Panting and Thirsting for God

As the hart panteth after the water brooks / so panteth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God / When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)

“As the deer pants for the water / so my soul longs after You…”

Many Christians will recognize the above as the beginning of the hymn “As the Deer,” one of the more well known and beloved hymns. It proves to be a hymn of yearning for God, a desire to establish God as primary in life and to serve Him. For its purposes “As the Deer” is a great hymn, well composed, its message matching its tune, and is justly popular.

The Biblical antecedent for “As the Deer” is much more bleak and challenging even if it ends up in a similar place.

The first line of “As the Deer” is taken from Psalm 42:1, attributed to the sons of Korah, and set by the Psalter as the beginning of Book Two of the Psalms. The sons of Korah yearn for God as deer pant for water; they deeply desire the presence of God as one desires food and drink (Psalm 42:1-2; cf. Matthew 5:6).

The sons of Korah have this experience in distress: their food and drink have been their tears, and people all around deride them by asking where their God has gone (Psalm 42:3). They pour out their souls when they reflect on how they used to go up to the house of God during the appointed festivals (Psalm 42:4). The sons of Korah pick up the refrain of Psalm 42: they rhetorically ask their souls why they are cast down and in distress, for they do well to hope in God whom they will yet praise (Psalm 42:5).

Yet, for the moment, the sons of Korah speak as if in distress, remembering God as if from on the heights of Hermon and in the depths of the Jordan valley (Psalm 42:6). They feel as if overwhelmed by God, as if His waves have gone over them (Psalm 42:7). They express confidence in YHWH’s hesed, covenant loyalty, and His song is in them, and yet they wonder whether God their Rock has forgotten them while their enemies oppress and reproach them, asking where their God has gone (Psalm 42:8-10). The sons of Korah end with their refrain: why are their souls cast down and disquieted? They ought to hope in God, for they will yet praise Him, the help of their countenance, their God (Psalm 42:11).

For most Christians “As the Deer” is a hymn of encouragement, giving them a voice to express to God their desire to be devoted to Him and serve Him, firmly confident in God’s nearness and love. The sons of Korah give voice to the people of God in a far more dire, and all too realistic, situation: crying out to God in the day of trouble when God feels far away and we are cast down in distress and hopelessness, and even the remembrance of better days increases present sorrow.

And yet even in that day of distress the sons of Korah wish for the people of God to reflect. Why are their souls in distress and cast down? They do well to trust in God’s covenant loyalty; He remains their God; they will yet praise Him in and despite all their difficulties and the taunts of their opponents.

Israel would need such a psalm many times in its history. Those who endured the exile would remember the past glory of Zion bitterly in light of their later experiences in a foreign land under the authority of a pagan nation. Many times during the next few hundred years Israel would endure great pain and distress on account of the nations around them; none of this speaks to the various difficulties and challenges endured by individual Israelites on account of smaller-scale oppression and persecution, illness, other tragedies, and death. And yet, through it all, Israel would be encouraged to trust in God and His covenant loyalty, to be assured that one day they would yet praise God.

Christians to this day will find times during which the sons of Korah will give them voice before God in Psalm 42:1-11. If we are honest with ourselves we will admit times when our souls are in distress within us, disquieted on account of trial or trouble. In days of distress, be it on account of personal trial, oppression or persecution, illness, our sins or those of others, etc., even remembrance of better times among the people of God may cause greater distress and disturbance; we may feel even greater distance from those good times and God and all that is good and right.

In those times when God feels the furthest away we do well to yearn for Him as the deer pants for the water; our soul can only truly thirst for the living God if and when we feel as if it has been some time since we were able to drink deeply from His presence. The sons of Korah give voice to freely ask where God has gone, to wonder if we have been forgotten: these are real feelings, real experiences, and attempting to paper over them with theological niceties will not allow us to endure the day of distress. The sons of Korah give voice to those moments in the dark valley of shadows in which we feel very far away from God; that is a real experience, and presuming that no faithful Christian will endure it is a fool’s errand. Yet the sons of Korah do not allow themselves, or those to whom they give voice, to stay there: whatever reasons the soul may be in distress or disquiet do not negate the love and covenant faithfulness of God. We will yet praise Him; we have reason to hope that our desires in Him shall be satisfied. Yet those desires can only exist when they have yet to receive satisfaction; we must learn to seek God precisely because our current condition is fraught with danger, distress, oppression, and opposition. Yes, we will praise God; He is the light of our countenance; yet while we walk in the shadow of the valley of death, may we pant and thirst for the living God, seeking the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Being Abased

I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want (Philippians 4:12).

