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[God's 5 promises when life is hard]
By James MacDonald
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2011 James MacDonald
All rights reserved.
[THEOLOGY OF A PROMISE]
God is a Promiser by nature.
God is a Promiser by nature.
An important truth about God you need to treasure in your heart is that He is a Promiser and it's His nature to fulfill His promises. You can't read Scripture very long without seeing that truth revealed throughout history. He promised:
that one of Eve's offspring would crush the serpent (Genesis 3).
Noah that He would never again destroy the world by a flood (Genesis 9).
innumerable descendants to Abram (Genesis 12).
to deliver the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 6).
blessings to the people of Israel for keeping the law and curses for disobeying the law (Deuteronomy 28).
victory to Joshua over the Canaanites (Joshua 1).
an everlasting throne to David's descendants (2 Samuel 7).
And that's just a sample. The Bible is overflowing with the promises that God has made. In the Old Testament, the Messiah is promised; in the New Testament, He arrives—and then promises to come again! God's entire communication with us can be summed up as "I promise."
The persistence of God's pledge is also true for you personally. Remember the two flags? God gives us promises so we can walk by faith between the "Today, I Believe" and "Tomorrow, I Receive" flags. Hebrews 6:17–18 gives us proof of God's goal in making promises to us: so we will be strongly encouraged to hold on.
"So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us."
Look for evidence of God's character in those verses.
I'm floored by the fact that God promises anything. What's more, He's committed to help you see His promises because He knows what strength they will give you. He puts His weight behind wanting "to show more convincingly." He wants to impress upon you "the unchangeable character of his purpose." He wants you to be confident and solid in what you believe about Him. God doesn't want you wavering or waffling through life, or doubting or faltering in your faith. He is saying, Take hold of life with conviction. I want you to have full assurance right to the end! Don't give up or back up or shut up. Don't quit! Go all the way with Me, all right?
God wants you to be so familiar with His character and live so confidently in your faith that you can say, "I know what God's going to do. I don't know when or how, but He's made me some promises and I can walk by faith until I see it."
Hebrews 6:11 shows us the long view of the power of God's promises: "And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end." God doesn't want one person to quit. He doesn't desire to lose any one of us. He wants us to make our calling sure and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (see Philippians 2:12). God puts promises in our hands so we can give a full demonstration of the reality of our conversion to Christ. Hebrews 6:12 goes on to say, "So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." God gives us promises we can lean on for the long haul.
Are you trusting the Lord with all your heart? Then He wants you to "have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:18b). I just love that about God. He tells us that as His children, we are called "the heirs of the promise," or as I would say, "You're one of God's kids, a kid of promise." Your whole identity is tied up in the promises that He's made to you.
Isn't it time to live that way?
The Christian life includes walking by faith from the first day of your greatest problem to the final day when He reveals His most amazing solution.
The exceedingly great and precious promises that we're ready now to embrace are given to us by God, the great Promiser.
You can put your whole weight on the promises of God and He will hold you up.
He will sustain you in seasons of trial.
He will walk with you in daily paths.
He says, "I'm God and I stake My reputation on the promise that 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"
The promise that God will always be with you is no less than incredible.
Promise #1: GOD IS ALWAYS WITH ME
(I will not fear)
It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed. Deuteronomy 31:8
Before we can fully rejoice in a cure for a disease, we must feel the pain and recognize the outcome of that ailment if no cure is applied. Likewise, before we can fully embrace the delight of God's promises, we must first suffer the desperateness of our need. We can only grasp how exceedingly great and precious God's promises are when we realize how much we need them.
The Bible recognizes that one of our greatest problems is fear. You can disguise fear with all kinds of costumes, or drive it undercover. But it is never very far away for any of us. Some folks are afraid of their shadow, and some recognize that their fears are their shadow.
The Many Faces of Fear
For just a moment, let's talk about what we fear. One word says it all; we fear the future. No one's afraid of the past. The past creates other problems—like regrets and consequences. And no one is exactly afraid of the present. We might be upset about the present, but we don't fear it because we know it. We fear now what will happen next. "Something's up ahead and I don't want it." Fear is about as accurate and reliable as the local weather forecast, but both seem to specialize in creating a frenzy among people.
