better days are coming

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

“‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it[c] will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Jeremiah 33:14-16

One of my favorite pastors used to say, “The best is yet to come!” And that’s true in God’s world. In the world in which we live, which in the end is also God’s world we see trouble piled on trouble, no end of it. If it isn’t one thing it’s another and another and then the next problem. There’s always something. And it’s not just problems we might solve, but issues far beyond us. And we can thank only ourselves collectively as well as individually for much of the mess we’re in.

But God’s promise in Jesus is that better days are coming. God can’t wait to forgive and pour out God’s love on us. This does require repentance of sins, of our own foolish ways. All we have to be is honest to God, to others. God will take care of everything in the end. In the meantime God helps us, setting us on a course to be a part of solution the world needs, nothing short of God’s kingdom and that kingdom come in Jesus.

But we can take solace and even find relief with the thought that good days are ahead. That the problem or problems, troubles and trials which weigh in on us will someday be a thing of the past. It will all be gone. This can help us in the present, not to ignore hard reality, but not be suffocated in it, either. God will help us now as we look forward to the day when it will all be gone. In and through Jesus.

nothing at all can separate us from God’s deep, unchanging love

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 8:31-39

1 We are often tossed and driv’n
on the restless sea of time,
somber skies and howling tempest
oft succeed a bright sunshine;
in that land of perfect day,
when the mists have rolled away,
we will understand it better by and by.

Refrain:
By and by, when the morning comes,
when the saints of God are gathered home,
we’ll tell the story,
how we’ve overcome,
for we’ll understand it better by and by.

2 We are often destitute
of the things that life demands,
want of food and want of shelter,
thirsty hills and barren lands;
we are trusting in the Lord,
and according to the Word,
we will understand it better by and by. [Refrain]

3 Temptations, hidden snares,
often take us unawares,
and our hearts are made to bleed for
any thoughtless word or deed;
and we wonder why the test
when we try to do our best,
but we’ll understand it better by and by. [Refrain]

Voices Together, 311

Also from Voices Together, 656God Weeps with Us. Cannot share lyrics due to copyright laws. A portrait of the song from another hymnbook here.

I’m not much into the idea of understanding it better by and by, in the life to come. I’m kind of the persuasion that I won’t care about trying to understand, being bathed in the love of God. Though that thought might come from living such a privileged life compared to so many others in our world. I think now of specific situations and sometimes we have to lament in horror, and then I soon forget about it, though hopefully it leaves an indelible mark on us so that we’re changed over time. And pray and do our part to alleviate human suffering.

Both of the hymns mentioned above spoke powerfully to me recently of how much God loves us no matter what happens, no matter what we’re up against. God’s love is always present and can become palpable, felt, if only we will learn to more and more trust God.

This is needed encouragement for me day after day when facing new difficulties, and considering the hard times so many are going through. God’s love is with us through everything. We need to count on it, so that no matter what we’re facing or how we’re feeling, we won’t accept the lie that somehow we are separated from God and God’s love. The words above say it better than I can. And note the second hymn as well. Given and present for us in and through Jesus.

double-mindedness as in not believing

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

James 1:5-8

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

James 1:5-8; MSG

We normally equate double-mindedness with something other than failing to trust God. It might be in terms of people trying to be devoted to God, but also devoted to getting rich, a precarious position to be in, but a subject perhaps for another day. Or a supposed allegiance to God and country, as if the two are compatible with each other, not that we shouldn’t strive to be good earthly citizens, being concerned for our country out of love for our neighbor, while we remain beyond everything else, citizens of God’s kingdom. Or holding on to whatever sin it might be, as we continue to be religious. Double-mindedness.

But James equates it here with something we often consider much less harmful, if even a case of double-mindedness at all: the lack of faith. Do we trust God or not? That’s the question. The kind of faith and maturity God wants from us is to simply trust God through thick and thin, no matter what. When we don’t, we essentially are saying that we know better, or else we want to be in control, or we think somehow life depends on us, and that God is only there to help us in some kind of secondary, assisting way.

