Sometimes when we think about God being everywhere, it kind of freaks us out. Is He tracking us to catch us in all our mistakes? Is He shaking His head in disappointment every time we don’t hit the standard, or give in to temptation? What’s the advantage of Him being all present? Psalm 139 answers this question with powerful statements. First of all, the psalmist says that God has examined my heart and know(s) everything about me. Here’s how that relates to your feeling alone. When you feel misunderstood—God gets you. Do you have those people in your life who just get you? It’s easy to be together because you are on the same wavelength. Then you have those people who don’t get you. You have to filter everything you say around them and communicate on a more surface level. It’s harder. Listen, God is someone who gets you (even though you may not fully get Him). He knows you better than you know yourself.
Has anyone tried to hide in some darkness for a while? You tried to give up on God, but He would not give up on you? God does not abandon you in the darkness, He guides you THROUGH the darkness. The bible tells is that Jesus sent his Holy Spirit to be our “comforter.” I love that word. How many people would like some comfort today? This means that the presence of God is not only all around us, but as a Jesus follower, the Holy Spirit is also within us to give us comfort. Many of us looking back on the dark times of our lives experienced a peace that surpassed understanding. We had an inner strength that kept us from being crushed. We had a hand directing us when we could not see the future through a cloud of uncertainty. That was the personal presence of God the comforter within.
Some of us struggle with the fear of not having enough. We wonder if there will be enough money to pay for all the things we need. Or if there will be time to do all the things required—like make it home in time for the holidays or get the house clean enough for the people that are coming. We wonder if there’s enough energy to get through the challenges at work or in the family. Think about your money, your time, and your stuff--no matter how much it increases, don’t you notice that your appetite grows to meet it? Studies have shown for a long time that as our income increases, spending increases, and the end result is people making minimum wage or six figures both complain of the same thing: there just never seems to be enough. Talk to a person who is totally into fitness and health and what is their greatest worry? Their health! Talk to a person with lots of money. What is there greatest fear? Not having enough! There is something in us as people where enough is never enough. So where do we go to satisfy this hunger for enough? In John chapter 6, Jesus gives us the answer when He says, “I AM the bread of life.” He says, “I AM the one who satisfies your spiritual hunger so that enough is enough.” Jesus is our hope for enough!
David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk for many decades, gave a Ted Talk about gratitude and here’s what he said: “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It's gratefulness that makes us happy.” So often we think, “if only this problem would go away, or if only this thing would happen the way I want it to happen, then I would be happy and then I would we grateful. I will be grateful when I have something to be grateful about.” But that’s not how it works. Don’t we all know people who have more stuff and fewer problems, but are less happy and grateful? And don’t we all know people who have more problems, less stuff, yet are happier and more grateful? Researcher Brene Brown found the same thing. She conducted interviews for 12 years, collected 11,000 pieces of data on what makes some people whole-hearted, resilient and happy. In all that time she did not meet a single person who would describe themselves as joyful or their life as joy-filled who did not actively practice gratitude. Take time to practice gratitude and begin to see how God works in that to make you happier.
Love others. Theologians call this God’s moral will. He wants you to do good in the lives of other people. This is the golden rule Jesus taught. He said do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Notice, it’s all about action. Do for others. Be active, not just reactive. If you like being thanked, thank others. If you like being let in traffic when you need to get over, let others over. If you like it when people care about what you think or feel, then YOU care about what others think and feel. If you like getting help when you are down on your luck, then help others when they are down on their luck. I don’t know what God’s specific will for you is, but I know the more you love others as you like to be loved the closer you get to it. Maybe what you need is not for the clouds to open and for God to say, “This is what you need to do…” But you need to open your heart and say, ‘Who should I be loving?’ You need to love that challenging family member. You need to call the person you are avoiding. You need to pitch in and help around the house. Maybe you just need to say thank you to someone. Or you need to forgive someone. Or you need to honor someone who you are currently harming or dishonoring. Maybe you need to end a habit or relationship that you know is hurting someone else or damaging your own character. When you aim to love others, you are aiming at God’s will.
When anxiety says, “it’s going to be worse than you think,” listen to God who says, “I know the plans I have for you, to give you a hope and a future.” When anxiety says, “you won’t be able to handle it”, the Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” When anxiety says, “don’t make the wrong decision,” Jesus says, “come to me all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” When anxiety says, “you don’t have the strength to face it” Jesus says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” When anxiety says, “Your life is over” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. I have defeated death. He who believes in me will live and never die!”
