Our Fearsome Abba?

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“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

In a recent online search of Scriptures about God as Father, I encountered one person’s vehement reaction to the verse above—in particular, the idea of God as One who wants to be feared.

To be honest, I think we all tend to shy away from verses that mention the fear of the Lord—either because they seem to be inconsistent with our view of God as love, or because we’re afraid such verses will be misunderstood apart from the larger Biblical context, which is probably true. And yet it hurt to read this person’s reaction.

As my emotions bubbled up over their hurtful words toward my Daddy God, I had to remind myself that God’s Power and Truth are greater than man’s misunderstandings—that’s He’s perfectly capable of defending Himself and revealing Himself to whomever He wishes in whatever timing His superior wisdom dictates. And yet I felt compelled to examine and put to words how I personally reconcile the seemingly discordant attributes of Father God.

How, for example, can one Person embody uncompromising holiness—which requires judgment and justice—while, at the same time, allowing mercy and forgiveness of sins? What does it mean to both love and fear God, and how can a God who wants us to fear Him also represent unfailing Love? Even considering the fact that His thoughts and ways are beyond our understanding (Isaiah 55:8-9), I believe we can get at least a rudimentary grasp for how to reconcile these seeming inconsistencies in our Heavenly Father’s character through a few related analogies.

Fusion, Fire & Fear

“The Sun contains 99.8 percent of all matter in the Solar System. Under crushing pressure and extreme temperatures generated by gravity, the violent process of nuclear fusion powers the tremendous energy output of the Sun.” (Science Channel YouTube video)

The Sun, our star… Light and heat from fusion… Technically, not fire, though I’m pretty sure the human brain would register close proximity to the Sun as a kind of roasting nonetheless.

The surface of the Sun boasts a temperature of 5,778 Kelvin or 9,941 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t know about you, but that commands some respect and makes me pretty glad the earth orbits that blazing inferno at a distance of 93 million miles and no closer. And yet, as glad as I am we’re not next door neighbors to the Sun, I’m equally glad it exists—for the light and heat it provides!

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If we think of God as the Sun (or fire) and sinful man as straw (even flesh), we can begin to understand the meaning of fear. In all its blazing glory, the Sun is a fearsome body indeed—or it would be if we teleported onto its blinding, burning brilliant surface (if an expanse composed entirely of gas can truly be considered a surface)! Even so, before we ever got that close, I’m pretty sure we would vaporize. I’m not being very scientific here since a chemical reaction (“Man + Sun = toast!”) is not my primary concern but, rather, an emotional one (“Oy vey, I’m flambé!).

With a little imagination, we can read Isaiah 6:1-5 (+) and catch a glimpse of the fear manifest in Isaiah’s throne room experience. As you read, try to place yourself in Isaiah’s shoes:

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

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In God’s immediate presence (vs 1-4), we can’t help but fear Him because we see ourselves as we truly are: sinners (vs 5) in need of His mercy (vs 6-7). In His presence, we see the truth—and we’re changed (vs 5-8). I realize there are varying degrees of His presence; I don’t consider myself an expert. But the main point is this: Fear is as natural a response to God as if the fiery fusion ongoing in our very own Sun were repackaged into an activated bomb in our very own hands!

In other words, if we choose to scorn God for requiring our fear, we do so with the same results as if we scorned the well-known rule to look both ways before crossing the street—to our own detriment!

A Consuming Fire

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:28-29 (see also Deuteronomy 4:24)

The idea of God as fire is not unbiblical, and I’ve found it to be a useful analogy for pondering the melding of love and fear in a believer’s life. We all know that fire and straw don’t mix. In the presence of fire, straw can’t help but disintegrate. Likewise, when a flammable object approaches a blazing fire, the fire can’t help but consume it. It’s in a fire’s nature to burn just as it’s in God’s holy nature to consume evil.

There are those who may struggle with the previous statement—and even become offended—but when evil is committed against us, don’t we want God’s justice? When a chill darkness surrounds us, don’t we want light and heat? No one rebukes a fire for burning them when they get too close. Instead, they give it the proper respect—the fear it deserves. In the same way, the one and only God, whose holiness and power far exceeds our own, merits respect, fear, and awe from all those He created and even now sustains with His life and breath (Acts 17:25, in context).

