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.

Close Enough To See His Face

We’ve been in Louisville for two months now! We are settling in to our new church and getting to know the dear ones who attend it. Louisville itself is no small town; it’s not even a comfortably mid-sized city. It’s big and busy and full of nooks and crannies of places to explore and live, which is why we have been temporarily living in an apartment until we discovered which “nook” we wanted to roost in.

About a month ago we began the process of looking for a house. On our first day out our realtor, Troy, who is also a dear brother in the Lord, carefully constructed the day’s tour. He had managed to pack in showings at 12 or so houses to the east and south of Louisville. Jack and I were full of anticipation at watching the Lord’s plan unfold. Maybe we would find a house! Maybe our 3 ½ years of temporary would soon be at an end!

When we got to Troy’s office he needed to make a few adjustments to our schedule because one or two of the houses we wanted to see had sold overnight. After a bit of a delay we got on the highway out to see the first house. We hadn’t been on the highway out of town more than a minute or two when the traffic slowed to a complete stop. And there we sat for the next 2½ hours, inching forward at a snail’s pace. We learned that 3 semi-trucks collided and the crash completely blocked the freeway. Our day’s plans were rapidly changing.

Normally, I might have been anxious or discouraged about the changes, yet I found myself rejoicing. Left to myself there was no way I would have been exulting, especially since I had feasted on anticipation all morning. Yet, the Lord had already kindly prepared my heart for the day’s events.

It all began when Psalm 89 greeted me during my quiet time that morning. In Psalm 89 the psalmist extols the Lord’s character and ways. In fact, he’s just downright exulting in the Lord’s power and goodness. The psalmist, Ethan, creates a picture of heaven and all the holy ones praising the Lord. He describes the scene in verses 14-15, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth go before You. How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance.” Ethan describes the Lord’s throne being built upon righteousness and justice, which really just describes how the Lord reigns over His subjects—righteously and justly. Then the psalmist designates “lovingkindness” and “truth” as those who triumphantly announce our great King’s presence. What a grand and glorious picture of the Lord’s throne room!

That’s why the psalmist says in verse 15, “How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound!” Isn’t that the truth? We really are blessed when we know that lovingkindness and truth proceed from the Lord. And it’s even better when we live close enough to Him to experience that flood of His lovingkindness and truth. Yet, there’s more, for as we live closely to the Lord we will walk in the light of His countenance (verse 15). 

That’s the phrase caught my eye. It grabbed at my imagination and entered my heart. What does it mean to live in the light of the Lord’s countenance? How would my life be different today if I remembered I was living within reach of His smile?

Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance is just another way of saying that we live close enough to see His face—and conversely that He sees us. The idea is captured really well in Aaron’s blessing of the sons of Israel in Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.”

The idea of living in light of the Lord’s countenance carries with it His blessing. It also carries with it a sense of accountability. It’s basically like living in His throne room—and that’s where the accountability comes in. We’re called to live differently in the throne room so that when His face shines upon us in holiness we’re not ashamed.

That’s why when our day of looking at houses looked like it was going to rapidly derail, I had a unique opportunity to check my thoughts and my responses. Was I living with trust and hope in the fair light of God’s gaze? Or would my countenance reveal fear or discouragement or a complaining spirit?

The Scriptures remind us that when we live in the light of the Lord’s countenance, He helps our countenance. Psalms 42:11 and 43:5 say virtually the same thing, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” He helps our countenance! What a joyous thought! We don't have to live in the cellar of grumpiness or fear for the Lord will help us.  

The problem is that far too often we don’t avail ourselves of the Lord’s help, so that we end up resembling Cain more than is comfortable. Remember his story in Genesis 4:4-7? “And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’” 

Cain wasn’t keeping His eyes on the Lord and certainly didn’t seem concerned about living within the light of His gaze. Even after the Lord asked him, “Why has your countenance fallen?” Cain didn’t repent of his wrong attitudes. Living in the light of the Lord’s countenance means answering the question, “Why has your countenance fallen?” and then doing something about it. This requires recognizing what we’re really thinking about any given situation, repenting if necessary, and most certainly, asking the Lord’s help for trust and faith.

