WHY ARE YOU CAST DOWN?

Scripture Reading: Psalm 42:1-11

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within Me? Hope in God; for I shall praise Him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

I’ll be very honest. Several times this week I have felt really down, and I am sure that I am not the only one who has felt this way. We are in good company. Twice in Psalm 42 the Psalmist asks the question — “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (vs. 5,11). Our lives have been turned upside down; they have been radically changed suddenly.

“Why are you cast down?” Because I am fearful at times. I am afraid that I or one of my loved ones will get this virus. I am afraid because I do not know how long this thing will last. And I am anxious. I look at the decline in the stock market and at businesses that are being greatly affected. I see my retirement funds being reduced rapidly. I can add many other things I’m anxious over. I know we are not supposed to be afraid or anxious; but I am at times. We are all sinners and we all lack the faith we should have.

But when we are experiencing these feelings, we must do what the Psalmist did — “Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.” We are not hopeless. God is in charge. He is our salvation, not only from sin and death, but also from fear and anxiety. We must turn our troubled hearts to Him. We must thirst for Him — “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (vs. 1,2). When we begin to thirst for God, our eyes will be lifted above the circumstances that cause us to be afraid and anxious. When we thirst for Him, we will praise Him for who He is — our salvation and our God!

We must remember the Lord’s faithfulness and His steadfast love for us — “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I will remember You” (v. 5c). Hear the words of the Psalmist when He began to remember God — “By day the Lord commands His steadfast love, and at night His song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” (v. 8). God’s covenant faithfulness and His steadfast love are always with us. During the night when we are anxious, remember that God is singing over us. He will quiet us by His love.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Lord, I know that my fear and my anxiety are not from You. The evil one wants me to doubt Your love and protection. Forgive me when I fail to trust You. I know that I have nothing to fear for You are with me, and I know that I have no need to be anxious because Jesus has told me not to be anxious for He will provide my needs. Let me hear You singing over me. Let me remember Your steadfast love and my soul will be quieted.

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HE REACHED OUT HIS HAND

Scripture Reading: Matthew 14:22-33

“So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me.’ Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'” (Matthew 14:29-31)

Most of us are familiar with the story of Peter walking on the water. The disciples were far away from land in the Sea of Galilee. A storm suddenly blew in and the boat they were in was being beaten by the waves (v. 24). In the midst of the storm, Jesus appeared, walking on the sea. The disciples were terrified, for they thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus spoke, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (v. 27).

Jesus comes to us in the storms of life. He is with us now. Hear His words again, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” The Lord of all nature, the supreme Ruler of the universe, assures us of His presence and protection. He tells us not to be afraid, for He is with us in this storm.

Peter called out to Jesus, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You” (v. 28). Why would Peter make this request? Because he knew the safest place he could be was as close to Jesus as he could get. Jesus granted Peter’s request, “Come.” Jesus’ call to Peter is His call to us as we endure the storm we are experiencing. Remember these words of Jesus, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Peter had the courage of faith — “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (v. 29). But he quickly lost his faith — “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me'” (v. 30). What happened? Peter took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on the wind When he did, he started sinking. Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him” (v. 31).

Some of us are fearful and anxious. It is understandable, for we are facing things we have never faced before. We are constantly bombarded with bad news. The wind and the waves seem fierce. When will the storm come to an end? We do not know, but what we do know is that Jesus has come to us in this storm. He invites us to come to Him and find rest. Let’s keep our eyes on our Lord and not on the storm. He is reaches out His hand and He will take hold of us. Hear His words, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Lord Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth, I confess that there are times I lose the courage of faith. I get fearful and anxious. I want the storm to pass. But in my lack of faith, You come to me. You reach out Your hand and take hold of me. You assure me, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

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WHEN YOU PASS THROUGH THE WATERS

Scripture Reading: Isaiah 43:1-10

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:2,3a)

This verse has brought me great comfort through the years. I first claimed the promises of Isaiah 43 when my deceased wife, Anne, was first diagnosed with leukemia. This passage has continued to encourage me and give me hope, especially through the valley experiences of my life. The verse means so much to me that I had it engraved on my grave marker in Rock Hill, which I had put in place when Anne was buried.