One problem is, we necessarily live apart from God, and as a result, we don’t often see Him rightly—unveiled, as Isaiah did. This is because, in this world, He often conceals from us the full radiance of His glory. This divine posture of hide and seek might seem cruel to some, or even offensive—but truly it’s an act of mercy, for no one may behold His face and live:

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:18-20).

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Judgment Delayed—for a time

The evil in our hearts, called sin, consists of anything that separates us from God. It severs us from Him not because He can no longer draw near, but because if He did draw near, His holiness would consume us like chaff in a blazing fire. His aloofness, then—at least in part—is an act of mercy. But that mercy must be balanced with the promise of judgment and justice. As 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance [before the Judgment].”

God longs to fellowship with us, but our sin—not only damaging to our own souls and to those around us—is inherently offensive to His holy nature and sense of Justice. He longs to fellowship with us, but how can fire and straw be joined?

They can’t—unless the straw becomes something new, like gold.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Here is a truth to ponder in depth: God’s love compelled Him to make a Way to restore His bond with mankind—to restore the same kind of intimate fellowship He had with Adam and Eve in the garden, but even better.

“The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:15b-16).

No natural man could bring justice and also save mankind; so God Himself intervened “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3). “He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:25-26).

By human logic, justice for the wronged and mercy for the accused can’t possibly mesh. But in God’s economy, nothing is impossible. In God’s economy, righteousness and peace kiss (Psalm 85:10)—at the cross.

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Peace with God

This, then, is how God reconciled Justice and Mercy, Offense and Love, Sin and Peace: “He gave his one and only Son, [Jesus,] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And so, “the punishment that brought us peace was on Him” (Isaiah 53:5).

As cruel as it may sound for any Father to sacrifice His Son, we must never forget that Jesus was a willing participant in this plan. In fact, Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:14-18): “…and I lay down my life for the sheep… No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

Many people say they love us, but Father God proved it by sacrificing His Son. Some may wonder if a Father who sacrifices a son can truly epitomize love, but consider this: If by one adult child’s suffering you could save all your other children from death, would you do so?

If the adult child consented, even longed to save his siblings in spite of the pain required to do so, would you not consent?

Father God loves all His children, and so He said, “Yes.”

Consuming to Refining

So, we are reconciled to God through Christ. But the analogy of fire doesn’t end there. When we’re joined with Jesus—grafted into the True Vine—we’re made right with God through Christ. We’re justified (JUST as IF I’D never sinned)—but not yet perfected. The moment we’re rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into God’s kingdom, we’re transformed from something like stubble or straw into a substance akin to unrefined gold.

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Just as it’s in a fire’s nature to consume stubble and straw, so also silver and gold are purified by fire:

“[One] third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:9).

This purification (called sanctification) is a lifelong process culminating in Jesus’s return:

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).

And just as Isaiah was forever changed by his vision of God, so also any man, woman, or child who belongs to Christ must also be changed, being clothed with the imperishable—and not just any imperishable substance, but only that which is capable of living in eternal fellowship with God (Revelation 21):

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4)…

“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Revelation 21:22-27).

Final Thoughts

It’s not in God’s nature to wish that anyone should perish, but just as fire and straw can’t coexist, neither can sin and impurity survive in the presence of our Holy God.

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I doubt anyone alive truly despises the idea of heaven—though many despise the very idea of God. What these people don’t realize is this: Taking God out of heaven is equivalent to turning heaven into hell. God’s glorious presence is what makes heaven good. His absence is what makes hell bad. In this life, we often take for granted all the marvelous blessings God provides while eagerly blaming Him for every mishap and remaining oblivious to our true enemy who would see us all in hell—with him—if he had his way.

So, if anyone reading this happens to be one of the ones who remain skeptical—maybe even hostile toward God, can I challenge you to pray this prayer:

“God, if you’re real and you really love me. Open my eyes.

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An Abiding Peace (of mind)

On a recent trip to Florida, while staying at a hotel the night before my flight home, I found myself in a hot tub alone. There, the thrumming jets transformed the clear green water into a foaming white froth. I had been seeking God’s will for my life—in particular, hoping to learn to hear His voice better: Devouring every resource I could find. Striving to discern that little voice in my mind (or through my reading) that may or may not be God. Constantly questioning if I was doing all I could to hear—and hearing right.

