Life on the Margins

Being on the margins of life is not at all an attractive prospect. In the world that we live, a great many people have been relegated to the margins to lead an inhuman existence. And of those people who are fortunate not to have been totally reduced to such a helpless and ignored estate, many are still made to undergo marginalization for various reasons. The most prominent reasons being the ill will of other people and the misfortunes of life.

David portrays such a situation from his own experience.

He says that – he has ‘been forgotten like one who is dead;’ that he has ‘become like a broken vessel.’ Psalm 31:12

The analogy cannot be better than these –

  1. A dead person is forgotten, except by the few that really matter. A dead person fades from the memory and life of others and life simply goes on for those who are still alive.
  2. A broken vessel also remains somewhere, collecting dust and harboring insects. It is no longer taken into consideration. It is never thought about.

Being marginalized and considered forgotten is very painful.

Yet David finds his confidence and discovers meaning for life in God.

He says,

“But I trust in you, O Lord;

I say, ‘You are my God.’

My times are in your hand….” (Psalm 31:14,15)

What do we do when life pushes us to the margins and we are rendered helpless by circumstances? We become prone to lose our confidence to live out our potential and our dreams just fade away to the realm of the impossible.

Our life can take sharp turns and the landscape may just change drastically. And this is the reality of the life that we all live.

David had more than his fair share of setbacks, intense sufferings, and even shameful failures. However, he was helped, delivered, and also, forgiven by God for his sins. God restored his life time and again and he was enabled by God to rise above his defeating circumstances and to find his life meaningful.

So, for you who are finding yourselves marginalized, forgotten, helpless – kindly lift up your eyes and look at your Savior God who chose to be on the margins with the people there. Remember that He also chose to die on the cross, outside the camp/city, taking the sins and guilt of the whole world. His death on the cross was the ultimate symbol of being marginalized, erased, eliminated, and rendered helpless. Yet He conquered death and rose again.

He died and rose again and He can truly help people like you and me, to either come out of the margins or to live in spite of being marginalized. Let us look forward to the city built by God where nobody will be marginalized and everyone will be esteemed, forever and ever.

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Trusting God in the Thick of Troubles

Psalm 31:7, 8 –

“I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,

Because you have seen my affliction;

You have known the distress of my soul,

And you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;

You have set my feet in a broad place.”

The verse has the Psalmist declaring his will or decision to rejoice and remain glad – not because of circumstances being good, for he was in the thick of his problems – but he found strength in God’s steadfast love.

He gives some reasons there –

  1. He says that God has seen his afflictions
  2. And that God has known the distress of his soul.

More than the sufferings themselves, in our life, we have the difficulty in understanding the position of God in such situations. “Where is God when it hurts?” – is the question that really bothers us. The Psalmist declares that God is not far away without having any care for us. That He is there very close, seeing all our afflictions and knowing the distress of our souls.

A preacher said it is no use telling your problems to others because 90% people do not care and 10% are happy that you have them. Even if we grant that there are some people who genuinely would want to help us – we need to also admit that there is a limit for both their understanding and the help that they can render. However, God cares for us and is also able to truly help us.

Furthermore, the Psalmist has the assurance that God has not given up on him. He has enemies bent on seeing him destroyed – but God has not given him up into their hands and evil schemes. Some circumstances give the impression that we are at the mercy of those who do not have the best intentions for us. And often those people tormenting us also share that notion thinking that they can forever keep on harming us or doing as they will. Nevertheless, a child of God is never forsaken by God into the hands of the people or circumstances that threaten to harm. When we continue to read the Psalm we find that the Psalmist is making such bold confessions when he is yet to see deliverance.

In the final part of the verse, the psalmist says that God has set his feet in a broad place.

This is also a statement of his faith in the face of troubles and was made when he had nothing to see for it in the physical world.

And that is the point I would love to leave with you today –

That you can, in your spirit or inner being, be blessed to be in a broad place by faith even before you feel or see anything for it in your circumstances. In other words, it is not what you feel about it or see in your circumstances; it is what you believe in God for. If you believe that God has set you in a broad place even when you are squeezed badly by your circumstances; then, before long your circumstances will align themselves according to what you believe in Christ Jesus.

