Sarah Ivill

Come to Our Help!

Perhaps today you are experiencing a difficult season and you feel like the Lord is asleep instead of coming to your aid. Let Psalm 44 encourage you. Look with eyes of faith to the Lord and affirm, “You are my King, O God” (v. 4). Take comfort in the truth that He ordains your suffering (v. 19). And cry out to Him, “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (v. 26). 

It had been a hot summer in the south, but the heat didn’t match that of my own heart. I felt like I was trying to walk through a desert with no water, or slug through mud without getting anywhere. Years of battling chronic pain had worn me down. A ministry plan that didn’t materialize the way I had hoped had eroded my confidence to continue writing, teaching and speaking. I was raising four children, ranging from ten years to six months, and I was homeschooling the older two. I felt very much in need of help. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I cried out to the Lord and I studied Scripture. Through the study of the psalms, like Psalm 44, the Lord came to my aid.
You also know what it is to like to be in need of help, don’t you? Whether it’s a strained relationship, financial difficulty, unemployment, illness or injury, a hard season of ministry, parenting challenges, or marital strife, all of us have cried for aid at times. Perhaps even today you are crying for someone to assist you. Be encouraged, dear believer. Our great King will come to our help in the midst of difficulty.
Delight in the Past
Psalm 44 begins, “O God…our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days…for you delighted in them” (vv. 1, 3). The psalmist’s confidence in the Lord is rooted in the delight He showed Israel in the past. He chose them as the apple of His eye and entered into a relationship with them. The Lord chose Israel to be His treasured possession because He loved them and had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He delivered them from Egypt and gave them the land of Canaan. They won victories by His strength, not their own. Such magnificent stories of redemption were passed from generation to generation in order to encourage the people’s faith.
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Faith is Active

Are we most like the person who wishes people well with our words, but never follow through with our actions? Or are we like the person who has head knowledge (doctrinally sound), but fails in doing good works with our hands? I hope we are more often like Abraham, who loved the Lord in word and works, and like Rahab, who loved the Lord’s people in word and works. If we’re honest, we all fall short of glorifying God in our words and our works. Therefore, we are in desperate need of God’s grace.

Doctors tell us that one of the best things we can do for our health is to get moving. In other words, stop the sedentary lifestyle and start skipping rope, skiing, swimming, or the like. Similarly, James tells us that the best thing we can do for our spiritual health is to get going (Jas. 2:14-26). A faith that stays alone is not genuine faith. Good works flow from saving faith. The apostle Paul tells us this as well: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10).
James seeks to awaken his readers from spiritual sloth with two piercing questions: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (Jas. 2:14). James is clearly concerned that some of his readers are deceived about what true faith is and isn’t. We can summarize his questions like this: Is faith without works saving faith?
James illustrates his teaching by first giving an example of words without works (Jas. 2:15). If someone comes to us in need of clothing and food, and we pay them lip service without hand service, we have done them no good. They didn’t just need our kind words; they needed clothes and food! In other words, we can have all the religion in the world, but if it doesn’t manifest itself in tangible results, it is rotten religion. Jesus made this same point when He spoke of the final judgment to His disciples. It is those who clothed, fed and gave a drink to those in need who had true saving faith (Matt. 25:31-46).
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Walking Wisely through Trials

As those who are united to Christ, by faith the friendship of God is a sure and steady source of comfort in the midst of suffering. But be encouraged, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5).   

Suffering is incredibly difficult, but all the more so when we don’t understand its purpose and we’ve lost our hope in the midst of it. It’s important, then, that in the midst of suffering we take time to reorient our perspective by turning to Scripture. The book of Job is particularly helpful to walk wisely through trials. It teaches us to fear the Lord, find hope in our friendship with God, and recognize our true foes.
Fear of the Lord
By the time we reach chapter 28 of the book of Job there has been no resolution, either from Job, or from his friends, regarding why he is suffering. If wisdom isn’t found in his friends, and Job isn’t coming up with answers either, “where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28:12, 20). Job knew it wasn’t in the deep or the sea. He knew it couldn’t be bought with gold or silver. He knew the price of wisdom was far superior to pearls or pure gold. But he didn’t know the way to it. Thankfully, “God understands the way to it, and he knows its place” (v. 23). And He told humankind how to get it, “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (v. 28).
To fear the Lord means to walk in His ways, love Him, serve Him wholeheartedly, and obey Him (Deut. 10:12-13). But apart from Christ this is impossible. That is why it is such good news that Christ “became to us wisdom from God” (1 Cor. 1:30). In Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). When we lack wisdom we can “ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him” (Jas. 1:5).
Friendship of God
One of the things that made Job’s suffering so difficult was that he felt like he had lost God as a friend. He had known a time when “by his light he walked through darkness” (Job 29:3), but now God “has set darkness upon my paths” (19:8). Furthermore, Job wasn’t prepared for his suffering. He assumed he would die a happy and honorable old man surrounded by his children and possessions (Job 29:18-20). Instead, his children are dead, his wife loathes him, his wealth is gone, and his health is poor. How could a man whom others “kept silence for [his] counsel” and “waited for [him] as for the rain” end up like this (vv. 21-23)?
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Responding to God’s Discipline