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Amidst the solitude, warmth, and the bubbling hum of churning water commanding my full attention, a clear thought crystallized: “This is your mind.” Immersed in the boiling jets with turbulent currents buffeting my skin, the meaning was clear.

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Tarássō / Troubled

My mind. Always in motion. Rarely settled.

Always studying, questioning, striving, reaching. Ever searching for another glimpse of God’s work in my life—or a hint of His direction for future action. Always striving to be proactive. Even when my goal has been to abide in Him.

My mental norm, in a word: Restless. The Greek root tarássō (from John 14:27, to be discussed below) adequately conveys this state of mind, which according to HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) can mean the following:

“properly, put in motion (to agitate back-and-forth, shake to-and-fro); (figuratively) to set in motion what needs to remain still (at ease); to “trouble” (“agitate”), causing inner perplexity (emotional agitation) from getting too stirred up inside (“upset”).”

Though I crave pure spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2), it seems I often churn it into butter! I turn God’s Word (and my walk with Him) into a sticky, viscous mess that’s hard to navigate. In lieu of the simplicity of trusting in Him, I revert to complex rules and regulations that stretch my intellect to the max. While my flesh tries to divine the exact ways to act and the exact prayers to pray under a diverse multitude of circumstances, God gives me this simple equation: “You + Me = Success.” 

Eirḗnē / Peace & Wholeness

Clearly this hot tub analogy bears a negative connotation. Surely it’s not the state of mind God intended for His children. After all, what did Jesus say in His parting speech to His disciples just prior to His arrest?

PEACE [Eirēnēn] I leave with you; My peace [eirēnēn] I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be TROUBLED [tarassesthō], nor let it be fearful [deiliatō].” John 14:27

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Rather than allowing our minds to be stirred up in agitation, Jesus calls us to manifest the same inner peace He Himself displayed (Mark 4:35-41). The Greek word translated as peace in this verse (eirēnēn) can mean “one, peace, quietness, rest.” HELPS Word-studies (on biblehub.com) says it like this:

“eirḗnē (from eirō, “to join, tie together into a whole”) – properly, wholeness, i.e. when all essential parts are joined together; peace (God’s gift of wholeness).”

Wholeness? I don’t know about you, but that’s not the definition I expected. Nevertheless, even the well-known Hebrew word shalom connotes “completeness” along with soundness, welfare, and peace. 

Furthermore, if peace is wholeness, then surely it has no place apart from Him since, from the very beginning, man was made to live in communion with God. Jesus says in His pre-arrest speech, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But when we’re joined/married with Him (Ephesians 5:31-32)? Then we merge our meager resources with His. Our blindness with His sight. Our weakness with His strength. When our very being—like a branch to a vine—is linked to Him, we’ll find we have all we need.

But what’s the caveat? Remember my thoughts from above? Gods-math

That simple equation (“You + Me = Success”) paints a picture of wholeness, BUT… it requires humility and trust. The humility to recognize our deficiency as compared with His power. The honesty to recognize our inadequacy apart from Him.

The Path of Understanding?

It seems human nature to equate uncertainty with stress. An uncertain future. Our plans up in the air. Confusion over the path ahead. Or maybe we’re stuck in circumstantial discomfort. This manner of logic presupposes UNDERSTANDING to be the ultimate pathway for finding peace. Isn’t this the way our human brains think? 

In ignorance (or arrogance), we believe we can orchestrate our own lives, but Proverbs 20:24 says, A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?” Likewise, we often think we need to scrutinize our choices before we take that first step, but Proverbs 3:5-6 says to “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

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In my early graduate school days, newly acquainted with the idea that believers can actually hear from God, I struggled and strived to make His voice a reality in my life. Most of those efforts ended in frustration. In the book I’m reading now about hearing God’s voice, the author expresses his belief that God is always speaking but we don’t often recognize Him as the source.

