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Christian Life, Evangelism, Faith

By God, the Camel Can

April 25, 2016

 

 

Each of you, if you’re a follower of Christ, have at least one or two people in your life who seem like they’ll never put their faith in Christ. They’re the coworker who you watch your words around lest they begin berating you about the evils of religion. They’re the family member who is more than ready to enter into a quickly-escalating debate about the existence of God over the dinner table, much to everyone else’s chagrin. They’re the friend who you’ve known for years and love and are beginning to despair of them ever seeing the truth of what you so passionately believe.

It’s discouraging to go month after month, year after year in prayer and faithful truth-speaking and see no apparent fruit. But don’t give up just because it’s hard. In fact, don’t give up just because it’s impossible.

In Mark 10 Jesus makes the statement, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” His disciples, rightly appalled at this statement, begin to question Jesus about how exactly someone can be saved if it’s something as utterly impossible as fitting a six-foot-tall dromedary through a needle hole. With his typical, beautiful brevity Jesus replies, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” By God, the camel can and will fit through the needle’s eye.

Those people in your life who are fiercely against Christianity? That friend you’ve been longing to see encounter Jesus in a life-changing way? They’re the camel, and all things are possible.

Don’t give up on that person – those people. Continue faithfully demonstrating and declaring the glorious truth of the Gospel. Continue in your prayer. No matter how hard-hearted or resistant the person, God is still able to accomplish the impossible. It is there, in the fitting of camel-people through the eye of the Gospel’s needle, that God gets the greatest glory. He can still raise a dead soul to life and open those blinded eyes to see the beauty of Christ. Believe it, and act accordingly.

 

 

 

Faith, Spiritual Growth

Belief and Blessing

April 12, 2016

 

 

You know the story. An angel shows up to a teenage girl in the midst of her morning chores, declaring that she’s going to have a child that will be the Son of God. Mary, though shocked, accepts the angel’s words as true and responds in praise. A few weeks later she travels to stay with her cousin Elizabeth who has had a similarly miraculous pregnancy (though without the whole son of God thing). When Mary shows up at Elizabeth’s house she is greeted with a prophecy.

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Luke 1:45

Blessed for Believing

Faith is what pleases God most. The majority of the book of Romans is filled with the Apostle Paul making a case for this, and he begins with the statement, “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ (Romans 1:17) Faith is what pleases God and gathers blessing for those who believe – hence Elizabeth’s statement “Blessed is she who has believed”!

Despite all common sense to the contrary, Mary took God at his word. That’s how those who are righteous live. Faith is taking God at his word, believing that the Lord will fulfill his promises, regardless of what common sense or circumstance says.

How will you do that today? In Christ God has made countless promises to us, and I want us to be able to come to the end of our day and have it declared over us “Blessed are you who have believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises!”

It is there, in that life of faith and the eternal fruit that comes from it, that true blessing is found. Of course, that blessing might not look like what you’d expect. It certainly didn’t for Mary. But that’s a topic for another post.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Warfare

Problems in Perspective

March 23, 2016

 

 

What’s the default storyline that you’re operating in? When something goes well are you the achieving hero or a person carried along by something greater than yourself? When something goes wrong are you a victim or a protagonist preparing to overcome the odds?

We humans can’t help but tell ourselves stories. We interpret every situation through the lenses of the stories we’ve bought into, regardless of how accurate they are. God is a storyteller, writing something amazing on the pages of history. In his image we’re created as storytellers, and in many ways the stories we tell ourselves define our quality of life. Our stories define our perspective on life, for better or worse. Our stories – if we could externalize them – would give clear evidence as to whether we are functional atheists or practical, real-life believers in the God of Jesus Christ.

There’s a scene in 2 Kings 5 that illustrates the radical difference that two different perspectives – two different stories – can have. I’ve written about this scene before but from a slightly different angle and felt that this concept merited a post of its own.

