Candid Thoughts About Crowds

The Presidential Inauguration, 2009 (Photo by the Sun-Sentinal)
The Presidential Inauguration, 2009 (Photo by the Sun-Sentinal)

I have never enjoyed being in the midst of a crowd. I like to have a bit of space. However, crowds are a fact of life. I have been a part of a crowd at churches, athletic events, airports, the streets of New York City, on a crowded expressway in Chicago, or a crammed subway in Lisbon. Crowds can make us lose our individuality. We seem to merge into the crowd as an unknown and unimportant face.

You can see this at an athletic event when somebody begins the wave. What do we do? We conform and stand up and wave our arms when it is our turn.  Also, I have noticed this when you see a subway train pass the opposite direction, the people look like one massive  block of humanity. The crowd seems to swallow up each person.

This crowd mentality has also filtered itself into our Christian faith.  We want to belong to a large group. We want to follow the new trend in Christianity. If the crowd says, we dress a certain way to church, then we dress that way.  If the crowd says a certain kind of music is better for today, then we follow the crowd.  If the latest Christian celebrity makes a pronouncement, then we follow his words like the rest of the crowd.

Churches are looking for a crowd. They want to emulate the mega church that is in their city or on the television.  A crowd equals success in the eyes of men. The church can easily lose sight of God and His working in the lives of individual people. The danger of this crowd mentality is that we can use people to build our ministries, instead of using our ministry to build people.

The Bible often shows the danger of the crowd. Joseph’s brothers were gathered together as their brother, Joseph approached. None of these brothers alone would have thought about killing him, but together they came up with their evil plan. Nobody was willing to speak out openly against the plan of the crowd. The crowd can make us commit evil deeds which we would not do alone.

When the nation of Israel was at the border of the Promised Land, the twelve spies had returned with their report of the land. The crowd said that it was too difficult and the people became disheartened. There were only three people who were willing to stand against the crowd, Caleb, Joshua and Moses. They were nearly killed for their courageous stand. The crowd can make a coward of us all.

In the time of Elijah, the crowd worshipped the false gods of the surrounding nations. The crowd had rejected the True God. Elijah went against this crowd in his great contest against the prophets of Baal.  The majority said that Baal was god. They were proven false by the God of Elijah. The crowd can cause us to turn our backs on the true God, to follow their false gods of materialism, fame, pleasure, and self-centeredness.

When Jesus walked on the earth, he would often attract a crowd, but the crowds were  very superficial in their dedication to Jesus.  After Jesus feeds the five thousand, he teaches the people about His deity. As a result. the crowd walks away because their faith was based upon what they could get out of Jesus. The crowd can cause our faith to become quite superficial, because we no longer see the need to develop a personal walk with the Lord.  Whatever our “crowd” says is what we believe. We become sheep following other sheep, instead of sheep following the Shepherd.

Jesus also warns us about the danger of the crowd when He says: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The crowd has the idea that everybody is going to heaven. We can live as we please. The crowd has led many people to Hell because of their false notion of universal salvation.

Jesus walked upon this earth amidst many crowds, but he didn’t develop a crowd mentality. He kept His focus upon His Heavenly Father. If we are to fight the crowd mentality, we need to keep our eyes upon the Lord Jesus Christ. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:3)

“Dear Lord, I feel pressure to conform to the crowd. This is not only the crowd of the world which would turn me from my faith, but also the crowd within Christianity. This crowd would have me to conform to the latest trends and the latest pronouncements of some Christian celebrity. Lord, I need you. Help me to keep my focus upon you. Help me to walk with you and not worry about what others are doing or saying. Thank you for calling each of your sheep by name. Thank you that I can have a personal walk with you. Amen”

God: The Lifter Up of My Soul (Psalm 3)

The Canadian Rockies (Photo by Mark J. Booth)
The Canadian Rockies (Photo by Mark J. Booth)

Hurt and discouragement are realities in every person’s life. We have felt the painful arrow of someone’s words. We have experienced being misunderstood or betrayed.  Discouragement settles into our lives as an unwelcomed guest. Even our friends can do nothing to relieve us of our painful hearts. We don’t know where to turn.