This reminds me of a time a few months back when I was praying on the way to church one Sunday, interceding for the service and asking God to prepare our hearts for Him—to shake off what could be shaken so we would see Him more clearly (paraphrase). For some reason (in part because He’d unexpectedly prompted me to prophecy in church on a previous Sunday—something I never would’ve imagined myself doing in the past), I asked Him to give me a clear sign if He wanted me to share that prayer with the church. To my surprise, one of the church leaders began the service by announcing we would have an open mic up front for people to share anything God might’ve laid on their heart!

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Knowing I would go up, I worshipped for a time in preparation. As sometimes happens, I felt His Spirit with me—a confirmation like a tightening in the gut and a shaking beneath His power, though I wasn’t shaking in fear. For me, He often brings His words in a flurry of fresh writing, but not this time. This time, the writing was a flurry of recollection, remembering the prayer I had prayed in the car. That written message is what I shared. After the service, a number of people told me they believed what I spoke was a genuine word from God.

What amazes me about that experience is that I had no idea those words I was praying were from God. Somehow, I’d been so in touch with His heart that He spoke His words through me without me knowing it. Later, in the midst of my more recent struggles to hear His voice, I wrote this in my journal: I’ve been so concerned about hearing from God, but hasn’t He shown me that He can so insert Himself into my thoughts that I pray His heart without knowing it? Am I so powerful I can keep God from getting through to me when He knows I WANT to know and do His will?

Trusting Our Thoughts or Trusting His?

The point in this story (tying it back to Proverbs 3:5-6) is that God didn’t need my intellect and understanding to be engaged at all in order for Him to steer me. Indeed, a reflection on my past proves that God was guiding me all along.

Is it wrong, then, to try and understand our own path?

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In general, I would say no—except when our search for understanding leads us to stray from His peace. After all, there will be times in our lives when He hasn’t given us to understand the reasons behind our day-to-day struggles. In those times—even in the fog and seemingly senseless trials; even in those seasons when we’re not confident we’re hearing His voice at all—He wants us to trust in Him because of who He is: All-powerful. Faithful. Merciful. Kind. Always working for our good. (More on His attributes here.)

The real question is this: Do we spend as much time pondering who God is (e.g.worthy of awe) as we do trying to discern our purpose and our future? Do we meditate on our own thoughts and logic more than we meditate on His (John 15:7)? Are we focused more on pointing our compass toward success than aligning our life with His person—His character (Psalm 103:7)?

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Interestingly, the word translated as acknowledge” [yada] in Proverbs 3:5-6 means “to know (by experience); to perceive, see, find out, and discern; to recognize, admit, acknowledge, and confess.” John 17:3 says, “Now this is eternal life: that they KNOW you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

When we know God, truly know Him as He is, we’ll have no difficulty entrusting our lives to Him. Even in periods of silence, though we desperately long for a word from Him, we’ll be able to let go and rest in the knowledge that He is bigger than our concerns—that His presence far surpasses our need for answers. In the silence, as we read His word, obeying Him to the best of our understanding, His peace overcomes our restless thoughts in the knowledge that we’re not alone as orphans. Rather, we have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father in Jesus’s name to teach us all things and to remind us of everything Jesus said (John 14:26).

In short, peace of mind doesn’t come from reasoning out the logic of our life circumstances while determining the safest pathway ahead; it is born in a relationship of simple trust summed up in this equation: God + Me = Success. 

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How about you? What topics tend to trip you up? What situations send your thoughts spiraling into a turbulent tailspin? Share in the comments or contact me here for prayer.

If you’re currently stuck in a bubbling-hot-tub mentality, consider making this your prayer:

Psalm 62:5-8 (NLT)

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him,
for God is our refuge. Interlude

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Visit these links for songs about peace and rest:

The Subtle Erosion: A Remedy

Is something missing from your Bible Study or your faith walk? Here’s what God showed me about the subtle erosion that sneaks into our time with Him:

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It began like this:

Whenever God answered my prayers in an unmistakable way; when I felt His creative powers flow through me, driving out devotions with an unexpected ease; when His presence shook my foundations—my arms, my knees, my voice while also empowering me to speak; and when His flame licked across the crown of my head and settled like a fire beneath my chest, burning the inner dross with His purifying fire—then I was consumed with awe for my God.

