When Hard Pressed
Many years ago, a friend told me how intimidated she was while trying to cross a street where several roads intersected. “I’d never seen anything like this; the rules I’d been taught for crossing the street seemed ineffective. I was so frightened that I’d stand on the corner, wait for the bus, and ask the bus driver if he’d please allow me to ride to the other side of the street. It would take a long time before I successfully learned to navigate this intersection both as a pedestrian and later as a driver.”
As complicated as a dangerous traffic intersection can be, navigating life’s complexities can be even more menacing. Although the psalmist’s specific situation in Psalm 118 is uncertain, we know it was difficult and just right for prayer: “When hard pressed, I cried to the
It’s not unusual to be fearful when we need to change jobs or schools or housing. Anxieties arise when health declines, relationships change, or dollars disappear. But these challenges needn’t be interpreted as abandonment by God. When hard pressed, may we find ourselves prayerfully pressing into His presence.
Mercy for You and Me
One of consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic was the docking of cruise ships and the quarantining of passengers. The Wall Street Journal featured an article that included interviews of some of the tourists. Commenting about how being quarantined provided more opportunities for conversations, one passenger joked how his spouse—who possessed an excellent memory—was able to bring up every transgression he ever had and sensed she wasn’t done yet!
Accounts like this make us smile, remind us of our humanness, and serve to caution us if we’re prone to hold too tightly to the things we should release. What helps us to be kindly disposed to those who hurt us? Glimpses of our great God, as He’s portrayed in passages like Psalm 103:8–12.
The Message’s rendering of verses 8–10 is noteworthy: “God is sheer mercy and grace; not easily angered, he’s rich in love. He doesn’t endlessly nag and scold, nor hold grudges forever. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve, nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.” Asking for God’s help as we prayerfully read Scripture can cause us to have second thoughts about ill-conceived payback or plans to punish. And it can prompt prayers for ourselves and for those we may be tempted to harm by withholding grace, mercy, and forgiveness.
“BROKE” was the street name Grady answered to and those five letters were proudly emblazoned on his license plates. Though not intended in a spiritual sense, the moniker fit the middle-aged gambler, adulterer, and deceiver. He was broken, bankrupt, and far from God. However, all that changed one evening when he was convicted by God’s Spirit in a hotel room. He told his wife, “I think I’m getting saved!” That evening he confessed sins he thought he’d take with him to the grave and came to Jesus for forgiveness. For the next thirty years, the man who didn’t think he’d live to see forty lived and served God as a changed believer in Jesus. His license plates changed too—from “BROKE” to “REPENT.”
Repent. That’s what Grady did and that’s what God called Israel to do in Hosea 14:1–2. “Return, Israel, to the
A record rainfall more than tripled what was forecasted in Waverly, Tennessee, in August 2021. In the wake of the powerful storm, twenty people lost their lives and hundreds of homes were destroyed. Had it not been for the compassion and skill of helicopter pilot Joel Boyers, the loss of human life would’ve been even greater.
The pilot took flight in response to a phone call from a woman who was concerned about her loved ones. In addition to seeing houses on fire and cars in trees, Boyers noted, “It was nothing but [muddy], raging water below me.” The pilot, however, bravely proceeded to rescue twelve people from the roofs of their homes.
As harrowing as the raging waters can be in life, more often than not the swirling floods we face aren’t literal—but oh, how real! In days of uncertainty and instability, we can feel overwhelmed, unsafe—“in over our heads” mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But we don’t need to despair.
In Psalm 18, we read how David’s enemies were many and mighty, but his God was greater. How great? So great and powerful (v. 1) that he used multiple metaphors (v. 2) to describe Him. God was mighty enough to rescue from deep waters and strong enemies (vv. 16–17). How great? Great enough for us to call upon Him in the name of Jesus, regardless of the volume and depth of the waters surrounding us in life (v. 3).
A House Undivided
On June 16, 1858, as the newly nominated Republican candidate for the US Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech, which highlighted the tensions between various factions in America regarding slavery. It caused a stir among Lincoln’s friends and foes. Lincoln felt it was important to use the “house divided” figure of speech which Jesus used in Matthew 12:25 because it was widely known and simply expressed. He used this metaphor “so it would strike home to the minds of men in order to rouse them to the peril of the times.”
