Fuller

Walking with God in Uncertain Times

by Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D.
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Executive Director of Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership

© Copyright 2020 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Walking with God in Uncertain Times (Colossians 3:12)
Part 2: Walking with God with an Open Heart (1 John 3:16-18)
Part 3: The Myth of Certain Times (Psalm 46:1-3)
Part 4: Unchanging Reality in an Always Changing World (Malachi 3:6)
Part 5: The Stability of Your Times (Isaiah 33:5-6)
Part 6: God’s Stability, God’s Faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Part 7: Trust in God at All Times (Psalm 62:5-8)
Part 8: Your Times are in God’s Hand (Psalm 31:14-17)
Part 9: Bless the Lord at All Times (Psalm 34:1-4)

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Part 1: Walking with God in Uncertain Times

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Colossians 3:12 (NRSV)

A young woman and an older woman looking at a sunriseWhen I engage with various media these days, it seems like I keep hearing the phrase “in these uncertain times.” Everybody is saying it . . . all the time. Wondering if this phrase is really so overused, I Googled “in these uncertain times” and found a recent article from The Wall Street Journal with this title: “‘In These Uncertain Times,’ Coronavirus Ads Strike Some Repetitive Notes.” Writer Nat Ives observes, “The most common elements of coronavirus advertising are familiar by now: Piano music, images of empty streets, voice-overs that invoke ‘these uncertain times,’ and company promises to be there for consumers.” So the phrase is overused even in ads as well as many other media. It seems my mind is not playing tricks on me. Everybody is referring to “these uncertain times.”

I wouldn’t be addressing this topic in Life for Leaders except that there’s something about this phrase that has been bothering me, besides its overuse. Of course I recognize that we are living in what could rightly be called uncertain times, probably the most uncertain of our lives. So, what do I find distressing about the phrase “in these uncertain times”?

One thing that bothers me is what feels almost like an attempt to minimize the pain and disruption that many people are experiencing right now. Yes, they are feeling uncertainty. No doubt about this. But many are feeling far worse as well. Some are dealing with the certainty of being painfully sick. Others are worried sick about their loved ones. Millions are grieving the certainty of recent job loss, while others are living in fear of layoffs that are certainly coming. Hordes of people are feeling intense loneliness, confusing disruption, or toxic cabin fever. So these are not just “uncertain times.” They are also painful times, distressing times, sad times, frightening times, and so much more. “Uncertain times” is an inadequate description.

Moreover, to refer to our current times as merely “uncertain” feels to me like something coined by people living with considerable privilege, people who haven’t lost their jobs, who aren’t worried about their health, whose loved ones are well, and who are relatively comfortable during this pandemic. The worst thing in their lives is uncertainty. Now let me say that I am one of these people, at least so far. Most of the negative feelings I have these days are in fact due to uncertainty and related anxiety. But I need to remember that millions of others are struggling with much worse, and I want to be compassionate.

In fact, I believe that the uncertainty most of us are feeling right now could actually help us be more compassionate, not less. After all, millions upon millions of people in our world live with significant uncertainty, not just in these times, but in all times. I’m thinking of those who are poor or powerless, people whose lives are regularly disrupted or devastated by things beyond their control. They live with uncertainty that—honestly—is rare in my life. But now, in some way, I am more able to relate to what they feel consistently.

Compassion for others is not extra credit for Christians. Take Colossians 3:12, for example: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” As people who are special to God because of his grace in Christ, the first thing we’re to put on is “compassion.” The original language is even more powerful. It says that we’re to clothe ourselves with “a heart of compassion” (splanchna oiktirmou). This isn’t simply a matter of appearing to care for others. Rather, it’s having your heart moved by the sufferings of others and the acting on that empathy.

So, yes, we do live “in these uncertain times.” But may our hearts be open to what others are experiencing, especially those for whom these times are far worse than merely uncertain. May our prayers and our actions reflect our compassion. May our own uncertainty help us understand more deeply what many people feel all the time. Perhaps through COVID-19 God is opening our hearts to others in brand new ways.

Something to Think About:

As you reflect on the phrase “in these uncertain times,” what occurs to you? Am I just being too picky or sensitive?