Instead James is telling us that God is calling us in the midst of trials to look to God, to trust God for needed wisdom. And that the issue is whether or not we believe God is willing to help us or not, and not only willing, but whether or not God will come through for us. We need to learn to rest assured in God’s goodness and faithfulness in whatever situation we’re facing. That God is with us in the trial. And that as we see in the context (click link above), God is working in our lives to make us complete in our character.

The last thing James is suggesting is that the trials we’re going through either are easy, or will become easy if we trust God. But James is certainly saying that trusting God will make a world of difference for us both in changing us over time, and in seeing us through. Both are essential, because what’s often worse than the trial itself or at least just as bad is our reaction to them. God wants to work in our lives to temper that down and help us instead to consider such situations pure joy, since we know God is at work in our lives, and that God will indeed help us, God the one in charge and not us. As we look to God in trusting prayer. In and through Jesus.

facing the uncertainties and dangers of life

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

If there’s one thing that’s certain in this life, it’s that you’re going to have trouble of one sort or another. I remember a professor telling us that he saw life as basically problem solving, from one situation to the next. Yellow flags should come up when anyone suggests otherwise, say in a sales pitch or whatever.

Troubles will come. It’s what we do with our troubles that matter, and can even make or break us. Job in this story was certainly head over heels, literally from his head to his toes in trouble, and then some. Job couldn’t sweep his troubles under the rug. He was living in it.

For us, they might be “first world problems,” but nevertheless we have to face them with the goal and passion of being true to God’s call to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We need to leave no stone unturned in doing the best we can so that others will not be harmed, but blessed. Insofar as that’s possible.

And it seems to me that we do so with much prayer, seeking to be as responsible as we possibly can. But also realizing that even our best efforts are not foolproof. This life has built in trouble to it. Along with the realization that we can’t avoid uncertainty and danger. It happens, and it will happen again. God will help us in answer to prayer to apply wisdom. But some needed wisdom is to simply realize that instead of relieving us from trouble in this life, God promises to be with us in that trouble. To see us through that trouble. And there will be the other side. To some extent in this life, as we see in the story of Job. The worst of his trouble did come and go. But completely and forever only in the eternal life to come. In and through Jesus.

accepting the stress and distress of this life

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Matthew 7:13-14; NRSV

I’m reading Job from The Message right now which I take as more than an intriguing wisdom story, certainly a book chalk full of wisdom, but mostly in terms of the main points that come across, notwithstanding some of the striking details. I’m reminded of the thought that instead of life getting easier when one comes to Christ, it actually becomes more difficult. Why? Well we can surely say we’re going against the grain of the world, the flesh, and the devil. And central to it is simply the reality that believers are also followers of Christ, or else our faith may well be spurious. Following Christ means identity with him in this world, taking up our cross, as we seek to live out the King Jesus, kingdom of God life. Certainly a salvation story, but a salvation not in terms of simply securing one’s eternal life, but a salvation steeped in the values of God’s kingdom, inside and out.

We need to accept the stress and distress of this way in Jesus. That is half the battle, the Lord helping us to do that. God will be with us through the rest. We just need to settle into the mentality that we’ll have problems others won’t. As we seek to follow. In and through Jesus.

going through it, not around it

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.

Psalm 23:4

Even when the way goes through
Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.

Psalm 23:4; MSG

Psalm 23 is a delight, and one of the earliest Bible passages many of memorized and recited from the beloved King James Version. Couched in the middle of this David psalm is the reference to the darkest and most difficult of our experience in this life. What we would well like to avoid, but can’t. The inevitable trials and tribulations, dark in either what actually is experienced, or in the perceived threats which trouble us.

God, I believe is wanting to teach us something basic, but so crucial to our life in God as pilgrims in this world. We’re not to try to avoid or even escape the darkness we face, but walk through it, yes through it. Knowing that the Lord will be with us. Yes, God will be with us. Jesus our good shepherd. Protecting us with his rod and staff. The Lord will see us through. We’ll receive all the help we need, comfort and security, and will be better off, remarkably enough, for having gone through it. Or at least afterward we’ll be receiving the healing we need. In and through Jesus.

don’t overreact to a bad day

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18; MSG

Paul had many many difficult days. He lived for long periods of time in difficulty, for that matter. We must remember exactly what Paul is telling us here. Day after day, God is doing his renewing work in us. And we proceed knowing that the outcome is indeed good.

