Context Matters

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The assurances in Psalm 121 are wonderful.  But what don’t they say?  Do they promise health and wealth; or do they promise God’s presence in our lives?  We’re not robots nor are we perfect.  God is working with imperfect people (namely us) and  a corrupted social and natural environment. 

(Psalm 121:1-5 WEB) 1A Song of degrees. I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help. 2My help [cometh] from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. 3He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. 4Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. 5The LORD [is] thy keeper: the LORD [is] thy shade upon thy right hand.

Here we see God’s presence in our lives.  He loves us and wants the best for us.  A righteous life brings great joy to a person and those close to him.  But as we look to Old Testament scripture we see a pattern of the Israelites to turn to other gods and their subsequent trials.  They followed a pretense of ritual, but were not transformed, which is the purpose of the rituals.

(Psalm 121:6-8 WEB) 6The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. 7The LORD will preserve thee from all evil: he will preserve thy soul. 8The LORD will preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for ever.

Preserve Souls

These verses paint a picture of perfect protection from all the evils and pains of life.  But is that the point?  My view is that God is more than anxious that His chosen people would be faithful to God and lead others outside of Israel to God also.  His main promise is to “preserve thy soul”.  To the Israelites the idea of approaching gentiles was problematic.  They hid behind their “laws” to avoid any contact with gentiles.  Don’t many Chrisitans avoid contact with people different from themselves?  And isn’t this a variation of “legalism”?

Hard Places

Sometimes there are places, hard places that no one will go to.  So God picks the spiritual giants to be placed in hard places so that they can minister to the suffering and the lost without Christ.  And like Christ, they willingly suffer, if hard times come, just as their Lord Jesus has already done.  And like Jesus their blessings will follow.  And often in their lifetimes they get to experience greater joys than when they were coasting along in comfort. 

Context is determined by the size of our faith.  Comfort is not the best measure of our blessings.  Our blessings are measured by our service to the Gospel and healing we bring to others.

The Apostle Paul and Job are the best examples in scripture.  Elizabeth Elliot and John Newton are the best contemporary examples.


(2 Corinthians 11:23-30 WEB) 23Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I [am] more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often. 24From the Jews five times I received forty [stripes] save one. 25Thrice was I beaten with rods, once I was stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26[In] journeyings often, [in] perils of waters, [in] perils of robbers, [in] perils by [my own] countrymen, [in] perils by the heathen, [in] perils in the city, [in] perils in the wilderness, [in] perils in the sea, [in] perils among false brethren; 27In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. 28Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is made to fall into sin, and I burn not? 30 If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern my infirmities.


(Job 40:6-14 WEB) 6Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 7Gird up thy loins now like a man: I will demand of thee, and declare thou to me. 8Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? 9Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like his? 10Deck thyself now [with] majesty and excellence; and array thyself with glory and beauty. 11Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one [that is] proud, and abase him. 12Look on every one [that is] proud, [and] bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place. 13Hide them in the dust together; bind their faces in secret. 14Then will I also confess to thee that thy own right hand can save thee.

(Job 42:1-6 KJV) 1Then Job answered the LORD, and said, 2I know that thou canst do every [thing], and [that] no thought can be withholden from thee. 3Who [is] he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. 4Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. 5I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. 6Wherefore I abhor [myself], and repent in dust and ashes.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot

Written by Madeline Peña

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot are two of the most influential people in the history of missions. Their lives reflect total devotion to Christ and to the message of the gospel. Their stories of perseverance, suffering, and even death have inspired many to go reach unreached peoples.

Who are Jim and Elisabeth Elliot? Jim and Elisabeth Elliot were missionaries to the Auca Indians in Ecuador. Jim was martyred alongside four other missionaries during Operation Auca on January 8, 1956. After her husband’s death, Elisabeth went to go live among the tribe that killed her husband with her three-year-old daughter, Valarie and share the truth of the gospel with them. Elisabeth Elliot has written several books that have inspired thousands of people in their walk with God. She recently passed away in 2015. Jim and Elisabeth Elliot’s story continues to impact countless Christians all over the globe to this day and have sparked a passion in people to go to the unreached.

