I was enjoying the afternoon catching fish and spending time soaking up the beauty of God’s creation. I had hooked a sizable mangrove snapper and brought him into the boat. As I was in the process of removing the hook the fish bit me on the end of my finger and would not release me. Mangrove snappers have sharp needle-like teeth in the front of their mouths and those teeth dug into my finger. I tried to pry him off but he snapped his jaws shut even tighter. My fishing companion tried to give me advice in between his chuckles. I finally was able to get this stubborn fish off and take him home for supper. Later when I arrived home my wife asked if I got any bites, I told her I sure did.
The prophet Jonah had a problem with a fish also. In the biblical account of his story, the fish didn’t just nibble on the end of his finger it took a big bite and swallowed him whole. God had given his prophet instructions to preach to the city of Nineveh. Jonah hated the people of that city so much that he refused to do what God instructed him to do and departed on a ship in the other direction. While on the ship in the middle of his journey away from the Lord God sent a storm to get his attention. The boat rocked but Jonah refused to repent. Finally the crew threw Jonah overboard at his insistence. It was then that God prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. Jonah was in the belly of that fish for 3 days. From out of his horrible, confining, putrefying condition Jonah repented and cried out to the Lord. His fish bite woke him up.
Those who belong to Christ have the promise of Heb. 13:6: “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." When we climb aboard the cruise ship of disobedience and try to run away from the Lord His love will pursue us. He will attempt to rock our boat to get our attention, but if that doesn’t work He can always bring in His big fish with a big bite.
It was not a very pleasant job but my wife had been after me for some time about getting it done. I had procrastinated until something I saw finally motivated me to get to work. I had put off cleaning the gutters until I noticed that several small maple trees had begun growing from the silt and dirt that had run off the roof and accumulated in the gutters. I grabbed my ladder and began the unpleasant task of scooping out the muck of decaying leaves and dirt that had built up in my gutters. When the dirty job was finished I waited until the next thunderstorm and watched the gutters handle the flow of water perfectly. Sin also has a way of accumulating in our lives. It interrupts our fellowship with Christ. It steals our joy in the Lord. The resulting guilt has a way of eroding the peace that keeps us stable. And it also has the uncanny ability to stop up the flow of God’s blessings in our lives. In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah announced that it would not rain for a spell. The sins of the nation and Ahab the king of Israel had stopped up the windows of heaven. When the prophets of Baal were removed and the people decided to follow the Lord, God sent the rain.
The Bible tells us: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Facing up to the evil thoughts, the unkind actions, and the deeds of darkness that we have done is not a pleasant job. I remember the smelly and filthy mess I had when I cleaned my gutters. But if we are humble enough to admit our sins to God and sincere enough to repent, God will restore the flow of His blessings to our lives. Perhaps it’s about time that you began the task of cleaning your gutters.
In a different time and a different day, horses played a major role in the life of man. These marvelous creations of God were used for transportation, farm work and even war. Today, horses still play an important role in our lives. Have you ever thought how useful a horse would be without a bridle? These magnificent creatures would not be able to accomplish much to benefit man unless they were harnessed for action.
There are certain things that God allows to come into our lives that seem to limit us. Perhaps He has harnessed us with major responsibilities. Maybe we are wearing the bridle of financial commitments, or a job, or an extended family to care for. We may even have the steel bit of trials that we don’t seem to be able to get rid of. Our thoughts and prayers may be for freedom. If only I could get rid of this harness then my life would be better. If only I could shed some of these stifling responsibilities then I would have more peace and joy. Have you ever thought that way?
Two incidents in the apostle Paul’s life give us a little insight into what God may be up to. When Paul was in prison he wrote to the Philippians that God instead of restricting his ministry expanded the outreach of the gospel to the whole palace guard. When Paul was afflicted with what he called a thorn in the flesh, God taught him that His grace was sufficient. Instead of the release of healing God taught him the freedom of His harness. He testifies to all of us: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
The image of a wild horse running unhindered without bit and bridle may appear as freedom. But real freedom and real usefulness for the cause of Christ can be experienced even when we feel the greatest limitations. Don’t fight what God brings into your life, embrace the freedom of the harness.
The video footage was shocking. The camera in the convenience store caught the image of a man who lay on the floor dying. 31-year-old Jheryl Wright was shot as he was leaving a Quick Stop convenience store in Kalamazoo, Mi. He ended up dying in the doorway to the store. After Wright was shot, the video shows customers who entered the store chose to step over him. Two men can be seen looking down at him as they leave but they didn’t even bother to stop and help they just kept moving on. Several more customers are seen on the video stepping over Wright to enter the store. The victim laid on the floor for around five minutes before one customer came in and called 911.
This complete disregard for human life should be an eye-opening lesson on the unraveling of our current society and our lack of concern for our fellow man. We seem to be turning in to a step-over-them culture. We are shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. With our ears plugged into our music and our eyes glued to our smart phones we are less conscious of the hurting people around us. Our self-focused world is our only reality.
Jesus was different. In John 5 he was in Jerusalem attending a feast. At a certain pool called Bethesda there lay a great number of people who were sick, blind, lame and paralyzed waiting for the moving of the water. Jesus spotted a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. He looked at him with compassion and told him to rise, take up his bed and walk. As the rest of the world stepped over him, Jesus had compassion on him and healed him.
What kind of people will we chose to be? Are we going to be like the step-over-people who callously go through life with a blind eye? Or, are we going to be like our Master, who stopped, looked, and reached out in love and concern?
Pastor Stultz has been writing this weekly devotional for many years. In 2009, he published a compilation of devotionals in book form, also called Moments of Meditation