1But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
2 When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
3 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior
Dear Friends in Christ,
I came across a story recently that ties in well with our “Life in the Coffeepot” theme that we’ve been looking at lately. Many years ago there was a farmer who had an unusually fine crop of wheat. It was the best he’d ever had. But just a few days before it was ready to be harvested, a terrible wind and hail storm struck the area and completely demolished the crop. After the storm was over, the farmer and his little son went out to survey the damage. As they looked out over this formerly beautiful, nearly perfect field of wheat, the boy looked up at his dad with tears in his eyes, expecting to hear his father utter words of despair. Instead, all of a sudden the father started to sing softly, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” Years later, when that little boy had grown to manhood, he loved to tell people, “That was the greatest sermon I ever heard.” What a powerful example that man set for his little boy as well as for all of us of what faith under fire looks like.
Well, last week in our sermon we began looking at 10 key ways whereby we can cope with life in the coffeepot. I’d like to briefly review the first 3 of them for those of you who were here and especially for those of you who were not here. First of all, we need to recognize that God is never obligated to explain himself and his ways to us, which means that many of our questions, especially those beginning with the word why, will have to remain unanswered for the time being. However, the good news is that God does promise us when we get to heaven all our questions will be answered and all his ways will become crystal clear to us. Then secondly, we also need to recognize that if we are believers in Jesus Christ, one thing we can be sure of is that God is on our side and that he’s proven this to us over and over again, but most of all when he took care of our greatest problem in life, namely, the problem of our sin. And he did it in the most incredible way imaginable, by putting his own Son to death on the cross as the supreme sacrifice and payment for our sins. And finally we learned last week that we need to also recognize that even though we may find ourselves in the coffeepot, God is still sovereign, he is still in control, and he is the master at working behind the scenes to bring good out of even the worst of circumstances.
And that really leads right in to the fourth point I want to begin with today and that is that we also need to recognize that our Heavenly Father knows what is best for us. And sometimes the trials that he either sends our way or allows to come our way are designed by him to help mold and shape us into the kind of people he wants us to be.
Back in the days of the Great Depression, there was a Christian man who lost just about everything he had. He lost his job, his savings in the bank, and his home. As if that wasn’t enough, his grief was compounded by the sudden death of his precious wife. The only thing he had left was his faith, and even that was beginning to weaken. This man was definitely in the coffeepot. But then one day, when he was combing his neighborhood looking for work, he stopped to watch some men who were doing some stonework on a new church building. One of them was skillfully chiseling a triangular piece of rock. Not seeing the spot where that rock would fit, the man asked, “Where are you going to put that?” The worker pointed toward the top of the building and said, “See that little opening up there near the steeple? That’s where it goes. I’m shaping it down here so it will fit up there.”
Tears filled the Christian man’s eyes as he walked away. He was certain that God had spoken to him through those words. “Shaping it down here so it will fit up there.” And so it is that God sometimes allows the sharp blows of the hammer to strike us on the outside in order that he might bring about a greater strength and a deeper, more resilient faith on the inside.
Over the course of my ministry I’ve had the opportunity and the privilege of visiting with so many individuals who expressed that truth to me without being prompted to do so – people who found themselves faced with the toughest of challenges, sometimes for extended periods of time. Yet instead of angrily shaking their fists at God and questioning his reasons for allowing them to go through those tough times, they humbly submitted themselves to their Father’s will, recognizing that he knows what is best for them and ultimately admitting that their problems actually drew them closer to him and only served to sharpen and refine their faith. These people have been an unbelievable inspiration to me and have served as prime examples of one of the most profound statements I’ve ever heard. It was made by a preacher on television early on in my ministry and I’ve never forgotten it. It goes like this: “Only those who suffer greatly have the opportunity to demonstrate great faith.” Let me repeat that for you, my friends, because this is my prayer for all of us when we find ourselves in the coffeepot…
Let’s move on now to the fifth point I want to make in this sermon series as we struggle to cope with life in the coffeepot and that is that we need to recognize what would happen to us if we never had any problems and God gave us everything we wanted. And what exactly would happen? Well, I’ll bet those of you who are parents know the answer to that question. You know that if you were to give your children everything they asked for and shelter them from all adversities and difficulties, they would become spoiled rotten little children who would lose all respect for you and who would continually demand that their every wish and whim be met.