Here’s the story, in brief. Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, has leprosy. He’s dying. One of his wife’s servant girls comments that there’s a prophet in Israel who might be able to heal him. Naaman’s master, the king of Aram, lets Naaman head on over to Israel with somewhere upwards of $60,000 worth of gold and silver plus ten fine sets of clothing and a letter saying that the king of Israel should cure Naaman of his leprosy. The King of Israel receives the letter and isn’t so thrilled about it. The text reads,

And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
– 2 kings 5:7-8

A Problem

The king of Israel’s story interprets this letter negatively. His perspective shows him a big problem. Big enough for him to tear his clothes and begin mourning. He believes that if he doesn’t heal Naaman the Syrian army is coming for him. The question is, why is this his perspective? The text gives us several hints.

  • He sees Naaman as an enemy. The king’s response is a petulant child passing blame; “See how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
  • His false humility is really masked-over fear and lack of faith. “Am I God, to kill and to make alive…?”
  • He doesn’t realize the power of his position as the king of God’s people, or the resources at his disposal. He’s not God, but he is the king of God’s people.
  • He’s more focused on himself than on God or Naaman. His story is about him, a victim at the hands of the more powerful Naaman.

An Opportunity

The very next paragraph we see Elisha operating in the same situation with a totally different perspective. He’s living in a different story. Where the king of Israel sees Naaman’s arrival and request as a problem that is too big for him, Elisha sees an opportunity for God to show his power. Contrast Elisha’s view with the king’s:

  • He sees Naaman as needy rather than as an attacker. “Let him come now to me, that he may know…”
  • He knows his position and authority. He’s a prophet of God, which means God listens when he prays. “Elisha the man of God…there is a prophet in Israel”
  • His boldness is humility because it’s inspired by God. He believes in the power of God and acts accordingly.
  • He’s more focused on God and Naaman than himself.

Our Opportunity

Elisha’s perspective enables him to step forward in faith and ultimately see Naaman healed of his leprosy and become a worshipper of the God of Israel. The king’s perspective would, most likely, have led to war or at the very least Naaman’s eventual death.

Every day you and I confronted with situations that we can either view as a problem or an opportunity. What perspective are you going to live from? When you lose your job, how will you see it? When the relationship you’re in ends painfully, how will you see it? When there’s conflict in your community or the person you’re discipling goes off the deep end, how will you see it? Is it a problem that leaves you as a victim, helpless and lost? Or is it an opportunity for God to demonstrate himself in new and wonderful ways?

When we see other people’s neediness, know our position and authority in Christ, live humbly before God, and focus our eyes, minds, and spirits on Christ rather than ourselves, we’ll get to see things just as amazing as Elisha’s healing of Naaman’s leprosy. People will be blessed, restored, encouraged, and saved.

As followers of Jesus we have opportunities, not problems. God works everything for our good. Let’s work towards seeing things that way.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Theology

Laughing on Judgment Day

March 16, 2016

 

 

The contrast between fear inspired by lack of faith and faith that leads to dauntless courage has been a recurring theme in my spiritual growth thus far in 2016. In the last few months I’ve posted a couple times about it, and during one of our recent Threshingfloor community gatherings we spent a significant amount of time discussing John’s words in 1 John 4 about love casting out fear. Our discussion uncovered a truth in the Apostle John’s words that I’d never seen before. He writes,

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1 John 4:16-18

When you picture yourself coming before the judgment throne of God, how do you imagine you will feel in that moment? What will your expression, your posture be? My assumption, fed by various sermons and texts like Isaiah’s throne-room encounter or Israel’s experience on mount Sinai, is that my feelings before God on that day would be barely reigned-in fear, kept in check by the fact that I know Jesus has covered me (but just barely). In my imagination my posture was always one of kneeling, bowing, and trembling. Isaiah-style “woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips,” worried that at any moment I might be obliterated but clinging in faith to Jesus’ saving work. I’d leave the throne room feeling like I’d just survived an encounter with a hungry lion.

Judging by these verses that’s not what John expects, and it’s not what he wants Jesus’ people to expect either.

God is Love

John writes that God is love, perfect love, and that perfect love casts out fear. A verse or two earlier he states, “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.”

If God is love and love casts out fear, why have I always assumed that my encounter in his throne room would be one of fear?

If we have God living in us and we are in God, why would coming before the throne of God be anything more than arriving for the first time at the home that we’ve always longed for?