Apocalyptic scenarios seem to fascinate us. There is never a lack of television shows that describe, often in gruesome detail, the various ways in which our lives may end as we know them. Most of us must confess that we have watched one or more of these shows at times. It is one thing to think about such situations in the abstract while we maintain our comfortable existence. But what if one or more such scenario actually came to pass?

Unfortunately, many have recently been faced with an apocalyptic scenario in life– their homes ravaged by earthquake, tornado, flood, or fire, and in a moment, everything is gone. If the disaster itself was not bad enough, then there is the aftermath– days, perhaps weeks, dependent on outside organizations for food, shelter, and other necessities of life in the worst cases. Sadly, such people learned what it meant to be abased on account of the disaster, if they had not already learned that lesson before because of other circumstances.

Living in bounty is relatively easy; most of us, most of the time, are filled and abound. In fact, not a few of us are probably too filled and abound a bit too much! But what would happen to us if we ourselves experienced immediate humiliation?

Imagine, for example, that the power goes out. It goes out where you live, where all of your friends and family live– in fact, the power has gone out across the nation. And the power does not come back on for years. What then? Pretty much everything we have grown to depend upon is based on electricity and computerized systems. Where would we find the basic necessities of existence? How would we cope if all of our comforts and luxuries vanished in a moment?

How do you think people would respond to such a disaster? How many people would blame God, wondering how He could allow such a terrible thing to happen to us? While such is a natural and understandable response to the calamity, let us think soberly for a moment. Where did God ever promise us a nice, comfortable existence featuring all the benefits of the modern world with its electricity and technology? Everyone in the Bible lived without them. Nevertheless, how many today, in such a situation, would still find fault?

If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that being abased in such a way would be a bitter pill to swallow. While it would most likely be the end of our lives as we knew them, would it be the end of the world? Would it still not be true that God has given us the gifts of this creation, our lives, and all the spiritual blessings He provides in Christ (John 1:1-3, Ephesians 1:3)? God would remain good, even in such difficult circumstances for us. Such a calamity might force us to relearn what it means to depend on one another and cooperate with one another so that we can survive!

If you are still reading this, it means that the electricity is still on, our technologically advanced lives continue, and we still live in relative comfort. Odds are still strong that the electricity will stay on until the Lord returns. And I hope that we do not miss the point because of the example– there are innumerable ways that we may find ourselves abased in this life, and we have only mentioned a few calamitous ones. Yet we do so in order to force us to think about how we would respond and react to being abased. Can we still maintain our faith and hope in God even if we find ourselves humbled and in want? Can we still bless and glorify His name even if we find ourselves in distressing circumstances? May we all grow in faith so as to praise and glorify God no matter what circumstances may be in which we find ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Service Despite Distress

And [Jesus] came forth, and saw a great multitude, and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick (Matthew 14:14).

If there were a time when it would have been perfectly understandable that Jesus would not have wanted anyone around, this would be it.

Opposition to His teachings was mounting (Matthew 12:1-45). At least some of His earthly family members thought that He was delusional and felt compelled to try to intervene (Matthew 12:46-50). He had returned to His hometown of Nazareth and was rejected by those with whom He had significant contact in His life (Matthew 13:53-58). And then word came that John the Baptist, the Elijah who prepared the way for the Lord, His cousin in the flesh, a kindred servant of God, one who understood rejection and the weariness involved in speaking truth to power, had been executed by Herod (Matthew 14:1-12).

