Looking For God In the Storm

On Monday night, several strong storms moved through our area. There were also severe storms in other places, like Mexico City, and around Manila– high winds, heavy rains, hail, and flash flooding. Our town did not see much damage, but some nearby towns had many trees down and power outages, followed by near record-high heat.

Often when storms come, we question– “Where is God?” Doesn’t He see our suffering? Why does He allow it? We look for evidence of God’s goodness in spite of the storms in our life. We may even look for evidence of God’s goodness in the aftermath of a storm– “Well, it could’ve been worse..” But in the past couple days, I have seen evidence of people finding God IN the storm. At least a couple of friends were watching the storm approach and/or pass by, and they were able to capture a picture showing lightning striking through a rainbow!! Others have pictures of a glorious red sunset. Both pictures remind us of God’s faithfulness and His promises. God never promised that we would never see storms, but His rainbow reminds us that He will have mercy. A red sunset also speaks to sailors and farmers of better weather to come with a new dawn. God is not absent, waiting to speak after the storm is past. He is right there in the middle of the storm for those who are looking.

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Another thing I noticed is that several people have become evidence of God’s care in, through, and in the aftermath of the storms. Several people have volunteered to help clean up downed trees, or offered to provide food and water, or even (air-conditioned) shelter for those without power. Many such people have suffered some damage themselves. But their hearts are open to help their neighbors in their time of need.

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I don’t recommend that we put ourselves in grave peril to see signs in the raging storms, nor am I trying to shame those who cannot volunteer to help in times of crisis. When storms come, it is wise to take shelter and TRUST that God sees us, knows our greatest needs, and will not leave us without hope. But it is also a great time to look for ways we can both SEE God and SERVE others.

Praying can help us in both ways. We should seek to praise God at all times–even in times of storms and trials. Instead of focusing only on the problems we face, we can be reminded of all the times God has been faithful in the past and remember all the promises He has kept! Instead of focusing on our own losses or pains, we can focus on praying for the needs of others and praying for wisdom in how to be helpful and encouraging. Because God is with us. Always!

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The same mighty power that brings the storm is available to withstand it. God IS present IN the storm, just as He is present before and after. Sometimes, we ignore Him during times of ease and comfort. Sometimes we miss His voice in the raging wind and pounding hail. Sometimes, like Jesus’ disciples, we forget that God controls the winds and waves, and we let fear get the better of us for awhile. We wonder if God is “asleep on the job.” (See Mark 4:35-40) But a single word is enough to calm whatever storm is raging around us.

What a powerful God! What an encouraging reminder.

It Is Well With My Soul

I’ve been reading through the book of Job this past week. Job’s story challenges us– especially if we trust in our circumstances to confirm God’s love for us. Job was a seeming pawn in a situation beyond his control or understanding. He lost nearly everything– his cattle, flocks, all his children, and even his health. The only thing he did not lose was his nagging wife, and his faithful, but very unhelpful friends.

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At first, Job’s friends seem very supportive. They stay with him, saying nothing, just offering their presence for a week! But then, they start spouting the kind of useless aphorisms and accusations that make Job’s bad situation infinitely worse. They “remind” him that good people don’t suffer–only the wicked experience pain and loss. This knowledge, they assure him, comes from their own experience, and the wisdom of the past. When Job protests that he is innocent, that his suffering is NOT because of his own wickedness, they become increasingly angry and irrational– making up accusations and heaping blame on Job for daring to “question” God.

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But Job’s friends, even though they speak with confidence and sound very much like many people we hear today, are wrong. Job’s experience is real–suffering comes to the innocent, while the wicked often “get away with” their sin, living lives of ease and comfort at the expense of others. We see it in the world around us– innocent people are the targets of mass shootings, or war, or famine, or disease. Meanwhile, criminals get “off” on a technicality; decorated war “heroes” destroy entire cities; powerful tyrants bend laws and oppress the helpless.

