Archive for January, 2013

Worried? How Is Your Heart?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

2  Chronicles 16:9: “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

Do you worry about your finances or your children? Are you or family members sick with the flu or another illness? Do you feel stressed over your job? Has someone hurt you or disappointed you? Do you struggle with anger or unforgiveness?

Our heavenly Father promises “to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”  I want to hang on to that promise. Don’t you?

I find comfort in this verse for a couple of reasons. First, the Bible tells us God keeps his eyes on us. Our Abba Daddy loves us and watches over us.

Secondly, he promises to strengthen us, but he places a condition on that promise. He will strengthen those “whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

What does it mean to be “fully committed to him”? Let me give you an example of what it doesn’t mean. An acquaintance turned his back on God when his wife died of cancer. He said his wife taught Sunday school and sang in the choir. He didn’t want anything to do with God because he let a good woman suffer with cancer.

He was a “fair weather Christian.” As long as the blessings flowed in his direction, he lived for God. When he lost his wife, he became bitter and fell into the devil’s trap of unforgiveness.

As a “fair weather Christian,” he forgot God’s only Son, Jesus, suffered and died on the cross for our sins and how many Christians have been imprisoned, tortured and killed for their faith.

On the other hand, a friend lost her husband when he was 36 years old. She continued to love God, trust him, and serve him. God strengthened her and blessed her with a wonderful second husband, a young widower.

We can’t get through life without trials and heartaches, and we all come with an expiration date. The proof of our faith comes when we hang on to God’s promises anyway and allow him to strengthen us.

Dear God, help me be fully committed to you. Amen.

Application:  In what heartaches will you allow God to strengthen you this week?

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Copyright 2010-2012, Yvonne Ortega, LPC, LSATP, CCDVC

All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Yvonne is a Speaker, Author, Counselor, Cancer Survivor and
serves on the Board of Directors of Christians in Recovery.
She is the author of Finding Hope for Your Journey through Breast Cancer.
If you would like to have her speak for your organization or church, please contact her through
her website: http://YvonneOrtega.com

Is There Still a Thorn Left in Your Side?

Monday, January 14th, 2013

“My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

The apostle’s thoughts were desponding ones–when his God whispered in his ear this precious thought of comfort. A thorn in the flesh–a messenger from Satan–had been sent to buffet him! We know not what this thorn may have been. God purposely leaves it unidentified, that each may make an individual application to his own particular case and circumstances.

But who, in their diversified and chequered experience, has not to tell of some similar trial? Some dead fly in life’s otherwise fragrant ointment–some sorrow which casts a softened shadow over perhaps an otherwise sunny path:
infirm health;
worldly loss;
domestic problems;
family bereavement;
the discharge of arduous and painful duty;
the treachery of tried and trusted friends;
the sting of wounded pride or disappointed ambition;
the fierce struggle with inward corruption and un-mortified sin;
the scorpion-dart of a violated and accusing conscience!

As the apostle earnestly entreated that his thorn might be taken away–so may you, reader, also have prayed fervently and long–that your trial might be averted, your sorrow mitigated, if not removed! You doubtless imagine that it would be far better–were this messenger of Satan, this spirit of evil, exorcized and cast out! But here again, God’s thoughts are often not our thoughts!

What was the answer to the apostle’s earnest petition, when he pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away? It was not granting the removal of the trial–but it was better! It was the promise of grace to bear it. “And He said unto me: My grace is sufficient for you!”

It was enough; he asked no more. He may have demurred at first to the strange answer–so unlike what he expected, so unlike what he wished. But he was led before long, not only joyfully to acquiesce–but heartily to own and acknowledge the higher and better wisdom of the Divine procedure, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me!”

This, too, may be God’s dealings with you. Often and again, it may be–you have taken your hidden sorrow–the burdening secret of your heart–laid it on the mercy-seat, and with importunate tears implored that it might be taken away! Yet the sorrow still remains! But, nevertheless, remember: the prayer is not unanswered. It has been answered–not perhaps according to your thoughts or desires–but according to the better thoughts and purposes of your heavenly Father!