But when the heat faded, the sense of His presence felt far off. Equally far was the grace I once had—the supernatural ease—to demonstrate His patient selfless love to others. I fought to regain lost ground—though I know it isn’t truly lost; it’s part of a life-long process of being conformed into His image—whether by the tangible blaze of His Spirit’s fire or the lonely renewing of my mind. New lessons require a new approach. There’s a purpose in these struggles. And so, my God, my loving God—whether I feel Your presence or not—I know You fill this vacancy, too.

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Still, wanting more, I pressed in; I sought His face; I devoured the Word, the truth. But somehow, in my seeking, the routine settled in until the heavenly manna tasted bland—Bland?! How is it possible to read the Word of Life and find oneself mired in a lifeless intellectual pursuit? This should not be! (But all too often it is.)

Have you ever fallen into that numb pursuit, driven by obligation or desperation in which you feed on the Word and yet still feel unfed? Here’s the revelation God gave me in my recent studies of His Truth: Reignite your sense of awe in Me.” Truth without awe is an intellectual exercise. If the truth doesn’t move us to a place of awe, God will always feel far off.

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So, instead of being a people who come near to God with their mouth and honor Him with their lips while our hearts remain far off (Isaiah 29:13), how about we take a moment to forget the rules and regulations and simply meditate on the glory of God’s power?

Isaiah 29:4-6,9,13-14:

God says, “Brought low, you will speak from the ground; your speech will mumble out of the dust. Your voice will come ghostlike from the earth; out of the dust your speech will whisper. But your many enemies will become like fine dust, the ruthless hordes like blown chaff. Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire… Be stunned and amazed, blind yourselves and be sightless; be drunk, but not from wine, stagger, but not from beer…” The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”

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Psalm 46:8-11 (TPT):

Everyone look!
Come and see the breathtaking wonders of our God.
For he brings both ruin and revival.
He’s the one who makes conflicts end
throughout the earth,
breaking and burning every weapon of war.
Surrender your anxiety!
Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God.
I am the God above all the nations,
and I will be exalted throughout the whole earth.
Here he stands!
The Commander!
The mighty Lord of Angel Armies is on our side!
The God of Jacob fights for us!
Pause in his presence

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Psalm 29:

1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.

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Isaiah 46:3-5,9-13:

3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? …
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.
12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

See also my devotion on Isaiah 46: A Writer’s Idol. And consider soaking in His presence:

Lauren Salisbury on “Strength”

Today I have the honor of hosting Lauren Salisbury, author of The Legacy Chronicles, as she discusses what God taught her about a woman’s strength: within fiction and in life. I hope you’re as blessed by her words as I was:

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Finding Strength

There has been a lot of talk recently about what makes strong female characters, whether it is their ability to wield weapons and kill their enemies or to get out of trouble without the aid of men. Some say it is the way female leads problem solve while others focus on their witty comebacks and feisty personalities.

I think women can be strong in many ways, not just those portrayed in popular fiction. I also think the most interesting form of strength is internal—emotional, mental, and spiritual—rather than physical. It takes strength to raise a child, to love when we are hurting, to walk a different path from everyone else, to forgive and move on. It is getting up each day while suffering from chronic illness, walking into school with the knowledge that bullies wait inside, trusting God to eventually work something good out of life’s current madness, or living according to faith when others ridicule and condemn those principles.

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Some of my favourite Bible characters are barely mentioned but so strong and courageous—the women who were instrumental in the life of Moses. When I stop to think about their lives and the decisions they made, my admiration only grows. Imagine the constant fear of discovery Jochabed must have endured while hiding her infant son, or the agony of leaving him in the river. I am not sure I would have been able to do what she did.

It is also difficult to comprehend the terror felt by a slave as young as Miriam on approaching a member of the royal family, or the quick thinking that enabled her to reunite her mother and brother. Likewise, what courage would it have taken for the Egyptian princess to go against her father’s orders? What repercussions would she have faced both initially and through the course of Moses’s childhood?

Her actions, especially given her station, always astound me, and when I think of the position she put herself in, I find her such an inspiring woman. Moses’s story would have been vastly different had she ignored his cries or looked on him with less than pity. God surely placed him in her path most deliberately.

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In reading about these women, I have realised that, to me, strength is synonymous with faith, and that true faith is giving all to God and being willing to follow Him into the dark abyss of the unknown. It takes courage as well as trust to truly allow God to lead in all areas of life and to step out in faith rather than give in to fear.

