The Plan (Luke 1:12-14)

Talk about fear! Zechariah was a priest and was serving at the Temple. While serving, an angel appeared to him and told him that he and his wife would have a child. The child, the angel said, would be filled with the Holy Spirit and be a prophet like Elijah.

Zechariah didn’t believe the angel – and why would he? He and Elizabeth were both very old and they had both resigned themselves to the idea that they would never have children. But God had a different plan.

Elizabeth gave birth to John, who is John the Baptizer, the forerunner of Jesus and the prophet who prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah, to come to his people. How marvelous that God could use a barren couple to bring into the world such an important figure in history!

But in the beginning, Zechariah was greatly afraid. In fact, he didn’t believe the angel and was struck mute for the duration of the pregnancy because of his unbelief.

Sometimes I feel like we are like Zechariah – scared and unwilling to possibly believe that God has a plan even when it seems unlikely or even impossible. But the fact of the matter is that God does have a plan for each one of us. It doesn’t matter who you are, there is a purpose for your life. I like to say that if you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got a purpose. In this pandemic, it’s easy to get distracted and fearful, but we must stay focused on God. God has a plan, and we should trust in that plan, even when we can’t see it. If you’re struggling to see the plan right now, spend time in prayer, asking God to open your eyes so that you can see things through God’s viewpoint. Another thing you can do is talk with a trusted friend or pastor to ask them to help you see where God may be leading. Stay the course.

Jesus, Calm My Storm (Matthew 8:25-26)

Devotion 35 – Jesus, Calm My Storm

Picture yourself in the middle of a lake, perhaps fishing or just relaxing in the sun with friends and family. Suddenly and without warning, a great storm swirls above your head and the winds and waves pick up. You desperately try to navigate back to land, but your efforts are useless. The water is your master now, and you’re completely at its mercy. You make sure everyone has their life jackets on and you brace yourself for the worst. In desperation, you send up a prayer that God will protect you and your loved ones from this storm and it suddenly stops and becomes still again.

Pretty unrealistic scenario, right?

That’s similar to what was happening with the disciples in our passage today. They were on a boat with Jesus asleep and the wind and waves were raging fiercely about them, tossing them to and fro. The disciples panic, wake Jesus, and beg him to save them.

Jesus simply rebukes the waves and wind and the sea is instantly calm again. With a word from the Lord the storm is silent. The disciples are astonished, for they don’t yet fully know who Jesus is – they won’t have a complete picture of that until his resurrection. Yet, in spite of their lack of faith, Jesus chooses to save them.

Sometimes when things are going awry, we question Jesus. We wonder if Jesus is simply sleeping. Why aren’t you helping me, Jesus? Why aren’t you stopping this storm?

The answer Jesus gives us is to have faith. Have faith that he is ultimately in control and that he has a plan for our lives and our situation – even when it seems doomed and hopeless.

And in those moments when we simply can’t muster up the faith to believe any longer, our prayer changes: “Lord, help me in my unbelief.” God will honor those types of prayers – honest prayers – raw prayers – prayers from the heart.

Assurance of our Faith (Hebrews 11:1)

Hebrews 11 1

The writer of Hebrews begins chapter 11, a chapter filled with heroes of the faith, by stating that faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. The word translated assurance is an interesting word. In one sense, it has to do with the guarantee of ownership of something – in other words the title deed to something one possesses, much like a house or vehicle has a deed. The title deed for the things we hope for in Christ is our faith.

Faith is the essence of the Christ-follower’s walk with God. We have faith in the fact that Jesus, very God in the flesh, came to earth, lived a sinless life, died a horrible death, was raised up from the dead, and is now in heaven preparing a place for us. That’s the essence of the gospel message – the core foundation of our faith. For the Christian, there is no greater truth.

Yet, while we believe that truth, we can’t see that truth with our own eyes. Instead, we have to first rely on the character and trustworthiness of the writers of Scripture, themselves inspired with the very words of God. When we read the eye witness accounts about Jesus and his resurrection, when we read the accounts of the many miracles of God, and we see not just fairy tales, but real life, historical events that took place on earth. We recognize the miraculous workings of God and we are encouraged in our own faith because we see a glimpse of who God is and what he is capable of.

When we look back into the pages of Scripture, it is helpful for us to remember that the God we serve is the same God Moses, Abraham, and Paul served. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the constant source of truth and love. So when we are anxious, confused, or downright distraught, we can reread the pages of Scripture to strengthen our faith.

While we cannot see God face-to-face, we have the experiential and Scriptural knowledge that he is living within each one of us who believes. If God now lives within us, though we cannot see, we can have faith, which gives us assurance in trying times. The Holy Spirit within us should give us comfort, peace, and ultimately faith; faith in Christ and faith that he will get us through everything that comes our way.

Enter into the Presence of God (Philippians 4:6-7)

Philippians 4 6

“Don’t be anxious” = don’t worry!

“In everything prayer” = pray about everything!

“Supplication” = tell God what you need!

“Thanksgiving” = thank God for your blessings!

“Be made known to God” = share your feelings with God!

Then what will happen? Verse 7 says, “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus” (NLT).