May God be your help

Promises of God for fulfilling God’s Will

We can hold on to God’s promises in two possible ways:

  1. Self-centered understanding which is convenient
  2. God centered understanding which is seldom very convenient

If we look at it, convenient understanding is only putting a kind of spiritual garb for the common worldly understanding. This was the case with the disciples of Jesus Christ too. Though Jesus had told them again and again about the path He had to take – that of a gruesome, violent, lonely death, and the resurrection on the third day – they still kept thinking and desiring that He would rather somehow take up the throne of David.

It was not easy for the humanity of Jesus to go the way of the cross. Yet He chose to submit Himself to the will of the Father (Matt 26:39). He chose to have the scriptures fulfilled in and through His life than seeking an escape with supernatural angelic intervention (Matt 26:53,54). Without any shadow of doubt, Jesus could have staged such a spectacular event and it would also have been seen by the people as His victory. Yet He had come to die the most pitiable death and most of the onlookers at His crucifixion could hardly relate the Man, His message, and His works of power, with such an end. But God’s wisdom was manifested – ‘in the frailty of His Son.’ Hallelujah!

Calling for an angelic intervention would have surely shamed the people plotting His death and at the same time brought immense cheer to His own disciples. It can also be said that the common population of Israel would have celebrated the ‘triumph.’ This was indeed the ‘convenient’ way of doing things. Nevertheless, it was not God’s way. Moreover, the convenient way would have brought only temporary cheers and no sure way of salvation for us which was wrought by all the pain, insults, and inconveniences that Jesus chose to endure.

The disciples could not come to terms with things taking this kind of a turn and when He was arrested they fled. So, we see Jesus insisting on the God-centered way of engaging with the scriptures and then we read that the disciples could not stand it and they fled leaving Him. It is in Matthew 26:56, where Jesus says – “But all this has taken place that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” And then it is written there – “Then all the disciples left him and fled.”

Let me clarify. The time when Jesus was arrested was a good if not the best opportunity for Jesus to show everyone who He really was and thus also escape the humiliating turn of events. But Jesus kept holding on to the prophecies in a way that was not at all convenient to Him or them, and so the disciples became confused, disoriented, and fled.

And it is not just them but we also, most of the time our desires are for the convenient options. We seek the fulfillment of promises and prophecies in ways that are convenient to us – that is, gratifying to us as it would be to any worldly person. We may hear and endure the message of the cross and the challenges it poses to our life. But, we do keep alive the fleshly hope that ‘It will never be that bad.’ ‘Not me, of course.’ ‘I will be spared.’ Etc.

While promises and prophecies have their bearing on the affairs of our life we need to remind ourselves the very inconvenient truth that they are primarily given by God to conform us to the image and likeness of His Son.

With the great promise of eternity that we are given let us show the true understanding and courage to reject our desire to seek convenience and rather choose to uphold God’s Word, God’s will. Amen.

Beyond the Ordinary

Prophet Isaiah in proclaiming the prophecy of Restoration and the Eternal Covenant of Peace to the people of God, said:

“… lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.”( Isaiah 54:2)

You can do so much more for God as you abide in Him and He is there to enable you. You do feel constrained by the situations of your life. And you may be calling your limitations by different names and are surely justifying the state of being limited in growth, remaining under-utilized, and bearing less fruits. I would like to make it clear that this is not an attempt to put you or anyone to blame and I do not define success the way the world does. Nevertheless, we need to be fruitful for God.

Given that we are all different, because:

  • We have been made different
  • Our call and gifts also differ
  • Our situations also are different

So that we are uniquely positioned to do, what only we can do best.

No matter what all we are doing right and how carefully we are leading our life, we all sense somewhere deep within, that we can do something more for God.

And rather than tucking up those feelings and longings in our life of convenience and comfort that we have become used to, let us actually do something to fulfill our desire to do more for Him. The error most people make is to wait (or pretend to wait) for that ready-made situation that will facilitate us to become more active. Those who wait like that can wait forever and nothing really changes, except that the life is over and the regret remains that it could all have been so different.

If we want to do something for God then we need to take that step of faith –

“To lengthen our cords, strengthen our stakes.”

Let us seek to do that in proportion to our faith. And those who ‘expect great things from God’ and ‘attempt great things for God’ will, without any shadow of doubt, be met with abundant enabling by God and the provision of His resources.

