Today we hike through this amazing passage:
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants. And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised…..Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised (that’s us), he confirmed it with an oath.
God did this so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
God swearing by himself is a mind-boggling concept. How certain he wants us to be in his faithfulness, love, and power! And yet, like many other Christians (I suspect), I’ve struggled at times to trust his greatest promises.
Not at first. As a young Christian, I genuinely welcomed persecution, opposition, setbacks, and challenges: Jesus was my Hero, and the Bible promised victory. I knew we were in battle, together. Yes, I wept when friends turned back from following Jesus, or rejected his teachings, yet I absolutely believed his word never returns void. The fight between light and darkness was close, visceral, and exhilarating. God was near. His promises sustained me.
I dived into situations well over my head, confident he’d give me ‘words of wisdom’ in tough situations (Luke 21:15).
I endured rejection from my family due to my newfound faith, convinced Jesus would repay a hundred times what I lost for his sake—homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fields (Mark 10:29-30).
Like Paul, I chose to delight in hardships and weaknesses, knowing my heavenly reward would be great. I ‘joyfully accepted the confiscation of my property’ when we lost all our worldly possessions in our first move for ministry training.
And then, later down the path, I lost my certainty. I lost my way.
My pre-Christian past rose up to haunt me, twenty years later. A huge loss I’d failed to process upended my life, shaking me to the core. A cascade of more recent griefs joined the onslaught: the toll of leaving so many cities, congregations, and dearly loved friends, with short or little notice— suddenly, unwillingly, and permanently. Children we almost adopted, and lost. Infertility I hadn’t reckoned with, marriage struggles I’d never imagined. Disappointment with the way things were; the wide divide between my yearnings and my reality, with how I thought God would bless me, and all the holes I felt instead.
Satan was having a field day.
As the battle waged (and it lasted much longer than you might guess), my faith in God’s promises eroded. These ones, in particular:
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
The longer I struggled, the more hopeless I felt at ever finding fulfillment. Everything I wanted—peace, love, deep, lasting friendships (in my daily life, not across the ocean); the ballast of a cheerful marriage—felt out of reach. And the irony of this verse? The less content I felt, the less able I was to delight in the Lord. He’d failed me… I thought.
God works all things together for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)
I could see this in other Christian’s lives, but not in mine. So many dreams had been dashed—staying in India, staying in Africa, feeling a part of God’s family in a particular place, rather than moving around like a replaceable pawn, and so much more. My life was going places I didn’t want, and God didn’t seem to be super concerned.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:6)
My path was anything but straight, and seemed to be heading downwards, fast. (What was that other promise, about our paths “growing ever brighter till the full light of dawn”?) At one point I felt as if I’d been tossed off the God Train, my shabby luggage behind me. And I wasn’t an overt rebel; I was trying to live faithfully.
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
In my darkest moments (and there were many), when I let myself feel how utterly crushed I was, how broken-hearted to my core, I felt like a fountain of sorrow. I blamed myself for my inability to process and heal my staggering grief. And in my darkness, God felt very, very far away, the opposite of what this passage promised. Had he given up on me? I couldn’t blame him: I’d nearly given up on myself.
…you… are filled with a glorious and inexpressible joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:8-9)
When had I last been filled with that inexpressible joy? I could remember it, but only as a distant dream. And for this, too, I beat myself up. What a lousy Christian I’d turned out to be!
I will never leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
God certainly seemed to have turned away. I struggled to pray, since if God was angry or fed up with me (as I was with myself), what was the point?
And even my old standby, the promise of being repaid 100-fold for the losses we incur for Christ (Mark 10: 29-30)…Yes, we’d had many ‘homes’ during our dozens of moves in the ministry. But where were they now? And where was this awesome ‘family’ he promised? We moved into our 22nd home with no one there to lift a box or share the load.
At the nadir of my journey, I felt bankrupt. Which of these promises could I point to and say, “Yes, He is faithful”? At the age of 50, everything seemed to have slipped through my weary fingers. And things were getting worse, not better.
Where was God in all this pain? His promises mocked me.
At least, that’s how it felt. And ‘felt’ is the operative word here. Because what we feel or think doesn’t necessarily reflect reality: God’s reality. What God was doing with me, and in me, was much greater than my puny, sour perception.
More on this in part 2…