The Lord pursues His children, even to the depths of the seas of rebellion. When we flee His presence, He follows us. His purposes and plans will not be thwarted by our game of hide and seek. The Almighty God knows our hiding places and in His grace and mercy finds us.

When was the last time you failed to follow God’s call to holiness? Maybe you knew you should give a gracious answer, but instead responded to a friend, spouse, or child with anger. Perhaps you knew you were to be content in a situation, but discontentment filled your heart. Or maybe you knew God would take care of you and your loved ones, but you didn’t stop worrying until the situation was over. Regardless, if we’re honest there are many times when we know what would be pleasing to the Lord, but instead we sin with our words or actions. Like our children, we need to be disciplined. Thankfully, our heavenly Father disciplines us for our good, so that we might grow in godliness. Perhaps no book of the Bible teaches this better than the book of Jonah.
If you’re familiar with the book of Jonah, you will recall that God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh to tell the people that God is bringing disaster upon them because of their evil. However, instead of following God’s call, Jonah flees, sailing in the opposite direction of Nineveh. But the Lord caused a bad storm on the sea that threatened the safety of the sailors. Seeking to save the ship, they cried out to their gods, tossed cargo overboard, asked Jonah to cry out to his God, cast lots to see whose fault it was, and even threw Jonah overboard. It was the latter that stopped the storm. Remarkably, the sailors recognized the power of the true God and worshiped Him.
Meanwhile, the Lord appointed a fish to swallow Jonah. For three days and three nights he remained in its belly. Finally, in the darkness Jonah repented and the Lord had the fish vomit him onto dry land. The story of Jonah goes on to tell of his ministry in Nineveh, the mighty cries of the Ninevites that averted God’s judgment, and the misery of Jonah after witnessing God’s grace upon the wicked. But I want to focus on what happened in the belly of the fish because it instructs us on how to respond to God’s discipline.
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The Secret of Contentment

When we begin to “count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8), and when we “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), we experience contentment even with “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (2 Cor. 12:10). It is in our weakness that God’s grace and power shine brightest (vv. 9-10).

One of the most difficult things for people to do is to cease striving and rest. Yet striving after the things the human heart craves, like significance, security, and success, has not brought people contentment. Instead, people are frustrated, hate their jobs, despair of life itself, and grieve their failures and losses. The Preacher, whose words are recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, is no stranger to such emotions. He could not stand to think that after working so hard he would have to leave it to another person to enjoy, not knowing whether that person would be wise or foolish with the assets he had worked so hard to attain (Ecc. 2:18-23). The fact that we cannot control the outcome of our endeavors, particularly after we have died, drives us crazy.
How do we learn the contentment that David learned when he testified, “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up” and “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother” (Ps. 131:2)? David gives us the answer, “hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore” (v. 3). The Preacher gets at the same thing when he points us to God in Ecclesiastes 2:24-26.
The key to finding enjoyment in our work, as well as in eating and drinking, is to recognize that these are gifts “from the hand of God” (Ecc. 2:24). There is no enjoyment of these things apart from Him. Only the believer who is walking in His ways, pleasing Him in all that He does and says, receives the gifts of wisdom, knowledge and joy that gives work, food and drink meaning. In contrast, the unbeliever, who has also been given business to do by God, will experience hatred, despair, sorrow, frustration, and discontentment. Significantly, God uses the work of unbelievers to bless His people (2:26).
Psalm 1 characterizes these two kinds of people, the believer and the unbeliever, as the righteous and the wicked.
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He Will Quiet You by His Love

If you think that nothing can ever take away your shame, hear the promise of the Lord, “I will change their shame into praise” (v. 19). If you think that no one could ever love you, be encouraged by the word of the Lord, “I will bring you in” (v. 20). If you think that all is lost because of your sin and suffering, meditate on the promise that the Lord will “restore your fortunes” (v. 20). These promises will be consummately fulfilled in the new Jerusalem, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev. 21:3). 

