E-devotional Archives

11

What God’s Been Doing: My Shepherd

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1-3a, ESV).

When David said, “The LORD is my shepherd,” he knew something about the word picture he was using.

The first time we ever meet David, he is introduced as the youngest, all-but-forgotten son-out doing the chore none of his seven older brothers wanted to do. “Then Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep'” (1 Samuel 16:11a).

When David volunteered to face off with Goliath, he claimed his work as a shepherd-warding off lions and bears from the flock-had prepared him for the fight (1 Samuel 17:34-37).

Because he knew shepherding and he knew the Lord, David found it easy to put the two together-as if to say, “The way the Lord treats me is as a shepherd would treat me.”

Our inexperience as shepherds begs this question of David, “How is the Lord like a shepherd?”

First-like a shepherd, God leads us. We need to be led, don’t we? A good shepherd leads the sheep from out in front of them, not from behind. There isn’t a place where the lambs put their feet that the shepherd hasn’t already walked. There isn’t a valley the sheep go through that the shepherd hasn’t gone through first.

There is no terrain on the horizon of your life that the Shepherd hasn’t already surveyed and approved-including the rocky ground, the most difficult times. If God doesn’t want to allow it, He will lead you on a different path, and you will not experience that hard time. But when you do-and the Bible clearly tells us, “in the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33)-don’t ever forget that the Shepherd leads you through that ground. God will use it for your good and bring you through it to the place He has planned.

Second-like a shepherd, He protects us. Sheep are so vulnerable-to disease, to weather, to predators, and to thieves that come to steal them. In the same way, the enemy of our souls would terrorize us, harm us, steal our focus, and tempt us to chart our own course, but our Shepherd protects us. It’s just as Jesus says in John 10:9-10: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Your Shepherd protects you and wants what’s best for you.

Third-like a shepherd, He feeds us. For sheep, it’s green pastures and still waters. For us, our Shepherd provides both physical food and spiritual nourishment. Devotionals and sermons are a sampling of God’s feeding, and we can feast every day on God’s Word: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).

How desperately we need the Shepherd’s care! With David, we can confidently say, “The LORD is my shepherd,” trusting that He will lead, protect, and feed us today.
Journal

  • In your own words, how have you experienced the Lord to be your Shepherd?
  • Which need do you feel most keenly today-the need to be led, protected, or fed?

Pray

Father, I praise You for the many ways You show Yourself to be my Shepherd. Thank You that in Your leading, protecting, and feeding, You have never failed. Your faithfulness has never faltered. There hasn’t been, nor will there ever be, a circumstance or danger You can’t handle. I rest my life in Your good care and I pray this with thanksgiving. In Jesus’ name, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

11

A Preview of God’s Plan

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, ESV).

God has a plan for your life. He has some objectives for you. Even knowing those truths, it’s still easy to get stuck in the bottomless vortex of questions: Who am I supposed to marry? Where am I going to live? What am I going to do for work? It’s time to set aside the questions and get back to what God has said.

His plans for you are not so much about those specifics as they are about developing your character. Everything else will sort itself out.

God always has plans for the welfare and future of those who are His. He always has plans to give His children hope. Even in the midst of sobering seasons of discipline, God pours out His heart for His people, pointing them (and us) toward relationship. The circumstances He allows are designed to cause us to call upon Him. We’re always able to call, seek, and find Him because He wants us to call, seek, and find Him!

When God says, “I know the plans I have for you,” His words are a great comfort. But wouldn’t you love to get a look at those plans? The tension isn’t, “Does God know?” The tension is, “I want to know!” Although God understands our questions, He doesn’t owe us any answers. It’s as if He says, “I know, but I’m not going to fill you in . . . yet.”

He does give us hints, however. God provides us with some general categories that describe His purposes. First, they are plans for your welfare. The Hebrew word is shalom, meaning “the complete state of well-being; fulfillment; prosperity; peace.” As God looks down the telescope of time, His plans are for your total well-being.

Second, His designs for you are not for evil. People who are determined to prove they can live contrary to God’s program will pay a price for their experiment. God’s plans take us away from evil; ours tend to take us smack into the middle of it.

