In the midst of one of Israel’s most severe trials, Moses told the people to do three things: “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:13-14, NKJV).
Soon dusk fell over the camp. This was the beginning of Israel’s dark and stormy night, but it was also the beginning of God’s supernatural work. “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night. The strong east wind…made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21). The Hebrew word for wind here means “violent exhaling.” Israel’s tent-dwellings must have shaken fiercely as those mighty gusts blew through the camp.
What was God up to here? Why would he allow such a terrible windstorm to go on all night? Why didn’t he just tell Moses to touch the water with his mantle and part the waves in a more gentle supernatural way? What possible reason did God have for permitting this awful night to take place?
God was at work the whole time, using the terrible storm to make a path for his people out of the crisis. He also sent an awesome, protective angel to stand between his people and their enemy. Yet the Israelites who were hiding in their tents couldn’t see it, but those who came outside witnessed a glorious light show. They also beheld the glorious sight of waves mounting up, mighty walls of water rising to form a dry path through the sea. When the people saw this, they must have shouted, “Look, God has used the wind to make a way for us. Praise the Lord!”
I believe God still sends protective angels to camp around all who love and fear him (see Psalm 34:7). Dear saint, if you’re a blood-bought child of God, he has put a warrior angel between you and the devil, and he commands you, just as he told Israel, “Do not fear. Stand still. Believe in my salvation.”
Hebrews 11 gives us this image of Jacob in his old age: “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21, NKJV). Why is Jacob portrayed in his dying days instead of when he was outsmarting his deceitful father-in-law or wrestling with an angel?
Jacob knew his life was about to end. What does Jacob do as he looks back on the events of his life? He is moved to worship. As he leaned on his staff, he marveled at the life God had given him. Jacob worshipped God in that moment because his soul was at rest. He had proven God faithful beyond any shadow of a doubt. Now the patriarch concluded, “It never mattered what battle I went through. God proved himself faithful to me. He has always been faithful. O Lord, almighty God, I worship you!”
That’s why we see him giving his blessing to his grandchildren. Jacob knew God would fulfill his covenant to the nation of Israel beyond even his own life. His blessing to his grandchildren, his actions, spoke to this faith. There was a reason God wanted this kind of faith for Jacob and his descendants. They would endure slavery, deprivation, danger and suffering. God said, “I want a people who aren’t afraid of death because they know I am trustworthy in all things.”
God wants the same faith in his promises from us. We are called to walk and act in faith that he will see every promise to completion.
This is why James wrote, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
Christ’s resurrection was preceded by a short period of suffering. It’s a guarantee to us that we do suffer. There is pain and sorrow. It is often the will of God that we suffer feelings of emptiness and even pain. “Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19, NKJV).
The problem is that we do not want to suffer or be hurt. We want painless deliverance, supernatural intervention. “Do it, God,” we pray, “because I am weak and always will be. Do it all while I go my way, waiting for a supernatural deliverance.”
We may blame our troubles on demons. We seek out a man of God and hope he can cast out the demon so that we can go on our way with no more pain. We want to breeze right through to a peaceful life of victory. We want someone to lay hands on us and drive away all the spiritual dryness, but sometimes the Lord’s will is to work through our hardship. Victory is not always without grave suffering. Look at your sin. Face it. Scripture commands us, “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when his glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Peter 4:12-13, NKJV).
We are also promised, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). Thank God, suffering is always just a period before final victory! If we patiently endure our trials, we can expect worthy rewards. “May the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).
God’s love demands a choice. If God supernaturally lifted us out of every battle without pain or suffering, it would abort all trials and all temptation; there would be no free choice and no testing as by fire. It would be God superimposing his will on mankind. He chooses to meet us in our dryness and show us how it can become the way into a new life of faith.
Why is it that none of us pray as we should? We know that our burdens can all be lifted when we are shut in with him. The voice of the Holy Spirit keeps calling us to prayer, “Come!” Come to the water that satisfies our souls’ thirst. Come to the Father who pities his children. Come to the Lord of life who promises to forgive every sin we have committed. Come to the God who refuses to condemn you, forsake you or hide from you.
The Lord promises his people, “For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit on your descendants, and my blessing on your offspring” (Isaiah 44:3, NKJV).
