Seasons. On the earth that God created, we experience four different seasons, each one bringing differences in the weather, each one having different characteristics, and each one serving a different purpose. In many parts of the world, winter brings the cold. Trees are bare, the grass is not as green, and the landscape looks dull and bleak. But then spring comes and plants come to life, new leaves sprout on the trees, and the landscape looks bright and colorful. The summer brings the warmth of the sun and bright sunshine, and then the fall arrives and the leaves begin to fall, signaling a return to the cold, bleak winter.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, we read that there are seasons for everything in life, a time for everything and for every matter under heaven. There are times for birth and times for death. There are times to plant and times to reap. There are times to break things down and times to build them up. There are times to weep and to laugh, times to mourn and to dance, times to seek and times to lose. There are times for love and times for hate, times for war and times for peace. Just like the seasons of the earth, each season of life brings something different from, and often opposite to, another season.
There are seasons in our spiritual lives, as well. There may be times when, like the plants in spring, we are growing, when we are seeing the move of the Holy Spirit clearly in our lives. Then there may be times when, like the summer, we feel the warmth of the Son as we walk with Him, when all around us looks and feels right. During these seasons, we feel at our closest to God. But, there also may be times when we start to feel as if God is farther away. These may be times when the trials of life begin to pull at us. It may start gradually, like the fall, but eventually, we may feel as if God has abandoned us. We are in a season like that right now with the pandemic that has gripped the world and the divisions that are tearing at the fabric of our nation. At times like these, things look as bleak as winter.
The good news is that God never abandons us. He is with us always. When He seems far away, it’s not because God has pulled away from us but rather, we have pulled away from Him. But, He is always there, no matter what season we are in. What season are you in right now? If you feel like you are in fall or winter, reach out to God. When you do, you will experience new growth and a new closeness to God as a new season begins.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
On the doorposts of Jewish homes, you will find a decorative case called a mezuzah. Inside this case is a piece of parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah, which is comprised of what we, as Christian believers, know as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Those verses include the Jewish prayer called Shema Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel.”
The word shema has a primary meaning of “to hear,” but it also takes on other meanings, including “to obey.” In Deuteronomy 6:4, the meaning of the Hebrew word shema is literally “to hear and obey.” In addressing the Israelites in chapter 6 of Deuteronomy, Moses was telling them that they needed not only to hear and understand what he was saying but also to obey it. So what was it they were to hear and obey?
Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Moses was reminding the Israelites that the Lord their God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was the one true God. When Moses used the words, “Shema Yisrael,” he was telling them that they need not just to hear the words that followed, but also to understand them. There was only one true God and He was YHWH, the Lord. This was something that they needed to fully understand. But there was more than that required of them.
Moses continued by saying, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)
Moses had just reminded the Israelites of the ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Now he was making it clear to God’s people that the God whom they understood to be the one true God must be loved with total devotion. He must be loved with their entire being: heart, soul, and strength. And the way by which they would be able to show that love is by the way in which they lived their lives, by obeying His commands. They were to keep those commands in their hearts, in their minds, and in their mouths.
The words of the shema are not just for Jewish believers. They are for followers of Jesus Christ, as well. In Mark 12:29-31, Jesus confirmed this when He said, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The LORD our God is the one and only LORD. And you must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
There is only one true God, and He is the Lord. He is the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, When we live our lives as Jesus commanded, loving God with our hearts, with our souls, with our minds, and with our strength, and when we love our neighbor as ourselves, we fulfill the greatest commandment. But more than that, when we live our lives understanding that the Lord our God is the one true God, and obeying His commands, our lives become true worship in His eyes (Romans 12:1-2).