The thorn is still left to pierce and lacerate–but strength has been given to bear it! The trial, be what it may, has taught you, as it did Paul–the lesson of your own weakness, and your dependence on Divine aid. It has been a needful drag on your chariot wheels–a needful clipping of your wings–lest, like the great apostle, “you should be exalted above measure.” Who can complain of the heaviest of sorrows–if they have thus been the means alike of revealing to us our own weakness–and of endearing to us the all-sufficient grace of a Savior God?

Blessed, comforting assurance: that God will deal out the requisite grace–in all time of our need. Seated by us like a kind physician, with His hand on our pulse–He will watch our weakness, and accommodate the divine supply–to our several needs and circumstances. He will not allow the thorn to pierce too far! “As your day–so shall your strength be.” “Grace sufficient” will be given–sufficient for every emergency. His everlasting arms are ever lower than our troubles!

“Do not be afraid–for I am with you. Do not be dismayed–for I am your God! I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with My victorious right hand!”

John MacDuff, “The Thoughts of God”)

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But being right doesn’t change lives or hearts

Friday, January 11th, 2013

I’ve been thinking all week about our pastor’s weekend sermon. He talked about the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. John 8:2-11

There’s so much to the story, but I can’t get past one fact: the Pharisees were willing to stone this woman—to death! Her life mattered less than their desire to trap Jesus and uphold their self-righteous legalism.

Look at the contrast. The so-called religious people were so concerned about stopping sin that they would kill to accomplish it. Jesus cared so much about a woman’s life—and yours, and mine—that He willingly died a humiliating death to save it.

We all know this story. All week I’ve been wondering whether we understand its lesson, whether anything has changed since the day that disgraced woman was thrown at Jesus’ feet.

Theology, sin, truth—they all matter. But being right doesn’t change lives or hearts.

The Pharisees wanted to be right because it made them powerful. Jesus loved people because He knew it worked.

Truth, without love, is simply noise.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog here
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Hopelessness is a Lie – Always

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Cranking a bike in the garage on a stationary trainer feels hopeless.

It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how much you sweat. The scenery never changes, you don’t move, and there’s no sense of progress or arrival.

Riding outside, effort changes the outcome. Ride harder, move faster, go farther, get back quicker. But inside, none of that matters. Lots of effort, little effort, it all gets you the same place—nowhere.

Outside, you can lean on personal experience. When a hill’s really tough, you remember when you climbed a tougher one. If you feel like you can’t crank another mile you remember other times when you felt the same way and kept going.

That’s how hope works. Faith looks back at milestones, experiences, stories, and promises fulfilled. Hope lets you move confidently forward, based on that faith.

But in the garage, there’s no horizon and no milestones. There’s just endless cranking with no apparent reason or result.

I think life seems sometimes like a bike on a trainer in a garage. No horizon. No sense of progress. No destination. Hopeless.

Except—hopeless is a lie. Always.

It’s true that the garage contains no milestones. But I look back a little farther to springs and summers when my winter training’s been rewarded with improved riding. I remember that training isn’t all about immediate comfort and reward. I see milestones, experiences, stories, and promises fulfilled.

It doesn’t make the garage magically less dreary. It does foster hope, and hope can sustain me through a lot of boring winter training sessions.

Life’s long-term because God’s long-term. We read the Bible, remember the stories, and recall the milestones as reminders of God’s promises faithfully kept.

Then, on dreary days in the garage or the doctor’s office or wherever we confront fear and uncertainty, we can look forward with hope based on faith in those promises.

I think we work pretty hard at remembering what we ought to forget.

Maybe, in the process, we forget what we desperately need to remember.

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog here
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of: Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Resolution Or New Beginning?

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

In this season of new beginnings there seem to be two categories of people: those who avoid New Year’s Resolutions and those who fail to keep them.

Actually, there’s a small third group. Something around 7-8% of people who make resolutions actually accomplish them.

I’ve been thinking about why we struggle so much with new beginnings. From personal experience, a couple of thoughts:

Our resolutions are often based on a sense of guilt or obligation.

