It was October 2017, and the Houston Astros were in Boston playing the Red Sox for a chance to advance to the American League Championship Series. They were down 3-2, and the Red Sox had brought in Chris Sale, a feared veteran pitcher who may one day enter the Hall of Fame, to secure the win.
Alex Bregman, a rookie third baseman, stepped to the plate against Sale, and grinned at him. I thought for sure he would get a fastball in the ribs. But he hit a game-tying home run, and the Astros won the game in the end, advancing to the ALCS for the first time (and ultimately winning their first ever World Series title; I was beside myself with joy--but I digress...).
Bregman's confidence surely made a difference in that pivotal, pressure-filled at-bat.
Trust me entirely
That’s when doubt comes in: when we fail to trust God entirely. Pulled away from pure devotion, looking at the stuff around us, we forget that our help comes from Him. So we look to ourselves and our own resources, and we find them lacking, every time. In that lack we become overwhelmed, and we begin to doubt.
Faith through the storm
Peter made the right decision, though. He didn't try to run back to the boat; he didn't try to remember those breaststroke lessons from the third grade; he cried out to Jesus. And Jesus pulled him up immediately. That's the key to dealing with doubt: not turning to self-effort and abandoning faith, but turning our eyes back to Jesus.
We don't know how far Peter had walked from the boat--was it only a few steps? ten yards?--but he walked back with Jesus, hand-in-hand, through the raging wind and waves. Only when they got into the boat did the storm subside.
The difference between doubting in a storm and having faith through a storm lies in who I'm looking at and where my confidence lies.
I am persuaded
Imagine having watched Jesus walk on the surface of a wind-tossed lake, then step into the boat--and the wind and waves stop the instant his sandal touches the boat's floor. What a moment! Peter and the rest of the disciples responded appropriately: they worshiped Jesus, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." What a recovery: Peter went from drowning in doubt, afraid for his life, to being fully convinced that Jesus is the Son of God.
This conviction appears in Paul's writings, too: I am persuaded... I am convinced...
In Romans 8, Paul is speaking of experiences like "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword", when he says,
I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We can follow Paul's example. In the middle of any adversity, we can say, "I am convinced". Not in our own ability, but in God's goodness and God's faithfulness.
You're going to outlive it
When we make these faith statements that are in line with God's word, we set our minds and hearts on "things above"—on God, on an eternal perspective.
If you are a believer, that eternal perspective is the only appropriate perspective for you: because you are an eternal being! Your life is already "hidden in Christ with God" (Colossians 3:3). As someone who will live forever with Christ in his kingdom, you will outlive every problem you're facing now.
Every storm. Every adversity. Every struggle.
You'll outlive it.
When we find our hearts wandering away from God because of doubt, it's time for a reset: we cry out to him if we're sinking like Peter, and we fix our minds and hearts back on him, making those "I am persuaded" statements of what we know to be true of him and his faithful character.
He'll carry us through. I'm convinced.
Confined in a filthy prison cell in Rome, Paul encouraged the church and wrote some of the greatest instructions on the believer's family and community life that we have. What an inspiration for us as we try to minister to our Pretoria area community during strict lockdown!
Over the last month of quarantine, we've been able to find a few creative ways to carry on. Mike has taught worship classes via Zoom from our living room. We recorded video devotions for Hatfield Young Adults that appeared on social media last week Monday through Wednesday.
Chandra has reached out to various teachers and parents via phone and text message, checking in. Berakah has also connected parents in Mamelodi with nearby government food relief services so they can get food parcels.
Food Security Challenges
Berakah's community is struggling for food due to the increased joblessness, difficulty with travel, and fewer available resources created by the Covid-19 lockdown. We are trying to come up with solutions, but we're running into roadblocks. Please pray for Berakah to have a strategic, responsible, legal solution to feed the families in our area. Specifically, we need 1) a certificate from government giving us express permission to operate as a food security provider; 2) resources for food parcels for 125 families, which will cost on average $3000 a month for the next three months.
With Berakah forced to close for lockdown and as such no income, we found ourselves unable to pay our staff's salaries. About two weeks ago, Chandra applied to South Africa's Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) on behalf of Berakah. We just received payment from UIF for more than the entire salary requirement for payday--which is four days from now. Hallelujah! We are so grateful to be able to care for our staff and their families!
Here are the "lockdown devotions" we prepared for Hatfield Young Adults. 😎
What’s the first thing you’re going to do after the shelter-at-home ends? As South Africa's strict lockdown enters its fifth week, I find myself thinking more and more about things I want to do.