It is little wonder, then, that Jesus takes out some time alone to pray (Matthew 14:13). We can only imagine the distress He might be feeling– the pain of rejection, grief over the death of His compatriot and cousin, and perhaps many other difficulties. Nevertheless, while He withdraws to pray, the people follow after Him to seek Him (Matthew 14:13). Even at a time like this there is little peace and little quiet. What would Jesus do?

We can imagine perhaps what we would do. We might lash out, taking out our distress on the people. If we had more control we might politely inform them of our difficulties and attempt to get some space.

Yet Jesus did no such thing. He sees the multitude, and while He might still be experiencing His distress, He also perceives the distress of those who have gathered to Him. He might be feeling pained, but He also knows that many of the people before Him have been experiencing great pain and distress for many years. He has compassion on them and heals those who are sick.

Jesus would later teach that the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and this is a great example (Matthew 20:28). He was sent for a purpose, and the best way to endure the challenges and distress that came along with that purpose was to persevere. What He was experiencing was not really peculiar to Him; many people throughout time have experienced similar forms of rejection, grief, and pain. He looked to His Father for strength, received it, and continued to do the Father’s work.

The whole reason why Jesus mentioned that He came not to be served but to serve was to instruct His disciples that they were going to have to serve to fulfill God’s purposes in the Kingdom (Matthew 20:25-28). To that end, therefore, Jesus’ example is a path for us all (1 John 2:6).

There will be times in our lives when we are going to be in great distress. We may have all sorts of bad news come at us in rapid succession. We may be rejected by some people and alienated from others. We might experience challenges relating to family, friends, and other people with whom we have frequent interaction. We may get news of the untimely end of someone whom we love deeply. There will be times of pain, distress, grief, and suffering.

What shall we do? It would be easy to withdraw and speak sharply to anyone who would disturb our quiet, but what does that really accomplish? We could attempt to politely decline opportunities to work with others, but what is the end of such things?

Jesus provides the way. Our pain and distress is real, and it must be handled as if it is real. As opposed to lashing out against others, or just letting it tear us up internally, we are to take it before God in prayer (1 Peter 5:7). We are not able to endure it on our own, but God has the strength to endure it and sustain us through it. Other people can provide sympathy; God can comfort you and give you peace (Colossians 3:15).

Then we must realize that others in our lives are also in pain and distress, and we do best to help serve them as Christ has served us. It is in service that we have the opportunity to lose ourselves so as to help others; our troubles and trials can be relegated to the back burner when we support others throughout theirs!

God has a purpose for us, and He guaranteed that we would experience times of distress (Acts 14:22, Ephesians 3:10-11). We can shut down and turn inward to our own hurt or we can reach out to God and then serve others, as Jesus did. Let us choose the path of Christ and serve despite distress!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Rocky Soil

“And others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away…And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth” (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21).

One of the most savage ironies in life is that we learn the most about our character and ourselves when we least expect it. Rare is the person who learns character lessons from winning, success, and prosperity. Just as fire is necessary to remove dross from pure metal, so distress, tribulation, and difficulty are necessary to refine the faith of the believer (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-9).

We have the maxim today that “whatever does not kill you makes you stronger.” But what happens to the one who does not survive their difficulties and challenges? Jesus provides an illustration of such people in the parable of the sower with the rocky soil.

The story is consistent in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. The sower casts seed on rocky soil. The seed takes root and grows initially, but the roots do not sink down very deeply. Therefore, when the sun rises, or the moisture runs out, the plant withers and dies.

So it is with many people. Many hear the Word of God, and they receive it eagerly. They believe that Jesus is the Christ. They assemble with fellow Christians. By all appearances, they are growing well as disciples. They may be involved with all kinds of spiritual efforts. And yet, all of a sudden, they are gone.

Why? The reasons are many. Some burn out– they acted more on impulse, and perhaps their personalities are the sort wherein they do not keep any practice or commitment up for any significant amount of time. Others find themselves in some spiritually discouraging situation among Christians who do not act as God would have them act. Many more experience some external difficulty– a family member dies suddenly, they or someone they love endure some kind of evil, or their faith is challenged by some unbeliever in person or on some television show. As a result, many such people entirely abandon belief in God. Others will say that they still believe in Jesus, but not the church, or will declare that they are spiritual but not religious, or some other rationalization.

