The words jumped off the page, and I gasped.
Not that I hadn’t read the story before. In fact, in my four decades of reading the Bible, I’d probably read this particular story at least a dozen times, if not more.
Even so, the words read like the crisp pages of a new book first opened. How had I missed them before?
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
Acts 23:11 (NIV)
In the middle of verse 11 sits four simple words that rocked my world:
The Lord stood near . . .
For more than a month, I’ve been studying the book of Acts. In the chapters and verses leading up to this one, the author of the book of Acts — Luke, the physician — detailed the birth of the early church and the eventual conversion and ministry of a guy named Paul. By the time we land in chapter 23, Paul’s been on two extended, gospel-sharing, missionary journeys in Asia and Eastern Europe. Now he’s returned to Jerusalem and church leaders with a dazzling report of the growing Church.
The problem? Not everyone was dazzled. Devout Jews believed he was comprising their faith. Threatened by his testimony that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah God had always promised, they determined to silence him. I suspect they were afraid of his influence, as it was rapidly outpacing theirs.
Thus, a select and influential group of leaders started to spread rumors about Paul’s character, stirring up all kinds of controversy around his ministry. In fact, it grew so heated the Roman authorities had to intervene, throwing Paul behind bars for his own safety.
And that’s when I read those four words.
The Lord stood near . . .
In the dark of an unjust prison, God came. Paul had been doing everything right. Following God on harrowing and exhausting journeys, preaching the good news of Jesus to strangers, showing love and compassion and concern for God’s people and the church. Even so, in spite of his tireless and courageous efforts, he ended up in prison while those who spread lies remained free.
I hate to break it to you, but life isn’t fair. I’m guessing you already know this. Reading your Bible and going to church don’t guarantee a good life. And when life doesn’t turn out like we hoped, our instinct is to find a reason for our pain. Maybe an explanation will bring relief to the injustice.
Did I do something wrong?
Is God mad at me?
Why won’t He do something?
At the other end of these questions, however, sit even more pain and imprisonment. As it turns out, what we need more than reasons and explanations is Presence.
The kind of love that stands near.
The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage!”
When our best and most sincere efforts land us with lackluster results, we can trust that the One who loves us most hasn’t left us to go it alone. He stands with us in our prisons, keeps watch over us in our nights. He isn’t put off by our pain, but draws closer still, whispering in our ears: “Take courage, sister! You’re not alone! My love goes with you, even here.”
I’m not sure what unexpected and unfair circumstance you’ve found yourself in today, but this I know for certain:
We have a God whose Love cannot be blocked by bars or walls. No matter what injustice or unfairness you face, He is more powerful still. And He will not leave you until He accomplishes all He’s planned for you.
His is a Love that stands near. Not because you’ve earned it, but because His love can’t help it.
When our best and most sincere efforts land us with lackluster results, we can trust that the One who loves us most hasn't left us to go it alone. -@MicheleCushatt: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Bev @ Walking Well With God says
Oh how I needed this today. I feel a bit like Paul right now. I plead with God, “Lord do you see what I’m doing here? I’m doing YOUR work in a dark corner of the world. I’m safeguarding the orphans. I’m writing to glorify You and yet you remain silent on a strong desire of my heart?” I shamefully admit that I’ve thrown a pity party or two. My dad used to say, “Fair is where you go to buy cotton candy.” Life isn’t fair, but the Lord stands near. He is the God who stays. When everyone else deserts us, He remains steadfast. Adjusting my attitude this am to focus on His awesome presence and not ask for presents of my liking. Beautiful post!
Michele Cushatt says
“Fair is where you go to buy cotton candy.” <== That is brilliant. And true. And a bit painful. With you, sister.
Lucille Gross says
Thank you, Michele, for your devotion today. I was diagnosed with stage 3 right breast cancer in November 2016, same week of our Presidential election. Tumor in breast kept growing and I had no choice but to have them do a radical mastectomy and he removed over 21 lymph nodes all cancerous on September 9, 2019. Yesterday I met with oncologist to go over bloodwork and numbers for cancer are still high but not as high as before meaning the surgeon was not able to get all the cancer. It’s still in my body. I’m 69 years old and feel battle weary right now and feel torn between living and dying. I know that when this old body dies I will be in the presence of the LORD. Like the apostle Paul I’m torn between the two especially since I live alone and don’t hear from my children or grandchildren. I do have a caring church family and keep in contact through phone and email with two sisters that live in other states so I’m not totally alone that way and where I live we have a Bible study once a week and other activities for us to do. Plus two women from my church come to my home Monday mornings, as much as they can for a Bible Study. I have a few close longtime friends that have walked with me through this journey and I also am blessed with a very caring pastor.
I’ve asked God the question lately, “Did I say or do something wrong?” His answer is, “No, my precious child”. He’s very tender with me and I know He loves me.
Thank you again for your devotion today. Yes, I know Jesus is always with me. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.
