Let’s say you are looking at the checkbook and there is more month left than money. Been there? You have two weeks to go until your next paycheck, no money, and three bills that have to be paid. What do you do? If you are like most, you start to panic. You immediately go from “heart at rest” to heart palpitations. You start to panic. Then you complain to yourself. “Why is this happening? What am I going to do?” That doesn’t satisfy you at all, so you take the typical next step: you complain to someone else. You get on the phone and ask someone to commiserate with you. Let’s be honest. What you are really doing is asking your friend to enter into unrest with you. Let’s shuck it down even further. You are asking your friend (whom you love?) to enter into unbelief with you.
Everybody who has been there, say “Amen.” In fact, if you have been in this place, stuck between a rock and a hard place without a pickaxe, that’s good. Recognize that God puts us there to teach us that He alone is sufficient to meet our needs. That doesn’t mean we can throw money away or live the life of a king on a pauper’s salary. That’s just foolishness that brings its own punishment. But let’s say you are living within your means and the unexpected happens. Suddenly your means are not enough. As the saying goes, “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” This is a great place to trust the Lord.
That’s what the psalmist decided to do as he spoke this word to himself: “Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!” What a wonderful verse to memorize, to speak to yourself during difficult days, and most of all, to believe. Instead of the panicked phone call to a friend, speak to your soul and to God. Charles Spurgeon said, “Whenever a child of God even for a moment loses his peace of mind, he should be concerned to find it again, not by seeking it in the world or in his own experience, but in the Lord alone. When the believer prays, and the Lord inclines His ear, the road to the old rest is before him; let him not be slow to follow it.”
Has the Lord dealt bountifully with you? Oh, yes. No matter your circumstances at the moment, the fact that there is breath in your lungs is a gift from God. The fact that you can see to read this column is a gift from God. And if God has brought you to knowledge of the faith and you have trusted Christ alone for your salvation, you are indeed blessed. We can all pray without hypocrisy, “Lord, let my soul return to its rest,” no matter the trouble we may be facing.
One final point. Don’t confuse this request with a desire for life to be easy, or stress-free. Let me ask you something. Was Jesus busy? Oh, yes, from before sunup to after sundown, the Lord was working. Was Jesus’ soul always at rest? Oh, yes. In his book, “A Praying Life,” Paul Miller writes, “The quest for a contemplative life can actually be self-absorbed focus on my quiet and me. If we love people and have the power to help, then we are going to be busy. Learning to pray doesn’t offer us a less busy life; it offers us a less busy heart.”
Yes, Lord. That’s what I need.
I heard a former NFL coach say that the most important thing about the scouting combine was that it gave the scouts and coaches an opportunity to look the players in the eye and see what kind of character they have. “Their speed in the 40 is highly overrated,” he said. “What is most important is the interview.” The most important consideration for coaches looking to draft a young player to their team is their character? Maybe that’s because there is so little of it.
It is the same in the job market. When two equally skilled people compete for the same job, the person who gives the best interview usually lands it. One professional said there are five red flags for him in an interview, any one of which is a deal-breaker. Even if the candidate is imminently qualified, he won’t get the job if: 1) He talks too much; 2) She doesn’t have a basic understanding of the company; 3) He is not wearing a suit; 4) She begs for the job; 5) He doesn’t know how to communicate why he would be a good fit for the company. I would suggest that each of those ‘flags’ indicate character problems of selfishness, laziness, carelessness, insecurity, and laziness (again)!
In the NFL combine or the professional interview, the question is, does the man or woman reflect the resume? The employer is trying to get a look at the heart, the character, the real deal. God does the same.
David asked God in Psalm 15, “Lord, who may abide with You? Who is able to stand in Your presence?” He was not asking God how to be saved from his sins. That only comes by grace through faith, which cannot be earned by any man or woman. Christ paid for it on the cross. David was asking how he could know that he belonged to God. “Lord, what is the character of a life that You approve? How can I live in such a way to enjoy the fullness of Your fellowship?”
I have a warning for any of you dear readers who might entertain these thoughts: “I don’t care about the ‘fullness of His fellowship.’ I just want to make sure I am in. That when the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there. I want to live my life on my own terms, but I also want to go to heaven when I die.” If that is the attitude of your heart, it calls into question whether you have ever known true repentance. When the Spirit of God comes in, He doesn’t just take up space, He takes over. There is a change in a man’s thought patterns, actions, desires, motives, goals, and affections when he has been born again. Many think they have invited the Lord into their lives but in essence have said to Him, “Stay in this closet in the basement, please, so as not to get in the way with how I want to live my life; when I need You, I will come and get You.” No, regeneration results in “extreme makeover,” and there are dire consequences for all who would pretend. As Charles Spurgeon said, “To own Him in our profession (what we say) and deny Him in our practice (how we live) is, with Judas, to betray Him with a kiss.”
Read Psalm 15 and see how your walk, your talk, your values, and how you handle money will stand as evidence of life-change. And yes, Virginia, there is a final exam. All who truly know God will pass.
We were studying Luke in our Wednesday night home group, and it was Josh Howard’s turn to teach. He made the point that Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons, was at the cross with Jesus. Then she was at the tomb on Sunday morning to anoint his body, but instead she saw the risen Jesus. Josh told us, “Jesus healed a lot of people. But Mary was there at the end for the Lord.” The thought occurred to me, “If every person who had been healed or delivered of demons or saved by Jesus had come to the cross, there would not have been room for them.” And then I thought, “Why weren’t they there?” Well, the same reason why I am often not ‘there’ for Jesus when he is being persecuted today. I am afraid to speak up, or ashamed to acknowledge, sometimes, that yes, I do believe Jesus is the Son of God. And that I do believe he is our hope for salvation, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Paul may have struggled with this sometimes; I’m not sure. But I know he asked the church at Ephesus to pray for him, “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.” Have you ever put that on your prayer list? Let’s agree to pray that for one another this year.
I was reading in Isaiah and saw where God called his people obstinate. He actually said they had iron necks and brass foreheads. Does anybody besides me resemble that remark? I have a hard head and a stiff neck. A hard head is marked by stubbornness, thinking you’re always right, with a very slow trigger on asking for any help thrown in to boot. A stiff neck keeps your hard head right where it is, so you won’t turn your face to the Lord, and to your brothers and sisters. As I pondered that, I wrote down two things I think we can all do to be less hard headed.
The first thing is to learn, and really receive, the truth that God loves you with a perfect love. That means he also likes you, and his love and his like is not dependent on you or on your family ’getting it all right.” You say, “I thought people who are hard headed are that way because they are proud of how much God loves them, even thinking God loves them a little bit more than the next guy.” I don’t think so. I think the hardest heads belong to those who do not receive his love or fully embrace his grace. They still think they can earn it through hard work and by keeping their lists of doing all the right things. The truth is, understanding God loves us and likes us frees us to love him more. It also frees us to love our wife or husband more, and to love our children more, regardless of whether they get it all right. The hard-headed way of thinking, “I have to get it all right” is legalism. Legalism will lead to either one of two things. It will produce bound-up, fearful people who simply walk in lockstep to what they believe will make God or others around them happy. Or, it will produce rebels, who eventually throw off all restraints and run headlong into sin. God. Loves. You. Period. Believe it, receive it, and then practice that kind of love with everybody you know.
Here’s the second thing. Once the thinking is right, start the practice of admitting when you are not in the right place or the right mind. Not just to yourself and to God. But practice admitting that to a trusted brother or sister in the Lord. Not one of us can do this Christian walk by ourselves. Admitting we need the church is an act of humility, and that takes care of a hard head in short order.
I hope this will encourage you on your journey through the new year.