As we continue to wade through the fallout of COVID-19, people are naturally on the lookout for any help they can receive. With many Americans out of work, our lives have not only come to a screeching halt, but our resources are becoming scarcer by the day. The Unemployment Department is processing claims that are doubling by the week and are well into the millions. Thankfully, such help is available for those in need, and for those who qualify.
This got me thinking, however, beyond the current pandemic and its devastations and resulting reach for aid. Crises always become invitations to draw nearer to God, and to examine where we really stand with Him. Many make swelling claims of faith in times of distress, hoping to reap the benefits promised in Scripture: peace, security, and hope, to name just a few. It is beautiful to see and hear people awakened to their need for God and His help in their hour of deepest trouble.
I wonder, though, how many of those professions of faith are true enough to last beyond the crisis? It is human nature to reach for help when it’s needed, but let go once we feel more secure. God, in His mercy, does not condemn us for this, but rather continually seeks relationship with us, ever aiming at drawing us closer and deeper to His heart, even when we stray. His goodness is truly profound, and for those who walk with Him long enough, we discover that there is never a time when our need for such a constant friend is gone.
I am preparing for another funeral – it seems I’ve had so many in such a short amount of time. I know there are people all across the world who are facing the same kind of grief and loss, and my heart goes out to them. These are terrible times to experience the loss of a loved one. I have the incredible peace of knowing, however, that the one we will bury has gone on to be with the Lord. I can’t describe the kind of joy and rest my heart knows – even in the sorrow of loss – because she chose to cling to the Lord throughout her life. And because she did, she has been able to lay claim to the promises that have been stored up for her.
I’ve been to funerals where people say they know their loved one is Heaven, but it was clear from the life they lived – and their rejection of God on all fronts – that they could not possibly be. That kind of grief shakes me to the core. Of course, no one knows what takes place in the last moments of a person’s life, and I am a firm believer that God so loves this broken world that He is reaching for His lost sons and daughters even to their dying moments. The thief on the cross beside Jesus proves that God’s forgiveness is never withheld from those who call upon Him, and He goes to great lengths to put Himself within the reach of all, down to the last minute we are alive on this earth.
But there is always a “what if” that feels like far too great of a gamble in my mind, when I hear people claim their loved ones are in Heaven even though they lived in such a way as to disqualify themselves completely from it. My fear is that too many truly don’t know what enables them to lay claim to God’s promises of forgiveness, peace, deliverance, provision and eternal life. I am passionate about making sure people know that, while God loves everyone and desires that no one should die without Him, He does leave the choice to us. And just like we must meet certain criteria in order to file an Unemployment Claim, so God has set forth the criteria in His Word by which we will be able to claim what He has promised.
The criteria for salvation is simple: Believe in Jesus and make Him Lord (Romans 10:9). But the Bible is clear that this is no wide, easy path to take (Matthew 7:13-14). We can’t just say we believe and get our tickets punched at the end of the road. Our lives, if we truly believe and truly follow Him, will be transformed. His love will change us. Our love for Him will compel us to live differently – to abandon all the ways that grieve His heart, and to embrace the character and pursuits that make His heart glad.
It is a narrow road, a very difficult path of self-denial and humble but passionate pursuit. But it is a path we do not walk alone. When we truly believe in God, we gain the unfailing presence of His indwelling Spirit to lead us through this life and into the next – and to impact the world we leave behind. Really, we become awakened to the reality that we are here to make Him known, not to build a life for ourselves.
Many people avoid giving their yes to God because they think it comes down to the rules they have to keep, the unachievable standards they feel like they can’t – or shouldn’t have to – live up to. So they crouch behind the “God loves me” banner, excusing lifestyles that Scripture clearly forbids, but remain outsiders to His promises. They wave their “I believe in God” flags in the face of hard things, but choke down the questions they don’t have answers to, and then later turn to other substitutes to drown out the haunting lack of true peace they have.
