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Our God has said: “Encourage my people! Give them comfort. Isaiah 40:1 (CEV)

Where do you get comfort from? For the Christ-follower, the ‘Sunday School Answer’ is Jesus. Okay, we have that one out of the way. Easy enough, right? Not if you are stuck in a marriage that never seems to find the fulfillment you hoped for when you said your vows; not when you struggle with an addiction and find yourself once again suffering from its consequences; not when you are a mother sitting by the bedside of your child or spouse as they breath their last breath; not if you are loading the last boxes onto the moving truck because the bank has foreclosed on your dream home because you lost your job.

It’s at those times that all the ‘Sunday School Answers’ of your past may seem to pale in relation to the pain in your soul. Is God real? Yes, you believe it with all your heart. Does he love you? Certainly. Never a doubt in your mind. Does it take away the knot in your stomach? The knot that seems to be growing so large that it is making it hard to breathe? Not always.

During the darkest times of our lives we don’t need another sermon on God’s provision, we need comfort. We seek comfort in many ways. Some seek it with a new relationship, but new isn’t always better, in fact, second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages and the chances of success at marriage decrease with every attempt.

Other comfort foods for the soul can be food (leading to guilt and health issues), drugs, anger, withdrawal, depression, religion and a whole list of other attempts at quenching the pain in life.

When you’ve tried all the above remedies for the pain within you it turns out the ‘Sunday School Answer’ really is the best. Sometimes, when we are honest with ourselves, we realize the pain we are experiencing is the result of our own sin. Other times we’ve done ‘everything right’ but our spouse still leaves, our health fails and our bank account disappears.

After years of slavery and exile, Jehovah God tells Isaiah to comfort his people with these words. The trial is over. The penalty has been paid. His words point forward to the restoration of Jerusalem (physical restoration) and the sacrifice of Jesus (restoration of the soul).

If you are struggling with the pain of life let me point you to Jesus. Not the religion of Christianity, but the relationship with a loving Savior who understands your need and longs to comfort the pain in your soul.

If you have ridden out the battle and find yourself on top, remember that those who are struggling with life don’t need another sermon. They don’t need a reminder of their faults. They need the comfort and encouragement that only the grace of Jesus can give them. Please be an instrument of that encouragement. Their pain is great enough.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for the blessings you’ve given me. I ask that you empower me with your Holy Spirit to be an encouragment to those who need you so that they may experience the comfort only you can give. Amen.

You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, For You are my strength. Psalm 31:4 (NASB)

One day a Hummingbird got ‘caught’ in our garage. It apparently darted away when we came out of the house and flew into the garage. It couldn’t figure out that if it just flew down a couple feet it could go out the garage door. To rescue the small, frightened animal I took a couple butterfly nets and gently trapped it inside the nets and carried it to safety.

The small, frightened animal couldn’t have known that safety was just a few feet away. It couldn’t have known that the monstrous animals chasing it around its cell were trying to help it. I couldn’t have known that the nets that eventually captured it were meant for good, not evil.

It’s the unknown that scares us most, isn’t it? Like the Hummingbird we can go through life thinking that our safety and protection depends on our own ability to figure things out. But life isn’t predictable, and every net that captures us isn’t for our own good.

Relationships we seek may seem to be safe and fulfilling until the ‘honeymoon is over’ and anger, rage, frustration and abuse set in. Business dealings may seem ‘too good to be true’ and then we find out they were too good to be true and we lose our retirement. Friends and even lovers may pledge their allegiance and later we find out that they are saying things behind our backs, cheating on us or, in some other way, making us out to be the fool. Politicians and bosses make promises to us that turn out to be empty words.

It’s not the nets of entrapment we see that are dangerous, it’s those that are laid in secret that are our biggest threat. Like an animal walking through the forest, unaware of a pit hidden by brush, we fall into situations that catch us off guard. When that happens we end up at the mercy of our captor. The walls are too steep, the darkness to deep for us to find a way out. Desperation, fear and depression join with hopelessness to become our biggest enemies. There’s no way out.