We are going through some deep waters and fiery trials now. I have felt overwhelmed, afraid and anxious at times. When I become troubled in spirit, I quote this verse and claim its promise — “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” The simple but profound truth is that we are never alone; we have Jesus with us.

There may be times when we feel as if we are drowning, when the waters seem deep and dangerous; but we will not be overwhelmed. Why? Because of the One who is with us — the Lord our God, the Holy One of Israel, our Savior. He is the God of providence. He is our Redeemer, who has called us by name and claimed us to be His own (v. 1). We are precious in His sight (v. 4), and He loves us. We do not have to fear — “Fear not, for I am with you” (v. 5). The sovereign Lord of all creation is with us always. He will sustain us and He will deliver us.

During these difficult times, our Lord wants us to be good witnesses — “‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He” (v. 10). We have an unprecedented opportunity to live out our faith and to bear witness of God’s presence and faithfulness to us. Let us remember whose we are — “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine.” And let’s remember who we are — “‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen.'”

Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, my Savior, I turn to You for comfort and strength during these trying times. I do not have to fear, for You are with me. Though these times are filled with uncertainties, I can be confident in Your steadfast love, presence and protection. You created me, redeemed me through the blood of Your Son, and made me Your own. I desire to be a faithful witness. I can only do this through Your strength and presence in my life.

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WHAT CAN THE RIGHTEOUS DO?

Scripture Reading: Psalm 11:1-7

“If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Psalm 11:3,4)

These days are filled will uncertainties. The virus is spreading. The stock market took another plunge. People are afraid and filled with anxiety. Our nation has been brought to a near halt. In effect, all that was normal is not normal now. It seems that our health and our economy are at risk. These are foundational elements of our lives. “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

I well remember 911. We were holding our weekly staff meeting at church when we were informed that a plane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We brought a television in and watched the events unfold. The World Trade Center, a symbol of our economic prosperity, was destroyed. Another plane hit the Pentagon, a symbol of our military might. Shock and fear prevailed. All this happened on a Tuesday. I had prepared my sermon for Sunday, but I knew it was not what our people needed. The Lord directed me to Psalm 11.

The great truth of this Psalm was very applicable after 911 and it is applicable now. What is the great truth found in this Psalm? “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Notice the wording, “what CAN the righteous do?” Of course, we can be diligent in protecting our health and we can be wise with our finances; but that is not the main thrust. God gives His answer — “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” What CAN the righteous do? What MUST the righteous do? Trust the sovereign Lord of all creation. His throne is in heaven. He is fully in control. He rules and He reigns. He directs the course of history, even when it seems that our very foundations are being shaken. He is God and He is all powerful and all wise. Our sovereign Lord is with us and He will deliver us.

Perhaps the Lord is asking us to get refocused. He wants our heartfelt devotion and unbending faith in Him. He has slowed us down and He wants us to be still and to remember who He is. “‘Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:10,11).

Lord of hosts, I know that You are with us through these uncertain days. I also know that Your throne is in heaven and that You are seated there directing and controlling all things. Help us to learn how to trust You more. Forgive us for our fear and anxiety. You are our fortress. You will protect us and deliver us. Let us be still and know that You are God!

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REJOICING IN THE LORD

Scripture Reading: Habakkuk 3:16-19

“Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet like the deer’s; He makes me tread on my high places.” (Habakkuk 3:18,19)

We are in the midst of an international crisis. People are afraid and are deeply concerned over the Corona virus. You can sense it everywhere you go. Churches are calling off services. Schools have been cancelled. The economy is being affected. Some are panicking over the “what ifs” of this crisis.

Looking back over my life, I remember the fear we experienced during the Cuban missile crisis. My parents actually had an underground fallout shelter built in our back yard. I remember the shock and grief we experienced when President Kennedy was assassinated. And most of us well remember the fear and anger we experienced when 911 took place. We are now facing another crisis. How will we respond?

Habakkuk was facing a terrible crisis. The Babylonians were going to invade Judah. They were a violent and dreaded people (1:7-11). The people of Judah were afraid. Habakkuk was also — “I hear and my body trembles, my lips quiver at the sound, rottenness enters into my bones, my legs tremble beneath me” (v. 16). He knew things were going to be difficult — “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vine, the produce of the olive fail and the field yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls” (v. 17). The nation was facing an impending crisis and things would be difficult. Fear and anxiety were crippling the people.

