Read: Isaiah 7:1 – 25
Focus: The news had come to the royal court of Judah: “Syria is allied with Israel against us!” So the hearts of the king and his people trembled with fear, like trees shaking in a storm… Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “…Tell him to stop worrying. Tell him he doesn’t need to fear the fierce anger of those two burned-out embers, King Rezin of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah.” …”Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” Isaiah 7:2, 3a, 4, 9b
I was standing in the shower early this morning praying earnestly. I’ve been worried, stressed, and concerned about some things lately, and I could feel that worry and anxiousness eating at me. My worries are the same kinds of concerns we all face, especially as we get older. I have a close family member who was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer over the holidays – his fight was much shorter than we expected, and he passed this week (Jesus was His Lord and Savior, so we know he’s home with God, but there’s still grief). I have a lingering health issue that isn’t improving so I have to undergo some additional, more invasive testing soon. We’re grieving the loss of a very dear family member who passed in the summer; we know he’s with Jesus now, but this was the first Christmas without him. We’re dealing with a couple of family related issues that are particularly stressful. These are on top of all of the other little, daily parts of life that add stress and can bring one down. I realize none of this is unique to me – we’re all dealing with these kinds of concerns and stressors daily; I was just letting them get the best of me.
Several years ago, I had a supervisor, Becky Johnen, who radiated her love for Jesus. Becky had gone through some unexpected tragedies in her life, but she didn’t let that dim the joy of the Lord in her life. I didn’t really know who Jesus was at that time, but even to me, I could see her love for Christ in every interaction I had with her. She had a saying that has stuck with me through the years – whenever a meeting was cancelled, school was cancelled (I worked as a teacher at the time) or something happened to free up time that otherwise would have been committed, she would say she was “thankful to God for that gift of time”. The concept that every minute we have is a “gift of time” from God is a striking one. James tells us about gifts from God (like the gift of time) in James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father who made the sun, moon, and stars. The Father doesn’t change like the shifting shadows produced by the sun and the moon.” What will we do with that gift – waste it in worry or be thankful and embrace the joy that God provides us with it?
As I was praying this morning, I felt God pour His love and truth into me. I was reminded of Dr. Johnen’s phrase “gift of time” and realized that I’ve been spending my time focusing on the worry instead of remembering that God gives us the gift of time for every breath we take. God reminded me of several scriptures that I needed to focus my thoughts on. God reminded me of Psalm 139:16 where He tells us that He has laid out and numbered every single day of our life before we are born so there’s no reason to worry: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” He reminded me of His promises in Matthew 10:30 – 31: “But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid.” He reminded me of Philippians 4:6: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all he has done.” God reminded me of what He tells those who serve Him in Isaiah 41:10: ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you…”
I knew immediately there was a lesson for me personally in this, but I wondered if it was also something to share with others. I ran to check the next passage of scripture I was slated to be assigned for this devotional (I was only partially dried off and still dripping water all over the floor to my lovely wife’s chagrin), and lo and behold, one of the themes for this reading was God telling one of His servants not to fear and instead to trust in Him.
In the focus verses God is providing Ahaz through Isaiah the recipe for not letting fear, anxiety, worry, etc consume him; he’s also giving the same message to us. God tells Ahaz to not fear, but He knows how the enemy can use fear, anxiety, and worry to keep our eyes off of Him. When we let fear consume us, we stop being thankful; we lose sight of all of the blessings He provides. When we get consumed by fear, we start to get caught up in a selfish, self-consuming spiral where everything becomes about us and our woes rather than the joys and glories God has shared and will continue to share with us. So God tells Isaiah to instruct King Ahaz: “Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm.” It’s similar to what God tells us through Paul in Philippians 4:6 – instead of worrying, pray and be thankful. It’s also what He tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18: “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” In other words, the key to standing firm against the fear that Satan uses to attack us is to keep our focus on Him who has conquered Satan – and in so doing, we are to think of our blessings so we can remain thankful, actively be in the Word of God, and actively be praying.
Part of that lesson for me was a reminder of how important it is for us to be reading the Bible regularly. God called to my mind specific scriptures to help me combat the enemy’s attacks; those specific scriptures helped me to refocus my mind away from worrying and onto Him. In Ephesians 6:10 – 18, God tells us that we are under spiritual attack, and we need to “put on every piece of God’s armor” so we can resist the enemy and stand firm. His Word is a critical part of that armor because when we are familiar with what His Word says, God can use those specific scriptures to remind us of His truth when the lies of the enemy and the world threaten to pull us down.
Prayer: For the prayer, please take a minute to read Ephesians 6:10 – 18 (below). As you read it, pray to God to show you specifically how to put on His armor. Ask Him to reveal His truth to you and to help you to stand firm in His truth, joy, and love.
Ephesians 6:10 – 18:
A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.