We may try to hide from God because of guilt and condemnation, but he never hides from us. Come boldly to his throne of grace, even when you have sinned and failed. He instantly forgives those who repent with godly sorrow. You don’t have to spend hours and days in remorse and guilt or earn your way back into his good graces.
We try everything except prayer. We read books, looking for formulas and guidelines. We go to friends, ministers and counselors, searching everywhere for a word of comfort or advice. We seek mediators and forget the one Mediator who has the answer to everything.
The New Testament urges believers, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:13-16).
Nothing dispels anxiety and emptiness more quickly than an hour or two shut in with God. Nothing can take the place of praying to the Father in that secluded secret closet. Go to the Father, bend your knees, open your heart and cry out your anguish. Tell him about your loneliness, fears and failures. That is the solution to all of the turmoil in our hearts.
Even though I preach to thousands, there are times that I feel far away from the warm presence of God. When I’m dry and empty, I have no great yearning to read the Word and little compulsion to pray. I know that my faith is intact, that my love for Jesus is strong and that I have no desire to taste the things of this world. It’s just that I can’t seem to touch God for days, maybe even weeks.
Have you ever watched other Christians get blessed while you feel nothing? They testify of God’s answers to their prayers and shed tears of joy. They seem to live on a mountaintop of happy experiences while you plod along, loving Jesus but not setting the world on fire.
I believe all true believers experience dry spells at various times in their Christian lives. Even Jesus felt the isolation when he cried aloud, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” (see Matthew 27:45-47).
Without the nearness of God, there can be no peace. The dryness can be lifted only with the dew of his glory. The despair can be dispelled only by the assurance that God is answering. The fire of the Holy Spirit must heat the mind, body and soul. Scripture states, “For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the place of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; he encircled him, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:9-10, NKJV).
The Lord also says, “Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I give waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen” (Isaiah 43:19-20).
There are times I feel unworthy like the worst kind of sinner; but in spite of all that, I know he is not far off. Somehow I hear a distinct, small voice calling, “Come, my child. I still love you, and I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I have a flame in me that will not be smothered, and I know he will bring me out of any dry spell.
A number of ministers have shared with me their concern for parishioners who are simply giving up. “Good honest Christians are so overwhelmed by guilt and condemnation that it causes despair. When they can’t live up to their own expectations, when they fall back into sin, they decide to give up…”
Growing numbers of Christians are at the breaking point. Few Christians would even dare entertain thoughts of quitting on their love for Jesus, but in despair they consider giving up on themselves.
Some ministers today continually preach only a positive message. To hear them tell it, every Christian is receiving miracles; everybody is getting instant answers to prayer; everybody is feeling good and living well, and the whole world is bright and rosy. I love to hear that kind of preaching because I really desire all those good and healthy things for God’s people.
That’s not the way things are, though, for a great number of very honest, sincere Christians. No wonder our young people often give up in defeat. They can’t live up to the image created by religion of a carefree, rich, successful, always positive-thinking Christian. Their world is not that ideal; they live with heartbreaks, hour-by-hour crises and family problems.
Paul talked frankly about his troubles. “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8, NKJV).
Positive thinking won’t make these problems go away and “confessing” that these problems don’t really exist doesn’t change a thing. What is the cure? Paul speaks of it after describing his anguish. “Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that he will still deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10).
This absolute has brought me great comfort and help. God loves me. He is a loving Father wanting only to lift us out of our weakness. It is my faith that pleases him most. He wants me to trust in his deliverance.
God is undivided. He’s not split in any way. He’s altogether lovely, pure and loving. There is only one God, and this God is one in fullness and perfection. He’s totally unified with all things that are holiness.
We were by God created to be holy, to be loving, to be one, as Peter writes in the New Testament. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:13-16, ESV).
Ideally, you act loving, and you are loving; the actions show that you are whole and holy. However, there’s this really big problem called the flesh. The Bible says the spirit and the flesh are at war with one another.
We are all divided. There’s a psychological condition called schizophrenia, and I think all of us have a touch of that ailment in God’s understanding. There are many splits in our personality.
If you ask my wife, “Is Kevin loving?” she would say, “Yes.” If you ask her, “All the time?” she couldn’t say yes because she’d be lying. I’m not loving all the time, even though I wish I could be. The reason I feel that way is because God is one, and in his oneness he is holy. When I’m not being holy, I’m not being the way I was meant to be as a person made in God’s image, and I’m out of synchronization with God. That’s why people who don’t even know God feel bad when they do something wrong, because they weren’t created to act divided that way.
