Category Archives: Faith

Spiritual Maturity

Most of us have been there. Pushed to the edge of our ability to cope, emotionally and physically exhausted, and feeling overwhelmed from the pressure, we lose our cool and lash out. Or perhaps we just grow frustrated and impatient with the process. However, the self-control, perspective, and peace that spiritual maturity offer grow us beyond even these feelings when life is not going our way. David wrote many psalms where he acknowledged being overwhelmed, frustrated, impatient, and exhausted, though gradually turning to his faith to address these negative feelings. However, despite circumstances that mirrored many of his earlier challenging situations, in Psalm 63 David responded with positivity and faith from the very first line of the psalm. Written during his self-imposed exile following Absalom’s palace coup, David expressed a peace that many people long for in life but few find. And it demonstrates just how much David had grown spiritually throughout his life. Therefore, when we can develop the same spiritual perspective, we can handle anything that Satan sends our way.

Spiritual maturity begins with making God your priority. In everything. All the time. Learn to long for God and a deeper relationship with Him. It is when you know how much you need Him not only in times of trouble but also in times of plenty that you begin to appreciate Him properly. This is when we truly draw near to God (Jas. 4:8) and begin to think of Him as “my God” (Psa. 63:1-2). Spiritual maturity is content with the spiritual (Phil. 4:11). When you truly see the depth of God’s love, expressed in so many ways, as greater not only than anything in this life, but even “better than life” itself, then your relationship with Him and responding with love for Him takes on personal meaning and personal importance (Psa. 63:3-5). The spiritually mature meditate on God. They can spend hours counting up all the ways God has cared for them and blessed them. They do not doubt God is there to help because they have come to understand God so well (Psa. 63:6-8). The more you mature spiritually, the less concerned you become about what will happen to you in this life and what will happen in the world around you, including those set on evil, because you trust God’s justice to govern the world and to care for your soul (Psa. 63:9-10). Following this path, spiritual maturity leads you to find joy in God and have confidence that everything will turn out right in the end (Psa. 63:11).

Spiritual maturity manifests itself in many ways. It will exhibit itself in consistent and heartfelt worship (Jn. 4:23-24), in dedicated and sincere service (Rom. 12:1), and in passionate morality and holiness (Eph. 4:17-24). Such maturity will hold itself far away from the works of the flesh and cling to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:19-24). Without a doubt, love for God and for others will dominate the heart, life, and motivation of the spiritually mature (Matt. 22:37-40). However, the true test of maturity in one’s spirituality comes when conflict, pressure, and even pain confront the spiritual heart to provoke a response. Thus, our goal in maturing spiritually must center on handling a crisis in the world well—not sitting amongst the saints contentedly. Jesus displayed spiritual maturity in many ways throughout His life, but nowhere was it tested as it was when He was beaten, humiliated, and crucified. The love shown on the cross is the height of spiritual maturity, and it is this to which we should all aspire.

The Sadness of Betrayal

We have all been there—shocked, dismayed, and in utter disbelief when a close companion makes a sharp turn away from that friendship to cause hurt, harm, and heartache. A closeness once assumed unbreakable crumbles at the speed of sound with angry words and heated argument. Friendships forged in common cause often pass as quickly as a Hollywood romance once the immediate purpose is fulfilled. Moreover, today, the rapid exposure of opinions on Facebook or Twitter can quickly alienate former allies. And so circumstances expose the shallowness of relationships once thought forged in iron.

Nowhere does this problem bring such sorrow as when God’s people part ways due to the failure of faith. It hurts more than words can describe to see a brother in Christ you love dearly turn against the truth, against the church, and against the Savior to follow the deceptions of Satan. But when that brother, from bitterness of soul, spews his anger and hate toward the bride of Christ in active betrayal, working for the enemy in direct opposition to all previous devotion, it causes even greater pain. Paul warned that Satan often deploys forces deep within the ranks of God’s people (Acts 20:29-30), posing as the faithful to the undermine the faith (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Nevertheless, to witness a friend turn into a foe hurts deeply.

