I imagine the energy, the confidence, the awe of Old Testament days–from walking with God in the garden, to experiencing God’s might through the plagues, to walking through parted waters. I imagine the rush of knowing that if God said he’d deliver, he would do it–a soaring hope, a battle cry. How could one doubt God’s majesty in the midst of all that?
I think of the disciples and wonder how it must have felt to walk with Jesus. The miracles they saw. The lessons they learned. The healing they witnessed. Wouldn’t that have been so convincing–and for many it was.
27 “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’
29 “But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’
30 “The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’
31 “But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:27-31, NLT)
I’m reading through a roundabout recommendation Disappointment With God by Philip Yancey that has completely flipped my perspective, just halfway through.
Today, I mentally stand on a battlefield watching Joshua and the Israelites in Joshua 9-13, and great emotion wells within me. God was with them.
I read through Luke 16 and Jesus’s story of the rich man and Lazarus–Jesus, God with them.
It’s easy to think that faith would be firm and resolute if one had witnessed Old Testament presence or New Testament flesh. But I have at my disposal the very word of God. I read those words of a long-ago time. I am comforted by the Lord. I am surprised by the Lord. I am reminded of his very real presence. I hold tightly to truth.
14 So the Israelites examined their food, but they did not consult the Lord. (Joshua 9:14, NLT)
Lord, when the world displays its evidence before me, may I consult you first and always.
One acted to protect. Another was stirred to anger and fear. And yet another was blessed. All were participants in a common circumstance.
4 The whole assembly agreed to this, for the people could see it was the right thing to do. 5 So David summoned all Israel, from the Shihor Brook of Egypt in the south all the way to the town of Lebo-hamath in the north, to join in bringing the Ark of God from Kiriath-jearim. 6 Then David and all Israel went to Baalah of Judah (also called Kiriath-jearim) to bring back the Ark of God, which bears the name of the Lord who is enthroned between the cherubim. 7 They placed the Ark of God on a new cart and brought it from Abinadab’s house. Uzzah and Ahio were guiding the cart. 8 David and all Israel were celebrating before God with all their might, singing songs and playing all kinds of musical instruments—lyres, harps, tambourines, cymbals, and trumpets. (1 Chronicles 13:4-8, NLT, emphasis added)
David was bringing back the Ark of God. He consulted his advisors and acted under the Lord’s consenting will. It was a joyful procession with an unexpected end.
9 But when they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, the oxen stumbled, and Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the Ark. 10 Then the Lord’s anger was aroused against Uzzah, and he struck him dead because he had laid his hand on the Ark. So Uzzah died there in the presence of God.
11 David was angry because the Lord’s anger had burst out against Uzzah. He named that place Perez-uzzah (which means “to burst out against Uzzah”), as it is still called today.
12 David was now afraid of God, and he asked, “How can I ever bring the Ark of God back into my care?” 13 So David did not move the Ark into the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-edom of Gath. 14 The Ark of God remained there in Obed-edom’s house for three months, and the Lord blessed the household of Obed-edom and everything he owned. (1 Chronicles 13:9-14, NLT, emphasis added)
Some of my joyful starts have had unexpected ends. I have been powerless to protect things and people I treasure. I have been confused, wounded, disheartened by the unfolding of events–and some of these have taken years to recover from. I have been blessed beyond thought in seasons where I never expected it.
But I think on this–a common cause and three different perspectives, three different consequences–but one singular thing. Each man assigned his own narrative to it.
I don’t know what sparked Uzzah’s action: Certainly he was chosen to help carry the Ark because he was competent, responsible, and trustworthy. Were his actions instantaneous with no thought but to be helpful? Did he act because he thought David would be furious if the Ark fell? Was he protective of the impression of God, to save Him from a dishonor or embarrassment of a fallen Ark? All motivations seem reasonable. Whatever it was, Uzzah’s action was out of line, crossing a boundary of what the Lord required or expected of him, regardless of his intention or his credentials. It cost him a price. Lord, please be my guide. Give me wisdom and discernment. Keep me from butting into circumstances that are not my place to intervene. Your ways are higher than mine.
David was angry and afraid. The God he loved had acted in a way David didn’t expect, and he felt all the feelings. He didn’t understand. David was trying to do the right thing, and it went horribly wrong. This was not the happy ending of a joyful journey he had envisioned. His desire to honor God was marked by tragedy. Lord, when I struggle with expectation versus reality, help me to sort through all the feelings in a right way. Your ways are higher than mine.
An unexpected detour. When A to B takes a turn, the Ark is redirected to Obed-edom’s home for a time. In His presence, they are blessed. Lord, help me to be obedient when the unexpected happens. I pray to be aware of Your presence in all circumstances, confident in You and Your Will. You are my source of joy and peace, and I’m glad Your ways are higher than mine.
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. (James 1:2-6a, NLT)
I wrote this quote down on a scrap paper yesterday, “It’s impossible to find out who you are while living in the best case scenario.” I love living in the best-case scenario. I love periods of calm and predictability–they feel safe. While I certainly enjoy periods of calm, I know I can’t put my faith or security in them: they don’t last.
I watch through the pages of 2 Kings as Hezekiah moves with confidence in his reign. I note: he was twenty-five when he first started reigning; he did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight; he removed shrines and idols; and,
5 Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. 6 He remained faithful to the Lord in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the Lord had given Moses. 7 So the Lord was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did. He revolted against the king of Assyria and refused to pay him tribute. (2 Kings 18:5-7, NLT, emphasis added)
I think on Hezekiah’s refusal to pay tribute to Assyria. Years later, an army would arrive at border towns and threaten Hezekiah. That’s the thing about enemies, you can appease them by meeting their demands or choose not to, but either way, they are still an enemy.
