Romans 8:26 says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”
We don’t like to be weak. Admitting weakness means admitting we are powerless. It means that we have to accept that we can’t fix our problems on our own. As humans we sometimes don’t like to admit that we need help. It’s in our nature to try and take care of our own problems.
The problem is that if we want to have a relationship with God, we have to admit that we are weak. We must come to terms with the fact that we are helpless without God. Sin has separated us from God. We are weak, but the Spirit helps us with this weakness. Paul uses the word astheneai, meaning a “lack of confidence or feeling of inadequacy.” The Spirit restores our confidence through prayer. The Spirit takes the inadequate, and makes it adequate.
Our weakness is taken away by the Spirit, and the only hurdle left is our own humanity. We need to understand that we can have confidence in prayer. We should also accept the fact that we need God’s help. How wonderful that our God can hear us even with our weakness!
Our younger and non-U.S. readers may not be able to relate to the economic news that the U.S. economy is experiencing inflation, unlike anything we’ve seen in 40 years. Indeed, this period of “stagflation” (i.e., stagnant economy plus inflation) began even before my birth, noticeably during the Administration inherited by Gerald Ford after Richard Nixon’s resignation.
The genesis for this economic downturn started with the decision of President Nixon to take the United States off the gold standard in 1971. It was necessary to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts but was only a short-term solution. Had government become fiscally responsible, they could have gotten the nation out of debt and reinstituted the gold standard. But, rather than curb spending, the government began spending more since they could print more bills. And Ford was honest to a fault, from a political perspective, since he admitted the poor state of the Union in his address in 1975.
“I must say to you that the state of the Union is not good: Millions of Americans are out of work. Recession and inflation are eroding the money of millions more. Prices are too high, and sales are too slow. This year’s Federal deficit will be about $30 billion; next year’s probably $45 billion. The national debt will rise to over $500 billion. Our plant capacity and productivity are not increasing fast enough. We depend on others for essential energy. Some people question their Government’s ability to make hard decisions and stick with them; they expect Washington politics as usual.”1
Looking to make a change, Americans voted for the Democrat candidate running against Ford in 1976. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger swore in President Jimmy Carter on January 20, 1977. However, instead of bringing positive changes to the economy, things grew worse under President Carter. Ironically, candidate Carter had successfully used Arthur Okun’s “Misery Index” in his campaign to highlight the miserable performance of Ford’s economy.2 Yet, it would not be long until the “Misery Index” became an albatross around Carter’s neck. Carter’s opponent in the 1980 presidential race, Ronald Reagan, even made a point to note that Carter was mum about the “Misery Index” of his tenure.3 I dare say that most laymen still associate the “Misery Index” with Jimmy Carter, not Gerald Ford.
The CPI (consumer price index) is used to gauge inflation. Unfortunately, it has risen to 8.5%.4 To curb inflation, the Federal Reserve Bank will inevitably raise interest rates. The simple explanation for this is that the Federal Reserve Bank wants to discourage you from spending money. So, with rising interest rates, that new automobile or house will cost even more, and you will decide to make do with what you have. As a result, demand will decrease and theoretically lower inflation. The only positive thing resulting from such an economy is that your savings account will finally accrue more interest. The bad news is that the money you earn will not have the same buying power if inflation is high.
I was but a child, but I recall the stagflation of the Carter Administration. My father preached for a domestic mission church in west Georgia. He received financial support from a congregation in Tennessee but still had to find other employment periodically to provide for his family. Briefly, my mother even tried to get a job as a seamstress at a Hanes factory outside of LaGrange, Georgia. We lived austerely and had more than one of Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” However, my father could parlay those savings into later real estate purchases when the economy improved. The point is that even Christians experience lean times, but they don’t last forever.
Would you believe that this is what Paul talked about with his financial supporters in Philippi? He told them he had learned to get along with much or little (Philippians 4.11-12). Paul said that even meant having to go hungry at times. Yet, he could do it because Christ gave him strength (Philippians 4.13). So, yes, that oft-quoted verse is about money. Though it is nice to think we can tap into our Lord’s power to accomplish difficult tasks, like quitting a bad habit, we should not lose sight of the context, especially in a terrible economy.
David said long ago that he had never seen the righteous forsaken or his seed begging for bread (Psalm 37.25). Indeed, Jesus reminds us that God will supply the needs of those seeking Him and His Kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). But our necessities are just that, necessary. Beans and cornbread can sate hunger as effectively as filet mignon and mushroom Bordelaise. So, God is not promising you the “king’s dainties” (cf. Daniel 1.8 ASV). But you will receive enough sustenance to maintain life.