Loss, pain, and lots more!
When we think about the future, we fear loss and pain. We're afraid of losing people. Will my husband always love me? Will this treasured friendship last? Will my kids walk with the Lord or go their own way?
We're afraid of losing possessions. I'm barely able to make ends meet; will I be able to keep my house? Will I have enough? Will there be money for my kids to go to college?
We're afraid of losing our position. I've worked hard; I have an opportunity. Will I always have it, or will I lose it? I'm in over my head; will they find out?
We fear physical pain; the doctor's pokes and prods; the suffering of chronic pain due to illness that doesn't heal.
Even more, we fear emotional pain. My friend has found another, my kids just don't care, my spouse is drifting away.
We fear personal pain. I'm not happy with myself. I could have, I should have, I would have, I didn't, I'm not. I failed. Fear is always about something up ahead that I dread.
If you want some lively bedtime reading, look up fear on the Internet. You will find thousands of documented phobias, the ancient term we use to classify what keeps people from facing specific situations. A quick search gives us these:
Acrophobia—the fear of heights
Agoraphobia—the fear of open or public places
Anthropophobia—the fear of people
Aquaphobia—the fear of water
Astraphobia—the fear of thunder and lightning
Apparently, take any Greek word, add phobia to it and you've named a new fear! And that's just in the A's; let's take a quick survey of the rest of the alphabet:
Bathmophobia—the fear of stairs or steep slopes
Claustrophobia—the fear of closed spaces
Nictophobia—the fear of darkness
Numerophobia—the fear of numbers
Pyrophobia—the fear of fire
Zoophobia—the fear of animals
I'm getting bored—are you? People are afraid of a lot of stuff and it's funny until we get to the one that causes churning in our stomachs.
Let's agree that fear is a universal problem. It hits us like a wave, threatening to swallow us in its undertow. Scripture identifies the overwhelming emotion of fear almost a thousand times. The word fear is used 441 times; afraid, 167 times; tremble, 101 times; and terror or terrified, 121 times. The words dread, frighten, and faint are also repeatedly used throughout Scripture.
Let's take a look at some of these Scripture passages:
Abraham was fearful about his lack of a male heir. God told him in Genesis 15:1, "Fear not.... I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."
Hagar was afraid she would have to watch Ishmael die. God told her in Genesis 21:17, "What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is."
The Israelites were terrified as the murderous Egyptians bore down on them from behind as they faced the barrier of the Red Sea. There was no way out. Right in the middle of that seemingly hopeless situation, Moses said to them, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today" (Exodus 14:13).
David was afraid for his life on many occasions, but he penned these words in Psalm 23:4: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me."
Solomon seriously doubted his ability to follow in his dad's footsteps in leading the nation, but David told him, "Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed, for the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the LORD is finished" (1 Chronicles 28:20).
Jeremiah was afraid to tell people something they didn't want to hear. God said to him in Jeremiah 1:8, "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you."
Many of the Bible people we regard as heroes shared the same fears that are so familiar to us.
Fear is a universal problem
We can all relate to fear in one form or another. It's a primal emotion, instinctive to our human nature just like grief or anger. You don't ever say to yourself, "Well, I think I need to get afraid." You don't have to plan it; it just happens to you.
Of course the problem isn't when fear stops by for a visit. The problem is when you open the front door and invite it in. Fear! Welcome back! I've been waiting for you. Your room is ready down the hall! No, I insist—take the master bedroom! Mi casa es su casa! When you receive fear into your mind, heart, and life and nourish it like a friend, that's a problem. While you can't keep fear from visiting, you can slam the door in its face. With God's promise in your hand, that's exactly what you are able to do.
Fear among emotions
Some emotional responses have their place. Take anger. You could be angry about injustice or unrighteousness. That kind of righteous anger is a good thing. It drives positive action. This is exactly the kind of anger that filled Jesus as He strode through the temple courts, overturning the counters of the moneychangers and cleaning up His Father's house (see Matthew 21:12–13).