It’s easy to have a good day, get up the next morning “on the wrong side of the bed” (or not want to get up at all) and just be down dingers. We can prayerfully ask ourselves how we ended the day before we went to bed which might have contributed to that. But we have to pick up and go on. Believing that God is at work. And that in the difficulty, as Paul points out again and again in the above letter, God is making himself known, yes even through our lives. In and through Jesus.

keep on praying

Are you hurting? Pray.

James 5:13a; MSG

Prayer, simply praying to God is underrated. Or at least it seems that way to me. Though the further you grow in maturity in Christ, the more likely you’ll agree with that thought. But it’s another thing to do what we know we should. It’s something we have to deliberately practice.

James’s directive here when we’re “in trouble” (NIV) or hurting is to pray. When we have God’s peace and joy, it’s just natural for us to praise and thank God. But when our hearts are heavy, or we’re carrying a heavy burden, sometimes seemingly unbearable, or we’re concerned about this or that, we’re to pray, pray, and keep on praying.

By and by we’ll find that in a way prayer itself is the point. And in the parched, dry places where our soul is deeply hurting, that’s where our prayers might ascend and hit pay dirt more than we imagine. We know that when we have the sense of God’s Presence and peace, we also have the sense that our prayers are effective. But when we can feel nothing but heaviness, then we won’t have that sense, and may not pray at all. Instead we should pray all the more.

Such experience humbles us, and hopefully our roots grow deeper into God, into our dependence on God, and commitment to him. And that can help our prayers all the more, even if we think they’re not making a difference at all. Gradually we’ll begin to sense and see in small ways that our prayer is being heard, being answered.

So trouble and hurt while in themselves not something we want, can actually be a help so that we pray all the more, as well as deepen us in our relationship with God. In and through Jesus.

in trial

They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.”

Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?”

He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.”

He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

He came back a third time and said, “Are you going to sleep all night? No—you’ve slept long enough. Time’s up. The Son of Man is about to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up. Let’s get going. My betrayer has arrived.”

Mark 14:32-42; MSG

This is not really written for us when we are experiencing our very worst days, or difficult moments. Jesus did for us what none of us could ever have done for ourselves. And this was at the heart of that. He endured the hour of trial, so that we’ll never have to.

But as followers of Jesus, we indeed can, and should learn from this. First of all, when we face trials our first resort should be to do what Jesus did: pray. Yes, Jesus prayed alone, but he also had his disciples nearby; Peter, James and John just a stone’s throw away, close enough to hear and see him. It’s as if he needed their special support during this time, borne out in the synoptic gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke) when you compare the ideas that they’re to stand and watch in prayer with him, as well as for their own sake. There are times when we need to carry each other’s burdens, which will include others helping us carry ours. That can be a tremendous help. In this case Jesus’s disciples were nearby, but he had to carry it alone.

For us, yes, we need trusted friends, and likely one we can see as either a mentor, or alongside with us to help us through our struggles. But above all we need to be in prayer ourselves. Committed to doing God’s will regardless of what we’re experiencing, believing that God will help us through, even as was true with Jesus.

not giving into fear

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

These words of Jesus in the Upper Room Discourse on the eve of his crucifixion ring forward to this day. No command is repeated in Scripture more often than the command simply to not be afraid. I think we can carry that thought over into whatever it is that might cause us fear. I mean fear that keeps us away from living in God’s will.

There are so many things in this life which can be occasions to cave into fear. And when that happens, it’s harder getting out then it was falling in.

What is needed is a new pattern of life over time, a new habit which shapes us gradually. Of course with the “three steps forward, two steps backward” reality we all struggle with.

Jesus’s words were specific to what the disciples were facing during that time. It was certainly a dark time, and naturally the alarm would be sounding for them.

Whatever we might face, Jesus’s peace is present for us as well. It’s up to us to receive that word in faith, and make the concerted, sustained effort not to let our hearts be troubled, or be afraid. Of course there is always confession and forgiveness when we lapse back into our old ways. But that should never be an excuse for us to fail to set our sights on something much better. What God has for each and everyone of us in and through Jesus.