The first two verses of Colossians 3 tell us that since we’re no longer who we used to be, we must set our hearts and minds on things above. And what I do is one of those things "below" that my heart and mind get distracted by—I can be preoccupied by my occupation.
An awkward visit
Note that Jesus didn’t say not to do the work: he said not to be preoccupied with it. When we’re worried and upset and distracted with our work, we’ve forgotten the point, or the purpose. In Martha’s case, the point was to honor her guest. But honor is empty when relationship is neglected.
Relationship comes first, and work must be motivated by relationship.
Don't forget the point!
In Revelation 2, Jesus addresses a church in Ephesus with a very similar struggle. He commends their amazing work, their values, and their perseverance. But they've forgotten the point: they're all about their work and have forgotten their first love. Jesus instructs them to repent and return to “the former things”.
It’s easy for me to get lost in the things in my calendar and forget my “One Thing”.
Like Martha, I find myself preoccupied with the details and missing intimate times at Jesus’ feet. Or like the church in Ephesus, I'm busy with all the good work and perseverance, but neglecting my relationship with Him—my first love.
When Jesus called his disciples, he gave each of them the same calling: “Follow me.” We are called first to relationship, not to tasks, work, or some office.
So, what do I want to do when the lockdown is over? I want to follow Jesus, more focused than ever before. I want to remain focused on him as my One Thing, my First Love.
I don't want my heart to wander away from him, lost in the weeds of my calendar or task list.
Some helpful tools
They say there's an app for everything. While we can't ask our smartphones to take care of our devotion to Christ for us, there are some tools that can help us with our personal pursuit of him.
So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.
Ever seen a worried bird?
Jesus famously said, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" (Luke 12:25, NIV) You may remember this parable: it's the one where the birds enjoy gourmet cuisine and the flowers have Armani suits, all without a care in the world, because of the goodness of the Father. If they don't worry, how much less should we worry, who are worth more to the Father than birds and flowers?
Years ago Loren Cunningham, in teaching this parable, asked, "Have you ever seen a worried bird?"
Well... have you?
We've all heard that we shouldn't fear or worry. But beyond all the well-documented physical and emotional problems brought on by anxiety, why is fear such a spiritual problem in our lives?
It's a problem because our hearts and minds have wandered away from God and fixated on the thing we're fearful of or the thing or person we're worried for.
Redirecting our hearts
David knew how to redirect his anxious heart back to heaven. He said, "The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1, NIV)
Paul gives us what I believe is the best way to return our hearts to God if we've wandered away with fear or anxiety:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Present your requests to God. The focus is now back on God. What happens when we surrender our cares to God, and in doing so focus our hearts and minds on him? "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (verse 7).
That Sunday morning, when Pastor Kotzé stated that fear pulls our hearts away from God, the Lord immediately showed me a situation in which I had allowed fear to creep in. My heart had indeed wandered away from God; my thoughts were consumed with it, "absorbed with the things right in front of [me]".
So, as soon as I got home, I got alone. Remembering Philippians 4:6, I presented the issue to God. I made requests. I asked for help. Then I repented: for worrying, for allowing fear into my heart, and for being preoccupied with this thing at the expense of my devotion to God.
And, you know what? His peace came. Instantly. It flooded my mind and emotions (check out Psalm 23:3). Logically, the situation remained unresolved so there are things to worry about. But this peace passes understanding. It's the stuff of heaven, it's transcendent beyond the stuff of earth. Even the big stuff.
I didn't stop there. Every day for the next week I "practiced" by presenting that thing to God all over again. I acknowledged His love for me. I made my requests. And then I said to the Lord, "I'm looking at you, God. My eyes are on you. My heart is yours. Don't let my heart wander away from you again."
And the peace remains, guarding my heart and mind: exactly as he promised he would.
When new or resurfacing worries arise in future, I hope to remember to practice Philippians 4:6 immediately rather than discovering a far-away heart after weeks of anxiety. I pray the same for you, too.
From our couch, we're checking in on Berakah's staff and families, updating databases, and writing devotionals for Hatfield's Young Adults. Chandra also facilitated a meeting between various parties who hope to provide quick, low-cost temporary sterile structures for area hospitals to handle the possibility of increased ICU requirements during the COVID-19 crisis.
Unsure Times, Sure and Strong God
We are still called, even though we are temporarily stalled. Your support is invaluable as we prepare to fearlessly proclaim the love of God to a watching world once the lockdown is lifted. Thank you for staying committed to your giving even in uncertain times. We know you won’t regret your trust in our generous and faithful God. We celebrate people like you who stay compassionate, resilient, and consistent in caring for others in the midst of a very severe trial.
Much love and honor,
Mike & Chandra