If you’re feeling anxiously uncertain right now, and this is an unusual feeling for you, can you imagine what it’s like for those who live with this sort of feeling all the time? What happens when you try to step into their shoes for a while?

What helps you to be compassionate?

Something to Do:

Think of something you could do as an expression of compassion for others and then do it.

Prayer:

Gracious God, we do live in what feels like “uncertain times.” The things we take for granted seem to have been snatched away by a scary and mysterious virus. We come before you with our own anxiety about the uncertainty in our lives.

At the same time, we remember, Lord, that for others these times are worse than uncertain. We pray for those who are sick with COVID-19, that they would be healed. We pray for those who are watching helplessly as their loved ones are dying and are not able to be with them. We pray for those who are grieving the loss of family, friends, jobs, and much more.

As we pray, may our hearts be opened. May our compassion be stirred up. And may we discover how we can serve those who are hurting these days. May your church, Lord, be united in our care for our neighbors near and far. Amen.

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Part 2: Walking with God with an Open Heart

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

1 John 3:16-18 (NRSV)

A beggar in the subway holding up a sign that says "Seeking human kindness"The is the second devotion in a series I’m calling “Walking with God in Uncertain Times.” In yesterday’s devotion, I shared my discomfort with the phrase I’m using in my title: “uncertain times.” Though we are certainly in uncertain times, millions of people in our world are experiencing much worse than uncertainty. According to Colossians 3:12, our calling as Christians is to feel compassion for others and to act on it. Merely feeling our own uncertainty isn’t wrong, of course, but it surely isn’t enough. Perhaps our uncertainty can even help us to be more compassionate with others who live with uncertain realities and feelings all the time.

A passage from the first letter of John calls us to active compassion in way similar to what we observed in Colossians 3:12. Unfortunately, our translation of 1 John 3:17 makes this hard to see. It reads in the NRSV: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” A more accurate translation would be, “How does God’s love abide in someone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and closes their heart against them?” The Greek word I’m translating as “heart” is splanchna, which literally means “inward parts” in Greek. This is the same word that appeared in yesterday’s passage from Colossians: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion [splanchna oiktirmou, a heart of compassion], kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

So, John underscores in a new but related way what we learned yesterday. As Christ followers, we need to have hearts open to others. We should be people of genuine compassion. If God’s love truly dwells in us, then we will be drawn to love others. This love will be ignited by our open hearts. But, as John makes abundantly clear, our feelings of love must also be expressed in tangible action. Immediately after implying that our hearts should be open, not closed, John adds, “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).

Enacted compassion will mean, in some cases, that we listen empathically to those who are feeling anxious uncertainty. But it will also invite us to care for people in other ways as we attend sensitively to their circumstances and feelings.

What might this look like? I’d like to share three examples of people who are expressing compassion to others during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. First, I think of a friend who regularly remembers those she knows who live alone. She prepares meals as a gesture of concern, being sure to sanitize everything she delivers, and then spends time talking with those she is serving from a very safe distance as she drops off their food.

I think of woman who owns a thriving business, but one that is struggling mightily in these difficult days. Nevertheless, she is doing all she can to keep her staff employed for as long as possible, even if this means personally receiving no salary and, in fact, losing quite a bit of money.

Finally, I think of someone in my neighborhood who, a few weeks ago, was concerned over the inaccessibility of face masks. They were required where I live, yet were very hard to find. So this woman started sewing face masks, dozen and dozens of them, and giving them away. I wouldn’t mind if she had chosen to sell them for a fair price. But she decided instead to serve people through her talent and generosity.

In the months to come, we will all struggle with the implications of the coronavirus. Truly, we can’t be certain about the challenges coming our way. But we can be certain of this: As God’s beloved people, we are to love others, both by opening our hearts to them and by acting in love as our hearts move us.

Something to Think About:

What helps your heart to be open to people in need?

What helps you to actively care for those in need?

Something to Do:

Consider how you might express tangible love to the people in your sphere of influence during these difficult days. Then, do act in love for someone.