That said, I have also learned that the process is circular. The more we trust, the easier it is to step outside our comfort zones, and the more often we do that, the more confidence we can have that God will be there to meet us.

My own life has been filled with moments where I have had to be brave, trust God, and keep going. Years of being bullied in school forged the core of my faith at a young age. Long-term health problems in my twenties refined my reliance on God’s promises. Leaving an established career to start my journey as an author has tested my courage in many new ways. There is something intrinsically terrifying about putting pieces of myself out there for people to see. But I am still here, still believing, and still moving forwards.

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That is why it is so important to me to include these themes in my work. I write about women with faith, courage, and strength, and I hope those who read my books will see the incredible examples they set for us today. I want my writing to encourage others to be brave and bold knowing that God is always with them. He might not fix everything straight away or make our lives perfect, but he sees, he cares, and when we run out of our own strength, He gives us His.

This happens in Strength with Reemah, who has no knowledge of God and serves His purpose unwittingly. She reminds me that God can use anyone to accomplish His goals, even non-believers, and He cares enough about all of us to be active in the lives of those who do not yet know Him.

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I wanted to show not only her personal courage but also how God bolsters and comforts her through the trials she faces. He guides Reemah subtly, allowing her to feel His presence in small, simple ways until she can be introduced to Him properly (later in the series). Until then, He is the calm assurance that all will be well in the end.

Thank you for taking the time to read about how the women in Exodus inspired me. You can discover more of their reimagined stories in The Legacy Chronicles.

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Learn more about this series in my earlier blog post here and in the links below.


Links:

The Legacy Chronicles – https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07G69G81W/
Courage – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07954NGNS
Conviction – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07FB5LBVF
Strength – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PX4DXN7

Website – http://www.laurenhsalisbury.com
Newsletter sign-up – http://eepurl.com/djCo0z
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/gillascourage
Twitter – https://www.twitter.com/gillascourage
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/laurenhsalisbury

About the Author:

Lauren-Salisbury

Lauren H Salisbury was an English teacher for sixteen years with an MA in Education. She is now a writer who dabbles with tutoring and lives with her husband and a room full of books in Yorkshire, England. She likes to spend winters abroad, following the sunshine and becoming the seasonal envy of her friends. When she’s not writing, she can be found spending time with family, reading, walking, crafting, or cooking. The Legacy Chronicles is her debut series.

 

Jesus’s Parting Speech

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Before His arrest, Jesus spent a long time delivering what could be considered His parting speech, His last words to the disciples (and those who would believe in days to come). John 14-16 is a part of that speech, the equivalent of a man’s final wishes from his deathbed. Jesus knew His remaining time on earth was short, that His physical separation from His beloved disciples was imminent. Just like a single parent dying a tragic death too young, wondering if their kids will remember the values and life lessons they’ve been taught, Jesus longs to infuse His disciples with the critical truths they’ll need to survive in days to come.

John 14-16 is a fascinating stretch of Scripture, not just because it bears the heart of Jesus’s message to His disciples, but also because of its fundamentally repetitive nature, which serves to highlight the key themes Jesus wants His followers (both then and now) to grasp. Therefore, anyone longing for glimpse into Jesus’s heart for them personally needs look no further than these beautifully passionate parting words.

Among the themes repeated in John 14-16, the foremost is the word ABIDE, which is most concentrated in verses 4-10 of chapter 15:

“4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

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We are to abide in Jesus the way branches abide in a vine, accepting from Him the life-giving sap only He can provide, letting it flow into us to nourish us and, through us, to produce fruit. So what does it mean to abide?

What Abiding Meant to Jesus

Rather than using our natural minds to parse these verses, let’s consider what abiding meant to Jesus as described in verse 10 of this chapter: “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.” Here, Jesus equates His words—words given Him by the Father—as works. Words to works. And only the Father’s words are those that are given utterance. Only the Father’s works are the ones Jesus acts upon. He remained in such intimate union with the Father that the Almighty’s works flowed through Him unhindered.