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, NIV)
On February 2, 1943, the Dorchester, a luxury liner renovated for the purpose of transporting troops made its way through the treacherous waters of the Atlantic. The ship was transporting 902 troops from Newfoundland to Greenland when it was attacked by a Nazi U-boat. The U-boat scored a direct hit on the Dorchester, dooming the ship and its passengers. As the ship began to sink, four men sprang into action as they began to place the lives of others above their own. In an ultimate act of self-sacrifice, the four men refused to abandon ship. Instead, they gave up their own lifejackets, took care of who had been wounded by the torpedo’s explosion, and offered spiritual counsel to those who were unable to get off the ship to safety. As the Dorchester vanished below the waves, survivors of the attack told of seeing these four men standing with arms linked, praying out loud together to the very end.
Those four men, a Methodist minister named George L. Fox, a Jewish rabbi named Alexander D. Goode, a Reformed Church reverend named Clark V. Poling, and a Catholic priest named John P. Washington, became known as the “Four Chaplains.” On that February night in 1943, these four men made the ultimate sacrifice. One of the dictionary definitions of the word “sacrifice” states that it is the act of giving up something of value for the sake of something else that is regarded as more important. As the Dorchester sank and the Four Chaplains stayed on board tending to others, they were giving up their own lives, which were of value for the sake of something more important, the lives and souls of the other men on that ship. They embodied the words spoken by Jesus in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.“
There is no doubt that the life of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, was of great value. Yet, God valued each and every person who has or will ever walk the face of this earth, so much so that He was willing to exchange the life of Jesus, His Son, of whom He had said, “I am well pleased,” for what He regarded of even greater value, your eternal soul, my eternal soul, and the eternal souls of every man, woman, and child, regardless of who we are, the color of our skin, or what we have done. Jesus confirmed this when He said in John 3:16 (NIV): “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.” That was the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus came to earth and gave His life so that, if we believe in Him, we will enjoy eternal life in the presence of the God who created us.
Jesus calls us all to love others. He calls us all to be willing to sacrifice our own lives for others. There are times when that sacrifice means giving up your physical life, as the Four Chaplains did in February 1943. But sacrifice can also mean giving up our own time to spend it with others who are in need of comfort, who are in need of encouragement, or who simply need a friend to walk with them through life’s difficulties. It means looking at others, all others, and seeing in them something that is of greater value than ourselves. Jesus calls us, not just to simply love others, but also to love them as He has loved us. And by giving His life for us, he showed us that the love He gives us is a love that says, “I value you more than my own life.”
Peace. It’s something we long for but something that can be fleeting and elusive. The dictionary defines peace as freedom from such things as civil disturbance or disquieting and oppressive thoughts or emotions. It is defined as an agreement to put an end to hostilities between nations, or harmony in personal relations. Peace is all of these things. But, as I said before, although it is something we strive for, or long for, it is something that, from a worldly perspective, is hard to hold onto. A look at the number of wars and hostilities throughout history, a look at the hatred and the violence that seems unending throughout the world, and even a look at the divorce rate will confirm that peace is hard to come by and harder to hold on to. But there is a peace that we all can experience, a peace that we can easily find and count on, a peace that we can hold on to because it’s a peace that we can be sure of. Where can we find that peace? I’m glad you asked!
The peace that I am referring to is the peace of God. It is a peace that goes beyond worldly peace. It’s a peace that is beyond our human abilities to produce. But it is a peace that we can attain, a peace we can experience. How do we find that peace? In his letter to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” To experience the peace of God, we only need to ask Him for it. We need to pray, telling God what we need, what will move us from worry to peace, and then thank Him for it. When we do, we will experience that peace that exceeds our own understanding, a peace that carries us through trials and through difficulties. It’s that easy to experience the peace of God. But here’s what it requires from you: TRUST!
Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” To be able to put aside our worrying about anything and instead pray about everything requires that we place our full and complete trust in the One to Whom we are praying. When we keep our minds fixed on God and place our trust in Him, we are promised perfect peace. The Hebrew word for “peace” here is shalom and it means more that the end to war or hostilities, it means more than just freedom from oppressive thoughts or emotions. It means more than just relationships that are in harmony. This word includes blessings such as wholeness, health, and completeness. It means a peace that goes far beyond our understanding, a peace that the world cannot offer but God can.
