What Sustains You in Difficult Times?

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What sustains you?

The Oxford Dictionary defines sustain as to “strengthen or support physically or mentally; bear (the weight of an object) without breaking or falling.”

Sustain is defined by dictionary.com as “to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure; to keep (a person, the mind, the spirits, etc.) from giving way, as under trial or affliction.”

What gives you the physical and mental strength to bear difficulty without breaking?

What supports you and keeps you from giving way under the weight of trials or affliction?

What sustains you when troubles come?

In his book Soul Keeping, John Ortberg says, ”Sooner or later, your world will fall apart. What will matter then is the soul you have constructed”.

David, the psalmist King, knew this.

In his psalms, we see David’s soul under construction. He writes of battles and betrayals, of disease and despair, and of searching for God in the midst of life’s most difficult moments. In each trial, David learned through experience to trust God’s faithful love more and more.

David discovered that his help, his sustainer, is not a what, but a Who.

God is my helper;
the Lord is the sustainer of my life.
Psalm 54:4

David learned to trust in God’s character in times of trouble, the character revealed in God’s name.

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth.
Psalm 86:15

The Lord is a refuge for the persecuted,
a refuge in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you
because you have not abandoned
those who seek you, Lord.
Psalm 9:9-10

David learned to talk to God, to share the anguish of his soul and to ask for what he needed.

achievement-action-adventure-209209Listen to my prayer, O God,
do not ignore my plea;
hear me and answer me.
My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught
because of what my enemy is saying,
because of the threats of the wicked;
for they bring down suffering on me
and assail me in their anger.
My heart is in anguish within me;
. . .
Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
Psalm 55:1-4a, 22 NIV

I call on you, God,
because you will answer me;
listen closely to me; hear what I say.
Psalm 17:6

David learned to talk to his soul, to remind himself to deliberately place his hope in God and to choose praise in the midst of turmoil.

Why, my soul, are you so dejected?
Why are you in such turmoil?
Put your hope in God, for I will still praise him,
my Savior and my God.
Psalm 42:5

But as for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.
Psalm 71:14 NIV

David learned the one thing necessary to construct a soul that can withstand troubled times: to seek God.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then I will be confident.
One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27:1, 3-5 NIV

David constructed a soul that depended completely on God to sustain him in difficult times.

We can too.

When troubles come, we can first look up to God, our Helper, instead of frantically looking around for help.

We can choose to trust in God’s character and His faithful love.

We can talk to God honestly about our struggles and ask Him for what we need.

We can preach the truth to ourselves, building a foundation of hope in God that can withstand the storm of feelings that rise up in times of crisis.

We can seek God in the midst of difficulty, orienting our soul toward Him by reading His Word to remind us of who He is and taking refuge in the shelter of His faithful love.

Like David, we can see every trial as an opportunity to seek God, to trust God more, and to fortify our souls with His faithful love and truth.

We can trust God to sustain us, no matter what comes our way.

psalm 54-4

 

 

Stories of the Rescued

On our journey, we will face difficulties that cannot be remedied with human wisdom or skill.

We are not alone.

Psalm 107 tells the story of the suffering and rescue of four groups of people.

1. Wanderers.

Wanderers aimlessly follow the wrong path looking for home.
Wanderers suffer hunger and hopelessness.

Some wandered in the desolate wilderness,
finding no way to a city where they could live.
They were hungry and thirsty;
their spirits failed within them. (Psalm 107:4-5 CSB)

2. Prisoners.

Prisoners experience the consequences of rebelling against God’s Word and despising God’s counsel.
Prisoners suffer darkness and chains.

Others sat in darkness and gloom—
prisoners in cruel chains—
because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the counsel of the Most High. (Psalm 107:10-11 CSB)

3. Fools.

Fools are afflicted with physical suffering because of their rebellious ways.
Fools suffer pain.

Fools suffered affliction
because of their rebellious ways and their iniquities.
They loathed all food
and came near the gates of death. (Psalm 107:17-18 CSB)

4. Workers.

Workers go about normal daily business when a sudden storm beyond their skill to navigate overtakes them.
Workers suffer uncertainty and fear.

