In Exodus chapter 17, during a fierce battle with enemies of the Israelites, Moses held his hands high to the Lord on top of a hill overlooking the battle. As long as his hands were held high, the Israelites won. When his hands grew tired, his aides held up his hands until sunset when the victory was complete. Afterwards, Moses built an altar to the Lord and named it:
The LORD is my banner, my rallying point
It is with hands lifted high that I share the testimony below, given one year ago today at our church’s Christmas Cantata. My focus at that time was victories in the “But God” stories of my life, but since “But God” is not exactly a name of God, Yahweh Nissi best describes the way God is a banner on whom we fix our eyes for victory and who steps in to rally our difficulties into something that He works for our good and His glory.
My favorite Christmas carol is “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” It’s my favorite because it speaks one of the great truths in scripture, “peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” We are here tonight to celebrate that not only has God reconciled us to Himself through his son Jesus Christ, but He has also given us His very presence living in us and walking with us through the trials and the struggles of this world. Maybe you are here tonight wondering:
“Where is God…why isn’t He working in my situation as I struggle to make it through each day?”
- Maybe you have a chronic illness that isn’t getting better.
- Maybe you’ve lost someone you love.
- Maybe you are in a difficult job situation and you dread going to work each day.
- Maybe your marriage has dissolved in the throes of betrayal.
- Maybe you or someone you love is drowning in addictive sin.
- Maybe you are in a spiritual battle over a wayward child
- Maybe you are overwhelmed by loneliness
- Maybe…life is just hard.
I’m on that list tonight – maybe you are too – I won’t ask for a show of hands but I will say this – God loves us and He has not forgotten those who suffer. He loves us because of who HE is, not because of who we are or what we have or haven’t done. The Bible says that in our very worst sin, at our very worst moment, Jesus loved us and He died for us so we don’t have to live in despair.
“How do you know this?” you might ask. Because I’ve found out the hard way. Because we’ve all got junk in our lives, don’t we? If we’re honest enough to admit it? Those times when God seems far away. Those times of doubts and fears, when the realities of our situation eclipse the reality of who God is. But even in those dark times, two of the most powerful words in scripture can encourage us, and those words are “but God.” Because even in the midst of pain, there IS hope, and God IS faithful, even when our circumstances don’t change.
- For me, it was growing up in a terrible, broken family situation. My family of origin fell apart, but God provided people who loved and prayed for me. He gave me music as an outlet, which continues to be an important part of my life to this very day.
- I came out of that whole mess trying to be the “good girl” and thinking that’s how I earned God’s love, but God showed me I could never be good enough and that His love is a free gift of grace. He led me to repent not only of my “badness” but of trusting in my “goodness.”
- Years later I became apathetic in my faith and thought that God just wound up the world and left us here all alone… but God didn’t let me go – He drew me into a very real and personal relationship so that I knew He cared about every detail of my life.
- I lost a baby, uncertain whether I could have more children, and I’ll be honest with you…I shook my fist at heaven…God, how could you? But God showed me that He is big enough to handle my doubts and fears and questions.
- I’ve struggled through the difficulties and eventual failure of my own marriage, but God continues to show me that my identity is not in being a wife, a mother, a businesswoman, a BSF teacher, a student, or even a musician…but that my identity is in Christ alone.
- And as I continue to cry out to Him from the hard places in my life, I know that He is with me and that His presence is enough, no matter the circumstances, and that…
the path through suffering is the path to
a transformed life that is completely dependent upon God
But…the world doesn’t see suffering that way – somehow we think that if God loves us, He will bless us with smooth sailing – that somehow living right and doing right are related to God’s favor. But the Bible tells us something very different. It says in Isaiah 61 announcing the coming of Christ that:
God’s favor is upon you when…
- you are broken-hearted…He wants to comfort you.
- you are held captive by sin…He wants to give you freedom from the things that control you.
- your life is a mess…when it is in a heap of ashes…He wants to turn it into something beautiful.
- you are overcome with grief…He wants to give you His peace and joy.
- you are in despair and don’t know where to turn…He wants to give you hope and praise.
- you feel shame and disgrace…He wants to give you the special honor of a double blessing.
All of this is God’s favor to us when we are suffering – because God will make us whole when we turn to Him instead of away from Him. This is the choice we all struggle with – being mad at God and turning away from Him because of our circumstances, instead of running to Him for help in the midst of them. You see…
It’s not about Him fixing our circumstances
It’s about us fixing our eyes on Him and allowing Him to change us in the midst of whatever we’re going through. Allowing Him to heal our hearts and give us strength to trust Him even when our situations don’t change. Experiencing His presence as He shines His light into our darkness one step at a time, even when we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel.
That’s my story, but it’s really God’s story – about who He is, not about who I am. Not about my own fears and failures, but about His great love and faithfulness. He loves us, not in spite of who we are, but because of who we are. Because we were lost and without hope…that is why He came as Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas!
Do you need hope in your life?
Rally around the banner, the LORD who will give you strength to walk victoriously through whatever you are facing.