Third, God’s plans are designed to give you a future and a hope, both immediately and eternally. The biblical definition of hope is a confident expectation of something better tomorrow. When your hope is in God, He’ll always deliver. It doesn’t matter what has happened, better things are coming. That’s hope! You can be confident He has good plans for you.

Journal

  • What have you learned about God’s good plans for you?
  • Why doesn’t God reveal all His plans for us now? How does the not-knowing grow our faith?

Pray

Father, thank You that You have good plans for me. How ever I may feel and whatever I may face today, I can anticipate that You are working for good in all of it. So I call to You, come to You, and pray to You, believing that You hear me. I seek You, believing You will allow Yourself to be found by me. I know I can’t imagine all the good You have planned for my life, but I trust Your Word, so I thank You in faith. In the unfailing name of Jesus I pray, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

11

Up For Renewal

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect ((Romans 12:2, ESV).

There is a bull’s-eye, and then there’s the center of the bull’s-eye. If you threw a dart that truly hit the mark on “how to change,” and someone else threw another dart, splitting yours right down the middle—that dart, the one pointed directly in the center of the dartboard—is “the renewal of your mind.”

The process of renewing your mind is at the heart of real change.

It’s how you…

Protect your mind. When Jesus was forty days in the wilderness, fasting and praying before setting out on the public portion of His ministry, the Word of God was His protection against temptation. You know this: how He answered every challenge with Scripture. “The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written…'” (Matthew 4:3–4a). “For it is written…” (verse 6). “Again it is written…” (verse 7). Jesus could have made up new words if He liked, and those would’ve worked too. But He wanted us to see how these words, from the Word we’ve already been given, are mighty for our safety. When faced with temptation, you can guard your mind from defeat if you’ve renewed it in the Word of God. It’s also how you . . .

Wash your mind. You alone know the things you’ve seen, the things you’ve heard, the things you’ve looked at and thought about—and how they can still factor into the sins you’re drawn toward. But the Word of God can wash your mind clean. Paul speaks of what Christ has done for us, for His church, how He “gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:25b–26). Through continuous exposure to Scripture—reading it, studying it, memorizing it, meditating on it, and sharing it with others—His truth can wash away what’s been infused or allowed into your mind, and in the process can sanctify (make holy) your thoughts. Let the Word cleanse your mind, and . . .

Set your mind. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2). Just as you “set” a nail by taking a few strong cracks at it, anchoring it into position so you can drive it down into the wood, the Bible sets your mind in a sure and steady place. Maybe you’re waking up today to a thousand decisions needing to be made. Maybe you can feel the pressure building already, afraid you won’t be up to the task, afraid you’ll cave to old habits of coping. No, you’ll be fine, if you “set your [mind]” on the Word of God.

“Why can’t I get any traction with these problems in my family?” you may be asking. “Why can’t I seem to get ahead and make progress? Why can’t I get these temptations in my rearview mirror once and for all? Why can’t I change?” Take that dart in hand, and aim it squarely at the center of the bull’s-eye. Discipline yourself to pick up the Word, even if you don’t feel like it. Seek it for your protection, your cleansing, and your strengthening in Christ, and it will soon become your desire, then your delight. It will renew your mind every day.

Journal

  • What other alternatives can seem more urgent, useful, or desirable than the Word?
  • How has having a renewed, biblically-thinking mind protected you in recent days?

Pray

Father, thank You, thank You, thank You for Your Word. It is such a generous gift, perfect in all it asserts. It is healthy and helpful and nourishing. I need it—for comfort, hope, strength, and wisdom. Forgive me for times I neglect it and act like it’s optional. Bring me into a season of life where I’m digging into Your Word more intently than ever, with deep gratitude. Renew my mind in Your Word this day, in the name of Jesus, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

9

What to Do in a Crisis

Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD (2 Chronicles 20:2–3a, ESV).

King Jehoshaphat was in crisis. Not the kind of vague, ambiguous crisis that may or may not yet develop into a problem. This was the kind of crisis, like some we all face eventually, where you can tell in an instant, “Everything is about to change.” You can hardly see the future because of it. You can hardly see tomorrow for it. An enemy who significantly outnumbered the king’s forces was approaching from right over the hill, and “Jehoshaphat was afraid,” like any of us would be.