Others went to sea in ships,
conducting trade on the vast water.
They saw the LORD’s works,
his wondrous works in the deep.
He spoke and raised a stormy wind
that stirred up the waves of the sea.
Rising up to the sky, sinking down to the depths,
their courage melting away in anguish,
they reeled and staggered like a drunkard,
and all their skill was useless. (Psalm 107:23-27 CSB)

Can you relate to these stories?

Somewhere along our journey, we will experience, or see others experience, hopelessness or darkness, pain or illness, uncertainty or fear.

So what solution does Psalm 107 give for this kind of suffering?

Cry out to God.

Psalm 107 tells us that wanderers, prisoners, fools, and workers alike cried out to God in their suffering.

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble;
he rescued them from their distress. (Psalm 107:6 CSB)

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble;
he saved them from their distress. (Psalm 107:13, 19 CSB)

Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress. (Psalm 107:28 CSB)

God is our deliverer.

In our trouble, He can rescue.
In our trouble, He can save.
In our trouble, He can bring us out.

For the wanderer who cries out, He will lead them by the right path to a city where they can find a home.

For the prisoner who cries out, He will break their chains and lead them out of darkness.

For the fool who cries out, He will send forth His word and heal them.

For the worker who cries out, He will still storms to a whisper and guide them to the harbor they long for.

And how do the rescued respond?

They give thanks.

Let them give thanks to the LORD
for his faithful love
and his wondrous works for all humanity. (Psalm 107:8, 15, 21, 31 CSB)

Some difficulties are consequences of our own choices.
Some difficulties are simply a result of living on this broken planet.

In every difficulty, God is our deliverer.

His faithful love is unconditional.

His faithful love endures forever.

He is good.

He is our Redeemer.

God doesn’t just rescue us from difficult circumstances. He redeems us from the power of the enemy. He buys back every despicable thing we’ve ever done, having already paid the price for our sins on the cross. He blesses us with new life today, and eternal life to come.

Let’s join the rescued in giving thanks to the LORD and telling others what He has done.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his faithful love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD proclaim
that he has redeemed them from the power of the foe (Psalm 107:1-2 CSB)

Father, You are my deliverer. Your faithful love endures forever. Thank You for the reminder today that You can rescue, You can save, and You can bring me out of every difficulty. You are good. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Psalm 56

If suggests a possibility.

When implies a certainty.

When I am afraid,
I will trust in you. (v. 3)

Not if I am afraid.
But when I am afraid.

Fear is a certainty on this broken planet.

Sin separated us from the safety God intended in the Garden. Fear replaced fellowship with God as Adam and Eve scrambled to hide themselves and cover their actions.

What are we afraid of?

We fear rejection, loss of reputation, loss of resources, isolation, pain, and, most of all, death.

So when David writes about fear, he writes about when, not if.
He writes about the only antidote to fear: trust in God.

When I am afraid. Fear happens.
And when it does, I will choose to trust in God.

How does David know that trust dispels fear?

He knows God’s Word.

In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me? (v. 4)

When we study God’s Word like David did, we will know God’s character. We will know His love for us. We will know His plans for us. We will learn to have an eternal perspective on our circumstances.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
When fear comes, I choose to trust.

In God I trust; I will not be afraid.
When fear comes, I choose to trust.
And when I choose to trust, I don’t have to stay afraid.

God’s Word tells us not to be afraid of what people can do to us.

David asked “What can mortal man do to me?” Man can only kill the body, not the soul. Eternity with God is secure for those who know Him.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Matthew 10:28

Paul encourages us with the truth that no one can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus. With His love, we can endure hardship, persecution, and the sword.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39

When David was afraid, he traded his fear for trust in God. We know David’s fear was intense because he cried tears as he called on God for help.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me. (v. 8-9 ESV)

God sees and values our tears. He keeps a record of them. Our tears and our fears are important to God. He does not dismiss them.

God is for us.
We can trust Him.

Fear happens.
When, not if.
I love the honesty of God’s Word.
I love that the truth that meets us where we live and shows us the way to the Father.

I love that God’s Word doesn’t make fear a small thing, a weak thing. Fear is treated as an important emotion to recognize. We aren’t told to just get over it. We are shown the way to bring our fear to our loving Father and exchange it for trust in Him.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you.