I know this path, because I used to live it. My confession of faith used to be empty, my claim to the promises of God denied. But God, in His mercy, didn’t leave me there, on the outskirts. He invited me to come in closer, to really know Him, to take a deeper look at why I had a claim but no access to His promises.
The truth was that I didn’t know what was required. I had been taught, like so many others, that all I had to do was believe in God. There was no further explanation, and so “belief” was left up to my own interpretation for many years. Scripture says even the demons believe that He is God (James 2:19)…but that hasn’t changed much for them, has it?! The same chapter goes on to declare that true belief – real faith – must be demonstrated by a life that pleases God. But how many today live contrary to what God has called us to, and yet expect to claim the promise of eternal life when all is said and done? Or even to get in line for the handouts of peace, mercy, joy, security, satisfaction and provision in this life, whenever things go awry?
I heard a promise yesterday that soothed my heart. Psalm 37:25 says “…I have never seen the righteous forsaken, nor seen their children begging for bread.” My heart took confidence and rest in the ultimate reality that, though I may be powerless to provide much for myself or my children (I am self-employed with a new business that has not generated a profit, and so I am disqualified from being able to claim the benefits from Unemployment), the God in Whom I have put my trust has promised to care for me, and for us. It was a quiet moment of trust solidified. Several hours after that, someone showed up on my doorstep and handed my husband and a bundle of money. I didn’t need God to prove His promise, and hadn’t asked Him to, but He solidified the acceptance of my claim in that unexpected moment, and I was in awe over His kindness.
Soon after that moment, however, a fearful thought arose for all those who do not really know Him and trust Him so: “What will happen when they come to claim their provisions, Lord?”
Have you ever gone to the store with a coupon, picked up your much sought-after-and-planned-for item, only to discover that your coupon was either expired or not honored by the retailer you went to purchase it from? When it’s a carton of eggs, you get over it quickly and move on. When it’s a computer, or a diamond ring, you recoil at the shock, realizing you are not prepared to make up for the difference on your own.
Scripture tells us plainly how to become eligible for laying claim to God’s promises in Matthew 7:21 when it says that not everyone who calls Jesus Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It must be more than a word upon our lips, more than merely a claim submitted. In fact, it must be more than we can produce by our own efforts. Only those who do the will of God, by the power of the Spirit of God living within them – only those whose lives line up with the picture that Scripture paints, will truly be able to receive all that’s been promised. And those who are able to live out the will of God are those who have entered into covenant with Him, who have said “yes” with all of their hearts, and who follow Him wherever He leads.
For some, this may seem exclusive, but the truth is that – while God desires for all to come home to Him – very few will actually be able to cash in on that offer (Matthew 22:14). This is not by my proclamation, or by God’s design – for He wills that not one should perish apart from Him (2 Peter 3:9). But the small print must be read – not because there are hidden deceptions to be found there, but because, in His Word, He has made the way plain. That way is not found outside of a personal relationship with Jesus which transforms everything about us.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, are you waiting for benefits that haven’t arrived? Are you wondering why peace eludes you, why provision does not freely flow, why fear intimidates you? I urge you today to examine yourself and your life in light of the truth of God’s Word (as I am also doing), to see if you are really in the faith that has access to lay claim to the promises of God for His children (2 Corinthians 13:5). This is no time to rest in the false assurance of incomplete or disqualified claims. Now is the hour to make certain that your covenant with God is signed and secured with an irrevocable yes, and that You have, once and for all, decided to follow Him and not turn back – not even in the small things.
Beloved Ones, I bless you today to go deeper. We will need to live there in the days ahead. May you come to reside in the center of His heart, from where His will is beautiful even when it is hard. And may you gain access to all the inheritance which belongs to the true children of God – those who love Him, have surrendered all to Him, and have, through Christ, died to a self-directed life in order to embrace a life lived only to please Him. So much awaits us in the days to come!