But when you are afraid, what you do next is everything. It’s one of the most important things about you. And when Jehoshaphat was afraid, the Bible says he “set his face to seek the LORD.”

What does that mean exactly? How does a person “set his face to seek the LORD”?

Four answers are found in 2 Chronicles 20:

  1. Fast. Jehoshaphat “proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (verse 3). Fasting is the denial of the body’s demands for a season to heighten the demands of the spirit. We are people of many hungers, the longing for God being only one. Desires, however, are a finite commodity. They can’t all be satisfied at once. But by deliberately turning down the satisfaction on some of them, you can turn up your passion for God. When you need to get to God in a hurry, when you need an answer that is obviously from Him, start with fasting.
  2. Pray. Jehoshaphat’s prayer, which runs for seven verses (6–12), gives many characteristics of what prayer in crisis needs to be. The words of his prayer right-sized the power of God, anchoring his faith in the invincible might of the Lord. He remembered God’s provision in the past. He recited God’s promises made in His Word. He reviewed his own powerlessness in trying to rescue himself. And he riveted his eyes and the eyes of the people on God. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (verse 12). That’s breakthrough prayer in a crisis.
  3. Stand. They didn’t run. They didn’t hide. They didn’t quit. They didn’t cower. They stood. “Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly” (verse 5). “All Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (verse 13). When you’re in a spot where all you can do is fast and pray your way out of it, be ready to take your stand when the praying is finished. “No! This marriage is not over!” “No! I’m not losing my kids to the world!” As long as you have breath, you’re not backing down. You’re standing. No retreat.
  4. Believe. They “stood up to praise the LORD” for the rest of the day (verse 19). And the next morning, “Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established'” (verse 20). As one of their prophets had said while they fasted, prayed, and worshiped, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (verse 15). Believe, and watch Him deliver you.

Four things to do in a crisis, before you do anything else: fast, pray, stand, and believe. That’s how you set your face to seek the Lord.

Journal

  • Consider writing these four words in the front of your Bible. Have them ready in a crisis.
  • Who do you know who needs this kind of counsel right now? Will you go stand with them?

Pray

Lord God, not even the biggest, most overwhelming problems of my life are ever a match for Your power. When I am in the midst of crisis, whenever I feel afraid, You are always there. Help me run nowhere else. And when others around me find themselves in similar situations, use me as one of Your children to lead them down this same path of fasting, praying, standing, and believing. I trust that You are working, and I pray this in the powerful name of Jesus, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

7

What God’s Been Doing: What To Do In A Crisis

What To Do In A Crisis

Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar (that is, Engedi). Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD (2 Chronicles 20:2-3a, ESV).

King Jehoshaphat was in crisis. Not the kind of vague, ambiguous crisis that may or may not yet develop into a problem. This was the kind of crisis, like some we all face eventually, where you can tell in an instant, “Everything is about to change.” You can hardly see the future because of it. You can hardly see tomorrow for it. An enemy who significantly outnumbered the king’s forces was approaching from right over the hill, and “Jehoshaphat was afraid,” like any of us would be.

But when you are afraid, what you do next is everything. It’s one of the most important things about you. And when Jehoshaphat was afraid, the Bible says he “set his face to seek the LORD.”

What does that mean exactly? How does a person “set his face to seek the LORD”?

Four answers are found in 2 Chronicles 20:

  1. Fast. Jehoshaphat “proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (verse 3). Fasting is the denial of the body’s demands for a season to heighten the demands of the spirit. We are people of many hungers, the longing for God being only one. Desires, however, are a finite commodity. They can’t all be satisfied at once. But by deliberately turning down the satisfaction on some of them, you can turn up your passion for God. When you need to get to God in a hurry, when you need an answer that is obviously from Him, start with fasting.
  2. Pray. Jehoshaphat’s prayer, which runs for seven verses (6-12), gives many characteristics of what prayer in crisis needs to be. The words of his prayer right-sized the power of God, anchoring his faith in the invincible might of the Lord. He remembered God’s provision in the past. He recited God’s promises made in His Word. He reviewed his own powerlessness in trying to rescue himself. And he riveted his eyes and the eyes of the people on God. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (verse 12). That’s breakthrough prayer in a crisis.
  3. Stand. They didn’t run. They didn’t hide. They didn’t quit. They didn’t cower. They stood. “Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly” (verse 5). “All Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children” (verse 13). When you’re in a spot where all you can do is fast and pray your way out of it, be ready to take your stand when the praying is finished. “No! This marriage is not over!” “No! I’m not losing my kids to the world!” As long as you have breath, you’re not backing down. You’re standing. No retreat.
  4. Believe. They “stood up to praise the LORD” for the rest of the day (verse 19). And the next morning, “Jehoshaphat stood and said, ‘Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established'” (verse 20). As one of their prophets had said while they fasted, prayed, and worshiped, “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (verse 15). Believe, and watch Him deliver you.

Four things to do in a crisis, before you do anything else: fast, pray, stand, and believe. That’s how you set your face to seek the Lord.

Journal

  • Consider writing these four words in the front of your Bible. Have them ready in a crisis.
  • Who do you know who needs this kind of counsel right now? Will you go stand with them?

Pray

Lord God, not even the biggest, most overwhelming problems of my life are ever a match for Your power. When I am in the midst of crisis, whenever I feel afraid, You are always there. Help me run nowhere else. And when others around me find themselves in similar situations, use me as one of Your children to lead them down this same path of fasting, praying, standing, and believing. I trust that You are working, and I pray this in the powerful name of Jesus, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

7

What God’s Been Doing: More Than Able

More Than Able

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21, ESV).

God is able.

There aren’t many three-word, nine-letter sentences that can stir a person’s heart the way this one does. I see a spark ignite across people’s faces every time I say it. God is able. It’s powerful. Pregnant with hope and confidence. And it’s real. The fact is, God IS able.

But not even this ample statement tells the whole story. He is able, yes, but “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”

Truly, if anything can top “God is able,” it’s that He can do even more.

  • More than you. Perhaps I’m catching you on a day when you’d admit your strength is just about gone. Your resources are spent. All your ideas have been tried, all your escapes exhausted. All your alternative solutions have proven ineffective, perhaps even made things worse. You don’t know what else to do.

    Then I’ve got good news from God’s Word: you don’t have to. The God you serve is not limited by what you could ask, if you could even think of what to say. He is not bound by what you could accomplish if you were working at full capacity and focusing only on this one thing. He can do more than you can do. He is that able-and more.

  • More than it appears. God is always doing more than it might look like He’s doing-behind the scenes, between the lines, beyond the human constraints of time and space. He doesn’t have to flash it. He doesn’t need to show everybody what He’s up to, just to avoid being called impotent or unwilling. But in every circumstance, every single day, God is working.He is at work in the hearts of those who are yielded to Him. He is at work through people who know Him and love Him.

    He is working when you can’t see it or measure it or point to it. And though you may question the silence, you can trust by faith His promises. He’s at work, doing more.

  • More than healthy boundaries would allow you to try. If you’re one of those people who tries to do too much, I can relate to that. The Lord has had to teach me some painful lessons to convince me that learning to say “no” to good things is an indispensable part of obeying His calling to do the most important things. So I wouldn’t be surprised if you know what I’m talking about-situations in your life where you’re stretching yourself so thin, cutting the margins so close, that you can’t keep it up without something imploding.

    But God never looks across the landscape of His responsibilities and thinks He might have a hard time pulling it off this quarter. Why then do we exhaust ourselves trying to do more than our bodies and brains can safely accommodate when we have a God who says He’s able to do far more?

Stop putting God through the grid of human limitation. He is not a man; He is infinite and eternal. He is ruling the universe with His feet up. And He can do everything required to keep you functioning and fulfilled.

And more.

Journal

  • Where are you most in need of seeing the ability of God at work in your life right now?
  • How are you praying toward that end? How are you intentionally trusting Him by faith?