One of the things we most want in life is to be loved. We want our parents and siblings to love us. We want our friends and extended family members to love us. We want our coaches and teachers to love us. If we are married, we want our spouse to love us. If we are parents, we desire our children to love us. But in this broken world, there are many relationships in which we feel unloved and unwanted. So, we end up turning to other things to fulfill this deep desire of our hearts, but none of them quench our thirst for love. In fact, we often feel even emptier than when we began because our search for love in the wrong places leaves us disillusioned, depressed, and devoid of joy.
Where then do we turn to find true love? The answer is found in one of the most neglected books of the Old Testament, the book of Zephaniah. There are three main points that arise from Zephaniah’s prophecy. First, Zephaniah declared and described God’s coming judgment on Israel and the nations (1:1-18). In the past God had stretched out His hand upon Israel’s enemies, but now He will stretch out His hand upon His people because of their idolatry and immorality. Although Zephaniah’s prophecy was immediately fulfilled when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, his prophetic words ultimately allude to the final day of judgment (see 2 Pet. 3:7).
Second, Zephaniah pronounced a woe upon the nations and Jerusalem concerning God’s judgment (Zeph. 2:1-3:8). The purpose of his message was not all doom and gloom. Zephaniah holds out hope to all who will repent of their sin and return to the Lord, in whom redemption and righteousness is found. While the enemies of God’s people are judged for their pride, violence and idolatry, God’s people are judged for rebelling against the Lord and His ways, rejecting His correction, and refusing to trust in Him.
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Worthy of the Gospel

Both salvation and suffering are gifts from God. We don’t choose our salvation and we don’t choose our suffering. God saves us by grace alone and this same grace enables us to persevere in the suffering He chooses for us. Like Paul, the Philippians would suffer for Christ’s sake. You and I will too. The conflict believers face is the same, even though the circumstances might be different. Therefore, put on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:10-17). Submit your suffering to Christ, asking Him to use it to sanctify you and advance the gospel of Christ. 

When Paul wrote to the Philippians he was confined to prison, awaiting his hearing before Caesar (see Acts 23:11; 25:9-12; 26:32). Although he was chained to a soldier at all times, he was able to write letters, have visitors, and boldly proclaim the gospel (28:30-31). During this time Paul’s suffering served to advance the gospel throughout the entire imperial guard, as well as all associated with it (Phil. 1:13). But he was also a witness to his fellow Christians in Rome. As they witnessed Paul’s boldness while in chains, their boldness grew to proclaim the gospel in Rome without fear. They learned that God could turn even prison into a place of gospel advancement. When your present circumstances are not ideal, remember that God often leaves us where we’re at for the advance of His gospel.
Suffering to Advance the Gospel
Sadly, there were some believers who were glad Paul was imprisoned (Phil. 1:15, 17). Even though their message was the same as Paul’s message, their motives were not. They were envious of Paul’s gifts, so instead of partnering with him, they were glad he was imprisoned. It is remarkable, then, that Paul is able to rejoice that their message of the gospel is going forth. Regardless of their motives, he rejoiced that Christ was being proclaimed.
Not all were envious of Paul. There were some who preached Christ “from good will” and “out of love,” recognizing Paul was imprisoned for “the defense of the gospel,” and wanting to partner in truth with him (Phil. 1:15-16). This is the example we should follow. Plead with the Lord to purify your motives, especially when you see envy and rivalry in your heart. Ask Him to keep you faithful to proclaim Christ. Ask Him to help you partner with others for the gospel instead of competing with them.
Serving Others for their Growth in the Gospel
Paul’s mission in life was to make Christ known. Through his words he proclaimed Christ and by his works he adorned its proclamation.
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Our Rock and Our Refuge

If you are weary today, and searching for a source of sustenance in the midst of searing circumstances, cling to God’s promises in Psalm 18. No matter the trial, Christ is where your hope must rest. He is your rock. He is your rescuer. He is your righteousness. He is your reward. He is your refuge. And He is your ruler.  

