Thursday, November 9, 2023

Life's Test Questions 101

Ever get confused when circumstances don't seem to line up with God's promises? I do. In fact, I not only get confused, but I can get discouraged too.

Like when Psalm 105 says to "seek the Lord and his strength" (v.4) because he promises to be "the Lord our God" (v.7) who "remembers his covenant forever" (v.8). That's a big deal. The psalmist is referring to an "everlasting covenant" God made with Abraham and his descendants (vv.8-11). It sounds pretty encouraging! And I'm super grateful that God has welcomed me into an everlasting covenant with him through the faith I have in Jesus.

But wait a minute... The psalmist then suddenly starts talking about God summoning "a famine on the land" in which Abraham's descendants were living (v.17). A famine summoned by God? What's up with that? What happened to that blissful "everlasting covenant"?

Questions like these pop into my mind when things go wrong – when things go sideways – or when I just can't reconcile my circumstances with what God promised me. Maybe you wonder the same. 

Oh, but it gets worse! ...Or so it seems. One of Abraham's descendants (Joseph) is betrayed and sold into slavery as "the Lord tested him" (vv.17-19). Wow. God's wonderful covenant is followed by famine, slavery, and testing. That's not what I thought I signed up for in my covenant-relationship with Jesus.

But the truth is that being in a covenant with God doesn't mean there'll be no troubles, because it seems that God sends troubles as tests. And testing isn't a sign of God's disapproval, but a means to growth in the midst of God's covenant promises. 

In other words, God tests his children in the context of covenant. That's why troubles don't mean God is distant, but can actually be a sign of God's love as he helps us to grow.

I'm personally experiencing a time of testing right now, and I can feel tempted to get discouraged. But the tests that Joseph went through were meant to make him ready for God's purposes to be fulfilled in his life. The famine and the slavery were ordained by God to further the will of God in Joseph's life and in the lives of people around him. 

So when we face troubles in life, rather than doubting God's love and promises, this psalm encourages us to embrace such circumstances as tests to help us to grow in our trust and dependence on God. Nobody grows without testing. And testing happens in the context of an eternal covenant – like being in the arms of God as he gives us a difficult exam to write.

So exam Question #1 is: What circumstance are you facing right now that seems contrary to God's promises? Whatever the answer, Question #2 is: What character trait is God trying to help me to grow in right now. Bingo. Now it's our turn to ask our loving Father to help us to grow in that area by his great grace in our lives!

© 2023 Ken Peters

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

The Battle of the Very Great vs. Nothing

There's an epic battle going on in many people's lives. Maybe that includes you. It's the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing."

You know, like when a problem is "very great," and you've got nuthin. You feel like there's nothing you can do. It's overwhelming. It seems insurmountable. The "very great" always overpowers "nothing." Not much of a battle, it would seem. 

That is, until Jesus shows up. In Mark 8:1, we're told that "In those days..." ...Wait a minute... What days? Well, how about the days Mark was just writing about in Mark 7 where he wrote, "And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak'" (Mark 7:37). "Those" days! "In those days," there was a battle raging: the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing." Mark described "the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat..." (Mark 8:1). There's the battle! The multitude was very great in number, and the food was scarce. Worse than scarce. There was "nothing to eat."

Perhaps you're facing a situation where a huge expense is worrying you, or a major health issue has caught you by surprise, or a relational difficulty feels hopeless. Whatever the challenge is that you're facing, it can feel "very great." I know because I've had that feeling.

But then Mark continues: ""In those days, the multitude being very great and having nothing to eat, Jesus called His disciples to Him and said to them, 'I have compassion on the multitude, because they have... nothing to eat" (Mark 8:1-2).

If you're in the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing," you need Jesus. He makes all the difference. He clearly sees the situation, and he knows how overwhelming the challenges feel to us. He also sees how small our resources are, and he lovingly longs to intervene.

But we might look at Jesus and say, "How can anything be done?!" That's what the disciples asked. They asked, "How can one satisfy these people [4,000 people!] with bread here in the wilderness?" (8:4). And you might be asking, "How can I cover these huge expenses, or solve this health issue, or resolve this relational difficulty with the nuthin that I've got?"

Jesus is calm through it all. He simply asks, "What do you have, however little it may seem?" As a bustling multitude of 4,000 people crowded around him, Jesus calmly asked his disciples, "'How many loaves do you have?' And they said, 'Seven.'" (8:5). In other words, Nuthin. Not enough to feed four thousand people! But Jesus still told those 4,000 people to have a seat – it's chow time. It's time to show all these people how much God loves them.  

Perhaps Jesus is asking you what you have. It seem as small as seven loaves for 4,000 people. It may be a shrunken bank account. It may be an empty parking space that comes with your apartment but doesn't come with a car! It may be nothing more than a small act of kindness you can offer to an estranged family member. Even your prayers may feel like a weakened cry to a God who seems far away. 