Pray

Father in heaven, thank You for making me a child of the Most High God through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for reaching toward me in love and grace, showing me time after time expressions of Your limitless ability. Remind me, Lord, because I forget so easily, that You are beyond-able to do Your holy will as well as respond to my needs in Your omnipotence and goodness. I come asking today, confident that You can do so much more than I ask, through Jesus’ name, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

6

For Better or Worse

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved (Psalm 55:22, ESV).

As much as we may wish for a day in this lifetime when everything negative finally clears and miraculously remains that way for all eternity, that day is not coming. As long as we are on this earth, we will each experience times of challenge as well as cheerfulness; seasons of adversity along with seasons of joy. So if we expect to wisely and faithfully manage the burdens that God chooses to appoint us, we need to prepare for navigating the hard times in the best possible way.

Because believe it or not, if we’re not careful, we could even succeed at making bad days worse.

We do it through . . .

Worry. Prayerlessness and anxiety steal the peace of God that would blow your mind if you’d let it. His peace “surpasses all understanding,” and is able to “guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Nothing is gained by pacing back and forth, sitting up all night, fretting your way through all the possible outcomes. “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature” (Matthew 6:27, NKJV)? Worrying only makes things worse. As does . . .

Striving. Doers can work up as much needless trouble as worriers. The drive to fix things, force interactions, or consider yourself the only one who’s able to handle what’s wrong, is sure to put you out ahead of God’s timing in handling the matter His way. “The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20, NKJV). It only introduces more problems.

Gossip. Talking things out can be good, between those who are involved in the issue, but the answers you need for your situation are vertical solutions, not horizontal ones. In widening the field of participants and telling everyone what’s been done to you and by whom, you’re seeking your own support and affirmation, not God’s will and wisdom. And what’s worse, you’re sinning in the process.

Bitterness. When you don’t draw on the grace of God by continuing to love, serve, forgive, and stay united, the only avenue left to you is one that leads toward becoming hard, dry, cold, and bitter. The Bible says to “see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15, ESV).

Despair. This is the worst—giving up, pulling back in isolation, not even choosing to care anymore. At all costs, guard yourself against the negative focus of despondency. An answer to your problem exists, but it’s not waiting for you at the dead-end of despair.

If you’re carrying a heavy burden today, but can’t quickly call to mind the last time you knelt alone behind closed doors and took it to God in prayer, you are fighting what He is wanting to do in you rather than finding Him sufficient for your need. The burdens in your life do not need to be diluted as much as they need to be offloaded in prayer to the One who loves you. Prayer is always the good, better, and best response to any bad situation.

Journal

  • Does one of these five alternatives describe how you’re handling your current burdens? How can you tell?
  • What would help you stay more devoted to prayer? How could you implement this practice?

Pray

Heavenly Father, I believe You appoint every part of my life, even those that are harder than others. Today I ask that You accomplish whatever You desire for these ordeals I’m enduring as I cooperate with You in prayer. Guard me from worry, from striving, from seeking my help in others before You, from turning away from You in bitterness, or from despairing of Your goodness. Keep me steadfast here where Your work is done, in ever deeper places of prayer, in Jesus’ name, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

6

E-Devotional: Relentless Goodness

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6, ESV). 

If you’re a follower of Jesus-if by faith you have turned from your sins and received His forgiveness-I have news for you.

God is after you.

He’s still pursuing you. Wanting more of you. Hungry to make sure you’re experiencing every blessing that His Son died and rose again to give you, for His glory.

It doesn’t matter how defeated or discouraged you are today. He’s still after you. All that matters is that you are His. “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said, “and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Is that you? Following Him? Not perfectly, of course, but following? Sometimes stumbling, but still getting up? And following? And trying again? And wanting to follow Him even better, even more?

Then God Himself is also following you. He’s on your trail. He’s after you. Promising you that your best days are still ahead of you, no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. Your greatest days of usefulness and service to God are still in the future, because “goodness” (defined as bounty and blessing) and “mercy” (lovingkindness and favor) will be on your heels and hunting you down every second of the time.    Can’t be true, you say . . .

