Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

By Anne Steele (1716-1778)

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On thee when sorrows rise;
On thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.

While hope revives, though pressed with fears,
And I can say, “My God,”
Beneath thy feet I spread my cares,
And pour my woes abroad.

To thee I tell each rising grief,
For thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.

But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail
I fear to call thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail
And all my hopes decline.

Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cleave to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.

Hast thou not bid me seek thy face?
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?

No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner’s prayer;
O may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.

Thy mercy-seat is open still;
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend thy will,
And wait beneath thy feet.

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Innocence Lost, Glory Gained

Behind those eyes of yours so brown,
At times I catch a future frown
That may one day replace your cheer
As life’s dark side begins to rear
Its ugly head and youth’s sun sets.
From weathered heartache, mounting debts,
Crushed, awe-filled dreams, depressing loss,
Adult’s drab glower spreads across
One’s face like gangrene takes a toe,
A marring rot, one cruel and slow.
The sickness works to guarantee
That beautiful transparency
Is colored in with ashes charred—
Blinds drawn, walls up, doors locked, heart barred.
It binds once unbound liberty
And casts faith out on doubt’s dark sea.
Bright, vibrant wonder dims to gray,
Becoming cynicism’s prey.
An openness, once unashamed,
Is turned to shadowed secrets chained
Within a nervous heart that fears
Another’s judgments, jokes, or jeers.

Oh, precious eyes of yours so brown,
I fear that maturation’s frown
May soon assail your innocence
And turn youth’s tune to dissonance.

And yet, brown eyes, I’m not content
To leave you sheltered, ignorant
Of life’s disturbing truths of pain,
For glimpses of the Lamb once slain
And genuine perceptions of
The greatness of the Father’s love
Are offered just to those who bear
Hatred of sin’s consuming snare.
So don’t be blind, dear child, of all
Adulthood has in store; man’s fall
And all its horrors rightly seen
Will drive your soul to Christ pristine.
So I will not bemoan the find
Of sin’s sick cancer of the mind
If such a grim discovery
Compels your soul’s recovery
And leads you to the cross. May ills
Constrain your search for him who kills
The sin that robbed your virgin smile
And beautifies each sin-caused trial,
For he is joy though grownup’s frown
Has dashed young hopes of eyes so brown.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Five Steps to Fighting Temptation

A couple of Sundays back, my pastor’s sermon was incredibly helpful for the Christian’s fight against temptation. What he does when temptation comes his way is that he calls to mind this acronym: APTAT (which, unfortunately, my pastor lamented, doesn’t mean anything, but it’s useful nonetheless and easy to remember).

First, I’ll give you the acronym and what each letter stands for, and then I’ll narrate how the acronym works using an example.

APTAT

A — I admit I can’t overcome this temptation on my own.
P — I pray for God’s help.
T — I trust a specific, tailor-made promise of God.
A — I act, not waiting around for feelings to catch up.
T — I thank him for his help when the coast has cleared.

Without a doubt, fear is one of those temptations that’s seemingly always at the door for me. Here’s how APTAT works in the face of fear. Let’s say the fear of a job interview, for example. First, I admit to God that I can neither calm my fears nor ensure this interview goes well without God’s direct intervention. I come to him in utter humility, desperately needing his grace. If the well of God’s grace is dry at this moment, I’m cooked, and I admit it to God openly.

Then, I pray specifically for God’s help. Many times we don’t have something, like help, because we simply don’t ask for it. Cry out to God. Tell him, “I can’t, great God. This fear is going to consume me. I’ll melt before I even reach the office. I’m going to freeze and make a fool of myself. My mind is going to go blank when they ask me what my greatest weakness is! Was it that I work too hard or that I’m too kind? And what if they don’t like me? What if they don’t choose me? Take this fear away! Please, God, I beg you.”

After that, I trust a specific promise from God’s word. At the beginning of 2009, God gave me a verse that has proven to be for me personally one of the most powerful verses I’ve ever known. Countless times since then God has spoken to my trembling heart directly through this verse. This verse is as close as I’ve ever come to hearing the audible voice of God. The verse is Isaiah 41:10. In my most fearful, panicky moments, time after time God has bent down and whispered these words in my ear: “Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” And he speaks it to me personally: “Fear not, little sheep. I, the Creator of every atom in your body, am with you and not against you. You don’t have to be dismayed. For the LORD, not your job or that interview committee, is your God. They don’t have any sway over you whatsoever. I do. I will strengthen you for this task. I will help you right now in this job interview and at every other moment of your life. I will hold you up so well that you will neither stumble nor fall, and I’ll do it with my righteous right hand.”

