Genesis 48, Job 14, Psalm 46

Read Genesis 48, Job 14, and Psalm 46.

This devotional is about Psalm 46.

The world is a dangerous place. The same natural environment that nurtures us with air, water, and food can drown us, poison us, strike us with lightning, and kill us in any number of other ways.

The people who live in this world can be dangerous, too. Although most people have no intent to harm, there are plenty who want to rob, rape, and even kill. Some of these people become world leaders which enables them to marshal resources to kill on a massive scale through warfare. There are nations in this world, today, are at war or preparing for war. Innocent people will die because they were conscripted against their will into some man’s army or because that army will attack them and destroy their homes.

This is the world we live in. We feel secure most of the time, but that security is an illusion. If we paid attention to all the ways we could die, it would greatly increase our fears.

Psalm 46 invites us to contemplate a different world. It calls us to trust in God as “our refuge and strength” the one who is “ever-present” to help us in time of trouble (v. 1). This kind of faith gives us confidence, not fear, no matter what disasters happen around us (vv. 2-3).

But the world that the Psalmist envisions here in Psalm 46 is not a present reality yet. When God dwells in Jerusalem on earth (vv. 4-6), then we will see him protect us (vv. 7, 11), stop the natural disasters that kill (v. 8) and the wars that claim so many lives (v. 9). Instead, he will command the nations, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (v. 10).

The vision of life presented in this song won’t happen until Jesus reigns on earth in his kingdom. When his kingdom has superseded all the kingdoms of this earth, when he has defeated his enemies, then there will be peace, prosperity, joy, and eternal life. But better than all of those benefits is the opportunity to know God (v. 10a). Everyone will know him and we will all worship him in his kingdom (“I will be exalted, ” v. 10).

This is the hope that God’s word sets before us believers while we live on this earth. We are citizens of that kingdom but in exile for now until he fully establishes that kingdom on earth. While we wait, Jesus gave us to the gospel to call people all over the world to know the Lord, worship the Lord, and wait for that coming kingdom with us.

If you are harassed, feeling helpless, discouraged by the problems of this world and wondering why life has to be so hard, be encouraged. Things are a mess because the rebellion against the true Lord of this earth has not been defeated yet. But, when that kingdom comes, the joys and pleasures of worshipping the Lord in it will far outweigh the problems we lived through to get there. So don’t give up your faith; it will be rewarded when the king comes.

Genesis 44, Job 10, Psalm 42

Read Genesis 44, Job 10, and Psalm 42.

This devotional is about Psalm 42.

The term “self-talk” is a phrase from modern psychology that refers to how we think about ourselves and interpret the events that happen us. A person may be very attractive to others physically, but his or her self-talk might be, “I’m ugly, no one will ever love me.” That kind of self-talk dramatically shapes a person’s confidence and the choices that person makes. It is a defeating-kind of self-talk that many people practice.

Self-talk also can refer to instructions your conscious self gives to the rest of you, particularly your emotions. If you are sad and you tell yourself all the reasons why you should be happy, that is positive self-talk.

Here in Psalm 42 the Sons of Korah gave us an emotional song. Verses 1-2 describe a strong, sincere desire to see God but verse 4 indicates that this person could no longer experience God’s revelation of himself in the temple (…how I used to go…) any longer.

That was depressing to the author of this song, so he used “self-talk” to refocus his mind on God. Note the self talk in these words, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?” (vv. 5, 11). The author here coached himself about what to do in his moments of despair: he instructs himself (to himself) by saying, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” In other words, he commanded himself to think differently–bibilically–about his life and act according to that command.

What is your self-talk like? Have you learned how to encourage yourself biblically to do the right thing, even when your desire to do it isn’t there? Use the pattern in this Psalm and pay attention to what your brain is telling you. Teach yourself to remind yourself of Christ’s promises. Good self-talk is a great way to internalize scripture passages so that you can act freely and learn how to glorify God with your life.

1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, Mark 1

Read 1 Samuel 23, Ezekiel 33, and Mark 1.

This devotional is about 1 Samuel 23.

