Counting the Midianites

Some days the sun shines, the air is warm, and we ride the crest of a wave of life. But too many days are overcast, cold and stormy, and if there is a crest it is that of a terrible calamity of  misfortune. Such is life (John 16:33b). But God is faithful. Never will we find ourselves outside His umbrella of protection. (1 Cor. 10:13)

Oh that we could see our valleys as did David. In reading the Psalms of David we find so often his pleading with God for His help. Read the opening verses of Psalms 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. In each of them David is tormented by some distress. He is fearful of his enemies (Ps. 3, 5, and 7); he speaks of shame (Ps. 4), and of the LORD’s anger with him (Ps. 6). But David always knows the source of his strength and salvation. He concludes each of these Psalms, and so many, many others in praise and thanksgiving that God has or will see him through whatever he faces.

God was David’s strength – that was God within him. God was David’s defense – that was God around him. David was God-possessed and God-encompassed. God dwelt in him and he in God. There was no demand for which God was not sufficient, no peril that God could not keep at bay.

You find yourself too weak for some great task that has been entrusted to your care. Without question, only the wisest and the best of those you know could deal with such a burden. You stand before a great stone wall that grows taller, wider, and deeper even as you look upon it. It’s a rebellious child, or an unfaithful spouse; creditors or perhaps sickness, even death knock at your door. Where is your help – where is your deliverance – what is the answer?? How great are the foes you face? What is your response ? “Look at this overwhelming problem,” or is it, “Look at my overwhelming God!”

In the narration of Gideon’s encounter with God we learn that the Midianites and Amalekites were as “swarms of locusts”, (Judges 6:5) Gideon’s first response to God’s call was as ours so often is. His cry, “O Lord, how shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” rings in our own ears. We see ourselves incompetent and ineffective. We say the Holy Spirit indwells us – and He does – He lives within. But do we seek Him for His protection? Just as certainly as He lives within – He lives around us. He is our ever-present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1)

The secret of David’s security lay in his attitude toward God; you are my refuge in times of trouble”, (Psalm 59:16-17).  Is this our attitude? Too many believers plead their prayer but fail to look up the ladder for the descending angels, laden with the heavenly answer. Many ships pass in the night, touching at our wharf with the precious freight that we have been praying for, but we are not there to receive it. Many a relieving force comes up the pass with glittering spears and flashing helmets, but our gates are closed. Many a dove comes to our window from the desolate waters, but we are too immersed in other things to notice its light tap at the window. We pray, but we do not wait. We ask, but we do not expect to receive. We knock, but we are gone before the door is opened. We were busy counting the Midianites.

One of our young pastors recently had a two year long battle with cancer. He was, and is dearly loved by all who come to know him. He was in all our prayers over those two years, and recently he shared with the congregation his victory over the disease and the source of strength he and his family relied on through dark and often pain filled days. I’ll never forget his words. He said he refused to focus on the cancer. He said “I kept my focus on Christ”. He never counted the Midianites.

This lesson is for us to learn – to count on God, to tarry for the vision, to wait till Samuel comes, to believe that He who taught us to trust cannot and will not deceive our trust.

Waiting For God

"I waited patiently for the LORD; He turned to me and heard my cry." (Psalm 40:1 NIV)

"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him…" (Psalm 37:7a NIV)

"For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation." (Psalm 62:1 ESV)

There is another term married to the first two of these exhortations to wait for the LORD – patience. We're not only to wait but we're to do so patiently! Psalm 62 says that he (David) waits 'in silence' which certainly infers waiting patiently.

Why is waiting so hard? I guess it's part of our sinful nature; we are so prone to take matters into our own hands, to follow our own schemes, to have it "my way". Yet, over and over again we are told in Scripture to “wait on the Lord.” In today's microwave economy of time management waiting for just about anything is difficult. We're all familiar with the 'I want it now' mentality.

Nothing tries our faith like waiting on God for answers to prayer. Waiting patiently confirms our submission and obedience to God, and attests to our faith in Him. Our inability to wait on Him challenges those attributes. We might then ask – 'What are the rewards, and what are the penalties for waiting or not waiting?'