But Jesus is God, is He not? So why did He humble Himself in this way, submitting to His Father’s will, when it seems clear He could’ve represented God perfectly without any need for submission? The answer, I believe, lies in the fundamental purpose of Jesus’s earthly ministry. We like to quote John 3:16, and from it, we conclude that Jesus came to die for sinners and to bring eternal life to all who would believe in Him, yes? But eternal life is a side effect—not the truest purpose of Jesus’s calling.

More than simply winning us a free pass to heaven, Jesus came to show mankind how to re-establish the severed relationship with God. By abiding in the Father’s will, Jesus wasn’t modeling His divinity, which no man could ever hope to emulate. Rather, He was modeling His humanity and demonstrating how all mankind could be restored to the same intimate fellowship Adam and Eve enjoyed with God before the Fall.

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What the Good News is—and what it’s not

Let me make it as plain as I can for anyone who’s unclear on this point: The good news isn’t about escaping hell. It isn’t about circumventing death or living forever. It isn’t about a grand post-death reunion with friends and family, though that’s a nice benefit. The good news is this: Jesus’s death and resurrection provides us unlimited access to the purest most loving relationship we’ll ever have. Eternal life is ABIDING in Him and everything that entails. Furthermore, if we think eternal life is something we only receive upon death, we’re missing out on a significant part of the gospel. As John 17:3 says, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

So, first and foremost, ABIDING involves relationship. Intimacy. Not just knowing ABOUT God, but knowing His character, His ways. Knowing Him—not the way the newly-freed Israelites did, at a distance—but the way Moses knew Him, climbing the mountain to meet Him personally and pressing in so close he was forever changed (Exodus 19:16-20). So much that Moses’s face glowed from the glory (see also 2 Corinthians 3).

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An intimate relationship is the key to ABIDING in Christ. Knowing God is eternal life. For any who feel far off from God—who doubt His love, who want to go deeper in Christ without knowing how—meditate on these words from John 14-16 and pray this prayer for yourself:

Father, give me the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I would know Jesus better. Enlighten the eyes of my heart so I would know the hope to which You have called me, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in Your holy saints and Your incomparably great power for all who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength You exerted when You raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at Your right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And You placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. And Fill me with Him also, guiding me into all truth by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Amen.

(Modified from Ephesians 1.)

Prodigal Prayer: Misunderstanding the Father’s Heart

What is prayer? To me in the past—to me now? When I pondered that question, the story of the prodigal son intruded my thoughts (Luke 15:11-31). If you’ll recall, the son asked the Father for his inheritance—or rather, what he believed his inheritance should be: living life on his own terms, in his own strength. In a single word: Autonomy.

The Father granted the son’s request and let him choose his own path, just as Father God also imbues each one of us with free will. He doesn’t force us along the path of obedience.

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But pay special attention to what the son’s request implies: He didn’t value his Father for who He was, only what he could get from Him. (How often are our prayers like that? Do we place our desires on a higher shelf within our hearts than God Himself? Do we let those desires become idols? In the past, I would’ve had to answer, “yes.”)

When the son returned, he came as a beggar. He came as one seeking once more to better his situation by asking his Father to grant another wish, this time to be a servant in His household. The Father denied him. Why? What did the father want instead? Relationship. Very specifically, a Father-son relationship built on His unconditional love.

For any who would ponder this parable in all its beautiful depth, there are many lessons to be learned. Among them is this: God can never give us His all if we don’t seek Him for Himself.

As 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 says, “’Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.”

So what was the prodigal son’s foundational problem? We might claim selfishness, but I’m inclined to declare a spiritual blindness instead. The young man was blind to the depths of his Father’s unconditional love and—if I might be so bold—many of us face this very same struggle.

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Consider John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” How does that make you feel? Happy? Numb? There’s not a Christian alive who doesn’t have some conception of this verse—in their minds. But how many of us “get it” on a soul-deep level? On a level that reaches down into our spirits with the very fingers of God’s resurrection power (Romans 8:11)?

If there’s a single reason why the church today isn’t what we think it ought to be—why our lives as “born again” Christians don’t reflect the same transformative power described in the New Testament churches, it’s because we’re blind to God’s self-sacrificing, unconditional love for each one of us personally. True vision of that love would supernaturally transform us from the inside-out because…our ability to love (either Him or others) is only as pure as our perception of how well He loves us: “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

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And because we don’t grasp the purity and perfection of His personal love, like the prodigal son, we too have a hard time seeking Him for Himself—without limitations. Maybe because deep-down we realize that kind of intimacy entails a complete surrender of autonomy. True intimacy (the “abiding” described in John 15) involves obedience: “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” John 15:10 (NASB).

