Everyone knows about the biblical concept of a promised land; the arrival place for people who seek freedom, relief from bondage, and the joy of a blessed life. The original Promised Land was a gift that God gave to ancient Israel — a literal place called Canaan, a fertile land bursting with oversized fruit and flowing rivers. It was the stuff of dreams for the Israelites, a people who had been beaten down and exiled for generations.
When the children of Israel arrived at Canaan’s border, God made an unusual statement to Moses: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you … for you are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3).
This may sound harsh, but in context, it is anything but harsh. God had freed Israel from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Now, on the cusp of their entry into the Promised Land, God made the surprising declaration that he would not go with them. Even after all the miraculous things God did for the Israelites, they complained every time they faced a new hardship — the miracles God performed for them never translated into faith. Every time Moses turned around the people were threatening to reject God and abandon his leading.
But Moses’ faith was different. He knew the goodness of God, as demonstrated in all his supernatural works for Israel. In fact, the Lord’s favor toward his people seemed bottomless, never ending, unlimited. No matter what obstacle they faced or how impossible it seemed, God brought them through every time. Moses marveled at the character of God who mercifully performed all these things on their behalf and he said, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).
Moses had discovered a valuable truth; he knew that even though God had provided manna from heaven and water from a rock, these vital blessings were not the point of these experiences. Rather, trusting God’s compassionate love — knowing him intimately — was what really mattered.
“Please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight” (33:13).
What does your heart long for? Is your main dream for material things? Or is it the hope of God’s glory? Don’t let anything — even good things — blind you to the glory of his presence.
Sitting in my office at home one summer day, the blinds were open and the bright morning sun shone through the slats. I was talking to someone on the phone, and I remember a direct beam of sunshine, an incredibly bright ray of light, was focused on my knee. When the caller said something funny, I laughed and slapped my knee. As soon as I hit my pants, a cloud of something — dust, perhaps — wafted upward and filled the air. I was wearing a pair of freshly laundered Dockers, yet a battalion of microparticles had been camping out in my pants! I had slapped my leg many times before, and there probably was a cloud every time I did it, but until that day, I had never seen it. Only through the intense light could I see the microscopic dust particles on my apparently clean pants.
The Holy Spirit is like that light. We may think we are doing just fine, but when that Light shines on us, we see lots of things we never saw before. As the Holy Spirit gains more control of our lives, we gain a new perspective on sin. Things that didn’t used to bother us suddenly do. We become convicted about things that seemed fine earlier in our Christian walk.
If a person doesn’t have a growing sensitivity toward sin and lacks a desire to become more like Christ, it’s questionable whether that person ever had an authentic conversion. False conversions do take place. It’s possible to have mental affirmation that there is a God and that Jesus is his Son. According to James: “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). But in a true spiritual conversion, we will always see tenderness of heart, a new reliance on Christ, and a desire to be more like him. That has been the pattern for more than two thousand years. Recognizing our sin isn’t enough. Grieving over it proves God is at work.
The Spirit’s work in us is accomplished through our yielding to his prompting and movement. He wants to work in the deepest level of our being — the place where our thoughts, desires, and plans are formed. That is why Paul wrote, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fufill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
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.
Asaph, a Levite from the priestly line in Israel, was a singer who served as David’s appointed choir director. A psalmist who wrote righteous instruction for God’s people, he wrote Psalm 77 after he fell into a deep depression: “My soul refused to be comforted” (77:2).
The truth is, Asaph’s experience isn’t unusual for believers. Indeed, these deep, dark trials were experienced by great preachers of the past. For example, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was known as one of the godliest Bible preachers of all time, a praying man who sought the Lord continually. Yet he faced deep, awful depressions (in his day, the condition was referred to as “melancholy”).
John William Fletcher, another great servant of God, suffered deep depression. Fletcher ministered under none other than John Wesley, who called him the most godly man on the face of the earth. This man exuded the Spirit of Christ, yet he also experienced the depths that Asaph described. A horrible depression would come over him out of nowhere, afflicting him for days on end.
Andrew Bonar, a godly pastor of the nineteenth century, described having similar experiences. He wrote this agonizing entry in his journal: “I need to be free from the shadow of fear, uncertainty … Shame and sorrow fill me because of my unholiness … There seems to be a cloud between me and the Son of Righteousness.”