God is the only one who knows the future. Everything He plans comes to pass. God literally has zero uncertainty. Nothing surprises Him. Nothing overwhelms Him. He never says, “I did NOT see that coming.” He sees it all coming. He is not limited in His ability to bring His plan to completion. God’s plans are your future. At the same time it’s important to say that not everything that happens is a part of God’s plans. Plenty of what happens in this world is a complete violation of God’s will and character. The bible says God desires for all to be saved—sadly we see plenty of people reject God. The world is a place where people are free to choose their own wills. That means it’s a place filled with uncertainty. But at the same time, God works out His certain plans in this uncertain world. And He is bringing it to a certain completion. What we need to do is aim our life at His plans. You can’t know what is going to happen in the future, but you can follow God, day by day, into your best future. You can choose today to direct your life at God and go where He is leading. This does not mean it will be all high fives and victory laps. There will be ups and downs. Wins and losses. Suffering and joy. But God will surround you with His strength, His protection and His people if you just seek Him. If you want to secure your future, the best thing you can do is seek God today.
Lots of times we look to God to strengthen up all the places we feel weak. When your marriage or relationship goes sideways you call in God to make you feel strong. When you have a huge test or a major task at work or a parenting challenge you can’t handle, you call upon God to make you feel strong. We think, ‘I can do this if God helps. He will show up and take the weakness away.’ But that’s not what we see here. You need to move forward even though you feel weak. If you wait until you feel strong enough to deal with your addiction, you never will. If you wait for your crazy schedule to settle down before you deal with your health or some serious issue, you will never do it. If you wait for the fighting to simmer down before you seek counseling or outside help, you will never seek that help. And the best time to come to church is when you feel like going the least. When you walk with your weakness you start to live with God’s power. Your weakness releases God’s strength. It’s a faith thing. It’s a trust thing. It’s about more than just believing with your head… it’s about believing with your heart, your hands and your feet. God is good and God is powerful, but often we access that power in the areas we feel weakest.
God is not limited by your potential. His power IS your potential. His plans ARE your future. He can do more with your life than you can even imagine. You have to decide if God really is for you, and then trust Him. It might help to have you decide these things out in the open. We are going to bring up three simple questions. Answer them honestly to yourself. 1. Do you believe God is real? 2. Do you believe God loves you? 3. Do you believe God can help you? These are basic questions. But they have big implications. If you answered no to any of these questions, that’s where you need to focus. If you don’t really have the baseline to trust God and expect Him to work. I encourage you to keep asking those questions and showing up each week at Central as we describe more of God’s character. But if you said yes to all three…if you agree with all three in your head, that’s great! You are halfway there. Now you need to let those yesses drop down into your heart and start acting on those promises in your life. Where your head, your heart, and your hands come together—that is the trust zone. That is where you start living like God is real, God loves you, and God can help. The more you trust the more you’ll grow.
Don’t let your problems determine your view of God; let your view of God determine your problems. If you let your life situation define God you are going to end up with someone you do not trust and cannot relate to. Your problems are going to seem bigger than God. Your own answers are going to seem smarter than God’s responses. Your own efforts are going to seem more important than God’s efforts. You are going to have to lean on your own strength rather than being able to accept your weaknesses and lean on God’s strength. Instead, you need to get a clear picture of God first. And then let that picture define your problems.
We need to trust that God is good even when life feels bad. To trust that God is powerful even when we feel powerless. To trust that God knows best even when we feel at our worst. To trust that God only says no to give us a better yes. To trust that He sees the big picture. To trust that He’s involved in the details. To trust that He knows our fears. To trust that He sees our enemies. To trust that He is on the job, He’s got our backs, He’s got our fronts, He’s got the ground under our feet, the sky over our heads, and everything in-between. You don’t need more clarity. You don’t need more security. You need more trust in the God who is real, who loves you, and has the power to do more than you can imagine.
Grief is a choice. You choose to be honest about whatever you are feeling and you take that to God. God wants us to release our feelings to Him in prayer. The Bible calls it crying out to God. You bring to Him your anger, fatigue, confusion, and frustration. Complaining ABOUT God is rebellion. Complaining TO God and crying out to Him is an act of worship. Some of us have been worshipping all week! There’s a right and wrong way to complain to God. What’s the right way? You do it in faith. You say, “God, I believe you’re going to hear me on this. I believe you can help.” You can tell Him anything. You cry out to God. God would rather have you be honest and release your feelings to Him than for you to fake it and pretend like everything’s all right because it’s not.