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Where is God in all this? WHO is God in all this? There are many different responses, but I want to look at three that are all present in the book of Job:

  • Mrs. Job: “Curse God and Die.” Some people look at evil and suffering, and they decide that God must be a fraud. Either He cannot or He will not destroy evil, or He would have done so before now. They declare with great defiance that either God does not even exist, or He must be malicious, capricious, petty, and weak.
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  • Job’s friends: “Everyone knows that God rewards good and punishes evil.” Doesn’t the Bible say this? Isn’t this what we learned in Sunday School? Surprisingly, most of us would say, “Yes, that is exactly what I learned as a child, and it is exactly what the Bible says!” But look closer. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It goes on to say that “The Just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4 and Romans 1:17)–not their good works. God DOES reward goodness, and he DOES punish evil– but He also redeems the wicked and causes the good to go through times of trial and suffering. God is more than a two-dimensional dispenser of rewards and punishments. God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8), and there are times that He chooses not to explain His ways “in the moment” of our suffering, or in the moments when wickedness seems to be “winning.”
    Unfortunately, when bad times come; when we experience pain, or watch someone else going through inexplicable suffering, if our view of God is incomplete or two-dimensional, we are left repeating the little we KNOW (or think we know) about God, and defending, not God’s character, but OUR knowledge. This is especially true if we have not been tested ourselves.
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  • Job: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.” (Job 13:15) “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” Job 19:25-27 Even when Job struggled with his pain and suffering–even as he defended his character to his accusing friends, Job KNEW that God was GOD. He knew all that his friends were saying ABOUT God, but he also knew God–even when he didn’t understand His actions. And after all the arguments had been made and all the “easy” answers had been spilled out, GOD did not slay Job; he did not leave him in his agony. Neither did He provide Job with detailed answers or explanations. But He redeemed the situation– Job ended up with more blessings than before. More importantly, Job ended up with a greater understanding of who God is.
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When all is not well with our health, or our finances, or our safety, or our relationships, it can still be “well with (our) Soul.” God does not change, but He does ask us to trust Him, even when His ways are not our ways. God will reward good and punish evil– but it may not be in our lifetime or as we imagine. God may stay silent during times of great stress and pain, but He will not leave us! In every situation, we can trust Him.

Will we?

Putting It All On the Table

In 2 Kings, chapters 18 and 19, we can read about the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah. During his reign, a mighty king, Sennacherib of Assyria, came to lay siege to Jerusalem. Sennacherib taunted King Hezekiah, sending him a letter boasting about the might of the Assyrian army, and all its conquests. In the letter, he also taunts King Hezekiah about trusting in God to save Jerusalem, suggesting that God was unable to rescue the Jews, while simultaneously suggesting that God had given the Assyrians His blessing.

Hezekiah had already made some provision for the coming siege. He had his workers divert the water supply that flowed out of the city, creating a system of tunnels that kept the water inside the city walls and filled pools and wells for the people to withstand the siege while depriving the invaders of a crucial resource. (Evidence of these tunnels has been discovered by archaeologists, including carvings by two work crews who were “competing” to see who could complete their part of the tunnel fastest!)

Entrance to Hezekiah’s Tunnel in Jerusalem

But Hezekiah did not trust in his preparations. He did not trust in diplomacy or alliances. He took the offending letter from King Sennacherib into the Lord’s temple and spread it out before the Lord (2 Kings 19:14). He prayed earnestly, never mentioning his own efforts and preparations, but reminding himself of God’s power and glory. He even acknowledged that the Assyrians had been victorious in their other conquests! But then he asks for God to rescue the nation– “then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O Lord, are God. “(v. 19).

I was struck as I read this recently. Hezekiah was a king. He had done a great deal to bring reform and renewal to the kingdom of Judah. He could have appealed to God on the basis of his own efforts. He could have asked for God’s help for his own sake, and for the sake of his people. He could have spoken about how Sennacherib taunted the army, or the king. He could have cried out in panic and outrage that God would allow Judah to be invaded. But he put it all on the table, literally, asking God to judge Sennacherib’s words and respond for the sake of His Sovereign Glory.

