“Time and tide wait for no man.” The meaning of this proverb is “if you don’t make use of a favorable opportunity, you may never get the same chance again” (quote source here). At this point we need to understand what, exactly, a favorable opportunity looks like. What looks good on the outside may not be so good after all. And if you choose it and it turns out poorly, what then? I did that once with a job I accepted, and it totally altered my life in very unexpected ways that I never could have foreseen, and not for the better.
We’ve all had these types of conundrums show up in our lives from time to time. “The definition of conundrum is a situation where there is no clear right answer or no good solution” (quote source here). Perhaps it is best to remember that saying, “all that glitters is not gold,” and not to move too quickly on what on the surface looks like it is a great opportunity. It may or it may not be.
As Christians, we have a powerful resource at our disposal and it’s called prayer. All of us have a tendency to move forward when an opportunity presents itself that, on the surface, seems favorable. In my personal example in the first paragraph above regarding the job I took that didn’t turn out well, I did spend a lot of time praying about it, and I did feel like it was something I was supposed to do. And even in spite of the poor outcome, I can honestly say at this point in my life that it wasn’t necessarily a mistake on my part that I accepted that job even with the impact it has had on the past decade of my life since I lost that job eleven years ago. God’s ways go far beyond our particular “wants” in life (see Isaiah 55:8-9). His purposes prevail regardless of how things turn out from our own perspectives and in our own circumstances.
There must be a zillion articles on praying for guidance from God on the internet. Often when I don’t know what to pray I find myself going to the Psalms and praying a psalm and making it personal as in praying, “Lord, You are my Shepherd, I shall not want” (from Psalm 23). The entire psalm goes like this when I make it personal:
Lord, You are my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
You make me to lie down in green pastures;
You lead me beside still waters.
You restore my soul;
You lead me in the paths of righteousness
For Your name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod (to protect me) and Your staff (to guide me),
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Even when a situation might not specifically fit that particular psalm, I find it has an incredibly calming effect when making any kind of decision or just needing guidance in moment-by-moment situations.
Over my lifetime I have heard people who pray prayers that are so eloquent, passionate, poetic; yet, I must admit I do not consider my prayers to be in those categories. Well, maybe passionate but in a private way and not necessarily for public consumption. I’m often at a loss for words when praying about specific situations or people whereas for others those prayers just flow out of them like water. That may have been when I started using the psalms in prayer instead of trying to come up with my own words. God knows my heart, so He knows I don’t often know how I should pray about any situation, other then I ask for His will to be done whether in the lives and situations of others or for myself.
At the time of this writing we are in the midst of a world pandemic known as COVID-19 and much of our society is on “stay at home” orders. As of this past week, over 22 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits in the past month from all of the businesses that have been closed down during this time. Millions of lives have been turned upside down from shutting down much of our society, and also those directly affected by the coronavirus who are sick and many who have died. And there are also all of the health care workers and others working 24/7 to provide help and supplies for the sick and everyone else still in need of groceries and other necessary items on a regular basis.
In an article published on August 1, 2016, titled, “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do,” by Ricky Alcantar, Lead Pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, TX , he gives some great advice that can be applied to any circumstance and situation. He writes:
There are times we simply don’t know what to do.
Perhaps a doctor calls after a routine test and says “You’re going to need to come back into the office and it’s important.” Perhaps a family member or friend calls and says “I don’t know if I even believe in the Bible anymore.” Perhaps a boss calls you into his office and you leave without a job. Perhaps the events of the last few weeks in our country are really personal for you: perhaps you fear the comments that kids at school will make about the color of your child’s skin, or you fear for a loved one who wears a badge. Perhaps you’re even normally a pretty strong person but you find that your strength is woefully inadequate for you what see in front of you.
I remember this feeling last year when the first two medical bills arrived. We were still paying for the expenses related to the birth of our last son when bills arrived for an emergency surgery and then another hospitalization. They were big. Not “we need to go on a cheaper date night for a while” big, but “Oh my gosh how are we even going to make it??” big. I remember feeling angry, defeated, frustrated. Wasn’t I trying to serve the Lord? How in the world were we supposed to get through this?
There’s a verse I love for times like this. It’s tucked away into 2 Chronicles 20. The king of Judah, faced with multiple armies arrayed against him, knew he was outmatched. This was a time of military strength and economic strength in Judah. But the nation’s strength wasn’t enough. And possibly even more frustrating, this was a time of judicial and religious forms where the king was trying to return to correct worship of the Lord. It seemed like the king and nation were doing what they were supposed to, and suddenly their circumstances seemed far worse rather than better.