So much so, that your very disadvantages will be converted into strength and growth. The very factors that weighed you down will be used by our Lord Jesus Christ to propel you to unforeseen ‘places’ and ‘worlds,’ to become fruitful.

The harder an arrow is pulled back, it only causes it to go that much more faster and farther.

The things that put you down will be used by God to raise you up. For the one who abides in Jesus Christ is truly empowered to thankfully embrace every single aspect that hinders us, weighs us down, or opposes us.

Now, how can anyone lengthen the cords and strengthen the stakes?

Well, we can begin by praying more, thinking big, envisioning large, confessing boldly, and taking steps to see them fulfilled. God is with you. Do something this week. Start something today. And you will definitely not regret.

And strength is derived when we surrender ourselves more to God. Also be consistent in your effort. The work or its scope may be small – but consistency leads to great results. Let consistency be the mark of your strength that makes you handle all that you are given by God to do.

God is not Silent

There are those phases in life when we feel that God is silent to us and the problems that we are facing. Sometimes, more than the problems themselves it is the silence on the part of God that pains us. We have a God who speaks to us. However, His communication and especially His work in our life can include meaningful times of silence. For us who tend to depend more on the tangible and sensory inputs it is difficult to handle that silence.

There was a time, though, when He stood silent.

“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

Yet He opened not his mouth;

Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,

And like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,

So he opened not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

He stood silent before those who oppressed and hurt Him – because He had come to offer Himself; so that our sins may be forgiven and that we may be saved from all the consequences of sin under which we all groan.

His work having been accomplished He is no longer in that mode of silence. We may feel He is silent concerning us and our cause, but He is not.

  1. Jesus Christ is not silent and He speaks the word that brings deliverance in our life. When we have the problems persisting then He is speaking courage to our spirit, He is speaking faith to our inner being.
  2. Jesus Christ is not silent and He speaks the word to our life situations, thus setting the limits to what we have to face. He knows what we can bear and He speaks out His perfect will so that we do not have to go through what we cannot bear.
  3. Jesus Christ is not silent and He is our advocate before the Father God. He keeps defending us and imputes His own merit – earned by His sinless life, passionate death and resurrection – to us, so that we may be saved from the accusations of the evil one.
  4. Jesus Christ is not silent and He constantly speaks the eternal and unchanging attributes of God and also the promises that He has given us. We may feel that all that does not relate to us in our present situation. But that is a misunderstanding that we need to do away with. God’s love, His grace and mercy, His peace, the faithfulness, etc. and His promise to never leave us nor forsake us, His promise of providence, etc. are always fresh manna that we may gather and use to live our life as more than conquerors.

Basically, let us realize the vanity of the fallen human nature to desire for and depend on those things that are received by our senses. God does not always cater to our senses or address our rational mind as those faculties of ours are limited. We are created in the image and likeness of God and from our sinful state we have been redeemed so that we may relate to God in spirit and truth.

When God challenges us to go along, without giving us sensory and rational inputs. it does not mean that He has forsaken us. Rather, He is making us walk by and grow in faith. Walkers and other walking aids are useful in the process of learning to walk but it is only when we give up our ‘walkers’ and ‘crutches’ that we will give our body the chance to walk the we are created to.

 Finally, let us stop saying that God is silent and instead create the space and the time in our life where we can experience Him with or without words and with or without feelings.

My Heart Keeps Trusting Jesus

In our moments of defeat, pain, and shame, we may not be able to see any possible way to overcome our situations. Moreover, we may feel totally responsible for the mess we are in. And life being complex we find that the problems have their bearing in various areas of our life.

The psalmist David, had his own low points in life. But then he also sang:

“The Lord is my strength and my shield;

In him my heart trusts, and I am helped.” (Psalm 28:7a)

Maybe David was so drowned in his problems that he was not able to think of any solution. He was unable to see an escape from his troubles. All of his fine abilities and his sharp mind were not able to put forth even one reasonable plan that would give him sure relief. I am not sure whether he was rendered unable or did he deliberately choose to not go by his own strength.

It so happens sometimes that our senses, intellect, and instincts leave us alone in the face of insurmountable issues.

But then, David says that – it is his heart that trusts in the Lord.

