This month, our meditation has been excerpted from the book entitled, Bound to Be Free compiled by Jan Pit. In the following short quotation from Horacio Herrera (from Cuba, Mr. Herrera writes using a pseudonym because of his leading role in the Cuban church), there is fodder for reflection and perhaps application:
By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remember Zion. (Psalm 137:1)
About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. (Acts 16:25)
Liberty is a gift of great value to humanity, which you realize best when it is lost.
For the followers of Christ there is always liberty, joy and victory whatever the circumstances may be.
Jeremiah gives an example of a situation when liberty is lost. There is mourning, crying, desolation and bondage (Jeremiah 33).
The captured in Babylon echo this feeling of mourning when they remember Zion and the destruction of their homeland.
'How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?' (Psalm 137:4) 'We sat and wept' (Psalm 137:1).
But what a different picture of glory, joy and hope is presented by Isaiah when he announces the end of captivity (Isaiah 12).
Sing with joy, and feast, for captivity has ended. There will be no more slavery. What Isaiah is saying is that we need to leave our bondage behind and live in optimism, even if all the circumstances are against us.
That is what Paul and Silas did. They changed night into day from the prison in Philippi. They turned their prison into a church and their crying into a song of joy.
Let us acknowledge our painful conditions--yes--but let us not stop there. The more we concentrate on our sorrows, the more we will cry.
Let us lift up our eyes to the Lord. He will change our wailing into dancing. He will remove our sackcloth and clothe us with joy (Psalm 30:11).
Lord, open our eyes--that we may see.
A moment of introspection: Liberty. Walking in the park. Having a picnic with one's family. Attending a church of your choice. Holding a paying or volunteer job. Speaking one's convictions, expressing one's faith in God. Liberty--"a gift of great value to humanity, which you realize best when it is lost." Think for a moment; consider the liberty you experience where you live. What freedoms do you have? In each case, such liberty is truly a gift of great value. Liberty can be lost, though. College campuses used to be bastions of the exchange of free thoughts, but now suppress Christian principles and tenets and shun the presence of Christians from campuses. College campuses are rife with anti-Semitism. Social media, florist shops, photographic studios, variety stores and bakeries--among other examples--are affected by those in anti-Christian groups who promote behavior that is unnatural in the esteem of Christians. And the world is moving closer and closer to that which characterized Noah's day (pre-ark).
But according to Horacio, and according to God's Word, Christians can be at peace and at liberty despite lawlessness, chaos, worldly anxieties, and conflicts. Will we have painful conditions? David, in Psalm 30, acknowledges areas of pain in a Christian's life: enemies, health problems, financial need, mourning over loss, situational grief, etc. In each case, God was a refuge and a strength. As Christians, we can easily become stressed, downcast, disappointed, depressed, and frightened if we focus on the problem(s) and not on God. We see the storm clouds; God sees the blazing white upper sides of the clouds that trouble us. God is in control; that is perhaps why Paul and Silas could change their prison cell into a hall of praise and joy. Perhaps that is what Isaiah knew (Isaiah 12:1-6); he knew that we ought not to be Pollyanna-like characters (Pollyanna was the title of a 1913 best-selling novel, "the title character's name becoming a popular term for someone with the same very optimistic outlook") in our approach to life, but realists with a living faith in a living God. We confess our compromises with this world, and leave such compromises behind; cf Colossians 2:8). We concede our satisfaction with this life, but leave complacence and bondage after us, in our wake. Consider the following tale:
Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian and philosopher, told this parable: A wild duck was flying northward with his mate across Europe during the springtime. En route, he happened to land in a barnyard in Denmark, where he quickly made friends with the tame ducks that lived there. The wild duck enjoyed the corn and fresh water. He decided to stay for an hour, then for a day, then for a week, and finally, for a month. At the end of that time, he contemplated flying to join his friends in the vast Northland, but he had begun to enjoy the safety of the barnyard, and the tame ducks had made him feel welcome. So he stayed for the summer.
One autumn day, when his wild mates were flying toward the south, he heard their quacking. It stirred him with delight, and he enthusiastically flapped his wings and rose into the air to join them. Much to his dismay, he found that he could rise no higher than the eaves of the barnyard, and muttered to himself, "I'm satisfied here. I have plenty of food, and the fare is good. Why would I leave?" So, he spent the winter on the farm.
In the spring, when the wild ducks flew overhead again, he felt a strange stirring within his breast, but he did not even try to fly up to meet them. When they returned in the fall, they again invited him to rejoin them, but this time, the duck did not even notice them. There was no stirring within his breast. He simply kept on eating the corn which made him fat.
