Have you ever experienced a time in your life when you no longer felt a hunger for the things of God? That passion, that stirring, that zeal to know him dulled because everything in your life was so comfortable; your thoughts occupied with earthly things. If this applies to you, it is time to look through God’s lens of eternity and grasp a picture of something bigger than yourself.
An old maxim goes, “God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.” Sometimes God looks into the heart and realizes it’s time to shake things up — not that he would intentionally harm you, but he will bring along things to awaken you out of your lethargy. Why? Because he wants much more for you than your contentment and happiness. The Holy Spirit might be saying it is time to bring a little disruption into your life because he wants your heart to be eternally focused on him, loving him, knowing him — and, most of all, being his completely.
In Hebrews we read about earthly fathers who disciplined their sons “for a short time as it seemed best to them” (Hebrews 12:10). “But [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (same verse).
David was no stranger to this discipline: “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word” (Psalm 119:67). “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes … I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (119:71 and 75).
No one enjoys the feeling of correction, but if you do not submit to the gentle discipline of the loving Father, your faith will diminish and you will become more self-focused.
Pray this prayer with me: “Heavenly Father, give me a heart to love you more as you draw me ever closer to you. Break my heart with what breaks your heart and help me to reach out to those around me with your precious love.”
The next time you are faced with an insurmountable problem, I would advise you to look into the heavens on a clear night. The evidence of God’s greatness is right above your head. Scientists say there are about 7,000 stars visible to the naked eye, though only about 2,000 of these can be seen at any one time and place. So even on the clearest night you see less than a third of all the stars visible to people around the world.
But that is not the end of it. Recent studies indicate that there are far more stars than the eye can see, perhaps 200 billion in our own galaxy, and the Milky Way is just one of millions of galaxies! Though no one knows exactly how many stars that are, one estimate puts the number at three thousand million billion stars — a three with sixteen zeroes behind it!
As God assures us, the “heavens are the work of [his] hands” (Psalm 102:25). He merely “commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:5). Just one word from him, and three thousand million billion stars came into being. What’s more, Scripture tells us that God “determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Psalm 147:4). God promised to make Abraham the father of many children even though he was an old man married to Sarah, who was herself old and barren. The Lord said Abraham’s offspring would be so numerous that they could not be counted: “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted” (Genesis 13:16).
Think about it! What “big” problem are you facing right now that is too hard for him? What possible need is beyond his ability to supply? Look up at night into the heavens and let every star inspire you to do what Abraham did — he believed God and received blessings that he could not possibly imagine.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.
Do you believe your faith is weak? Have you diligently prayed about a need and believed God with all your heart that he would provide, and you did not see an answer? You read the glorious promises about all things being possible to those who believe: “Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Matthew 21:22). “Whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24). And you claimed those promises! Yet, try as you may to believe — really, truly believe — you often are left confused, because the answer is either delayed or not in view.
Some believe that there are only two reasons why you did not get what you asked for: either your faith is faulty or there is sin in your life. You are made to believe that God had to withhold the answer until your faith improved enough to satisfy him. Either the quality of your faith did not come up to God’s criteria for answered prayer or maybe you said the wrong words or made a “negative confession.”
My friend, that kind of theology is silly and it is a slap in the face of our loving heavenly Father. God works miracles in answer to the prayer of faith and every promise in God’s Word is true. But there is something wonderful about the way God works. He is not motivated to act for us as a result of our faith alone. God is love, and that is what motivates him to act.
“Even when we are too weak to have any faith left, he remains faithful to us and will help us, for he cannot disown us who are part of himself, and he will always carry out his promises to us” (2 Timothy 2:13, TLB). My faith, your faith, all faith must rest on the loving kindness and concern of our heavenly Father.
“Let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight” (Jeremiah 9:24, RSV). Let us glory in the steadfast love and kindness of our Father today.
One of the reasons our prayers might not be answered is because we attempt to prescribe how God should answer them. And that all boils down to a lack of trust. The believing soul, after he has unburdened his heart in prayer to the Lord, resigns himself to the faithfulness, goodness, and wisdom of God. The true believer will leave the shaping of the answer to God’s mercy and he will welcome whatever way God chooses to answer.
Those who prescribe to God how and when to answer their prayer actually limit the Holy One of Israel. Since God may not bring the answer in the front door, they are not aware of his coming in the back. They trust only in conclusions and not promises. But God will not be bound to time, manner, or means of answering. He will forever do exceedingly, abundantly more than we ask or think of asking. He will answer with health, or grace that is better than health. He will send love, or something beyond it. He will deliver, or do something even greater.
God desires that we simply leave our requests lodged in his powerful arms, cast all our care upon him, and go forth with peace and serenity to await his relief. How tragic to have so great a God and so little faith in him. So, no more, “Is he able? Can he pardon? Can he heal? Can he work a miracle for me?” How that must grate on the ears of our almighty God. Away with such unbelief! Rather, come to him as unto a faithful Creator.
A few words of encouragement concerning prayer. When you are down and Satan whispers in your ear that God has forgotten you, stop his voice with this: “Devil, it is not God who has forgotten, but it is me. I have forgotten all his past blessings or else I could not now be questioning his faithfulness.” And then pray as David did, “I will remember the works of the Lord; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will also meditate on all Your work, and talk of your deeds” (Psalm 77:11-12).
The Bible shows a pattern in the lives of all God’s people. In case after case, when God began to fulfill his promises, the roof seemed to cave in.
Think of Daniel, a handsome, gifted young man who was chosen to serve in the king’s palace (see Daniel 1:3-6). He pledged himself to a life of holiness and separation from the world and was promoted because of his excellence. “Then this Daniel distinguished himself …. Because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm” (Daniel 6:3). But devious men became jealous and devised a plan to destroy Daniel, resulting in his being thrown into a den of lions. God intervened and delivered his servant by shutting the mouths of the lions!
Think of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three exceptional young men who were brought to the king’s palace, where they were made leaders in the government. However, when the king commanded that everyone bow before his false god, they refused and were immediately bound and thrown into the fiery furnace that was prepared for them. All seemed lost until the Son of God showed up in the fire and delivered them!
And think of Elijah. God gave him a glorious promise of a spiritual awakening in the land, of an outpouring of abundant rain, and a new day of victory for God’s people. Wicked Ahab and Jezebel were to be overthrown and peace was to rule over the realm. But Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life, the prophets of God were killed, and the land continued in wickedness and drought. Elijah felt alone and confused before the promise was fulfilled. Read this account in 1 Kings 18 and 19.
Do not be deterred by adverse, confusing circumstances in your life. One does not go from the prayer closet directly to some mountaintop victory. You may have to go to the lions’ den, or the fiery furnace, or the valley of confusion. But do not despair! God is sovereign and the Shepherd is still leading. Your suffering and confusion will give way to a faith that will never fail — a faith that has been tried, as gold, in the fire of adversity.