God had chosen David to be Israel’s next king. David knew this, because Samuel had anointed him (1 Sam 16). Saul’s son Jonathan knew it, and he claimed that Saul knew it as well (v. 17). It was inevitable. Despite Saul’s best efforts to hunt David down and kill him, “God did not give David into his hands.”

This passage demonstrates David’s love for the LORD and his desire to please and obey him:

  • David sought the LORD’s will when the Philistines were attacking a Jewish city (vv. 1-2). He attacked the Philistines and defended them successfully, despite the fears of his men, because the LORD commanded him to do it (vv. 2-5).
  • David sought the LORD when he heard that Saul was coming for him (v. 10), and he believed and acted on what the LORD told him (vv. 11-13).

Why did God subject David to this relentless attack by Saul? Why did David have to wait for many years to become king, given that God had chosen him? Why did David have to travel from place to place to be safe and experience so many close calls (vv. 26-28)?

The answer is not specified in this passage, but it is revealed in many other passages of scripture. The LORD makes us wait and puts us in pressure situations to test our faith. Testing reveals whether we truly trust the LORD or whether we are following him only for the benefits he promised. It

Testing also strengthens our faith and teaches us to pray. When David did become king, he had experiences like this one to look back on. He could remember how God used him in military campaigns to save his people (v. 5). He could remember how God protected him from Saul (v. 14) and how God answered his prayers. These incidents would strengthen his resolve to do what was right when he became king later and they would form a habit of asking for God’s will and God’s guidance in his decisions as king.

But none of this was easy. It must have been discouraging and unpleasant to live on the run the way David and his men did. The Psalms that David wrote while he was on the run show that he struggled with fear as Saul chased him (see Psalms 59 and 63 for two examples).

So it was appropriate and necessary for Jonathan to encourage David, as we’re told he did in verses 15-18. But notice that Jonathan didn’t encourage David by telling him, “Everything will be ok. You’re too good at hiding for Saul to ever find you. He’s getting too old and won’t be around much longer.” In other words, Jonathan didn’t minimize the problem to try to make David feel better.

Instead, verse 15 tells us that Jonathan “…helped him find strength in God.” How did he do this? Two ways:

  1. By telling him not to be afraid (v. 17a). Fear is a natural human emotion, but it is the opposite of faith. When Jonathan told David not to be afraid, he was reminding him of the power of God. The LORD God who had protected David’s life to this point would not fail to keep protecting him in the future. So David had nothing to fear.
  2. By reminding him of God’s promises. When Jonathan told David that he would be king, he wasn’t making up a fanciful wish out of thin air. He was reminding David what God had promised. Samuel had delivered this promise to David when he anointed David. Jonathan believed it and reminded David of it.

What a great friend Jonathan was! Not just because of his humility (v. 17e), but because of his godly heart, solid theology, and determination to bolster David’s faith when his circumstances were bad.

Do you have any Christian friends who are discouraged? Follow Jonathan’s example. Remind him or her that God is all powerful, so there really isn’t anything to fear because the LORD’s will will overcome. Remind your friend, too, of God’s promises: that Christ is coming again for us, that he will raise us again to new life, wipe every tear from our eyes, vanquish his enemies and bring us safely into his kingdom where we will rule and reign forever.

A friend who can speak this kind of encouragement is a godly friend. Help your friends “find strength in God.”

1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, Philippians 4

Read 1 Samuel 21-22, Ezekiel 32, and Philippians 4.

This devotional is about Philippians 4.

Paul experienced many difficulties and stressors during his ministry. So, it must have been incredibly encouraging to have the Philippians as his friends. While they had some interpersonal problems (cf. 2:3-4 with 4:2-3), they were loved deeply by the apostle and they returned that love, even sending Epaphroditus to help personally (2:25) as well as financial aid (4:10-18).

There is so much joy in this letter that it is easy to forget that Paul was in prison when he wrote it (cf. 1:12, 17). The Philippians’ friendship and Paul’s imprisonment form the background out of which he wrote the chapter we read today. His imprisonment, particularly, was the circumstance he lived in when he wrote verses 6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Undoubtedly Paul was a man who had practiced these commands in his own life repeatedly. His command to the Philippians to deal with their fears that way rose out of his own experience as well as from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In verses 8-9 he commanded them to discipline their thoughts toward good and godly things instead of focusing on their problems, complaints or fears.