All such circumstances boil down to the same problem: a shallow faith. Faith is the “roots” that people grow as they learn of God. In the physical realm, roots have amazing power as they grow. Over time roots can often find ways to grow, even in inhospitable places. But when the roots dry out, there is not much hope left. So it is with our faith. If our faith has not grown sufficiently, or was not sufficiently founded in Jesus, when some difficulty comes, it is easy to lose whatever faith we had. If the roots of faith did not grow deeply before boredom set in, then we will move on to some new thing in life. If the roots of faith did not grow past the actions of others, then we are likely to abandon Jesus when some of His followers fail us. If our roots of faith did not grow to the point of trusting God’s goodness in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, then we can easily imagine that God is not there when bad things happen and life seems to go wrong, or when we are posed with challenges in life for which there are no easy answers.

The illustration of the rocky soil is designed to be both a declaration of reality and a warning. It declares the reality that many will believe in a shallow way. When such people fall away, it will be discouraging and unfortunate, but it should not shake our faith or cause undue distress. Our Lord knew that many people would follow Him only as long as it was comfortable– in the sports world, those described as “fair weather fans.” And that is the warning– we must not be the rocky soil. We must be prepared for challenges to our faith. There will be times when Christianity will seem boring and/or our zeal for Christ will languish. There will be times when fellow Christians do not act like they should, and it will discourage us. There will be times when evil will confront us head on, and it will lead to questions about the presence and goodness of God. And there will be times when the hope that is in us will be challenged by those who do not accept it. We cannot change that reality– but we can prepare for it. We can decide how we will respond to it. We can understand that such trials are blessings in that they help us to grow in faith (James 1:2-3). They may not be pleasant, but they are necessary for our growth. We can never prove to be the good soil until someone or something tests the depth of the roots of faith we have set down in our lives.

Life is not a bed of roses, and becoming a servant of Jesus does not then somehow make it so. In fact, serving Jesus means to humbly accept challenge, sacrifice, and difficulty (Matthew 16:24, 20:25-28, Romans 12:2, Galatians 2:20). When difficulty comes, will you grow or perish? We pray that you will grow and prove to be good soil, and not rocky soil, and to please the Creator of us all!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Encouraging Words

Heaviness in the heart of a man maketh it stoop; but a good word maketh it glad (Proverbs 12:25).

Contrary to the feelings of many, no man is an island. No man (or woman) is entirely impervious to their environment or their circumstances.

We all go through times in life when our hearts are heavy. The reasons for heavy hearts are legion. Loved ones may hurt us or betray us, or we invest a lot of our emotional time and energy in their distress. They may pass away. We may be hurt by the words or actions of people around us. We may lose a job, develop a debilitating illness, or be in the midst of a very stressful period in life. Many times we allow the influences of the outside world and its continual panic to get us down.

Whatever the reason the distress is quite real. It is not as easy to live with a heavy heart as otherwise (cf. Proverbs 18:14). There is less motivation to engage in the simple functions of life, let alone anything else. It is hard to concentrate. It is hard to be civil and put on a false face in front of others. And it is especially difficult to “keep the faith” and believe that better times are ahead.

There is a natural tendency, in such circumstances, to retreat. It seems easier to not feel at all than to feel distress.

But the “unfelt life” is not really life at all. We all enjoy the highs/peaks of life. If there are highs/peaks, there must, at some point, be lows/valleys. We all experience them; we all have to live through them.

Yet there is something that makes it all just a little more tolerable, and that is a “good word.” Can we all not think of times when we were in distress (or perhaps just stress) and someone took out the time to encourage us and to build us up? Have we all not had experiences where we were laid low but the strengthening words of another lifted us up?