Prayer:

Gracious God, indeed, we do know love because of how Christ laid down his life for us. And we hear the call to love each other in that way.

Help us, Lord, to have open hearts to people in need. We ask for this help, not just for today, but for the many days, months, and years ahead. As our world responds to the impact of the coronavirus, may we be attentive to the feelings and needs of those around us. Individually, and together as your people, may we show tangible love as an expression of what is in our hearts. Help us to love, not just in word or speech, but in truth and action. Amen.

Amen.

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Part 3: The Myth of Certain Times

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Psalm 46:1-3 (NRSV)

A lighthouse above the wavesIn Part 1 of this devotional series, I shared some of my discomfort with the currently popular phrase, “in these uncertain times.” As you may recall, I found that phrase to potentially minimize the certain suffering of millions throughout our world because of the coronavirus. Compassion calls us to care for people who are experiencing painful times, scary times, and sorrowful times. Compassion will also help us empathize with people who live with consistent uncertainty because of their poverty and powerlessness.

There’s something else that bothers me about the phrase “in these uncertain times.” Though I will surely grant that many of us are in times that feel much more uncertain than normal, the phrase “in these uncertain times” can, I fear, perpetuate the myth of certain times. This myth, propagated in much of Western culture, assumes that certainty is normal and normalcy is certain. We expect life to be more or less the same from day to day. We might even feel entitled to enjoy such a consistent, predictable, certain existence. And this, I suggest is a problem.

Now let me readily confess that I greatly prefer certain times. My personality does not relish surprise and disruption. I like to think that my own times are fairly certain. But I’ve lived long enough to know better. Yes, there have been tranquil and predictable seasons of my life. Yet those times have been interrupted by unexpected and unwelcome events, like my parents getting cancer and dying of it, or my near-death experience a few years ago when I had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Plus, as a pastor, I’ve walked with people through all kinds of unplanned calamities, such as job loss, marital unfaithfulness, heart attack, or a child’s suicide. I’ve come to believe that, no matter how it certain life seems, uncertain times are coming.

This is truer today than perhaps at any time in human history, and I’m not actually thinking about the coronavirus. Rather, I’m considering the fact that our world is changing all the time and doing so more rapidly than ever before. This observation is demonstrated generously in Thomas Friedman’s recent (pre-virus) book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. Friedman shows that change is happening more quickly than ever in overlapping, crucial dimensions of our world. As a result of these “accelerations,” we live in a “zone of uncertainty” (p. 172). If we pay attention to what’s going on in our world, even apart from COVID-19, it doesn’t make sense to put much stock in the myth of certain times.

For those of us whose worldview is shaped by Scripture, the myth of earthly certainty should not bewitch us. In Psalm 46:2-3, for example, we read: “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” This psalm assumes the inconstant nature of the world in which we live. Moreover, we rightly infer that the continually changing nature of the physical world reflects what is also true in our cultural world. Things are in flux. Things are unstable. In such a world, certainty is a myth.

In tomorrow’s devotion I want to reflect further with you on how we might respond to the reality of ever-present and uncertain change in our lives. For now, let me encourage you to reflect on the following questions.

Something to Think About:

Do you tend to think of life as being certain? Uncertain? Both?

What have been some of the major disruptions in your life? How did you respond to these disruptions?

If change is increasingly the main constant in our earthly existence, how can we live with confidence and peace?

Something to Do:

Talk with your small group or with a Christian friend about your experiences of change and how these experiences have shaped your faith.

Prayer:

Gracious God, we do live in a changing world. The coronavirus makes this truth strikingly evident. But, when we reflect on the physical world, when we attend to our own lives, we recognize the omnipresence of change. We feel the shaking of the mountains and the roaring of the waters, both literally and metaphorically.

Help us, Lord, to live realistically, to see the world as it is, to view our lives and you view them. May we accept the change that is present and learn to survive, even to thrive in its midst. May we learn not to fear in a world of change because you are our refuge and strength. You are always there to help us. Amen.

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Part 4: Unchanging Reality in an Always Changing World

For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.