The next verse in Isaiah, Isaiah 26:4, says, “Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.” The peace that God gives us when we trust in Him is a peace that we can count on. It’s not a fleeting peace. It’s a solid, unshakable peace. Why? Because God is the eternal Rock, he is our form foundation and, as Jesus taught us in the Parable of the Builders (Matthew 7:24-29), the person who builds his home on a foundation of solid rock will see that house stand through the worst storms life can bring. When we put our trust in God, we are building our hopes, our faith, our lives, on that solid rock foundation and, when the storms of life threaten to shake us, we will not be shaken but will withstand the storms with the peace of God guarding our hearts and our minds.
When someone makes a promise, that person is declaring to another that something will or will not be done. When a promise is made, the person to whom it was made has the right to expect that it will be kept. Yet sometimes it can seem like promises are made to be broken. Children promise their parents not to repeat a bad behavior, only to do so. Husbands and wives promise to stay together through good times and bad, only to jump ship when times get rough. Nations promise to abide by a treaty, only to violate that treaty. One often broken promise is the campaign promise. Political candidates, in their efforts to be elected, make promises to the voting public to do something, or perhaps not to do something. But then, once elected, those promises are sometimes unfulfilled.
The bottom line is that we can’t always count on people to keep their promises. But when it comes to God, Scripture makes it clear that He is a promise keeper. God’s promises reveal His purposes and God does not waver from those purposes or from His promises. He is fully committed to His promises. If God says He will do something, we can be sure that He will do it. Scripture tells us, in Numbers 23:19, that “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” Hebrews 6:18 says that “God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” God doesn’t lie and God is unchanging, so when God makes a promise, it is something that we, as believers, can totally depend on. Just ask Joshua.
After God used Moses to set the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt and lead them to the promised land, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, as a result of their disobedience. But God had promised them that land. And God delivered on that promise. Let’s take a look at Joshua 21:43-44. Under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites finally entered into the promised land. In verse 43, we read, “So the LORD gave to Israel all the land he had sworn to give their ancestors, and they took possession of it and settled there.” Not only did they enter the land but, when they did, they faced the enemies that lived there and, with God’s help, defeated them. Verse 44 says, “And the LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had solemnly promised their ancestors. None of their enemies could stand against them, for the LORD helped them conquer all their enemies.”
Now let’s go to Joshua 21:45. It’s here that Joshua tells us that, “Not a single one of all the good promises the LORD had given to the family of Israel was left unfulfilled; everything he had spoken came true.” God was faithful to His promise. He kept His word. God said He would give the Israelites the land He promised them, and He did. But perhaps the greatest promise that God has ever made, a promise that He made to you, to me, to every person who has or will walk the face of this planet we call home, is the promise that He would make a way for each of us to have eternal life, a promise to send a Redeemer who who paid the price for our sins. And that promise has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
In his second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:20), the apostle Paul wrote, “For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.” All God’s promises are “Yes!” and “Amen!” in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. And because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we can experience the hope of eternal life in God’s presence. This is a promise we can depend on, a promise we can hold onto. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.” (Hebrews 10:23)
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. (Matthew 27:45-50)
Over two thousand years ago, Jesus was beaten, mocked, scourged, and then nailed to a wooden cross on which He would die. Today, those who are followers of Jesus remember this event on the day we call Good Friday. But what is so “good” about a day on which our Lord and Savior suffered in this manner? What could possibly be good about a slow, torturous death such as crucifixion?
Jesus was sent into this world for a purpose. And that purpose was to redeem the world. Jesus came to pay a price that we could not pay, to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind, for your sins and mine. In Romans 3:23, the apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Later, in that same letter (Romans 5:12), Paul tells us, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” All sinned. Not one, not some. All. Not one of us is exempt. We have all sinned and, as Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” That is the penalty for sin and that’s what Jesus came to pay.