If love has indeed been “perfected with us so that we may have confidence,” then maybe it’s time that we re-evaluate our assumptions about God, love, and fear.

We Have Confidence

According to John, “we may have confidence for the day of judgment”. The writer of Hebrews echoes this in Hebrews 10:19, saying “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,” and Paul declares, “In him [Jesus] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

The glorious truth about Christ’s saving work is that it doesn’t just get us through the judgment throne of God by the skin of our teeth, trembling lest we damned. Instead it so radically, deeply connects us with God the Father that when we come before the judgment throne we come with confidence and boldness. You won’t tremble on that day, you’ll rejoice. You won’t fear, you’ll be free.

For those who are in Christ the experience won’t be like being sent to the principle’s office. It will be more like coming home to a Father who is wildly excited to see them again.

When we grasp this it dramatically changes how we proclaim the Gospel, how we live, and how we think about our relationship with God. If our imagined experience of our first encounter with God the Father is one of fear rather than love, if our faith is driven more by expectation of judgment than anticipation of joy, no wonder it holds little appeal to the world around us. But if we grasp the radical, life-transforming love that is truly ours in Christ, those around us will be inexorably drawn to it.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment,” and in Christ all punishment has been done away with. Soak in God’s love. Believe it. You’ll be coming before the throne with boldness on that day. How much more bold and fearless ought you be today?!

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

What you care about determines what you hear

March 14, 2016

 

 

When we live for the approval of man, we prevent ourselves from hearing God. If our souls are full of the sound of the voices of the world around us, it becomes incredibly difficult to discern the voice of the Spirit. Jesus’s conversation with the Pharisees in regards to the source of his authority is a perfect illustration of this point. Matthew sets the scene;

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Matthew 21:23-27

Jesus is in the temple, supposedly the realm of the chief priests and pharisees’ authority. He’s teaching the people, and if Jesus’ recorded teachings throughout the Gospels are any indicator it was probably some thought provoking, controversial stuff that he was saying. Driven by fear of losing face and authority in their own realm, the leaders approach Jesus with a question that’s meant to trap him. Jesus, as is his way, turns their trap on them and reveals what they truly care about and are listening to.

“Who gave you this authority?”

The question the leaders ask seems like a fairly straightforward one. Who gave you the authority to teach in the temple? To heal? Jesus has already answered this question multiple times before in various ways. The problem is, the leaders can’t hear him – they can’t receive what he’s saying because they care more about the opinions of the crowd than they do about the word of God.

“Neither will I tell you”

Seeing their fear of man, Jesus turns a question back to them. The response of the Pharisees and priests to this question is the telltale sign. They apparently don’t really know or care where John’s authority came from. They care about how the crowd will respond to what they say, a thing that prevents them from hearing from Jesus where his authority originates.

I wonder how often we don’t hear an answer from God because we’re more focused on what the crowd, the people around us, will think? How often do we cut ourselves off from powerful encounters with the ever-living God by being more concerned about the opinions of short-lived people?

Proverbs 29:25 declares that “the fear of man is a snare.” Jesus warns earlier in Matthew’s Gospel that those who live for applause from men won’t receive rewards from God (Matt 6:5-6).

I don’t want my love of people’s opinions to deafen me to what Jesus is saying. I want to be a man who cares most about what the Lord is saying. I want to respond with honest answers to Jesus’ challenges and questions, and be able to hear what he says and obey without fear of what people will think.

That’s not an easy path to walk. We’re so wired within our flesh to care most about the most foolish of things, but I intend to work at heart change, by the power of the Spirit, until it becomes a reality. Will you join me?

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith, Theology

Checking Jesus’ Death

March 7, 2016

 

 

 

When things go wrong we tend to question God. When we sin we often question whether God’s grace is going to cover this failure. Does the Lord truly love us? Is he pleased with us?

The common practice of Roman soldiers was to break the legs of those who were being crucified in order to ensure that they died quickly. The day Jesus was crucified, John records in his Gospel that the soldiers came to do exactly that but found that Jesus already appeared to be dead. To confirm this, “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34)

Death by crucifixion is death by drowning, liquid pooling up in your lungs as you struggle to breathe. When water spilled out of Jesus’ pierced side, the soldiers knew full well that the man hanging on the cross was definitely dead. They didn’t need to check again. The execution had been completed.