Each of these prayerful ministers faced an hour of deep depression. Not even the godly, devoted apostle Paul was immune. He wrote to the Corinthians, “Trouble … came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8). Of course, Paul was delivered and came out victoriously!
Even Christ faced a deeply trying hour and he told Andrew and Philip, “Now my soul is troubled” (John 12:27). When Jesus said this, he was facing the cross, knowing the time of his death was near. Later, Jesus told those who would crucify him, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Jesus was saying, in essence, “This is Satan’s hour.” Likewise, you can be sure your dark, troubling hour is Satan’s doing.
It’s good to know that the Lord doesn’t put awful depression on his people. He wants to help you recover your joy, peace, and rest as you come into a clear understanding of his own glorious purpose in your testing — delivered and victorious.
Jesus said of John, “Among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Christ dignified this godly man. He was the one who would lay a straight path before the Messiah, in preparation for his coming: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3).
We know that John was a student of Isaiah’s prophecies. The word that came to him could be traced to Isaiah’s writings, and John referred to Isaiah when the priests and Levites asked him to identify himself. When they inquired, “Who are you, really?” John always answered, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). Finally, when pressed further, he identified himself as the one about whom Isaiah prophesied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23).
John the Baptist was anxious to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah. John’s followers were filled with reverence for Jesus as they described all the works he was performing, yet somewhere along the way doubt began to grip John’s heart. In spite of all the miracles Christ had performed, something troubled this godly man’s soul. The same devil who tempted Jesus in the wilderness is the one who attempted to destroy John’s faith.
Jesus knew that John was human, and no matter how powerfully anointed he was, he was still subject to all the feelings and passions that are common to man. Christ knew John was in danger of being overwhelmed by doubt. Jesus had been through the same test himself, during his forty days in the wilderness, and he was able to tell John, “The devil is setting you up. But you cannot entertain his lies.”
John received Jesus’ message to him, which was, in essence, “John, there awaits a blessing of faith and reassurance for you if you will resist Satan’s lie. Do not allow unbelief about who I am to take root in you.”
Right now, Satan wants you to be anxious about God’s promises concerning your life, your family, your future, your ministry. In a word, the enemy wants you to give up.
Beloved, God is doing a work in you. John took his doubt directly to Jesus and Jesus gave him exactly what he needed. Likewise, hold on in faith and you will see his perfect work completed in your soul.
“That in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7).
God has shown his loving, warmhearted kindness to us. Therefore, we can wake up shouting, “Hallelujah! God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit want to be near me.”
Every Christian will face temptations and hardships, but in the midst of our trials, we are able to abound with thanksgiving because of his everlasting kindness toward us. Paul tells us this is exactly why God has made us to sit together with Christ.
One of the great blessings that becomes ours when we are made to sit in heavenly places is that we enjoy the privilege of acceptance. “He made us accepted in [Christ]” (Ephesians 1:6). The Greek word for “accepted” here means highly favored. That is different from the English usage, which can be interpreted to mean “received as adequate.” This signifies something that can be endured, suggesting an attitude of, “I can live with it.” That’s not the case with Paul’s usage. His use of “accepted” translates as, “God has highly favored us.” We are very special to him because we are in our place in Christ.
You see, because God accepted Christ’s sacrifice, he now sees only one, corporate man: Christ, and those who are bound to him by faith. In short, our flesh has died in God’s eyes. How? Jesus did away with our old nature at the cross. So now, when God looks at us, he sees only Christ. In turn, we need to learn to see ourselves as God does. That means not focusing solely on our sins and weaknesses, but on the victory that Christ won for us at the cross.
The parable of the prodigal son provides a powerful illustration of the acceptance that comes when we’re given a heavenly position in Christ. You know the story: a young man took his inheritance from his father and squandered it on a sinful life. Then, once the son became completely bankrupt — morally, emotionally, and spiritually — he thought of his father and was convinced he had lost all favor with him.
The son returned to his father, repentant and broken, expecting to be rejected but his father welcomed him with open arms of forgiveness and acceptance. “His father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
Experience the full blessings of your acceptance today!