Habakkuk had to work through his fear. He faced the reality of the crisis and then he turned to God. He stopped focusing on the “what ifs” and started looking at his Lord and worshipping Him — “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (v. 18). Do you see what he is saying? He will take joy in the God of his salvation, no matter how bad things may get. He was able to move from sadness to joy when he turned to his Lord in faith. He focused on the God of his salvation! Habakkuk knew that God was his strength — “God, the Lord, is my strength.” God would enable him to face the crisis and have joy in the midst of it.

Let us remember that we can take joy in the God of our salvation. He is our strength. Let’s keep our eyes on Him during this crisis. He will be with us through it and He will eventually deliver us from it.

Gracious God, You are my strength. It is easy to be filled with fear and anxiety as we go through this crisis. Grant us grace to know that You are our strength. Let us take joy in You and trust You fully. I know that You will be with us through this crisis and You will eventually deliver us from it. Thank You for holding us in the palm of Your mighty hand and giving us joy when we come into Your presence.

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THE LORD OF PEACE

Scripture Reading: II Thessalonians 3:16-18

“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you.” (II Thessalonians 3:16)

Jesus Christ is the Lord of peace. He alone has made peace with God possible for us. He reconciled us to God when we were enemies — “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). The work of Jesus Christ made our justification possible and because of our justification we have peace with God — “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Jesus also brings peace into our hearts — “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The Lord of peace is the one who enables us to have peace in any and every circumstance — “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). The peace Jesus gives us is a peace that surpasses all understanding — “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

We can experience peace even when we are facing troubles, tribulation and trials, for the Lord Himself is with us. He is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). He is always with us and His peace is available to us as well. His Spirit produces the spiritual fruit of peace within us (Galatians 5:22,23).

This benediction brings great peace and comfort to us, as I am sure it did for the Thessalonians who were facing ongoing persecution and trials. “May the Lord of peace HIMSELF give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you.”

Lord Jesus, Prince of peace, You are with me always. Thank You for making peace with God on my behalf. I am now loved and accepted by Your Father. Thank You for bringing peace into my heart. Your presence keeps me in perfect peace. You are the Lord of peace, the one who brings peace that surpasses all understanding.

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ACCOUNTABILITY

Scripture Reading: II Thessalonians 3:6-15

“For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (II Thessalonians 3:11,12)

Evidently some of the new believers in the church at Thessalonica were living an undisciplined life. Paul addressed this matter in his first epistle to them — “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (I Thessalonians 4:11,12). The situation must have gotten worse, for Paul addresses it even more forcefully in his second letter to them.

It seems that some of the members of the church were lazy and others were busybodies. These brothers and sisters needed to be encouraged to face up to these issues. They needed accountability. We all need accountability. We need those who will be honest with us, who will confront us in love when they see us failing to live our lives in line with the truth of the gospel.

Of course, we are accountable to God. We will all stand before Him one day and give an account. But we also need flesh and blood accountability. We have our blind spots and we easily make small but dangerous compromises that can lead to disastrous consequences. We need to establish accountability partners who care enough for us to correct and to warn us. So many terrible consequences of sin could be avoided if we had someone who loved us enough to confront us and to encourage us to address sinful attitudes and actions.

Paul wrote, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (v. 13). He said this in the context of correcting others who were headed down a dangerous path. We do good when we lovingly admonish and correct those who are involved in sinful behavior.

Early in my ministry, a small group of my pastor friends joined together into an accountability relationship. We met regularly to hold each other accountable for our spiritual growth, to ensure that our priorities were in order, and to encourage us to be faithful and loving husbands and fathers. We have met together over 35 years. During those years we encouraged each other, admonished each other and prayed for each other. God used these men greatly in my life.

Lord God, I know that I am accountable to You for the way I live. One day I will stand before You and give an account. I also thank You that You have given me people who have held me accountable. Thank You for using them to encourage me and to correct me. I want to live my life for You and to honor You in all that I do, but I also know that I am sinful and need accountability.

