Suddenly, in chapter 40, the tone changes drastically from chastisement to comfort. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins,” God tells Isaiah (vs. 2).
While these prophecies had not been fulfilled just yet, God was letting them know even their great wickedness could not deter His greater compassion— a Savior was coming for them.
After His declaration of hope, God tells the prophet, “Say unto the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (Is 40:9 NKJV)
It’s such a short and simple declaration, it’s easy to miss all together. God is telling His people to shift their focus from themselves, back onto Him.
The Israelites were a mess, no doubt about it; you and I are too. But beholding our own messes never leads to anything good. As a veteran Christian, I’ve spent a lot of time mulling over my many flaws and trying to fix them, but all my beholding and all my effort never led to any permanent change.
Do you ever find yourself thinking What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get myself together? Are you frustrated that you keep walking the same messy circles?
I think that there’s a big lesson in this mini three-word directive: Behold your God. It’s time we stop looking at everything wrong with ourselves, and start looking at everything right with Jesus.
A funny thing happens when we turn our focus from our frailty to His perfections: without guilt, and without striving, we find ourselves changing...
We behold His compassion, and we find ourselves becoming more patient with others.
We behold His holiness, and we begin to desire to walk more like Him.
We behold His goodness, and we become more joy-filled and less negative.
How? Because as we spend time with Jesus and learn from Him, He is able to do what only He can do— change us from the inside out.
I love what the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth— “And we all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“This comes from the Lord...” Unlike the earthly messes we behold and then fix, we are utterly helpless to change our own hearts. Only Jesus can do that, so let’s allow Him. Make it a point to spend time with Jesus this week. Talk with Him, and get to know Him through His Word. There’s always more to see.
Of all the people, projects, and problems vying for our attention, may we take time to behold the one who transforms us.
Memory verse: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV
Kiawah is what I’m reminded of when I read God’s description of the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 11. Through Moses, God tells the people of Israel that the land they’re about to enter into isn’t anything like the land they just came out of (Egypt). Instead of laboring to produce everything themselves, He would provide for their every need. Their job was simply to trust God and put Him first.
It didn’t take long for the people to fail on their end of the bargain. Time and time again we see the Israelites trust in their ability, their “truths,” and their ways. The penalty for their self-reliance was a curse on their land. The reality of the Israelite’s “freedom” ended up being far from the abundant life God intended for them.
If God’s plan for the Promised Land seems eerily familiar, it’s because it was modeled after Eden. Eden was where Adam and Eve had an unbroken relationship with God, and He provided for them. Distrust led Adam and Eve to sin, and a curse was placed on all mankind. Now man would have to strive to produce what once was freely given... and that included righteousness. This is the curse we are all born into, whether we like it or not..
However, Eden has always been God’s intention. Jesus made a way for us, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us...” (Gal. 3:13). However, Jesus didn’t just pay the price for our righteousness— He paid the price to restore us to the Promised Land of abundant life. In Him, our souls can prosper with joy, peace, and fulfillment.
From birth, our souls crave Eden. That’s why we revel in carefree days like I experienced at Kiawah. However, we live in the constant tension between the desires of our flesh and spirit, but the problem is we keep wandering back to Egypt...
Instead of trusting Him for our righteousness, we try to earn it with perfection.
Instead of trusting His wisdom, we rely on our own understanding.
Instead of trusting Him for provision, we wear ourselves out working.
Are you tired of striving? Do you long for the lightness and simplicity of the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10? Me too, friend.
The good news is we don’t have to wait until “one day” in heaven— abundant life is here and now. Culture tells us “nothing comes for free,” but the Kingdom of God is upside-down. Eden can’t be earned. We experience abundant life not by trying harder, but by turning from our self-reliance and simply trusting our all-sufficient God.
Trust is simple, but it isn’t easy. It’s like a muscle that we have to develop day by day. We strengthen that muscle by repeating the cycle of spending time with Him, listening, and obeying. Talk to God and take inventory of your life— identify any areas where you’re striving instead of surrendering.
The Israelites got it wrong. We will too sometimes. But through grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we can learn to live life in the Promised Land simply by trusting in Him.
Memory verse: "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10 NIV
In two short chapters we watch Job’s life fall apart— his family, his wealth, and his health. Job wrestled to reconcile God’s justice with his own personal suffering, because it’s clear he had done nothing wrong. We read in Job 1:8 that Job was “a man of perfect integrity, who [feared] God.” Job’s story challenges Western ideas that are basically “Christian karma”— that if we’re good, God will be good to us, and if we’re experiencing suffering it’s because of something wrong we did.
The mental anguish revealed in the subsequent dialogue is not grief over loss of Job’s possessions, rather grief over his perceived abandonment by God. The ironic thing is, in his wrestling, Job was closer to Yahweh than He had ever been before.
The hard truth is God allows suffering for His purposes. We see no better example of this than in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus— the Suffering Servant. Jesus told his disciples about the necessary suffering He would endure for our ultimate good yet, in their finite minds, they could not grasp the big picture. However, Jesus willingly took the cup of the Father’s wrath to satisfy the merited penalty for our sins. There on the cross, He experienced the unimaginable grief of actual abandonment, as His holy Father turned His back on Him.
Jesus was forsaken by God so you and I wouldn’t have to be. Even on our darkest days, we have this hope: nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:39).
Friend, what suffering are you enduring right now? A heath diagnosis? A financial crisis? The death of a loved one or loss of a relationship? Like Job, are you sitting in the dust of despair?
In our finite minds, we cannot grasp the big picture of what God is doing. Regardless, we can choose to rest in the truth that He is unchanging and unfailing.
God is still good.
God is still present.
God is still working for your good and His glory in every situation.
Looking back I can see that God was with me, even in the ashes of my parents’ divorce. He has been with me through many more suffering since, and He will be with me in the sufferings to come. The same is true for you— He never leaves us nor forsakes us. And, unlike Job’s condemning friends, He comforts us in all our troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3).
God does not despise our wrestling, but in the end He desires our trust. We won’t always understand God’s ways, but we can willingly submit like Jesus did— saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
Memory verse: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NIV
When I think about it, the key to enjoying both my coffee and my life in peace aren’t all that different. Pleasant coffee and a pleasant mindset both require the same thing: good filters.
In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul is dishing out some practical advice to new believers—specifically, how to live in peace. He says, “Rejoice in the Lord always... do not be anxious... present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) I’ve often separated this message from the one under it until recently I realized they are strongly connected.
Paul is actually continuing his thought in verse 8 when he presents this 7-layer filter to keep out peace-robbers. He says:
“Whatever is true
Whatever is honorable
Whatever is right
Whatever is pure
Whatever is lovely
Whatever is admirable
Whatever is excellent or praise-worthy...
Think on these things.”
Whatever is true…
I love that Paul begins with this filter.
The truth filter asks, “Do the thoughts I’m thinking line up with what God says?” This filter is most effective when I’m in the Word of God daily.
I don’t know about you, but this one eliminates 100% of my negative self-talk, and on the flip side, takes care of “vain imaginations”— the prideful idea that I am better than I actually am (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The filter of truth also eliminates unconfirmed hearsay that often leads to gossip. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself “Is this true?” when a friend comes to you with juicy gossip?
Just because a thought makes it through the truth filter doesn’t make it beneficial to dwell on it. It may be true that my child is acting up at school, a friend is going through a divorce, or a family member is treating me poorly— but that doesn’t make any of those honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praise-worthy.
This is where Paul’s previous words come back into play. My job is to take those situations to the feet of Jesus, and ask for wisdom to see them the way He sees them.
As Christ-followers, peace in every situation is one of the things Jesus intended to set us apart from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, more often than not, our response is worry and anxiety, just like everyone else.
Friends, may it not be so among us. Let us be intentional to think about what we are thinking about.
If abundant life is like a good cup of coffee, then anxious thoughts are the grounds that should have no place in it. May our thoughts be fixed on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise-worthy today.
Growing up in church, Jesus was often compared to these fairytale heroes— making me the princess. I didn’t hate it. After all, Ariel, Belle, and Jasmine were strong, independent, and intelligent. Sure, they needed physical or emotional rescuing at some point, but they ultimately played some part in defeating the enemy.
Now that I have a deeper understanding of the Gospel, I realize that’s not at all how God’s love story works. I love Paul’s rich letter to the church at Rome, in which he thoroughly and beautifully unpacks the doctrine of salvation to new believers.
In Romans, He says, “…rarely will someone die for a just person— though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:6-8)
In these verses, Paul makes it clear that when we were saved:
These aren’t the most uplifting facts I’ve ever heard about myself. There’s a prideful part of me that likes to think my good works played a part in the story, or that He chose me because of what I could bring to the table.
But Jesus didn’t rescue me because of any of those things. He rescued me simply because of His love for Me. That’s humbling.
There is only one hero in God’s love story, and it’s not us— it’s Jesus.
Knowing this truth gives us freedom. If God’s love and grace for us is completely unmerited, then it’s not on us to sustain it. This doesn’t give us a free ticket to do whatever we please— As Christ-followers, He invites us into His Great Story.
I’m often prone to get a big head about this, too. I constantly have to remind myself I’m not the hero.
Here are some signs I’m making too much of myself:
I compare myself and my ministry to others.
I feel chained by my Christian “to-do list.”
I allow fear to keep me from what I know God is asking me to do.
Friend, have you made yourself the hero in God’s story? It’s time to give Jesus back His rightful place. Have you doubted Jesus’ affections for you? Remember there’s nothing you did to earn His love, and there’s nothing you can do to lose it.
God’s story is greater than any story Disney (or Lifetime) could ever produce, or that our minds could ever fully conceive. Give thanks to the One True Hero for all He’s done. Go, and grow His Kingdom.