Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, Acts 16

Read Numbers 17-18, Isaiah 41, and Acts 16 today. This devotional is about Acts 16.

Paul’s second missionary journey got off to a great start! On one of his early stops, he met Timothy who became a trusted fellow-servant and a dear friend (vv. 1-3) and God was blessing each visit with spiritual and salvation growth (vv. 4-5).

Then God directed Paul and Silas away from where they intended to go and into Greece (Macedonia) (vv. 6-12). At first, things started off great there in the city of Philippi when Lydia became a believer and gave these missionaries a place to stay (vv. 13-15). Then Paul and Silas liberated a woman from the demons that possessed her (vv. 16-18) and things changed quickly and drastically. The woman who had been demon possessed was a big money maker for others. Now that her powers were gone, these men wanted revenge so they pressed charges against Paul and Silas of inciting a riot (vv. 19-21). As a result of the criminal charges against them, Paul and Silas were “…stripped and beaten with rods” (v. 22b)… “severely flogged [and] thrown into prison” (vv. 22b-23a).

I don’t think my reaction to these circumstances would have been very happy but instead of being dragged down emotionally, Paul and Silas “were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). God worked miraculously and saved the jailor (vv. 26-34) then worked providentially and had Paul and Silas released (vv. 35-40). So it seems clear that the bad treatment these men received was both to teach them to trust God and to bring salvation to the Philippian jailor. The painful, unpleasant circumstances were part of his plan.

James 1 commands us to consider it pure joy when we encounter many kinds of trials. Paul and Silas practiced that truth and God used them. Are you facing a trial, a difficult time, an unexpected setback after a period of good spiritual growth and blessing? Choose to sing God’s praises and glorify him while waiting to see how he wants to use you in that circumstance.

Exodus 8, Job 25-26, Hebrews 12

Read Exodus 8, Job 25-26, and Hebrews 12. This devotional is about Exodus 8.

In Exodus 7, we read yesterday that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened after Moses did two incredible miracles. Part of his hardening was due to the ability of his sorcerers to do similar miracles to the ones Moses performed. Pharaoh concluded that they had access to as much supernatural power as Moses did.

Something changed in today’s chapter, Exodus 8. Although Pharaoh’s sorcerers were able to make frogs just as Moses and Aaron did (v. 7) there was something about the plague of frogs that affected Pharaoh differently than the previous plagues. We see this in verses 7 and 8 because, even though “the magicians did the same things by their secret arts” (v. 7), yet “Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away….’” (v. 8).

Maybe the plagues were having a cumulative affect but, regardless of why, for the first time in these plagues, Pharaoh looked to the Lord for relief.

He received that relief, too, but to emphasize to Pharaoh that removing the frogs really was an act of God and not a mere coincidence, Moses allowed Pharaoh to choose the time when the frogs would go away (v. 10b).

I don’t know why he said, “tomorrow” (v. 10a); I would have said, “Immediately! ASAP!” But, just as he asked, the frogs all… um… croaked the next day (v. 13). Before the sun went down, however, Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (v. 15b) and would not let God’s people go.

Why exactly did he harden his heart? Verse 15 says it happened, “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief.” In other words, when the pain and consequences of his unbelief subsided, Pharaoh’s desire for God’s mercy subsided as well.

We do this sometimes, too. We suffer because of our sin or just because of foolish choices we make, so we get really serious about our faith. We cry out to God for help earnestly, with tears, maybe.

But, as soon as there is relief, we return to our unbelieving ways. I’ve seen this too many times to count in the lives of people I’ve tried to help. They come to me in pain and in fear, admitting that they’ve neglected the Lord and sinned against him. I pray with them and for them and try to encourage them but as soon as the pressure is off, they return to their routines and show no more interest in walking with God than they did before.

This is a symptom of unbelief. Pharaoh was an unbeliever which is why he responded to God’s work as he did. Unbelievers around us respond to God this way, too. We believers, however, are capable of nearly every sin that unbelievers do, including this one. We treat God like a spare tire, riding unseen and unthought around in the trunk of our lives until we find ourselves in an emergency. We turn to God when we need him, then return him to the trunk when life is back on track again.

Does that describe your walk with God? If so, learn from Pharaoh the difference between true repentance, which makes you want to know and glorify God, and the kind that only looks to God in emergencies. Ask God to give you true repentance and faith and learn to cultivate your faith in bad times and good times.

Genesis 37, Job 3, Matthew 25

Read Genesis 37, Job 3, and Matthew 25. Today’s devotional is about Job 3.

