5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Dear Friends in Christ,
“How do you face death?” That was the title of a little story that I came across recently about an elderly woman many years ago who left Buffalo, New York by boat and headed for Cleveland, Ohio in order that she might visit her daughter who lived there. Soon after the boat departed, a fierce storm arose and many of the passengers, fearing that they were about to die, gathered for prayer. Only the aged woman seemed unconcerned about the storm as she sat with her hands folded and prayed silently to herself. After the storm had subsided and all had survived, some of the passengers gathered around her and asked her about the secret to the calm and peace she displayed when everyone else was panicking. She said, “It’s like this, my dear friends. I have two daughters. One died and went to heaven some years ago. The other lives in Cleveland. When the storm arose, I wondered which of them I might be visiting first, the one in Cleveland or the one in heaven, so I just left it up to the Lord; for I would be glad to see either.”
What a beautiful picture of the quiet, confident, enduring faith that I’m sure we would all love to have whenever we’re faced with the storms of life. And that’s really been the subject of my past three sermons as we have considered different ways whereby we can cope with life in the coffeepot, the coffeepot being a term I’ve been using for the turbulent and trying times of life that we all face sooner or later. In your bulletin this morning I have included this insert on which I’ve listed all 10 ways that we will be looking at, the first 7 of which we’ve already examined, and the remaining 3 that we will be looking at today. I encourage you to keep these inserts handy, perhaps tuck them away in your Bible or some other place where you can be sure to find them so that whenever you find yourself in the coffeepot you can refer back to them and hopefully find the help that you need to make it through those difficult times with your faith still firmly intact. You can also access all 4 of these sermons in both printed and audio forms on our church’s web site at salemlc.org.
We begin this morning then by looking at the eighth way in which we can cope with life in the coffeepot and that is that we need to recognize that when God seems far away, oftentimes he’s closer than he’s ever been before. We find a wonderful example of this in one of the post-resurrection accounts that Luke includes for us in his Gospel. Remember the two disciples who were walking on the road to Emmaus? Whenever I picture them, I envision them with their heads lowered, slowly trudging along this dusty road, perhaps every once in a while kicking a stone and shedding a tear of disappointment and sorrow. It’s no wonder they were so depressed. Just a few days earlier they had watched as their beloved Master Jesus was cruelly affixed to a Roman cross. They had been so sure that this prophet and teacher from Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah. The way he taught, the miracles he performed, the life he lived, all testified so clearly to them that this was the One whom God had promised throughout the entire Old Testament era, the One whom the Jews had been waiting for for so many centuries. But when Jesus died on that cross, it seemed like all their hopes and dreams died with him. As far as they were concerned, he was a million miles away from them, his soul in Paradise, his body in a borrowed tomb. But soon they were joined by a stranger who expressed a keen interest in the things they had been talking about and when they sat down to eat together that evening, that stranger revealed himself to them as the risen Christ. So even though God seemed far, far away from them as they went through their own coffeepot experience, he was actually closer than ever before in the person of the resurrected Jesus.
I’m sure just about everybody here has heard the familiar “Footprints” story where this fellow has a dream that he’s walking on a beach while pictures from his life flash across the sky. At times he sees two sets of footprints in the sand, one representing him and the other representing the Lord, while at other times there is only one set. He can’t help but notice that it is during the toughest times of life that there’s only one set of footprints. So he questions God about this. Back comes the quiet and reassuring voice of the Master who says, “My child, the times when you saw only one set of footprints in the sand were the times I carried you.”
That’s a great story, but let us not forget exactly who it is that carries us. It is our loving Heavenly Father, the one we identified a few weeks ago as Abba, which means Daddy. Now those of you who are parents here today, those of you who have children that call you daddy or mommy, know how much you can hurt whenever one of your children is hurting, right? I’ll never forget a time when I experienced that in a big way as a young parent. It happened when we were still living in Naples, Florida. The school where my daughter Bethany attended was going to have a field day, a day of athletic competitions. She had signed up to run in the 50 yard dash. And oh did we ever train hard for that. In all honesty, she wasn’t the fastest runner back then so I knew that she probably wouldn’t win the race. I was just hoping she would do reasonably well and especially that she wouldn’t come in last place. Well, finally the time came for the race and I can remember being so nervous for her. But when the gun sounded and everyone shot out like a bullet from the starting line, Bethany stumbled and fell flat on her face. And while everyone was crossing the finish line, she was making a diagonal beeline across the course with tears of embarrassment and disappointment streaming down her cheeks, heading right for our waiting and sympathetic arms. And I can remember having this big empty feeling inside of me because I hurt so much for what she was going through.
