In life we all have times when we encounter hard times or face hard things. Things that challenge us, stretch us and take us to the end of our limits, to the end of ourselves. Things that very much remind us of our humanity, our frality and our need for God.
I read recently the quote “pearls of peace are found in the trenches of trial.” In the most trying times, when dreams seem dead or the mountain too high to climb, God is there with us. He’s there to strengthen, comfort and encourage us. There is treasure to be found.
“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness— secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” (Isaiah 45:3)
During hard times, Jesus is the beacon in our darkness, our anchor in the storm. He’s the giver of the grace to get through another day. He’s the hope that keeps us pressing on. And He’s the peace that overrides our circumstances.
He is the Resurrection. The promise of a new day. The promise of victory won.
“In the middle of the ashes, the cross remains. A powerful reminder as we move toward Good Friday. No matter the devastation we face, no matter what is burned up, the cross is victorious and Sunday is on its way.” (Shelia Walsh) – The Cross in Notre Dame after the fire
“Take courage my heart, stay steadfast my soul, He’s in the waiting” (Kristine Dimarco)
Waiting. It’s a reality of life. Whether we’re waiting for a train or a bus to arrive or are simply at the traffic lights – waiting is in our everyday.
But there are also more poignant times of waiting. Good and bad. The positive ones come with anticipation, excitement and hope. It’s the waiting for the baby to arrive, the holiday, the fulfilment of a dream. Hope and expectation propel us through the waiting time. Gratitude and praise flow easily.
There’s also the waiting that’s undecided. They can be good or bad situations. The waiting for exam results, the job offer or the diagnosis. It’s a time of staying in faith and not letting anxiety creep in. A time for holding onto peace as you wait out the process.
Then there’s the hard seasons of waiting, the scary seasons, the ones with no end in sight and the not understood ones. It’s when we are waiting on prayers to be answered or for difficult seasons to end. Despair lurks, and fear can seem to shadow us. Keeping the faith, sustaining hope is the challenge.
But through it all, God is there. Present. With us in the waiting and working ALL things for our good and His glory. With Him comes peace, hope and confidence that God has us. We need neither fear nor feel alone.
“He is here in the middle of the struggle, in the in-between. In the not yet and in the not understood.” (Janie Taylor)
“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.” (Psalm 28:7)
A reporter for the NZ Herald recently wrote that Holy Week used to feel for him as if “there was grace in the air.” And I’d have to agree. There’s something about Holy Week, as we follow Christ’s journey to the Cross, His death and His Resurrection, that intensifies our faith and makes us more aware of the presence of God.
To me, Holy Week brings grief, sorrow as we are confronted with His betrayal and death. But it also brings hope and joy as we focus on what His death and resurrection bought us. Easter it seems always reignites our faith and recalibrates our soul.
But at the same I am also challenged. For if we are truely living in the light of Resurrection Sunday, it should feel as if there is grace in the air everyday. I am reminded too of the words by Martin Luther – “what will you do in the mundane days of faithfulness?” Most of our days are just that mundane, ordinary, uneventual. No special day on the Christian Calendar. It’s not exhilarating, and it can be wearying.
But each ordinary day still holds the promise of His Kingdom coming…in the world and in us. Jesus is in the midst of our ordinary, our mundane. On every day we can live with the power and revelation of Resurrection Sunday. The resurrection of Jesus gives birth to a hope even though you’re in the middle of circumstances that deny a reason to have hope. God’s resurrection power turns death into life, despair into hope, weakness into strength. And we can live well in it for grace is there to be found.
This Lenten Season it is my prayer that I would grow more aware of God’s grace and peace around me.
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” (1 Peter 2:1)
I’m sitting in the car waiting to pick the kids up from school. I’m parked on the side of the road. Street signs, concrete, fences, cars parked, cars driving past. It’s a rather unattractive urban view. Or is it? For my car is parked beside a hibiscus bush in flower. Beauty there if I choose to see it.
“The law of concentration states that whatever you dwell upon grows. The more you think about something, the more it becomes part of your reality…. Whatever you believe to be true, whatever you focus your attention and energy on becomes your reality.”
As we go about life what are we choosing to focus on? Are we focusing on God or are we letting temporal situations become our priority? Are we focusing on what other people have instead of what God is doing in our lives?
We have a choice on what to focus on. To focus on the bad report, the hard situation or to focus on what God says about us. To focus on what is missing or to celebrate what we do have.
If there’s one thing I know for sure, when we fix our eyes on Jesus, fear vanishes, hope grows, faith strengthens and love comes in.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God (Hebrews 12:2 The Message)
PARADOX: – A situation or statement that seems impossible or is difficult to understand because it contains two opposite facts or characteristics
Sacrifice. Praise. Two words that seem mutually exclusive. A paradox. Two words that don’t belong together. Praise is like the woohoo of your day, an overflow of happy. It’s exuberant, joyful. It’s something that bubbles easily from a grateful heart. Sacrifice – well that is something that comes at a cost. It’s pain, grief, hurt. Surely sacrifice and praise don’t belong together? Yet we find in Hebrews just that. Praise and Sacrifice interwoven together.
“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15)
The sacrifice of praise means that even during the difficult times we choose to believe in the goodness of God. It says that during the hard seasons we can still exalt His name. As we turn our despair, our pain into praise of the One who sacrificed it all for us it becomes the most beautiful sacrifice.
When we are in a place of hardship or trouble and yet are able to praise God, it is a sacrifice. It means that we are reacting in a way that brings something beautiful. This gate in the midst of our paradox is where He dwells. It that moment a gate is formed, a place of entrance where the King of Glory can invade our situation with His presence.
In Isaiah 60:18 it says, “But you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise.” In Revelation we see too mention of the gates of praise. We learn that the gates are made of a single pearl. A pearl comes from an irritant to the oyster. It is formed when an oyster gets a grain of sand trapped in the flesh inside its shell. This piece of sand irritates the oyster and it responds by coating the grain with what becomes a pearl. What was an irritant to the oyster becomes something beautiful, valuable. God’s pairing of praise with irritation is intentional. It shows us that when we respond with praise to God during our hard times something beautiful is produced.
Praise invites the Lord’s presence into our situations. It is indeed a gate, a place of entrance for the King of Glory to enter our lives. Our praise is to be continual. It means our praise is a lifestyle that exists regardless of our feelings or our circumstances or how our day is shaping out. Our praise becomes a powerful declaration of magnifying God over our lives. It is not about being thankful for all things, but in all things being able to be thankful. It means that our praise of God is not shaken by our circumstances. We move above the restraints of human explanation to a place of trust.
Sometimes in life we are left with mysteries in God. Unanswered prayer, someone not healed, things not restored. But because God is good and kind we can trust Him with that mystery and still seek His face and worship Him. As Bill Johnson wrote sometimes victory is “measured in the fact that after disappointment and loss we set our hearts to seek His face again.”
There’s something to be said on this side of eternity being able to worship God. To worship and give Him praise and honour in a fallen world when we are hurting. This is a true sacrifice of praise. For one day we will all be in eternity worshipping – pain and grief will be no more, and we will never have the opportunity to bring Him praise through our pain.
Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.” (Psalm 5:1-3)