God doesn’t want us to read the bible or serve at the homeless shelter because we feel guilty. We’re actually less likely to follow through on the spirit of a commitment when we feel a sense of compulsion. Guilt and obligation fuel resentment and a search for shortcuts and loopholes.

Our resolutions are often based on others’ expectations.

It’s tough to chase someone else’s dream. Whether it’s society’s notion of the ideal body or your own self-imposed version of what it takes to be perceived as a “success,” you’re going to struggle to sustain the pursuit of somebody else’s “should.”

Our resolutions often focus on result rather than process.

Students often returned from Christmas break committed to achieving a higher grade. I told them they’d do better by committing to do their best on every assignment.

Want to run a marathon? Most likely, you can’t—right now. But you can change your lifestyle, eat a little better, start running. You can train to run a marathon. And if you do that for a while, the race, like the higher grade, will take care of itself.

If you’re thinking about the notion of starting—and sustaining—something new, my friend Jon Swanson just published an ebook called Learning A New Routine: Reading the Sermon on the Mount a little bit at a time. I downloaded it last week and started working through it. I encourage you to check it out.

Maybe Jesus has some ideas about new beginnings.

Have you made any resolutions? How will you keep them?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog here
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Have You Become Derailed?

Monday, January 7th, 2013

We have a model train with special Christmas-themed cars. It’s a fun holiday decoration, but one of the cars tends to derail frequently. The train still moves along its path, but the derailed wheel makes the journey sort of bumpy and noisy.

It’s normally not a big deal. Stop the train, get the wheel on the track, and it’s back to smooth rolling. But if you don’t pay attention, eventually the derailed wheel topples the whole train onto its side.

I noticed over the weekend that my own journey has become bumpier and noisier than usual. I’ve missed a couple of blog deadlines. Indoor training’s been inconsistent. Little stuff on the to-do list piles up. I find myself distracted by small tasks.

It’s like during the past couple of weeks a wheel has slipped off the track.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever noticed things seemed slightly off, for no apparent reason, and life’s just not clicking as it should?

Most problems start small. We wander a bit off course and it doesn’t seem like a big deal. So we let it go, because the bumps aren’t that bad, and suddenly we’re tipped over in the ditch wondering what happened.

I’d rather avoid words like discipline, habit, and accountability, but those are the rails God uses to help me stay on the path. The noises and bumps are warnings that I’m wandering off course.

We’ve got a lot of work ahead. Monday’s a good day to acknowledge a derailed wheel and get back on track.

How aboutyou?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog here
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

A Brush With Fame

Friday, January 4th, 2013

How Donald Miller Changed My Life

Okay, that’s probably a little extreme.

I admire Don’s writing. He’s the writer I want to be when I grow up. My friends might question the “growing-up” part, but let’s not quibble over details.

Now, about the life-changing thing.

I don’t believe much in coincidences. When remarkable circumstances collide to create outrageous opportunity, I tend to believe God’s involved. I think He orchestrates something resembling a complex series of long-term, converging trajectories that don’t make much sense until they intersect. If we’re honest, we almost never see these moments coming. When we’re observant and open-minded and perhaps a bit lucky, we might notice when a convergence of circumstances creates a unique opportunity.

I don’t pretend to understand how this works, how God meshes His work with our choices and mistakes. I think it involves His answers to prayers, His ultimate plan for creation, and how He uses us in ways we’ll probably never comprehend. He’s patient and relentless, and He uses everything for good, working through the relationships and events of our everyday world. I’m pretty sure it’s more complex than I can imagine. That’s okay.

I’ve heard God chuckles when we tell Him our plans. If so, I suspect He laughs out loud when we claim to fully comprehend the details of His plans. It’s my job to do what I can, where I am, with what I have. I trust Him to fit the pieces together with love.

Anyway, I experienced a confluence of three events several months back. The first was the movie The Bucket List, a story of two old guys who survive cancer and realize they don’t have forever to realize their dreams. The second was my approaching 60th birthday, my personal reminder of a limited time frame in which to address a dream I’d been resisting for more than ten years.

Those two events, by themselves, wouldn’t have tipped the balance. That’s where Don Miller enters the equation.