God DID respond, and the Assyrian troops were routed by the Angel of the Lord. Sennacherib returned to his home, and was assassinated in the temple of his false god by his own sons. Hezekiah’s troops didn’t even have to lift a finger!

What situations am I facing today, that need to be brought to God in prayer? What threats seem to hover over me? Do I respond as Hezekiah did? Or do I try to bring only the part that seems “too much” for me to handle? Do I bring my own agenda, or my own efforts to cloud the issue? Do I worry more about my own reputation than I do about God’s honor?

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Lord, may I be more like Hezekiah–may I lay everything on the table before You, knowing that Your power is more than sufficient, and that Your honor and glory are greater than any force at work against me. Protect and defend those who humble themselves before You. Destroy those forces that would seek to exalt themselves and taunt Your Holy Name. Rise up, that “all the kingdoms of the earth will know that You alone, O Lord, are God!”

For Righteousness’ Sake

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:10 (NKJV)
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Yesterday was Easter (in parts of the world)–the celebration of Christ’s resurrection and victory over Sin and Death. We have much to celebrate. But we also have a mission. We have the assurance of eternity in Heaven, but in THIS world, Jesus warned us, “you will have trouble.” (John 16:33). We will be misunderstood, mocked, and persecuted. We will have to face the temporary consequences of living in a fallen world– anger, greed, abuse, violence, betrayal–even bad weather and natural disasters!

In giving the Beatitudes, Jesus turned common expectations upside-down. Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake… We don’t consider poverty, powerlessness, suffering and persecution blessings to be desired. Yet Jesus, the One we follow, gladly endured all of these for our sake! Notice that the “blessing” is the same here as in the first of the Beatitudes– “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Kingdom of Heaven is not reserved for those who are victorious in their own power or through force of will or extraordinary effort. But it is reserved for those who persevere in the face of evil–those who lean, and those who rest, and those who stand IN THE POWER of God.

Notice, too, that we are blessed if we are persecuted “for righteousness’ sake.” There is no blessing for suffering due to our own stubbornness or foolishness. There is no blessing for those who are persecuted for their own pride and judgmental nature and unforgiveness toward themselves or others. (see 1 Peter 3) https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Peter+3%3A8-17&version=CEV

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We live in a culture that celebrates “victimhood.” Those who suffer injustice– even perceived of implied injustice–are considered to have a special status. Those who claim to have been offended or hurt by individuals or groups often demand recognition for their “bravery” or retribution for their suffering. This happens even among certain Christians, who claim to be “persecuted,” when they are merely suffering the consequences of their own hubris and self-righteous posturing. This is a monstrous injustice to fellow Christians who are truly suffering persecution “for righteousness’ sake.”

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My prayer today is that I will emulate the example of Christ– that I will serve, humbly, willingly, sacrificially, enduring any persecution that comes as a result, and lifting up fellow Christians who are suffering, as well as their persecutors! For righteousness’ sake– for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Cooking Up Prayer

I love to cook. And it occurred to me that praying can be a lot like cooking:

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  • Prayers are made up of different ingredients–worship and adoration, confession, requests and supplication, thanksgiving, even questions..
  • Sometimes what we pray for, and the “finished product” of what God chooses to do don’t look or taste the same. But if we don’t “follow the recipe,” sometimes we end up with a disaster. Sometimes our thoughts and prayers are like adding a cup of salt, where we were supposed to add a cup of sugar! God knows the difference, and He adjusts accordingly!
  • There are many different “cooking” methods for prayer. Some prayers need to simmer–they take time and dedication; others “sizzle”– they are more immediate and urgent. There are even “raw” prayers– tortured cries of the heart. Some prayers are “cock pot” prayers– we give the matter to God and let it stew for quite awhile, only to see results much later.
  • Some prayers involve “heat”–we are either in hot water, or we are in a pressure cooker; maybe we’re half-baked! God doesn’t always turn down the heat– He knows just the right temperature for each situation, and He also knows when to remove us from the heat!
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Prayer is much more than a recipe or a even a good meal. But I hope we all take some time to “cook up” a healthy, satisfying prayer time today.