Years later, the Apostle Peter writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Christ suffered once for sins. The book of Hebrews reiterates this, declaring, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10, emphasis mine)

God has proven himself to us completely in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. He proved his love through the sending and sacrificing of his son. He’s proved his power through the miraculous life and resurrection of his son. He’s proved his faithfulness through his son’s promise to be with his people till the very end and ultimately, to return.

When we question the goodness, grace, or power of God every time we sin or something doesn’t go the way we desire in our lives, it’s as if we’re that soldier there on the crucifixion mount, returning again to spear Jesus’ side, double, triple checking that his sacrificial death is truly real, over and over again.

Checking Jesus’ death over and over again isn’t faith. It’s fear and doubt. Put the spear down and take God at his word. Clearly this is what John intended for us to do when he concluded his Gospel with the words; “He who saw it has borne witness – his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth – that you may also believe.” (John 19:35)

You may not have been there for Jesus’ death, but John’s word is true and is written so that you may also believe. Take God at his word. Don’t let your questioning become a continual testing of his truthfulness. Stop checking Jesus’ death. Trust that he has suffered once, for all, and has covered completely every sin and failure and shortcoming that you will ever have. Trust that his love is unending and his patience is perfect. Trust he does indeed work everything for the good of those who love him. Trust him. His testimony is true!

 

*This post was inspired by something my roommate Andrew shared with me after he had been praying, so credit for the concept goes to him!

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Faith

Expectations and Miracles

February 29, 2016

 

 

A week or two ago at Salem, Kelly and I’s home church here in Fargo, Pastor Glenn preached a powerful sermon from 2 Kings 5:1-14 – the story of Naaman’s healing from leprosy. You can watch or listen to the sermon here. I wanted to delve further into one of the points that Glen made during his sermon and apply it to our day-to-day relationship with God.

To set the scene, Naaman, a powerful, influential, and strong commander of the Syrian army discovers he has leprosy. He’s on the road to ostracism, slow and painful decay, and ultimately and inevitably death. Leprosy, in his day, has no cure and is highly contagious. No cure, that is, except for the miraculous healing that the God of Israel is able to do, as Naaman’s wife’s Israelite servant girl points out. Naaman heads to Israel with gifts from the Syrian king to demand that he be healed, ultimately meeting with a messenger from Elisha who tells him to go and wash in the Jordan river. Here’s the point in the story that I want us to zoom in on. It’s incredibly applicable to us today. In 2 Kings 5 we read,

And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. (5:10-12)

Naaman needs healing. He needs God’s intervention or he’ll die. But there’s a problem. Naaman has expectations of how God should do his intervening. If God’s actions don’t fit in Naaman’s box, he’s going to walk on, leprosy or not. God, however, wants to directly address Naaman’s issues and use his leprosy as a magnifying glass to reveal errors in his thinking. There are at least two issues that Naaman has with God’s method of healing as outlined by Elisha’s servant;

Issue 1: The person bringing the gift

Naaman is someone in a high position. He’s the commander of the army of one of the world’s superpowers. He’s expecting the top dog, Elisha himself, to come and speak to him face to face. Elisha, however, insults Naaman by sending a servant in his place, and Naaman doesn’t like the person bringing the gift. He doesn’t want to receive his healing from some second-rate servant. He wants it from the prophet himself. None of this second-hand crap.

How often we operate this way! We judge the quality of the gift based on the person who’s bringing it. We set our expectations for the quality of a sermon based on the appearance of the preacher. We expect the greatest financial support from those who are well dressed and clean cut. God, however, tends to use the most unlikely of candidates to do the greatest of things. He sends his greatest gifts through the most unexpected of sources.

Don’t prevent yourself from receiving a gift from God because you’ve discounted the person who is bringing it.

Issue 2: The method

Naaman wanted some show – some special treatment. He expected God’s healing to align with what he’d seen Syrian priests and magicians do. God, however, wants to knock down Naaman’s barriers. Wash in dirty water and be clean, Naaman. This isn’t going to be a magic show or the result of some mystical incantation.

