This faith-testing season of hardship felt like an inescapable fire. It reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s much more literal scenario.
In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar decreed for all under his command to kneel and worship the false god he had created. Any who refused would suffer death by the fiery furnace. Now, there were three Jews - Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego - who refused to bow down to the false god because of their faith. Despite his admiration for the three servants, the King wasted no time demanding they be bound and thrown in. The fire was so hot that it killed the guards who threw them in.
However, the King had to check his eyes when he saw them unbound and walking freely within the fire. Not only that, but there was clearly another man in the fire with them, who resembled the Son of God. King Nebuchadnezzar called them out of the furnace, and they stood before him unscathed. They didn’t smell of smoke, and not even a single hair on their heads was frayed.
Though they walked through this fire, that had been set to burn seven times hotter than usual, they came out untouched by the flames. There, in the fire, they had experienced what few others had before— the physical presence of the Lord.
As Christ-followers, when we’re faced with our own fiery furnaces, we can be reminded that we are never alone. There is always Another in the fire with us, guiding us, hearing us, and protecting us. When we find ourselves toe-to-toe with the challenges of life, there stands a holy comfort in knowing that we can hold unswervingly to the hand of Jesus.
Friend, does life lately feel like a furnace? Rest in the comfort of knowing there is no fire that can stop the very presence of Jesus. He is with you, whether you see it right now or not. He is working on your behalf, and you will come out the other side not even smelling of smoke.
We can know, standing in unshakeable faith, that the fires of this life are, undoubtedly, no match for the God we serve.
In Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Jeremiah 29, he explains, “Promises are given, not to supersede, but to quicken and encourage prayer: and when deliverance is coming we must by prayer go forth to meet it.” The promise for a hope and a future shouldn’t make us content, it should quicken us to seek God. The promise of Jeremiah 29:11 is a call to action rather than just a sentimental verse about our bright future. When we read beyond Jeremiah 29:11, we see another promise in verses twelve and thirteen: When we pray, He listens. When we look for Him wholeheartedly, we will find Him.
Here’s a prayer I’ve been praying in the troublesome days of our world. “Stir up my faith, God.”
We know the ultimate promise of God as believers is salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. The Bible says “all creation is groaning,” as we patiently await the second coming of our King. In our quest to follow God and know Him on a deeper level, it behooves us to read beyond the more familiar verses that have always brought us comfort and hope. Cling to the hope we find in Christ, but let that great hope also stir up our faith and prompt us to pray.
Recently I hung up that very same cross in my 4-year-old daughter’s room. When I hammered the nail to display the colorful keepsake, I couldn’t help but feel sentimental. The promise that gave me hope is now a display of hope for the next generation. When I read the passage that brought me hope for the future, now it beckons me to pray...
Stir up our faith, oh God! May your promises prompt us to seek your face.
Here the blacksmith painstakingly uses his God-given abilities and resources to construct a godless image and then bows down to it in utter blindness. The people worshipped figures of fake gods, then in chapter 52 would reject and disfigure the Real One.
It’s easy to look down on Israel’s clinging to little statues until I realize how tight my own grip is on that relationship I formed, or the reputation I so painstakingly built. We create and worship our appearance, jobs, bank accounts, reputations, bodies, relationships, status, and possessions, calling it “The American Dream” instead of the idolatry that it is. Idols are rarely as obvious as a household shrine or statue. In fact, the most dangerous ones are subtle and virtually undetectable. Like the blacksmith, we’re blind to the fact that we’ve become slaves to the things we created, serving them rather than using them to serve the true God.
Isaiah 44:20 says the idolater feeds on ashes, misled by his deluded heart. He can’t save himself or even tell that what he is worshipping is counterfeit. But this chapter is tucked between others describing the coming One who would free us from the bondage of clinging to fake gods. He alone is able to search our hearts when we’re too blind to search them ourselves and can reveal where we’ve exchanged His truth for lies. He’s the God who answers by fire, consuming the idols that stand between us and Him if only we call out and invite Him.
God has created us with the capacity to serve only one master, and the freedom to choose who that master will be. One of the best ways to distinguish an instrument from an idol is to assess our reaction upon its removal. When an instrumentis taken away I can still sing an acapella song of praise. When an idolis removed, it causes distress because my made-to-worship heart is lost without its object of adoration.