Moreover, as a Christian, you have the added blessing of your church family. The first Christians saw after one another’s needs, even selling their property to help support their brethren (cf. Acts 4.32-35). I am not suggesting that things will become bad enough today to necessitate such drastic measures, but it is still encouraging to know that we have others watching our backs. Indeed, they will help us with our burdens as we help carry theirs (Galatians 6.2,10).
Yes, things may get worse before getting better. The younger generations may not know what to make of these things. And we might see people sinning as the post-exilic Jews who robbed God by withholding their tithes to Him (Malachi 3.8-12). In these times, God encourages more generosity, not stinginess. As He told the Jews of old, He is more than capable of opening the portals of heaven to shower us with blessings. Do not lose that faith and trust that as we learn to do without, we might also learn how to properly conduct ourselves when we abound in this world’s goods.
1 Ford, Gerald. “President Gerald R. Ford’s Address before a Joint Session of the Congress Reporting on the State of the Union.” Gerald Ford’s 1975 State of the Union Address, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum, www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/library/speeches/750028.htm.
Not much is worse than investing time, emotion, and resources into something that doesn’t pay off. Like spending days working on an engine, only to have the transmission give out. Parents with small children are familiar with the frustration of cleaning their house, then having it trashed nanoseconds later. Or putting time, financial risk, and great sacrifice into starting a business, only to have a terrifically mismanaged pandemic destroy it.
In each of these examples, a person’s reaction to negative outcomes is rarely positive. Having invested so much in something, we hope to have good outcome.
Jesus invested heavily in Judas, only to be betrayed by him. He healed people, brought dead loved ones back, fed people, and gave them hope. He worked very closely with his apostles for years, only to have them miss the point the entire time he was on earth (Acts 1.6; Mk 8.14-32).
I am grateful that he isn’t like us. He doesn’t give up on us when we mess up (I Jn 1.9). He has immense patience with us (II Pt 3.9; I Tim 1.16). But it isn’t blind acceptance of dysfunction — God is patient with our flaws to give us a chance to change (Rom 2.4). God doesn’t make decisions the same way we do!
From our perspective, humanity was a terrible investment. Jesus invested something we aren’t capable of investing, only to have most of humanity reject him. But he didn’t scrap the car, yell at the kids, or harbor resentment. He gives us his patience, his love, and time. It’s up to us to make the most of those things while we’re here!
Jesus, the master teacher (Luke 8:1-21), shows His humanity as He fell asleep as the disciples sailed across the Sea of Galilee (23). Assuming the boat to be large enough to transport at least 13 people and provide Jesus room to repose, it makes the situation more impressive when “a fierce gale of wind descended on the lake, and they began to be swamped and to be in danger” (23). We know that at least four of the men in that boat made their living negotiating these waters as fishermen, and we would guess they had seen their share of storms. But this one was apparently exceptional. They woke Jesus up in a panic, exclaiming, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (24).
When Kathy and I were young newlyweds, we worked with the church in Livingston, Alabama. Our best song leader was a man who grew up close friends of Gus Nichols’ children. His name was Selman Falls, and his repertoire of songs was vast. He taught us the song, “He Will Hide Me,” written by Mary Servoss in 1878. The first verse says, “When the storms of life are raging, tempests wild on sea and land, I will seek a place of refuge, in the shadow of God’s hand.” Few metaphors seem more fitting than to call our trials and difficulties “storms.” I confess that more than one of these has led me to panic and to pray, “Master, Master, I am perishing!” Our trials disturb our peace, rock our world, and threaten our stability.
Will you notice how Jesus handled this? First, He acted. Then, He admonished. He did not lecture while waves crashed and water encroached. He took care of the problem. But, then He said, “Where is your faith?” Luke mentions no sober self-reflection on the part of the disciples. Instead, they marveled. They responded, in fear and amazement, “Who then is this, that He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him?” (25). Storms are opportunities for us to ask, then answer, such an identity question. It’s the right question. Not, why did this storm come? Why me? But, Who then is this? Who is the master of the maelstrom? Who is the commander of the crushing confusion?
Chances are great that several of you are in the midst of some kind of storm. The boat is rocking, the winds are howling, and the prospects are not promising. What will you do? More importantly, what will you allow Him to do? He still stills storms!
There’s a fact that we must understand about our Christianity: we can’t make it through this life if we don’t let God help. God has offered His hand to us. He wants to help us. Problem is, we don’t always accept. When we refuse the help of God, we open the door to stress and anxiety. When we try to handle life on our own we are quickly drowned in helplessness and worry. But God wants to help us.
