We are living in uncertain times. Most of us have not experienced this kind of environment in our lifetime! Learning to navigate the current uncertain reality is going to be crucial to our future.
In order to embrace uncertainty and move forward despite your fears, you must first let go of what you can’t control. This is the first principle of progress! As long as you’re holding tight to your misgivings about God, you can’t grab on to His faithfulness. When Moses was handing the leadership Israel over to Joshua, he gave a speech that could be summed up by this verse:
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6
As the people of Israel were taking steps into their future, Moses knew that their courage to keep moving forward would not come from more information or from bigger armies. The key to their ability to have a glorious future, hinged on their ability to let go of what they could not control, and hold onto the presence of God!
This principle of “letting go” is experienced first-hand through rock climbing! In my rock-climbing experience through the years, I have discovered that as long as you’re just hanging on where you are, it’s impossible to go any higher. When on top of a high rock, a firm footing and grip feels good, but it guarantees you won’t go anywhere – up or down! To make progress in either direction, you’ve got to release your present security and reach out.
Often in our battles with our fear and troubles, we have given up on progress and settled for just not falling. While I understand that impulse I must remind you that we serve a God who longs to take us by the hand and toward higher ground. And as long as our fists are clenched around the things we presently trust, we can’t embrace God’s outstretched hand.
There is no better time than right now, during this COVID 19 crisis, to let go of what we can’t control! Now is the time to let God take you by the hand. In the words of Moses, “Don’t be terrified!” “God goes with you and He will never leave or forsake you!”
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“Trust me I know what I’m doing…” These were the words I uttered to a friend when I was about 20 years old, and I was helping him hang sheetrock in his house. The only problem was, I didn’t really know what I was doing! The call to trust is one that God has offered to us over and over again, but the difference is found in the reality that He knows what he’s doing!
In Jeremiah 29:11 we find an invitation to trust God which reads like this:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
God calls his people to trust Him based on a confidence in His plans and purposes which are good. His plans are all about giving us a glorious future. When we trust his plan, it fuels our hope and keeps us from giving up.
Jack Kavanaugh, journeyed to Calcutta to work with Mother Teresa in her ministry to the dying. When he got there, he asked her to pray for him. She asked what he wanted her to pray for, and he said, “Clarity.” But Mother Teresa refused. She made the wise observation that Kavanaugh was clinging to clarity and that he must release it. He questioned her, saying that she had always seemed to have tremendous clarity. She then laughed and said, “I have never had clarity. What I have had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
Interesting, isn’t it? I’d be willing to bet that some of you are praying for clarity these days. God, how much longer is this going to go on? God, when will things get better?
But, maybe you don’t need more clarity. Maybe what you need is more trust.
As you pray: Bring those issues of personal unclarity to God in prayer – declare your trust in him. Also, pray for those “areas of unknown” regarding our community and our nation and declare your trust in God.
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In the Psalms of Ascent, there is a collection of songs that the Jewish people would sing as they traveled to Mt. Zion for one of three annual festivals where they would worship God together. Read the verses below that come from one of those songs:
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber...” Psalm 121:1-3
I love the words of this Psalm, because they illustrate perfectly, what it looks like when we are seeing our source of help clearly. They present an image of the confidence that comes when God, not our fears or difficulties, is at the center of our focus. As the Jewish people would sing these words on their journey, you can imagine them lifting their eyes up to see the mountain on which they would soon worship Him and experience his presence and help. While they couldn’t see everything else ahead of them on their journey, they still had their eyes on God.
A number of years ago we were at a parade. At one point a marching band stopped in front of us and began to pound their drums loudly. My daughter who was young at the time, became very afraid. She couldn’t see over the crowd, and didn’t know where the noise was coming from, which added to her helpless feeling. Suddenly she looked to me, reached up, and I placed her on my shoulders. At that moment her fear dissipated, and a smile came across her face.
You see, clarity comes in our lives when we look up, and are able to see past the fears and obstacles in front of us. In Hebrew, the phrase “I lift up my eyes” carries the meaning of noticing and becoming part of something. It indicates looking intently, with purpose.
That is how we find our help! We look intently at God, and we get our perspective corrected. He lifts us up and we then purposefully join his amazing work in our lives.
As you pray: First acknowledge the problems in our lives and our community that we are concerned about. Write them down. Then look to God in prayer and ask for his help in those areas. Invite him to adjust your perspective.
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A young leader named Joshua had just taken over for the renowned patriarch, name Moses. God speaks to Joshua early on in his leadership, with these words:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
The amazing thing about these words, is that they were spoken to Joshua before a season of victory. He would go on from this call to courage, have a string of victories over 31 different kings, and he would eventually lead the people into the Promised Land. However, I find it interesting, that even though God knew Joshua was going to be victorious, he also knew that he would wrestle with fear.
One of the devil’s most successful tactics is isolation. If he can convince you that you are all alone, with no help, he can twist your perception to make you believe almost anything he wants. The good news is that God doesn’t leave us alone to duke it out with our fear. Instead, God fights alongside us.