Blessings to you! Lucille
Barbara Rothman says
I’m so sorry Lucille for all you have gone through as well as the deep valley you are in now. Praying for you that you feel God’s arms of compassion & love around you!!!
Michele Cushatt says
Oh, Lucille. Thank you for sharing your heart and for allowing us—your (in)Courage sister—to walk with you in a small way. It’s a privilege. I’ve been where you are. It’s not easy, but Jesus is there. And there is a sweetness and a tenderness that is beyond words. May He show himself to you more and more each day. Much love.
Beth Williams says
Praying for strength to endure whatever the Lord throws your way. May He continue to bring people into your life to help you on this journey. May you feel His loving arms around you always! Know that God understands your pain & is with you always!
((((((hugs form Watauga, TN)
Lucille Gross I will be praying you – peace!
Michele Morin says
Oh, Michele, I think this is the hardest lesson of all in the following life. There is no formula for “success,” and we have a pretty way of defining “the normal Christian life” that has little to do with our experience of reality. Thank you for showing up in so many ways to speak bracing truth to our hearts.
Michele Cushatt says
Thank you, Michele. xo
Amazing and beautiful reality of the presence of God in the midst of life! Thank you for the reminder!
TAMMIE BRAY says
SUCH POWERFUL WORDS! WE NEED TO KEEP HEARING THIS UNTIL WE NEVER DOUBT THAT HE IS WITH US, FIGHTING FOR US, ENCOURAGING US AND LOVING US SO VERY MUCH.
THANKS FOR BRINGING THIS TO OUR ATTENTION AND REMINDING US THAT HE HAS GREAT PLANS FOR US AND HE WILLWALK US THROUGH THEM DAILY.
Yes, Tammie. We need the reminder every day, again and again. Some days more than once! Glad we’re in this together.
What a beautiful revelation God shared with you. Thanks for sharing with us!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos says
Beautiful post and so true! It reminds me of a Jason Gray song that I made a video for a few months back. If you want to check it out, you can find it on my blog: https://www.inbeautifulchaos.com/jason-gray-remind-me-youre-here-music-video/ . Thank you for sharing this reminder of God’s faithfulness and presence!
M @ In Beautiful Chaos
Great Video! Goes perfectly with today’s devotion!
Diane Thiel says
And ALL is for His glory. Amen and smen in all gifts and trials. His loving grace reigns. Thank you for your words
Lauren Griesmeyer says
I needed this today! Feeling really alone in my trials! Feel like I’m going it alone! Your words brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for reminding me the Lord stands near me!Gave me the courage to go on! Thankyou and thank you Lord! Love in Him, Lauren
Michele, your devotion today is uplifting! But more than this devotion is your book “Relentless The Unshakable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves” that is more than amazing, more than profound, more than transparent, more than the truth, more than comforting, and more honest than I think ANYTHING I’ve ever read!! Thank you for allowing our Heavenly Father to use you in the way that He has through all of your trails and for encouraging readers to look for God’s presence even when He is silent. What an awesome reminder that He has whispered through you. I have been separated from my husband of 11 years due to his porn addiction for 22 years. I don’t know what will happen with my marriage but God does. I totally trust Him and am so glad that I serve a God that is relentless! ❤️ Thank you sister in Christ.
Beth Williams says
We can read the Bible & think we know it pretty well. Then we read it one more time & out pops something never before seen. God is always near to us. He is right there with us in the trenches. He knows better than anyone life isn’t fair. Life is tough. We go through many trials. There have been times I’ve asked the question “why me?” Why must I go through this situation now? Then I ask “God what are you teaching me?” I realize that tough as it seems at the time-God is near to me & helping me grow my faith. We are blessed with an amazing God who not only stands near but never leaves. He is always with us. Guiding us on this journey. Life isn’t fair, but God is good all the time. No matter what you may be going through at this time-know that God of the universe who loves you immensely & chooses you won’t leave you or forsake you. He is standing right near you whispering in your ears.
My husband of 54 years died recently and many well-meaning friends would say the same thing, “If you need anything, let me know”. Yes, I did need something…they all knew that I was having to pack up my 54 years’ worth of life to move into a smaller place, and get this place ready to put on the market. As I was in the whirlwind of paperwork after his death, sorting through pieces of our life, throwing away, packing, burning, selling, donating, so busy I fell into bed at night too tired to sleep well, waking up so early every morning to begin again , I had no time to call people. But they knew I could use their help. One man, an unbeliever, who lives down the road from us will be here at the drop of a hat. He calls asking what he can do to help and I tell him. Today one couple who are having to raise their daughter’s 2 infant children, came today to help me and my daughter clean the house we are going to rent. They called asking what they could do to help. These 3 people are my Lord “standing near”. I was feeling the Lord’s ‘people’ were abandoning me when I needed them most, but Abba proved Himself to be my Heavenly Husband, watching over me and sending those 3 to come along side me and to help when no one else seemed to care. He always cares!!