Matthew 27:45 tells us that, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, darkness came over the land of Israel for three hours, from noon until three in the afternoon. Jesus had hung on the cross from about nine in the morning until noon and had spoken at least three times during that time before the darkness fell. But when the darkness fell, Jesus was silent. When the darkness lifted, Jesus spoke again, crying out loudly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was while darkness fell over the land that Jesus was made sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). As He hung on that cross, he took upon His shoulders the sins of the entire world, redeeming us from the curse of our sins (Galatians 3:13). And it was at that moment, that Jesus felt forsaken by God. Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Our sin separated us from God and at that moment, Jesus felt that separation.
It was because of that separation from God caused by sin that man could no longer stand in the presence of God. And that is why, in the Temple, there was a curtain that separated God’s people from the place of God’s presence, the holy of holies. But look at what happened to that curtain when Jesus gave up His life on the cross. Matthew 27: 51 tells us that, “At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The curtain that stood between man and the presence of God was removed. It was completely torn in two. And look at how it tore: from top to bottom. From heaven to earth. Through the death of Jesus, God removed that which stood between us and His presence, our sin.
And so, we call today “Good” Friday because on this day, Jesus fulfilled His purpose, He gave His life so that we could be set free from the chains of our sin and the penalty of that sin. He made a way where there was no way and restored the relationship between us and our God. As we saw earlier, Romans 6:23 tells us that the wages of sin is death. But that same verse goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus paid the price so that each one of us can enjoy eternal life in the presence of the Father. And that’s what’s “good” about “Good” Friday!
It was by faith that the people of Israel went right through the Red Sea as though they were on dry ground. But when the Egyptians tried to follow, they were all drowned. (Hebrews 11:29)
With each step out of the land of Egypt, the Israelites must have tasted their freedom more and more. God was leading them away from the place in which they had been enslaved for generations. And then it happened. They found themselves face to face with a watery dead end as they stood at the shore of the Red Sea. And then, to make matters worse, Pharaoh decided to pursue them in order to bring them back into captivity. As the Egyptian army, with its horses and its chariots, came into sight, the Israelites once again became slaves – not slaves to the Egyptians, but slaves to their fear. They cried out to God, complained to Moses, and began to think that they were better off when they lived as slaves to the Egyptians. But Moses had faith in God. “Do not fear!” he told the Israelites. Moses believed that God would not allow them to be recaptured, and God used Moses to part the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to pass through on dry land before sending the pursuing Egyptian army to its watery grave (Exodus 14:1-31).
God provided a way for the Israelites to escape their captors and their fears. He made a way through the obstacle in front of them and away from the fear that pursued them. The way through the Red Sea was provided by God, but it required something on the part of the Israelites. In Exodus 14:16, God told Moses that he was to lift up his staff, stretch his hand over the sea, and divide the water, and that the Israelites were to walk through the sea on dry land. God’s way through the problem facing the Israelites required faith. Moses had to believe that what God said would happen would come to pass. He had to believe that the laws of nature would be bent and that the water would roll back, exposing dry land so that the Israelites could pass through. He had to believe that the water would be held back long enough for every one of them to make it through to the other side, ahead of the pursuing Egyptian army. And then they had to step out in that faith.
We all face a Red Sea at some point in our lives. The entire world is facing a Red Sea right now with the COVID-19 outbreak. And that Red Sea is fear, anxiety, hopelessness, depression caused by isolation. But here’s the thing, as we face this Red Sea, we have a choice. We can stand in front of it and allow ourselves to become slaves to that fear, that hopelessness, that anxiety and depression. Or, we can seek God’s help, asking Him to help us through by parting our Red Sea. When we reach out to God, He will provide a way through our difficulties. That way could be miraculous, as God eradicates the virus. Or God may simply give each of us the strength, hope, courage, or comfort that we need to face the situation we are in. The parting of the Red Sea required faith on the part of Moses and the Israelites. Seeing our Red Sea part requires the same from us. We need to believe that God will make a way for us. And we need to step out in faith and walk through our difficulty in whatever way God directs.