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The Privilege of Prayer

Pursing prayer sometimes leads to taking prayer for granted. Prayer becomes a habit; a daily activity; even a task to check off the list. But prayer is so much more. Prayer is a lifeline; a divine mystery. I can’t explain how prayer “works.” But I know from experience that it transcends the words I speak and the emotions I feel as I pray. I’m not praying to “a higher power” or an abstract “spiritual being.” I pray to the One who created me, and the One who loves me more than I can even comprehend.

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More than that, I am praying to the One who oversees the universe, and all the inhabitants thereof. There is something powerful and mysterious about prayer. I was reminded of that just recently, when I asked for prayer for my mother, who fell and injured herself. She is 88 years old, and very frail. She is also beloved by many in her family and community. Within minutes of posting a very general request for prayer, several dozen people had responded– some with a simple message of “praying” or “sending prayers.” The next day, I was more specific, and again, dozens of people responded within minutes– “praying for your mother,” “prayers for healing,” etc.. Suddenly my prayers became more confident and hopeful. And I was reminded of all the prayers I lift up each day–those “daily prayers” that sometimes seem like little tasks. They are unique, personal, and important– not just to me, but to many others.

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I shared recently about praying for others’ requests. This is also a privilege. In a mysterious and divine way, when we pray for others we join in God’s work of bringing hope, healing, and love to others. I can pray for others (and they can pray for me) regardless of where I am, or what my situation may be. I cannot always DO something, or BE somewhere. I can always pray. And where I can act, prayer often sharpens and directs my actions to be more effective.

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If you’ve ever tried to help in the aftermath of a disaster (as a member of the general public and not an emergency worker or someone deployed to help), you know it can be frustrating. If you’ve ever been caught in a disaster zone, you know it can be frightening AND frustrating. People do their best to help and offer hope, but in times of chaos and lack of communication, people can be left behind and resources can be misdirected or spoiled before they can get to those who need them most. Prayer never gets misdirected. It never goes unanswered or forgotten; it is never a wasted effort. God is faithful. His ways may be difficult for us to understand, but they are not warped, doomed, or limited in any way.

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There is great comfort in that reality. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of how powerful and necessary our prayers are. God loves to hear them. He loves to answer them. He loves to use them for His glory and our wholeness. What a privilege to carry EVERYTHING to God in prayer!

November Poem

God is:

Worthy
Omnipotent
Never changing, the
Desire of the Ages
Eternal
Revered
Father
Unlimited
Light

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Jesus is:

Forever faithful
Accessible
Incomparable
Trustworthy
Hope for the hopeless
Full of
Unending
Love

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I am:

Grateful
Redeemed
Aspiring to be like Christ
Trusting that I am
Empowered by His Spirit to
Forgive others, even as I am
Unworthy of His unending
Love

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We are:

Transformed
Humble
Able to do “all things” through Christ
No longer slaves to Sin
Known by our Love for each other
Fruitful
Upheld in the power of His
Love

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Casting All Your Cares..

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:6-7 (ESV)

I grew up hearing the verses above, especially verse 7– it was a memory verse in Sunday School and Bible School. It was the subject of many a sermon. I have known these verses most of my life. But I started thinking about them differently in the last week or so. The verses haven’t changed. Even in different translations, the familiar words are almost the same..”cast your cares:” “give your worries;” “cast your anxieties…” “ON HIM.” Over the years, those words created an image of me handing over a bundle, or passing off a heavy coat into the waiting arms of Jesus. There is nothing wrong with this image, but I think there is more to this verse.

