Thursdays With Spurgeon—When God Seems Distant

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

When God Seems Distant 

     You may possibly be in such a condition that every promise scowls at you as though it were transformed into a threat. When you turn over the pages of the Book once so full of comfort to you, it seems withered into a howling wilderness. … 

     Even those promises that you have been accustomed to offer to others in their time of need appear to shut their doors against you. ‘No admittance here,’ says one promise. Unbelief puts its burning finger right across another. Past sin accuses you and cries, ‘You cannot claim this word, for your transgression has forfeited it.’ So you may look through the whole Bible and find nothing upon which your souls may rest. … The fault is not in the promise but in us. …  

     Why does our gracious God permit this? Perhaps it is because you have been living without Him, and now He is going to take away everything upon which you have been in the habit of depending. Another reason may be that He wishes to drive you to Himself. … The prodigal was never safer than when he was driven to his father’s bosom, because he could find sustenance nowhere else. And, brothers and sisters, I think our Lord favors us with a famine in the land that it may make us seek after the Savior more. …

     When everything goes well with us, we frequently run a long way from God, but as soon as we are overtaken by trouble or see a lion in the way, we fly to our heavenly Father. I bless God for the mire and for my sinking in it, when it makes me cry out, ‘Deliver me, O my God, out of the deep mire, and let me not sink.’

From The Believer Sinking In The Mire

David said, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). And in another psalm he elaborated on this by saying, 

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:6-8) 

God allows shaking so that we will recognize that He is the only sure foundation. The only things that shake and prove themselves to be untrustworthy are those things not standing on God. So if God seems distant, ask the Holy Spirit to show you if there are any idols in your heart. If there are, repent from trusting those and return to God alone. 

After this, the next step is to silence the voice of the enemy. Jesus said satan’s native language is lies and slander. As Spurgeon said, the enemy of your soul would love to tell you that God’s promises aren’t for you—that somehow you are disqualified from claiming them. 

We need to take every thought captive, and if those thoughts don’t line up with God’s Word we tear them down with the truth in Scripture. Once again, the Holy Spirit is our Counselor to remind us of the truth and assure our hearts that the promises are still for all of God’s children. 

As the words of the old hymn remind us:

Standing on the promises that cannot fail
When the howling storms of doubts and fear assail
By the living Word of God I shall prevail
Standing on the promises of God

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Standing Firm

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Standing Firm 

     Superficial brilliance is always afraid of fire, but gold is not. The paste gem dreads to be touched by the diamond, but the true diamond fears no test. People who have a kind of confectionery godliness will wish to be preserved from temptations, for they cannot endure them. But the Christian counts it all joy when he falls into different trials, knowing that ‘tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (Romans 5:3-5). My dear friends, if your faith is only a sunshiny faith, get rid of it! … 

     So our gracious God, beloved, glorifies Himself by permitting His people to be subjected to trials and by enabling them to endure the strain. We would never know the music of the harp if the strings were left untouched. We would never enjoy the juice of the grape if it were never trod in the winepress. We would never discover the sweet perfume of cinnamon if it were not pressed and beaten. And we would never know the warmth of fire if the coals were not utterly consumed. The excellence of the Christian is brought out by the fire of trouble. The wisdom of the great Workman and the glory of His skill and power are discovered by the trials through which His vessels of mercy are permitted to pass. … 

     Depend upon it, beloved, those who suffer as I have described are the children of God, for they show it. They show it by the way in which they bear their trials. In the worst times there is always a clear distinction that marks them as separate from other men. If they cannot shout, ‘Victory!’ they bear patiently. If they cannot sing to God with their mouth, yet their hearts bless Him. There is a degree of light even in their worst darkness…. If they get into the mire, they do not perish there. They cry for help when their woes surround them, and in the very nick of time, when everything appears to be lost, their heavenly Father hastens to their aid.

From The Believer Sinking In The Mire

I shared a series of messages called Thankful In The Night. Another psalmist wrote, “Yet the Lord will command His loving-kindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me” (Psalm 42:8). 

Notice that this psalmist was praising God IN the night, not praising Him FOR the night. Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I don’t think anyone has ever given thanks because of being in a dark time, but certainly they have given thanks afterward because of the lessons learned in that dark time. 