Too many failures. “I’ve failed God too many times. No way am I on His first team anymore. I’ve blown it. I have areas in my life where I’ve never gotten victory. Even today I failed again. I’m on the shelf from here on out, and I know it.”4

Too many years. “It’s too late for me. Too much water under the bridge. It’s fine for those who came to Christ as kids or in college or whatever. But I showed up late to the party. The best I can do is just sneak into a back corner of heaven.”

Too many others. “I don’t have any big-time gifts. I don’t have any great abilities. Other people have training and know what they’re doing. Not me. I’m just not that important. It might even be wrong for me to get in their way.”

Too many obstacles. “I’ve got so many things going on in my life right now-work, family, health stuff, all of it-I don’t really have time. And I don’t see it changing anytime soon.”

Believe me, I’ve heard all these lies and dodges before. They’re as old as time, because the enemy will do anything to convince you that God has lost the scent and given up on you.

But just you try staying hidden behind these shadowy half-truths. Just you try imagining you’re out of sight, out of mind. Just you try giving in to the unreality that your home and heart are off His grid, out of His hunting zone.

Because, listen. Can you hear it? It’s the panting of the hound of heaven, running full-speed, headed your way, chasing you down. Following you “all the days” of your life-not to rip into you, but to restore you and refresh you, to overwhelm all of life’s badness with His “goodness.”

Journal
• Which of these fears and excuses have sometimes convinced you that God’s “goodness and mercy” are not coming for you anymore? 
• How different would your life be, even today, if you wholeheartedly embraced this truth?

Pray
Pray 
Lord God, I believe Your Word, even when I doubt myself. I believe what You have done to claim me as Your own, even when I too often resist You and choose my own way. Thank You for loving me enough to want me experiencing the full blessing of relationship with You. And thank You for relentlessly pursuing me until I’m actively living in it. In Jesus’ name, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

6

E-Devotional: Steadfast Under Pressure

You know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:3, ESV).

If you could have anything you wanted in life, what would it be? What would make your life just perfect?

People have been dreaming up answers to that question for centuries, and have either been doing their best to pursue it or bemoaning the fact that they missed it. But if they knew their Bible well enough, the answers to that question would all be the same.

What would make their life perfect would be “steadfastness” having “its full effect” (James 1:4).

Different versions of the Bible use a range of synonyms to try to capture the heart of this word used in James 1:3-4. Some call it “endurance” (NASB). Some call it “perseverance” (NIV). Some call it “patience” (NKJV). The original Greek word-hupomeno-is consistent, and it represents the most awesome thing God can give to a Christian. It’s everything you could ever want in life.

Hupomeno is a compound word made up of two parts: hupo (meaning “under”) and meno (meaning “remain”). It’s the idea of remaining under; staying put; not wriggling away from the many pressure points in life.

Our lives are overrun with things that exert pressure. Our marriages can cause pressure, just as singleness can cause pressure. Managing work and family demands creates pressure. The effects of aging add additional pressure. And when not strained enough by these routine forms of pressure, here come those extraordinarily unpredictable forms of pressure, like health problems, children in trouble, car breakdowns, and those seemingly random weeks when a string of household appliances goes out, one after the other.

And the greater the pressure, the more you’ll wish for any way to get out from under it. Run, quit, bail. But getting out from under is not really what you want . . . because hupomeno is the funnel through which all Christian virtue flows. Every good thing that God wants to infuse into your life comes through growing your ability to “remain under” the pressure.

If pastors would remain in their churches when the challenges become heaviest, they’d experience the best thing God wants to give them. If spouses wouldn’t decide they can’t take it anymore, or if parents would stick it out with their prodigal kids, they’d experience what only hupomeno can produce in their lives. As James said it, “Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).

There’s not nearly as much scholarly debate on what the word for “perfect” means. It means “perfect.” And it leads toward being “complete”-so that when someone asks what you need, you can honestly tell them, “Nothing.” When others are complaining about what’s missing in their lives, you already know you’ve got everything that matters. God has given you the ability to remain steady when under pressure-to remain confident in faith, in Him-and nothing can stop somebody like that.