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Peter–the author of this Epistle, was a fisherman. And one of the things I’ve learned being married to a man who loves to fish is that the “cast” is very important. No fisherman simply drops a line or a net into the water at random. Instead, he or she takes aim and hurls the net or line away from themselves and the boat (or dock or fishing platform). A good cast is intentional, directional, and takes commitment. And then, the fisherman, having made the cast, waits. Sometimes, it may take several “casts” before the fisherman gets a good “catch.” But a bad cast– or an impatient caster who can’t wait, but reels in and casts without intention– rarely gets good results.

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I’m afraid I’ve learned more about fishing in the past few years than I have about trusting God in a lifetime. All too often, I try to bring my cares and worries to God in pieces and parts, in short bursts and limp tosses. I do not “cast” my cares on Him– I try to hand over those bits I know I can’t handle, and explain away the rest. Or I try to drop my net close to the boat. And if I don’t get an answer on the first “cast,” I give up, and reel all my cares back in, or wear myself out with fruitless prayers about the same worries, as if God didn’t hear or couldn’t understand them the first eight or nine times!

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Casting our cares is more than just “handing” them over to God. We can hurl them, fling them, throw them, and toss them into the sea of His compassion and wisdom. As often as necessary, as desperately as necessary, as committed to getting rid of them as a fisherman is committed to getting a big “catch.” And we can trust that, at the right time, and in the right way, God will send us the “catch”– maybe not what we expected or imagined, but what He knows is best.

Fishing trip (with our daughter and some of our “catch.”)

Peter was a fisherman. After he walked with Jesus, he became a “fisher of men.” He learned how to “cast” all his cares on the one who performed miraculous deeds– walking on water, feeding the five thousand, raising the dead–even helping Peter and his friends catch fish! I’ve learned a lot about fishing. It’s time I learn more about “casting” my cares on my bountiful Father!

The Work is “Donne”

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive those sins through which I run,
And do them still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
Wilt Thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin? and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.
I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Sun
Shall sine as it shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I have no more.

A Hymn to God the Father John Donne, 1623
John Donne

I enjoy studying the poetry of John Donne. https://www.biography.com/writer/john-donne Even though he lived 400 years ago, he wrote about very timeless and personal topics. Donne lived during a time of religious tumult and persecution. Born into a Catholic family, he later converted to Anglicanism and became a powerful preacher, as well as a poet, and lawyer. Throughout his life, he wrestled with deep theological questions of sin, guilt, redemption, and death. Yet he did so with wit, humor, and passion. The poem above, written during a long illness and near the end of his life, is filled with puns on his last name, Donne. Would God’s redemptive work ever be “done” in “Donne?” He struggles with the knowledge that his sins, having been forgiven, must be forgiven again and again. Does God never say, “Enough! I am done!?” What about stubborn sinful habits? What about sins that have led others to sin? What about last-minute, unconfessed sins?

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The real question is, “How sufficient is God’s Grace?” Does God sprinkle out Grace sparingly on each sinful act, or does Christ’s blood cover All? Do our stubborn, habitual acts of rebellion pile up to a point where God cannot forgive? Having forgiven us once, twice, seventy times seven– is there a limit to His willingness to pour out Mercy? Theologically, the Bible is clear. The answer is a resounding, “NO.” God will not withhold His Grace from those who have sought it. God will never be “Done” with “Donne.” Nor will He be “done” with any of us who have chosen to follow Him. But in his all-too-human logic, Donne jokingly suggests that though God “hast” done/Donne, He “hast not” done/Donne. In other words, while Donne “belongs” to God– he has confessed his sins, and eagerly seeks to follow Christ, he still wrestles with fears that his small sinful acts prove that God does not fully “have” him– that He still lives separated from God.

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But the final sin of the poem is fear– fear that somehow, at the last, Death will prevail, and Donne will “perish on the shore,” rather than be taken into Heaven. He pleads that Christ’s blood (“Thy Sun/Son”) will be sufficient; that God’s promise of eternal life will indeed hold true, and that the work of salvation is indeed “done.” In the end, the poet hopes that “Thou hast Donne.” And he must trust that God’s promises will hold, for “I have no more.” Donne cannot stop death, he cannot do anything to save himself from sin, but he can be “done” with worry and trust in “Thy Sun/Son.”

