Daily Faith Reminders (31-40)

 

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,

that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:16

 

Having a ‘high priest’ may seem strange to you, but we have one – Jesus! That’s what the author of Hebrews is talking about in this verse: In the Old Testament, the high priest entered the most holy place in the temple each year on the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for himself and all the people for sins committed during the year. In this way, fellowship with God was restored and maintained.

 

But now, Jesus, our sin-bearing Savior, is Himself the one who atones for sin. He understands our weaknesses, and invites us to draw near with confidence – not shrinking away in fear, and to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need. Do you feel the need for His mercy and grace today?

 

God’s holiness is absolute – He is separated completely from sin. It can seem daunting to come to Him when we sense our unworthiness. But get this: He sympathizes with us, because He has been tempted just like we are, yet He never sinned. He understands, and He cleanses. Are you needy? Then receive His mercy and grace today.

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And this is the confidence that we have toward him,

that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

1 John 5:14

 

Prayer is a wonderful respite in a world that is up in arms, a soothing salve when our eyes are filled with images of suffering. It invites us to have confidence – not that everything will magically ‘work out,’ but that if we ask according to His will, He will hear – and the next verse adds that if He hears us, we will have what we have requested from Him. How do you ask in prayer according to His will?

 

Simple: Ask for those things you know God wants. Prayer was never intended as a ‘divine rabbit’s foot,’ a sort of supernatural way to get what you want. It’s more about intimacy: Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you, James writes (4.8). The focus is not me, but Him. What does God want? This is the way Jesus prayed in Gethsemane: I want your will to be done, not Mine (Matt. 26.39, NLT).

 

The nearer you are to God – the closer you are to Him, the better you know His heart. Today, as you take time to pray, don’t start with your wants; start with His. He hears those prayers, and they stir His heart to respond. In a world fraught with uncertainty, this is our confidence.

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Do not fear, for I am with you;

Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.

I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,

Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41:10

 

The nation of Israel was facing captivity – and during those coming years of judgment, they would be prone to doubt God’s love for them, or their identity as His people. So Isaiah looks to that future day, and speaks God’s words of assurance to them: Do not fear, for I am with you.

 

In a parallel way, Christians today have a secure relationship with God. As with Israel, when we sin, judgment follows. But this is not a denial of God’s love; in fact, it is the proof of His love (Heb. 12.5-11)! And in those moments when the enemy whispers doubts of that love, these words echo in our hearts. Don’t look around for others to trust in; I am your God! I will strengthen, help, and uphold you! And I will do it all for your good!

 

If you can, imagine being an Israelite, captive in Babylon for most of your life, wondering if God remembered you or not. Then you read this verse, and your faith is aroused, your hope is restored. And as history tells us, it wasn’t just an idle wish: It was a sure promise.

 

That is your God. All other gods are fashioned in time, and cannot save. Our God is eternal, unchanging, and loving. Do not fear. Put your trust in Him.

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Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

Ephesians 6:10-11

 

In this world, evil takes on visible form, but the unseen power behind it is the devil. He is a schemer: he plots our misery and destruction. He rejoices in our pain and death. The whole world lies under his power (1 John 5.19). He goes about always seeking more lives to ‘devour’ (1 Peter 5.8). How is a Christian to stand against such an overwhelming force? It will never be easy…but with help, it can be done!

 

The ’secret’ is to be strong ‘in the Lord,’ and ‘in the strength of His might.’ Notice that this has nothing to do with how strong I am, or how hard I try. I lay claim to the strength provided by the Creator of the universe, the omnipotent, sovereign “I Am”!

 

Sometimes the greatest ‘foes’ we face are hidden in the dark shadows of our hearts. The dungeon of depression, the chains of addiction, the perils of arrogance and pride. But victory begins when we put on God’s armor – it’s laid out in Ephesians 6: the ‘helmet’ of salvation, the ‘sword’ of the Spirit (God’s Word), the ‘shield’ of faith. And our weakness turns to strength as we ‘stand firm.’

 

No, it won’t be easy. But make today a victory. Put on God’s armor, and stand!

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We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield.

In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33.20-22

 

Perhaps you can remember a time you waited impatiently for someone to arrive: Maybe you were a child, and it was a loved relative who was coming. Maybe you were in love, and you were longing to feel your sweetheart’s arms. Maybe your children and grandchildren were coming, and you couldn’t wait to embrace them.

 

That’s the kind of feeling the psalmist expresses, as God’s people wait expectantly for Him. Because they trust in Him, there is anticipation: In this world, with its noise and confusion, His help and His shield of protection is something we desire. We rejoice just thinking of Him!

 

The real key to this unwavering passion for God, however, is grounded in His unfailing love. Most of us know what failing love feels like: A close friend, perhaps even someone who had pledged undying love to us, turns on us. In that moment, as though we’re falling, we reach out for something unfailing – and that is God’s love.

 

Today, grab hold of God’s unfailing love. It will never fail you. And put your hope completely in Him.

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You will keep him in perfect peace,

Whose mind is stayed on You,

Because he trusts in You.