Quite simply put, there are some things God wants to teach us that we can learn in no other way than to go through a dark night. So we can learn to be thankful even IN those nights. IN those nights, we can learn to say, as Spurgeon did, “I believe in my Lord because He is a God who cannot lie. He is faithful and true to His every word and, therefore, let the whole creation go to rack and ruin, my faith will not waver or give up its confidence.” 

Amen! Let us stand firm in that confidence.

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The Strong, Loving Hold

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” —Jesus Christ (in Matthew 11:28-30) 

Walking alongside my Mom through her battle against cancer has been bittersweet—bitter in the struggle, but sweet in the lessons. Although I wish that my Mom didn’t have to suffer with this accursed disease, during this journey not only have we had wonderful conversations, but I’ve learned more about the closeness of Jesus in all our suffering. 

In a very small way, I’ve gotten to do for my Mom what my Savior does for me every day: Lift heavy burdens. The strong, loving hold that Jesus has on each of His children brings a security and a sweetness that is beyond compare!  

The question is: Will I keep my arms wrapped tightly around my Savior and trust Him to hold me securely, or will I let go of Him and attempt to carry my own burdens? 

When the burdens of life seek to overwhelm us, Oh, that we might cling all the more tightly to the only One who can hold us securely! 

The above snippet is from a message in our series X-ing Out Anxiety, which you can check out by clicking here. 

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Thursdays With Spurgeon—Save Me!

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Charles Spurgeon. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Spurgeon” in the search box to read more entries.

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Save Me! 

Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink (Psalm 69:14). 

     There have been thousands of eminent saints who have been attacked by unbelief and have been in doubt as to things that they once received as certain truths of God and that still in their heart of hearts they know to be true. They could have died for those truths one day. They could have established them beyond all doubt and question the next day. And yet upon the third they might be compelled, through strong temptation, to sit down and with tears streaming from their eyes, cry bitterly to their Helper, ‘Oh, God, save me from this accursed unbelief that robs me of every comfort and takes the foundations away and lays my glory in the dust! What can I do? If the foundations are removed, what can the righteous do? O settle my soul upon Your Word and establish me in Your truth, O You God of truth.’ …  

     Certain of my brethren are frequently in trouble. Their whole life is a floundering out of one slough of despond into another. You have a great many losses in business—nothing but losses, perhaps. You have had many crosses, disappointments, bereavements—nothing prospers with you. Well, brother, there is this consolation: You are one of a very large family, for many of God’s people pass through just such tribulation. … 

     O Lord, grant us divine grace to see much of our sins through the tears of repentance and to see much of the Savior through the eyes of faith, for if we see little of Him we will get into the plight of David when he was in the deep mire and cried, ‘Lord, deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink.’ 

From The Believer Sinking In The Mire

David’s cry in verse 14—Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink—is certainly understandable in view of all that was going on in his life. Look at how Psalm 69 opens: 

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing; I have come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me. I am weary with my crying; my throat is dry; my eyes fail while I wait for my God. (vv. 1-3)

Have you been in that deep mire? I have, and here’s what I’ve learned. 

First, God is teaching me something in this desperate time that I could have learned in no other way.

Second, God wants to make me victorious in my struggle so that others will be encouraged. As the apostle Peter reminded Christians, “Stand firm against [the devil], and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are” (1 Peter 5:9). 

Finally, when I’m in over my head, there’s no where else to look but up! My times in deep mire have revealed to me what’s really important. I’ve come to discover again and again that Jesus is all I need!  

In your darkest, most desperate times, stop trying to rescue yourself. Lift up your eyes and call to God, “Deliver me,” and call on one of your Christian brothers or sisters to be by your side in this valley time. 

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Poetry Saturday—Three Friends

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Of all the blessings which my life has known,
I value most, and most praise God for three:
Want, Loneliness, and Pain, those comrades true,

Who masqueraded in the garb of foes
For many a year, and filled my heart with dread.
Yet fickle joys, like false, pretentious friends,
Have proved less worthy than this trio. First,

Want taught me labour, led me up the steep
And toilsome paths to hills of pure delight,
Tried only by the feet that know fatigue,
And yet press on until the heights appear.

Then loneliness and hunger of the heart
Sent me upreaching to the realms of space,
Till all the silences grew eloquent,
And all their loving forces hailed me friend.

Last, pain taught prayer! placed in my hand the staff
Of close communion with the over-soul,
That I might lean upon it to the end,
And find myself made strong for any strife.