Malachi 3:6 (NRSV)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8  (NRSV)

A person looking up at the aurora borealisIn yesterday’s devotion I suggested that there really aren’t “certain times,” even if sometimes it seems that way. Our sometimes-smooth lives are interrupted by unanticipated personal challenges as well as the racing pace of change in our world. Whether we like it or not, we live in what Thomas Friedman calls a “zone of uncertainty.”

I know a few people who seem to thrive on uncertainty. They experience an uncertain life as an exciting adventure. Most of us are not wired that way, however. I know I’m not; that’s for sure. Not long ago, a team of researchers studied the stress responses of people to a variety of stimuli. They found that we tend to feel more stress when faced with uncertainty than when confronting a modestly negative but certain experience. In other words, uncertainty about an outcome was more stressful than certainty about an unpleasant outcome. (See “Computations of uncertainty mediate acute stress responses in humans” in Nature.) Similarly, Prof. Bryan Robertson, in “The Psychology of Uncertainty,” observes, “When certainty is questioned, your stress response goes haywire, instantly arousing your stress response, kicking you in the pants in an attempt to spur you to action and get you to safety. Waiting for certainty can feel like torture by a million tiny cuts.” Sound familiar? Are you feeling those million tiny cuts these days?

If we look to the world around us for certainty, we’re bound to be disappointed. Even genuine experts can’t supply the certainty we crave when it comes to COVID-19. There are so many conflicting sage opinions these days about what will happen to us when it comes to public health, the economy, educational institutions, churches, and so much more. The fact is we just don’t know most of what we’d like to know. And, upon reflection, we recognize that the uncertainty of our lives extends far beyond “these uncertain times.”

Christian faith doesn’t provide all the certainty we might prefer. We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen today, or tomorrow, or the next day. Our faith doesn’t insulate us from all the change swirling around us. But Christian faith does provide a solid, trustworthy, unchanging reality upon which to base our lives. As God said through the prophet Malachi, “For I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Similarly, in Hebrews 13:8 we read, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” These statements aren’t philosophical speculations about the nature of God. Rather, they are stirring affirmations of God’s abiding love for us, his persistent grace, his transcendent reliability, his trustworthy faithfulness. Though we might sometimes feel uncertain about God, God is not uncertain about us. He is there for us in the midst of all the uncertainties of our lives.

I’ll continue this line of thought in tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion, thinking more with you about how we experience God in our uncertain times. At this point, however, I’d invite you to consider the following and then to join me in our closing prayer.

Something to Think About:

How do you respond to uncertainty? How do you feel when things in your life are uncertain? What do you tend to do in those times?

How do you respond to the affirmation in Scripture that God does not change? Do you find this puzzling? encouraging? unsettling? reassuring? or . . . ?

In what ways have you experienced God’s faithfulness in your life?

Something to Do:

Talk with your small group or with a good friend about your experiences of God’s faithfulness. Pray for each other, that you might know God’s unchanging love more deeply.

Prayer:

Gracious God, we confess that we would like to have more certainty in our lives. Uncertainty is distressing, especially when it has to do with things like our health, our jobs, and the wellbeing of those we love. We’d love to know things that we can’t know. It’s hard sometimes to live by faith, not by sight.

Yet, when we acknowledge the uncertainty of our lives, we sense a greater yearning for you. You, Lord, do not change. Your love and grace are always there for us. We can count on you in all things and all times. Thank you, God, for your faithfulness. Amen.

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Part 5: The Stability of Your Times

The LORD is exalted, he dwells on high;
he filled Zion with justice and righteousness;
he will be the stability of your times,
abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge;
the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure.

Isaiah 33:5-6 (NRSV)

In times that feel so uncertain and shaky, do you yearn for some stability?

Big BenI expect your answer to this question is “Yes.” That’s my answer, to be sure. And that would be the answer of most people. As you may recall, in yesterday’s devotion I referred to a psychological study that shows human beings prefer certainty over uncertainty even when that certainty is negative. If we know something bad is coming our way, at least we can prepare for it. If we are uncertain, we’re stuck in anxiety.