Isaiah 26.3

 

Perfect peace. Doesn’t that sound good?! To many, it also sounds impossible. The adversities of life have taken their toll. The wounds may be invisible to others, but the pain runs deep. Those we hoped to lean on are gone, and the uncertainties of life have brought fear and anxiety.

 

In Isaiah 26, the prophet points his readers – who were facing a difficult future – to the coming day when the Messiah would reign. In that day, those who were steadfast in their focus on the Lord, trusting in Him alone, would experience perfect peace – not a ‘pretend’ peace, something for show, but genuine, complete peace.

 

The ‘moral of the prophecy’? Those who want to experience some of that ‘kingdom living’ now can practice that kind of focus: The antidote to despair in this present, troubled world is to have your mind stayed on God. It starts with today, then tomorrow, then the next day. Peace progressively begins to replace fear.

 

So right now, take some time to focus on your God. Think of His power, His love, and His faithfulness. And trust in Him.

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The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed,

A stronghold in times of trouble;

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,

For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 9.9-10

 

In this triumphant song of praise and thanksgiving to God for His righteous judgment, the psalmist declares that just as God punishes the wicked, so too He watches over and protects the righteous. In times of trouble, God is our ‘stronghold’ – the term brings to mind a secure fortress that is safe from the enemy’s assaults.

 

But verse 10 qualifies this haven of protection: It is for those who know Your name, who put their trust in You. To “know” the Lord’s name refers to intimate knowledge – this is not just a cursory knowledge of God like a politician who might end a speech with “God bless America,” but one who is familiar with God – we might say ‘on a first-name basis’! You get to ‘know’ God in this way by seeking Him.

 

God is not hiding from us. Indeed, since sin entered the world, it is we who have been hiding from Him, and He who has been seeking us! If we seek Him, He will find us, and in our time together we will come to know Him better each day.

 

Seek the Lord today. Call His name. Come into His stronghold in these times of trouble.

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Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord

And whose trust is the Lord.

For he will be like a tree planted by the water,

That extends its roots by a stream

And will not fear when the heat comes;

But its leaves will be green,

And it will not be anxious in a year of drought

Nor cease to yield fruit.

Jeremiah 17.7-8

 

Jeremiah’s words here echo Psalm 1; a ‘blessed’ or ‘happy’ person is one whose trust is in the Lord. The picture of a tree planted by water, with roots that draw life-giving moisture, so that even in the heat of summer or a time of drought, it always has green leaves and bears fruit, is a vivid illustration of God’s reservoir of goodness.

 

We often think of God’s provisions as material things, but those are secondary to Jeremiah. God’s blessings are first in the heart and the spirit, where inner springs of divine ‘water’ sustain us. We all feel ‘spiritually dry’ at times – God seems distant from us, as He would have when Israel was in captivity. But that’s when those ‘deep springs’ enable us to stay strong, and bear fruit.

 

The Living Bible paraphrase of Ephesians 3.17b reads, May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. My late father-in-law, Charlie, loved that phrase: It captured for him a resource that never ran dry, and always satisfied. Trust in the Lord today, and ‘let your roots go down deep into the soil of His marvelous love.’

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And without faith it is impossible to please Him,

for he who comes to God must believe that He is

and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11.6

 

In the great ‘faith chapter’ of the New Testament, this verse ‘lays it on the line:’ It is impossible to please God without faith. You have to come to Him believing – and specifically believing that He is (God exists, and He is who He says He is), and that He rewards those who seek Him.

 

What is your ‘idea’ of God – how do you picture Him? For many, He’s like an angry tyrant, or a ‘hall monitor’ just waiting to catch us ‘breaking the rules’ and rap us over the knuckles! No doubt, Scripture is clear that God is holy – He is separated from sin, and sin brings His judgment. But the essential emotion of God toward us is love – love of a perfect father who desires the best for his children.

 

In the crucible of everyday life, when you remember God, remember that He is a rewarder. Imagine that! The holy God who cannot and will not look lightly on sin, will reward us when we seek Him. Have you faltered in your walk with the Lord? Today, come to God, seek Him, and believe that He will reward you. It is in difficult times that our loving Father in heaven takes greatest pleasure in blessing us as we seek Him.

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…He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross,

so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness;

for by His wounds you were healed.

For you were continually straying like sheep,

but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.

1 Peter 2.24-25

 

In these verses, Peter draws from the famous words in Isaiah 53.5-6. What Jesus did for us on the cross 2000 years ago is greater than we’ll ever fully grasp in time – it will take eternity for us to begin to appreciate that kind of love. The eternal Son of God left his home in heaven to enter time and space on this little earth, to rescue lost souls from the effects of sin. All we like sheep had gone astray…but the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all… so that by His wounds we were healed.

 

While the Christians to whom Peter wrote had trusted in Christ, they were facing severe persecution. So Peter reminds them of the suffering of their Savior. He refers to Jesus as the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. The Greek word translated ‘Guardian’ is often translated ‘Overseer’ – referring to spiritual leaders in the church who ‘watch over’ Christians. Our Savior is watching over us as a shepherd does his sheep: He saved us, made us His own, and now He is guarding us.

 

Well might we echo David’s famous words in Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want!

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