In 1 Peter 5, we are told a comforting fact about the Creator. In speaking of our humility in submitting to the leaders of the church, Peter tells us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (6-7).
Peter tells us how we can show humility to God, by casting our anxieties on Him. And most of the time we refuse help because of our pride. We don’t need directions because our pride keeps us from admitting we are lost. We don’t need the user manual because doing so means accepting that we don’t know how to build a dresser.
Accepting help takes humility. Peter tells us that in order to show humility toward God we must accept the fact that without God we are lost. We are told in Scripture that God bears our burdens, but an important question we must ask is, “How do we let God bear our burdens?”
Transfer Your Concern.
Peter tells us in verse seven to cast our anxieties. This word “casting” is a very interesting word. It literally means to “transfer from one person to the next.” It is the act of handing off something to someone else. I want to pause and analyze a very intriguing and complex game. It’s called “hot potato.” Now it can be hard to understand the goal and purpose of this game so I’ll try as best I can to explain it. You take a hot potato and toss it around to other people…And that’s the game. When it comes to our anxiety that is exactly what we are told to do. Toss it like a hot potato because you don’t want it or need it.
When Peter tells us to cast our anxieties on God, he is telling us to get rid of it completely. Not just tell God about what’s worrying us, but literally transfer our concerns and worries over to God. We sometimes will tell God about our anxieties in prayer and then continue to worry and stress over our situation. If we do this we aren’t fulfilling the command given. God bears our burdens by taking what we transfer to Him. If we never give it to God He will not have it.
Pinpoint Your Anxiety.
Verse seven also says, “Casting your anxiety.” What is anxiety? The word here is speaking of an emotion characterized by feelings of tensions. It’s worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure and weight gain or weight loss.
Peter is talking about the emotions we deal with when it comes to stressful situations. The emotions we feel when trying to solve an issue we are worried about. The situations we lose sleep over, the problems that are constantly in the back of our minds eating away at our joy and contentment. Those feelings are the ones that God wants to take from you. Those are the emotions that God wants to bear for us. But we must pinpoint what it is that is causing anxiety. What stress am I dealing with? More importantly, what am I doing about that stress?
Understand God’s Care.
Then verse seven says, “Casting your anxieties on Him because He cares for you.” Why do we transfer our concerns to God? Because He truly cares. What concerns us concerns God. In letting God bear our burdens we must believe the fact that God truly cares about us (Psa. 40:17; Jn. 10:11ff). It is plainly shown to us in Scripture that God cares. But it’s interesting to notice that in His earthly ministry Jesus was often asked a question. For example, in Mark 4:38 the apostles are on the Sea of Galilee and a storm comes upon them. The waves are crashing down, the wind is beating on the boat, the Savior is sleeping, and the apostles lose their faith in God. They come to him and ask, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
In Luke 10:40, Jesus enters the house of Mary and Martha. Mary sits at His feet while Martha is distracted by serving and being hospitable, and Martha says to Jesus, “Do you not care?” We find ourselves in the storms of life and Jesus is nowhere to be seen and we immediately ask “Do you not care?” We get distracted and our problems aren’t getting fixed and we cry out “do you not care?” It is a question we tend to ask God, and we still fail to see the care of the Savior.
“Oh, yes He cares I know He cares. His heart is touched with my grief. When the days are weary, the long nights dreary, I know my Savior cares.” Do you understand that God cares for you? Or have you found yourself asking the same question the disciples asked Jesus? Do you fully understand the love that God has for you?
If we ever doubt God’s care, just think of Christ hanging on the cross taking your sin. Receiving the punishment for my sin. Does Jesus care? The answer is a resounding yes! And we can know that He cares.
2 Kings 4 records an incredible story. In verse one we are introduced to a poor widow who has just hit rock bottom. She didn’t know what to do or where to turn and in her pain and sorrow she did the only thing she knew she could do; she turned to God. She “cries out to Elisha” and the Hebrew word for “cries” literally means that she was wailing in anguish. This widow was heartbroken and in need. But this account reveals to us some comforting truths about God. By studying this account we can find peace in knowing that God has a solution to our problems.
Elisha says to her, “‘What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside’” (2-4). This woman had nothing but a jar of oil, but not for long. She does what Elisha tells her to do and the jar of oil filled every single vessel she collected.
And that’s the end of that story. The widow came to God while she was at her lowest, and God provided for her. He gave her the oil she needed to fix her problems. The end.
