Everything was supposed to turn out great! Kathi and I were married for five years when we decided to have kids. First came Josh, our beautiful little bundle of joy. He was a feisty little fart whose smile was captivating. Then came Sara. She practically jumped out of the doctors hands and has been on the go ever since. Eighteen months later Katie was born. She had a smile that captured my heart.
Every night before bed I would rock them individually before lying them down to sleep. During these precious moments I would pray for them and dream about what life would be like. What would they look like as a teenager? As an adult? What would they do for a career? Would they serve God or run from Him? Would they become teachers, go into business, who would they hang out with? I loved dreaming of the future that they would eventually walk into. They had a bright future ahead of them.
Josh had been perpetually sick for six months when I brought him to the doctor at the tender age of three and a half. He kept getting diagnosed with weird viruses that never really seemed to go away. Then things got even worse. He developed bruises up and down his body and his knees were swelling by the hour. Kathi and I were worried so we took him in as soon as we could get an appointment. The doctor poked and prodded then took a blood test. A half hour later she came back in the room and had a very concerned look on her face as she told me that she still didn’t know for sure what he was sick from but she was calling Children’s hospital. When I left her office, I knew something had gone terribly wrong. Twenty four hours later our fears became a reality when the doctors at Children’s hospital informed us that Josh had leukemia. My hopes and dreams fell apart in one phone call, one turn of events. Everything was supposed to work out great and instead everything had gone terribly wrong.
I wonder if the disciples had that same feeling when the soldiers came and took Jesus away. I wonder if they had the look of fear in their eyes. I wonder if they experienced pain and bewilderment when their teacher was led away like a criminal. I wonder how they felt when everything went wrong, terribly and horribly wrong.
A week earlier they had marched into Jerusalem walking next to Jesus who was riding on the back of a colt. Their heads were held high as they paraded past the people who came out by the thousands to support him. These men had left their families, they careers, they friends, and everything else to follow Jesus. He was a master teacher and had chosen them to learn from him. They had seen him turn water into wine, cure the sick, and give sight to the blind. But now everything had changed. Everything was different. Everything had fallen apart.
Jesus was an innocent man yet he was sentenced to die the most horrible of deaths under the most terrible circumstances. Many of the disciples watched the Roman guards beat their teacher and friend to the point that he was no longer recognizable. Then they dragged him through the streets to the place where he would be crucified, the same place that already smelled of death from all the animals that had been sacrificed and discarded by the Jews. Jesus was to be the last sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice for all the sins of the world. Jesus was hung on a simple cross, an instrument of Roman torture, and six hours later gave his last breath. Everything had gone wrong, terribly wrong. It wasn’t supposed to end like this! When Jesus died so did the hopes and dreams of his disciples. Their future was hanging limp on a cross reserved for sinners. But they didn’t know about Easter yet. There was more to the story.
“Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to see the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, because an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and rolled aside the stone and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. "Don't be afraid!" he said. "I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn't here! He has been raised from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying.” Matthew 28:1-6 NLT
Although Jesus died a horrible death on the cross he didn’t stay dead. God had a plan. Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected according to God’s marvelous plan. He wanted to prove once and for all that he has power over life and death. Do you believe in the hope of Easter? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead? Do you believe that the tomb was empty and that hope had been restored?
The day Josh was diagnosed with Leukemia he began his treatments. If we wouldn’t have begun treatments he would have died within days. The first two months were the worst. We had very little hope and both wished that we could take our sons place. We couldn’t run from the pain or make it go away. The pain was real and persistent. After three of the darkest personal years I have ever faced, Josh went in for his final chemo treatment on June 9th of 2005. Today he is nineteen years old and attending a local college preparing to become a pastor.
Easter Faith can only be ignited by the memory of Good Friday. The thrill of victory originated in the agony of defeat. Hope rose from the dead. Jesus is the ultimate underdog who won the impossible and defeated the inevitable. The Easter story is meaningless without the memory of Good Friday. If you cannot find hope in an empty tomb and the resurrected savior who is pointing to eternal life, then where will you find hope? This Easter, find your hope in Jesus.
