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Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy. Psalm 107:22

When we’ve been through the tough times of life it’s important to look back with joy and thankfulness to be reminded of what God has done for us. It’s human nature during the storm to be concerned for our safety. It’s normal when our health fails to be distracted by the pain of our illness and the uncertainty of our future. During those times it may seem like God is far from us.

But once we have endured, once we have come through the tough times we need to take a moment to look back at the road we’ve travelled. During the tough times of life it may seem as though we’ve been forgotten. We may look back at the mistakes we’ve made, the intentional and rebellious ways in which we’ve taken life into our own hands, the people we’ve hurt or who have hurt us and wonder where God is in all that.

But in the midst of the bad times we need to focus on the fact that regardless of how life looks around us, God is love. He is in control. He is present and loves us very much. Take a fresh look at the positive things He has done in the midst of the storm. If we do that, with an open mind to the realization of God’s love, we will see that even the things that seemed tragic at the time were beneficial for us in the long run.

In Psalm 107 the psalmist writes of the many ways in which God’s deliverance has been evident in the lives of His people. He reminds them of His bountiful provision. He reminds them of God’s love and forgiveness. He asks them to recollect how, when they were sick He brought comfort and healing; when they were homeless He provided shelter; when their friends and family forsook them He became their comfort.

We live in times of great struggle and adversity. Homes are being foreclosed on. Jobs are being lost. Relationships are failing. Families are being torn apart by divorce, death and illness. During these times it’s especially hard to see God’s presence. It’s during these times that we need to hold on tight to the promises that have been made.

God loves you. Regardless of what you are going through, He loves you. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is that you are suffering. Fault doesn’t change His love for you. Take time to focus on what He has done for you. Ask Him for strength to see through the fog of your pain to the strength of His love. Praise Him that even in the darkness He is there for you to comfort, guide and protect.

PRAYER: Dear God. You know the struggle I have today. I’m in such confusion that I doubt Your presence and my ability to continue on. Please show Yourself to me in a real way today. Help me to see the good in all the bad that surrounds me. Forgive me for my doubt and rebellion and help me sense Jesus’ love for me like I never have before. Amen.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. Isaiah 58:12

 The word of the Lord came to the Prophet Isaiah concerning Israel’s return from exile. It was a word that had a dual significance to God’s people. On the one hand it spoke of their physical return from bondage and how the cities and towns that lay in ruins would once again rise from the ruble to become thriving towns and villages.

One the other hand, the passage holds eternal meaning. It speaks of a time when, once and for all, God will deliver His people from all their enemies. In Jesus we find spiritual restoration, but one day, Jesus will return to gather us to Himself where we will spend eternity with Him. No more death. No more sickness. No more division of nations, cultures or denominations. Eternity in peace with our Savior! 

For the Christ-follower this verse reminds us that the ruins of our past are not permanent. Regardless of what you have done, who you have hurt or who has hurt you, the past is just the past. Because of the forgiveness we have in Christ we can put the past behind us and press onward with the promise that God can use us and even the sins and poor choices of our past for His glory.

It is also important for us to realize that no matter what the past holds for you in the sense of memories, pain and devastation, there is some good to build upon. The prophet says “Your people…will raise up age-old foundations”. When the people of Israel returned home to the devastation brought to their homeland by invading armies there was ruin everywhere. Walls and roofs had collapsed and were useless. But the foundations stood firm. It was on these foundations that the buildings would once again rise.

In the same way, we may have wandered from Christ. We may have come to a point where we no longer believed, no longer chose to follow Him. Our choices of the past may have brought ruin and devastation to our lives. But no matter what has been destroyed as a result of our decisions, there is always something God can use to build us back up for His glory. No life is a total loss when God is involved.

The prophet gives us one more challenge in this verse. Not only is there always something to salvage from our own lives, the same is true for those around us. As Christ followers we have the privilege and opportunity to be “Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings”. We are surrounded by friends and loved ones whose lives have become nothing but shattered ruins of what could have been. With God’s help and the power of His Holy Spirit working in us we can reach out to those that have been demoralized, attacked and defeated and help them to rebuild on the foundations that still exist.

What an awesome opportunity awaits us! Some day we will be taken out of this world to a far better place. Until then we can build our own lives and the lives of others on the love and forgiveness offered through Jesus!

PRAYER: Father God. When I think of the devastation that your people of Israel must have experienced when they returned home I am reminded of my own devastation. I’ve felt beaten up, battered and misunderstood as a result of choices I’ve made and the injustice I’ve suffered at the hands of others. But that is my past. Forgive me for my part in the ruins of my life. Empower me to rebuild on the truths you have told me about myself. Give me wisdom and strength to lift my brother from the ruins as well for your names sake. Amen.

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

Throughout history people have given their lives for freedom. Those who have been in prison or have been prisoners of war will tell you that the worst part of imprisonment was having your freedom ripped from you. Being behind bars can be demeaning, lonely and extremely painful physically as well as emotionally, but those bars are not nearly as harsh as the bars each of us are behind on a daily basis.

For every person behind the physical bars of prison there are thousands who we see on the street that are imprisoned by invisible bars, sometimes of their own choosing. Bars of anger over past hurts and abuse. Bars of the past that refuse to let us see the outside world of second chances and new beginnings. Bars of fear over the future and death. Bars of resentment towards God and others who have hurt us. Bars of want and desire driven by lustful passion for things we hope will satisfy (but rarely do). Bars that keep us from forgiving ourselves or others for past decisions. Bars of religious tradition and dogma the hinder the Holy Spirit from working freely in your life.