Grief is also acceptable for a season. When a loved one dies or you go through any profound loss, you need time to work through it. There is a healthy and necessary adjustment to the sudden absence of someone or something important. But grief can stay too long and eventually needs to be kicked out. Still, grief has a purpose; fear never does. Even doubt has a place. It's not wrong or harmful to doubt sometimes. You can doubt a decision or an opinion. You can doubt a path you've gone down. It's not always wrong to doubt, but it's always wrong to fear.
Some sins grab and imprison you. Fear will do that. Dread chains you in a small, dark room and sinks its clammy claws into your spirit. Terror is tough to shake. Once you've given it a place in your heart, it becomes an addictive drug you can't live without.
Why fear is not okay
Fear expresses the opposite of all that Christianity is to be. Fear is the contradiction of faith. Faith says, "Whatever it is, it'll be okay because of God." Fear says, It's not going to be okay, and doesn't think much about God at all.
Fear is the complete state of anti-God. God seldom seems further from you than when your heart is filled with fear. Fear is relying completely on your own resources and realizing suddenly that they aren't nearly enough to sustain you. Fear has no place in the life of a Christian. A fearful response, as in an anxious, frightened reaction, is never good and never from God. Romans 8:15 tells us, "You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear," and 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control."
I think you get it. Fear doesn't belong in your life.
Out with fear and in with faith.
First Promise: God is Always with Me.
The antidote for fear is the promise of God's presence. God is with you. "For He has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:5–6, emphasis added). God is with me wherever I go. How could I be afraid?
Let the calm, strong assurance of our first great and precious promise settle down in your soul: God is always with me. Therefore, I will not fear.
Always in His presence
Now "God is always with me" includes more than the fact of God's omnipresence. Yes, God is everywhere; therefore He is where we are. In the truest sense, God is not in our presence, we are in His presence. Distance makes no difference to God.
David said in Psalm 139:7–10, "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me." God is everywhere.
I love Jeremiah 23:23–24. "Can a man hide himself in secret places?"
As in, God will never find me over here! God says, "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" You can't hide from God. He is everywhere.
To the believer in Jesus Christ, this first promise is that God is with us individually. There's a special sense in which God is with each of us personally as one of His children. He is like the closest friend sitting next to us in a stadium full of strangers. He is with us in a way that is different from what an unbeliever experiences. This is the sense in which with us also means for us, as in Romans 8:31, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"
Furthermore, when you're going through hardship, or when you're heavyhearted and burdened, God rolls up His sleeves and moves toward you in a way that's unlike any other time. It doesn't matter if you can see Him working. His approach may not cause you to feel any different. But it's the truth—God is right there with you. The harder the days get, the closer He leans in so you can hear His voice. Sometimes it feels like God backs away from you when you hit hard times, but that's not true. Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit." Is your heart breaking today? God is rushing toward you. He stands there with you in the fire. I couldn't feel it at the time, but looking back, God has been right there with me during my darkest days. He gave me the wisdom to make the choices that lead me out of a very deep valley. He gave the strength that kept me from wandering off the path into deepest despair. He prompted the friend to call at just the right moment. He caused the sun to peek through. I truly would not have survived the last few years without God's abiding presence in my life. One of the places God met me most was in His Word. March of 2008 was the bottom of the bottom for me— all darkness and no light. I couldn't pray—or even think of something to ask God for—the way was so dark and lonely. It truly seemed that the circumstances would never change or improve in any way. As I wept and wondered and wandered through Isaiah I was floored by the clear word in Isaiah 60:20–21, "Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified." The presence of God could not have been more obvious to me if He had appeared visibly in the room. I know those were God's affirming words to me and quickly marked the margin of my Bible.
Scripture assures us that Jesus Himself is praying for you. This minute. Hebrews 7:25 makes this amazing statement: "Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them." Jesus lives to intercede for you. Amazing! That word intercede includes the sense of pleading— Jesus is continuously and persuasively presenting you before His Father! Before you ever kneel down to pour out your heart to God, Jesus Christ has already called out to His Father on your behalf. Even before you ask, He knows from firsthand contact what you need—because He's with you.
Excerpted from Always True by James MacDonald. Copyright © 2011 James MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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