Many of our negative emotions rise out of undisciplined thinking. We attach meaning to things that happen, then tell ourselves negative stories about the meaning we’ve made up.

It is easy to do and we’ve all done it, at least at certain times in our lives or with certain events of our lives. God’s word, however, gives us a different story–a truthful one–to tell ourselves about anything and everything that happens in life. A sovereign God has ordered the events of your life for his glory and your good. There will be problems, pains, stresses, heartbreak, sorrow, and grief in this life. That’s because this life and this world have been broken by sin, not because God doesn’t love you.

The solution to the problems of life is to trust God’s promise and put your hope in his future kingdom. When it comes, the pains of this life will be forgotten and the perfect life that you and I want will be real; it can never be real until then.

When life tempts you to think thoughts of despair, replace those thoughts with truth: God loves you and redeemed you from the guilt of your sin and the punishment you deserve for it. He is preparing a perfect, eternal kingdom for you and is re-making you into a perfect person by his grace.

While we have much less to fear than the martyrdom that ultimately took Paul’s life, his teaching reminds us that, no matter how little or much we fear, the Lord is waiting to hear our prayers and give us peace as we look to him.

Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, 2 Corinthians 1

Read Deuteronomy 23, Jeremiah 15, and 2 Corinthians 1.

Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth to continue to address problems in the church, just as he did in 1 Corinthians. One problem, which he addressed in verses 12-24, was criticism he received for changing his travel plans after he had told the Corinthians he was coming to visit them. Before he got to that issue, however, he took time to praise God for how God had comforted him during the troubles he and his ministry partners had experienced in Asia (v. 8).

Why does God allow problems into our lives? Why aren’t his servants exempt from problems as a reward for their ministry of the gospel? There are at least four answers and three of them are discussed in this chapter.

First, God allows problems into our lives because we live in a fallen world. Until the redemption of all things is complete, problems will be part of life for everyone–believers and non-believers alike. This we know from other texts, not this chapter.

Second, God allows problems into our lives so that he can comfort us and teach us to comfort others (v. 4). The best people to help you when you are persecuted are those who have endured persecution themselves. The best people to help you when you face a life-threatening illness are those who have been there. They are the “best people” to help because they can empathize with your struggles more deeply and more personally. They know what encouraged and helped them when they were struggling, so that makes them more equipped to help you.

Third, God allows problems into our lives to test and strengthen our faith. Verse 6 says that problems produce “in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.” That “patient endurance” is not just giving up and taking it, like when you’re stuck in stopped traffic on the freeway and there is nothing you can do about it. “Patient endurance” is the ability to trust God throughout the duration of a trial rather than giving up faith in him. Trials reveal whether we are truly trusting in God or whether we are self-deceived about our faith. They also teach us to look to God for comfort, help, and deliverance which strengthens our faith when God delivers us. Verse 9 made the same point when it said, “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” For true Christians, trials drive us closer to God while problems in life drive unbelievers further from him. That doesn’t mean you’ll never question God; read the Psalms and you’ll see plenty of verses that question God. Instead, while your faith may waver and feel week, it will ultimately hold and eventually get stronger through trials.

Fourth, God allows problems into our lives to teach others how to pray. Verse 11 says, “…as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” As you go through problems in life and ask others to pray for you, your trial gives them the opportunity to learn intercessory prayer. When the trial ends, it gives other believers who prayed for you the opportunity to give thanks to God.

What problems and struggles are you facing right now? Which of these lessons do you feel God is teaching you most directly? If you’re not facing a trial in your life right now, give thanks for God’s favor but study the list above, too, to fortify yourself for when the problems arrive.

Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, 1 Thessalonians 4

Read Numbers 26, Isaiah 49, and 1 Thessalonians 4 today.

This devotional is about 1 Thessalonians 4.

In this chapter Paul moved from discussing his history with the Thessalonians to addressing how they should live as Christians (vv. 1-2). Sexual purity was first on his list, an evergreen topic in every age (vv. 3-8).