King David had these very same experiences in his life. He had enemies who were out to get him. His few remaining friends pushed him into a deeper despair by saying that God had abandoned him. He shares his experience in Psalm 3. This Psalm begins with David expressing the helplessness of his soul: “Lord, how are they increased that trouble me! many are they that rise up against me. Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah.” (Psalm 3:1-2)

The words: “There is no help for him in God.” cry out for an answer. We have all faced discouragement because of circumstances, people who don’t like us, and our own actions. However, when those who are closest to us give up hope for us, what are we to do? We often crawl into our shell and nurse our broken heart alone.

In the midst of the darkness of his soul, David looks up to God. Has God abandoned him?  No! He finds his hope and encouragement once again in God. He reaffirms his faith and trust in God: “But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.” (Psalm 3:3)

  1. God is his protector (shield) in spite of his enemies.
  2. God will be glorified, in spite of his circumstances.
  3. God will lift up his soul unto joy and encouragement in spite of his despair.

After David reaffirms his trust in God, he then cries out for God to act in his behalf. “I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah” (Psalm 3:4) God is waiting for us to cry out to Him. Our Heavenly Father knows all about our enemies, pain, trials, and discouragement; however, He chooses to wait until we humble ourselves before Him. Our crying out to Him is saying: “Lord, I have no where else to turn. I desperately need you. Please come and deliver me.” God will hear our cry and respond.

David’s situation has yet to change, but he has changed. He knows that God is working everything for His glory. David no longer faces sleepless nights turning his bed. “I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me.” (Psalm 3:5) We don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about our enemies, future and tribulations. Sleep comes when we remember that the Lord is our shield. Nothing can enter our lives that doesn’t first pass through his loving presence.

The dread of each day would no longer be a part of David’s life. “I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” (Psalm 3:6) We don’t have to wake up in the morning filled with fear of what will happen. God is in control. He is the One who restores our confidence and hope. Each day is a new opportunity to bring glory to God who has lifted up our soul

David concludes with confidence that God will show His justice upon his enemies. “Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone;thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” (Psalm 3:7) When we turn to God, we are free to allow Him to deal with those who have committed evil, whether it be against us, or others. We are free from bitterness when we commit them completely to the justice of God.

Turning to God has caused a transformation in David’s life.  In the beginning of the Psalm, David’s soul is downcast and hopeless, but at the end of the Psalm, he proclaims that he is greatly blessed by God. “Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people. Selah.” (Psalm 3:8)

God transforms our despair into joy, peace, comfort, courage and blessing. God’s ears are always open to our cry. Are we ready to cry out to Him?

“Dear Lord, I have a heavy heart. My life seems hopeless. Those around me say that I am beyond your help. Yet, I know that you hear my cry unto you. Your Word tells me that you are my Protector. Help me to hide behind your shield. Give me the grace to live for your glory. Thank you for lifting up my soul no matter how low it may go. You alone can restore my hope, my joy, my courage, and my purpose in life. Thank you for hearing not only my cry, but the deepest sighs of my soul that I can’t express outwardly. Amen.”

Lord, I Believe, Help My Unbelief

Cabo da Roca, Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)
Cabo da Roca, Portugal (Photo by Mark J. Booth)

Why do I find it difficult to believe in the person and promises of God?  Yes, I believe in my head, but my heart has a lack of complete trust in Him. Recently, God brought this to my attention while reading the account of the man whose child had an unclean spirit.

“And he said, Of a child.And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:22-24)

The father is in a desperate situation. He has no hope for his son; however, he pleads with Jesus that if He can help, please do something for his child. Jesus catches the doubt in this man’s heart as he said: “If thou canst do anything.” This man was speaking to God in the flesh; and yet doubted His ability to heal his child.

I have fallen into this same trap. I believe in who the Lord is, but deep down, I don’t think, He is able to do what seems impossible to me. I can’t see how he can save a loved one. I don’t see how He can change a person’s life. I don’t see how He can help me in a very difficult situation.