The Scriptures talk about a sad countenance in Job 9:27; a proud countenance in Psalm 10:4; and an angry one in Proverbs 25:23. That’s just a sampling of the sins of our hearts that are revealed in some way.  Paul understood this truth when he said in Galatians 5:19 that the “deeds of the flesh are evident.” We might try to hide our sinful thoughts and deeds away in the recesses of our hearts, but like ducks in the water, they always bob back up to the surface. 

Understanding all that made Psalm 89:15 all the more impactful on that day of house hunting, when everything seemed to be unraveling in God’s perfect and sovereign plan. In fact, praying through Psalm 89:15 allowed me to rejoice in the same way as the psalmist in the very next verse, “In Your name they rejoice all the day, and by Your righteousness they are exalted.” Instead of feeling thwarted, I felt protected by the Lord’s new plan for our day.

O Lord, may we live and breathe this prayer, that we would walk in the light of Your countenance (Psalm 89:15) because You are the God who helps our countenance (Psalm 43:5).

When God Thwarts Your Plans...What then?

God frustrates our plans and nullifies our counsel when our plans don’t match His plans. The counsel of the nations can be nullified, but God’s counsel stands forever. The plans of the peoples can be frustrated, but God’s plans, the plans of His heart, stand from generation to generation.

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From Anxious Thoughts to Trusting the Lord

“Lisa, you need to go to the principal’s office,” my fifth grade teacher informed me one day. Oh my! Instantly, the rosy colors of the day turned to gloom and doom. I left the classroom with sweaty palms, a pounding heart, and my mind racing, trying to recall what I might have done to earn the principal’s attention. I felt like I had 4 cotton balls in my mouth as I reviewed the events of the day, the week, even the last month! “What had I done wrong that would make him call me to his office?” I worried and walked slowly, but not too slowly; I didn’t want to get in more trouble.

Smiling timidly I walked into his office. I remember he greeted me with an effort at a joke as he gave me some papers my mother needed. That was it? I wasn’t in trouble? Only then was I able to manage a big, though slightly shaky grin. I wasn’t in trouble! Nothing was wrong! I had only feared receiving bad news, though I couldn’t think of any reason that would warrant it. I have to confess that even now, that fifth-grade response of fear and worry can strike my heart at any time and I still have that sense of dread over the unknown. A natural enough response I suppose, yet not at all what God desires for His children. 

God doesn’t want us to live in fear of bad news or to create trouble in our minds that hasn’t even transpired; that’s why He explains in the Bible how not to fear evil tidings. Psalm 112:7 gives us a picture of what this would look like in our lives, “He will not fear evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” There’s no escaping the connection between not giving in to fear and worry and trusting the Lord. 

But how do we get there? How can we become that person? That person whose heart is not alarmed, even in unexpected circumstances. Psalm 112:1 tells us: “How blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments.” Do you see the glimmers of hope and practical help here? The Psalm 112:7 woman is first the Psalm 112:1 woman who fears the Lord and greatly delights in the Word. That combination of holy reverence and love for the Word forges a steadfast heart. Proverbs 1:33 illuminates this truth further, “But he who listens to me (me = wisdom that comes from God) shall live securely and will be at ease from the dread of evil.” A woman who fears the Lord, heeding God’s wisdom, and delighting in God’s Word won’t fear bad news. Why? Because she doesn’t live in the realm of what-if, she fastens her thoughts upon the One who is over all things, over all circumstances, over all events. As she does this she is comforted.

The Psalmist explains this process further when he says in Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” In another psalm he said, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You (Psalm 56:3).” What we see here is the Psalmist actively putting his faith into practice. Though he was afraid, he didn’t wallow in his fear and give into worry’s paralyzing effects, instead he turned to the Lord for deliverance, help, and hope.

Times like these—when we’re tempted to worry and give in to fear and anxiety—are the perfect time to apply Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Using this list of things to dwell on helps us keep our thoughts reined in and on the Lord, so worry and fear are kept at bay. As I apply that list to my thoughts I rarely get past “Is it true?” before my fears dissolve. The positive and practical nature of Philippians 4:8 helps me turn from groundless fears to the solid truths of God’s character and ways. A woman who tests her thoughts under the microscope of Philippians 4:8 will find herself living like Isaiah 26:3-4, “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock.”