And then these three who had pursued my steps
Like stern, relentless foes, year after year,
Unmasked, and turned their faces full on me,
And lo! they were divinely beautiful,
For through them shown the lustrous eyes of Love. —Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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The Story Isn’t Over Yet

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

One of the things I enjoy about my Apple Watch is the connection I have with others who also use an Apple Watch. For instance, I get notified when my wife has finished a workout, and one of the pre-set replies I could choose is, “I’ve got questions!” That’s a funny way of me saying, “How did you complete that workout?!” 

In Psalm 75 and Psalm 76, Asaph tells us how God will deal with the wicked. But then Psalm 77 begins with Asaph using words like, “My soul refused to be comforted, my spirit is overwhelmed,” and then he launches into the tough questions like: “How long is this going to last? Has God forgotten me? Have I fallen out of favor with God? Has His mercy dried up? Can God keep what He has promised? Is God angry with me?” When I read all this, I feel like saying, “Asaph, I’ve got questions!” 

Yet, these complaints of Asaph ring true to real life. Like when a friend called me last week and started our conversation by asking, “Why can’t things just go easy for me?”

Here’s the simple answer: The Story isn’t over yet. We are in a battle, and the enemy of our soul is still trying to take us out, or at least shut us up. 

In Psalm 77, Asaph tells his story to Jeduthun (a Levite worship leader whose name means praising) in four chapters, with a Selah for each of the breaks between the chapters. 

Chapter 1—Distress (vv. 1-3)

The word distress means confronted by an adversary. Ever been there? Every follower of God has been, so Asaph invites us to Selah: pause to contemplate things like (a) Is this distress causing me to reevaluate the foundation on which I stand? (b) What is it God is shaking in my life? When God shakes things up, it is to cause us to remember and muse about the ONLY sure foundation that can withstand any storm (see Matthew 7:24-27). 

Chapter 2—Questioning (vv. 4-9) 

Notice the words Asaph uses: thought, remembered, mused, inquired. He is asking those tough questions, but he is asking them in a way that he can carefully consider the answers. That means he is really taking a Selah pause with each question. I think he has come to this conclusion: “Aren’t all these really just rhetorical questions? And isn’t the answer to all of them a resounding ‘NO!’?” If you aren’t sure the answer to all of these questions is no, please read Romans 8:31-39.

Chapter 3—Recalling (vv. 10-15) 

Notice the continuation of the words: thought, remember, meditate, consider. He also asks another question in v. 13 which he then answers in the next two verses. His call to Selah here is another pause to reflect: “Has God lost His power? Has He changed His mind?” And once again the answer is a loud and clear, “NO!” (see Isaiah 59:1; Hebrews 13:8) 

One of the important takeaways from this stanza of Psalm 77 is this: Looking back in gratitude at what God has done allows me to look forward in hope to what He is still going to do. My remembering what God has done in the past leads to: 

  1. Release from the darkness 
  2. Renewed praise 
  3. Recovered strength 
  4. Refocused outlook 

Chapter 4—Hope (vv. 16-20) 

Asaph says, “Look what God did! And since He is the same today as He was yesterday, guess what He’s still able to do!” We know this because the Bible says, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 1:20). 

Remember I said earlier that God isn’t done telling His story yet? God isn’t done yet, He knows His Story, and His Story is still being told. But He’s also already told us how His story will end (see Revelation 21:4-6). And the end of His story is really just the beginning of the Real Story! 

C.S. Lewis said it this way in the closing words of The Last Battle:

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page; now at last they were beginning Chapter 1 of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read; which goes on forever; in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

When you find yourself saying, “I’ve got questions: How long is this going to last,” Selah to remember that the Story isn’t over yet. The Storyteller knows how it ends, and He promises us: But what of that? For I consider that the sufferings of this present time—this present life—are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us! (Romans 8:18 AMP)

If you have missed any of the messages in our Selah series, you can find the complete list by clicking here.

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Perspective In The Middle Of The Storm

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Have you ever read the children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Poor Alexander, his day just seemed to get worse—nothing was going right. He wakes up with gum in his hair, trips on his skateboard, and drops his favorite sweater in the sink filled with water. Breakfast doesn’t get any better, things go sideways at school, his least-favorite food is served for dinner, his nightlight burns out. And if all that’s not bad enough, the cat decides to sleep with his brother instead of with him. 