Is COVID-19 leaving you at a standstill, facing the Red Sea of fear, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression in which the enemy is trying to enslave you? Are the words that come from your heart, “God, if You can, please help me through this! I’m trying so hard to believe but look at what’s happening all around us!” If so, remember the words that the father of the demon-possessed boy cried out to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Cry out to God to help you build the faith you need, allow Him to show you the way through your Red Sea, then step out in that faith into the freedom that waits on the other side.
This is a post that I originally wrote in November 2019. It seemed quite appropriate to the crisis we are in with the COVID-19 outbreak, so I though I’d re-post it with a few changes to it. I pray that it will give hope to someone.
Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home. After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone. Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.” “Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted. Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. (Matthew 14:22–32)
Storms are an inevitable part of life. Sometimes we can see them coming but, as with the COVID-19 outbreak around the world, they often take us by surprise, seemingly coming out of nowhere. And, although we may not see it as we are fighting against the wind and the waves that are tossing us to and fro, the storms we face in our lives serve a purpose. They help us to see that, no matter what storms we face in life, Jesus is right there with us, ready to help us to look past the wind and the waves. God’s Word tells us that He will be with us through deep waters, that when we “go through rivers of difficulty,” we will not drown (Isaiah 43:2). Jesus always comes to us in the storms of life. When things look bleak, when hope is all but gone, He is always there, just waiting for us to reach out and take hold of His hand.
In Matthew 14, the disciples are in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, heading toward Capernaum. Jesus is not with them, having stayed behind to pray. While the disciples are making their way across the water, a stormy gale kicks up and the disciples find themselves fighting against the wind and the waves. But, as they do, Jesus comes to them, walking on the water. Jesus is walking right through their storm. Jesus had already shown the disciples that He had dominion over the storms of life when He calmed a storm in Matthew 8:23-27. And, now He was once again showing them that the storm that they faced was no match for Him as He walked to the disciples’ boat on the surface of the water – waves, wind, and all.
Peter was the first one to get it, although he apparently still had some doubts as he said, “Lord, if that’s really You, command me to walk on the water toward You.” And, when Jesus did just that, Peter took that step out of the boat, set his eyes on Jesus and walked on the water towards His Lord, forgetting about the wind and the waves that still surrounded him. When the storms of life begin to swirl around us, our first reaction may be to look to Jesus and, with some doubt in our hearts, pray, “Lord, if it’s possible, help me to walk through this storm I’m facing.” And then, like Peter, we set our eyes on Jesus and begin to make our way through the storm.
But, as he walked on the water towards Jesus, Peter took his eyes off his Lord and began to focus on the storm. Why? Maybe there was a sudden bolt of lightning or a loud crash of thunder that pulled Peter’s eyes off Jesus and set them on the storm that was still raging around him. Whatever caused Peter to once again focus on the storm and not on Jesus doesn’t matter. What matters is the result. When Peter began to allow the storm to become his focus, he began to sink. When we are facing a storm in life, as long as we keep our hearts and our minds focused on Jesus, He will help us walk through that storm. The storm may still be there, but He will help us through it. But when we allow doubts to creep in, when the storm once again grabs our attention, just as it did Peter, the storm will begin to pull us down. But there’s good news.
As Peter began to sink into the waters of the Sea of Galilee, he called out for Jesus to save him. And, as he did, the hand of Jesus reached out and pulled Peter back up. And here’s the best part. Jesus didn’t pick Peter up and carry him to the boat. Jesus didn’t get in the boat first and then pull Peter in. Holding onto Peter’s hand, Jesus walked Peter through the storm and back into the boat. In the midst of our storms, if we let doubts and fear creep in and pull our focus off Jesus, all we need to do is call out to Him. He will take us by the hand and will walk with us through the storm. In John 16:33, Jesus told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” We will face storms in our lives. We are all facing one right now. But, when we look past the wind and waves and focus on Jesus in the midst of those storms, we can take heart. Jesus has overcome the world and He will help us to overcome those storms.