And when his voice becomes quiet, whether my emotions have gotten the message or not, I act. Even if I the fear hasn’t completely dispersed and been replaced by warm fuzzies, I stand up and take a step toward the office door. And I open my mouth. And I answer their questions. All the while trusting that God is with me in that room, hemming me in behind and before and laying his hand upon me.

Finally, when I get done and head back out to the car, I praise him for his faithfulness in being with me. Whatever happens as a result of the interview, God was with me in it. He sustained me through it. He helped me as I was jabbering on about all my “qualifications.” What was it I was afraid of, exactly? Thank you, Father!

May this simple tool, five little letters that don’t spell anything in particular, help you fight the fight of faith.

For more examples of how to use A.P.T.A.T. against other, specific temptations, or to read or view the rest of this sermon, click here.

Be All

Oh, that this failing, frail, and finite mind
Could grasp a God all-powerful, divine!
For while my lips full well acknowledge him
As God, my heart is many times left dim
To truth that shines as clearly as sun’s beams.
I’m blind to heaven’s light at times it seems.
As my mind sits in darkness, just beyond
My skin the world bids my chained soul, “Abscond
From Satan’s choking hold and cast your eyes
On nature’s unbound witness in the skies!”
Though utterly dumbfounding—near absurd—
At one omnipotent and sovereign Word,
A hundred billion balls of burning light,
Were lit by sheer, unbridled force, and night—
Once barren, black, and bleak—was pierced with rays
That emanated joy and set ablaze
The darkness. Oh, sweet Jesus, may you who
Ignited sun’s ferocious flame, now, too,
Ignite this finite heart and mind that I
May know you ever more and no more fly
To gods with stone-carved lips that cannot speak.
May you, Creator God, be all I seek.

Psalm 23:1

The LORD

—the Great I Am; the Ultimate Reality; the One from whom all that is gets its existence; the Sovereign Ruler over every atom in the universe; the Creator and Sustainer of galaxies; the Maker and Shaper of solar systems; the Source of life of every being that has breath; the Source of all goodness and righteousness; the true God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Moses; the God and Father of Jesus Christ; the One who charts the courses of the sun and stars through the sky; the One who determines the times and places of nations; the One before whom mountains tremble; the One before whom all men will one day bow and give an account; the One who spoke all spirit and matter into being; the King above all other kings; the LORD above all other lords; the Holy One of Israel—

is

—in this very moment; as he sovereignly governs all creation; as he actively rules over the trillions of stars in the universe; in the same moment in which he is carrying out his perfect will for all mankind; while he steadily moves the clock of history forward moment by moment; right now; today; in this very instant the LORD of all creation is being—

my

—personal, close, individual, loved, intimate, caring, near, own, dear, special, trusted, familiar, well-known—

shepherd

—the one who leaves the 99 and seeks the one who’s lost; the tender guide; the patient teacher; the mighty protector; the merciful provider; the ever-present help in time of trouble; the matchless defender; the one who lays down his life for his sheep; the wise teacher; the skillful leader; the servant-master who gives of himself for the good of the flock; the ever-vigilant watchman; the always present eye; the disciplined trainer; the merciful disciplinarian; the one who faithfully yields his rod and his staff for the good of his sheep—

The LORD is my shepherd.  What joy and peace are mine.

One Hero

Though Enoch walked with God and wasn’t found
And Noah and his sons alone were saved—
Though Moses freed God’s people long enslaved
And David’s righteous rule was world renowned—
Though Solomon was with God’s wisdom crowned
And Micah prophesied and Peter braved
Imprisonment and Paul’s hope never caved,
Nay, though the thorn’s bite bitter, did abound—
There will be but one hero lifted high
For all to laud and praise at course’s end,
And one alone will all men glorify
Though myriad hosts for such a prize contend.
His name is Jesus, for, though crowned on high,
He only for our sin did condescend.

© 2011 Eric Evans

Lessons from Job, Part 6

If you’d like to read Parts 1-5 of this series, you can do so here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5). In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job. Parts 2-5 each contain lessons from Job.

Lesson 9: Job’s First, Humble Response was Much Better Than His Later, Arrogant Response
I want to walk a fine line here. On the one hand, even when suffering people say really stupid things about themselves, their situation, or God, what they don’t need is for someone to take their words and use them to beat them over the head (see lesson 7). They need grace. On the other hand, in light of God’s response to Job in chapters 38-41 and Job’s subsequent humble repentance, it is clear that there is a right way and there is a wrong way to respond to suffering.

Job’s initial response to unthinkable suffering at God’s hand was this: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1:21). The narrator states, “In all this, Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (1:22). After a second round of suffering, Job declared, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And again the narrator affirms, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (2:10). In the space of a very short time, however, Job began to call God’s actions into question and eventually accused him of being unjust. That is definitely not the right way to respond in the face of suffering.