Today we face a challenge. It is the challenge of abandoning the security of worldly attitudes and lifestyles to be free from the gravitational pull of the world. It is the challenge of choosing the hard path even when an easy one is open to us. It is the challenge of living supernaturally; it is the invitation to lose our life in order to find it. (How In This World Can I Be Holy?, pp. 7-8, by Erwin Lutzer, published 1974 by Moody Press, and updated in 1985)
Let us abandon the captivity and slavery (John 8:34) that bind us to this world. Rather, let us be workers employed by God, and approved for service (2 Timothy 2:14-26). When troubles come, as they will, consider it pure joy (James 1:2-4) and focus not on the problem, but on God. Mr. Herrera expressed this as not stopping/focusing on our problems: Let us acknowledge our painful conditions--yes--but let us not stop there. The more we concentrate on our sorrows, the more we will cry. Isaiah acknowledged the existence of captivity and slavery, but lived, guiding the freeing of believers from those conditions. Because we believe in the sovereign God, we can live with optimism, "even if all the circumstances are against us." Despite the cell of captivity and death around them, Paul and Silas responded and turned the prison cell into a "church" and their crying into joy. We serve the Lord, for the night is coming (John 9:4); part of our work is that of getting ready and remaining ready for the Lord's soon return. To this end, consider the book Are You Rapture Ready? (by Todd Strandberg and Terry James, 2003, published by Dutton, member of the Penguin Group) Prophecy experts now estimate that we live in the last "seconds" of the clock before the rapture.
Oswald Chambers was quoted as saying, “We have to pray with our eyes on God, not on the difficulties.” He too knew the value of looking up, when troubled. Despite our dire situation, we serve the One who is Lord over situations. Liberty is ours in Christ, despite the desperateness of the situation. Victory is ours in Christ, but not apart from Him. Let us not focus on the problems of life, lest we be overcome with fear; rather let us focus on God, and gain the victory.
The April 2nd selection from the "Streams In The Desert" devotional is especially helpful in our seizing victory from the jaws of defeat:
They looked… and behold, the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud" (Exod. 16:10).
Get into the habit of looking for the silver lining of the cloud and when you have found it, continue to look at it, rather than at the leaden gray in the middle.
Do not yield to discouragement no matter how sorely pressed or beset you may be. A discouraged soul is helpless. He can neither resist the wiles of the enemy himself, while in this state, nor can he prevail in prayer for others.
Flee from every symptom of this deadly foe as you would flee from a viper. And be not slow in turning your back on it, unless you want to bite the dust in bitter defeat.
Search out God's promises and say aloud of each one: "This promise is mine." If you still experience a feeling of doubt and discouragement, pour out your heart to God and ask Him to rebuke the adversary who is so mercilessly nagging you.
The very instant you whole-heartedly turn away from every symptom of distrust and discouragement, the blessed Holy Spirit will quicken your faith and inbreathe Divine strength into your soul.
At first you may not be conscious of this, still as you resolutely and uncompromisingly "snub" every tendency toward doubt and depression that assails you, you will soon be made aware that the powers of darkness are falling back.
Oh, if our eyes could only behold the solid phalanx of strength, of power, that is ever behind every turning away from the hosts of darkness, God-ward, what scant heed would be given to the effort of the wily foe to distress, depress, discourage us!
All the marvelous attributes of the Godhead are on the side of the weakest believer, who in the name of Christ, and in simple, childlike trust, yields himself to God and turns to Him for help and guidance. --Selected
On a day in the autumn, I saw a prairie eagle mortally wounded by a rifle shot. His eye still gleamed like a circle of light. Then he slowly turned his head, and gave one more searching and longing look at the sky. He had often swept those starry spaces with his wonderful wings. The beautiful sky was the home of his heart. It was the eagle's domain. A thousand times he had exploited there his splendid strength. In those far away heights be had played with the lightnings, and raced with the winds, and now, so far away from home, the eagle lay dying, done to the death, because for once he forgot and flew too low. The soul is that eagle. This is not its home. It must not lose the skyward look. We must keep faith, we must keep hope, we must keep courage, we must keep Christ. We would better creep away from the battlefield at once if we are not going to be brave. There is no time for the soul to stampede. Keep the skyward look, my soul; keep the skyward look!
"Keep looking up--
The waves that roar around thy feet,
Jehovah-Jireh will defeat
When looking up.
"Keep looking up--
Though darkness seems to wrap thy soul;
The Light of Light shall fill thy soul
When looking up.
"Keep looking up--
When worn, distracted with the fight;
Your Captain gives you conquering might
When you look up."
We can never see the sun rise by looking into the west. --Japanese Proverb
God's Word, Horacio Herrera, Oswald Chambers, Erwin Lutzer and LB Cowman each present helpful views that edify us. We learn to focus our allegiances and our attentions upward. We do not focus on our painful problems; as Horacio Herrera leads us, 'Let us lift up our eyes to the Lord. He will change our wailing into dancing. He will remove our sackcloth and clothe us with joy!'