Focus On The Lord!

By Andrew Ussher

It is my goal to encourage hearts as we face the current challenges of a world gripped by a global pandemic and we all struggle with our personal responses to the crisis.  As God’s people, we are not exempt from global crises.  While our citizenship is in heaven, our current residence is “in this world” and it is a world that is riddled with sin and all its effects.  This current outbreak with its devastating impacts and seemingly insurmountable reach is just one outworking (albeit a tremendously powerful one) of the ravages of sin in the world that God created for his glory.  Not only are we affected by the realities of the current crisis, we are also not exempt from the fear, anxiety, worry and despair that these circumstances cause.  If you find yourself struggling with the sudden turn of events and you feel afraid, worried, helpless and anxious – that does not mean you are a bad Christian or that you are failing the Lord.  Fear and anxiety are normal responses to circumstances that threaten us. It’s what we do in response to these feelings that is really important.

When I awoke this morning I came downstairs, got a coffee and a piece of toast, sat down and opened up my iPad.  A strange thing then happened – my pointed finger was poised to touch the iPad screen when I suddenly froze and thought – “do I touch my Bible app?  Or do I touch the Toronto Star Newspaper app and catch up on the current news?”  I sat transfixed for a few seconds and thought about my own responses to the situation.  I’m honest enough to say that in the past few days I have certainly had my share of anxious thoughts, family concerns, economic worries, and business fears.  And I am sure they’re not over!  As I sat this morning holding my iPad, I was anxious to know the lastest updates, the most current numbers, the government’s most recent response, and whether or not there was any glimmer of hope on the horizon.  But it was as though the Spirit of God gently nudged me and said “Isn’t it more important, first, to hear what your heavenly Father might have to say”?  So – I moved my finger over to my Bible app and began my daily reading.

In my normal routine I had come to Psalm 34 – and as I read through its 22 verses, I was amazed at some of the tremendously-relevant statements David made that spoke directly to my soul as I sat contemplating all the racing thoughts in my mind.

  • v1 – “I will bless the Lord at ALL times” (emphasis mine) – it’s easy to bless the Lord when things are good – harder when things are bad!  David Petterson, in his excellent message on Job this past Thursday evening, reminded us of Job’s remarkable statement after losing everything “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord”!
  • v1 – “His praise shall continually be in my mouth” – my occupation, at times like this, can become almost entirely focused on the buffeting circumstances and their impact on me and my family and my interests.  How good to be reminded to shift my focus to Him.  I will always have reason to praise when I consider Him.
  • v4 – “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears”
  • v6 – “this poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and  saved him out of all his troubles”
  • v7 – “the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.”
  • v8 – “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”
  • v9 – “Oh fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!”
  • v15 – “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry”
  • v17 – “when the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles”
  • v18 – “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit”
  • v19 – “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all”

I found myself humbled and encouraged at how directly, searchingly and encouragingly the Lord had spoken to my soul from his living word before my day was even a few minutes old.  As many of you will know, my Dad passed away this past July, and I find myself often remembering pithy little sayings he frequently used.  One that my Mom and I were remembering today on a FaceTime call was “make sure you start each day speaking with the Lord before speaking to anyone else”.  For myself it is a good reminder that while it might be important to get occasional news updates to stay informed and be able to take responsible action – there is a great danger in feeding my soul on a steady, unbroken newsfeed that fuels the fires of fear, uncertainty and dread.  Hearing from our heavenly Father, and speaking to him in honest, heartfelt prayer is our greatest resource in a time such as we are currently facing.

Just a few specific, practical tips that I have found helpful, that may also assist you in your particular reality through these trying days:

  1. Focus more than ever on your personal devotional time with the Lord and His word – it is our lifeline!
  2. Try to get some specific promise from the word of God each day that will help keep your mind on the Lord, his character, his power, his promises and his faithfulness.  At a time when nothing seems stable and change rapidly cascades into our everyday lives it is so important to have our minds and spirits anchored in a God who never changes!
  3. Deliberately discipline yourself not to spend every waking moment following live newsfeeds and chasing down multiple information channels.  The information overload will strain your mind, overwhelm your soul, and drag you down.  Stay informed and abreast of meaningful developments – but do not make this incoming information stream the steady diet of your mind.  The exhortation of Colossians 3:2 is so relevant in days like this – “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”.
  4. Make a conscious decision to reach out to help others – it will take your mind off yourself!  At a time when most of us are bereft of the normal interaction and fellowship we enjoy at assembly meetings, as well as the social interaction we enjoy with our brethren and sisters in other settings, it is more important than ever to consciously focus on the needs of others.  Philippians 2:4 has never been more relevant – “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”.  There are a lot of lonely believers out there that would love a text or iMessage or WhatsApp or phone call from you!  Be a conduit to help others – and in doing so, you will be immeasurably helped yourself!
  5. Remember that in times like these, we have something (or, more correctly, Someone) that the unbelievers around us do not have!  We have the Lord, we have His Word, we have His promises, and we have His presence.  Be very careful with your testimony before the unsaved – whether it be work colleagues, unsaved family members, neighbours or those in your community.  Try to ensure that in your speech, your conduct, your online activity, your social-media presence and your lifestyle you are reflecting the character of Christ.  It differentiates us from the world around us.  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16)

I love the lyrics from an old hymn sung by “Mary McKee and the Genesis” (some of my older friends with Irish roots will remember her) – and I’ve found myself singing them frequently during the past week:

There’s so much going on around me

And I’m not so sure I like the things I see

Looking through the eyes of unbelief it’s hopeless

But the one who holds my hand says “Trust in me”

Chorus

                                Trust in me when you know you’re sinking

                                Trust in me when things start falling apart

                                Trust in me, I will never leave you

                                Trust in me – you’ll have such peace in your heart.

Sometimes my life is like a whirlpool

As I go on spinning round so endlessly

But in the middle of my whirlpool there’s a stillness

For I hear a voice that’s saying “Trust in me”

Chorus

                                Trust in me when you know you’re sinking

                                Trust in me when things start falling apart

                                Trust in me, I will never leave you

                                Trust in me – you’ll have such peace in your heart.

So my dear brother or sister, as you face today – and, if the Lord has not come by tomorrow’s sunrise, then as you face tomorrow – remember that you’re not alone.  There are others of us out here who know you and love you and care.  But far more importantly, you have a Lord who knows just exactly where you are right now in life.  Nothing of the current mess has taken him by surprise.  He knows all about today’s anxieties and fears and he knows all about tomorrow’s developments before tomorrow ever comes.  And He has given you His Word – He will never leave you – He’ll never forsake you.  So remember Peter’s encouragement given hundreds and hundreds of years ago – “Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you”.  (1 Pet 5:7)

May the Lord help us to encourage one another, and support one another, and honour Him, whatever tomorrow may bring.

With genuine Christian love,

Andrew Ussher

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