We, like Naaman, have our expectations set for what God’s methods should be when he answers our prayers or fulfills our needs. The financial provision should come as a surprise generous gift from an anonymous donor rather than an extra side job. The beautiful romance that leads to a lasting marriage should come before we’re X years old. The healing or deliverance should be the product of one powerful explosion of the Spirit’s power rather than months or years of slow growth and restoration work.

Set aside your expectations for God’s methods. Jesus never heals the same thing the same way twice. Our God loves to do new and unexpected things. Open your eyes and be on the lookout for God’s miraculous intervention in the places where you previously least expected it.

Thankfully for Naaman his servants prevail upon him and he obeys, dipping himself in the Jordan river. He sets aside his expectations, obeys, and receiving the healing that he needed.

We serve a God who is more than able to meet every one of our needs – from miraculous bodily healing to spiritual freedom to financial and relational provision. He’s not only able, he is willing and eager to do so, as Jesus demonstrates when he responds to the beggar’s statement “If you are willing, Lord…” with the declaration, “I am willing. Be healed.” (Matthew 8:1-3)

The real question is whether or not we’re willing to receive what God is giving. Are we ready to set aside our expectations and receive God’s gift regardless of the deliverer or the method of delivery?

I certainly hope we are. Like Naaman we each are desperately in need of a miracle. Let’s be willing to receive, regardless of how our good God gives.

 

 

 

Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Pharaoh, Moses, and Persistent Faith

January 26, 2016

 

 

When God sent Moses back to Egypt to confront Pharaoh and demand the release the of the nation of Israel from slavery, he notifies Moses that there’s going to be opposition. “The Lord said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.” (Exodus 4:21) Moses’ request is rejected not once, not twice, not even four or five times. Ten times Moses is rejected. In the face of that opposition Moses was expected to persist. Not get frustrated, discouraged, or hopeless, but to “perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do,” and persist in faith at doing the work that God had called him to.

God has called you to something today. It may not be taking a nation out of slavery, but God has put a task before you today that you need to accomplish. There’s going to be be people and circumstances that stand against you doing that thing. Ignore them or confront them, but don’t let them stop you. Persist in faith by continuing forward through the opposition into the victory that God has already won in through Jesus Christ.

Remember the truth that gave Moses hope. God told him beforehand that he was the one hardening Pharaoh’s heart so that he could demonstrate his power and glory to Egypt. Everything, even the opposition you’re facing, is in God’s hands.

Hundreds of years after Moses, Jesus gathered his disciples and warned them that the world would be against them if they followed him, even to the point where they would be killed for doing his will. At the end of John 16, Jesus reminds his followers, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

There’s going to be trouble. There’s going to be opposition. But don’t worry about it. Jesus has already overcome and the Father has always been in control. Be bold in pursuing what God has put before you. Persist in faith. As you do that your reward – in this life and the next – will be great. Who knows, maybe you will end up leading a nation out of slavery and into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Two Buts

January 18, 2016

When God commands us to do something more often than not our responses start with excuses. Rather than offering ourselves to our creator as obedient servants and our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12), we offer him our “buts,” providing long lists of reasons why we can’t do what he’s asked us to. We’re too afraid, too unskilled, too socially awkward, too tired, and on and on.

Our buts

We’re not alone in our tendency to give God our buts. Moses, after a direct verbal command from the God who made a bush speak, insisted “But I can’t speak properly!” Gideon made excuses to the angel of the Lord because his family was small and unimportant. When Jesus shows up at Lazarus’ tomb the crowd’s response to the command to roll away that stone isn’t excitement; it’s “But he’s been dead for three days!” The disciple’s response to Jesus command to feed the 5000 isn’t obedience, it’s excuses; “But we don’t have enough food.”

Continuing in a long line of but-offerers, we are generally extremely successful at counting ourselves out. God commands us to not fear or worry. We respond, “But there’s so many unknowns!” God commands us to be free from all sexual immorality and drunkenness. We respond, “But I have an addictive personality! I’ve tried to stop before and it hasn’t worked.” God commands us to practice hospitality and operate as a community. We respond, “But I’m an introvert, I don’t like big groups,” or “My problems are too big – they can’t handle them.”