Apart from a supernatural outpouring of God’s grace, a humble acceptance of God’s sovereign will in the face of suffering is an absolute impossibility, especially when it’s suffering on the magnitude of what Job experienced. Yet such a response is the right response. Any other response only shows man’s need to repent, just like Job had to do. And when you have to repent for responding badly in suffering, God is being gracious to you.

Lesson 10: God is the Hero in Every Story, Even in the Story of Your Suffering
Who was the hero of the book of Job? God was. It wasn’t Job. It wasn’t his friends. It wasn’t even Elihu, though I think he was on to something. God was the hero. He always is. A major theme of the book of Job and a very important lesson I think we can learn from it is that no mere mortal, no matter how upright and how just, deserves the praise that belongs only to God. No matter how much a person suffers and endures, God alone deserves the glory. Job was a good man, yet as I’ve tried to show previously, Job had some serious heart issues that rose to the surface as a result of his extreme suffering.

When you suffer, God will sustain you, but not in such a way that in the end you will be able to glory in your own strength or in your own righteousness. He will sustain you in spite of your imperfections. And he will sustain you such that he alone will be the hero. God is right and good in designing your suffering that way. He’s being good to you. Your being the hero wouldn’t satisfy the longings of your heart anyway.

Share Your Thoughts
1. What do you think caused Job’s outlook to change?
2. How have you seen God as the hero of your or another’s suffering?

To See

Please, Jesus, strip away the woolen veil
That hinders his faint eyes from seeing you,
Though stripping come as hell’s dark hosts assail
His fledgling heart and break all he thought true.
Though sight may come through violent, raging blasts
That serve to penetrate the walls he’s raised
Surrounding his dark soul, his soul hold fast;
Destroy the walls that he might see and praise!

© 2011 Eric Evans

Lessons from Job, Part 5

If you’d like to read Parts 1-4 of this series, you can do so here (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). In Part 1 you’ll find an introduction to this series as well as a summary of the book of Job. Parts 2, 3, and 4 each contain two lessons gleaned from Job.

Lesson 7: Suffering People Need Comfort, Not Condemnation
I cannot fathom Job’s anguish. Then to add insult to injury, Job’s “friends” showed up. To their credit, they started off well. They simply sat down in the ashes where Job was and cried with him (2:11-13). Then they decided to open their fat mouths. From that point on, they condemn Job, provoke him to wrath, and accuse him of wrongdoing. Not only were their words false, they simply weren’t helpful, even had their accusations been true. And if that weren’t enough, amid their lies, they exalt themselves in light of Job’s suffering (19:5). Their argument went like this: Job was suffering because he had “obviously” committed some type of sin against God. Hidden behind such logic was their assertion that the reason that they weren’t suffering like Job was because they were much holier than Job.

In short, Job’s friends were neither nice nor helpful. Job called them horrible comforters (16:2). Hurting people don’t necessarily want or need an explanation for their suffering. They want you to love them and weep with them. Don’t be too harsh with suffering people, even when they make some pretty dangerous statements, like Job did many times. Adding salt to their wounds doesn’t aid their healing.

Lesson 8: There is Such a Thing as an Upright Sinner
You can be blameless before God and man and still not be sinless. Neither Job nor his friends could conceive of such a category of people. They were too black and white. Job’s friends’ argument went like this: “Seeing as how you’re suffering, you must have sinned. You can’t be blameless in light of all this ‘obvious’ judgment God has poured out on you. You must repent and God will take all this suffering away.” But that’s way too simplistic, and simply put, that’s not how God operates. God called Job’s friends to repent for arguing this way. Their logic and their conclusions (not always their direct statements) were wrong.

But Job’s categories were off, too. His logic was surprisingly similar. His argument was that since he was blameless, his suffering was completely uncalled for. Job overestimated his own righteousness. Job’s logic was that since a particular sin wasn’t the root cause of his suffering, his suffering was therefore completely groundless. The implication, then, was that God was capricious at best, unjust at worst. But both of those options were fallacies as well. Job’s thinking was also way too simplistic. Even if you’re blameless before God and man, that doesn’t mean that your suffering is pointless, uncalled for, or even unjust.

Elihu, who was not one of Job’s three infamous “friends,” described a third category of people in 36:7-15. He described them as righteous sinners. He said that when the righteous are bound in cords of affliction, God reveals to them their iniquity. God “delivers the afflicted by their afflictions” (36:15). What the righteous label as the disease turns out to be the cure to a much more heinous disease that they didn’t even know they had. (See lesson 6 from this series.) And in so revealing sin that it might be repented of and purified from the heart, God is good.

Share Your Thoughts
1. What are some practical ways to comfort suffering people well?
2. In the light of Jesus’ gospel, how is it that someone can be a sinner but still be counted righteous?