Don wrote a book titled A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. He talked about analyzing his life as a story, realizing it wasn’t as interesting as it might be, and resolving to write a better story going forward.

The context for Million Miles was Don’s cross-country bike ride. As I read, I felt like he was personally challenging me. Remember that ten-year-old dream I referenced? For a decade I’d dreamed of doing…a cross-country bike ride.

But that’s just crazy, because guys in wheelchairs don’t do cross-country bike rides. After a quarter-century as a quadriplegic, I knew my limits. This dream was impossible—right?

And when I finished reading Million Miles, I told my wife it was time to stop making excuses and start writing a better story.

Don said an interesting story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. And since we tend to avoid conflict, the story requires an inciting incident, an event that forces the character to change or move.

In story lingo, Don’s book was the final inciting incident in the story of RICH’S RIDE and our 1500-mile handcycle journey along the Mississippi River. Million Miles tipped the balance, forced me to confront the fear and the self-imposed limits. The dream’s invitation sat squarely before me, and I could no longer ignore it. I had to say Yes or No.

So, in a way, Don Miller did change my life.

Once I said Yes, a bunch of folks surrounded Becky and me (and Monte, my service dog) with support. That’s how God woorks, through relationships and other people. In eight weeks I cranked the entire Mississippi River, from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota to New Orleans. We spoke to more than 4000 people about hope and dreams and God’s promises. Generous people along the route got the opportunity to donate nearly $60,000 to feed hungry kids through the worldwide feeding initiative of Convoy Of Hope.

The ride was about hope, a confident expectation that God keeps His promises. Hope allowed me to challenge what I “knew” was impossible. Hope allowed me to sit at the bottom of a hill I couldn’t climb…and then crank to the top. Quite literally, hope changes what’s possible.

It’s a better, more interesting story than “paralyzed guys can’t do stuff like this,” don’t you think? Here’s a video version:

I’ve learned one thing about good stories. Continued interest means seeking new opportunities and confronting new challenges. It also means finding new ways to share your story, because that’s the only reason for writing it in the first place.

So I wrote a book, creatively titled RICH’S RIDE: Hope Changes What’s Possible. The video you just watched allowed us to collaborate with Kristin Orphan and her Finally Home Foundation. FHF supports a broad spectrum of adoption services, helping orphans and their new forever families adapt successfully to challenging new circumstances. I hope you’ll visit their site, check out their CD, and support their important work.

On January 28th, we’ll kick off FLORIDA HOPE TOUR 2013, the latest chapter in this unlikely story. I’ll crank 1000 miles around the perimeter of Florida. We’ll speak to groups, hear some great stories about overcoming adversity, and offer the chance to support our great partners at Convoy Of Hope.

So that’s how Don Miller changed my life. Except, of course, he really didn’t.

I did. I changed my life, because I chose to stop believing in impossible and say Yes to the opportunity God presented to write a better story with the remaining years of my life. And the cool thing is—you have the same option.

If an old, bald, crippled guy can crank a handcycle the entire length of the Mississippi River, what can you do?

What’s the story you want to write live?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog here
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

Balance: Looking Forward, Looking Back

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

I snapped this incredible scene beside the Mississippi River south of La Crosse, Wisconsin during our 1500-mile journey in 2011. I wanted to display the great view of the road over the front wheel of my handcycle, but when I looked at the photo I noticed the presence of the rear view mirror. I remembered a lesson from driver’s education.

You focus mostly on the road ahead. It’s great to cruise down a gorgeous path, appreciate the surroundings, and anticipate what’s around the next corner.

But in riding, and in life, you need to pay a bit of attention to what’s behind. Sometimes more, sometimes less—it’s a question of balance.

I have some friends who are eager to put 2012 behind them. It’s been a difficult twelve months, and they’ll be happy to turn the calendar to a new year and symbolically put this one away. As far as 2012’s concerned, they’d like to ignore the mirror.

I didn’t do much looking back at the end of 2012, but for significantly more positive reasons. The beginning of 2013 is all about looking forward.

A book launch, a bunch of speaking opportunities, a new bike tour in warm, sunny Florida. With all that good stuff on the road before me, I gotta jump into 2013 with an incredible sense of hope, right?