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HEARTS DIRECTED BY THE LORD

Scripture Reading: II Thessalonians 3:1-5

“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.” (II Thessalonians 3:5)

Paul prays that the Lord will direct our hearts. God is concerned about our hearts. Our thoughts, motives, and attitudes flow from our hearts — “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). For these reasons, we need the Lord to direct our hearts, to point them in the right direction and ensure that they get to the destination He intends.

Notice where Paul prays for the Lord to direct our hearts. First, we need our hearts directed to the love of God. There has to be a change in the seat of the affections of our hearts. We must love Jesus more than we love ourselves. Love motivates us to honor God and it gives us the desire to obey Him.

But we must first realize how much God loves us. His love is strong, sovereign, unconditional, unending, and it is not fully comprehensible — “that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18,19). We must remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38,39).

Second, we need the Lord to direct our hearts to the steadfastness of Christ — “For consider Him who endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:3). The steadfastness of Christ enables us to bear up through times of adversity, tribulation, suffering, affliction and hostility — “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

When God directs our hearts to His love and to the steadfastness of Christ, we will be able to endure all things. We will find a new love, joy and peace in our hearts and we will seek to love and to follow our Savior.

Lord, direct my heart to Your love. Let me be reminded how much You love me, for I know that You love me with an everlasting love. I also pray that You will direct my heart to the steadfastness of Christ. May I look to Him so that I will not grow weary and lose heart.

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THE LORD IS FAITHFUL

Scripture Reading: II Thessalonians 3:1-5

“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” (II Thessalonians 3:3)

This verse is straight forward and clear — “But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” Yes, the Lord is faithful — “Faithful is He who calls you, and He will also bring it to pass” (I Thessalonians 5:24). God does what he promises. He is faithful and will accomplish all that He promises to do. “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23).

The Lord is faithful to establish us as His people. He keeps us grounded in His love and He strengthens us — “The Lord will give strength unto His people” (Psalm 29:6). He establishes us in His sanctifying work — “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). He establishes us and keeps us. He will not let us fall away.

The Lord is faithful to guard us against the evil one. Satan attacks and tempts us. He wants to bring us down and to cause us to doubt the faithfulness of God. But remember — “the Lord is my strength and my shield” (Psalm 28:7). He will guard us and protect us from the schemes of the evil one.

We know that God is able to establish and to guard us — “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that He is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (II Timothy 1:12). The Lord is faithful. We can always count on Him to establish us and to guard us.

Lord, You are faithful. I know that You will always do what You promise. I know that You will establish me and guard me against the evil one. You are faithful even when I am not faithful to You. Great is Your faithfulness!

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INTERCESSORY PRAYER

Scripture Reading: II Thessalonians 3:1-5

“Finally brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith.” (II Thessalonians 3:1,2)

When you read Paul’s epistles, you will be amazed at how much he writes about prayer. He often asked for prayer because he knew he needed it and he knew that those who are involved in missions and ministry need prayer as well. Christian workers (missionaries, pastors, teachers, and lay leaders) need prayer because of the tremendous responsibilities they bear. This is especially true for those who preach and teach the Word of God.

We need to pray for the rapid spread of the Word of the Lord. The literal reading is “that the word of the Lord may run its race.” God’s Word is powerful and it will accomplish God’s purpose — “So shall My word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). We must remember that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

We are to pray that those who hear God’s Word will honor it. The Word of God is honored when it is accepted by faith and obeyed. Paul pointed to the Thessalonians as examples of the Word of God spreading and being honored.

We must also pray for the protection of those who preach and teach God’s Word. There will be opposition from “wicked and evil men,” who resist the Word. Lack of faith explains their hostile attitude toward Christ and His Word.

We need to pray specifically for missionaries, pastors, teacher, lay leaders and other kingdom workers we know and love. Take time now to lift up your pastors, teachers and missionaries in prayer. They need your faithful prayer support.

Lord Jesus, I pray for those who preach and teach Your Word. I pray for my pastor today. Bless him this week as he prepares to preach. Give him insight into Your Word and give him the ability to proclaim it boldly. I pray for the rapid spread of Your Word. Be with those around the world who faithfully preach and teach the Word of God. May many hear it and be brought into Your Kingdom.

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