Next was the issue of loving others and general living in light of our life in Christ (vv. 9-12). The Thessalonians had a God-given gift for Christian love, so much so that Paul said he didn’t really even need to write to them about it (vv. 9-10). When Paul wrote, “you do love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia” (v. 10a), he is referring to the generosity of the Thessalonian believers toward other believers and church in the wider region around them. This suggests that the Thessalonians had instinctively reached out to other churches and had been generous toward whatever needs they had.

Even though the Thessalonians had already demonstrated their love, Paul “urge[d] you, brothers and sisters, to do so more and more.” We all, from time to time, quit doing things that are good and productive just because they can be costly. Paul wasn’t chiding them for losing some of the loving ways they had developed; he was encouraging them not to stop doing the God-honoring things they had done by instinct.

As a parent and as a pastor, it is easy to take for granted the good things that our children and our church family members do. I might congratulate my kids when they get good grades–or improving grades–on their report cards, but I don’t usually pat them on the back when I see them he daily work of studying and doing homework.

Similarly, in our church, many people show up and serve faithfully each week. I do try to thank people from time to time, but it’s easy just to expect their faithful service. Positive reinforcement, though, can mean a lot. It matters more to some people than others based on their personalities, but it means something to just about everyone. Like Paul, then, it would be helpful for us to notice the good things our spouse, our kids and our friends do–the areas where they are growing in their Christian lives, when they serve faithfully, when they make good choices–and encourage them to keep it up. That bit of encouragement might help others keep doing good and it might stimulate them to do more in that area.

Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, Galatians 4

Read Numbers 10, Isaiah 35, and Galatians 4.

This devotional is about Isaiah 35.

In this chapter Isaiah continued foretelling what life in the eternal kingdom of God will be like. Verses 1- 2 and 5-10 describe a bright future in which God’s glory will be revealed (v. 2e-f) through the prosperity of the land (vv. 1-2), through the physical restoration to perfection of all creation (vv. 5-7), and through the people of God (vv. 8-10).

Amidst all this prophecy about the future, verses 3-4 in this chapter provide an island of present-tense reality. Isaiah told his readers to encourage others who belonged to God but were weak and tired. He wanted to see them strengthened (v. 3) so he reminded them of God’s promise to return in order to punish the wicked (v. 4 c-f). These two truths–that God would punish his sinful enemies (v. 4c-f) and that he would provide a kingdom of love and joy for eternity (vv. 5-10)–were given to encourage and strengthen the faithful but aging believers among them.

In Hebrews 12:12 the author of Hebrews referred here to Isaiah 35:3 as a concluding thought to his teaching on God’s discipline. Discipline is always painful but it is productive for spiritual growth so we should not be discouraged but rather should encourage each other.

When you find yourself feeling down or lacking faith in God or in any way needing strength, remember that “your God will come” (v. 4 c-d). When he does, he will impose justice on the unbelieving and give prosperity to his people.

Remind yourself often that this world is not the end and that a just and loving God is waiting to bless you for eternity if you belong to him. In other words, let God’s promises encourage you when you feel like quitting, slowing down, or slacking off in following Jesus. Trust in the Lord and keep serving him and you will see him do amazing things when we reach his kingdom. The discouragements and problems we endure in this life will be worth it when we are with the Lord.

Exodus 2, Job 19, Hebrews 8

Read Exodus 2, Job 19, and Hebrews 8.

This devotional is about Job 19.

Today we read one of the most powerful statements in the book of Job here in Job 19:25-27: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” These short poetic stanzas refer to two core doctrines of our faith:

  • They foreshadow the incarnation of Christ in verse 25 when Job says, “in the end he will stand on the earth.”
  • They affirm the resurrection of the dead: “after my skin has been destroyed [in other words, “after I’m dead”], yet in my flesh I will see God;” Note that Job says he will see God “in my flesh,” not “in my spirit.” He thus affirmed the bodily resurrection of the dead.

Though these truths did not remove Job’s suffering or his questions, they do offer great encouragement if we consider them. No matter how difficult your suffering, how senseless and unfair it all seems in this life, or how you meet the end of your life, God is waiting there on the other side of eternity for you if your faith is in Him. And, God’s plan is not just for you to know him spiritually but to include you in his earthly kingdom in eternity.

