eye was the “under” part. Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial. That sentence of course means that there are those who are still in the midst of the trial. They are remaining “in” it.

This follows what James said earlier in the chapter in verses 2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Those verses contain enough fodder to nourish our souls for many weeks, but I want to direct your attention to the part about letting trials have their perfect result.

Trials have a purpose. They produce a perfected faith and a completed character. You know this; I know this. The difficulty comes in staying still while God does His work in us with that trial.

So, the first thing we need to consider is just how do we persevere under trial? Here are some ways I’m applying these words to “persevere under trial”:

  • Don’t look to others or things to fix the situation. Psalm 33:16-17, “The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.” This no-no is so tempting and can be so subtle that we aren't immediately aware we are doing it.
  • Place your hope in the Lord. On the heels of the admonition not to put our hope in outside rescuers, we read in Psalm 130:5-7, “I wait for the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. O Israel, hope in the Lord; for with the Lord there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption.” The earnest desire of the psalmist to wait and hope in the Lord more than that night watchman looking to the east for the rising sun compellingly brings my heart back to the Lord. Our God is a God of deliverances (Psalm 68:20). 
  • Reign in your thoughts so you think rightly about the Lord and your circumstances. James understood our tendency to grumble at God or grow bitter toward God when times get hard, that’s why he lovingly reminds us not to give in to that temptation in James 1:13-16. And it’s also why immediately after he reminds us that every “gift” and circumstance is good and perfect and comes from God Himself (see James 1:17). Listen to this prayer from Fenelon, “Let me, O my God, stifle forever in my heart every thought that would tempt me to doubt Thy goodness. I know that Thou can only be good [Fenelon, Dictionary of Burning Words, page 262].” Reminding ourselves of God’s character helps us remain under our trials.
  • Fill your heart with Scriptures to strengthen and encourage you. Isaiah 49:15-16 has been a balm to me, “Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me.” It’s so good to know the Lord has not forgotten us.

Even if your New Year looks like more of the same like ours does, we have the promises of James 1:12 to help us “stay put.” Verse 12 tells us those who persevere are blessed and that with the enduring comes approval that we have passed the test. And at the end of the test, we will receive the crown of life from the Lord Himself, which He promised to all who love Him. Your patient enduring of the trials the Lord has given you reveals your love for Christ, for only those who love Him persevere.