It’s at this time that King Jehoshaphat leads the nation to pray: “O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron 20:12).
Our Strength is Not Our Strength
Notice how the king comes to the Lord: confessing his need and weakness. He does not go out and count his men again (though I’m sure he called them to war). He doesn’t try to come up with the perfect long-shot strategy (though I’m sure someone was working on that). The first thing he does is renounce his own strength and seek the Lord’s strength. He prays “I don’t know why this is happening or what to do–I need you, Lord.” That’s not spiritual weakness, that’s spiritual maturity.
One of the hardest things for us as American Christians with homes and cars and health insurance, with the best economy and the most advanced military, is to come to a place of dependence on the Lord. When God brings us to a place of utter dependence we think we are dying, when in reality God is bringing us to life. We think that our strength is our strength, but that is a lie. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 12 that it’s when we are weak, and utterly dependent on the Lord, that we are strong. Being overwhelmed by circumstances is one of the healthiest places to be if we will acknowledge our insufficiency and go to the right place.
But where do we turn next?
Our Eyes Need Filling
After confessing his weakness the king intentionally fills his eyes with the Lord. Does Jehoshaphat ask for God’s help? Yes. But most of his prayer is simply him rehearsing the truth about God. In moments of severe trial our eyes will be filled with something–that’s inevitable. In a moment when his eyes could be filled with the enemy arrayed against him, or filled with his own insufficient resources, he fills his eyes with God.
In the face of medical bills, I realized something about myself: if I didn’t intentionally choose what to focus my mind on I would naturally drift back to the bills, or over to the budget. I couldn’t just choose to focus on something else and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The only thing that worked was when I filled my eyes with something else before my mind drifted to the budget. I had to intentionally, and daily, fill my eyes so full of God that there was no room for anxiety. This, I think, is what the king is leading his people to do in a moment of great need.
What about God–what does he fill his eyes with?
God’s power for his powerless people. He prays “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you” (6). The nation of Judah is overwhelmed but the God who rules over every earthly kingdom is not. His resources aren’t limited–he holds unlimited power and might in his hands. Whether we are facing a debilitating illness or social unrest or economic upheaval, none of them are outside of God’s rule or beyond his power.
God’s unique covenant relationship to his weak people–He prays to the “God of our fathers” and then remembers, “Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?” (7). God does not simply have a business relationship with his people, a “take a number” relationship, but a warm intimate personal relationship. He has set his covenant love on them. He calls we who are in Christ (even us!) his friends. We may not understand our circumstances or what God has allowed, but we can be sure his heart and relationship toward us have not changed from his generations of covenant faithfulness and love.
God’s glory in his endangered people–He prays “If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” This is a dangerous prayer. He is committing to defend the temple to the very end if the invasion continues because God’s name is in the house. Is he concerned with what will happen to the people and their homes and land? Yes. But what he is most concerned with is the name of God and the glory of God.
He is concerned with the nation’s survival because God’s name is tied to his people. He is praying “Lord help us make your name great on the earth” and committing to it himself. That is a dangerous prayer, but a prayer that fills our eyes with the glory of God. Whether circumstances go as we hope or not, we should pray that God’s name be made great. But in this prayer we can have confidence because God has tied his glory to the good of his people.
There is much more in the king’s prayer but these three things provide a starting place for us. We too can fill our eyes with God’s power, his faithful covenant love, and his glory.
How Do We Do This?
This is where you’ll be disappointed in this post. There is no “One secret weird trick that will change everything” for you. What did Jehoshaphat do? He prayed. What must we do when we don’t know what to do? There are many practical things to do, but let us start with prayer.
A lack of prayer reveals extreme self-sufficiency. Prayer reveals a God-sufficiency. Prayer does two glorious things at once: it both acknowledges our great insufficiency, and then it fills our eyes with God. Praying about my medical bills meant I had to stop trying to come up with a brilliant financial plan for a moment. By coming to the Lord, I had to acknowledge “Father I’m not sure what to do.” But rather than feeling weaker and more defeated, I felt stronger and more sure. Because that very prayer reminded me that I have a heavenly Father, a Father who is sufficient, who loves me, whose name is great.
Today, friend, do you find yourself overwhelmed and not knowing what to do? That’s a perfect place to confess your insufficiency and cling to the Lord. Could you take a moment and go to him in prayer right now? (Quote source here.)
I hope this article has been an encouragement to you. It was to me. I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus when he said in Matthew 11:28-30—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 . . . .
YouTube Video: “I Just Need U” by TobyMac: