Take heart, I have ovecome the world

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
   and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
   the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Isaiah 43:1-3

There have been many times in my life I have felt burdened beyond my strength. When I look back at those experiences, I now see they happened to make me turn to God and rely solely on Him. However, in the midst of a trial, when I feel like I can’t go on, it’s hard to remember there is a greater purpose for the difficulty I face. I become so focus on my own lack of strength, my own inability to go on, and my own despair I am unable to see God’s glory and sovereignty in the midst of the trial. Instead of turning to Him, I become completely focused on myself.

Having gone through many trials in my life, I know the best thing I can do is to humbly turn to God. From both my experiences and from the Word, I know trials come to force me to do just that. In hindsight, it’s easy to see and understand this, but when trials come and I become focused on myself instead of on God, it’s difficult to remember. Fortunately for me, even when trials result in pride instead of reliance on God, He is always with me. He does not allow the river to overwhelm me or the fire to burn or consume me.

God is always by my side. He is always my Lord and Savior. Despite my pride, he never turns away. When I finally realize focusing on myself does not work and that I need to rely on Him to get through the trial, He is there waiting for me. He is always waits patiently no matter how prideful and self-focused I become.  I never make it through trials on my own. Getting discouraged, focusing on myself, and all the other natural, prideful responses I have to difficulties never helps. On my own, the situation would be hopeless, but thankfully Christ has already overcome the world. I can’t overcome trials, fight discouragement, or remain humble in my own strength, but God can and He does.

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.
But take heart, because I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

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Romans 8:28

Lord, be gracious to us;
we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
our salvation in time of distress.
At the uproar of your army, the peoples flee;
when you rise up, the nations scatter.
 Your plunder, O nations, is harvested as by young locusts;
like a swarm of locusts people pounce on it.

The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

Isaiah 33:2-6

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:18-28

 

Most of the book Isaiah is about the suffering and destruction of the Israelites because they turned from God. Isaiah 33 and the preceding chapters are especially focused on the hardships they suffer because of their disobedience. In this chapter, Isaiah prophesizes that the Israelites will be destroyed and betrayed, brave men will cry in the streets, no one will be respected, the land will dry up, and there will be everlasting burning. The chapter continues on like this listing numerous other miseries that the Israelites with undergo because they disobeyed God.

But amongst these passages of destruction and death there is Isaiah 33:2-6, a prayer of God’s people exalting Him and crying out to Him to be their strength. Even at this time of complete devastation there were people who turned their eyes to God and cried out to Him. They didn’t turn from Him or blame Him for their distress; instead they ask Him to be their salvation and strength. They had been brought low, so they rightfully put God up high. Despite their circumstances they trusted God would fill Zion with his justice and righteousness, be the sure foundation, and be a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.

Although it’s been a long time since Isaiah was written there are many similarities between then and now. As believers the Bible assures us that, like the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, we will suffer. Because we are not yet completely free from our bondage and decay, we must wait groaning in the pains of childbirth for the redemption of our bodies and the freedom and glory of the children of God.

However, despite our present suffering, like some of the Israelites did in Isaiah 33:2-6, we should turn our focus to God and trust in the promises He gave us. Our present suffering doesn’t compare to what we will be revealed. We have been assured that if we love God, God works together everything, even the most challenging things and the ones that hurt the most, for our good. So we can still praise God when we suffer. We can always exalt His name.

Why France?

eiffel tower

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 20:19-20

When someone finds out I’m spending this summer on a six week mission trip in France their usual response is “Why France?” It’s a simple question, but I have a hard time answering it because I honestly don’t fully know. God put France on my heart this past year, but I’m not completely sure why He wants me to go there.

Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to explain what I do know about why I’m going to France. The best place to start the explanation is last summer when I was on another mission trip in South Carolina. While I was there I learned a lot, but the biggest thing I took away from the summer was a better understanding of God’s heart for the world. At that point, I began to consider going on an international mission trip this summer. Although I ultimately decided my desire came more from a selfish desire to travel than to spread the gospel. So, I concluded I’d probably be staying home this summer.

However, when I got back home going on an international mission trip was still on my mind. I had a few weeks before school started and I spent a lot of that time with God praying about this coming summer. Around that time, I started thinking about France. France initially seemed like just a passing thought. Going to France was never something that I wanted to do, let alone something that I ever thought I would be passionate about. Like I said, I thought it would just be a passing thought, that I would soon decided to go somewhere else or nowhere at all.

Yet, God repeatedly found ways to keep France on my mind and in my heart. Over the next few months, I prayed about it a lot and talked to many of my most trusted advisors (and really anyone else that would listen). I also started to learn more about the culture and spiritual climate of France from friends and acquaintances who had been there before. Everything that I learned strengthened the desire that God had given me, but I still wasn’t sure.

I really wanted to go, but I still had doubts. France is expensive and support raising is hard, another summer without a real job would take a toll on my bank account, I’ve only left the country once before and never for this long, and I don’t speak French. I honestly could write pages full of reasons that I came up with not to go. Nonetheless, despite the numerous reasons that I thought I shouldn’t go, I still did decide to go to France this summer.

Only God knows most of the reasons that I am going, but one that I do know is something that I kept coming back to over and over again. Every time I thought about France or prayed about going I’d end up at this: If I don’t go, who will? My heart breaks when I hear that less than 2% of French people are evangelical Christians and that most people in France are unreached by the gospel. It breaks even more when I realize how few people even realize how great France’s need for Jesus is.

After God put France on my heart, I had doubts about going myself, but I desperately wanted someone to go. I wanted so badly for someone to bring the gospel to France. I couldn’t stand the thought that there are millions of people in France who will never even hear about Jesus if no one goes there and tells them, but no one else wanted to go. So, I thought, “If I don’t go, who will?”” Will anyone? And if no one does can I live with that? Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8

Judgment Is What We Deserve

It’s often hard for me to believe that what I deserve from God is judgment. I lead a fairly normal life. I go to school, work, and church, managing to avoid doing anything “really bad” in the process. However, despite my inability to recognize it, the reality is judgment is what I deserve.

The book of Isaiah, in particular chapters 2 and 3, speak of the judgment we all deserve.  They are about the Israelites, God’s people, who turned away from God and then consequently suffer His wrath and judgment.

Looking at chapters 2 and 3, I can better understand how much I actually do deserve God’s judgment. The sins listed in these chapters (pride, finding security in things other than God, arrogance) aren’t necessarily the “big” sins that come to mind when I think of things that should result in judgment.  They are, however, still the ones that bring disaster upon the Israelites (3:11) and cause God to take away their supply and support (3:1). When I look at my life in light of Isaiah 2 and 3, I start to better understand that I am not as good as I often believe I am. I really do deserve God’s judgment.

Pride, arrogance, finding security in things other than God, those are the sins that cause God to turn away from His people. They are also sins that I very frequently commit. They are present in my life daily, and consequently I deserve the same judgment that the Israelites suffer throughout the book of Isaiah.

This realization could make me really depressed, but luckily it doesn’t. Because, even though I can see that I deserve judgment, like God eventually did for the Israelites in Isaiah, He gives me grace.  Because he sent Jesus to die for my sins his “free gift leads to [me] being made right with [Him], even though [I am] guilty of many sins” (Romans 5:16).

Instead of being depressed and feeling guilty, because I know I deserve judgment, I can be grateful and rejoice, because I know that even though I deserve judgment Jesus took that judgment on himself when He died.  So, now, instead of judgment there is forgiveness.

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Is God listening?

Isaiah 1:15

When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean.

Isaiah lived at a time when God’s people had turned from and rebelled against Him. He prophesied about the judgment that God planned to bring upon his people and of their eventual restoration.  Chapter one starts with accusations against the nation of Israel and ends with the consequences of their rejection of God.

Verse 15 is found right in the middle of this chapter, and clearly states that because of their rebellion God will not listen to the prayers of his people, but what does this verse mean for Christians today? Furthermore, what does this mean for unbelievers today? Does the cross change things or does this verse still stand true today? If we turn from God is he still listening? And what about those who don’t know God yet? Is He listening?

My initial gut reaction was yes. God is a loving God, so why wouldn’t he listen to the prayers of everyone? I don’t like the idea that God isn’t listening to me when I pray. Or really, that there is anyone out there that He does not listen to. His not listening doesn’t sit right with me, but unfortunately that doesn’t make it untrue.

Fortunately, the Bible is clear that as long as believers are praying in accordance with God’s will He is listening. He tells his disciples in Luke 11:9-10 that if they ask they will receive and if they seek they will find. Additionally, 1 John 5:14-15 says that if believers can have confidence that if we ask according to His will God hears and answers our prayers.

What’s not clear based on this verse is whether the reverse is true. If we don’t pray according to His will, is God not listening? I’m honestly not sure, but I do know that God’s plan is perfect. So, does it really matter if He listens when we pray for things against His will? I for one am glad that there are prayers that He hasn’t listened to. I really don’t want to even think about what my life would be like if He listened to all of my prayer. So if you think about it, it’s probably better if he doesn’t listen to some of our prayers.

It gets a lot trickier when you consider whether God listens to the prayers of unbelievers. 1 Peter 3:12 which says that God is “attentive to the prayers of the righteous but his face is against those who do evil”, and John 9:31 which says that “God does not listen to sinners”, make it seem as if God doesn’t listen to nonbelievers. However, in Acts 10 before Cornelius is a believer God hears his prayer (verse 31). Additionally, the Old Testament includes example of nonbelievers whom God listened to (the people of Nineveh, Ahab, etc.)

So, what does any of this actually mean? Does God listen to all nonbelievers, some of them, none of them? In all honesty I have no idea. I guess the best answer I can give is that we aren’t given a simple or straight-forward answer. All we can do is learn as much as we can, and then trust Jesus for the rest.

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