That’s when your Heavenly Father steps in. That’s when God comes to the rescue. There is no pit too deep but that he can’t lift you out. There is no darkness to black but that his light can’t shine through it. The reason you are in the pit you are in is irrelevant. How you got there is of no concern to God, getting you out is his biggest priority.

Whatever pit you find yourself in today, God wants to lift you up. Whatever net has you entangled, he has the power to tear it open and provide your route of escape. You may have spent a lifetime refusing to acknowledge his existence or wandered away from him in the forest. None of that matters. His goal is to free you.

PRAYER: Father God, I’m trapped. The nets the enemy has thrown have hit their mark. The fear and darkness of this pit I’ve dug for myself are too steep. Please rescue me through your love, grace and forgiveness. Amen.

But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Deuteronomy 7:8 (NIV)

There is nothing more secure than the personal prisons we can find ourselves locked into.

The prison of loneliness can keep us trapped even when dwelling in the midst of close family and friends who are completely unaware of the battle within us.

The unrelenting handcuffs of addiction keep us shackled to feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt of our own doing fueled by the disapproving glances of those who spend more time gazing at specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the planks in their own eyes. Shame because we know better but we can’t help ourselves out of the mix.

We dwell in the solitary confinement of broken relationships. On the one hand we want desperately to get out. On the other hand fear of the outcome and not knowing how we could do life any differently keep us from reaching for the keys that enable us to see ourselves as the gifted talented people we are.

There are so many other prisons that keep us enslaved. Some, like finances/debt, handicapping conditions, and health issues are badges we wear that others identify us by even though we wish we could shed them.

Physical shackles are hard to endure, but they are no match for the emotional/relational wounds of the soul that handcuff us on a daily basis. These are the feelings that are hidden from others yet still define who we are and how we react to the problems of life.

Even though we try many different things to try to relieve the pain or at least dull its effects, nothing seems to help. Frustration and despair become strange bedfellows to failure and defeat. We ask ourselves, isn’t there someone who sees my plight? Is there anyone who understands me and loves me for who I am, bruises and all?

The answer is a resounding YES! The Creator God of the universe loves you. He’s not the god you may have learned about in religion. He’s not the judgmental, angry, accusing god at the other end of a pointing finger of accusation. He’s promised to love you. Not because of anything you’ve done. In fact, He loves you inspire of what you have done. He requires nothing in return. He simply wants to destroy the walls of the prison you find yourself in, destroy the chains, and release the shackles.

Regardless of what the voices in your mind tell you, you are loved. He proved that by sending Jesus to die for you, to redeem you from prison. Accept his love. Accept his forgiveness. Live free! Pray this prayer and begin your life of freedom.

PRAYER: Thank you God for loving me so much. I’m lonely, defeated and full of shame and guilt. Forgive me for the sin, anger, hate and hurt I hold so tightly too. Fill me with your Spirit of love and freedom so I can be all you want me to be. Amen.

He took away your pride when he let you get hungry, and then he fed you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had ever seen. This was to teach you that a person does not live on bread alone, but by everything the Lord says. Deuteronomy 8:3 (NCV)

Imagine what it must have been like being ripped away from everything you’d ever known. Sure, it wasn’t a perfect situation. The environment was getting more hostile all the time, abuse and murder were becoming common. But at least you had great food, a warm bed to sleep in and a relatively good idea of what tomorrow would be like.

Now, every day is an adventure. Sure, the first few days were okay, even exciting. But the excitement has worn off, patience has worn thin and you can’t bear the thought of one more night in that tent! The beauty of your surroundings has been replaced by wilderness. Not just physically, spiritually too.

This was the plight of those leavingEgyptfor the Promised Land. They were yanked from a situation that was dangerous, yet predictable; secure, yet confining; familiar, although they were foreigners in a far off land.

The wilderness wanderings of God’s people are a beautiful love story of grace.  While inEgyptthey were not forgotten. The worse things got for them, the more they called out to a God they barely knew. The beauty of it all is that he heard their cries and delivered them from their enemy.