Do you want to experience peace? Do you want God to guard your hearts and mind? Then you need to do what Paul says to do in verse 6! Basically, he says to pray about EVERYTHING!

But when we hear that, we think, does he really mean everything?

I knew a guy who told me that he didn’t want to pray for himself because he didn’t want to burden God with his insignificant problems (he said this even when his problems were not insignificant to most). He said he felt greedy or selfish when he prayed for himself. Do you feel that way sometimes?

Let’s think of it a different way. Think of your best friend or maybe your spouse or child. What’s the longest you have gone without speaking to them? Hopefully, not too long, right? Why is that? Because we need to communicate and share with the people we love. Our words and presence build the relationship. Without communication and presence, how can the relationship grow?

In order to grow and nurture a relationship, presence and communication are required. We can see it in our human relationships, and it’s the same for our relationship with God. God WANTS us to communicate with him. God WANTS to spend time with us in prayer and worship. And he WANTS us to share with him what’s going on in our hearts. If it’s important enough for us to worry about or even think about, then it’s important enough to share with God.

Prayer is not about giving God a magic wish list; it’s about building an authentic relationship with our Father.

Remember God (Psalm 46:1-2)

Psalm 46 1

This verse reminds us that God is always with us. The words in our verse “very present help” really can be translated an “ever-present help,” meaning that God is ALWAYS with us. When we’re in the midst of our trouble (meaning “an event causing distress or pain”), God doesn’t leave us.

When my daughter was younger, she would often get scared at night. She couldn’t fall asleep well and then her mind would fill with what-if thoughts about terrible things that could possibly happen to her and those she cared about. Those thoughts would swirl about her head until she was almost inconsolable. She doesn’t have those troubles anymore, and it wasn’t because of logic or explaining the statistical improbabilities of her horror-filled scenarios.

What we did was have her look up Scripture regarding God’s love and protection. Then she handwrote the Scriptures out and we covered her wall and headboard with verses about God’s protection and care. When she started to feel scared, she would turn on her flashlight and read the verses that promised God’s protection. This was a problem that we as her parents couldn’t solve for her – it was one that depended on God’s Spirit filling her with his words of protection and comfort.

The following verse is also powerful: “So we will not fear when the earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea” – Psalm 46:2 (NLT). As followers of Christ who are protected by Jesus, we don’t need to fear the earth when it shakes or the mountains when they crash into the sea. God’s got this and God’s got you in his hands.

When you’re in need of encouragement, go back and read the verses from the previous devotions in this series or look up your own verses about God’s promises to you in times of fear. Then write some of those verses out and put them in a place where you’ll see them. God’s Word does not fail.

Confidence in Christ (Psalm 112:6-8)

Psalm 112 7

The first question you may ask in reading this verse is who is the “he”? As I always remind people, “Context is King,” so we have to go back a verse to see the context. The “he” in this verse refers to the righteous. In fact, verse 6b says that the “righteous will be long remembered.” So then, who is not afraid of bad news? The righteous.

But who exactly are the righteous? The righteous are simply those who are in a relationship with Jesus – those whose sins have been covered and forgiven by the blood of Jesus. When you accept Jesus’ sacrificial payment for your sins, your sins are blotted out and your unrighteousness is converted to righteousness in God’s eyes.

As a redeemed, righteous, follower of Christ, we should not fear bad news! Why? Because our eternal destiny is secure in Christ! Not only is our eternal destiny secure, our present lives are also improved because we have the Spirit of God living within us and he will never leave us in our times of distress.

Verse 8 really adds the punch I love to this passage: “They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly” (NLT). As a follower of Christ, we should be confident and fearless. We can be these things because we have faith in the Lord. We cannot be confident, fearless, and trusting on our own – we need God’s assurance and assistance. When we put our trust in God instead of ourselves or someone else, then we find true confidence in life.

Think back to the story of the men put in the fiery furnace because they wouldn’t bow down to the king’s statue (Daniel 3). God gave those 3 men the courage to stand up to the king! Ultimately God choose to save them from the flames, and he promises us the same salvation when we put our faith and trust in him!

No Fear in Love (1 John 4:18)

1 John 4 18

Some people have a picture of God standing around Heaven watching us with lightning bolts, ready to strike at us any time we make a mistake. They think of God as a police officer just waiting in that speed trap ready to pull us over and give us a ticket. They think of God as the “Enforcer” – standing by to judge us at any minute.

This view represents a sad misconception.

Elsewhere in John’s first letter, he tells us that God IS love. And in that love, there is no room for fear. If we truly have accepted Jesus as our Savior, then our fear of destruction and eternal punishment should be a thing of the past. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection offers us a chance to be a part of God’s family for all eternity – there’s no need for us to fear that God will suddenly disown us.

John says that if we do fear abandonment from God, then we have not fully allowed his Spirit to fill us with his love – we’ve never fully experienced his love. That doesn’t mean we are not saved; it simply means that we haven’t let that fact sink into the very fiber of our being.