“This is what the great king of Assyria says: What are you trusting in that makes you so confident? 20 Do you think that mere words can substitute for military skill and strength? Who are you counting on, that you have rebelled against me? (2 Kings 18:19b-20, NLT)
When an enemy threatens the doorstep, Lord, I want my trust in you to “make (me) so confident.”
4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. (Philemon 4-7, NLT)
Lord, help me to love in action and to live with an abundant perspective, to offer generously because of my faith in You and because I understand and experience all the good things I have in You. It is so very important that I focus on the Lord and know who I am in Him. This knowledge will affect my decisions and bring out who I am outside of the best case scenario.
Lord, I cannot trust changing times. I cannot trust the impulsive whims of war or peace from a dissatisfied and greedy enemy. However, I can trust in You–Way, Truth, Life. You are my strength. You are my refuge. You are my hope. Oh, help me to understand and experience all I have in You.
Faithful work … loving deeds … enduring hope. When I read the encouragement poured out in 1 Thessalonians, I imagine a group of believers in life’s sweet spot where it’s easy to be faithful and loving. Understand: they weren’t in a sweet spot, yet a sweetness poured out from them–their faith. They were known by it, and God was known by it.
2 We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly. 3 As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ.
4 We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. 5 For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. 6 So you received the message with joy from the Holy Spirit in spite of the severe suffering it brought you. In this way, you imitated both us and the Lord. 7 As a result, you have become an example to all the believers in Greece—throughout both Macedonia and Achaia.
8 And now the word of the Lord is ringing out from you to people everywhere, even beyond Macedonia and Achaia, for wherever we go we find people telling us about your faith in God. We don’t need to tell them about it, 9 for they keep talking about the wonderful welcome you gave us and how you turned away from idols to serve the living and true God. 10 And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-10, NLT, emphasis added)
In a three year drought, faith ignited a fire. Unwavering, confident, expectant faith from knowing God.
30 Then Elijah called to the people, “Come over here!” They all crowded around him as he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down. 31 He took twelve stones, one to represent each of the tribes of Israel, 32 and he used the stones to rebuild the altar in the name of the Lord. Then he dug a trench around the altar large enough to hold about three gallons. 33 He piled wood on the altar, cut the bull into pieces, and laid the pieces on the wood.
Then he said, “Fill four large jars with water, and pour the water over the offering and the wood.”
34 After they had done this, he said, “Do the same thing again!” And when they were finished, he said, “Now do it a third time!” So they did as he said, 35 and the water ran around the altar and even filled the trench.
36 At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. 37 O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”
38 Immediately the fire of the Lord flashed down from heaven and burned up the young bull, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up all the water in the trench! 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!” (1 Kings 18:30-39, NLT)
(And rains came, ending the drought. Imagine the elation!)
Land is set aside for the tribes of Israel, and I read this piece:
11 This area is set aside for the ordained priests, the descendants of Zadok who served me faithfully and did not go astray with the people of Israel and the rest of the Levites. 12 It will be their special portion when the land is distributed, the most sacred land of all. (Ezekiel 48:11-12, NLT, emphasis added)
These are stories of man’s faith in a faithful God, not in life’s sweet spot, but in drought, in severe suffering, in focused and enduring service. It’s not just a believing faith, but a persistent, confident, expectant, actionable, demonstrable faith.
Lord Jesus, when I am burdened and bear a weight that’s heavy, what pours out of me? A three year drought … I am humbled, when I know a poor night’s sleep and a taunting stress are enough to make me snap. These scriptures remind me to keep a sure and eternal focus.
5 You placed the world on its foundation so it would never be moved. (Psalm 104:5, NLT)
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” 1 John 5:13-14
“Mom, how can I know for sure that I will go to heaven when I die? How do I know I am really a Christian?” As my children grow older and begin putting the pieces of their faith and belief together, their understanding increases as well as the curiosity. They don’t automatically take everything at face value anymore and their questions are endless but come in spurts, mixed with times of thinking. Many of their questions are ones I remember asking, myself. And even today, there are many I still cannot answer.
But this passage in 1 John is brilliant. It’s an answer that brings life and hope. John writes specifically to believers who may be struggling with knowing deep down that they are saved. I have to admit, this is definitely an area that I have struggled with from time to time so I’m comforted by the fact that the early believers were asking the same questions. I recently read a story about John Wesley and how early on in his faith he struggled with the same feelings to the point where he admitted he must not be a Christian!
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:1-5
Our Savior, Jesus did not come as expected with royal kingship. He didn’t enter the city on a chariot and rule and reign the way our feeble minds would have expected.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River[c] to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:9-10
Like the early church, like children, we try to put the pieces of our faith together using our own logic and miss the point completely. Instead of relying on our own understanding, let us look to Him, the author and finisher of our faith. He gave us His Word and the Holy Spirit for understanding. Let us lean on the truth we find there instead of our own logic.
Thank you, Father for your true Word. Thank you for revealing the mysteries of our faith through your Holy Spirit. Thank you for sending your own Son to become our salvation! Help us build our faith by learning your Word and hiding it in our hearts. May we approach your throne with confidence! Amen.
Join us again in 2021 as we read the Bible in a year using a 5-day weekly reading plan. Take the weekends off, or use them to catch up at your own pace.
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