Hope looks forward with confident expectation based on faith in God’s promises.

And there’s the balance. If the hope is real, something more than a wish or a sense of optimism, you need the rear view mirror. That’s what faith does—it looks back, remembers the stories, reminds us of God’s relentless faithfulness.

Sometimes it would be good to have a bigger rear view mirror. At those moments, what’s behind is frightening or dangerous. It makes sense to pay attention.

In life, I think we have those times as well. Maybe the stuff in the mirror is unpleasant and we’d like to ignore it, but I’m not sure that’s wise. Perhaps in those seasons it’s even more important to remember and lean on God’s faithfulness.

Where are you?

Maybe you’re staring fondly in the rear view mirror because the future seems like a fearful, uncertain place.

Maybe you’re plunging blindly ahead, ignoring what you’re learned, focused entirely on your wants rather than God’s desires.

What balance do you need to seek between looking forward and looking back?

CIR Members can share their thoughts regarding this blog here
Don’t miss CIR’s Daily Article ! Dixon
Copyright 2008-2012 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

God’s Comfort for Our Anxieties

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Psalm 94:19 “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, Your comforts delight my soul.”

There are certain passages of scripture that are so helpful to me. Certain passages that I just find myself returning to time and time again. I have certain passages that I would just call “bright spots for blue Saints.”

  • Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” I love that Psalm, and I love the part where he talks about “Therefore, we will not fear though the mountains be removed and slip off into the heart of the sea. God is our refuge and strength, a present help in trouble; therefore, we will not fear.”  That is a bright spot for blue Saints and I get blue from time to time!When I have the blues, I go to Psalm 46.
  • Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” That Psalm is precious because it talks about life, it talks about Him leading us beside still waters, making us lie down in green pastures, restoring our souls, and then it comes to death where he says “I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil,” and then he moves into the hereafter and talks about He has a table prepared before him, his cup is running over, “surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” No matter how blue you get that little Psalm will help you. That is a bright spot for blue Saints.
  • Psalm 90. “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations, before the mountains were brought forth wherever you had formed the earth and world from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
  • Psalm 91. He who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the almighty, I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress — my God. In Him I will trust.”These are just some of the bright spots in the Book of Psalms.
  • Isaiah 41, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” Thank God for all of these bright spots because it is a fact that the people of God do get rather blue from time to time.

WE ARE PULLED APART
Now, I did say that when you get depressed, you probably don’t find yourself thinking of this 94th Chapter of the Book of Psalms. You don’t find yourself thinking of this 19th verse, but I would certainly classify this verse with all of these other verses. “In the multitude of my anxieties within me, your comforts delight my soul. Now this man is talking about something we are all interested in. Anxieties. Now are you interested in what this Psalm is talking about? You are not interested in this Psalm if you do not have any anxieties, but if you have anxieties you ought to listen to what the Psalm says. “In the multitude of my anxieties” — we know what anxieties are, don’t we? Some translations put it like this. “In the multitude or in the midst of my anxious thoughts.” Do you know what anxious thoughts are? We all live with them.

Anxiety originally came from a word which means to pull apart. Centuries ago some societies punished criminals by tying them to horses, one horse on each side and when the decisive moment came, they would command those horses to go and the criminals would be pulled apart. That is where that word anxiety originally came from. It meant being pulled part and, my friends, a lot of us today know what that is about, don’t we? We don’t have horses pulling us apart but we have other things pulling us apart. We live in a stressed out time. An anxious Christian is a sad spectacle. An anxious Christian is not a useful Christian. In order to be useful, you have to have things together. You have to be at peace with yourself. If you are all torn up, you really can’t serve the Lord. There are many Christians today who are torn up. An anxious Christian is a poor recommendation of his faith.

WE MUST APPLY THE GIFT OF PEACE
The Bible talks about how peace is a characteristic of children of God. I find the Lord Jesus Christ in John 14 saying to his disciples, “My peace I leave with you.” The Lord Jesus Christ was a peaceful man; He had a unruffled calm and tranquility in every situation of life. He said, “The same unruffled calm that has characterized me, I am leaving with you.” That gift of peace has to be utilized. We have to press it into service. We have to apply it to our lives. Today, many Christian people are failing to demonstrate and apply this gift of peace. Psalm 94 can help us do that.