After the man speaks, Jesus encourages him to have faith: “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” Jesus is saying that there is nothing too hard for Him. How often, I have looked at circumstances, at others or at myself, and felt overwhelmed. My heart says: “Can God handle this?” Doubt brings torment. Yes, I know in my head that God is All-Powerful, but doubt fills my heart. James says that “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)

In this story, God speaks to my doubting heart. He is saying: “Don’t look at the difficulty in front of you, but look to me. I am God. I am All-Powerful. I know what I am doing. I do have compassion upon you. Your mind says you can trust me, let your heart trust me as well.”

The man responds in tears with words that resonate in my heart: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” These words could come right from mine own mouth.  At times, my head says: “I believe.” However, my heart says: “I can’t believe”. God wants me to be open about my doubts; so that He can change my heart into a heart that believes in all that He is and all that He says.

I am not the only person who is double minded when it comes to trusting the Lord. The disciples once came to Jesus and made this important request: “Increase our faith”. They saw their need in light of their doubts that were overwhelming their hearts. Likewise, I need to constantly pray with the disciples: “Lord, increase my faith.”

In the end, Christ honors the man’s wavering faith and heals his son. This man’s struggle with doubt brought him to a greater faith in Christ. His struggle also helps me to see that Christ understands my struggle with trusting Him with my heart. There is great peace, comfort, and strength when I trust Him with both my mind and my heart.

“Dear Lord, I believe in all that you are in my mind. I know in my mind that you are All-Powerful, All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Loving. I believe your Word from Genesis to Revelation. I believe in the miracles that you have done. However, when times get tough, when people don’t seem to respond to you, I begin to doubt in my heart. Please forgive me for my unbelief.  Bring me to a belief not only in my head, but also in my heart. Thank you for your patience in all that you are doing in my life. Amen.”

God’s Still, Small Voice in a Busy World

Bennett Park, Charlotte, MI (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)
Bennett Park, Charlotte, MI (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)

Are you too busy? Are you a victim of our hurried lifestyle? Does God seem distant in the midst of all of our activities? A busy lifestyle can take its toll upon our spiritual, emotional and physical life.

Elijah is a prophet, who is busy serving God. He successfully challenges the prophets of Baal concerning the reality of the True God. His prayer for fire to come down upon the sacrifice is answered. He then prays for rain, and rain falls upon the drought-stricken nation of Israel. He then runs a great distance(17 miles) to Jezreel, Ahab’s winter residence. Elijah is a tired man. In addition to his tiredness, Queen Jezebel threatens his life. Elijah falls into the midst of great despair, and flees from Israel in great fear.

However, God takes care of His prophet, just as He takes care of us. God provides Elijah with food and rest. Often, we can became depressed because of too much activity and not enough rest. God provides the rest we need. Jesus said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

Elijah speaks to God and asks to die. He says that he is all alone. No one cares for him. Have you ever been there? God doesn’t speak to Elijah in the earthquake or fire. He speaks to him with a “still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12) God had to get Elijah to the point where he would listen.

God may have to take us to the depths of despair before we will listen to His still, small voice. Our busyness and self-centredness can keep us from hearing God’s voice.

When God speaks to Elijah with His still, small voice, He asks Elijah a question: “What doest thou here, Elijah?” This question is to encourage Elijah to take his eyes off of himself and his circumstances and look unto God. Unfortunately, Elijah continues with his complaint unto God. He still wants to die, because no one cares and he is alone.

God may ask us this same question: “What are you doing here?” Will we respond with a complaining spirit like Elijah? God’s purpose for this question is not to hear our complaints, but to get us to see the distance between God and ourselves. This question can be rephrased in the following ways:

  • What are you doing here living in sin?
  • What are you doing here living in despondency?
  • What are you doing here living outside of my will?
  • What are you doing here living by sight and not by faith?
  • What are you doing here living in fear?
  • What are you doing here living in selfishness?
  • What are you doing here living in bitterness?

God’s still, small voice is waiting for us to listen to Him. Life overwhelms us because we don’t take the time to hear His still, small voice. Let’s join Elijah and find rest for our souls and listen to the voice of our Lord. He will bring us deliverance from our sin, despair, and exhaustion in this life.