I hope you find these words encouraging, no matter what you’re facing today. Maybe it would be a good idea to memorize this passage and remind yourself of it when you need encouragement.

Genesis 50, Job 16-17, Psalms 20-23

Read Genesis 50, Job 16-17, and Psalms 20-23. This devotional is about Job 16-17.

There are times when we need to speak hard but truthful words to each other. Jesus commanded us to go a fellow believer who sins and point out their fault (Matt 18:15).

But that command is for a situation where you have direct knowledge of the sin, either because you were sinned against, or saw the person sin, or the believer is not hiding the sin.

We are not commanded to make assumptions about one another or accuse others of sin when we have no evidence. It is never wrong to ask if someone is in sin but it is never right to accuse without a clear basis.

Job’s friends had no evidence that he had sinned. Not one of them pointed out a specific instance of sin or even suggested specific ways in which he might have caused himself this trouble by sinning. They worked backward from his calamity to accusations of sin because, in their theology, God punishes sinners and rewards the righteous. Job’s tragedies were all the evidence they thought they needed to accuse him.

Nobody likes to be accused so it is insulting to accuse someone without evidence, especially if the person being accused is actually innocent. Job was dealing with incredible trauma and, instead of being comforted, his “friends” railed on him to ‘fess up. It is a cliché to talk about “adding insult to injury” but that’s exactly what Job’s friends did. His statement in 16:2b, “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” expressed the frustration he felt based on how he was being treated.

What Job needed was not accusers who would help him come clean but loving friends who would help him.

And what would have been helpful to him? Two things:

  1. Encouragement: In 16:4b-5 he said, “…if you were in my place…. my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief.” A godly friend would have comforted Job with affirming words that God’s ways were always right, so this would turn out someday for good.
  2. Prayer. In 16:20-21 we read these words, “My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend.”

How can you help a fellow believer who is hurting? Encouragement and prayer.

Is someone coming to mind who needs this? Pray for them now, then contact them to encourage and pray with them.

Genesis 45, Job 11, Hebrews 3

Read Genesis 45, Job 11, and Hebrews 3.

This devotional is about Hebrews 3.

Although the grace of God caused us to believe in Christ and keeps us believing in him, the pull of sin never goes away in this lifetime. The sin nature that each of us was born with pulls us toward temptation like a magnet pulls a nail. This chapter in Hebrews taught us that Christ was greater than Moses but just as Moses, the great lawgiver, dealt constantly with sinful rebellion from the people, we–the church–see people who claim to be among us pulled into wickedness and unbelief.

Verses 12-14 urge us to keep an eye our hearts in order to guard against the pull of unbelief. Verse 13, in particular, reminds us that how easy it is to be drawn back into sin. By calling it “sin’s deceitfulness,” the author of Hebrews labels the tendency that we all know too well. That tendency is the tendency to think we can sin without anyone ever knowing or that we can sin without any negative consequences or that we can sin because, in our case, it is justifiable. These lies and others call to us and tempt us to disobey God’s word and to pull away from following Christ.

One of the defenses against sin’s deceitfulness is the community of other believers we call the church. Verse 13 commands us to “encourage one another daily… so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” This is a call to fellowship that is much deeper than chatting over donuts and coffee on Sunday morning. It is a call to fellowship that urges us to get involved in each other’s lives, not so that we can pick each other apart and question each other’s salvation, but so that we can redirect each other’s attention back to Christ and away from the lies that sin is constantly telling us. Verse 14 tells us that continuing to cling to Christ to the end is really the only way to know that we belong to him: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” We don’t hold to this conviction in order to become Christians; rather, holding our conviction is the evidence that we did come to share in Christ on the day of our salvation.

Think about your friends in our church. Is there anyone who seems to be wavering in faith? Anyone who seems like they are dropping out? Anyone who’s commitment to the Word of Christ seems to have cooled? Maybe the Lord is bringing that person to your mind today so that you can encourage him or her to hold on to Jesus and not trade him in for the false promises of disobedience and unbelief.