Considering the latter, we can find several examples in the Bible of those who couldn't wait. The first that comes to mind is Saul not waiting for Samuel to make an offering before a battle and decides to do it himself (1 Sam. 13:8f). And then there's Abraham and Sarah, who could not wait for God's promised time for her to conceive and in frustration, gave her maid Hagar so that Abraham could have an heir; (Gen.16:1f). Their unwillingness to wait is a burden even today on all our Christian brotherhood. Saul's unwillingness to wait cost him his kingdom and the benevolence of the LORD God. (1 Sam: 15).  The scriptures suggest that Saul may have been of weak character from the beginning, but Abraham, the Bible declares, was 'a friend of God', (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23), so why would he not wait (maybe not patiently, considering the issue at hand) for God's promise? Well I think we need only look at our own reflections to answer that question. Who of us has not made decisions without first consulting the Holy Spirit's guidance in prayer? It is just part of our human nature to think we know what is best.

And as to the first part of the question regarding rewards, God leaves no room for speculation. Waiting on God's answers, waiting on His timing; waiting for His plan to unfold is to God proof; it is testimony of your faith in Him, and God always rewards faith and obedience.

There are two most beautiful passages in the Bible where God promises reward for waiting on Him. Both passages in the book of Isaiah: "He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall, But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:29-31), and: "For since the beginning of the world men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him." (Is. 64:4)

Another verse in Isaiah speaks of how God 'longs to be gracious to those who wait on Him' (Is. 30:18), and that they will inherit the earth, (Psalm 37:9 NKJV)

Your author has certainly experienced God's rewards for waiting on Him. Following our marriage in 2008, my wife, Judy, and I proposed to buy a new home. But we found so many doors shut in our search. We prayed about it and determined that the LORD was saying "Not now", and so we instead rented for a year. As our lease neared expiration we again prayed – this time before we began the search. God rewarded us with such a beautiful and comfortable home in a peaceful and friendly neighborhood. It would take paragraphs to detail all the doors God flung open; suffice it to say that we were able to purchase a home  that met all our needs and has become our sanctuary with Him.

Waiting on anything is tough. Waiting on God's timing is sometimes tougher. But waiting on Him is fulfilling in that we know we are in His purpose and may anticipate His rewards.

Be blessed!

Expectations

It is generally agreed by most therapists and mediators that the basis for a large majority of disagreements, whether they be between friends, co-workers, family, or even lovers, is ‘unfulfilled expectations’. At whatever level we may establish a relationship, be it one of necessary co-existence or one of a personal nature, we expect certain things from and of a person.

From our spouse, we expect fidelity, from family support, and from friends tolerance. Often our expectations don’t correspond with those of the other person and that’s where the wheel falls off. Unfulfilled expectations.

It has been said that as young lovers go to the marriage altar both the man and the woman have unrealistically high expectations of their betrothed. Expectations are in the eye of the beholder. One love partner knows their expectation; the other love partner does not, and nearly always the expectations are far too fanciful. Too often those expectations are of a shallow and superficial nature, self-serving and unsustainable.

Expectation management – there’s a term we don’t hear often, but it is an ongoing and difficult chore as we find that the things we have expected from others was ‘pie-in-the-sky’ visions on our part, or that person just cannot or will not live up to our expectations of them. So what then? Hopefully we have the grace to step back and re-evaluate our expectations and come up with plan ‘B’. Better yet communicate. “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Amos 3:3  If we have certain aspirations for our children we’d do well to communicate that to them before it’s too late.

What about our expectations of God? And what about His expectations of us?? Did we fail God because He expected too much from us?

As a new Christian comes to deal with his or her new-found station in life, they are often unsure of what God expects of them – and it is hard to find out unless they are in fellowship with other Christians and studying scripture.

God’s Holy Word is His vehicle to teach us what He expects of us – and likewise this same Holy Word teaches us what we can expect from Him.