Job received the blows of affliction well in chapters 1-2. He recognized that he was not entitled to the life he enjoyed and that God, as sovereign, had every right to take away what he gave.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Job felt no pain. Here in chapter 3, he lamented being born. The pain of losing his children, his prosperity, and his health was greater than the joy he had experienced from those things. Dying before he lived long enough to enjoy anything was a more appealing prospect than losing the blessed life he’d had. His concluding words in verses 25-26 make your heart go out to him: “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.” Although he maintained faith in God, he still hurt and wondered why.

It seems to me that many Christians believe that heartbreak is un-Christian. We feel guilty about mourning; we think that glorifying God means smiling through every trial. We often put masks on our faces to hide our pain so that other’s won’t question our salvation or spiritual maturity. But there is a way of hurting, of crying out, of wondering why that does not curse God. Submission to the will of God does not mean turning off your feelings. Trusting God does not mean eradicating all questions from your heart and mind. It means processing all the pain while recognizing your dependence on God. It means looking to him for hope and help instead of as an object of cursing.

Have you suppressed your questions, fears, and heartaches because you think that’s what good Christians do? If so, you haven’t really solved anything nor have you opened up the capacity within yourself to grow from your trials. God allows our faith to be tried to expose to us pockets of unbelief and to refine them out of us. Being honest about how you feel is part of that process.

If you’re hurting today or wondering why, ask God. Journal your thoughts and fears. Wonder aloud. Just don’t accuse God of evil and injustice. Ask him, instead, to show you how your circumstances fit into his plans. Ask him to strengthen you through this trial so that you will grow because of it.

Genesis 34, Job 1, Proverbs 3:21-35

Read Genesis 34, Job 1, Proverbs 3:21-35 and this devotional is about Job 1.

The first portion of Job 1 carefully painted a picture of Job, the man as an outstanding man:

  • Verse 1b told us that he “was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”
  • Verse 2 told us that he was wealthy and successful by giving us a full inventory of his assets, then concluding, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.”
  • Verses 3-5 told us that he was a loving, godly family man. He loved God and his family so much that he interceded with God on behalf of his children as a “regular custom” (v. 5f).

As we read these opening verses, we are led to an obvious conclusion. Job had it all–a close walk with God that showed in his personal actions, his financial success, and his family life.

No wonder God loved Job so much, right? No wonder he led such an ideal, enviable life. Job was such a great guy that God gave him everything a man could want–yes?

Satan looked at it just the other way around. When God pointed to Job as a model human being (v. 8), Satan scoffed. “Of course he loves you, God! You’ve given him everything he could possibly want!” (vv. 9-10).

This caused Satan to offer God a bet: “I’ll bet you, God, that if you take away all the good stuff Job enjoys, “he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11b). God accepted Satan’s wager, protecting only Job’s life from being taken by the evil one.

Just like that, Satan swooped in and took Job’s wealth and his children from him on the very same day (vv. 13-19).

How did Job respond to this?

Not in the way Satan expected. Satan’s belief was that Job’s love for God was based on God’s blessings on Job. Take those away and “he will surely curse you to your face” (v. 11b).

Job also did not accuse God of taking away his love just because he suffered such deep, sudden losses.

Job still had a lot of processing to do, as we’ll read in the rest of the chapters of this book. But his initial reaction to what happened to him was to leave it with the Lord: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (v. 21c-d). This is a godly response to the heartaches, traumas, and trials of life.

Is that how you respond to problems in your life? Or is your evaluation more performance based? Your theology is performance based if you love God because he’s given you what you want in life or if you measure God’s love for you based on how well your life is going. Either of those options is unbiblical. Both of them lack faith.

Can you trust God when problems enter your life?

Genesis 28, Esther 4, Psalms 10-13

Read Genesis 28, Esther 4, and Psalms 10-13 today. This devotional is about Genesis 28.

Jacob’s name means “cheater.” He was named this because of the pre-natal prophecy that his older twin brother would serve him and because he came out of the womb grasping at Esau’s heel.

Jacob lived up to his name, too, buying Esau’s birthright cheaply and deceiving Isaac to get the firstborn’s blessing.

Here in Genesis 28, Jacob is leaving home for two reasons. The stated reason was for his leaving was to find a wife in his mother’s extended family (vv. 1-5). The real reason he left, however, was to save his life from Esau’s desire for revenge as we saw yesterday in chapter 27. He went with Isaac’s blessing–both the blessing of firstborn that he deceived Isaac into giving him and the specific blessing for success in this mission (vv. 3-4).

