A good friend of mine once went to visit his brother during a time of deep crisis. His marriage was struggling, his business was near collapse, and his money was drying up quickly. He had just sold his home and moved into a one-bedroom apartment and had no idea how he was going to dig himself out of his financial and relational problems.
My friend listened as his brother confided in him about his deep frustration. “Some days you want to go outside and shake your fist at heaven and say, ‘God, why don’t you help me?'” his brother said.
My friend looked at his brother in the eye and said somberly, “That wouldn’t do any good. He doesn’t even know who you are.” The two looked at each other for several seconds then burst out laughing. The two brothers had spent their lives trusting God and studying his Word, and the absurdity of the statement left them both in stitches. Years later, the brother told my friend that his joke had brought him a great deal of comfort during his trying time. Even more, it gave him renewed perspective.
We’ve all felt abandoned by God at one time or another. God cares deeply when we suffer, and he is right there beside us all the time.
At times like these the best thing to do is put your hand in his and trust him with your future. Because he not only knows what you’re going through, he knows exactly who you are.
It was midnight on Thursday, February 8, A.D. 356, and Athanasius, a leader in the early Christian church and passionate defender of the deity of Jesus Christ, was leading a worship service. Suddenly loud shouts and clashing armor could be heard outside the church. Soldiers had come to arrest him.
But Athanasius said, “I didn’t think it right, at such a time, to leave my people,” so he continued the service. He asked a deacon to read Psalm 136 and then requested the congregation to respond with the refrain, “His faithful love endures forever,” which they did twenty-six times over the din of the soldiers outside.
Just as the final verse was completed, the soldiers rushed into the church, brandishing their swords and spears and crowding forward up the nave toward Anthanasius. The people yelled for Athanasius to run, but he refused to go until he had given a benediction. Then some of his assistants gathered tightly around him, and, as he recounts it, “I passed through the crowd of people unseen and escaped, giving thanks to God that I had not betrayed my people, but had seen to their safety before I thought of my own.”
Athanasius was portraying to his people God’s love, which endures forever. He was willing to lay down his life for his flock — just as Jesus had laid down his life for his flock a few centuries earlier.
Since God’s “faithful love endures forever,” why is they ever any need to worry?
“Rend your heart, and not your garments.”
Garment-rending and other outward signs of religious emotion, are easily manifested and are frequently hypocritical; but to feel true repentance is far more difficult, and consequently far less common. Men will attend to the most multiplied and minute ceremonial regulations–for such things are pleasing to the flesh–but true religion is too humbling, too heart-searching, too thorough for the tastes of the carnal men; they prefer something more ostentatious, flimsy, and worldly. Outward observances are temporarily comfortable; eye and ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up: but they are ultimately delusive, for in the article of death, and at the day of judgment, the soul needs something more substantial than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon. Apart from vital godliness all religion is utterly vain; offered without a sincere heart, every form of worship is a solemn sham and an impudent mockery of the majesty of heaven.
Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul-moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer. It is not a matter to be merely talked of and believed in, but keenly and sensitively felt in every living child of the living God. It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud unhumbled spirits are unable to receive; and it is distinctly discriminating, for it belongs to the elect of God, and to them alone.
The text commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.
“Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.”
Every wise merchant will occasionally hold a stock-taking, when he will cast up his accounts, examine what he has on hand, and ascertain decisively whether his trade is prosperous or declining. Every man who is wise in the kingdom of heaven, will cry, “Search me, O God, and try me”; and he will frequently set apart special seasons for self-examination, to discover whether things are right between God and his soul. The God whom we worship is a great heart-searcher; and of old his servants knew him as “the Lord which searcheth the heart and trieth the reins of the children of men.” Let me stir you up in his name to make diligent search and solemn trial of your state, lest you come short of the promised rest. That which every wise man does, that which God himself does with us all, I exhort you to do with yourself this evening. Let the oldest saint look well to the fundamentals of his piety, for grey heads may cover black hearts: and let not the young professor despise the word of warning, for the greenness of youth may be joined to the rottenness of hypocrisy. Every now and then a cedar falls into our midst. The enemy still continues to sow tares among the wheat. It is not my aim to introduce doubts and fears into your mind; nay, verily, but I shall hope the rather that the rough wind of self-examination may help to drive them away. It is not security, but carnal security, which we would kill; not confidence, but fleshly confidence, which we would overthrow; not peace, but false peace, which we would destroy. By the precious blood of Christ, which was not shed to make you a hypocrite, but that sincere souls might show forth his praise, I beseech you, search and look, lest at the last it be said of you, “Mene, Mene, Tekel: thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.”