The last two months have been a time unlike any other in the lives of everyone living today. And even after all we have already seen and been through, there is still a complete uncertainty for what the future holds. How great will the toll become before the virus subsides? How long before we find a vaccination? An effective treatment? Will there be another major wave? What kind of risk will this virus pose perpetually from this point? What will be the affects to our economy? Retirement? World relations? Others who may be here today, or watching live stream have such heart-breaking situations in their lives that the Corona Virus seems simple and distant: death, divorce, sickness, poverty. Whatever the crisis is in your life which may be bringing you to the edge of depression and overwhelming anxiety, my hope is that you will allow God's Word to powerfully speak to your heart and mind today.
I have personally witnessed non-Christian and Christian friends alike who have become completely obsessed and even overwhelmed by this crisis, and by a number of horrible personal events in their lives to the point that it has become detrimental to their physical, emotional and spiritual health, to the point they cannot function as they did. Difficult and seemingly needless events sometimes occur which cause many Christians to honestly ask questions in their hearts. Questions concerning God's Motive, Sovereignty, Love, even His Existence. Many who are not asking negative questions, are still asking the simple, all-consuming question of, "What is God doing in all of this anyway?" I can’t stand here and tell you that I have the answer to that for you because in what is probably the oldest Book of the whole Bible. Job asked God this very same question, and God responded with: "You don't need to know, and you probably wouldn't understand in your limited knowledge anyway, so just Trust my Love.” Though I can't give the total answer, I can absolutely, Biblically guarantee this response to your question is true: You will never find out what He is doing. You will never reach the goal or end result He has in mind through it all unless you walk through the difficult time with the right heart, mind and spirit. And you may just find out in the end the testing and growing of your heart was the reason for allowing the entire trial anyway.
Do you realize every feeling of fear, anxiety and doubt which this current situation or any major crisis bring out in your heart is simply the revealing of where your heart was all along? Sometimes even to the deception of your own thoughts. Often it is simply that your beliefs have never been pushed to the point where they stand solid in real trials or are revealed as something which has been "head-knowledge", but never a deeply lived, life-based conviction all along. If you find yourself overwhelmed with fear, rocked with anxiety, or trying frantically to over-control everything in desperation, realize He has never been your true Rock in the easy times. And realize that to some degree, though you didn't realize it, this is probably how you've lived much of your life anyway. Realize that you may never have truly learned who He is or how much you are loved in reality. If that grabs you as somewhat offensive, get over yourself.
The Disciple Peter, on whom Jesus eventually built the church, was also offended when Jesus challenged the depth of his convictions, which he felt confident was more steadfast than any, only to betray Christ three times in the coming time of trial. You and I are no better or capable than those God chose to immortalize His Written Word to the world: Proverbs 17:3; Job 23:10; 1 Peter 1:6-7. Whatever other reasons God has for our situations; it is a Biblically sound truth that one reason is the revealing of the true condition of our faith. Honestly, how is your faith doing in the fire?
The second reason just mentioned is not just the revealing of our faith, but the growing of our faith: James 1:2-4; Psalm 66:10. Before you get too cocky or offended, please note that Jesus was strengthened and prepared in His Human form in the same way: Hebrews 5:8. With that said, realize it is good and proper to ask God to help you out of a difficult time. But just based upon the verses we have already seen, there are times God does not want you out of the battle but instead wants you to invite Him to join in it with you. So, the question becomes: “How am I supposed to handle trials? How do I strengthen and prove my faith rather than be overwhelmed by anxiety and fear?” Let's look at a solid plan from King David on handling dark moments which you will not have trouble remembering for future recall because you probably know it so well already, yet have never seen or applied Its deep Wisdom and Truth.
This one Psalm has probably been recited at more funerals than any other Scripture. It has been powerfully clung to by more soldiers in war. Has comforted more prisoners alone in their cells. And has been on the lips of more people as their last words on earth than any other Scripture. Perhaps that has actually been a detriment to truly understanding It's power and depth because it is familiar and cliché. About halfway through preparing this lesson, God revealed to me that everything I was trying to prepare had already been said in the order and manner in which He appointed in this Psalm, so let's walk through each verse and apply it honestly. Remember this is a Psalm of David; a man that saw more hardships, trials, and fearful situations than just about anyone hearing my voice: Psalm 23:1-3. Every word of this Psalm is packed with meaning and could be studied for several sermons, but there is a particular section that we truly need to focus on today. So, we will just give an overview of some parts. He leads—sometimes through rough areas to get to these pastures; but when getting there, He leads—He’s Always present. This section proclaims that God is the One David honestly trusts to provide for his every need; just as a sheep to a Shepherd—physically, emotionally, spiritually and morally. God describes us as "Sheep" over 200 times in Scriptures. Obviously, this is a very purposeful analogy. For starters they are totally defenseless animals.