As a Christ-follower you don’t need to be in prison any longer. Many have given their lives to be free. Jesus already died for your freedom. Choose to follow Him. Talk to Him about the prison you are in. Be honest about how you feel about God, yourself and others. Learn from Him through His word and others who have chosen to be free in Him.

Jesus came to remove the anger, to remove the hate and disappointment, to calm your fears and fill the void of loneliness and despair in your lives. Religion won’t do that. New relationships won’t last. Having all the newest toys and gadgets can’t make you happy. Only a life sold out to following Jesus can. Many will tell you religion is too restrictive. Jesus isn’t religion. Jesus is relationship. Full, vibrant, free relationship built on love, forgiveness and second chances.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus. You know better than I the prison walls I’ve built for myself. Walls of anger and guilt and despair and loneliness. I desperately seek freedom from things in life that seem to make my prison walls thicker and stronger. You say you came to grant me freedom. I ask that you would show me this freedom today. Help me to grow in relationship with you so that I can be free as you promised. Amen.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8 (NLT)

Recently I got a new camera for a trip we took to Disney World. We took hundreds of pictures to remember our trip by. When we got home we sat down to look at the pictures. Many of them were fantastic memories of our trip, but several of the pictures were a disappointment. Apparently the new camera I got had a slight design flaw. If you weren’t careful one of the dials could be switched and the focus of the pictures would become grainy or blurry. Several picture memories were ruined because the picture was out of focus.

There are software programs out there that can improve the lighting, the color and many other aspects of the picture. But if the focus is off, there is little that can be done. I learned the hard way to make sure that this camera had its dial on the correct settings before taking a picture!

Sometimes life can be like that. We get out of focus. It’s not dials that cause our problems. We play the ‘blame game’ and blame people, our past, our family, the injustice of the ‘so-called’ justice system, finances, politics, bad choices or even God for all the bad things that happen in our lives.

We get failure and adversity so ingrained in our thought processes that we lose sight of the many positive aspects of life. The circumstances of life aren’t what keep us in prison. It’s our reaction to the circumstances of life that hinders our ability to move forward. Fear, guilt, hate, anger, shame and unforgiveness keep us in bondage so that we can’t function. We go through life crippled by unhappiness and frustration.

The Apostle Paul gives us a cure for losing the focus on life. He tells the Philippians to keep their minds focused on the truth. There are some things in life that we will never change. Learn to accept them. There are other things we can change if we rely on God for the strength and wisdom to forge ahead.

We can’t always change the circumstances in our lives, but we can always change how we react to them. Start your day by forcing your mind to focus on the good things God has done for you. The fact that you can read this is a start! You are breathing! Jesus loves you even when you can’t feel it! If you are a Christ-follower you are forgiven and have eternity to look forward to. These are just a few things we can focus on. Train your mind to see the many works of God around you. Live a life of praise in the midst of adversity.

PRAYER: Dear Jesus. I admit to you that I can find plenty of people and things to blame for the pain I’m suffering right now. I’ve been attacked wrongfully. I’ve tried to follow you and failed. I’ve even questioned your Love and power. Sometimes I’ve wondered if you are even there! I ask that through the power of your Holy Spirit you would empower me to train my mind to focus on the true and honorable things in my life. Amen.

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3

When we commit our plans to the Lord the Bible says that those plans will succeed. What a wonderful promise to look forward to! The reality is that for many of us the path we’ve journeyed along in life is strewn with the wreckage of failures, poor choices, ruined relationships and piles of debt. Not much success to be seen.

There are really only two options available for us. If our plans have met with failure then we have to conclude that either God isn’t able to fulfill His end of the bargain, or we failed to completely commit our plans to Him. There really isn’t a middle ground.

So, how can we insure success with our plans? First of all we need to think carefully about the word commit. Commit does not mean merely ‘running the idea past God’. It doesn’t carry the idea of telling your wife as you leave the house “By the way I’m stopping for a haircut on the way home today.” Commit carries with it a turning over the responsibility of our plans to someone else, in this case God.

A second aspect of commitment regards how our actions or plans match up to the plumb line of God’s character. The illustration of the plumb line, or plum bob, reminds us that while God loves us and has given us much freedom through Jesus Christ, there are some things that simply will not work in God’s Kingdom. If our plans and/or actions operate outside of these boundaries success as we know it can not happen.

Lastly, commitment of our plans to the Lord requires that we evaluate our definition of success. Success by the world’s standards usually involved numbers. The amount of money you gain from the action, the number of friends and/or other people you influence, the number of points you make. It’s all about numbers.

In God’s economy numbers don’t matter. Quality of character and relationships are the only thing that matter. If we took the time to look back amongst the wreckage of our past; if we pulled back the shattered dreams, looked underneath the broken relationships or pushed aside the pile of debt we would no doubt see the green shoots of new life. New life consisting of lessons learned, experience gained and wisdom acquired.

In God’s eyes that is success. Not that we won the race, but that we finished it. Not that we were looked on with respect by others but that we learned how to lean more fully on God. Not that our lives generated much wealth, fame and fortune, but that those who follow us will find the way to a living peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Giving your plans and actions over to God’s control is risky. But it is the only way in which we can be all that God wants us to be. As you grow in relationship with Him through prayer, bible study and fellowship you will find that your plans will align with His character and success will be measured by Him, not those around you.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I look behind me and the road I’ve travelled and see so many mistakes, so many poor choices, so many doubts, fears and times of rebellion. I’ve neglected truly committing those plans to you and they have caused pain to myself and those around me. Thank you for the painful lessons I’ve learned. Forgive me for arrogantly thinking I knew best. Empower me through your Holy Spirit to commit my ways to you in a real and practical way. Amen.

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