Words of affirmation and encouragement always have value. Little wonder, then, that God commands believers through the Apostles and others to encourage one another (1 Corinthians 14:23, Hebrews 10:25, Jude 1:20). Words of encourage sustain and uplift in times of distress and trouble. They reinforce us in the good times. There is no circumstance in which truly encouraging words cannot provide some benefit!

But for there to be good words there must be people who understand their value and are willing to freely provide them. Encouraging people are always in the minority; there is a superabundance of critics, cynics, and pessimists. Nevertheless, we all know the superior value of having a “Barnabas” in our life than the pessimists and cynics (cf. Acts 4:36-37). If we understand the value of having a “Barnabas” in our lives, how much more should we then strive to be the “Barnabas” for our fellow man!

There are few things that we can do that have a more lasting impression on others than to be there for them in times of distress with good words of encouragement, affirmation, and strength. Let us be a “Barnabas” and speak good words to all!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Asaph and the Wicked

“For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: Thou hast destroyed all them that play the harlot, departing from thee. But it is good for me to draw near unto God: I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all thy works” (Psalm 73:27-28).

Psalm 73 describes Asaph’s meditations on one of the more challenging realities of this world: the wicked oftentimes prosper while the righteous do not.

At first, Asaph is led to envy and distress. He sees the condition of the wicked: they are strong, without trouble or plague, proud, violent, fat, with abundance of possessions, scoffers, blasphemers, and at ease (Psalm 73:1-12). Asaph begins to envy them and wonders why he bothers living a righteous life, trying to do the right thing, while all these others who cut corners and do wickedness prosper (Psalm 73:13-14)!

Asaph understands that such thoughts are treachery against himself and against his descendants, and he recognizes that dwelling on the whole matter causes pain (Psalm 73:15-16). And then he enters the sanctuary of God and receives comfort (Psalm 73:17).

Yes, the wicked may prosper now, but the day is coming when they will get caught in their wickedness. It may be during this life, or it may be in the life to come, but desolation comes upon them all (Psalm 73:18-20, Romans 2:5-10).

Asaph then recognizes how brutish he was, and foolish in his thinking (Psalm 73:21-22). He recognizes that his trust is in the LORD, and that God will guide him with His counsel (Psalm 73:23-25). Even though the flesh fails, God will be strong (Psalm 73:26). And, in conclusion, Asaph sets forth the two paths: the one that is far from God, and those therein will perish, and the one drawing near to God, where there is true strength and value (Psalm 73:27-28).

Three thousand years later things have not changed significantly. There are still plenty of people who make a very good living through sinful behaviors. It seems that those people who are trying to be responsible and who do the right thing are the ones being punished, and many wonder if it is worth it to do what is right and to follow God.

We can learn much from Asaph and his meditations. Yes, the wicked prosper. But their prosperity will not last forever. Times of distress will come upon them and there will be no Refuge in which they can trust. They may mock and deride God in their words and deeds, but all of that will come upon them one day (cf. Romans 2:5-10, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)!

Those who attempt to serve God and do His will may look at the wicked and get envious at how “well” they are doing, but they must never forget what they have. As believers in God they are able to call upon God as their trust and refuge. Believers in God are guided by His counsel and enjoy the opportunity to be in the presence of God (cf. Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 4:16). And, ultimately, God will redeem those who are His and they will spend eternity with Him in glory (cf. Psalm 73:24, 2 Thessalonians 1:10-11, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

Why do the wicked prosper? We do not know, cannot know, and it would be too painful to really know. But let us not envy the temporal prosperity of the wicked when we have the opportunity to have the true riches indeed– to call upon the One True God, to be guided and sustained by Him, and, ultimately, to receive glory from Him. Let us draw near to God and make Him our refuge!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Following Afar Off

And they seized [Jesus], and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed afar off (Luke 22:54).

The night’s confused events were taking place rapidly.

They had all spent the night eating the Passover with Jesus, and they all knew that the time was near. Jesus had indicated that He would not drink the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom had come (Luke 22:18). He had served His disciples and instructed them in many things regarding His imminent departure (John 13-17).