A few years ago I took our family to visit a cave south of Rapid city South Dakota while we were on vacation. Caves are fascinating places to visit and explore, but I wouldn’t want to live in one. I can’t imagine being chased deep into a cave like the one I was in, hiding for my life for hours or days without any light or direction. But that’s exactly what happened to King David.
Psalm 142 was written by King David when he was stuck in a cold, dark, spooky cave being chased by people who wanted him dead. It was a terrible time in David’s life that forced him to cry out to God like never before.
Are you alone, cornered in a cave right now fighting addiction, fighting for your marriage, fighting for your kids, fighting for your mental health, or something else? The enemy has pressed in on you hard and right now it’s just you and the darkness of the cave.
Caves are effective classrooms when it comes to teaching lessons on faith and prayer. The darkness of a cave presses in and reveals what’s in our heart and tests our faith. As a young man fighting for his life David had to learn how to pray and depend on God for a great outcome. While he was there he prayed like he had never prayed. He prayed with authenticity, transparency, and urgency.
Psalm 142 teaches us three lessons about how to pray when we feel trapped and alone in a proverbial cave.
“1 I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy. 2 I pour out before him my complaint; before him I tell my trouble.”
Caves force us to get real with God. The Greek word here implies that David had troubled thoughts that he felt compelled to express to God. Desperate times demand transparency and authenticity. Don’t try to hide what’s in your heart from God. Let him see your fear, your insecurity, your fragility. Prayer is not just telling God about our troubles, it’s about trusting God to get you through them.
Caves can either alienate us from God or force us to get real and cry out to Him. Whatever your circumstances, if you have made the commitment to follow Christ as Lord, you’ve probably felt as David felt here: no escape, lonely, and no one who cares for you. What should you do when you’re there? Caves will either push our closer to God or close you off from Him.
Caves force us to seek real solutions.
“6 Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” Psalm 142:6
One of the main reasons why we don’t cry out to God asking for real solutions with an authentic heart is because we think we can handle everything on our own. We don’t realize our own insufficiency. So God lets us get into situations where we are overwhelmed, trapped in the proverbial cave, so that we learn to depend on him alone. We need to pray with humility. God wants us to cry out to him in submission to Him.
Caves push pouting but God prefers praise.
“7 Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.” Psalm 142:7
Sitting all alone in a dark damp cave fearing for your life gives one plenty of time to reflect. David must have reflected on how God had promised him that he would be king. God wasn’t finished with David yet and David knew it. This must have led to powerful momentum shift. David moves from despair to victory. He knows that he is weak, but his God is stronger than any enemies. So by faith he looks ahead to the time when he will give thanks to God for rescuing him, surrounded by God’s people. David’s focus is not personal happiness, but the pursuit of God. He wants to praise His name. He longs to give God the credit. David wants to be delivered so that he can give all the glory to God.
Invite the presence of God into your cave, pray and praise. Trust him in the darkness, trust Him with the pain, hold tightly to your faith. He is with you.
What do you talk to God about when you don’t feel like talking to God? When a tragedy is so raw and the pain so powerful, which Bible verse do you turn to for comfort? I turn to Psalm 23.
There are four promises for believers found in Psalm 23. The first promise is found in verse one when David says: “1The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” David loved the metaphor of seeing the LORD as a shepherd. A shepherd’s job consisted of leading the sheep to fertile areas to graze, protect them from predators and other hazards, and keep them together so they don’t stray from the group and get lost.
This is the promise: God provides. God is your shepherd. He makes us his own and delights in taking care of us. One of the names of God is “Jehovah-Jireh” which means the Lord Provides. God always promises to provide for us. This doesn’t mean that God always provides whatever we ask him for. God is not a vending machine. But he does provide his presence and the provision to get you from where you are to where he wants you to be.