Yes, we are called to obey His commands. But what does the next verse say (15:11)? “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” The One who designed us, body and soul, knows that He alone is our Source of true satisfaction (James 1:17).

In the story of the prodigal son, the Father allowed his son to chase after worldly pursuits which, in the end, failed to bring the desired joy and satisfaction. The son left his Father’s house full of himself and his own desires—and came back empty. Helpless. But the Father was there watching—waiting to fill him.

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Perhaps that is the greatest lesson of all. We can either seek Him in faith and thereby grow in our understanding of how good He is and how much He loves us—and perhaps avoid the painful years the son suffered alone. Or else we—like the prodigal son—are destined to find ourselves shamed by the world and our own pitiful efforts, running back to the Father years later with empty arms and hollow souls.

Whatever we choose, Father God is waiting to receive us—to pour His love “into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5)… Because His love isn’t dependent on anything we do—it’s a sure and constant force that “works for the good” of all those He’s in the process of calling home (Romans 8:28+)…

“29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 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.”

Not if we make the most life-altering decision we could ever make, to come home to the Creator and Lover of our souls.

Spirit-Born Freedom

The words of the Bible are truth. But the natural mind can’t accept them without the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, who brings revelation and guides us into all truth. Staying in the word is so important, but remaining in the Word—capital W—is even more critical because all wisdom and understanding, and the empowerment to obey what we read, come from Him. Reading the Bible under the Spirit’s guidance is life altering. By His power alone are we transformed by the renewing of our minds.

As we read, we must submit to His leading, not leaning on our own understanding and powers of reasoning, but asking Him for His wisdom and revelation. Let us not make an idol of our logic and rational mind when we know that our natural mind can’t understand the things of the Spirit, “because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Remember the Jews who wanted to take Jesus and make Him earthly king by force? They were guided by their natural minds even though they had the Scriptures.

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Remember the parable of the sower, which shows instances in which the word of God—that all-encompassing seed with powerful truth potential—could be rendered ineffective. There’s no question that God’s word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). But what of the soil?

The soil represents our individual hearts. Consider the Israelites in Moses’s day, of whom Paul says, “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:14-17).

We can have God’s word, trust in our own powers of reasoning, and still not “get it,” unless we invite the Holy Spirit—whose thoughts are higher than our thoughts—into our Bible reading with an attitude of teachable humility. I like the Passion Translation’s rendering of this last verse: “Now, the “Lord” I’m referring to is the Holy Spirit, and WHEREVER HE IS LORD, there is freedom.”

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God can be near us without us sensing His presence and walking into His freedom. Some remain in bondage beneath that veil because they haven’t made Him Lord in their hearts and minds. Be assured, this is something we can only do fully with His help. There is no condemnation for the children of God, but He wants to take us higher, deeper. Because of the enemy’s deception, some of us are still living beneath that blinding veil—at least in part.

Are you ready for freedom? For more of God’s truth and power in your life? Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth in every moment. When we know the truth, it sets us free from all manner of bondage which is not of the Lord but of the enemy. Submit to God, resist the devil and he will flee. The Passion Translation for verse 16 says this: “But the moment one turns to the Lord with an open heart, the veil is lifted and they see.” This could be our moment for greater spiritual vision and freedom. Are you ready? Jesus said, “Come. Follow me.”

SCRIPTURE REFERENCES:
Romans 12:2, be transformed
John 16:13, Spirit of truth
Proverbs 3:5-6, trust
Isaiah 55:8-9, His thoughts are higher
Ephesians 1:17, Spirit of wisdom
1 Corinthians 2:14, natural mind
John 6:15, king by force
Matthew 13, parable of the sower
Hebrews 4:12, word is living and active
2 Corinthians 3:14-17, veil vs freedom
2 Corinthians 10:5, take thoughts captive
Romans 8:1, no condemnation
James 4:7, submit to God
Matthew 4:19, “Follow Me”

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