God has given us an ironclad promise for life on this earth. He says that when our enemy attempts to walk over us, “Therefore My people shall know My name; therefore they shall know in that day that I am He who speaks: ‘Behold, it is I’” (Isaiah 52:6). In other words, God says, “When you’re in your darkest trial, I will come and speak a word to you. You’ll hear me say, ‘It is I, Jesus, your Savior. Don’t be afraid.’”
In Matthew 14, the disciples were on a boat in an awful storm, being tossed about by torrents of wind and waves. Suddenly, the men saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. Scripture says, “And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26). What did Jesus do in that fearful moment? “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid’” (14:27).
I’ve wondered why Jesus used these particular words, “Be of good cheer.” Why would he say this to men who thought they were about to die?
The word cheer means “to be relieved, happy, released from fear.” And here, in the disciples’ time of distress, Jesus tied the word to his identity. Remember, these men knew him personally. And he expected them to act on his word by faith. He was saying, “The Father has promised I’ll come to you in your storm. It is written, “Therefore they shall know in that day that I am He who speaks: ‘Behold, it is I’” (Isaiah 52:6). Likewise, our Savior expects the same faith reaction from us, in our distressing times.
The Apostle Peter tells us, “For if God…did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah…bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes…making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot…then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:4-9).
Despite the severity of these examples, God is sending a clear message of comfort to his people, as if to say: “I have just given you two of the greatest examples of my compassion. If, in the midst of a world-engulfing flood, I can deliver one righteous man and his family out of the havoc…then can I not deliver you also? Can I not provide a miraculous way of escape?
The lesson here for the righteous is this: God will do whatever it takes to deliver his people out of fiery trials and temptations. Think about it: It took the opening of the Red Sea to deliver Israel out of the clutches of its enemy. It took water out of a rock to save those same Israelites from their wilderness trial. It took miracle bread, angels’ food literally sent from heaven, to spare them from hunger. And it took an ark to save Noah from the flood, and “angel escorts” to deliver Lot from fiery destruction. The clear point is that God knows how to deliver his people, and he will go to any extreme to accomplish it, no matter what their circumstance.
Peter’s phrase “God knows how to deliver” means simply, “He has already made plans.” The wonderful truth is that God already has plans for our deliverance even before we cry out to him. And he doesn’t sit on those plans; he only awaits our cry for help. We may be entangled in the struggle of a lifetime, wondering how God will deliver us, yet he is ready all at times to put his plan into action.
We see this illustrated in Jeremiah 29, when Israel was in captivity to Babylon. Here was perhaps the greatest trial God’s people had ever experienced, yet the Lord promised them: “After seventy years, I will visit you and perform my Word to you.”
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). The last phrase literally means “to give you what you long for.” God wants us to keep praying so we’ll be ready for his deliverance.
In 1958, I was brokenhearted over a news story about seven teenage boys who stood trial for murdering a crippled boy. The Holy Spirit stirred in me so strongly that I felt led to go to the New York courthouse where the trial was taking place, and I entered the courtroom convinced the Spirit had prompted me to try to talk to those youngsters.
As the day’s session came to a close, however, a realization began to dawn on me. I thought, “Those boys are going to be led out that side door in chains, and I will never see them again.” So I got up and made my way down the aisle toward the judge’s bench, where I asked to be allowed to talk with the boys before they returned to their cells.
In an instant, policemen pounced on me, and I was unceremoniously escorted from the courtroom. Flashbulbs popped all around me, and I was besieged with questions from reporters who were covering the trial. I could only stand there speechless, utterly dumbfounded, in a humiliating, embarrassing situation. I thought, “What will my church back home think? People are going to see me as crazy. I’ve been so naïve.”
God heard the cry of this poor man that day, and he has honored my silent cry ever since. You see, from that very pitiful scene in the courthouse, the Teen Challenge ministry was birthed, with a reach today that extends worldwide. And I happily share in David’s humble testimony from Psalm 34: “My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).
David is saying here, in essence, “I have something to tell all of God’s humble people on earth, now and in ages to come. As long as this world exists, the Lord will deliver everyone who calls out to him and trusts in him. In his incredible mercy and love, he delivered me, even though I made a very foolish move.”
All you need to know is that our blessed Lord hears every sincere cry, loud or unspoken, and he responds. Even if you acted foolishly or had a terrible failure of faith, you only need to get back to calling on your Deliverer. He is faithful to hear your cry and to act.
When I asked the Holy Spirit to show me how to guard against neglect, he led me to consider Peter’s drifting and his eventual renewal. This man denied Christ, even cursing, telling his accuser, “I don’t know him.”
Yet Peter was the first among the disciples to give up the struggle. He forsook his calling and returned to his old career, telling the others, “I’m going fishing.” What he really was saying is, “I can’t handle this. I had thought I couldn’t fail, but nobody ever failed God worse than I did. I just can’t face the struggle anymore.”
By that point, Peter had repented of his denial of Jesus. And he had been restored in Jesus’ love. Yet he was still a frayed man inside.
Now, as Jesus waited for the disciples to return to shore, an issue remained unsettled in Peter’s life. It wasn’t enough that Peter was restored, secure in his salvation. It wasn’t enough that he would fast and pray as any devoted believer would do. No, the issue that Christ wanted to address in Peter’s life was neglect in another form. Let me explain.
As they sat around the fire on shore, eating and fellowshipping, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these others?” Each time Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do,” and Christ responded in turn, “Feed my sheep.” Note that Jesus didn’t remind him to watch and pray, or to be diligent in reading God’s Word. Christ presumed those things had already been well taught. No, the instruction he gave Peter now was, “Feed my sheep.”
I believe that in that simple phrase, Jesus was instructing Peter on how to guard against neglect. He was saying, in essence, “I want you to forget about your failure, forget that you drifted from me. You’ve come back to me now, and I’ve forgiven and restored you. So it’s time to get your focus off of your doubts, failures and problems. And the way to do that is by not neglecting my people and to minister to their needs. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
Yes, you may love God and seek him, but that’s not enough. The true victory in Christ is not that you have sought God out but rather that he has sought you out. He has come after you. He has chased you.
David knew this when he wrote Psalm 119:175-176, “Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” David is telling God, “I’m lost. I’m wandering. I’m feeling a coldness of heart, a lack of desire for prayer. I don’t feel that sense of anticipation when I come into the house of the Lord anymore.”
When pride and anger start to get stirred up in our hearts, when lust is in our eyes, when we feel far from God, we are like lost sheep.
The book of Hosea describes God’s anguish over his people who are unfaithful, commenting, “My people are bent on turning away from me” (Hosea 11:7, ESV). There is a bent in us toward sin, a natural tendency to move away from God and his righteous ways. David recognized this in himself, but his response wasn’t, “I’m going to come to you, God! I’m going to pursue you, Lord.”
David knew the condition of his heart. He knew he needed something stronger than his own willpower. Now I believe and teach that those who diligently seek the Lord will find him (see Jeremiah 29:12-13) and that those who are fervent for the things of the Lord will be rewarded (see James 1:12). But it’s God’s love that initiates our relationship with him.
We need the shepherd’s love to find and rescue us. His heart and his power, not our own, will draw us back from the lost and twisted paths.