Can you relate to Alexander? 

Doesn’t it seem like when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong? And if things go wrong for too many days in a row, it seems like the bad times are lasting forever! All of us have a tendency to exaggerate during the dark days. 

A psalmist named Asaph seemed to be having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day of his own. Listen to some of his words, including the exaggerations of how bad he thought everything was: 

Why have You rejected us forever, O God? … Your foes roared in the place where You met us… They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshiped in the land. … How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile Your name forever? Why do You hold back Your hand? (Psalm 74:1, 4, 8, 10, 11) 

In the middle of the storm, we tend to not only exaggerate how bad things are but we also seem to lose our bearings and we can even lose sight of God. I think that’s what was happening to Asaph in the first half of his lament. But then we come to the middle verse of this psalm and we notice the beginning of a change in perspective: “But You, O God, are my King from of old; You bring salvation upon the earth” (v. 12). 

Aha! In the middle of his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, Asaph stopped looking at all the bad things around him and turned his gaze upward. “Look,” he tells himself, “there is God still reigning as the Supreme King!” Asaph begins to recount all that God has done, using the phrase “It was You” who did these miraculous things five times in the next five verses. 

In the middle of the storm, Asaph has to remind himself…

  • God existed before time began
  • He is still the sovereign ruler in this present moment 
  • He gets the final and decisive word at the end
  • He never forgets His covenant of love with His people 
  • He defends His cause and His people 
  • His desires can never be thwarted or even delayed a single moment 
  • He is the only One who exists as the Eternal I AM
  • His love and His power are unmatched and unrivaled anywhere in the universe 
  • He will rise up to save me 

My friend, I implore you to remember these words of Asaph. Commit them to your memory now, so that when your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day happens—when it seems like everything is going to go wrong forever—that you can spot those lying exaggerations, you can turn your gaze upward, and you can find hope in knowing your God not only has all power to save you in the storm, but He has unlimited love that wants to save you through the storm. 

Look up, look up, look up and see your God reigning supremely over even the worst terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. 

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Learning Empathy

I’m an up-and-at-em, carpe diem kinda guy. Nothing gets me down for very long—I’m resilient and self-motivated. So I used to have a hard time relating to people who weren’t wired the same way. That is until I went through a time in my life where getting up-and-at-em was one of the hardest things I had to do each day.  

In the midst of this dark night, I would ask God, “Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?” But I heard the Holy Spirit gently but unmistakably remind me, “This isn’t about you!” 

The dictionary says that empathy is nearly a transliterated word from the Greek word empatheia. It means to be in suffering, but the emphasis is more on imaginative empathy. Something like, “If I was them and I was in that situation, I bet it might feel like this.” 

In the New Testament, a different Greek word is translated sympathy, which is also a transliterated word from the Greek sympatheō. This word means to enter into another’s suffering, but the emphasis is on experiential empathy. In other words, I don’t have to imagine how you might feel, but I know how you feel because I’ve gone through the same thing myself. 

Just as the Holy Spirit taught me this lesson, let me say the same thing to you: the dark night you are going through isn’t about you. It’s about learning empathy SO THAT you can help others persevere all the way to the end! 

Think about the dark night Jesus went through just before His crucifixion. He might have asked His Father, “Why is this happening to Me? What did I do wrong?” But He knew why He was going through this night: it was to prepare Him to be the perfect empathetic High Priest for all of us (check out these verses in Hebrews).  

When we invite Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we become a part of His Body (1 Corinthians 12:13, 26). 

Dr. Paul Brand was a renowned hand surgeon and missionary who worked with leprosy patients in India for years. He learned that leprosy doesn’t mangle a person’s foot or hand, but their lack of ability to feel pain does. He wrote, “A body only possesses unity to the degree that it possess pain…. We must develop a lower threshold of pain by listening, truly listening, to those who suffer. … The body protects poorly what it does not feel.” 

Sometimes we have to go through the painful, dark nights so that we can learn to feel others’ pain so that we can learn empathy. 

Through those nights we can learn to hear what others aren’t saying, and feel what others aren’t expressing. We don’t have to ask, “Can I help?” but rather, “I’m here to help because I know what you’re going through.” 

You cannot truly empathize until you go through your own dark night. I can be thankful IN the night because God is growing my empathy so that I can help others! 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series, you can check out the full list by clicking here. 