Are you in the middle of searing circumstances? Have you been searching for a source of sustenance in the midst of suffering? Do you need a safe shelter as you battle against sin? As you serve those around you, do you need strength? Psalm 18 reminds us that sustenance, shelter and strength are found in the Lord our God. As we study David’s song, he will point us to Christ, who is our rock, our rescuer, our righteousness, our reward, our refuge, and our ruler.
Our Rock
David had come to learn that our love for God is oftentimes forged in the hardships of life. In our weakness, we learn God is “my strength” (Ps. 18:1). When we are sinking in sand, we learn “the LORD is my rock” (v. 2). When we are fighting for our very life, we realize God is “my fortress” (v. 2). When we are in despair, we realize that God is “my deliverer” (v. 2). When we are facing our enemies, we fall to our knees and “call upon the LORD” (v. 3). Regardless of the answer to our prayers, He “is worthy to be praised” (v. 3). David didn’t praise the Lord based on his circumstances, but on his confession, and so should we. Whether hard pressed by his enemies on every side, or enjoying peace in his kingdom, David’s heart worshiped the Rock, and so should ours.
Our Rescuer
In David’s deep distress he turned to God and “cried for help,” and his cry “reached his ears” (Ps. 18:6). In words laced with allusions to God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, God fighting for Israel against the Canaanites, God delivering Israel from the Egyptians through the Red Sea, and God parting the waters of the Jordan for Israel to cross on dry ground (vv. 7-15), David declares that the Lord “rescued me from my strong enemy” and “was my support” (vv. 17-18). Don’t miss the reason why, “he rescued me, because he delighted in me” (18:19; italics mine).
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Partners in the Gospel

Can you honestly say that you “yearn” for every member of your church family “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (v. 8)? Think of how different our churches would be if we spent the week thanking God for every member in our congregation, recognizing that they are partners with us in the gospel, and valuing them as such.   

For many of us the inability to gather with church family during parts of the pandemic increased our appreciation for our pastors, elders, deacons, and fellow church members. It has not been unusual to hear people testify of how they will not take church gatherings, especially corporate worship, for granted again. Yet, if we’re honest, it won’t be long before we need to be reminded to give thanks for and appreciate our church family.
When we think about giving thanks and praying for fellow believers, we need to first remember that our union with Christ is the foundation for our communion with one another. This is clear in Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which he begins with the greeting, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus…Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:1-2). Paul wrote to the Philippians while he was in prison in Rome. In his letter he thanks God for them, prays for them, and expresses the affection he has for them. We too need to thank God for our church family and pray for them often.
Praise to God
It’s instructive that Paul began his thanksgiving with the people of God, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil. 1:3-4). It must have brought great joy to him to remember meeting Lydia for the first time and hearing her profession of faith and having the privilege of baptizing her alongside her family (Acts 16:11-15). He must have rejoiced when he remembered the jailer’s profession of faith and baptism (vv. 25-34), not to mention countless others who came to saving faith under his preaching ministry. But it was the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:4) that filled him with great joy.
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Guard Your Steps

The Preacher reminds us how important it is to guard our steps as we approach God’s house. Let us not neglect drawing near to God and His people on the Lord’s Day, listening to the preaching of God’s word, worshiping Him with reverence and awe, and recognizing His holiness. 

Have you ever considered that it is important to “guard your steps when you go the house of God” (Ecc. 5:1)? Perhaps we don’t often think of church as a dangerous place, and yet it is a very dangerous place for those who refuse to listen to the preaching of God’s word. The author of Hebrews warns that there are those who have “tasted the goodness of the word of God…and then have fallen away” (Heb. 6:5-6). In this case there is no other way of salvation for them “since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (6:6). Long before the author of Hebrews, the Preacher recognized the difference between the wise and the fools that went to the house of God. Therefore, in order to be wise in our worship, it’s important for us to understand what it means to guard our steps when we go to church.
First, we are to “draw near” (Ecc. 5:1). We are to make worship a weekly priority. Each Lord’s Day we are to go to church. Meeting together with other believers on Sunday should be a priority over all other things. As the author of Hebrews says, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).
We are also to “listen” to the preaching of God’s word (Ecc. 5:1). There are lots of different reasons people go to church. Some people go because they are invited by family or friends. Others go because they are curious about Christianity. Still others go because they like seeing their friends and making connections in the community.
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