Matthew 14:13 says that after Jesus had heard that John the Baptist had been killed, He went alone to a solitary place. Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m in that lonely place, pondering all that has been lost but at the same time remaining hopeful of future gain. It’s difficult following this “Man of sorrows.” We seem to pass from a day of Blessing so quickly into a week (year?) of cursing. We wonder in these lonely places if He is still there, if He still cares. Ancient mystics called this “The Dark Night of the Soul.” They learned in these times that great blessing awaits those who survive this “dark night.” They experience a closeness of fellowship with Christ they had never known before. So, I too will go with Jesus to that lonely place, even if we just sit in silence. In that place, at least I am near my Lord.
When Jacob’s sons returned from Egypt with grain, they also bore bad news. Jacob’s son Simeon was still in Egypt, being held captive until their youngest brother, Benjamin, returned with them to Egypt. Jacob became so upset that he staunchly refused to allow Benjamin to go. What he didn’t know was that his favorite son, Joseph, was still alive and wanted to meet his younger brother. In Jacob’s extreme anguish, he cried out, “Everything is against me!” (Gen. 42:36). How easily we get discouraged when we don’t have all the facts! Like Jacob, we despair and assume that everything is against us. The reality is far from this! God is still on His throne, and He is actively working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:29). Though we may become fearful, there is nothing that can shake the Lord. He knows the end from the beginning. He knows our weaknesses, and encourages us to rest upon His grace. And He knows that the things that so many times may seem to destroy us are actually making us more like Christ. Think about: Christ was destroyed on a cross so that He might reign forever and we might have all that God has planned for us! Don’t worry about the stuff of life! He’s got this, no matter how difficult it may seem.
So many people today act as if God is just like their dog. He always loves you (no matter what) and misses you when you’re gone. He can be a bit of a bother since you must feed, water, and walk him. He’ll always lick you when you need it (and when you don’t). How much is God really like that, though? It’s true that His love never fails, but doesn’t He get angry when we abuse and/or ignore Him? Do we honestly think that, like my dog, the Lord needs something from me? In reality He needs nothing. He depends on me for nothing. Even if He had a need, He wouldn’t ask me to fill it. The God who created and owns everything will not sit on my lap and let me pet Him. He will, however, let me crawl up into His bosom while He holds me and gently reassures me of His love. I don’t whip Him for being bad, but at times He disciplines me. When He does it’s always from love and for my good. God and my dog are very different, but He gives me the ability to love both. I’m thankful for that.
God allows trials for a reason: to change us. Throughout the Scriptures we are told about trials. They are common to everyone. How do you react to them?
Trials Happen Along the Way (v. 16)
We should expect them. Rachel was pregnant and knew she would deliver soon. She had nine months to prepare herself for this day. Trials happen to everyone. Rachel and Jacob were godly people but still experienced trials. Trials many times prove you are close to God.
Trials can be a Curse or a Blessing (vv. 17, 18)
Rachel saw this as a curse. Even though she was blessed with a son, she only focused on the pain. She named her son after her pain (Ben-Oni means “son of my sorrow” or “son of my pain”). Jacob saw this as a blessing. This son would continue the promise of God. He renamed him according to his blessing (Benjamin means “son of my right hand,” the place of blessing and esteem).
Trials Always End (vv. 19, 20)
Rachel’s trial ended in death. She gave her life for her son. She was buried near the place Jesus would be born (Bethlehem). She immediately went into the Lord’s presence. Jacob memorialized the trial’s end. He “set up a pillar” to remind him and others of this trial. This site would eventually fall in the lot to the tribe of Benjamin, Jacob’s new son. A church stands there today. Always remember the lessons learned during trials.
How do you react to trials? Are they a curse or a blessing? God has allowed them for the purpose of change. Are you letting Him work in you?
The Lord tells here of a day coming “when the plowman will overtake the reaper.” He’s describing some amazing days of plenty coming. Before these days could come, though, His people would have to endure hardship, destruction, and famine. This is the same in the spiritual world. God allows, and sometimes even brings, hardship and a time of lack spiritually to His people. When we grow weary of it, we begin to long for God. This leads us to cry out to Him in repentance. Then God hears and acts. When God blesses, He blesses abundantly! I believe the days of plenty are just ahead. We have suffered hardship and lack for a long time. As we long for God instead of just His blessing, He is going to respond. First we need to cry out to Him for mercy and in true repentance seek the Lord. Once this has happened, we will see a harvest of so many souls that the one who is preparing the soil for the seed of God’s Word will overtake the one who is reaping the harvest. This means that God’s people will be overcome by a sense of urgency to spread the Gospel. As they do, souls will flood into the kingdom. Pray with me that this day will come soon!
As the Israelites returned from 70 years of exile, they came back to find their holy city of Jerusalem in ruins. The prophet Nehemiah was sent by God to encourage and direct them to rebuild their beloved home, especially its walls, so that it might once again bring glory to their God. In the long list of all those who did work on the walls, we come across one specific group who was highly esteemed although their normal work was very menial. “The temple servants living in Ophel made repairs as far as the front of the Water Gate toward the east and the projecting tower” (Neh. 3:26 NASB). The Hebrew for “temple servants” is Nethinims and is translated as such in many older versions of our Bibles. Who were these people? They were descendants of the temple servants that kings David and Solomon had put in place during their respective reigns. They were not priests or Levites, the ones who were specifically chosen by God to handle the holy things of the temple. These “temple servants” were not given that duty. No, their responsibilities included the everyday chores within the precincts of the temple. They did the cleaning, repairs, maintenance, wood-cutting, and cooking. So what, you may say. The fact is, the Church of God today needs more of these. Nethinims seem to be a dying breed. So few are willing to serve the Lord in the simplest of ways where there is no benefit or reward from man. But God sees this labor of love. He will reward it one day. The Nethinims were recorded in His Word because they were faithful in even the smallest tasks. Are you willing to follow their example?
Two painful surgeries in less than a month. That’s what I’ve endured. Fear led me into the first, though I knew God would sustain me. Extreme pain such as I have never known before led me out of the second. I’m not the man I once was. I am weak, empty, broken, humbled, and tired. I feel so useless at times. The inability to lift even small amounts of weights makes me feel like less than a man. I wonder at times just how long it will be until I am whole again. Just how long is this road back to completeness, to wholeness, to ME again? Daily I find myself wondering: “Will I ever truly be me again?” I know that God had this all in His master plan. The difficulty is making sense of it all. The hardest part of the long road back is not being able to see around the many curves in the road or over the hills ahead of me. My vision is so impaired. I thank my God that His vision is never blocked. He sees clearly what lies ahead because He has already planned out the course which I am to take. He has gone ahead of me, and even now walks beside me. His healing hand rests upon my shoulder to provide comfort and encouragement when I just can’t take one more step. My pain, though intense at times, is nothing in comparison to the agony He endured for me at Calvary I will gladly endure whatever He purposes for me if it will only bring Him greater glory. Thy will be done, O Lord!