Put one in the wild, and you've simply given nature a quick snack. Most animals have either fight, flight, camouflage, or at least posture. Fight? Sheep have no fangs, no claws, no aggression. Birds of prey have been known to literally attack living sheep and pluck their eyes out as they stand helpless. Flight? Have you ever seen these fat, fluff balls run? Camo? Pony-sized cotton ball in an open landscape. Posture? My house cat looks more intimidating. Sound? Baahhhh! Sheep will die even if just left unguarded and unkept by a shepherd. Due to the filth of their coat which never stops growing; that collects dirt, maggots and parasites which kill the sheep; and the weight of their dirty coat alone, as it grows; will cause them to fall over and not get up again—dying alone, with no one to right them. Is that not an analogy of men being taken in their own sin? And honestly, they are simply mindless followers.
The first big lesson to learn from this passage and many Scriptures is that we cannot simply follow the lead of other sheep. We must recognize and follow the Shepherd alone. So many of us are guilty of allowing the hype of the media, or experiences and abuses of the past; the actions, attitude or emotions of those we trust around us—even and especially our spouses or closest friends, to completely form not only our opinion but our emotional state and our complete outlook. [Toilet paper—Enough Said.] It only takes one sheep jumping the cliff to cause chaos. And when we do this, we are defeated from the beginning. I can’t see one time in Scriptures when God did His best work by following the ways, opinions or emotions of men. So, when faced with uncertainty or immorality around us, this is the moment we choose to allow our faith to be real in our decisions and emotions or we follow sheep. Be the sheep dog! And if you are not already truly walking and trusting in the good times, you will naturally follow anything but the Shepherd. You have to grasp that Christ never has a moment that He has lost control; He holds the rod and staff. And whatever comes, you are under His love and care.
Psalm 23:4-5: First understand that this verse is often misunderstood as only pertaining to times of death or life-threatening circumstances. But the words, "valley of death" are not a direct Hebrew translation. David speaks from very personal experiences here, saying "Even though I walk through the darkest times of my life..." How do you know when you are there? Ever been in a time so completely despairing you ask, ["How will I ever pull out of this?" "How will I ever find normal again?" "How will I ever be loved, accepted, wanted again?"] Then you've found the deepest darkness [death of a family member; divorce; depression; poverty; unending trial or task that wears you down; illness; rejection, failure; discovered sin, shame}. It is here that David says he will not be swallowed in fear because God is with him. No matter what you go through; no matter what you've done; He never gives up, never leaves, and will help you through. Secondly, notice that David goes from speaking about God in pronouns like He, His, etc., to a "second person" point of view—almost as if he is overwhelmed with emotions in this section of Scripture—speaking directly to God in His intimacy (for good reason). Here is the most beautiful and important final point I want you to get: David is overwhelmed because the most intimate thing a Hebrew can do for another is to share a meal with them. And David is saying that God Himself prepares a table for him to come and enjoy fellowship.
Before we take a moment to see the enormous implications of this act from God, let's first look at the opposite and common response of many—who, in trials are embraced by fear and doubt; when we are in the middle of our darkest moments; we will naturally sit down at the table with something, because we are in desperate need. We are spiritually starving. We listen to make sense of it. If that fellowship is not with Christ, if we are not eating from His Table, Satan, or one of the many sheep will be there saying, "How you doin'?" Setting your table, and feeding you things such as ["Nobody really likes you..." "You are a disappointment and a failure..." "This is hopeless, & there's really no way out now...” "You deserve better. God is being unfair..." "You should look out for yourself. No one else will..."], causing your self-worth and hope to form around these thoughts. [You are what you eat.] And causing you to build your priorities, make your decisions and form your fears and anxieties around the wrong motives and desires. [“What will happen to me? “How will I get what I deserve?", etc.] And self-focused desires, self-love, will never be satisfied or happy. This passage not only shows that God wants you with Him in fellowship, but gives us an incredible picture of His love and worth for us. First, pay special attention to this fact God does not say He will prepare a sweet table of fellowship only in calm, peaceful times; nor does He say after the battle is over; but a sweet table of fellowship, right in front of the enemies that want to kill you, a revival of the heart occurs in the middle of the crisis—not after—while the battle rages, while the problem is literally staring at you—to prove He never left. To show your trust that He is your Shepherd and you are safe, when it has to be real, or it’s useless (like a child sleeping in parent's bed in a thunderstorm). And especially to focus your thoughts on His love and purpose, rather than your fear.