These are words that come easily off the lips of many of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. They seem as automatic as saying “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, or saying “please” or “thank you.” But what if someone asked “Why do you praise God?” What would you say? Why do we praise Him? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for praising God. Well, for starters, we praise God because it’s what is commanded of His people. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord!” If we are living and breathing, we should be praising the Lord.
1 Chronicles 16:25 (NLT) says, “Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!” We praise God because He is worthy of our praise. In fact, He is the only one who is truly worthy of our praise, a truth we see in Deuteronomy 10:21 (NLT), which says, “He alone is your God, the only one who is worthy of your praise, the one who has done these mighty miracles that you have seen with your own eyes.”
We praise God in response to His nature, the things that make God who He is. For His greatness (Psalm 150:2, NIV): “Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness!” For His faithfulness (Psalm 57:9-10, NIV): “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.” For His strength (Psalm 59:17, NIV): “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.”
We praise God in response to the things He has done. For the prayers that He hears and the prayers He answers (Psalm 66:19-20, NLT): “But God did listen! He paid attention to my prayer. Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw his unfailing love from me.” For sending His Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 1:68-70, NLT): “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people. He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David, just as he promised through his holy prophets long ago.”
But perhaps one of the best reasons we can give for why we praise God is found in Psalm 105:1-2 (NLT): “Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds.” We praise God so that the whole world will come to know Him and all that He has done for each and everyone of us because of His great love for us, a love that is clearly defined in the words of John 3:16-17 (NIV): “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
When my wife, Linda, received her cancer diagnosis in 2019, we began praying. Our church began praying. Friends and family began praying. We began praying for what anyone in our situation would pray for: a miracle. We prayed that when Linda went for a PET scan to confirm the diagnosis, the doctors would find that there was no cancer, that our prayers and the prayers of others would result in a miracle. She had the PET scan and the cancer diagnosis was confirmed. There was no miracle. But we continued to pray. Our faith is strong and we were not going to give up hope. We would keep praying for a miracle.
Linda had surgery to remove the cancer. We prayed that the cancer had not spread into the lymph nodes, that God would allow the surgery to bring the miracle. But when we got the biopsy results, we learned that the cancer had gotten into the lymph nodes and there was a second unrelated cancer that did not show up on the PET scan. Still no miracle. Linda would need to go through radiation and chemotherapy. But still our faith was strong and we continued to pray for that miracle.
The dictionary defines a miracle as something that defies the laws of nature, something that is supernatural in nature or an act of God. This is what we were praying for. But there’s another dictionary definition for miracle – any amazing or wonderful event. Not something supernatural, not something that defies the laws of nature, but something that is still amazing or wonderful. Something that we can point to and thank God for. And, for Linda and me, that’s the kind of miracle that we have received.
In the midst of a serious cancer diagnosis, we received peace. We received a stronger faith than we have ever had before. We received the gift of being drawn closer to each other and to God. But the true miracle in this whole situation has been Linda herself. While in the hospital for her surgery and after learning that she needed to undergo chemo and radiation, Linda prayed with other patients, including one who was dying. And while at the treatment center for her radiation treatments, she has been praying with other patients who were struggling.
2 Corinthians 1:4 says, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” Despite her own diagnosis, and despite the fatiguing treatments she has endured, she has looked at others with a desire to bring a little of the peace and comfort that God has given her. And so, while we have not received the miracle that we have prayed for (although we continue to pray for that!), we have received a miracle. Sometimes the miracle is not what we prayed for. Through God’s great love and mercy, sometimes we are the miracle.