In the express understanding of who God is and who He is to me – here “The Lord is my strength and my shield” – we are strengthened to over-come all our problems.

When we know God and His nature, the character and His unchanging faithfulness towards us – we need not really know how our problems are going to be solved. It is like this – I don’t know what is going to happen – But my heart trusts in Jesus Christ – And I am helped.

So living by faith is standing strong in the confidence of our heart on our Savior God even when our reasoning and our instincts speak otherwise and our situations remain unchanged or even threatening.

Nonetheless, such a state is not a helpless one. We are fully helped by Him in whom we keep trusting.

When God solves our problems.

As we live in this world we have to go through difficult days. Such difficulties may be cases of either personal or collective suffering. So also it is so much part of human behavior to do something or the other to come out or escape from such situations.

In the Old Testament we see movements of families, for short term or long, in the face of famine. One move that went really painful but eventually also became a symbol of God’s redemption is the case of Elimelech and his family. As a family they moved to Moab, but of the four only Naomi could return to Bethlehem and with an unexpected companion Ruth who was a Moabite woman. For the husband died in Moab and the two sons also died there after marrying Moabite women. Reducing the house to three widows.

This was definitely what Elimelech and Naomi would not have asked for when they chose to go to Moab to escape the famine in Bethlehem. His plan, most probably, would have been to go as a family to Moab and then come back at a favorable time. And that’s how we too make our elaborate plans. But sadly so, there was no Elimelech to come back to Bethlehem. After some years his sons were no more. They too did not come back to their inheritance.

There are problems that we can and should solve, and if we do not do that we are being lazy or irresponsible. And most people are fine with solving problems and eagerly do their best to come out of their troubles as soon as possible. But it is not to be so every time.

There is something called ‘Waiting upon the Lord’ that our Lord God considers of utmost importance. So much more important it is for God than making us feel good and comfortable. God places great value on the building up of our faith, the formation of our character, the deepening of our trust in Him, the making of a person who is patient, etc. And they happen when we ‘wait upon God.’

It calls for discernment as to what are the problems that we should solve and what are the problems that we should wait upon God for Him to resolve. And we know that it is prayer that helps us every single time. We need to pray about it before we do anything about it. Keep praying till we sense the leading of God – clearly – to act. And if we do not sense such a leading it simply means that we are to wait for God.

And those who wait for God are not losers.

Waiting for God to resolve our issues may seem like a difficult proposition in the short term, but in the long term God has His way of making all things good and perfect.

Brain surgery is done by precision scalpels and not with the butcher’s knife. Solving serious and delicate problems are for the skilled hands of God to perform, according to His procedure. Our hands are too clumsy and our attempts can do more harm than good.

God is writing the story of your life

Situations and circumstances in life keep changing, much to our dislike and discomfort. At times, the decisions of other people affect us adversely and we are put through great many troubles. No matter what the cause of our troubles and loss, for a person who chooses to trust in God – He is there with us even through the darkest hours of our existence.

We need to go on with our life, trusting God and fearing Him. And we will surely find God who can bring the very best from the worst of our circumstances.

The brothers of Joseph devised evil. There were those who tarnished him. There were those who just forgot about him.

His loving father could do nothing to help him other than clinging to the remnant of the bloodied robe he had gifted him and swearing to go to the grave in sorrow. Reuben had wanted to save him, but could not. He was too late. Potiphar respected him but then could not trust him when his wife accused Joseph. The cup-bearer promised to help him, but he forgot. The keeper of the prison readily recognized him to be special, but he too, like all the others, could not help him.

Nevertheless, the life of Joseph is meaningful because of The Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God who was in perfect control through all those situations that appeared to be the doing and making of others.

People may want to hurt you and people may want to help you. People who can help you may not help you and the people who want to help you may not be able to help you.

People will do, for your good or to trouble you, what is in their power to do – but only to the extent that God will permit them.

They did to Joseph what they could, thinking that they could script his life. But praise be to God because Joseph was His project and a book He had chosen to write. Through all those conflicting interests and schemes and promises and betrayal, God writes a story of making Him a blessing for his generation.