Learning Contentment

A mark of a maturING saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! Even the most mature Christian you know hasn’t “arrived”; we are all a work-in-progress. Going through the dark nights is one way God helps mature our understanding of contentment. 

You know the differences between a need and a want: a need is something vital, something I require to survive; a want is something that would be nice to have. 

In good times I can convince myself that my wants are really the same as my needs. In the bright, sunny times a lot of wants mistakenly get called needs. But in the dark nights, this confusion is quickly clarified! 

In Philippians 4, Paul explains what he has learned about needs as he went through some very challenging, dark times. When he says he knows what a need is, he isn’t exaggerating a bit (see 2 Corinthians 11:24-28). And yet the Amplified Bible has Paul saying, “Not that I am implying that I was in any personal want.” 

That’s because Paul was learnING contentment. The verb tense here means I have learned, I am learning, and I will keep on learning. It was an ongoing process that helped him clarify needs from wants. The word Paul uses for content is unique in all the New Testament and it means independent of external circumstances, or as the Amplified Bible says, “satisfied to the point where I am not disturbed or disquieted in whatever state I am. 

Paul uses another unique word in verse 12 when he says “I have learned.” This is a different Greek word from the previous verse. This time it means disciplined by experience to know how to respond. In other words, Paul disciplined himself to reflect on the lessons he learned in the night. The cliche “Experience is the best teacher” isn’t necessarily true. Lots of people go through experiences and never learn a single thing. Instead, we should say, “Evaluated experience is the best teacher.” That’s exactly what Paul is saying here: “I have learned lessons in my time of meditation after going through a dark night.” 

The English dictionary defines contentment in two important phrases: 

  1. Satisfied with what I have. In Psalm 16, David learned that he had everything he needed in God, and Jesus reminded us that “your Father knows what you NEED before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).
  2. Satisfied with who I am. Paul knew that “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by His grace, was pleased” (Galatians 1:15). God made Paul on purpose and for a purpose, and Paul was satisfied with who he was in Christ. God made you on purpose too! 

Our relationship with Jesus is a maturING one. It’s only IN Christ that I can be satisfied with what I have, and satisfied with who I am. It’s only IN the night that my wants get separated from my needs, by learnING contentment.

I can be thankful in the night because I am learning contentment. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in this series called Thankful In The Night, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

Discovering True Friends

Last week I shared that a mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! I believe a keyword in this statement is realizes. Once we realize that we are in a trough, what will help us turn our mourning into praise? In a word: meditation. 

Notice Asaph’s words at the beginning of Psalm 77. Twice he says he “cried out” to God. This literally means that he called aloud, not caring who heard him. It wasn’t a whimper, but Asaph said he was “distressed.” As soon as he realized the distressed state he was in, notice the words of meditation in the next four verses: 

  • remembered (2x) 
  • mused (2x) 
  • thought 
  • inquired 

Asaph also began to ask himself questions, all of which have the obvious answer “NO”:

  • Will the Lord reject me forever? NO! 
  • Will He never show His favor again? NO!
  • Has His unfailing love vanished forever? NO!
  • Has His promise failed for all time? NO! 
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful? NO! 
  • Has He in anger withheld His compassion? NO! 

Again, Asaph meditates (notice the words thought, remember, meditate, and consider once again in the next three verses). His conclusion leads him not to self-pity, but to praising God.

Asaph taught us that when we get our eyes off ourselves we can see what God is doing in us, around us, and through us. 

One lesson I learned in a very dark night time of my life: Who my true friends are. When all my “fans” stopped cheering and started jeering, I ended up in a very dark place. But as soon as I realized the valley I was in and began to meditate on God’s presence even in this dark place, I began to see what was happening around me. One of the things I saw were two men who stood up for me against all the foes attacking me. They stepped in when all my “fans” stepped away. 

The apostle Paul had the same realization in the dark night of his Roman prison cell. He stated, “at my first defense no one came to my support.” But he also saw those who stood by his side: Luke, Timothy, and Mark.

Dark times can quickly lead us to self-pity UNLESS we will realize we are in a dark place and begin to meditate on all that God says in His Word about His faithfulness. Once we get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him, we will begin to see the lessons God is teaching and the amazing things He is accomplishing. 

I can be thankful IN the night because the dark nights have shown me my true friends. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them all by clicking here. 

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