Psalm 23:5-6: In the Hebrew culture, an especially honored guest had his head anointed with oil, as a symbol of that special honor and worth placed upon him by the host. When Jesus was invited by the Pharisee, Simon, to a dinner at his home, supposedly as an honored guest, the Pharisee purposefully shamed and disrespected Jesus by not washing His feet or anointing His head as the honored guest. Special offices and positions were distinguished by the anointing of the head with oil (Priests, prophets and kings). In this passage, God is accepting you in honor and incredible value. God is showing that you hold a special position. The simple, short phrase, "My cup runs over..." is so much more powerful than you might imagine. We usually take this to mean, "We are blessed abundantly!" And it does surely include this impression, but in the Ancient Hebrew culture, how a cup was filled communicated much to a guest. A cup that was allowed to run low or dry meant the time was late and the welcome was over. A cup kept full by the host meant the guest was welcome to continue the visit. But if a Host especially cared for and honored the guest, he would fill the cup until it overflowed to show the guest he was especially wanted and welcomed to stay with access to his abundance.
In the presence of the enemy (Satan), while still in the middle of the battle, God invites you to a Table He sets for you in order to share in love and fellowship with Him. And there He shows you that you hold an honored, and cherished position with Him and that His desire is for you to stay with Him in abundance. Here is the growing of faith. Remember that our King drank every drop of an overflowing cup of shame and torture, never complaining or pursuing His own will or freedom from the trial set before Him. Instead, seeking to do God's will in midst of the trial even when that will did not match His own. And in doing so, won the chance to offer you this cup of honor and welcome. In returned love and unpayable gratitude, our absolute primary focus in our trials and hardship is not just to seek escape; not just to focus on when will it get better, or what might happen next, but to first seize the moment and focus on what you have now and what you are called to do now; asking God how He wants to use you in the battle. Focus on being part of His plan rather than expecting Him to join your plan. It may be one of your greatest opportunities to touch or help another in a way and in a moment that will never come again. But we so often miss some of our biggest opportunities to serve in these difficult and trying times, when the need is often greatest, not realizing these moments are literally some of the most important and telling times of our lives; orchestrated or allowed by God. According to Scriptures, it is in these moments that we grow and prove our faith by how steadfast we stand; by how deeply we trust; by how selflessly we serve—not in the simple moments of easy faith and abundant living. Don't be so worried for, and focused on, getting through it yourself, that you miss God's Purpose and Glory in the fire. Let your main concern in trials—your joy, your goal, your mission—be to Glorify and experience Him in the way you live in the midst of the trial and then you cannot lose no matter how it turns out. Because whatever the outcome, you have seized the chance to honor Him by how you handle the trial. Just as Paul honored God with his faith while still in jail; just as first century Christians honored God while still being persecuted (and around the globe at this moment); just as Joseph honored God while still in prison; just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego honored God in the furnace. This focus alone changes your whole perspective in hard times. Like a man who knows he is on the battlefield because he is protecting his family and freedom will stand steadfast and brave verses a man that has thoughts only of self-preservation and comfort, who cowers and frets every moment in anxiety. Will people remember how you responded to your trial? As an example of strength and proof of God's love and provision? Will you come through your trial with renewed intimacy and faith, or a drained, broken, nervous wreck? Whichever picture will represent you, in and after the trial, is actually the picture Jesus has seen of you every day, you just didn't know it. The secret to no longer being afraid of what you will lose in difficult times is to count it all loss at the beginning for His Glory. Paul states it best from a jail cell in a Roman prison: Philippians 3:7-8. When in trials, don't sit at the table with Satan. Don't listen to the sheep and be filled with fear, dread and failure—this is where the battle is lost. Sit at the Table with Christ, as His honored, welcomed Beloved. Draw strength from His love; learn His will in the midst of the battle; then seize the opportunity to prove your faith and love when it often counts most before it is gone. Many who have done this find God in such new and intimate ways in the heart of their troubles, that they find themselves longing for those moments again in times of ease and peace. 2 Timothy 2:3.
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