But, in a world that’s continually changing, in which the only predictability is unpredictability, true stability is elusive. Oh, if we’re blessed with a fair amount of power and possessions, we can provide the semblance of stability for our lives. We might even think we have made everything in life predictably stable. But them something comes along like an automobile accident, a cancer diagnosis, or a worldwide pandemic and our stability turns out to be more romantic than real. Yes, as they say, we live in uncertain times.

In light of this fact, we wonder: Will we ever experience the stability of our times?

The Bible answers this question with an affirmation that speaks to the yearning of our souls. In Isaiah 33:5-6 we read, “The LORD is exalted, he dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness; he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure.” Did you catch that? The Lord will be “the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6). The stability of your times! That sounds good. But what does it mean?

The prophecy in Isaiah 33 came to God’s people in difficult if not uncertain times. An unidentified destroyer, probably some nation with superior military power, was threatening Israel. So the prophet cried out, “O LORD, be gracious to us; we wait for you. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in times of trouble” (Isaiah 33:2). The Hebrew word translated here as “times” is ‘et. That word appears again four verses later in the phrase, “he will be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6). The context makes it clear that this does not mean God’s people will never go through hard times. Rather, in the midst of those times God offers “justice and righteousness . . .abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge” (Isaiah 33:5-6). “Zion’s treasure” is not protection from all difficulties. Rather, it is “the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 33:6). It is the relationship we have with God who is utterly trustworthy, utterly gracious, utterly wise, utterly knowing.

When our times feel certain, when things are going as we had planned, it’s easy to trust in our circumstances or our own ability to control them. But in uncertain times, we recognize our own limitations. We realize just how much we need God to be “the stability of our times.” Only in him will we find a solid, trustworthy foundation on which to build our lives.

In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion I want to explore with you another biblical passage that helps us grasp God’s stability. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following and then join me in prayer.

Something to Think About:

Do you think of your life as stable? Why or why not?

When you read the phrase “the stability of your times,” how do you respond? What do you think about this? How do you feel about it?

In what ways do you need to experience God’s stability these days?

Something to Do:

Use your prayerful imagination to picture building your life upon God’s stability. What occurs to you as you do this?

Prayer:

Gracious God, I want to know you better as the stability of my times. So much around me feels uncertain. The things upon which I so often build my life feel shaky and insecure. I recognize just how much I need you. I need to know your stability and salvation. I need the help of your wisdom and knowledge. Teach me, Lord, to build my life upon you, in these difficult times, and in all times. Amen.

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Part 6: God’s Stability, God’s Faithfulness

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (NRSV)

A field of grape vinesIn yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I focused on a passage from Isaiah. In this passage, God’s people were living in “the time of trouble” (Isaiah 33:2). Yet the prophet promised that the Lord would be for his people “the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6). God’s justice, righteousness, salvation, wisdom, and knowledge would be a solid foundation for their lives.

The Hebrew word translated in Isaiah 33:6 as “stability” is ’emuna. It can be used in the Hebrew Bible with the sense of “stability” or “steadiness.” In Exodus 17:12, for example, when Aaron and Hur helped Moses keep his tired hands up in the air, the text says that Moses’s “hands were steady until the sun set.” “Steady” renders the Hebrew word ’emuna.

But ’emuna has another, related sense in Scripture. Isaiah 11:15 describes the messianic “shoot of Jesse” in this way: “Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” In this instance, ’emuna is rendered as “faithfulness.” It’s not hard to see the relationship between these two senses of ’emuna. You can put your literal weight down on something that is stable. You can put your whole trust in someone who is faithful.

Perhaps one of the most familiar uses of ’emuna comes in Lamentations 3:22-23. The context for this passage is the writer’s extreme suffering at the hand of the Lord. But, while lamenting his suffering, the writer adds, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Even when we are going through the most difficult times, we base our lives on the stability of God. We claim in faith that God’s steadfast love for us never ceases, that his mercies never come to an end, that God’s faithfulness is great. And because God is faithful, we can live with assurance even in uncertain times, times of pain, times of lament, times of doubt.