“Dear Lord, I get so busy. Noise is all around me. Amidst my busyness, I can’t seem to discern your voice. My life seems to spin out of control. I easily become discouraged. Help me to slow down, and find a quiet place to listen to your still, small voice. Bring me back to the place of usefulness and close fellowship with you. Amen”

When No One Cares

Canadian Badlands in Alberta, Canada (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)
Canadian Badlands in Alberta, Canada (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)

“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)

“Does anyone care?” “If only I could find someone who will listen to me!”  Have you ever caught yourself thinking these thoughts? Yes, throughout life there are times when we feel alone.  We think no one cares. When these times occur, we must not forget that there is One who is always available. He loves us and is ready listen to us. He understands exactly how we feel. Are we ready to confide in our Lord?

When we confide in the Lord, we are saying to Him: “I trust you, and I know that you care about me. I pour out my heart to you, because I know that you understand. I also know that you will show me what I need to do.”

Why did Moses stay faithful in spite of his trials? He confided in the Lord. How did Joshua lead God’s people? He confided in the Lord. How did David receive forgiveness of his sin? He confided in the Lord. How did Paul rejoice in the midst of his persecution and difficulties? He confided in the Lord. How will we stay faithful through life’s tribulations?  We will need to confide in the Lord.

Why do we need to confide in the Lord?

1. We need to confide in the Lord because we have no wisdom or strength within ourselves. When King Jehoshaphat faced the near certain defeat of his armies, he confided in the Lord. He knew that God alone could handle this situation.  “O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee.” (2 Chronicles 20:12) Jehoshaphat demonstrated a spirit of humility before God which enabled him to confide in the Lord. We choose not to confide in God because we don’t want to admit our need of Him.

2. We need to confide in the Lord because we have a deceitful heart that can often lead us astray.  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? ” (Jeremiah 17:9) People often say: “I can’t go wrong if I just follow my heart”. However, God makes it clear that we can not trust our own hearts. We often make decisions based upon our own selfishness, bias or lack of knowledge. We need to confide in the Lord because He will direct us in the right path.

3. We need to confide in the Lord because difficulties come into our lives. We can’t travel the road of life without continually confiding in our Lord. Jesus said: “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) When tribulations come, do we forget that the Lord is greater than any trial that may come into our lives.

4. We need to confide in the Lord because of problems with others. People say: “I could be a good Christian, if it wasn’t for other people.” Yes, other people may hurt us, misunderstand us, ignore us and dislike us, but there is a friend who is always there. His name is Jesus! David confided in God when he faced powerful enemies; so can we. “Attend unto me, and hear me: I mourn in my complaint, and make a noise;” (Psalm 55:2)

5. We need to confide in God because of His Greatness. He is worthy of our faith. God is our all-knowing, all-wise, all-powerful Lord. He is our High Priest to whom we can go at any time. He is a refuge in the midst of any storm. “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)

Elbow Lake in Alberta, Canada (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)
Elbow Lake in Alberta, Canada (Photo by: Mark J. Booth)

How do we confide in the Lord?

1. We share our requests openly with God. “Deliver me from mine enemies, O my God.” (Psalm 59:1)  The Psalmist understood that he could share any request with God, and that God would hear him. He is ready to listen to all of our requests.

2. We are to show gratefulness unto the Lord as we confide in Him. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (Philippians 4:6, 7) God loves to hear and answer our prayer requests, but He also loves to hear us give praise and thanks unto Him.

3. We are to show desperation when we confide in God.  “Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come unto thee.” (Psalm 102:1) Our desperate cry shows our total dependence upon Him. Our cry also shows that He is our only hope. When desperate times come, God is waiting for us to cry out to Him.

4. We are to confide in God thoughtfully. Confiding in God means that we don’t repeat the same words without thought. God wants us to share our mind, will and emotions with Him.  When Jesus taught about prayer, He said: “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do:” (Matthew 6:7)  

We have a choice each day. Will we openly confide in our Lord or ignore the opportunity of pouring out our hearts to our dearest Friend? We should not only confide in the Lord when we have sorrow and trials, but also in our times of blessing and joy. God wants us to confide in Him in every decision that we make. Confiding in God increases our love for Him because we find complete satisfaction in Him.