The point that I would like to make is that Joseph was definitely not a loser with the whole world against him. He did have his family, friends, and well wishers – people who respected and loved him. People who wanted to help him and would have also. But God still allowed him to go through all those days of sufferings and trials. Therefore, we too need to understand that God in His own way of doing things may prevent or regulate the good that others can do for us. And it is not anybody’s fault; God is working out His will and purpose.

In our life – there are those who would gladly see us fall and try to orchestrate things to that effect. There are also those who would genuinely want to help us. But let us look to God alone who is in control and would make it all work out for good and His glory.

Doing the best – with the task at hand

We will have to give an account for all that has been entrusted to us. When Jesus taught the Parable of Talents, He said, that the one who “had received five talents ‘went at once’ and traded with them and made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two more.” (Matthew 25:16,17, emphasis added)

The problem is with the one who thought that his master “reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he had scattered no seed.” (Matthew 25:24)

Unfortunately, this is the attitude carried by many of the people leading unproductive lives. There is this desire to do something worthwhile, but then they also feel or think that something is fundamentally wrong with the Master and His way of doing things. They feel that they have not been given the right responsibility, or that they are stuck up in the wrong place, that they have not been given the required skills for doing the job that is given to them, that their calling is different, etc.

For some of those people making various excuses for themselves think that their opportunity is supposedly in some past situation. They forget that the world has changed and there is no going back to the past, except in our memories. Even if we succeed in re-creating some past situation, we will also have to face the rude shock that it is not the same as we had thought it could be. We can preserve our memories but the situations keep changing. People also change and nobody is the same anymore.

For many others their opportunity is in some other task or place that has not been given to them by providence. They lament saying, “If only….” Then they fail to do justice to the task or responsibilities that are actually entrusted them. They feel that if they land up in that right place they will do it exceedingly well. But, as life teaches us that our dream positions and situations do not come in a platter they are actually the result of much hard-work and persistence.

Be they tasks, or our worth, or gifts, or opportunities – they are given by the Master according to His sovereign will and wisdom. There is no necessity that we will like it or feel convinced and excited about it.

Whether we are convinced or remain unconvinced about our opportunities, we have two options before us:
1. To take up the task at once and make it double.

  1. To dig up the ground and hide it.

Those hiding their talent(s) can hold on to the hope that they can explain their disappointments to the Master. But the parable of Jesus gives us enough warning to think otherwise.

Convinced or not, we need to just recognize the task entrusted to us today and the potential we carry to double that which has been invested in us by God. To try and do the very best before the sun goes down. Taking one day at a time and pressing on. And without any shadow of doubt, God almighty will open the heavens and bless our efforts and give us the increase. Moreover, Jesus Christ will also reward us in eternity.

So, keep on at it – one day at a time. Do not give up, for your reward is with Him.

Finally,

Loving your job is wonderful, but it is more important to love your Master and do whatever He asks you to do.

Creating Resources for Growth

When we do not get good resources for our spiritual growth we tend to complain. We may blame the Church in general, or we may have serious issues with our denomination. Some people find the problem to be with their particular fellowship group and many find problem with their current pastor.

However, no matter how we play this blame game, we would do better to consider what we can be doing instead.

When we look in the Bible – the best of circumstances have produced bad results and the worst circumstances have given forth wonderful results.

The people of Israel were led by God from Egypt to the land of Canaan with the physical manifestation of God’s presence as the pillar of cloud and fire, and His mighty deeds were done one after another. Yet, the people rebelled and kept on rebelling.

The exilic period on the other hand was a very difficult time. Away from the promised land with the haunting memory of the Temple being desecrated and the land ruined. They were by the ‘rivers of Babylon.’ But, there God raised up Daniel and his companions. God used Ezekiel too. They brought forth resources not only useful for the Hebrews but also for the worldwide community of God’s people in the New Testament age.

So we do not have an excuse.

When small children look up to parents for food, growing up and having children of their own they cease to expect food from others. They do the cooking and feed their young. So also, as we mature spiritually we need to take up the collective responsibility of developing resources for growth that can benefit God’s people in our generation.

Paul wrote some of his epistles when in prison. John Bunyan wrote the great classic The Pilgrim’s Progress when he was in prison.

So really bad circumstances, where we do not have access to resources for our own growth, can in fact be a fertile place for the creation of new resources. Rather than being constrained by circumstances, let us become channels for God to move so that we may become a blessing in spite of our circumstances.