My favorite hymn is “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm. The refrain is a poetic restatement of Lamentations 3:22-23: “Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!” My love for this hymn has to do, not only with what the lyrics affirm, but also with the contexts in which I have sung them. Some of these have been immensely joyful, like my ordination as a pastor. Others have been times of great loss. We sang “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” for example, in the memorial services for both of my parents. We weren’t denying our pain or pretending as if we had everything figured out. With a mixture of joy and sorrow, a combination of conviction and confusion, we were celebrating the mystery and the reality of God’s faithfulness.

So it is today in the midst of a pandemic. In these uncertain times, we find stability in God, the God whose faithfulness is great. Like the author of Lamentations, we freely cry out to God in our pain and confusion. Yet, remembering God’s steadfast love and daily mercies, we also confess God’s faithfulness, and therefore we have hope.

Something to Think About:

Do you have a favorite hymn or worship song? If so, what is it? Why is it your favorite?

When have you experienced God’s faithfulness in a particularly powerful way?

When you go through difficult times in your life, what helps you to trust God’s faithfulness?

Something to Do:

In your small group or with a Christian friend, share ways in which you have experienced God’s faithfulness in your life.

Prayer:

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! Amen.

Verse 1 and refrain of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” by Thomas Chisholm. Public domain.

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Part 7: Trust in God at All Times

Scripture: Psalm 62:5-8 (NRSV)

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Focus

Because God is always our mighty rock, our deliverance, our fortress, and our refuge, we can trust him at all times, including “these uncertain times.” In fact, the insecurity of our current times encourages us to trust God even more. We may not be able to rely on a flourishing economy or the wonders of medical science, we may not feel confident in the wisdom of our leaders and pundits, but we can accept the invitation of Psalm 62 and put our full trust in God, our refuge in all times.

Devotion

We are living in uncertain times. No question about that. In times like these, we may wonder how God matters.

Several days ago I began a Life for Leaders devotional series on “Walking with God in Uncertain Times.” I acknowledged the uncertainty of the times in which we live, though recognizing that other times are not as secure as we might wish. Nevertheless, in our faithful God we can find what Isaiah calls “the stability of our times” (Isaiah 33:6). We can have confidence in God’s steadiness even when everything else around us feels shaky.

Psalm 62 makes a similar point in a different way. Verse 8 urges us to “trust” in God “at all times.” When are we to trust God? At all times, not just in good times, not only in times that feel secure, but at all times, including “these uncertain times.”

Mark with his father as a toddlerWhat does it mean to trust God? The Hebrew verb translated here as “trust” (batach) means “trust, feel safe, be confident, rely upon.” I’m reminded of how I felt as a young boy when my dad would carry on his shoulders. I felt the steadiness of his body and the sureness of his strength. I knew I was safe with him. I could relax and enjoy the ride, not to mention the feeling of being close to him. That’s rather similar to what it’s like to trust God. (Today’s photo is my favorite picture of my dad and me. I’m not on his shoulders, but I am enjoying his company, as you can tell.)

Why should we trust God? Because of who God is. In just a few verses of Psalm 62 God is portrayed as our mighty rock, salvation, fortress, and refuge. Thus, in God we find hope, deliverance, honor, and safety. Even as I could trust my dad because I knew who he was, so we can trust the God who has revealed himself to us in Scripture, in our experience, in community, and most of all in Jesus Christ.

When we trust in God at all times, what difference will this make? The answers of Psalm 62 are surprisingly diverse. Verse 8, for example, says, “Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.” In the safety and security of relationship with God, we are invited to tell God anything and everything. We don’t have to hide our fear, doubt, anger, sadness, and disappointment. God gives us freedom to be fully ourselves with him, sharing fully our joys and our sorrows, our longings and our losses.

Yet, Psalm 62 also models a different kind of being in God’s presence. Verse 5 reads, “For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” When we are secure in God’s presence we can both pour out our hearts and, at other times, wait in stillness. Before God, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).

Because God is always our mighty rock, our deliverance, our fortress, and our refuge, we can trust him at all times, including “these uncertain times.” There is no time at which God is not trustworthy. In fact, the insecurity of our current times encourages us to trust God even more. We may not be able to rely on a flourishing economy or the wonders of medical science, we may not feel confident in the wisdom of our leaders and pundits, but we can accept the invitation of Psalm 62 and put our full trust in God, our refuge in all times.