David understood this situation and its sorrow. He saw Saul praise him as a hero and then hunt him as a villain. When tired and hungry, he endured people pointing the pursuit his direction. He saw his sons defy him to try to take his throne. And he experienced a trusted advisor desert him to offer counsel to destroy him. Therefore, when David reflected on the hurt of betrayal in Psalm 55, he did not have to consult others for perspective. He knew the disbelieving sorrow (Psa. 55:1-3), the pain (Psa. 55:4), and the fear (Psa. 55:5) that problems bring. He understood the temptation to run (Psa. 55:6-8) and anger at the violence of sin (Psa. 55:9-11). But  the source of the problem—a former friend—hit with a force beyond the issues themselves ordinarily would have created. “For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; Then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; Then I could hide from him. But it was you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance. We took sweet counsel together, And walked to the house of God in the throng” (Psa. 55:12-14). The shock of such a reversal pierces the soul, but trust in the LORD ever remains the response (Psa. 55:15-19).

There will always be people who make themselves your enemies, breaking covenant with you and with God (Psa. 55:20). There will always be people who say all the right things to you and about you while internally plotting against you (Psa. 55:21). However, rather than becoming bitter and embroiled in controversy, rather than allowing an emotional betrayal to become your focus, cast your burden on the LORD and trust in Him (Psa. 55:22-23), because—no matter what anyone else might do—He will never fail you.

No Fear

Fear has become a mainstay of political propaganda. According to a wide array of websites, the election of the candidate they oppose would lead to consequences so severe and catastrophic that the very fabric of society and life itself might hang in the balance. The hyperbole used by the candidates and political parties themselves has made fear-mongering an art form—a grotesque, misshapen, perverted form of art. As the chasm between world-views deepens, the clashing rhetoric of these world-views has created an all-too-real fear among the people who listen. In a way, this makes sense. Those who came of age during the threat of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States rarely fell into a constant state of fear; it was instead a kind of steady tension. However, the rise of terrorism as a constant threat in the new millennium has raised a very different prospect. People are uneasy in general because so much of the world they knew appears under threat. They feel threatened by the influx of immigrants from places known to harbor terrorists. They feel threatened by the upheaval of social mores foisted upon them by elitist judges ruling from afar with a disdain for both morality and history but with great confidence in the power of a black robe. They feel threatened by the economic changes created by an unbalanced playing field in the workplace and the monetary policies of nations. They feel threatened by the skyrocketing cost of healthcare along with its retreating coverage. People carry all of these fears with them constantly in addition to the regular challenges of daily life.

Fear has become natural to us. But that is all the more reason to turn to the comforting words of the psalms and to gain perspective, for in them we are reminded that “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble” (Psa. 46:1), and that this alone is the reason not to fear—no matter what (Psa. 46:2-3). God does not promise to remove all trouble. He does not promise to relieve all our pain. He does not promise there will be no trials. He promises something more important than these things. He promises He will be with us (Psa. 46:7). All that man does poses no threat to Him (Psa. 46:8-9), and that is why, when we have Him with us, we need not fear.

Regardless of who is in power in this country or any other, the LORD is God, and that is what really matters. When a terrorist strikes, the LORD is still in heaven. When the Supreme Court issues a ruling, God has still spoken. When tragedy strikes, God is still love. Therefore, rather than allowing the challenges and heartaches of life to let fear enter your heart, fill it with faith instead. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psa. 46:10). “The LORD of hosts is with us” (Psa. 46:11a), but we must first determine to be with Him.

Sheep for the Slaughter

Every once in a while you go through a period of time when you are afraid to ask what might happen next because of how much bad news you have received. Not that long ago, it seemed like members of the congregation were passing away at an unprecedented rate. The heartache and sorrow this brings can lead to despair rather quickly. At other times, serious illness and injury step in, so much so that attendance seems to drop in chunks and the work to care for others increases dramatically. Then there are those times when every stressful thing that can happen seems to happen almost simultaneously. The car needs new tires. The house needs a new air conditioner. The children need braces. And insurance rates just went up. Regardless of which one of these scenarios—or all of them—describe some aspect of your life, it can seem like you have a target on your back. However, God’s people must also endure the challenges presented by Satan’s relentless pressure in pursuit of their souls (1 Pet. 5:8). It can be hard to express the frustration and difficulty that all these things can create in life.