In God I trust; I will not be [stay] afraid.

This I know, that God is for me.

I will present my thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered me from death
and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God in the light of life. (v. 12-13)

Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank you for showing me what to do when I’m afraid. When I am afraid, I will trust in You. Thank you that no one and no circumstance can separate me from Your love. This I know: You are for me. You have delivered me and given me the gift of salvation through Your Son, Jesus. I want to walk with You today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

psalm 56

The Journey: What to Do When You Get Stuck

I get stuck sometimes.

And when I get stuck, my responses are revealing.

Sometimes I get stuck in traffic, and instead of trusting God’s timing, I let resentment grow and give birth to anger at others I blame for dictating the pace of my journey.

Sometimes I get stuck because of my own choices. Instead of choosing the path of wisdom, I let a craving for adventure send me rushing off the path, only to find myself spinning my wheels in mire and mud.

robert-hickerson-38585-unsplash.jpgSometimes I get stuck in ruts and routines. Instead of navigating my day with purpose and awareness, I just go through the motions, failing to notice beauty or need.

When I find myself feeling trapped by the actions of others or by my own choices, the real-time condition of my heart is revealed.

Anger, rebellion, or apathy in my attitude or actions are signs that I’ve neglected my heart, that I’ve gone headlong into my day rather than stopping to spend time with my Father.

I need a love refill.

And sometimes I find myself paralyzed by a sudden health or relationship crisis, not knowing what to do next. When I find myself caught in circumstances out of my control, fear can freeze me in place.

steve-halama-369625-unsplash.jpgI need a love reminder.

So when I get stuck, what do I do?

I turn to God’s Word.

I remind myself that God’s love is available to me not because of what I can do, but because of what Jesus did for me on the cross. This perfect love reached me not when I was at my best, but when I was at my very worst — trapped in my sin, helpless, with no way out. The unfailing love of my Father rescued me not when I was worthy or making progress or doing good things, but at the right time, when my need was the greatest, when I was stuck in my sin. God’s amazing love never fails.

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8 CSB

I remember Jesus’ words to a group of believers who were stuck, who were doing the right things, but had neglected this first love.

I know your works….But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. 
Revelation 2:2, 4-5a CSB

russia-1070170_1920.jpgSo, when I get stuck, I do these things:

I stop and examine my heart.

I listen for my Father’s voice.

I remember the height of His unfailing love, a love that can reach me no matter how far I fall.

I turn around and choose to go God’s way rather than my own. I repent, confessing any anger or apathy or self-reliance and ask my Father to renew my heart.

And I do what I did at first.

I do what I did when I was first intoxicated with the love of God. In those days, a friend showed me a simple way to start my day with God’s Word. I look at the date on the calendar and read the Proverb that matches that number. Then I read the same chapter number in Psalms, add 30 to the number and read that Psalm, then keep adding 30 until I’ve read five Psalms. (For example, on the 16th I would read Proverbs 16, Psalm 16, Psalm 46, Psalm 76, Psalm 106, and Psalm 136.)

wheels-1813465_1920Like me, the psalmists got stuck and cried out for help. The psalms remind me of the character of God, and they remind me to rely on His unfailing love rather than spinning my wheels trying to rescue myself. The psalms give me words to shape my worship and my prayers when I can’t find my own. And the proverbs show me the difference between foolishness and wisdom and help me choose God’s way.

This return to Psalms and Proverbs, to the rhythms of the Bible’s songs and practical wisdom, allows me to re-establish habits of the Spirit that restore my heart and help me find my way once more to the path of joy.

What can you do when you get stuck?

Stop.
Listen.
Remember.
Turn around.
Do what you did at first.

cat-1708658_1920When you get stuck, tend to your heart.

Spend time with your first love like you did at the beginning. Read God’s Word and listen to His voice. Ask Him to show you what to do. Trust His unfailing love.

You don’t have to stay stuck.
Your Father will make a way out for you.
Follow Him.

Let me experience your faithful love in the morning, for I trust in you.
Reveal to me the way I should go because I appeal to you. Psalm 143:8 CSB

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Psalm 32:8 NIV