Reflect

When you put your trust in someone, perhaps your spouse, parent, or doctor, why do you do so? What is it about someone that enables you to trust that person?

What is it about God that enables you to put your trust in him?

When you have a hard time trusting God, why is this true?

What helps you to trust God even in “uncertain times”?

Act

Psalm 62 invites you to be in God’s presence in different ways. You can wait for God in silence. Or you can pour out your heart to God. Or, of course, you could do both. Choose one of these modes of being and spend some time with the Lord, either quietly or expressively.

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for being our mighty rock, our deliverance, our fortress, our refuge. Thank you for your care and protection. Thank you for the freedom you give us to be fully ourselves with you. Most of all, thank you for saving us by grace the Jesus Christ. How grateful we are!

Help me, Lord, to trust you because of who you are. Help me to trust you at all times, in good times and bad times, in secure times and uncertain times. Help me to trust you in the midst of the uncertainty and pain of the coronavirus pandemic. There is so much I cannot know. But I can know you and put my confidence in you. Indeed, you alone are my hope, Sovereign Lord. Amen.

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Part 8: Your Times are in God’s Hand

Scripture: Psalm 31:14-17 (NRSV)

But I trust in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.

Focus

When, inspired by Psalm 31, we pray, “My times are in your hand,” we are acknowledging that our lives belong fully and finally to God. God can rightfully determine what we ought to do with the time he has entrusted to us. We receive each day as gift from the Lord, an occasion to serve him and to serve others in his name through all we do.

Devotion

A hand holding a pocket watchHave you ever thought about the phrase “time management”? Though it’s used consistently by business gurus and self-help books, and though it’s something in which many of us aspire to be excellent, “time management” is actually a silly phrase. Which of us, after all, can actually manage time?

Yes, we do have some freedom to control what we do with the time given to us. I can decide to work on this Life for Leaders devotion or, instead, to vacuum the house (which I will be doing after I finish this devotion, actually). But I can’t make time speed up or slow down. And to my consternation I can’t control much of what happens during the time of my earthly existence.

Oh, I can sometimes pretend as if I’m the boss of my time. But then something comes along to jar my consciousness—something like a pandemic, for example. All of a sudden what I had been expecting to do with my time is turned upside down. And, in spite of how much I read about the coronavirus and its implications, I really don’t know what’s coming next . . . and neither do you.

Thus, “in these uncertain times,” I find the words of Psalm 31 profoundly true, profoundly relevant, and profoundly freeing. In verse 5, the psalm writer says to the Lord, “My times are in your hand.” “Times” in this context means “the things that happen in my life” or even “my existence on earth.” The psalmist is currently in the “hand” of his “enemies and persecutors.” Thus, his very life is threatened. His “times” could soon be over. Yet, this threatening situation reminds the psalm writer that, in reality, all of his times belong to God. God gave him life. God sustains his life. God determines the span of his life. And, in the end, God will be the source of his eternal life.

When, inspired by Psalm 31, we pray, “My times are in your hand,” we are acknowledging that our lives belong fully and finally to God. God can rightfully determine what we ought to do with the time he has entrusted to us. We receive each day as gift from the Lord, an occasion to serve him and to serve others in his name through all we do.

As many Life for Leaders readers know, a few years ago I almost died from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. By God’s grace given through the wisdom of a wonderful doctor, the wonders of doxycycline, and the healing power of the Spirit, I recovered completely. But I’m not the same as I was before I contracted that disease. I don’t think of my life in quite the same way. I feel more deeply than I once did the truth that my times are in God’s hands. My life isn’t really mine. It belongs to my Lord, who redeemed me through Christ and saved me from deadly peril.

Now, I can easily return to thinking about my life as my possession, my “times” as something I get to control. But Psalm 31 reminds me of the truth. I exist by God’s grace and for God’s pleasure. I live “for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12). And so do you. Your times are in God’s gracious hand. Your life belongs to him.

Reflect

Would you be able to say to the Lord, truly, “My times are in your hand”? What would this mean to you?