This man in Psalm 94 is talking about passing from anxiety to peace. He says “I have a multitude of anxieties within me,” but then he says, “Your comforts delight my soul.” The thing we are interested in knowing is: How did he get from this stage of anxiety where he felt pulled apart to a stage of being delighted with the comforts of God? How did he make that transition from one to the other?

I want you to see first of all what caused his anxiety. He says, “Lord how long will the wicked triumph?” They speak insolent things, all the workers of iniquity boast in themselves. They break in pieces your people of God and afflict your heritage. Now, my friends, you may say “Well, what a strange anxiety; He is upset because the wicked are flourishing. This man says “I have been torn apart by the flourishing wickedness” and you may say, “Well, is that all this man found to be anxious about?” Perhaps we would do well to be anxious more about this. Some of our anxieties are very trivial compared to what this man is talking about. He is talking about something substantial. He is talking about something important. He is talking about the wicked people flourishing. Oh, my friends, we are living in a day of flourishing wickedness and it is so strong, this wickedness today is so robust!

WICKEDNESS ABOUNDS TODAY
Who would have ever thought that we would be in such a day as this? Do you realize we not only have abortion on demand to the extent now that there are 1.5 million babies aborted each year, but we now have children who are aborted when they are coming into this world. All of the body of the baby is in the womb except for the head and then at the last instance the doctor inserts a sharp instrument in the base of the skull and kills that baby. We ought to be shocked and perhaps the most shocking thing about our day and age is that we are not shocked by abounding wickedness! We live in a day where people are apt to get more upset about a preacher standing at a pulpit talking about something like this than we are about the procedure itself. May God help us. That is just one example of flourishing wickedness.

Homosexuality abounds today. It is becoming increasingly militant against Christianity and it looks as if it is going to shatter the people of God. Yet, they say the Lord does not see nor does the God of Jacob understand. Do you feel yourself being pulled apart in this country as wickedness abounds on every hand– of perversity of the most shocking sort?

ANXIOUS THOUGHTS DRY UP PRAISE, HINDER OUR DUTIES, AND GET WORSE AND WORSE
The next thing I want you to see is what this anxiety did to this man. He felt quite helpless. He says, “Who will rise up before me against the evildoers? Who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?” He felt absolutely helpless; he was in despair. Then in verse 17, “Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would settle in silence.” This is something else his anxiety did. First of all, it made him feel utter despair, and then secondly, he didn’t feel like talking to anybody. He didn’t feel like talking — Silence. His anxiousness dried up his praise to God. Have you ever been so distressed and anxious that you didn’t feel like talking to anybody and you didn’t feel like even talking to God and didn’t feel like praising God when the people of God’s community came together? I have seen this as a pastor. I have seen people who were so distressed and burdened it was just like they weren’t even here. While everyone else was singing, they were just sitting there staring straight ahead but they weren’t seeing anything. Now the reason he is saying this is because that is almost what happened to him. He says, “My anxiety made the pathway of my life so slippery that I almost slipped.” Walking is associated with performing our tasks, performing our responsibilities. This man says, “Anxiety so troubled me and so burdened me that I got to the place where I couldn’t even function — I couldn’t even walk anymore. My foot slipped and then it multiplied in my thoughts.” You know anxiety has a way of multiplying, doesn’t it? You get anxious about one thing and that leads you to be anxious about something else and that leads you to be anxious about something else and on and on you go and you are now in this multiplication process, you are just obsessed with it. Everything is troubled! You can’t find any relief anywhere you turn. You know how our thoughts do this to us! We get troubled and then we begin to manufacture things and so this man is in a terrible state.

But, I want you to follow me into the next state and I want you to see that this man says in the 19th verse that he has been comforted. Now, he has gone from the bottom of the pit and is now relieved from his distress but he is absolutely delighted — delighted! Why is he is so delighted? That is the question. The answer is because God had comforted him. Now what are the comforts of God? The comforts of God are so many in number! If you learn how to plug into the comforts of God, they will have the same effect on you they had on him and they will delight and fill you beyond your ability to describe them!