The second promise is found in verses 2 and 3. “2. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
God promises to guide us. This is a picture of trust. The shepherd would never walk away from his sheep, he would never abandon them and his sheep would follow him. The sheep trust the shepherd to lead them where they need to be and in the same way we must trust our heavenly shepherd Jesus to lead us where we need to be.
Then we get to verse four. “4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Why would a good shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep lead a lamb into a valley filled with danger? There’s only one possible answer, to get to a better place.
Every valley is pathway to new pasture. The valley isn’t good, but the Shepherd is. He knows the way. Sometimes the right path and the hard path are the same path. Even though we walk through the valley, God promises comfort. Your valley could be cancer, a divorce, a wayward child, whatever. When your finances are tight, and you are taking on yet another job to make ends meet, remember this: God promises to comfort. Cry out to God and he will comfort you.
We know that if we start heading in the wrong direction God will hook us back in. And if we stray, he will nudge us back on course. It may be for your protection and to keep you on your path. The rod and the staff in fact are there to comfort you and know that you are cared for and loved.
When David writes “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” it implies that we will have enemies in our life, yet God still promises to bless us. To anoint someone with oil was a practice in biblical times to honor and dignify a person. It was also used in prayer to set someone apart for God to do a work in their life. So not only does God set the table for us in the presence of our enemies, he sets us apart with dignity and blesses us. My cup overflows because I am cared for and loved in abundance.
Then David ends with “6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Today I encourage you to take the time to read Psalm 23 again. May it comfort you and encourage you whether you are resting in the green pasture or struggling through the valley. Trust the Good Shepherd to provide for you, guide you, comfort you, and bless you.
When you were young did you dream about doing something great? Did you want to be a pilot or a fireman or astronaut or start your own business? Did you plan on getting married, buying a house, having children and taking that dream vacation to Hawaii or Europe?
Did you plan on getting fired, losing your house to foreclosure? Did you plan on moving two or three or four or five times? No. We all plan for the best but life always has failure and loss.
So how does a person of God respond to loss, failure, and disappointment? How does a godly person deal with all the loss and sorrow that life brings? Moses teaches us four valuable lessons in Psalm 90 about how to make the most out of every day.
Moses was a wanderer and didn’t have a home, yet he starts the Psalm by proclaiming that He alone is our dwelling place because everything else changes. “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.” Moses places his hope in what he knew to be true about God. He knew that God was his only safe and secure place of rest. Moses knew that no matter what life threw at him, ultimately his dwelling place was in the presence of the eternal God.
After Moses focuses on God’s eternal greatness he confesses human weakness describing the frailty and brokenness of life that originated from sin.
“3You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” 4 A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death— they are like the new grass of the morning: 6 In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.”
After reading a series of depressing verses we get to verse 12 where Moses petitions God for something very specific.
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Give your best, for the best, every day you can. Tomorrow might not be better than today, so make today count. Focus on living every day for maximum impact. Paul said the same thing in Ephesians 5:15-16. God calls us to use every moment of every day to honor Him because we don’t know how many days we have.
When I look at the days I have spent and the days that may or not be in front of me I am challenged to make the most of the days I am given. I want to tithe the money I have been given for the glory of God to make disciples. I want to invest my time in building up other people.
What are you going to do with the rest of the time that you have been given? Are you going to spend it chasing unicorns and rainbows or invest it wisely doing your best to fulfill the purposes that God has graciously given you?
Finally, Moses cries out to God for compassion, love, and favor.
“13…Have compassion on your servants. 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. … 17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.”
While this life may be characterized by limitations and frustrations, we are not only able to pray that God will change us, but that He will change our life. We are to pray that God will use us for His glory and even accomplish eternal results.
People will come and go, seasons will come and go, good times and bad times will come, but God still sits on His throne. He was and is and forever shall be. God is still God so we can trust him even when we are wandering in the wilderness like Moses.
If you are not dead, God is not done with you. God still wants you to serve others like Jesus. He still wants you to pray for others. Seek God and when you see an opportunity, go for it. God may have prepared that opportunity just for you. May God bless the work of your hands because you don’t know how many days you have left. So let’s make the most out of every day.