Was Jacob feeling good about his life? Was he excited about finding a woman to marry and transitioning more fully into adulthood? Or, did he feel guilt about his deceptive ways, anxiety about whether or not he would find a woman he wanted to marry, and fear about Esau hunting him down?

We don’t know. What we do know is that he was about to experience some of the same deceptive treatment he had distributed to others. How would he fare against the deceptions of Laban?

God began preparing the man Jacob to become a man of faith. Although he and Rebekah manipulated and deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob, it was God’s decree that mattered, not the human blessing of Isaac. So God vividly appeared to Jacob and promised that the covenant blessing of Abraham would be his (vv. 10-15). Had Isaac succeeded in blessing Esau, it wouldn’t have mattered because God’s decree was for Isaac to receive that blessing.

Jacob received God’s blessing by faith and personally made a covenant with God himself (vv. 20-22). His father’s God had now revealed himself to Jacob and Jacob believed. If he was feeling guilt, anxiety, or fear before now, he should have gotten great peace and reassurance from the vision we read about today. God would be with him; everything would be well because of His promises.

Jacob had no idea what joys and hard tests awaited him when he arrived at Paddan Aram but God did. So, God revealed himself to Jacob and called him to live by faith in His promises. Although there would be difficult, painful days ahead, Jacob had God’s promises to carry him through.

Sound familiar? Whatever trials you’re experiencing today or may encounter tomorrow, do you believe that God loves you and will keep his promises to you? Then lean on that; hope in God and wait for his deliverance.

Exodus 24, Job 42, Psalm 72

Today’s Bible readings are Exodus 24, Job 42, and Psalm 72.

This devotional is about Job 42.

Job was a godly man before trials took his children, his wealth, and his health. His understanding of God, however, was incomplete. He was thankful for God’s blessings in his life, but when it was all taken away, he demanded an audience with God. His demand to speak with God reveals that he felt God had treated him unjustly and that Job deserved an explanation for it.

When God spoke to Job here in the closing chapters of this book, he did not explain why he allowed Satan to persecuted Job. In fact, God did not mention Satan’s role in Job’s trials at all. Instead of justifying himself to Job, God overwhelmed Job with his greatness and power. His purpose was to remind Job that God was sovereign over everything; therefore, God is accountable to no one.

God’s words were deeply convicting to Job. Despite how painful his persecution was, he now knew God in a more personal and mature way. In verses 5-6 Job prayed, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Remember that this story began as a challenge between Satan and God. As expected, God won the challenge; Job did not sin or charge God foolishly. But the trial Job experienced did reveal some defects in Job’s view of God. After suffering through it all and receiving God’s revelation, Job was a more holy man, one who had a stronger walk with God than ever.

This is always God’s purpose in every trial he sends into our lives as believers. God wants us to be holy and he uses the rough chisel of trials to remove the unsanctified thoughts and motives we don’t even know are there in our lives. Trials are always painful but, like surgery, the wounds God inflicts on us in trials are designed to heal us of the spreading cancer of selfish depravity in each of us.

If you’re facing a trial right now, how do you feel about it? Does it feel unjust to you that God would do this or allow this to happen to you? Like Job that may be the very thing God wants to root out of you. So welcome the trial (James 1:2: “consider it pure joy”), not because you want the pain but because you trust the Surgeon to remove the sin that’s killing you and stitch you up again and make you whole when he is finished.

Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, Psalm 60

Today’s readings are Exodus 12:22-51, Job 30, and Psalm 60.

This devotional is about Psalm 60.

We all experience low moments in life. Things that we expect to go well sometimes go very badly. Sometimes it seems like God’s promises don’t become true in real life. That’s how David was feeling here in Psalm 60. Verses 1-3 especially lay out his complaint against God.

When life does not go as expected, especially if we expect God’s favor and don’t receive it in the way we expected, disappointment can sometimes tempt us to move to unbelief. Problems like these can repel people from God. David, however, did not lose faith in God. He called on God, instead, to help him (vv. 5-12). The reason is that he knew there was no other help available to him (vv. 9-10). Though he may have felt rejected by God, he believed that there was no one but God who could save him. So he increased his prayers and restated his reliance on God.

Do problems and disappointments in your life pull you closer to God or further away from him? One of several problems of pulling away from God is that there really is nowhere else to go. Walking away from God’s love and opening yourself to disobedience will not give you the success or the comfort you seek. It is better to receive the harder moments of life as trials to strengthen your faith than to interpret them as God’s absolute rejection and displeasure. When we see these times as trials God sends to strengthen our faith, it will pull us closer to him by faith.