THE COMFORTS OF GOD
Let me just walk you through some of the things about God that comforted this man. He doesn’t exclusively say this but we certainly are right to deduce this. The Psalm begins with this phrase — “O Lord God.” This tells you something about what comforted this man. He begins by praying “O Lord God,” and my friends that kind of terminology tells you what this man’s view of God is. This is just not a little bitty God. This is the sovereign God who rules and reigns overall. A God who is Almighty–a God who is majestic in wisdom. This is the God to whom this man is speaking — he says “O Lord God!” There is comfort in realizing that no matter what happens to us in this world, the sovereign God is ruling and reigning overall.

But, I follow this man further and I find in verses 1-3 that he also delights himself in the justice of God. Now, it is troubling him that the wicked are flourishing, but he says in verse 2, “Rise up, Oh judge of the earth, render punishment to the proud.” Back in verse 1 he says, “Lord God to whom vengeance belongs.” Look down at verse 15–he says, “But, judgment will return to righteousness and all the upright in heart will follow it.” He says, “What I see today is not necessarily always going to be the case. My God is a righteous God and he is a righteous judge, He is going to judge the wicked, and the righteous are going to be vindicated in due time.” Look down at verse 23. He says “He has brought on them their own iniquity and shall cut them off in their own wickedness, the Lord God shall cut them off.” My friends, it doesn’t matter how much wickedness flourishes, remember this, wickedness is temporary and God is going to deal with it in due time. This man delighted himself in the justice of God.

In verse 14, he delighted himself in the faithfulness of God. He says, “The Lord will not cast off His people nor will He forsake His inheritance.” Isn’t that good? Delight yourself today in the sovereignty of God. He is the Lord God. Delight yourself in the justice of God. He will not always allow wickedness to flourish. He will ultimately judge. Delight yourself in the faithfulness of God. God has made certain promises to these people, he has made them his people, and he will never forget his people, and he will keep his promises to his people.

In verses 17 and 18, he talked about the mercy of God. He says, “Unless the Lord had been my help…” Oh! the mercy of God. He does come to the help of His people. Then, in verse 18, he says, “If I say my foot slips, then your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up.” Isn’t this marvelous?

We stand in awe before the sovereignty of God and the justice of God. We tremble at the justice of God and he talks about the faithfulness of God, but he is at the mercy of God. God has a personal concern and interest in the lives of His children. This powerful majestic, sovereign, holy, just God has stooped. He has stooped down to our level even to the point that He helps us. He helps us! This man says “I’m delighted, God holds me up so that my foot doesn’t slip.”

PRAY AND REALLY HEAR THE WORD
He is delighted now by the things of God, but how did he get from anxiety to delight? First of all, he prayed. This is a prayer. He began, “O Lord God.” He is still praying down to verse 20 when he says, “Shall the thorn of iniquity which devises evil by law have fellowship with You?” He is talking to God here.

My friends, I want to tell you if you are in a state of anxiety and you want to get to peace, you must pray. But there is something else this man did here. Look back at verse 12 where he says, “Blessed is the man whom you instruct, O Lord, and teach out of your law that you may give him rest from the days of adversity until the pit is dug for the wicked.” Happy are those who are taught by the law of God. There is happiness in being taught from the word of God. There is a happiness — happiness! Get your nose into this book and you will find happiness as you delight yourself in the law of God. But look at what he says in verse 13. Don’t fail to tie these two things together. In verse 12, he is instructed out of the word of God but in verse 13 what happens? He gets rest. That is what we are talking about, isn’t it? He finds rest right in the middle of those days of adversity because he is instructed by the law of God. Now if you want rest and you find these to be days of adversity, go the word of God. The comforts of God flow through the word of God down into the hearts of the people of God and delight their souls.