Fortunately, we have hope that our spiritual schizophrenia can be healed. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17). The Spirit can start fixing those divisions in us and make us holy!
In 1 Samuel 30, we read about how David was in deep distress and how he dealt with it. This man had a lot of reasons to be miserable. He was deeply distressed because the call on his life, the prophecy Samuel had spoken over him that he would be king, looked like it wasn’t coming to pass. He was probably also distressed because his great relationship with Jonathan had been broken by time and distance. He certainly was distressed because King Saul was coming after him, saying evil things against him and trying to kill him.
The chapter begins where David had just found out that his own family had been taken by the Amalekites, and he didn’t know where they were at or if they were even alive. Then this happened: “Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6, NKJV).
Many of you can probably think of some things that are bringing you distress in your life. What is giving you anxiety right now? What kinds of things keep you awake at night?
There are sources of distress that come upon you that are just part of life, but then there are people who deliberately speak against you and undermine you. The challenges seem to come back-to-back, and your stress builds. At first, you may be able to talk yourself through it and keep steady. As time goes on — weeks, months, maybe even years for some of you — the situations become overwhelming. This is where David was at this point, so how did he strengthen himself in the Lord?
That might sound like a paradox. When you’re under a lot of stress, that seems like the time that you would not be able to strengthen yourself. David is an illustration for us in this; if he could do it, you can do it! He didn’t manage this out of his own ability. Scripture is clear; David strengthened himself in God.
You have a choice today. You can allow all of those negative natural elements to crash over you like a wave, or you can rise up and find strength in your Lord because God is right there with you.
Happiness does not mean living without pain or hurt. True happiness is learning how to live faithfully and graciously one day at a time in spite of sorrow and pain. It is learning how to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what has happened in the past. You may feel rejected and abandoned. Your faith may be weak, and you think you are down for the count. Sorrow, tears, pain and emptiness may swallow you up at times, but God is still on the throne. He is still the Lord Almighty!
You cannot help yourself or stop the pain, but our blessed Lord will come to you. He will place his loving hand under you and lift you up to sit again in heavenly places. He will deliver you from the fear of dying, and he will reveal his endless love for you.
Look up! Encourage yourself in the Lord. Scripture says, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:5, NKJV).
When the fog surrounds you and you can’t see any way out of your dilemma, lie back in the arms of Jesus and simply trust him. He wants your faith and your confidence. He wants you to cry aloud, “Jesus loves me! He is with me. He will not fail me. He is working it all out right now. I will not be cast down. I will not be a victim of Satan. I will not lose my mind or my direction. God is on my side. I love him, and he loves me!”
The bottom line is faith, and your faith can rest on this Word: “’No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from me,’ says the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17).
Convince yourself that you will survive. Live or die, you belong to the Lord. You will come through suffering. Life does go on, and it will surprise you how much you can bear with God’s help.
Remind yourself that God knows exactly how much you can take, and he will not permit you to reach a breaking point. Our loving Father said, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NKJV).
The worst kind of blasphemy is to think God is behind all your hurt and pain, that it is the heavenly Father harshly punishing you, that God thinks you need one or two more heartbreaks before you are ready to receive his blessings. Not so!
It is true that the Lord chastens those he loves, but that chastening is only for a season, and it is not meant to break us. God is not the author of confusion in your life. The enemy often tries to hurt us through other humans, just as he tried to hurt Job through an unbelieving wife.
Your heavenly Father watches over you with an unwavering eye. Every move is monitored; every tear is bottled. He feels your every hurt, and he knows when you have been exposed to enough harassment from the enemy. He steps in and says, “Enough!” When your pain no longer draws you close to the Lord and, instead, begins to downgrade your spiritual life, God moves in. He will not permit a trusting child of his to go under because of too much pain and agony in their soul.
God will lift you out of the battle for a while. He will never allow your hurt to destroy your mind. He promises to come, right on time, to wipe away your tears and give you joy for mourning.
God’s Word says, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:11-12). God will strengthen our hearts as we go through pain, and he will give us reason to rejoice in his glorious power in due season.