Actually we see a pretty good example of this in the Old Testament with God’s chosen people who are oftentimes called children, namely, the children of Israel. After God miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt with great signs and mighty wonders that included the 10 plagues, they soon found themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place with the Red Sea in front of them and the pursuing Egyptian armies behind them. So what did they do? Did they get on their knees and cry out to the same God who had so wondrously delivered them before? No! Instead they grumbled and complained against him, that is, until he came to their rescue again and parted the waters of the sea to let them pass through on dry ground. But then when they were safely on the other side and the Egyptian armies were no longer a threat, it wasn’t long before they complained that they didn’t have enough food to eat, so God fed them with manna from heaven in the morning and quails in the evening. Did that satisfy them? No! Then they complained they didn’t have enough water, so God brought water forth from a rock to quench their thirst. Did that satisfy them? No! Even when God invited their leader, Moses, to come up on Mount Sinai to receive his holy laws, they grumbled and complained that he was taking too long so they built their own god, a golden calf, and proceeded to worship it and proclaim that this was the god who brought them out of Egypt. Put simply, the Israelites became like spoiled rotten little children – complaining, demanding, disrespectful, ungrateful – even though God was visibly present among them and blessing them in so many ways. And it wasn’t until he put them into the coffeepot that they went to their knees in repentance and gave him the honor and respect that he deserved.
And that brings us to the sixth point that I want to make and this is a very important one, so listen carefully. When we find ourselves in the coffeepot, we need to also recognize that God has a different perspective on things than we do. Whereas our view is limited to only the past and the present, God can see the whole picture – past, present, and future. You’ve heard me talk about this before. I call it the parade perspective. When we watch a parade we can only see that part of the parade that is passing by at any given time. But if you were to get into the Goodyear Blimp and float high above the parade route, you would be able to see the whole thing at one time, from beginning to end.
That’s the kind of perspective God has on our lives, my friends. He can see it all, from beginning to end. And when we couple that with the point we made in my sermon last week, that God is sovereign and that he is working behind the scenes to accomplish his good will and purpose, that can bring a great deal of comfort to us. Or as one author has put it, “God makes sense even when it seems he doesn’t make sense.”
And there is no better example of this in Scripture than in the story of Christ’s Passion. Imagine how the disciples of Jesus must have felt when they saw their beloved Master arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, cruelly dragged away by the Roman soldiers, unjustly tried by the Jewish Council, beaten and scourged to within an inch of his life by Pilate’s men, and finally nailed to a cross outside the city walls. All they could see was what was happening right then and there. But God could see the whole picture. And he was behind the scenes bringing the greatest possible good out of it all by allowing his Son’s death to be the sin-paying sacrifice that we all so desperately need. And he demonstrated his approval of that sacrifice by raising his Son from the dead on Easter morning. So even though none of what Jesus was going through made any sense to the disciples, it made perfect sense to God. It was all part of a plan – a plan that he had devised after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin; a plan that he kept alive throughout the entire Old Testament era; a plan that saw its fulfillment the day Jesus hung on the cross and the day he rose from the dead.
And that takes us to the final point we want to look at this morning on how we can better cope with life in the coffeepot. We need to also recognize that we must not trust our feelings when we are in the coffeepot because our feelings are so fickle and so changeable. I can’t tell you how many times during my ministry I have heard people say things like: “I just don’t feel like my prayers are getting through to God.” Or, “I just don’t feel his presence.” Or, “I just don’t feel God is paying any attention to me.” I’m sure that many of you have felt that way whenever you have found yourself in the coffeepot.
And if that is the case with you right now, I have a word of counsel for you. Never assume that God’s apparent silence or inactivity is evidence of his disinterest in your problems. Let me say that again. Never assume that just because you may feel God is far away and not paying any attention to you, that’s the case. I love how one author by the name of Reuben Welch has put it. He says: “With God, even when nothing is happening, something is happening.” And that is so true. The Lord is at work in his own unique way even though we may not be able to sense it or feel it.
So what that means, my friends, is that we need to build our foundation for life, for the good times as well as the bad times, not upon our fickle feelings and emotions, but rather upon the solid, unchanging, unshakeable promises which God gives to us in his Holy Word. Like we sang in one of our hymns last Sunday: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.”
I’d like to close by sharing with you once again one of the most comforting promises from God that can be found anywhere in Holy Scripture, the one that serves as our text for today, Isaiah 43:1-3: But now, this is what the LORD says– he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through therivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Let’s pray: Gracious and loving Lord, we offer to you our highest thanks and praise for the many promises that you give to us in your Word, promises that we can lean on when the howling storms of life come our way, promises that we can stand on when we find ourselves in the coffeepot. Help us, Lord, to not trust our feelings when you seem far away, but to trust your promise that you will never leave us nor forsake us, that you will be with us always, even to the ends of the earth. Give us an unshakable faith which recognizes that you, our loving Heavenly Father, know what is best for us and that you have a much different perspective on our lives than the one we have. And Lord, when we do suffer, help us to demonstrate to those around us a strong, unwavering faith that will never relinquish its firm grip on you, our Rock of Ages and our only sure foundation; in Jesus’ name.