If a divided house can’t stand, the opposite is true—an undivided house stands unified. In principle, that’s what the household of God is designed to be (Ephesians 2:19). Though made up of people from various backgrounds, together we’ve been reconciled to God (and each other) through Jesus’ death on the cross (vv. 14–16). In view of this truth (see Ephesians 3), Paul offers this instruction to believers in Jesus: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (4:3). Today, when heightened tensions threaten to divide people who are otherwise united, such as our families and fellow believers, God can give the wisdom and strength needed to keep unity with one another through the help of the Spirit. This will cause us to be light in a dark, divided world.
The gleeful shouts arising from our basement came from my wife, Shirley. For hours she’d wrestled with a newsletter project, and she was ready to be done with it. In her anxiety and uncertainty about how to move forward, she prayed for God’s help. She also reached out to Facebook friends and soon the project was completed—a team effort.
While a newsletter project is a little thing in life, small (and not so small) things can bring about worry or anxiousness. Perhaps you’re a parent walking through the stages of childrearing for the first time; a student facing newfound academic challenges; a person grieving the loss of a loved one; or someone experiencing a home, work, or ministry challenge. Sometimes we’re needlessly on edge because we don’t ask God for help (James 4:2).
Paul pointed the followers of Jesus in Philippi—and us—to our first line of defense in times of need: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6). When life gets complicated, we need reminders like the one from the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”: Oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.
And perhaps in our asking God for help, He’ll lead us to ask people who can assist us.
He Knows My Heart
After a customer at a grocery store self-checkout station had completed her transaction, I made my way to the station and proceeded to scan my goods. Unexpectedly, a visibly angry person confronted me. I’d failed to notice that she was actually next in line for checkout. Recognizing my mistake, I sincerely said, “I’m sorry.” She replied (though not limited to these words), “No, you’re not!”
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were wrong, acknowledged it, and tried to make things right—only to be rebuffed? It doesn’t feel good to be misunderstood or misjudged, and the closer we are to those we offend or those who offend us, the more painful it is. How we wish they could see our hearts!
The prophet Isaiah’s snapshot in Isaiah 11:1–5 is that of a God-appointed ruler with wisdom for perfect judgment. “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth” (vv. 3–4). This was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Though in our sinfulness and weakness we don’t always get it right, we can take heart that the all-seeing, all-knowing God of heaven knows us fully and judges us rightly.
Dark Moments, Deep Prayers
“I had a dark moment.” Those five words capture the internal agony of a popular female celebrity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adjusting to a new normal was part of her challenge, and in her turmoil, she acknowledged that she wrestled with thoughts of suicide. Pulling out of the downward spiral included sharing her struggle with a friend who cared.
We’re all susceptible to tumultuous hours, days, and seasons. Valleys and hard places aren’t foreign but getting out of such places can be challenging. And seeking the assistance of mental health professionals is sometimes needed.
In Psalm 143, we hear and are instructed by David’s prayer during one of the dark times of his life. The exact situation is unknown, but his prayers to God are honest and hope-filled. “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in the darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed” (vv. 3–4). For believers in Jesus, it’s not enough to acknowledge what’s going on within us to ourselves, to our friends, or to medical specialists. We must earnestly come to God (thoughts and all) with prayers that include the earnest petitions found in Psalm 143:7–10. Our dark moments can also be times for deep prayers—seeking the light and life only God can bring.
Refreshed at Simon’s House
My trip to Simon’s house was unforgettable. Under the cover of a star-lit sky in Nyahururu, Kenya, we made our way to his modest home for dinner. The dirt floor and the lantern light reflected Simon’s limited means. What was on the menu, I don’t recall. What I can’t forget was Simon’s joy that we were his guests. His gracious hospitality was Jesus-like—selfless, life-touching, and refreshing.
In 1 Corinthians 16:15–18, Paul mentioned a family—the household of Stephanas (v. 15)—that had a reputation for their caregiving. They’d “devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people” (v. 15). While their service likely included tangible things (v. 17), the impact was such that Paul wrote that “they refreshed my spirit and yours also” (v. 18).
When we have opportunities to share with others, we rightly give attention to matters of food, setting, and other things that are fitting for such occasions. But we sometimes forget that although “the what” and “the where” matter, they’re not the most important things. Memorable meals are great and pleasant settings have their place, but food is limited in its capacity to fully nourish and encourage. True refreshment flows from God and is a matter of the heart; it reaches the hearts of others, and it continues to nourish long after the meal is over.