The worst decisions you’ll ever make in life are quitter decisions. (I should know; I’ve made my share.) Your best decisions, however, will be the ones God enabled you to make, where you stayed bolted in place when the trials were pressing down on you the hardest and you refused to walk away. Because God intends for your trials to transform your conduct and character. And when you persevere . . . when you endure . . . when you grind out with patience what’s required in handling those moments maturely . . . you’ll come away with the greatest thing in the world. “Steadfastness.”

And trust me, it will be “perfect.”

Journal
• Compare any decisions you’ve made to quit with those times when you endured day after day.
• Identify what “steadfastness” would look like in your life today and in the coming week.

Pray
Father, thank You for wanting me complete, where I don’t lack for a thing. And thank You for creating and allowing those environments where You can perform this level of work in my heart. This is what You’ve made me for-to bring you glory by what You alone can produce in my weak, fragile, sinful self. Lead me to surrender my desire for comfort and relief so that I can stand strong in You. Make me “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing,” through the steadfast name of Jesus, amen.

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

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E-Devotional: What God’s Been Doing

The One Constant

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, ESV).

Name one thing you “always” find yourself doing, something that’s “constantly” part of your day.

How often would giving thanks be an honest answer to that?

Perhaps you’d say you’re constantly talking on the telephone. Or constantly busy, constantly working. Maybe you feel as though you’re always thinking about the future, making plans for what you hope to see happen next, a mixture of both worry and optimism. You may always be glued to the news, or picking up after your kids, or stuck in traffic trying to get home. What are your own particular always things?

According to Scripture, one of the most important things to be always, constantly doing is being thankful. Not in a sappy greeting-card, rose-colored denial of reality. Not in a pretentious attempt to keep from admitting that life can be hard and upsetting. To be giving thanks always and constantly means simply maintaining an overall, ongoing attitude of thanksgiving . . . because gratitude is the attitude that sets the altitude for living. It is often the difference between being overwhelmed by what just happened and being excited for what’s just ahead. 

You may counter, however, that this kind of heart and mind is practically impossible to keep up. Not everything is easy to be happy about. Not every week comes equipped with enough suitable “gratitude” material to work with. But one of the secrets found in Paul’s words to the Thessalonians and (more importantly) his example toward them is how he deliberately thanked God “always for all of you.” In order to stay constantly thankful, you should routinely be giving thanks for the people in your life.

All the people in your life.

Not just your favorite people-the ones who are so much fun to be around-but also those whose names you don’t particularly enjoy seeing pop up on your phone. Not just your most encouraging leaders and coworkers, but also those who push you into doing more than seems reasonable, perhaps far beyond your comfort zone or capability. Not just people from your own generation and culture who are easier to relate to, but also those who are a little harder to get to know and understand. Not just your closest friends and family members, but also those who, for whatever reason, insist on being your enemies.

Relationships sour when we focus on faults; they flourish when we keep the thankfulness fire burning. Nothing comes much easier to us than first noticing, then rehashing, the parts of someone else’s comments or personality style that make them almost intolerable to deal with.

But in order to be the kind of person that you yourself truly want to be, you must constantly stay reminded that God is sovereign over the universe, totally in control of everything. Nothing comes into your life that He doesn’t allow; nothing comes into your life that He won’t transform into something for your good. That’s why you can be thankful to Him for how He’s using your boss, your brother-in-law, your mom, or a former spouse-difficult and demanding though they may be-to shape you into the person you’d never become otherwise, without them.

Few things dilute and drain our hope more quickly than ungratefulness. That’s why you can never miss a day. Do it always. And never miss an opportunity. Do it for everybody.

Journal
• What are you having a hard time being thankful for right now?
• Think of one way that God might be growing your heart through a difficult person or situation. Bring this fresher perspective into your praying today.

Pray
Lord, You are good not to make life as easy as possible. You are good to bring people and circumstances across my path that help strengthen my heart, deepen my trust, and prepare me for what You know is coming next. Help me stay more humble through this current season than the last, and through this coming season than now, always growing in gratitude for You and for the people who share the road with me. Show me how to stay thankful, in Jesus’ name, amen. 

— James MacDonald

For more from James MacDonald and the “Walk in the Word” Bible teaching ministry, visit WalkInTheWord.com.

 

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