The days in which we find ourselves are intense. Intimidating. Confusing.
Wrong will not win out in the end because Jesus wins. We know this, but every day challenges us to actively cling to that truth once again. As we become weary in trying to understand everything swirling around us, we must walk into the sanctuary of God to discern the end of it all—the only end that makes sense of it all.
All around us are wars and rumors of wars and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between actual wars and the rumors. Those beside us abandon the cause for which brothers and sisters in the faith have died through the centuries, and many others live as if they couldn’t care less. A dearth of brotherhood united around the best and the true stifles life and drains resolve for perseverance.
The way of wisdom seems so slow, so inefficient and unspeakably painstaking. It takes energy and creativity and endurance every day to stand in the gap, to go against what the world around us sets up and praises. The old paths, as J.C. Ryle called them, are bulldozed overnight.
We want a resolution, an end to all this turmoil and unrest. We want the wicked to be punished and the just to be rewarded already. We want the truth to be known and lies exposed for all the world to see. And yet nothing seems to happen. It should all be so simple, we feel, yet every day we wake and a labyrinthine task of discernment awaits us—along with yesterday’s dishes.
Three millennia ago, Asaph struggled as we often do:
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. (Psalm 73:2-5)
If we’re honest, along with our complaints and our righteous indignation, there is often a little jealousy mixed in. We are envious of how well things go for those not bound by conscience, how easily the work of injustice proceeds, and how little opposition there is to ungodly policies and plans.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. (Psalm 73:12-17)
Even Asaph had to catch himself. He had to stop the reel of his thoughts and worries and compare the hopelessness of his feelings with the truth of God’s promises. The flourishing of the wicked was not the end of the story. Eternity lies ahead of every man, woman, and child.
Like Asaph, we must cling to God’s truth to reorient our days amid the confusion of the times and our own lives. Like Asaph, we must recalibrate our feelings and emotions to the compass of the Word.
Here are a few reminders to guide and comfort our hearts in troubled days:
1. God is in control—even over the wicked.
God is not surprised by anything that happens. He uses all things for the good of his people and his own glory, from the smallest mistake to the most massive catastrophe (Psalm 2:4). We can rest in his sovereignty, knowing that no individual or country can alter his plan.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. (Psalm 33:11)
2. God hates evil even more than we do.
Our anger is often mixed with secondary motives. God’s anger at wickedness is pure and unadulterated. He is jealous for the honor of his name in all the earth, and every act of sin—no matter how innocent it seems—is a violation of his law. He especially hates sin which violates the defenseless (Proverbs 14:31).
For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:4-6)
3. Judgment is coming.
Every person will give an account for their deeds, and those not covered in the righteousness of Christ will pay for every action they committed in defiance of God’s holiness. The worst sinner who repents will find safety in the final judgement, while the kindest person who trusts in themselves will be damned.
Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)
4. Judgment, though sure, is delayed.
In the Bible we read of men and women struck dead immediately for their evil actions (Leviticus 10; Acts 5:1-11). Yet that seems to be the exception today. Men and women commit the worst acts of injustice imaginable and go on living their lives. This does not mean that God forgets what has been done or that he will fail to judge every action at the end of time.
Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil. Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him. But it will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God. (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13)
5. Judgment is delayed because of the mercy of God.
God suffers long with the wickedness of the world so that he might bring more people to saving faith. He is a God who loves to redeem and whose character is shown in his patience with his children despite their (our) sin and in his forbearance with those who hate him.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
6. Only the mercy of God separates us from the worst sinner.
Sin is as natural to us as to the worst criminal. Our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 19:7). But when we trust Christ, the Spirit awakens our hearts and continually reforms them until the day we will be perfected in glory. There was nothing good in us when God’s electing love chose us to be saved in Christ.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. (John 15:16)
7. There is nothing new under the sun.
We may feel like these are unprecedented times. We talk frequently about how we have never seen things as bad as they are now. Yet brothers and sisters before us have faced severe opposition from governments (Exodus 2; Acts 16:16-40), criticism by family (Genesis 37; Job 2:9), natural disasters (Genesis 41; Job 1:19), physical ailments (Act 8:7), and many more hardships. Elijah may never have heard of a coronavirus, but rest assured, his situation was no less dire than ours (1 Kings 16:29-19:18).
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
8. The gospel is always relevant.
Every day, we must preach the gospel to ourselves. If we do not, we will waste our energies on meaningless pursuits (Titus 3:9), become discouraged (Lamentations 3:19-20), or grow in pride (1John 2:16). The salvation Christ bought for his bride cannot be tarnished by sin or decay until the marriage of the Lamb is consummated in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21). We must live in the light of eternity while our feet are planted on this side of it.
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hand. (Psalm 31:14-15)
9. God’s promises have not failed.
Nothing can keep God’s children from receiving all the promises that he has made to us. His Word has never failed and will not ever fail. Men and women are unfaithful and disappoint or injure us, but our God remains steadfast forever and his Word endures (Joshua 23:14-15). For those who are united to Christ, there is nothing left to fear on this side of the grave.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (Romans 8:35)
10. Hope does not disappoint.
When the guarantor of our promises is God himself, we are assured that we can never be disappointed in any confidence we place in his character or his promises to us. The more we set our hearts on him and meditate on his wisdom, the better we will be enabled to lift our eyes from all that is troubling us and to walk faithfully each day in light of our eternal hope.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. (Hebrews 3:13-15)
Each of our days begin where the last left off, but many seem somehow like Groundhog Day, like we’re right back where we started and the perseverance of yesterday and the day before were all for nothing and the battle lines remain the same.
Perhaps there is something true in that. Holding the line is sometimes where the battle is hottest. There are times to advance and move forward, but progress means nothing if the line gives way. We cannot underestimate the need to stay awake in this battle. Every day, we need divine grace to remain constant, do the next thing, and continue on the straight and narrow path like Pilgrim in his journey to the Celestial City. As we wake up each morning to meet with the King and hear his words and plod through our days seeking to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God, our homes will begin to look more and more like outposts of that King, evidence that one day justice will be done, the wicked will be judged, and the righteous will be vindicated.
Our hunger for greater patience, peace, and the presence of God in our days as we carry out the tasks of life—clocking into work, rolling up our sleeves for another sink full of dishes, sending an encouraging text to a struggling friend, and speaking gently to a headstrong child—this is where the Kingdom comes. It is in these little moments that giants of the faith have failed and strayed. Here where we desperately call for grace to be found faithful.
God, give us the strength to run in your ways. Enlarge our hearts. Give us the courage to be slow when others love speed; to be faithful when others demand fruit. Give us self-restraint to say nothing when words multiply in foolishness and wisdom to speak up when there is a cost to count. Give us the patience to be careful in the work of sowing and to pray as well as strive in your service until faith is sight and we meet you face to face.