As a parent, I know that there are times when I have to give my children consequences. But the consequences that I give are not designed to be punitive punishments just to make my kids feel bad. Instead, the goal is restoration. When children are disobedient there is a rift in relationship. That relationship must be repaired, and restitution of some sort is required. I don’t enjoy giving consequences to my children – but I know that learning responsibility and consequences is an essential part of their character development.

If we as humans understand this concept, why don’t we understand that God feels the same way about us?

God doesn’t delight in allowing consequences to happen to his children. He’s not secretly happy when we make a mistake and have to deal with the fallout. I imagine he’s discouraged in a way, that we haven’t learned how better to live our lives. But that discouragement or disappointment doesn’t equate to a lack of love. He loves us unconditionally and will never leave us or forsake us. Knowing and experiencing that love will drive out all fear because where there is true love, there is no room for fear.

Choose to Love (1 Peter 3:13-14)

1 Peter 3 13-14

During this time it’s easy to become obsessed with protecting yourself and your family. After all, it’s a noble and necessary goal. We don’t want to become sick and we don’t want those whom we love to become sick either. But the first question in this passage is important, “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?”

Jesus’ command to love your neighbor doesn’t get put on pause during a pandemic. Jesus’ teaching about reaching people in love with the message of hope found in the gospel doesn’t take a break because we’re stuck in our homes. As followers of Christ, we are still to be doing what we’ve always been supposed to be doing – loving people! And Peter reminds us that most people are not going to be upset with you when you are trying to do good.

However, he says, if you do suffer while doing good, count that as a blessing and reward. Not everyone is going to respond to your actions in the way you will hope – most probably will, but some may question your motives, may question your actions, or even question your character. In those cases, Peter says don’t be worried or afraid.

Sometimes doing the right thing is lonely. Sometimes there’s no on else around who seems to be following the narrow path. But in those cases it’s even more important that we hold strong to the truth of Scripture and love people anyways. Regardless of the cost, God’s call for us is to love our neighbor, and everyone is our neighbor. Don’t let fear hold you back from doing what is good, right, and honorable.

Called to Courage (1 Corinthians 16:13)

1 Corinthians 16 13

Everywhere you look there is temptation. Turn on the radio. Turn on the tv. Walk down the street. Go to Facebook. Temptation is all around us. As followers of Christ, Paul reminds us to be on guard at all times, to stand firm, to be courageous, and to be strong.

To be on guard means to be awake. It carries with it the idea of not sleeping on the job. In order to live the type of lives Christ has called us to, we need to be aware of what is going on around us. We need to open our eyes and see the dangers ahead and then do what we can to avoid them. Another way to say this is don’t be a sleepwalker wandering aimlessly about with no real purpose or conviction.

To stand firm means to hold one’s ground. Specifically, Paul is saying to hold one’s ground when it comes to the faith, that is, the gospel message. Don’t be swayed by popular opinion or the latest fads – the gospel is truth and it is absolute. The message that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, rose again to conquer death, and now invites each of us into a relationship with him cannot be changed by anyone. Don’t let others distract or burden you with “gospel +” – that is, people adding to the gospel message or on the other side, people subtracting from it.

Be courageous means having the characteristics of an adult as opposed to a child. Be mature in your faith and don’t allow little things to distract you from the message of faith and hope. Don’t be lured into fear when you already know the truth.

Be strong means to become strong beyond the average. You are not average! You are a child of the King! In him you can find strength to conquer whatever battles you face, whether they be outside temptations or the inner temptations, including the temptation to worry.

As a child of God you are stronger than you know, you are more courageous than you can imagine, and you can stand firm in your faith – all by the power of the Holy Spirit living within you.

The Family of God (Romans 8:15)

Romans 8 15

I love the graphic for the verse today. It shows a new branch being added to the tree. That’s how it is when we are adopted into God’s family. He doesn’t start a new tree for each of us; he doesn’t just add a new leaf or two; he adds a new branch. When we believe in Jesus, God adds us into the family tree as full sons and daughters, not afterthoughts or slaves.

Slaves serve at the pleasure of their masters and don’t share in any inheritance. They don’t really have a voice and are subject to harshness and dominance by their owners. Sons and daughters, on the other hand, do share in the inheritance, do have a voice, and are loved and cared for by their father and mother. It is this second relationship that we have with God through Jesus.

When we believe in Jesus, the Holy Spirit fills us and God adopts us as his sons and daughters. In that adoption we are made co-heirs with Christ, given the full joys of being God’s children. Within that relationship, we can call out “Abba! Father!” an intimate word similar to “daddy,” but connoting more intimacy and closeness. It was an Aramaic term that only children were allowed to use with their fathers. It is special. We are honored to be able to call out “Abba!” to God.

As children of God, we are therefore protected by God in all things. Bad things will still happen to us, as we live in a world overrun with sin, but God has us in his arms. We are a member of God’s family and with that understanding we should not be fearful. God watches out for his family just as we watch out for our own families.

God cares for us and loves us more than we love our own children and parents. As a parent, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would love my children more than I do, but the reality is that God does! If God loves us so much, then why should we fear? Why waste energy focusing on fear when we can instead call out to our heavenly Father who fills us with his Spirit, a Spirit of courage and love?