But what about MY oil? Maybe you’re thinking, “When is God going to fix my problems and provide my oil? When will He give me the money for an electric bill? When will He fix my broken heart? When will God take care of me?” Let me tell you about the oil that God has given you. If you’re a christian, God has already taken care of you. He has blessed us with a gift far more precious than gold. He has promised to one day wipe away every tear from your eyes. If you’re a Christian, God is already taking care of your most valuable possession–your soul.
God has given us the oil that never runs dry. Now that’s not to say that God will do for us physically what we ask, but even if he doesn’t He has already shown us more love and care than anyone else on earth. God is more concerned with my spiritual state than my bank account. God is more concerned about my work as a Christian than my 9-5 job. God is more concerned about my soul than whether or not I am comfy here on earth.
God never promised us that if we become Christians we would be financially blessed. But He HAS promised to give us a reward like no other if we are faithful in times of trouble. God has and will provide for those who are faithful to Him.
I’d like to suggest that the account from 2 Kings 4 isn’t necessarily about the oil. It was about the widow’s faith, it was about her obedience, and it was a demonstration of the power of God. But from this account we learn that God provides for those in need, and we can find peace in knowing that our most valuable possession is in the hands of Almighty God.
It’s common in the age we live in to get stuck on the “daily grind.” We wake up, drink coffee, get dressed, go to work or school, come home at the end of the day, and start all over again in the morning. It’s repetitive and the days can seem to blend together. On top of this monotony, you have your own problems to solve. We’ve got our own responsibilities to keep up with. For some it’s family and for others it’s homework or any number of other duties. This can cause anxiety or depression. Those thoughts that are familiar to so many can creep into our minds. Thoughts like, “why am I even doing this? What’s the point?” Our shoulders are tired with the burden of life. There’s too much going on and we may just want to shut down or sleep to escape the day. The weight is heavy.
So try something. Wake up! When our minds are full of our problems and our responsibilities and everything that’s wrong with our lives and our circumstance, we miss something precious. We miss out on the lives of everybody else that also share this planet. Solve your problems and shake the daily grind by branching out. Strive to achieve selflessness by loving others and showing compassion. Solve your problems by trying to help others with theirs. If I personally have my own problems as a young adult, I know that there are others with problems much bigger than mine. Their shoulders are killing them and they’ve been carrying the weight longer than me.
There are people all around you struggling with the same things or worse. The next time you Tweet, begin to create a Facebook status, or blog, are you about to be another problem for someone else? Or are you about to ease their aching shoulders?
For a small child, having an open space park just outside your neighborhood was a dream come true. My younger brother and I would spend entire summers exploring, building forts, and fishing in that beautiful place. One day, as we were playing in the creek, we found a beaver laying in the middle of the water— it wasn’t moving. Without getting too graphic, we made several plans for this new prize find. We could make a hat out of the skin, or perhaps stuff it and put it in our room. The only problem was, mom would never allow us to drag this fifty pound beaver into the house. Besides this, the house was almost a mile away. In order to preserve our trophy we decided that the safest option would be to string the beaver up by the tail and hoist it up over the branch of a near by tree. That branch sagged under the weight of the beast while water dripped from it’s wet coat and onto the bike trail directly below. Without thinking about the terrible location we had chosen, Carl and I gave a high-five and began the long walk back to the house. We were beaming with pride and excitement because this was our little secret. A few weeks later, we returned to the spot and were outraged to find that someone had cut our swinging beaver down! Looking back, we still laugh as we think about the many bikers and joggers that ran down that path only to be surprised and confused by this animal carcass hanging over the path.
The church is a wonderful place to be, especially when you find yourself a member of a healthy congregation. When the church is functioning in accordance with scripture, the impact She can make is endless. One aspect of keeping God’s family healthy on the inside is keeping sin on the outside. Sadly, there are some congregations that have blatantly accepted the sinful lifestyles of individuals. It’s as if there were dead beavers hanging in their midst, but instead of cutting it down they choose to turn a blind eye. The longer it stays, the stinkier it becomes. This is a gruesome, but appropriate description of sin. Paul spends two letters rebuking the church at Corinth because they had allowed several horrific sins to divide and erode the Body there. They didn’t sever the hanging carcass, and as a result the stench of sin provoked Paul to write some of the harshest words to be penned in the New Testament.