As a human being, you cannot live without loss. Everything in this world is temporary. Losses are inevitable. The typical question we always ask is why. Why is this happening to me? Why is this going on? And that is the unanswerable question. We’re not going to know on this side of eternity. Looking back later from heaven you’ll be able to see why some things happened the way they did. We do know that this is a broken planet. We do know that sin has caused a lot of problems in this world. Everything that happens on this planet is not God’s will, because a lot of people choose to not do God’s will. There are consequences and all kinds of damage. When we ask the “why” question, we don’t get an answer. But I’ve discovered after talking to hundreds of people through experiences of grief over the years that we don’t need an explanation anyway. What we need is an answer to ‘how.’ How can we move on? How can we rebuild our life after something important was lost? That really is the most important question. Losses are inevitable; rising up is optional.
Some of us are trying to carry too much. We have unresolved grief in our hearts and it is way heavier than we can carry. We are causing damage and it is slowing us down. Eventually something is going to fall, and when it does it will create quite a mess and take forever to clean up. One of the ways we release that weight is to grieve. Loss always creates very strong emotions in us. We may have worry and fear. We may have depression or anger. We don’t always know what to do with all of these emotions. But the worst thing we can do is simply bury them. If you bury your feelings they will eventually bury you.
Life is full of distractions. It’s full of things trying to ping us out of the present. Sometimes we welcome these distractions because they ping us out of a difficult situation we’re in. Work wears you out so you seek out distractions like gossip, or the news or social media. Guilt or shame from the past pings us. Worry and fear about the future flashes in our minds like a notification banner. And like any other distraction, the temptation is always the same: to check out of the present moment. Guilt and nostalgia both ping you out of the present and drag you into a past you cannot change. Excessive worrying and planning both ping you out of the present and thrust you into a future you can’t control. And here’s why it’s so important for us to fight these distractions: the present is where life happens. The present is where the joy is. The present is where you can actually make progress, solve problems, do good and love people. One of the tragedies we’re living through as people is being so distracted that we are not fully present in our lives. It’s like that saying John Lennon made even more famous by putting it in a song: ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ God heals your past and secures your future so you can find joy in your present.
You don’t need to worry about your future because God is already working in your future. Your future is uncertain and you can’t control it, but God is already there. The only thing certain about your future is that God is working to preserve your life when you need Him most. Are bad moments going to happen? Yes. Are good moments going to happen? Yes. And God is already preparing to preserve your life in all of it--to weave all those frayed fragments into something good.
Pass along the comfort you receive. You lost someone you love, God comforted you, and now you can help people who are going through it now. You went through a divorce, God comforted you, and now you can comfort someone going their own relational crisis. You struggled with an eating disorder, or depression, or anxiety in the past, now you can help those struggling today. Whatever God has brought you through uniquely qualifies you to help others going through the same thing. You may not feel qualified to give advice, but guess what? People don’t want advice—they want someone who understands. People are not looking for heroes—they are looking for equals. You know what the most powerful words you can say to someone who needs help? It’s “me too.” I know how you feel. I know what you are going through. I have been there myself. You don’t need to give them hope, you are the hope.
If you are feeling pain today, you need to know that God wants to comfort you. It’s who He is. He is the source of ALL comfort. So, if you have ever wondered, does God see what I am going through, does He care, does He intend to do something about it? The answer is yes. He will not only comfort and strengthen you within the pain you’re experiencing, but He also promises to use it and ultimately bring meaning out it. So often it feels like pain is an interruption in our plans. It’s what’s keeping us from the good life. But with God, your pain never has to be pointless. God can use it bring good out of your life.
Many of us look back to a dark season we walked through, and we know, it was God who showed up and gave us peace when everything was falling apart. It was God who gave us strength when we felt weak. It was God who gave us a next step when we didn’t know what to do. God comforted you in that moment and got you through it, and now you are on the other side. You are a survivor and now you are uniquely qualified to comfort others who are in the middle of the mess God brought you through. And part of your recovery is allowing God to use your past to help someone’s present.
You may look at other people who have different gifts and skill sets than you and think, “I could never do that”, and you’re right! But they could never do what you’re called to do. God calls us all to His team but then to different positions on that team. We all support each other and God supports us all. Only look at others to see how you can serve them, not to feel better or worse by comparing your gifts to theirs. Once you get busy serving the team with the gifts God gave you, you won’t have time to compare. You’ll be too happy, feeling the significance and enjoying the friendship that comes when you get on a team and work towards a common goal. When you’re a part of the team you’re a part of the win.