And then, in the garden, Judas had come with the band of soldiers. Peter felt that this was the time to act, and he cut off Malchus’ ear (cf. Luke 22:47-51, John 18:10-11). Jesus censured him for the move, and healed Malchus. All of the disciples then turned and fled while Jesus was led away (Matthew 26:56).

Soon after, Peter remembered exactly what he had told Jesus and what Jesus had said. Peter said that he would go with Jesus both to prison and to death (Luke 22:33). He could not abandon his Master now, and so he followed from afar.

The pieces were then in place. Peter sat with others and warmed himself by the fire (Luke 22:55). It was in this setting that his courage failed him. He had three opportunities to confess Jesus, and he denied Him three times (Luke 22:56-60). Then Jesus turned and looked at him (Luke 22:61). We can only imagine how Peter felt at that moment!

Thus Peter betrayed Jesus. It was really classic Peter, exhibiting the same type of initial brashness and then wavering as seen when he walked on the water and then began to sink (cf. Matthew 14:28-31). Peter as a man of little faith was exposed again.

That exposure was unnecessary as we can see. The disciples had fled, and Peter could have continued to flee. He could have waited out this tempestuous time away from the danger and would not have had the opportunity to deny Jesus. Yet Peter, as impetuous as always, followed Jesus into the danger zone, and, as usual, failed.

But would Jesus have really wanted Peter to flee and not experience the testing of faith? That is a much more difficult question. As much as Peter’s denials must have pierced Jesus’ soul, Peter was at least willing to suffer the danger of being near Him. The abandonment was not entirely complete, as it certainly was for some of the other disciples.

After Pentecost the day would come when Peter would again step forth into the danger zone, but this time he would not fail– he boldly stood before the Sanhedrin and confessed Jesus as the Risen Christ (Acts 4:1-23). Peter would be the one to stand and preach the first Gospel message to Jews (Acts 2:14-36) and Gentiles (Acts 10:1-48), and, according to tradition, follow his Lord and Master to death by crucifixion (John 21:18). All of this was because Peter was not one to flee but to be willing to, if nothing else, at least follow afar off.

There are many times in our lives when confused events take place rapidly. Times of distress and difficulty come upon us; many times we do not expect them. When our faith is tested, and we feel as if we are going to be bereft of our Lord, how will we respond? Will we be as many of the disciples and run away, attempting to avoid all the possible dangers? There is a time and place for that, assuredly, but not always. Or will we be like Peter, willing to follow even if it is afar off, willing to risk our livelihoods and our lives to follow Jesus?

Perhaps we will find ourselves in that kind of situation and we fail like Peter failed. We should then “turn again” and “strengthen our brethren” (cf. Luke 22:32), repenting and seeking to do better. Or maybe we will succeed and stand firm, proclaiming through our word and deed in distress and difficulty that we are servants of Jesus Christ. Then God receives the glory (cf. 1 Peter 4:11).

We have no reason to believe that Peter the Apostle could have been the force for good for the Kingdom that he turned out to be had he not been Simon the disciple who was willing to follow and yet failed. Likewise, we will never be the disciples of Jesus Christ we can be, and we will not be able to be the force for good for the Kingdom that we should be, if we never take the risk of following Jesus in difficult, distressing times. We might very well stumble and perhaps even fail; the flesh is weak even when the spirit is willing. We can learn from our failures and move on. And perhaps we will succeed and God will be glorified and it will be evident how wise it was to follow and not flee. But that day will never come if we always flee, never taking the risk, never being exposed to the danger.

What kind of disciples of Christ are we? Let us seek to follow Jesus, even when the times are difficult, even when the danger is evident, take the risk, and stand firm for Him and His Kingdom!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Betrayal

For it was not an enemy that reproached me; Then I could have borne it: Neither was it he that hated me that did magnify himself against me; Then I would have hid myself from him:
But it was thou, a man mine equal, My companion, and my familiar friend.
We took sweet counsel together; We walked in the house of God with the throng (Psalm 55:12-14).