In Psalm 44 the sons of Korah wrote from this very perspective, expressing dismay because they found themselves in great difficulty without understanding why. The psalm begins by recounting the many times that God had delivered Israel from difficulty and secured victory over a mighty foe (Psa. 44:1-7). In fact, this history formed the foundation of national pride (Psa. 44:8). However, the sons of Korah found that they did not enjoy this same kind of experience, suffering shame and dishonor among the nations instead of victory and honor (Psa. 44:9-17). What makes their case more disconcerting is that they remained true to God through it all (Psa. 44:21). However, even then, this did not assure them of victory in the field or deliverance from their foes. Instead, they bemoaned,  “Yet for Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Psa. 44:22). The psalm closes with a poignant cry asking for an explanation.

They felt as if they existed just to suffer. And this is why Paul quoted it in Romans 8:36 at the close of a passage explaining that, yes indeed, mankind’s very nature is designed to suffer. The writer of Hebrews, however, is the one that explains why: for the suffering of death and the deliverance that ultimately makes victory possible (Heb. 2:5-18). However, both in this psalm and in Paul’s conclusion in Romans, there is a reminder of why we can and should persevere. The first is found in the determination expressed by the sons of Korah and the second in the assurance offered by the apostle Paul. This life is indeed fraught with difficulty, filled with heartache, and characterized by suffering. But no matter how much Satan works to fill our lives with sorrow, to cause our bodies pain, and to create hardship in life itself, there is absolutely nothing he can do to separate us from God’s love. The nature of this life requires that we prepare ourselves to endure and persevere faithfully to the very end, but through it all—and especially at that end—God’s love is there for us. We will all face challenges throughout our lives—and not just small ones. But God offers assurance that despite the necessity of this in the nature of life, He is still with us and will deliver us beyond this life. Suffering is real in this life, but hope is real in the next. It is this perspective that will get us through, and keeping ever focused on the example of Jesus provides the way.

Hope in God

Rampant immorality and anti-Christian hostility dominate the news media in America today, and sadly the culture in general as well. The promotion of the homosexual agenda—and other similar perversions—that in previous generations would have received practically universal censure now enjoy legal protection, while the rights ensuring the freedom to criticize and condemn such behavior has eroded before our very eyes. Christians in America now face circumstances similar to our brethren throughout the rest of the world. We are coming to understand and appreciate more each day Peter’s description of God’s people as “sojourners and pilgrims” (1 Pet. 2:11). Nevertheless, however sad America’s moral decline might be, it has helped us more easily identify with godly people in past generations who found themselves overwhelmed by a wicked society.

When confronted with the bullying mob who wield the club of governmental power in the face of the godly, we should well understand the psalmist’s request, “Vindicate me, O God, And plead my cause against an ungodly nation; Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!” (Psa. 43:1). When Supreme Court decisions defy morality, history, and logic, and when voters seem intent on rewarding coarse and illegal behavior, we surely consider asking God, “Why do You cast me off? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?” (Psa. 43:2b). But just as we have every reason to recognize the psalmist’s concern, so also should we align ourselves with his confidence in the request: “Oh, send out Your light and Your truth!” (Psa. 43:3a). We should long for our homeland and long for our God (Psa. 43:3b-4). Indeed, the trials of this life should remind us that we have a greater citizenship by far (Phil. 3:20)! And this is why we too must regain our strength and strengthen our faith to ask ourselves and answer in accordance with the psalmist’s words, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; For I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God” (Psa. 43:5).

The last several years have been a challenge to the heart. Satan’s advances have seized much ground, but it can never seize the high ground. Therefore, I plead with you not to dwell on the din of the news or the venting found in other media. These too easily lead to dark places unbecoming for a child of God. Why, I ask you, should we hang our heads in despair when we serve the King of kings? No matter what choices others around us may make and no matter what circumstances we may ourselves face, we have every reason, always, to hope in God, to praise God, and turn to Him in faith, because—no matter what—He still reigns over all. Satan may have temporary victories in this world, but we have the hope of an eternal victory in heaven (1 Jn. 5:4).

Into Your Hand I Commit My Spirit

Most people do not like to think about death—even when it might be imminent. The human drive for survival remains so strong that, even in the most desperate of circumstances, the mind concentrates on how to survive rather than on the alternative. However, Psalm 31 provides insight into how faith can look beyond survival to see something more. David faced the jeopardy of warfare throughout his life. From his encounter with Goliath to his victory over the Philistines, from his narrow escapes from Saul to his survival in a civil war, from wars outside to intrigue within, danger almost defined David’s life. But it did not for a simple reason: faith did. In the midst of all of these life-threatening situations, David turned to the Lord and trusted in Him. “In You, O LORD, I put my trust; Let me never be ashamed; Deliver me in Your righteousness” (Psa. 31:1).