Clarifying expectations takes time. The more your trust grows in a relationship the fewer the expectations. Trust precludes the need for expectations. Trust causes many expectations to expire. When you place your total trust in God you default to character expectations. You expect His love to be unconditional. You expect His forgiveness to be infinite. You expect to avail yourself to His wisdom. Your expectations are character driven rather than cynical driven.

It becomes about God’s will, not our wants. Healthy expectations revolve around God and His desires. The focus is off me but on God and others. He orchestrates the concert of life, so the goal is to discover His role for me and then follow His lead. Then the motive for people becomes one of serving each other in order to carry out God’s plan for their life.

How can you facilitate understanding God’s will for your spouse, child or work associate?  This is not always easy to discern, but character driven expectations can get to the point of their true need and you can help meet that need. Focus on building trust in the relationship and communication will flow more clearly and compassionately.

Focus on fewer expectations and more on trust. Allow your expectations to begin and end with the character of God. Expect less and you will receive more—you can expect His faithfulness. Agree to expect what God expects and allow your expectant desires to birth God’s will.

Be blessed. . .


Our Lord’s Tenacity

Tenacity – that’s a word we don’t usually find associated with God – for some reason we Christians like the word perseverance. I could have titled this devotional “Our Lord’s Perseverance”, but I wanted to convey my vision of God’s tenacity, His fervid diligence, His painstaking persistence in His ‘good work’ of Philippians 1:6. Tenacity and persistence aren’t characteristics we always associate with perseverance, as those words often convey an attitude of hard headedness or single mindedness. But tenacity is certainly the attribute of the successful.

Much has been written about how we are encouraged to persevere in our faith, in obedience to God, and in our battles against sin and the evil one. Scripture inspires us with promised rewards for our own perseverance (Heb. 10:35; Gal. 6:9; James 1:12), but sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to see how tenaciously persevering God is as He fights for us. I believe it important for us to understand the difference between God’s grace, His mercy, and His patient perseverance.

Christopher Reeve said, “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” And what great obstacles we present to our Hero, God as He labors for our salvation through our unfaithfulness. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

Philippians 1:6 (NKJV), “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”

So our Lord has died on the cross for you, and He has begun a good work [of salvation] in you. . .so what’s the hinderance?  What is holding back Mighty God? He is omnipotent, all powerful. He told the mountains, “you can grow no higher”. He told the oceans, “here is your boundary”. What restrains this all-powerful, invincible God from His work?

I do. And you do. Mankind for all time has thwarted and frustrated God’s patient attempts to restore the Eden relationship He so fervently desires. We do so by our choosing to follow our own self directed path rather than that perfect one planned for us.

We read of the restraint God exhibited as He first determined to destroy all mankind in Genesis chapter 6, but He found a spark of promise in Noah, and relented from His wrath. The Bible does not say Noah was a righteous man, that he was faithful to God, or that in any way he deserved God’s grace. Certainly none of us deserve His grace. But God did not give up on mankind. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Gen. 6:8 NKJV) The NIV and ESV render this verse as “Noah found favor“. I prefer that we found grace in the eyes of God.

Again in Genesis His patience is tried at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11), and by Abraham as he interrupts God’s plan for His chosen nation. How tenaciously patient He was with Moses and the Israelites during their years in the wilderness, and later in the promised land, as they turned away from Him to worship other gods. How tolerant He was with David, a man after His own heart, yet egregiously sinful in murderous lust. Even as He scattered His chosen people to the far corners of their world, He would not, could not, did not give up on them.

In Isaiah’s oracle of the Messiah to come God promised, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. 3 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; 4 he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:2-4) How gentle is our God in dealing with our unfaithfulness – our backsliding – our self serving ways. Eight times in the Old Testament we read that He is ‘slow to anger and abounding in love’, and He will not falter, He will not be discouraged.