“WHAT IF?” AND “IF ONLY!”
Now, you are using the Psalmist’s procedure. By praying and by feeding on the word of God, he was comforted by God even to the point that his soul was delighted. The comfort for our anxieties comes through this same procedure. What are those things that pull us apart today? As far as I know there are really only two categories of anxiety for the people of God. “What if?” anxieties and then there are the anxieties. What if this happens? What if I get sick? What if I lose my job? What if I lose a loved one and my loved one dies? What if I die? What if the wicked just get so strong here that we lose our country? What if my children rebel against me? What if my friends turn against me? What if my marriage falls apart? Some of you have a whole truckload of “what if?” anxieties. Fretting, stewing over what may happen.

And then there are the “If only!” anxieties. If only I had gone to school when I had the chance. If only I had more money. If only I hadn’t married this man. What if anxieties are anxieties about what may happen in the future. If only anxieties are anxieties about what has happened in the past and both of them converge right here in present. Isn’t that amazing? While you are stewing over what you didn’t do or what you did in the past and what may happen in the future, the present is polluted and poisoned and contaminated and the peace that Jesus bequeathed to His people is not being experienced. What are we to do with our “what if” anxieties and our “if only” anxieties. Call Him about your anxieties and tell Him what troubles you have. Bring your “what if” anxieties to the Lord. Tell him about your “if only” anxieties.

Oh, my friends, the Bible is just full of precious words about bringing our burdens and distresses to the Lord.

  • Psalm 55 — “Cast your burden upon the Lord and he shall sustain you.”

I Peter 5, “Cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you,” and on and on it goes.

  • Matthew 6 talks about how God clothed the grass in the field, how He cares for the sparrows of the air — and the Bible tells us that He also cares for His people. Talk to the Lord. Bring your anxieties to the Lord.

Let me just say that we also have a hymn book that is full of hymns about bringing our cares unto the Lord. “What a friend we have in Jesus. All of our sins and grieves to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to him in prayer. What a friend we have in Jesus.” That is a song about bringing our “what if’s” and our “if only” anxieties to the Lord in prayer and the consolation that flows through the channel of prayer into the midst of our troubled lives. The comforts of God can flow through the channel of prayer.

I want to just suggest also that you use the word of God. That you do what this Psalmist did. He went to the word of God. Blessed is the man who is instructed by the Lord. This is how he got the comforts of God into his anxious life. They flowed through the channel of the word of God.

Here you are today with your “what if” anxieties and with your “if only” anxieties. What does the word of God say that will help you with your anxieties today? One thing He says is He will never leave us nor forsake us. He tells us that His grace is sufficient for us. He says that He has a purpose for us in the midst of all of our trials and anxieties. When the black clouds pile up all around us, we can remember this: that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord. He tells us in II Corinthians 10 that He will not allow more to come upon us than we can bear. Best of all, my friends, God tells us that he will eventually free us from all of our anxieties and He will take us into realms of glory where no anxiety, no sorrow, no pain, and no grief will be able to touch us again!

THINK DEEPLY UPON THE PROMISES
My friends, if you want to really draw the nectar out of these promises, if you want to be comforted by these promises, if you want to get delighted by these promises, you have to reflect deeply upon them. As you reflect deeply upon them, you will feel the anxiety begin to evaporate from your heart and you will feel the comfort of God flooding in and the more you dwell on these things, the more you will find yourself utterly delighted that these things are true. But, you have to dwell here–you have to dwell on them. I look back at Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High,” he is the one who abides under the shadow of the Almighty. Here is the problem with most of us; we want to just rush across the spiritual trip, don’t we? We come to church and we are in a hurry to get home; we have no place to go but we are in a hurry to get there and do it. We have nothing to do and no place to go but we are in a hurry.We are not dwelling. My friends, if we would approach the word of God the way we approach our entertainments, then we would draw out the full comfort the word of God has to offer us. Dwell — dwell on these truths! Everyday of your life fortify your mind with these things: God is with you. God is not going to allow anymore to come upon you than you can bear. God has a purpose for you in everything that He does allow to come upon you. God is someday going to lift all of His people out of these things. My friend, the more you dwell on these things, the more the anxieties will just evaporate and melt away and the comforts of God will delight your soul!

©2006 by Roger Ellsworth – All Rights Reserved

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