Jesus wants to set you free today from anything holding you in bondage. Allow Him to show you any created things in your life that have become idols.
If the throne of our hearts is not intentionally and daily reserved for Jesus alone, we will allow the things we’ve built with our own hands to sneak in, absorbing all of our misplaced worship. But if we use this sacred ability to create for its intended purpose of glorifying God, we will hold in our hands instruments of praise. Works that give melody to our song of faith and intensify lives of praise and worship of the One True God.
Have you ever wanted to run from what God was clearly asking you to do?
That’s where we find Jonah in this week’s reading— running in disobedience.
Every time I read the story of Jonah, I am reminded of myself. I can look back to several times when I did not want to be obedient to the Lord. Sometimes what He was asking me to do was outside of my comfort zone. Other times, like Jonah, I simply didn’t agree with what he was asking me to do.
Jonah loved God and was told to deliver a hard message to Nineveh: repent from their evil ways or God would destroy everything. Jonah tried to flee so he would not have to go because he not-so-secretly hated the Ninevites. However, God sent a great fish to swallow him whole.
Yes, God has His ways of getting our attention. While he was in the belly of this fish, Jonah prayed. God commanded the fish to release Jonah, and spit him onto the shore. Then, again, He commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh.
After delivering God’s “turn and repent or be destroyed” message to the people of the great city, the people believed. The King declared a fast, and God had compassion on the whole city. You would think Jonah would be happy that they listened, after all he had been through. However, he was not happy because he did not agree with God’s compassion on them.
Like Jonah, obedience is the hardest for me when forgiveness is required. Unlike our fickle feelings, God’s love and compassion never fails. God never gave up on Nineveh, but He also never gave up on Jonah. He didn’t give up on my family member, or on me, and, friend, He won’t give up on you either.
Thankfully, God is forgiving and extends grace that is sufficient for each of us. If we stop and listen, He will point us in the right direction. When we realize His great compassion toward us, we are able to extend it to others. Return to walking in obedience, and open your heart to receive His compassionate love today and every day.
I was just plain mad at God.
My spiritual drought lasted a year and a half, until I finally came to the end of myself. Eventually I ran out of strength, and turned to God to help me.
Looking back I can clearly see that this drought could have been more fruitful had I leaned on God from the beginning. Just like how in 1 Kings 17, Elijah used a drought to try to turn King Ahab and Israel back to God, and away from their wickedness. King Ahab was, up until that point, the most evil king Israel had ever had. Much of Israel had turned to worshipping Baal, the “god of the sky,” who they believed controlled the weather. So Elijah told King Ahab that there would be no rain for the foreseeable future, except at Elijah’s word.
For three and a half years Elijah prayed to God for no rain, hoping to make Israel and King Ahab realize their “god” was no god at all. God held back the rain, hoping His people would turn back to Him. Instead, the Israelites ran further away.
Elijah called the King and all his false prophets to Mount Carmel for a final showdown. Each side would build an altar, and on each altar would be a bull. Both sides would call to their god and whichever god answered by sending fire would be declared the “real deal.”
After a long day of calling to Baal, the prophets of Ahab gave up. That’s when Elijah stepped in, prepared his sacrifice, covered it with gallons of water, and prayed to the One True God to send down fire.
The fire came, and the people of Israel called out “The Lord — He is God!” Elijah had accomplished what he had set to do. The people returned to the Lord (albeit not for long).
Immediately after the people declared the Lord as their God, Elijah prayed for rain, and it came. The Israelites could have avoided three-and-a-half years of hunger, thirst, sickness and death had they only turned to Him sooner.
Droughts are bound to happen in our lives, but it is how we handle them that will matter. Will we allow God to use them to bring us closer toHim, or will we allow them to drive us from Him?
God allowed the drought for the same reason He allowed the Israelites to wander in the desert: to teach them to fully rely on nothing and no one but Him.
Do you find yourself, today, in the middle of a drought season? Now is the time to lean in to Him.
Don’t allow anger to drive you away, like I did. God used the three and a half year drought in Israel to bring the whole nation back to him. What will you allow him to do through yours today?