Do you think of your whole life as something that belongs to the Lord? Or do you think of your life as partly your own and partly God’s to direct?

How might the truth that your times are in God’s hand be freeing for you?

Act

Think of something tangible you could do to remind yourself during the day that your times are in God’s hand. (For example, I just created a reminder in my phone that will tell me at a certain time each day: Your times are in God’s hand.)

Pray

Gracious God, thank you for the gift of life. Thank you for the “times” you have given to me. Yet, as I receive this gift with gladness, I also remember that, really, my times still belong to you. My life is yours. I belong to you through Jesus Christ.

Help me to live each day, Lord, with the duty and freedom of knowing that I am yours. My time is yours. My life is yours. My work is yours. All that I am is yours. May I live today, and each day, for the praise of your glory. Amen.

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Part 9: Bless the Lord at All Times

Scripture: Psalm 34:1-4 (NRSV)

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.

Focus

In these uncertain times, we need the Lord most of all. But we also need each other. Yes, our ability to be physically together may be limited because of the coronavirus. But we mustn’t let this stand in the way of our relational interaction. Maybe we can figure out how to be in the same space with appropriate social distancing. Maybe we can use digital technology to bridge the relationship gap. However we do it, let’s take advantage of the freedom we have to share with each other our struggles and victories, our sorrows and joys.

Devotion

Today I finish a nine-part devotion called “Walking with God in Uncertain Times.” Recognizing that, owing to the coronavirus, we live in a time of significant uncertainty and anxiety, I have been reflecting on the difference God makes in such times. In yesterday’s devotion I focused on the affirmation in Psalm 31 that our times are in God’s hands. No matter the times in which we live, our lives belong to the Lord. We exist for his purposes, for his praise.

We are reminded of this by Psalm 34, which begins: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Whether we find ourselves in certain times or uncertain times, in happy times or sad times, in plentiful times or meager times, the psalm writer invites us to join him by blessing the Lord and praising him continually.

What would enable us to bless the Lord even in uncertain times? What would inspire our praise even in times dominated by a pandemic? The answer given in Psalm 34 points to God’s deliverance: “I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears” (34:4). Verse 6 explains further: “This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.” We’re reminded here that our worship is a response to God’s goodness and grace. In hard times, we remember God’s mercy in the past even as we pay attention to his mercy in the present and look forward to his mercy in the future.

It’s easy for me to overlook something in Psalm 34 that ought not to be missed. Yes, the psalm writer blesses the Lord. But notice that he’s not doing this all by himself. He says, “[L]et the humble hear and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:2-3). Why is this so important? Because it underscores the importance of corporate praise. Because it encourages us to pay attention to the blessings and joys of others. At this very moment, I may not be in a place where praise comes easily. I may be in a hard place, still needing deliverance from all my fears. But if you share with my how God has been gracious to you, if you help me to see God’s deliverance in your life, then I’ll be able to join you as you bless the Lord.

In these uncertain times, we need the Lord most of all. But we also need each other. Yes, our ability to be physically together may be limited because of the coronavirus. But we mustn’t let this stand in the way of our relational interaction. Maybe we can figure out how to be in the same space with appropriate social distancing. Maybe we can use digital technology to bridge the relationship gap. Maybe we can rely on old standbys, like telephones and even letters. However we do it, let’s take advantage of the freedom we have to share with each other our struggles and victories, our sorrows and joys. As we do, may we bless the Lord in all of the times of life.

Reflect

In “these uncertain times,” what helps you to bless the Lord?

In what ways are you experiencing God’s grace in your life, even right now?

Act

Set aside a few minutes today for blessing the Lord. Offer thanks for God’s goodness to you. Praise God for who he is and for how he has been present in your life.

Pray

Gracious God, in this moment we bless you. Your praise fills our mouths. We celebrate your goodness to us. We thank you for hearing our cries for mercy and for delivering us from peril.

We praise you this day because you are good beyond our comprehension. Your love excels all other loves. Your grace is beyond. Your mercies are new every morning. You are faithful, utterly faithful, always there for us.

All praise, glory, and honor be to you, glorious God. Amen.


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