I’m not sure how things have been going for you lately but chances are that sometime, in either your recent past or, in your not too distant future, you may well have some difficulties. It is my belief that if you are a child of God and it is your desire to please Him then you will find yourself facing a difficulty or two in your time here.
It seems quite clear that the main purpose of the enemy of our souls, is to use these difficulties to slow us down, take us out of the race, have us become despondent, have us lose hope and lose heart. To have us question God, to have us question His love for us. To have the free ones re-shackled. Shackled by envy, shame, guilt, fear, failure and despondency.
I know I’ve been there before, I know that some of you, my friends, have been there too. Sometimes we look at those around who do not desire to please God living well and we start to wonder what is the use? They seem to have an easy life. Why is it that we, who are on the winning side, don’t see the same life of ease? Why do some of us see so much suffering? Why do we see our loved ones suffer? Why are we abused, threatened and harmed.
I believe that the enemy will use whatever means necessary to try to dissuade us from our purpose. I believe that he not only knows our weaknesses but will play on them as long as we let him. One of my favourite Psalms (73) deals with some of the questions above and some of the feelings I have been known to have from time to time. Maybe you have too.
My hope is that in reading this today you will become aware of a few things, not the least of which is this; God is in control.
It seems to be such a throw away statement. Sometimes it feels like a placating statement. Sometimes it appears to be said by people who have never experienced the depths of pain and suffering that you have. Or at least that’s what we say to ourselves when we are experiencing the pointy end of pain. But do you know what? Whether or not that friend understands the depth of your suffering or pain right now – that doesn’t make the “God is in control” statement any less true. God is in control. If you think your friends who tell you this don’t understand, then maybe you are right — but God does and just maybe He’s using them to speak to you through that so called throw-away line. So the next time you do hear it — I hope you will think of this Psalm and that you will let it sink in,
sink in through your ears,
sink into your mind,
sink down into your heart.
The Tragedy of the Wicked, and the Blessedness of Trust in God
A Psalm of Asaph.
Truly God is good to Israel,
To such as are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled;
My steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the boastful,
When I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For there are no pangs in their death,
But their strength is firm.
They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.
Therefore pride serves as their necklace;
Violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge with abundance;
They have more than heart could wish.
They scoff and speak wickedly concerning oppression;
They speak loftily.
They set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue walks through the earth.
Therefore his people return here,
And waters of a full cup are drained by them.
And they say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the ungodly,
Who are always at ease;
They increase in riches.
Surely I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And washed my hands in innocence.
For all day long I have been plagued,
And chastened every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have been untrue to the generation of Your children.
When I thought how to understand this,
It was too painful for me—
Until I went into the sanctuary of God;
Then I understood their end.
Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to destruction.
Oh, how they are brought to desolation, as in a moment!
They are utterly consumed with terrors.
As a dream when one awakes,
So, Lord, when You awake,
You shall despise their image.
Thus my heart was grieved,
And I was vexed in my mind.
I was so foolish and ignorant;
I was like a beast before You.
Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish;
You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry.
But it is good for me to draw near to God;
I have put my trust in the Lord GOD,
That I may declare all Your works.
Maybe what shackles you is trouble that has come in the form of illness, maybe the illness is yours, maybe it’s the illness of a loved one, a child, a spouse, a close friend or a parent. Maybe you are shackled by a sense of failure over the collapse of a marriage, maybe it is loneliness, maybe it is financial difficulty, maybe you are overworked and underpaid, maybe you are subjected to ridicule in your work place. Maybe the family/life/work balance has you stretched rice paper thin, maybe you have a new baby and at the moment you are suffering from a lack of sleep. Maybe you are suffering because you are trying to do what is right in the face of those who want to pursue wrong. Maybe you have lost a loved one. Maybe you have lost a dream. Maybe a promise has been broken, a valuable relationship or friendship has ended. The hardships we face can be as different as we are one from another.
But my friend whatever it is that is troubling you today, whatever has shackled you, don’t lose heart, please don’t turn aside, don’t stumble, and if you must gaze at the wicked don’t do so in envy. You should be aware their trouble-free times are short-lived. But your trouble-free times are yet to come and child of God, let this sink in, your trouble-free times are not only ahead of you but they will also be eternal. With this truth in mind you need to shake off those shackles. One day you will enter a place and time when eternity stretches before you — a trouble-free, shackle free eternity.
So my dear friend, next time you find yourself in circumstances that conspire to cause you to look around at the supposed prosperity and ease of the wicked, please remember; this is not it for you, neither is this it for them. Shake off those shackles around your ankles and rejoin the race that is set before you.
Keep your eyes fixed on the One who loves you far beyond your ability to comprehend, the One who has loved you since before you existed, and the One who loves you all the way into and through eternity. It is good for you to draw near to Him. Drawing near to Him will give you a better perspective, He will renew your focus and your strength.
And then, perhaps, instead of gazing enviously at the apparently trouble-free life those around you lead, you should consider praying for them. While your future is bright, the same can not be said for them.
Disclaimer: If you are singing that Mary Mary song “Shackles” now – it’s not really my fault. I didn’t mention it, well unless you are going to count now.