Jesus can do something big with anything small that's offered in faith. When Jesus arrives on the scene in the Battle of the "Very Great" vs. "Nothing," he can multiply your "nothing" until "they ate and were filled" and there was much "leftover" (8:8). So in fact, the "very great" does not always overpower "nothing" – not when Jesus shows up.

So bring Jesus your seven fish today. Bring him what seems like nothing. And even if your faith feels weak, bring that and ask him to multiply that too! He doesn't reject us for having our doubts. The disciples had their doubts as they objected to Jesus' desire to feed a multitude with nothing. But that didn't sway Jesus. He loves us too much for that. Bring him your nothing, and let him leave you "astonished beyond measure" in these days as well.

© 2023 Ken Peters

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Two Questions Worth Asking...

"Then He rose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace, be still!' And the wind ceased and there was a great calm." (Mark 4:39). 

What a sight that must have been! The spray of the waves still on their faces, the disciples must have been stunned by the sight of those suddenly placid waters. But then we're told that Jesus asked his disciples, "Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?" (Mark 4:40). 

Amidst all the challenges that each of us face – challenges that may feel like stormy winds and waves – Jesus' questions feels very appropriate in our day as well. It's worth imagining Jesus turning to us and asking, "Why are you so fearful?" 

It's a relevant question. It's relevant because all of us as people can be prone to feeling fear in stormy times. But Jesus' response is to ask, "How is it that you have no faith?" 

I need those two questions to be ringing in my ears DAILY. I have good reason to have faith in Jesus. As I've gotten to know him, and as I've seen what he can do, I have no reason to fear when I know that he is with me. He might as well be saying "Peace, be still" to my own heart.

So it's really worth remembering Jesus' questions whenever we feel anxious or afraid...

"Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?"

© 2023 Ken Peters

Friday, September 29, 2023

Seeking God Every Which Way

Is seeking God best achieved by actions or by words? Perhaps the best answer to that is, Yes.

Nearly every English translation uses one English word for two Hebrew words in Psalm 105:4. For example, the publishers of the New American Standard Bible (NASB) boldly describe it as "the most literal" English translation of the Bible. It translates Psalm 105:4 as, 

"Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually." 

But when the psalmist wrote that, he used two different Hebrew words that we translate "seek." Only the recently translated Common English Bible (CEB) seems to note this, as it translates Psalm 105:4 as,

"Pursue the LORD and his strength; seek his face always."

In the first half of the verse, the Hebrew word is daras, which means to tread or to beat a path; to frequent or to follow; to "pursue" (CEB). In the second half of the verse, the Hebrew word is baqas, which means to search out or to strive after; to ask or inquire; to "seek."  

Perhaps the psalmist chose two different words on purpose. Imagine that! A writer actually caring about the words chosen to express what he or she is thinking. The two words put together in this verse give us a picture of running after God as we cry out to God; of exerting ourselves to get to the place of prayer while expressing ourselves in the practice of prayer. 

As the psalmist urged his readers to "Seek the LORD and His strength," perhaps he was thinking of an ongoing pursuit. To "beat a path," or to "frequent" a favourite place speaks of an action that's repeated and persistent. For example, there's a used bookstore that I have frequented so often that the owner greets me by name, and knows the kind of books I look for. And in my life with Jesus, I want my relationship with him to be defined as an ongoing pursuit, not an occasional visit. If I really want to walk closely with Jesus, and truly want to live by his strength, I'll be sure to beat a path to his door every day!

But as the psalmist urged his readers to "Seek His face continually," it seems he was thinking of a search that may not be so easy. To "search out or to strive after" or to "ask or inquire" suggests that sometimes God is not so easy to find amidst our circumstances. Sometimes God seems hidden. Sometimes his face seems behind a cloud of troubles we're struggling with. That's not rare, and the psalmist goes on in Psalm 105 to share examples of instances in Israel's history when God may not have been so easy to find. He writes of famine (v.16) and of oppression (v. 25), and gives God the credit for causing those troubles. Anybody who says that God only calms storms, but never causes them hasn't read of the God who "called for a famine upon the land" (v.16), or elsewhere, where we're told that "He spoke and raised up a stormy wind, Which lifted the waves of the sea" (Ps. 107:25). But in Psalm 105, before the writer mentions any such troubles, he urged his readers to search hard for the face of God, and to ask him to reveal himself. 

Both of these words are a help to me. I want my life to be characterized by a running after God, beating a trail to be in his presence, and to be frequently found waiting in his presence, eager to receive the strength he gives to those who wait for him (Isaiah 40:31). And I don't want troubles in my life to hinder me from calling out to him as I strive to find him in such circumstances. I want to urgently inquire after him in prayer and Bible study as I search for him until we're face to face amidst life's challenges, so that I can learn what he wants to teach me in those times.

That's why I think both Hebrew words are truly important in this psalm. And it's why seeking God is best achieved by both our actions and our words.

© 2023 Ken Peters