The Psalmist is in great distress. He cries out to God, hoping that He will hear (Psalm 55:1-2). His pain is great, and his heart is in anguish (Psalm 55:3-5). He wishes that he could fly away and find rest, for in the city there is contention and strife (Psalm 55:6-11).

Yet his heart is not pained by just any old trouble or difficulty– that could be better tolerated. Instead, the Psalmist is feeling the distress that comes from betrayal.

There is always pain when one is spoken evil of, or has injury committed against him or her, but we come to expect it from enemies. Everyone expects their enemies to cause them problems. After all, an enemy that does not act in hostile ways is not much of an enemy.

Yet the pain caused by betrayal is doubly deepened. Not only is there the distress caused by the injury suffered, but the one causing the injury is a trusted friend! That person might be one with whom we share the faith. We may have poured out our soul to that person. We may have confessed our sins to him or her (cf. James 5:16). And now they have turned against us, perhaps even using that information given in confidence against us. Pain, fear, and disappointment surely follow.

The Psalmist knows these feelings well. He wishes for the destruction of the betrayer (Psalm 55:15). Nevertheless, he focuses his energy toward God, knowing that He is faithful and will save him (Psalm 55:16-19). Even if others are deceptive and cruel, we ought to cast our care upon the LORD, and He will sustain us (Psalm 55:20-22). In the end, God will condemn those who are wicked; it is for us to trust in God (Psalm 55:23).

If we live long enough we will experience the pain of the Psalmist. And that is why this Psalm is in the collection– it gives us a voice to express our deep frustration, disappointment, and pain. And yet it is also a reminder that even though our fellow humans will let us down at times and may even betray us, God is faithful. God will save us. We should always have our hope and trust firmly anchored in God. He is able to sustain us.

Whenever we develop close friendships we expose ourselves to the possibility of betrayal. That should not stop us from developing close friendships, but it should lead us to be circumspect and to be close friends with people of high integrity. Yet even if we are betrayed we should still communicate with our fellow man and strive to encourage him. In all of this we must remember that only God is completely trustworthy, and that is why we must always look to Him first and foremost in our lives. We must always confide in Him. We must confess our sins to Him (1 John 1:9). Even if man may disappoint and betray, God will not. Let us keep our trust firmly in God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking By Faith

For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We walk by faith, not by sight. This verse is justly famous, used plentifully in sermons and articles and in conversation. The statement gets right to the heart of the distinction between the life of the believer and the life of someone in the world.

Yet, in context, it is an aside explanation. Paul has been talking about the resurrection and the desire believers have to be fully clothed and in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4). We are to be of good courage despite being absent in the Lord while home in the body, even though we are willing to be absent from the body and at home with the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8). We walk by faith because we are absent from the Lord.

We recognize that Paul is not trying to say that we literally walk by faith and not by sight. Christians should watch where they are going just as much as everyone else, and need their maps and GPS to know where they are going like others do. Paul’s concern is based in one’s perception of life and where they place their trust. Do they trust in God, that is, to walk by faith, or do they trust in appearances, that is, to walk by sight (Greek eidos, better understood in terms of appearance or form; cf. Luke 9:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:22). Where is our trust really founded?

It is good for us to consider the depth of the power of this verse and the idea behind it. It seems almost customary in our reason-worshiping society to minimize faith and maximize what can be “proven.” We try to make the case that believing in God is eminently reasonable. We try to make the “leap of faith” to be as small as we can.

That may have some value when presenting the message of the Gospel to the world. It is true that believing in God and His work as revealed in Jesus the Christ and in Scripture can be defended by reasonable and rational argumentation (cf. 1 Peter 3:15), but tension remains between reason and faith. In the end, we cannot “prove” God’s existence, the resurrection of Jesus, or any such thing according to standards of empirical science. Even the attempt would be sorely misguided! We walk by faith, and there should be no shame in that.

It does not really take a lot of faith to believe in something that goes along with your way of thinking. It really does not even take a lot of faith to believe in God when things are going well and you believe that you are blessed. It is in the midst of trial and difficulty, be it through physical, mental, or emotional distress, or persecution, or some other such thing, that we demonstrate where we have placed our trust.