When you consider these words and metaphors in the very real context of warfare, they become even more powerful: “Be my rock of refuge, A fortress of defense to save me” (Psa. 31:2b). Glorifying God and follow His will should be the context of our lives and therefore give purpose to living (Psa. 31:3-4). However, in the next phrase David offers the perspective so meaningful that our Lord quoted it, “Into Your hand I commit my spirit” (Psa. 31:5). David saw himself as a spirit whose preservation depended entirely on God. Thus, while this is true in the preservation of life, it is even more true in the preservation of the spirit beyond life. However, the words that follow demonstrate that committing the spirit to God is part of living—not just a cry for the end of life. David’s description of his faith and faithfulness through adversity (Psa. 31:6-8), his dependence on God’s mercy through all his trials of soul and body (Psa. 31:9-1-), and his steadfastness even amidst social rejection (Psa. 31:11-14) are presented as evidence of the truth of this commitment. This, however, was not a matter of pride, for anyone should be ashamed who would not do this (Psa. 31:15-18). David’s faith was well founded, for God did deliver him, and David honored Him accordingly (Psa. 31:19-23). However, this is what makes Jesus’ quotation so significant. Jesus had lived this way throughout life, but His commitment even at the point of death poignantly demonstrates the full force of the statement. David committed his spirit into the LORD’s hands to deliver him from having to die. Jesus committed His spirit to the LORD’s hands to deliver Him even though He had to die (Luke 23:46).

We should approach each and every day with this same kind of commitment—a dedication to the Lord defined by an unswerving faith, even in the harshest of circumstances. Indeed, we have no control over the circumstances we might face in life, but we have complete control over the strength of faith we develop in order to face them. That decision made the difference for David, it made the difference for Jesus, and it can make the difference for you. “Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the LORD” (Psa. 31:24).

Looking Forward to Morning

When we are young, every difficulty, every setback, and every obstacle seems practically insurmountable. Whether challenges in education, starting a job, or dealing with the stress that responsibility brings, we sometimes find ourselves wondering if we can endure these hardships. However, after some time passes and the anxiety fades, we find ourselves in far more pleasant circumstances, reflecting on these problems with the wisdom that experience alone can bring. In the heat of the moment, it does not seem possible that perspective and growth can emerge from severe trials or even dire emergencies, and yet this truth permeates both life and scripture.

Once David had established himself in Jerusalem, placing the years of fleeing from Saul, living on the run, and fighting a civil war behind him, he stopped to reflect and acknowledge God’s hand in his life. The LORD had promised him that he would reign, and now, after years of turmoil, David had arrived at the promised moment. Thus, it was fitting that he would praise God for delivering him through all of those trying times to be able to enjoy the benefits of faithful endurance (Psa. 30:1-4). He acknowledged that he had allowed his pride to get to him when times were good and therefore had learned through tribulation the need for steadfastness, patience, and courage (Psa. 30:6-10). However, David’s perspective in this moment of peace offers the reminder that we all need. Whether we fret about the moral decline of society, the situation in the church, or our own life’s challenges, it is essential that we remember this simple truth about God: “His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; Weeping may endure for a night, But joy comes in the morning” (Psa. 30:5). The problems we face are real and undeniable, and they will bring sadness and pain, but joy comes in the morning. What a beautiful phrase! The next day offers hope because God can change our circumstances for the better. This seems like such a simple thought, and yet people struggle with it mightily. Our fears and anxieties get the best of us when under pressure, and we become stressed over what will happen next. When we are in the middle of trying times, it can be difficult to imagine happiness around the corner because we are trying to prepare for the possibility of something worse. However, this is what makes the joy of a relationship with God so powerful. No matter what may happen in this life, we can move forward with confidence that rejoicing awaits us. In the end, we will be able to rejoice and say, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness” (Psa. 30:11). Therefore, this knowledge should affect our attitude, our life, and our behavior today, filling our lives with worship and thanksgiving to God. This is how we should learn to think, to hope, and to live: “To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever” (Psa. 30:12). This day, and every day, we can open our eyes with hope and close our eyes in the evening with peace, looking forward to morning.