But deliverance never comes without struggle. Those who struggle with addictive behaviors; are trapped in abusive relationships; are struggling with illness or financial disaster will tell you that. Deliverance doesn’t mean you get to waltz gracefully from imprisonment to freedom without some struggle. The enemy doesn’t give up that easily.

Stuck away in the story of the wilderness wanderings is the story of manna. The story of God’s provision. The story of giving just what each person needs at the time it’s needed.  

Manna appeared daily on the floor of the wilderness. It was new every morning to remind the Israelites that God’s love was new every morning as well. Each day was a fresh start.

Manna taught God’s people that yesterday’s failures and victories were to be left behind. Each day was a new chance to see God’s work. In fact, if you tucked manna (your past) away for later use it turned rotten! Yesterday is gone. Today is a new day of God’s grace.

Manna met each persons need individually. Those who gathered too little found that the amount they gathered was just enough for the end of the day. Those who gathered much found that the excess was gone by the end of the day.

Manna, like grace, was personal. I get what I need from God. You get what you need from God. There were no rules, no discussion on who gets what or why. Manna was available to the ‘good, God fearing Israelite’ as well as the rebellious and struggling one. Just as grace through Jesus Christ is available to all regardless of their situation.

With Jesus there is no lack.

There was, of course, a downside to manna, just as there is grace. Not a flaw in grace itself, but a flaw in human thinking. God’s provision was essential for their survival. Yet, soon the Israelites were complaining about manna. They began to take God’s provision for granted. May we never take the grace he’s given for granted. May we never forget the price paid for our freedom: the death of Jesus for our sins.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for the lesson of manna. Help me to see your new provision every day of my life. May your grace always inspire me to live with hope and expectation for what you have for me. Amen.

So put all evil things out of your life: sexual sinning, doing evil, letting evil thoughts control you, wanting things that are evil, and greed. This is really serving a false god. These things make God angry. Colossians 3:5-6 (NCV)

Most of the time people get angry because they aren’t getting what they want or something is being taken from them. Anger is a protection thing. It’s driven by the inner desire of want. For example, maybe you are wrongfully accused, which is an attack on your character so you become angry because the charges simply aren’t true!

Anger can take many different forms and many different styles. It can show itself in physical attack and abuse, or in emotional manipulation. It can lay deep inside your heart and fester like a cancer and grow so hard that even love has a hard time penetrating it. The power of love isn’t hindered very often, but anger can destroy its power.

When we think of anger, it’s important to remember that our anger is completely different than God’s anger. In fact there is no comparison at all. If someone tells you they are angry at you, what they are really saying, in essence, is that you have offended them. Their reasons for being offended may be wrong. Their feelings may be completely without merit, but they are angry at you because they feel you have attacked who they are.

God’s ‘anger towards us’ isn’t because we’ve attacked his character or made him feel bad about himself. God’s anger is towards the sin in our lives, and the reason sin makes God angry is because he sees what the consequences of sin will do.

God sees the ravaging effects of immorality on the soul of a young girl and hates what it does to her. Our Heavenly Father sees the destruction of the human body and of families and children brought on by alcohol and drugs. He sees the sobbing children who are victims of divorce. He sees his name being used to abuse those who are struggling with life and it makes him angry. God’s anger is directed towards any activity that he knows will bring painful consequences into our lives.

Dear friend, no matter what others have told you. Regardless of the teachings of religious bigots and false prophets, God is not angry at you because he hates you. God is angry about the sin in your life because he loves you and knows that painful consequences await you if you continue on the path you are on.

Allow his love to permeate your heart. Let his forgiveness remove the fear and the pain. Let his Spirit empower you to break free in Christ. You may still have to face some consequences, but he will walk with you even during those times.

PRAYER: Father God, I’ve always been told you were angry with me for the sin in my life. Now I realize your anger is because you love me and don’t want me to hurt anymore. I don’t want to hurt anymore either. Please forgive me for my failures. Empower me with your spirit to live free of the power of sin in my life. Keep me from being afraid of you. In Jesus name, Amen.

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