Paul will give them five commands in chapter sixteen that we would do well to apply to our own lives as well. He says, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:13-14). With these two short verses you can backpedal through the letter and see how these five imperatives would have saved them from not only a harsh rebuke, but many heartaches that were also consequences of their sins. They were stricken with disease and death in both the physical and spiritual sense. The apostle commands them, through inspiration, to be aware of their surroundings. Be alert. He reminds them to firmly stand on the truth of the gospel. He bluntly tells them to act like men, because they were acting like children. Then he tells them to be strong, but in a different sense. This strength is that inner strength that it takes to conquer temptation and carry on righteously in the midst of evil. These four commands are then to be carried out with love. A sacrificial love for one another means having the willingness to confront sin problems that are damaging the Bride of Christ. Not out of anger, but out love for His church and for the soul of the guilty member. This is the recipe for a healthy congregation through every age. It worked in Corinth, and it works today.
If there’s a beaver hanging in your congregation, the best thing to do is to cut it down!
My problems are so big, my worries so mighty, there’s nothing my anxieties can’t do. Wait, that’s not how that song goes. It’s been said that the there are more stars in the known universe than all of the sand on earth combined. That being said, in just one grain of sand there are more atoms than all of the stars. That’s pretty amazing. Our planet is but a speck in the grandeur of space. Countless stars, planets, galaxies, lightyears and somehow God is well aware of the happenings of people.
Have you stood on the mountain tops? Have you observed the power of the oceans as the waves crash on the shore? Has your heart almost stopped after the vibrating sensation of a thunder clap resinates in your chest? The might of the Creator is everywhere in the world around us and at times it just demands to be noticed.
1 Kings 19:11-13 is a section of scripture that is mysterious and fascinating. The Lord of hosts is about to show Himself to a depressed and exhausted Elijah, but in a way that he would never forget. “The Lord said, ‘go out on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out to stand at the mouth of the cave. Then the voice said, ‘what are you doing here Elijah?’” In the hush of Horeb, Elijah seeks to avoid the troubles of his world. The acoustics of the mountainous area along with the time spent in silence must have made the shattering rocks, raging fire, splitting hills, and rumbling earth all but deafening and definitely a terrifying display of divine power. Then in sharp contrast, a still whisper comes. This gentleness, no doubt, is the reason Elijah decides to cautiously emerge from his hiding place. God is teaching His worn-out servant a lesson that holds true for us today.
The fact is, there is no more God, His wisdom, power, and presence in an earthquake than there is in the sweet breath of a blooming flower. The quiet ticking of a wrist watch reveals just as much intelligence and purpose as does the striking of a clock tower’s bell. One may walk out into an open field at night and stare up into the vast sky, lit up with numerous twinkling stars and declare, “I’ve found God!” But God is no more in the sky than He is in the blades of grass flattened beneath your feet. The question came to Elijah from that still voice, “What are you doing here?” To the prophet, his problems were too great and too large and his solution was to run and hide. God, in a magnificent way, is trying to remind Elijah of his place. Our place in life is not to take matters into our own hands or solve life’s many difficulties on our own. The answer is not to run away, but to walk humbly with our awesome God. He is strong enough to lift our burdens, wise enough to counsel us, patient enough to allow us to learn, and loving enough to constantly forgive. My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do— for you, too.
Problems aren’t inherently negative. Will you remember that? The middle-aged man with the persistent pain goes to the doctor, who discovers the malignant mass and gets him to the surgeon. The man’s life is saved by pain. The teenage Christian girl who endures the hurt of breaking up with the boy who is ungodly but who she loves feels pain. Eventually, though, as she raises her four children and enjoys marriage with a strong Christian man, she thanks God for that former pain. Illustrations of this point are endless.
How do you view your pain? By human nature, we tend to view suffering as the very worst thing that could happen to us. The anxiety of the medical test, the chronic disease that impacts every portion of our day and life, the permanent loss of a loved one through whatever events, or a rift in the family all can seem unbearable.
Will you remember that, as with the physical body and the emotional makeup, pain in our spiritual lives can have a positive benefit? We can learn from the painful thing. Pain can cause us to grow. Pain can serve as a spiritual refinery. After all, problems aren’t inherently negative. It is how we respond to the problems that makes all the difference. If we give up due to the problems we face, it’s devastating. If we sin in response to our pain, we fail and inflict damage on ourselves and others. If we blame God, we are in danger of allowing our pain to conquer us.
Despite those possibilities, though, none of these things have to occur. The encouraging thing is that how we respond to our problems is fully under our own control. We can be the example, in our suffering, that leads a lost soul to Christ or an erring Christian back home. We can be the role models others remember when they go down the road of trouble. We can bring glory to God by faithfully enduring such things.
Problems aren’t inherently negative! Thank God for this.