It may be true that by all appearances there is no God, there is nothing but suffering and misery, and life is pointless. It is in those times that we must remember that we are to walk by faith, not by appearance.

It may be true that by all appearances the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. It is in those times that we must remember that we are to walk by faith, not by appearances.

It is entirely true that by all appearances Christians are old-fashioned, believing in a God and miracles and all kinds of things by faith without much physical evidence at all. And that is right, for we do not walk according to appearances, but by faith.

We must trust that if we love God and do the right thing, all things will work out for good (Romans 8:28).

We must trust that if we suffer for doing good, we are blessed, for we are following in the Master’s footsteps (1 Peter 2:19-25).

We must trust that the God who was willing to suffer the loss of His Son is willing to give us all things (Romans 8:32).

It is easy to say that we walk by faith, but it is something entirely different to actually walk by faith. It is always easier to trust in appearances– to place our trust in our own skills, our own ideas, our own attitudes, our own perspectives. We know that Jeremiah says that it is not within us to direct our own steps (Jeremiah 10:23), and yet what do we do in good times and bad? Do we truly depend on God and trust in His ways or do we first try to accomplish whatever we seek to accomplish by our own strengths and only then turn to God when all else fails? Do we seek to persuade men based on men’s standards or do we proclaim only Christ and Him crucified (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:2)?

Appearance always gives reason for doubt, apprehension, fear, misgivings, and excuses. Faith trusts, emboldens, and, ultimately, liberates. Where will we place our trust? Let us truly walk by faith and serve the Risen Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Giving Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus to you-ward (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

We are soon approaching the time when our country observes Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was intended to be a time to reflect and give thanks for all the wonderful blessings we share. Unfortunately, in the eyes of many, it has just turned into an opportunity to eat one or more over-sized meals.

Bible believers recognize that God has never set aside one day for us to give thanks– He intends for believers to be people constantly marked by thankfulness. As Paul indicates, God’s will for us in Christ is to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18)!

Giving thanks is a humbling experience, for it teaches us how indebted we are to God. If it were not for God’s blessings toward us, we would not have the heavens or the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:4), the opportunity to have association with God through Christ (Romans 5:1-11), the love and comfort of our spiritual family (1 Corinthians 12:12-28), or the hope of eternity beyond this life (John 3:16). If it were not for God, we would not exist (Acts 17:28); without Christ, we would be hopeless, lost entirely in sin, and waiting for condemnation (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:11-12)!

Therefore, when we give thanks, it is hard to be proud or to believe that we are “self-made” people. When we give thanks, we learn again how we are weak and God is strong and how we need to trust Him and lean on Him, and not trust in ourselves (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:9, 12:9-10)!

Giving thanks should also be an encouraging and uplifting experience that should assist us in keeping a proper perspective. It is easy to get discouraged and distressed in our lives, and it is easy to fall into the trap of letting our discouragement distort our perspective in life. But when we give thanks, we are forced to no longer focus on what is going wrong and what we do not have but instead to focus on all the things that God has done for us in this creation and through Christ (cf. Ephesians 1:3). When we consider the great cost of our salvation which God freely paid, it is much easier to trust that God will also be faithful and helpful in the comparatively minor challenges we experience in life (cf. Romans 8:32). When we consider all that God has promised and accomplished, and see what God is doing, we can look with hopeful eyes toward that which God has promised for our future (cf. Romans 8:18). When we stop and realize all of these wonderful things that God has done, is doing, and will do, the “light momentary affliction” we are experiencing will be put into its proper perspective (2 Corinthians 4:17)! When we truly recognize how God loves us, how can we but rejoice in the Lord always (cf. Philippians 4:4)?

It is good and right for us to give thanks during this holiday season– and after this holiday season, and at every opportunity. It is good for us to give thanks lest we begin to take God’s current blessings for granted and succumb to the travails and distress of life. Let us always give thanks for the wonderful blessings of God and strive toward the goal of eternal life!

Ethan R. Longhenry