John Newton Discovered Amazing Grace

  • Diane Severance, Ph.D.
  • 2010
  • 28 Apr
John Newton Discovered Amazing Grace

Newton Lost at Sea

The Greyhound had been thrashing about in the north Atlantic storm for over a week. Its canvas sails were ripped, and the wood on one side of the ship had been torn away and splintered. The sailors had little hope of survival, but they mechanically worked the pumps, trying to keep the vessel afloat. On the eleventh day of the storm, sailor John Newton was too exhausted to pump, so he was tied to the helm and tried to hold the ship to its course. From one  o’clock until midnight he was at the helm.

Newton on the Stormy Seas

With the storm raging fiercely, Newton had time to think. His life seemed as ruined and wrecked as the battered ship he was trying to steer through the storm. Since the age of eleven, he had lived a life at sea. Sailors were not noted for the refinement of their manners, but Newton had a reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery which even shocked many a sailor.

Recalling Scripture

John Newton was known as “The Great Blasphemer.” He sank so low at one point that he was even a servant to slaves in Africa for a brief period. His mother had prayed he would become a minister and had early taught him the Scriptures and Isaac Watts’ Divine Songs for Children. Some of those early childhood teachings came to mind now. He remembered Proverbs 1:24-31, and in the midst of that storm, those verses seemed to confirm Newton in his despair:

“Because I have called, and ye refused . . . ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also laughed at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh: when your fear cometh as desolation and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer.”

John Newton had rejected his mother’s teachings and had led other sailors into unbelief. Certainly, he was beyond hope and beyond saving, even if the Scriptures were true. Yet, Newton’s thoughts began to turn to Christ. He found a New Testament and began to read. Luke 11:13 seemed to assure him that God might still hear him: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.”

Deliverance – Salvation of John Newton

That day at the helm, March 21, 1748, was a day Newton remembered ever after, for “On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” Many years later, as an old man, Newton wrote in his diary of March 21, 1805: “Not well able to write; but I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise.” Only God’s amazing grace could and would take a rude, profane, slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of God. Newton never ceased to stand in awe of God’s work in his life.


In every one of the instances above God led or allowed each person to a dark place.  The best example I feel is when Paul and Silas were flogged and put in stocks in prison.  There are many testimonies in countries that persecute Christians that are similar to this Biblical account.

(Acts 16:22-25 WEB) 22 And the multitude rose together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat [them]. 23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast [them] into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. 25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises to God: and the prisoners heard them.

Obviously a different reaction than many of us would have.  To see similar accounts go to the organization “Voice of the Martyrs (VOM)”.  But reactions like this have brought many skeptics to the point of salvation.

(Acts 16:26-30 WEB) 26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had fled. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. 29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas; 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

I can’t imagine the risk that the jailer took by bringing Paul and Silas out of prison.  That is hightlighted by the jailer being ready to commit suicide.  That glimpse of Paul and Silas showed the jailer a faith that trumped all he had believed in his life to this point.

(Acts 16:31-34 WEB) 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spoke to him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed [their] stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, without delay. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.

Roll With It

Our tendency is to pray for relief from difficult circumstances.  But I advocate that God may sometimes (maybe most times) have a plan within the circumstances at hand to further the Gospel.  Everything we do should be in the name of Jesus and not ourselves.  This mindset I believe helps others as well as ourselves.  We will have “arrived” when our pats on the back come from Jesus and not necessarily others.

(Philippians 4:6-7 WEB) 6Be anxious for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 WEB) 16Rejoice evermore. 17 Pray without ceasing. 18In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

I don’t see anything in these last two passages in scripture that talk about changing circumstances. They are about being Christ in these situations. And missionaries around the world and through the ages have done just that.


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