Jesus walked among us as one of us, and He knows all about fear. In fact, of the 125 direct commands or imperatives of Jesus recorded in Scripture, 21 of them have to do with overcoming fear. Over and over again, Jesus encourages us to “not be afraid” or “fear not” or “have courage” or “take heart.” Take a few seconds to reflect on that. The single statement He made more than any other was “Don’t be afraid.” Jesus takes our fears quite seriously!
What’s even better, he left us a helper, his Holy Spirit so that we would not need to face our fears alone. When we abide with God through his Holy Spirit, he comforts, strengthens, and leads us into victory! In the same way God led Joshua into victory, He is going to lead you into victory as well.
Whatever you are feeling and facing today, pleas hear and receive these words: Be strong and courageous! Don’t be afraid. God is with you, and will lead you into victory!
As you pray today: Take a few moments to confess your fears to God. Then let’s pray that God delivers our community and our nation from the bondage of fear.
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Thriving During Disruption
To call the times we are in, disruptive is a bit of an understatement one could surmise, but it’s a common word being used to describe our current reality. Many are also using the word, crisis, to describe this moment in history, some may even call them desperate times. Regardless of the descriptor you choose, with a virus that is literally shutting down sections of the world, and uncertainty in every walk of life there is no arguing the notion that our lives have been disrupted.
While there are many questions that linger, both now and for months to come. The most vital question becomes one of our response. Will we see this as a time of opportunity to seize, or will we view it as hopeless and shut down our hearts and lives to the world around us? I believe that those who seize the opportunities during this time will thrive.
That’s what the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:15-16 when he exhorts us with these words: “So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!” (MSG)
What good instructions, don’t you think? Paul calls us to take three critical actions with one very clear reason: We are living in desperate times! Since that sounds like the times we are living in, I think we would do well to listen the wisdom of Paul so that we can thrive. Let’s look at the three actions that he gives us more closely:
1. Watch your steps.
This could sound like he’s calling us to live paranoid, but that’s not what he’s talking about at all. The Greek word used here, is about being alert. Other translations use the words, “walk circumspectly”. It’s similar to advising a hiker to stay on the trail. It’s a call to be aware of your surroundings, and don’t veer off course; to take every step with alertness.
I want to encourage you to watch your steps. Get on the right path, by approaching each day with purpose. Make sure you refocus your priorities each day. If you are hoping just to survive each day, then you will never thrive. But if you set goals in each part of your life, your steps will be firm and secure!
2. Use your head.
This is not about being smart, it’s about being wise. Wisdom is having the mind of heaven about everything and everyone. In order for that to happen, we need to seek God’s thinking in all things. When we have the wisdom of heaven, it keeps us from getting caught up in worry and vain thinking. As we get rid of those polluting thoughts, the thoughts of heaven will fill our head more and more, and will give us peace.
3. Make the most of every opportunity.
The more we watch our steps and use our head, we will be ready to see the opportunities that come our way. In these days, we will have more opportunities than ever, to make a difference! As we start seeing and seizing opportunities, we will thrive even in desperate times.
Here are a few ideas of practical ways to take these actions in your life:
- Start writing down your weekly & daily goals in a journal.
- Go on a prayer walk in the morning.
- Identify 5 people you are going to connect with each day. (Ex. Visit a neighbor, call a friend, play with your kids)
- Read your Bible and ask God to show you how He thinks.
- Find creative ways to meet a need around you.
As you live these out even during times of disruption like this, you will thrive. The verse that follows in Ephesians 5:17, says “Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.” That’s my prayer for you, that you become more and more aware of what God wants each day of your life. Because if you can thrive during this time of disruption, then you can thrive at any time!
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In Psalm 84:7, it says, “They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” This is found among the Psalms of Ascent. The Jewish people would sing these words during their journey to the temple three times a year for a festival where they would worship God together as part of their Hebrew customs.
The phrase, “Strength to Strength” describes the way they were relying on God’s help and provision every step of the way on their pilgrimage. What an amazing way to think about the journey of our lives. What if we were to apply this principle right here and now?
During this season in our world, where the COVID -19 virus has disrupted our lives and caused varying levels of fear and anxiety, we need God’s strength! The notion of going from “strength to strength” is acknowledging that what got you to this moment, is not going to get you to the next one.
Whether you are struggling emotionally, relationally, or spiritually right now, it is vital that we recognize our need for a new portion of God’s strength every day. All too often, in our regular routine of life, we can become so self-reliant. We then start to live our lives in auto pilot, and we stop returning to God for his power and help.
What’s so great about the Psalms of Ascent, is that God was both their goal and their source. Their journey to the temple was all about worshipping God. God was their goal! We lose strength when we have the wrong goal in our lives. Empty and self-serving pursuits will drain us of our personal energy and power. But when God is our goal, He renews our strength. Isaiah 40:31 reminds us, “…those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
During these weeks of disruption, I hope you will make God your goal. Whether it’s for the first time or you are reestablishing God as your priority, making God your goal will help you find strength. As you start moving toward God with each step you take, He will give you a fresh dose of His strength for every step of your journey!
Over the weeks ahead, I will be providing a daily devotion to help build you up from “strength to strength”, as you seek God during this season. I hope you will find encouragement in His presence and constantly be reminded that He is with you and He is for you!
With love and prayer for you,
Pastor Abe Pfeifer
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