F. B.  Meyer wrote, “Though our Lord is principally concerned with the bruised [reed] and the dimly burning wick, He is neither one nor the other. He is neither discouraged nor does He fail. …but through it all He persevered until the heavens and earth which now exist stood forth appareled in beauty that elicited from the lips of the Creator the verdict, “It is very good. ” The centuries which have followed Calvary’s supreme sacrifice have witnessed alterations of chaos with cosmos; of disorder with order…But the Master was never once discouraged, nor slacked His hand, but through good report and evil pursued His purpose.” (Christ in Isaiah, pg 45-46)

We must consider the events of history that have blasphemed our Lord. We would cite the atrocities man has inflicted on his neighbor through wars of conquest and just plain hatred. We could cite the insanity of the Inquisitions and Crusades done in God’s name. We recall in our own lifetime the wars of genocide in Europe and Africa. As our nation was being founded on Christian principles and morals, we sanctioned enslavement and brutality in our own back yards. We must look inward at our personal failings, our individual faithlessness and ugliness, and we ask the question – “How is it that God remains slow to anger and abounding in love? How is it that He has not relented in His mercy. How is it that we are yet beneficiaries of His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness?”

Because we serve not only a loving God of second chances, but because of His determination that He will see His plan prosper. That plan is for us to be reconciled to Him and He will not be frustrated nor tired in His pursuit of that perfect plan.

Praise be His Holy Name.

The Patience of Our Lord

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV)

Whenever this verse comes to mind I sense a renewed exhilaration of my faith in our Lord Jesus, a new promise of His faithfulness, a new reinvigorating spirit within me. How wonderful it is to know that the King of kings stands at your door and knocks.

The whole picture here is of our Lord seeking us out.  He did not wait for us to go searching for Him. This visual is particularly profound when we see it in the context of the letter to the Church at Laodicea of which I have written before (The Lukewarm Christian). Jesus had admonished the  church for their reliance on things of this world – treasures on earth. He had admonished them for their ‘lukewarm’ faith in Him, saying He is inclined to spit them out of His mouth – the Greek here more precisely renders ‘vomit’. I cannot imagine being so reviled by our God as to have Him want to vomit me from His mouth.

Some years ago I read or heard a view on this verse that I found troubling. The writer/speaker – I don’t remember which – didn’t subscribe to conventional opinion that allows us to adopt this verse to modern day convention. His thought was that it compared Jesus to some itinerant door-to-door salesman pleading to fill a compulsory quota of souls. He felt that the image demeaned our Lord and gave the one on the other side of the door the imputus for his own salvation. He subscribed to the view that this verse applied only to the church at Laodicea.

But Jesus said, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door…”. He did not say if someone from the Laodicean church hears His voice – He said anyone!

Equally profound we find His promise of grace with this statement. The church has been found deficient in its faith in Him – so much so that He has been of a mind to vomit their taste from His Holy mouth. Yet even as Paul wrote to the Romans, “but God showed His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). No matter that we are lukewarm in our faith, setting aside our addictions to things seen, rather than those unseen, overlooking our wretchedness, blindness, and nakedness –  He will still stand at our door and knock!

And the promise doesn’t end with His coming in the door. . .no, as we read further Jesus promises even more. “To him who overcomes (conquers in ESV), I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame (conquered) and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Rev. 3:20-21) This overcoming – conquering is our victory over evil. Do you see the parallel here? Our Lord Jesus, the Savior of mankind, our King the Christ, is allowing that our victory over evil is comparative to His own victory over sin. How can you not feel invigorated. Jesus has promised us the same Power that lifted Him from the grave as we trust in Him.

The invitation is to open the door of our heart, with no restriction nor reservation. He is saying to any and all that He is patient with us, He is waiting for us. Although John’s gospel teaches us that no one comes to Jesus until the Father calls them, (John 6:44, 6:65), it is still our responsibility to answer the door. He will not open the door. But He does wait for us. Waiting to bless us , comfort us, and to give us His peace and joy. God has assured us of how anxious He is to bless us (2 Chron. 16:9)

If you are unsure of your relationship with the Lord Jesus may I challenge you to open that door to your heart and receive Him. You will be forever changed, renewed, and regenerated.

May the Lord God abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others around you.