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I am strangely encouraged by Donne’s poem. We all have moments of questioning and niggling doubts. And even though we “Know” the truth, our fears and emotions can play tricks on our mind. But Donne, even while putting such doubts and fears on paper, takes them to the Source of Hope. This is not a poem of accusation or despair. It is an honest and passionate desire to hear God’s calm assurance. And it is part of a long tradition that runs through the Bible. Jacob literally wrestled with an angel of the Lord (Gensis 32), Moses argued with God about going back to Egypt (Exodus 4), David questioned God (Psalm 10); even Jesus asked God, “Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27). But in our doubts and questions, God’s still, small voice echoes, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5), “My Grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9), and “Neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39).

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God’s work is ongoing, but it is also “done”– it is complete, whole, sufficient, and eternal. And even if we occasionally wonder and even question, we can choose to rest in His promises. Just as the poet concluded, if God “hast” done/Donne, “I have no more”– he needed to have no other fear of sin or sin of fear. And through Donne’s poetry, God’s assurance is being passed on– the work continues to be “Donne!”

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The Unchanging God

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As I look out the window today, I see an array of autumn colors–yellow, red, orange, green, brown, and even purple leaves against a vibrant blue sky. Autumn is full of changes; changing leaves, changing temperatures, changing wardrobes. I love living in an area where the seasons change dramatically. I don’t always like the drama, however. We’ve had warm days, wet days, cold days– sometimes all three in the same day! But I do like the variety– snow in the winter, colorful leaves in the fall, new life in spring, and summer trips to the beach or the shady woods.

It isn’t only the weather or the trees that change. The times are changing– literally–we will be turning our clocks back this weekend, “falling back” to conventional time after several months of “daylight savings time. Our neighborhood is changing–the bank down the street just changed its name, and a couple of new businesses are opening, as a couple others close. We are experiencing life changes. My husband and I are in the “autumn” of life– feeling the slow creep of age, in good ways and bad. We enjoy spending time with our kids and grandkids, nieces and nephews, as they embark on new adventures and challenges of “becoming.” We don’t enjoy the aches and pains and slower pace we now find ourselves adopting, but we appreciate the wisdom of life lived and learned. We have aging parents who are facing their own decisions, many of which will involve us in one way or another.

God watches over all these changes. He sees them, orders them, anticipates them. God is the master of renewal, redemption, and restoration. God can move mountains, heal diseases, restore relationships, and raise the dead! And, unless we allow God to change our very nature and give us new birth through His Son, we will miss the greatest change of all.

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But God never changes. The same God who formed me in my mother’s womb is the God who will be with me as I take my last earthly breath. The same God who formed the oceans and spoke galaxies into being is the God who whispered frost onto the grass this morning. This God is faithful through every season of the year and every season of life. I will not wake up tomorrow to find that there will be no more winter or spring seasons, or that the grass has all turned purple, or that God’s word is no longer true and powerful. And there will never be a time when I cannot trust God’s Sovereignty, His Mercy, or His Love. God’s promises are eternally sure; His Faithfulness is everlasting; and His power is limitless. God will never quit; He will never grow tired; He will never be “confused” about the road ahead; He will never resort to “plan B.”

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Very soon, the colorful leaves will fall, the morning frost will be replaced with snow and ice, and my fall jacket will have to give way to my winter coat and gloves. In time, my gray hair will turn white, and my wrinkles will multiply. Someday, my great-grandchildren may find my name carved on a stone and wonder what I sounded like or what kind of person I was. But God will still be the same as He was in the days of Noah, and King Solomon; the same God who watched the fall of the Roman Empire, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the first Moon landing. That’s the God who hears my prayers– and yours. He can be trusted. He is faithful.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (ESV)

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