Well, if I, a human father, could feel my child’s heartache and hurt so deeply, how much more must our Heavenly Father hurt for us when we are in the coffeepot. And because he hurts so much, he gives us words of comfort and assurance to hold onto during those tough and trying times. In Proverbs 18:24, for example, he identifies himself as a friend that sticks closer than a brother. In Deuteronomy 33:27 we’re told, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” And I love Isaiah 49:15-16 where God assures us, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palm of my hands.”
These and a whole boatload of other promises just like them assure us that even though God may seem far away at times, he’s really closer than perhaps he has ever been before.
Let’s move on now to the ninth point that I want to make in this sermon series. And that is we need to recognize that when we’re in the coffeepot, God has his reinforcements working for us. Now what do I mean by that? Well, have you ever found yourself in a situation where you had prayed and prayed to God for help until finally you felt all prayed out or you just didn’t know what to say anymore? I’ve been there plenty of times myself. And when I reach that point, I take great comfort in a passage that is found in the eighth chapter of Romans where the Apostle Paul writes: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” Isn’t that incredible? When we’re fumbling for the right words to say, or when we’re so beaten down and depressed by the difficulties of life, there is the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, pleading on our behalf and expressing our seemingly inexpressible needs to the Father.
But there’s more! We also discover in the New Testament that Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, does the same thing. In various places he is called our mediator, our advocate, one who speaks in our defense. One of the Greek terms that is used to describe both Jesus and the Holy Spirit is the word paracletos. In the KJV it is translated as Paraclete while more modern versions of the Bible render it as “Comforter.” It’s a word that literally means one who comes alongside of another during their time of need. This summer I have attempted to serve as a paraclete for my granddaughter Brooklyn as I have tried to teach her to ride a bicycle without training wheels. Now I didn’t just put her on the bike, give her a push, and tell her to start pedaling because she would’ve most certainly fallen, skinned her knee, and probably never gotten back on that bike again. So what I did was put her on the bike while holding on to it; then I told her to start pedaling while I continued to hold on to the bike and run alongside of her. That’s a great picture of what Jesus and the Holy Spirit do for us when we find ourselves in the coffeepot, struggling to maintain our balance and keep from falling.
And that takes us to the 10th and final point I want to make on how we can better cope with life in the coffeepot and that is that God never asks us to understand the reasons why we’re in the coffeepot, but only to believe and trust. Like our text for today says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” I think sometimes we concern ourselves so much with trying to figure God out and trying to understand why he allows us to go through the coffeepot that we become so discouraged and disheartened that we end up having the very foundation of our faith shaken and perhaps even shattered.
One of my favorite stories in all of Holy Scripture is that of the three men in the fiery furnace. Remember their names? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three men had proven themselves to be totally sold out to the Lord by refusing to bow down and worship a 90-foot idol of gold that the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had set up, even though they knew that the penalty for refusing to worship this idol would involve them being thrown into a blazing furnace and burned alive. So when they were brought before the king and he questioned their allegiance to the God of Israel and reminded them of this penalty if they did not worship his idol, this is what they said – some of the most powerful words of faith recorded anywhere in Scripture. They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
So even though Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego may not have understood why God was allowing them to go through this very trying coffeepot experience, especially since they were only being faithful to him, they still believed; they still trusted him. Not at all unlike Job who expressed a similar trust in God following some major losses in his life, including the loss of his 10 sons and daughters. Yet at one point Job said: “Though the LORD slay me, yet will I trust him.”
And that’s really what God asks of us, my friends. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
Well, that concludes my “Life in the Coffeepot” sermon series. Next Sunday we’re going to start a new series closely related to it though. I’m calling it “Lessons from the Coffeepot.” We’re going to be taking a look at one man who found himself in the coffeepot almost constantly, but only after he became a Christian. Yet in spite of that he wrote an amazing letter that is oftentimes referred to as his epistle of joy. I’m speaking, of course, about none other than the Apostle Paul and the letter that he wrote is called Philippians.
But I’d like to close my sermon today by sharing with you a poem that I really believe capsulizes and summarizes everything that we’ve been talking about over the past four weeks. I have no idea who wrote it, but it was obviously written by one who knew what life in the coffeepot was all about, but who had learned how to cope with it. It goes like this:
I know not why God’s hand is laid in chastening on my life,
Nor why it is my little world is filled so full of strife.
I know not why, when faith looks up and seeks for rest from pain,
That o’er my sky fresh clouds arise and drench my path with rain.
I know not why my prayer so long by Him has been denied;
Nor why, while others ships sail on, mine should in port abide.
But I do know that God is love, that He my burdens shares;
And though I may not understand, I know for me He cares.
I know the heights for which I long are often reach through pain.
I know the sheaves must be threshed to yield the golden grain.
I know that though He may remove the friends on whom I lean,
‘Tis that I thus may learn to love and trust the One unseen.
And when at last I see His face and know as I am known,
I will not care how rough the road that leads through Christ to home.