Thankfully God never lets the story end with our “buts”. Moses isn’t abandoned after the burning bush and Lazarus isn’t left in the tomb. The disciples and the crowd aren’t left hungry, and the world isn’t left lost.

God’s buts

Throughout Scripture there’s a repeated theme of God butting in and dramatically changing the situation when things are going wrong. Note the “but God” in these three verses;

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark
Genesis 8:1

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But God, because of his great love for us, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:1-5

Moses couldn’t speak properly, but God provides someone to speak for him. Gideon was from a small, helpless family, but God makes him the leader of a great army. Lazarus was dead, but God brought him back to life.

We need to take our eyes off our “buts” and fix them instead on God’s promises. Rather than making excuses let’s revel at the power of our God to step in and save, heal, deliver, and restore. When we focus on our own problems we get locked into an attitude of defeat and uselessness. When our focus is on Jesus we’re freed to walk in faith.

Next time God commands you to do something, remember that he always gives the power to accomplish what he’s commanded – even if it doesn’t feel like it. Get over your “but” and get into the power of God.

 

 

 

 

Christian Life, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Ask and Obey

January 12, 2016

When God calls you to take a step of faith, often times it’s as much for the sake of building the faith of others as it is for you. The triune God created humanity for community, and it is through the actions of faith taken by those around us that we often get to encounter God’s goodness towards us. Take, for instance, this story from 1 Kings 17;

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.” “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’ ” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. (‭1 Kings‬ ‭17‬:‭7-16‬ NIV)

Elijah already knows God’s power to provide for him. Just before the above story with the widow, God’s been using wild ravens to bring him food. That raises the question, why not continue doing it that way? Isn’t it more miraculous to have wild animals provide God’s prophet with meals than some widow?

God’s goal, however, isn’t to prove that he can do miracles. That’s already pretty well established (read the rest of the book). No – I believe God’s heart here is for more people to encounter his goodness. God tells Elijah, “I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” He wants Elijah’s provision to be mediated by another person, so that another person can learn how God works.

Note who it is that God chooses to provide for one of his most powerful prophets: a widow. Not a grand king, rich landlord, or prosperous farmer, but a widow with a young son who is so close to the end that she’s given up and assumes her and her son will die soon. He sends Elijah to ask her for water and food, the very things she doesn’t have any extra of.

She doesn’t even seem to be aware that God’s planning on doing something miraculous through her. Despite the fact that God told Elijah “I have directed a widow….,” the widow doesn’t seem to have gotten the message. It takes Elijah declaring God’s promised provision to her to call out her faith and enable her to act. Note how Elijah goes about calling out faith in the widow;

  • He persists. Even though she tells him at first that she doesn’t have what he needs and that her and her son will die if they don’t get to keep the food, he asks a second time. We need to ask with holy persistence and not back down just because what we’re asking for appears impossible.
  • He starts small. First he invites her to make “a small loaf of bread” for him. Not a grand feast or even a full meal, just a small loaf of bread. Invite the people around you to take a small step of faith, to move even an inch in the direction that God is calling them. Jesus himself says that faith as small as a mustard seed has massive power.
  • He declares God’s promises. Elijah speaks the powerful truth that God is going to provide for the widow and her son as well as Elijah. Speak God’s truth and build up the people around you, regardless of whether they come with you on the journey or not. After all, “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”

When we call others into obedience in faith, they receive blessings beyond what they would have experienced otherwise. The widow and her son were provided with abundant food during a time of famine because Elijah asked them to take a step of faith. They stepped and saw God do miracles on a daily basis.

Has God called you to something that you can’t do on your own power or resources? Good! He wants to use your need as a means of building the faith of those around you. Today – this week – God has someone in your life that he wants you to help step out in faith. He’s called you in a direction and you need that must be met before you can start moving. He wants you to go to those around you and invite them to support you in that journey. Ask the community of believers around you for what you need. Ask even if it seems impossible. God will provide and use your need to bless you and bless the person you’re asking. Miracles will happen.