“Dear Lord, I often live my life without sharing it with you. You have blessed me with your presence and yet I ignore you. Why are you so patient with me? Help me to have the desire to confide in you completely. Thank you that you do care and that I can trust you with my whole heart. With my love, from your child. Amen”

When God wants to Drill a Man…

 A gold mine in South Africa (Encyclopedia Britannica)
A gold mine in South Africa (Encyclopedia Britannica)

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)

One of the most interesting experiences we had while living in South Africa was visiting Gold Reef City in Johannesburg.  There were plenty of shops, restaurants, and rides, but my favorite part was the tour of a gold mine (no longer in use),  We would take a mine elevator deep into the ground and the process of producing gold was explained.

The tour gave me some understanding concerning the mining of gold.  I never had understood the complicated process of getting the gold ore from the ground and making it usable.  I learned that they may drill as deep as two miles beneath the surface to extract the ore.  After the gold ore is mined, it has to be processed.  This means a lot crushing and then melting.  A great majority of the ore is discarded because only a small amount of the ore is useable gold.

Our lives are much like a gold mine operation.  God often must drill deep to find the gold in our lives.  We may prefer a superficial Christianity, but God wants to work in the deep recesses of our hearts.  He also must crush us of our pride and self-sufficiency; so that our hard hearts become soft towards Him.  God also melts away those things that hinder our walk with Him.  These may not be sinful in themselves, but God knows that they keep us from being our best for Him.

Job clearly understood this process.  He realized that all of His trials were God’s method of purifying his life and making him more useful for his Lord.  Like Job, we often feel the pain of God drilling deep in our hearts.  We also feel the pain of God crushing our pride towards Him.  God’s melting process of taking things out of our lives is also painful.  However, through it all, we know that God has a great purpose for what He is doing.

The following poem describes what Job experienced as well as the truth of Romans 8:28: ” And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

When God Wants To Drill A Man

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man,
And skill a man
When God wants to mold a man
To play the noblest part;

When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world shall be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!

anvil and hammer

How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him

Potter with Clay

Into trial shapes of clay which
Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts beseeching hands!

 

 

How He bends but never breaks
When his good He undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And which every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try His splendor out-
God knows what He’s about.

– Anonymous

A Prayer for the New Year

Malachi 3:6: The Canadian Rockies-Photo by Mark J. Booth
Malachi 3:6: The Canadian Rockies-Photo by Mark J. Booth

Dear Heavenly Father,

I live in a world that is constantly changing; yet you do not change.  My circumstances may change, but you do not change.  My health my change, but you do not change.  My financial situation may change, but you do not change.  The people in my life may change, but you do not change.

Thank you, Father, for giving me the privilege to call you, Father.  Thank you for the blessings of the past year.  You showed your mercy towards me every day.  Your presence was always with me even when I wasn’t aware of you being with me.  Your Word brought direction, comfort, and conviction throughout the past year.  You blessed me by using my family, and many other people who showed love and kindness towards me.  You gave me strength when I was weak.  You gave me wisdom when I was confused.  Above all, I thank you for your love that I didn’t deserve.

Father, as I look forward to the New Year, I realize that I am facing the great unknown,  but my unknown future is known to you.. For this reason,  I commit this New Year to you.  Help me to keep my eyes focused upon you.

Please guide me in every decision that I make.  Help me to love my wife, my family, and all those that you bring into my life.  Give me the strength, patience, and wisdom to bear any trial that may come my way.  Help me to draw closer to you each day.  Increase my faith, because I often walk by sight and not by faith.

When I am tempted to go astray, bring me back to yourself.  When my love becomes lukewarm, woo me back to yourself.  When I feel like quitting, let me experience your grace to move forward.

Thank you, Father, for your ears that are always open to my prayers.  Take my life and let it be devoted to you.  I commit my ever-changing life to you, because you are my unchanging Father.  Amen.