Monday, September 10, 2007

Responding to the promises of God (pt. 1)

Over the years I have ministered at Redeemer there have been many transitions which have presented opportunity to consider God's promises afresh and respond. In every instance there seems to be a choice (humanly speaking, of course) to respond in fear (which is natural) or respond in faith (which is supernatural).
The Scriptural account I look to in such times comes in Numbers 13:

Numbers 13:1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” 3 So Moses sent them from the wilderness of Paran, according to the command of the Lord, all of them men who were heads of the people of Israel.

Moses and the people of Israel were literally on the brink of seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise to occupy their own land. God caused many miraculous things to happen in order to advance Israel to this point. Surely God’s faithful past would give fuel to the people’s faith as they marched on in and took the promised land. But no…instead we see fear, apprehension, and doubt. In spite of all God had done in their lives, the majority of the congregation responds with dismay, fright, panic, and even dread.

Numbers 13: 17 Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan and said to them, “Go up into the Negeb and go up into the hill country, 18 and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, 19 and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad, and whether the cities that they dwell in are camps or strongholds, 20 and whether the land is rich or poor, and whether there are trees in it or not. Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land.” Now the time was the season of the first ripe grapes...25 At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. 26 And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. 27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” 30 But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” 31 Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” 32 So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.” 14:1 Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. 2 And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” 4 And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

There are two possible responses the people of God can have to life’s circumstances: We can respond in fear as 10 of the spies and the majority of the congregation, or we can respond in faith as Joshua and Caleb.

First, let's consider the fearful response of the 10 spies. Here they were on the brink of taking the land which was promised for 500 years and they pull up short due to the lack of faith. I mean, never mind that God raised their numbers in Egypt to such a point that the Egyptians were worried there would be a revolt. Never mind that God sent plague after plague until Pharaoh had no choice but to let the Israelites go. He made rivers turn to blood, flies to infest the land, boils to infest the skin of the Egyptians, he even killed the firstborn children of the Egyptians, all in order to show the Israelites He was faithful to do whatever He had to do to keep His promise to them. But it didn’t stop there. All of Israel loaded up their camels and marched out of Egypt. When Pharaoh’s vastly superior army pursued the Israelites, God caused the Red Sea to split down the middle and Israel passed through on dry land. When Pharaoh’s army pursued, the waters came back and drowned them. All these things to show the people of God that His promises were true. As if all those miraculous things weren’t enough, God spoke to Moses on the mountain. He re-affirmed the covenant he made with Abraham with Moses and the people. He gave them the Law. He put up with their golden-calf idolatry. He marched them through the wilderness toward Canaan, the people complain about being thirsty, God gives them water out of a dry rock. The people complain about being hungry, God sends more quail than they could possibly eat. God brings them to the brink of the promised land. He has fulfilled every promise he has made with miraculous sign after miraculous sign now all they have to do is take the land. What do they do in light of all the great and mighty acts of God toward them? They respond as if God hadn’t done a thing for them- they respond in fear. They respond as if God had led them to their deaths-they respond faithlessly and forgetfully- in fear.

This account reminds us of the two possible responses we can have to life’s circumstances. Will we act according to God’s sure promises revealed in His Word and revealed in His constant faithfulness? Or will we act according to our human anxieties, insecurities, and fears?

Ten of the spies responded in fear and subsequently led the people to be fearful.

27 And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there.

Really what the spies are saying is “never mind what God promised” there is no way He can deliver. Never mind all the great and mighty acts of Yahweh, the people in these cities are powerful and cannot be overtaken. Even if God is on our side, we have no chance. Look at the military like report the spies give- the cities are fortified and very large. Also, we are told the descendants of Anak were there. We know from various Egyptian texts that there was a ruler who lived in the Canaanite area around the 2nd Century BC named Anak. This Anak had descendants who were very large. Goliath, who lived as a sort of mercenary among the Philistines, was most likely a descendant of Anak himself. He was about 9 feet tall. So the spies observed the descendants of Anak and compared themselves as grasshoppers before these 9- foot tall giants. Basically the spies where noting that the cities were too strong and fortified and the people were too big and fierce to ever dream of going near them let alone attack them.

What convicts me most about this story is how the leaders of Israel lead with fear and subsequently caused the people to be fearful also. They are the ones who should be the most faithful, the most courageous, the most in tune with God’s will and dependent upon God's sure Word. Yet, they come back from their 40 day espionage trip ignoring God's promise and in total fear. They sound like a class of kindergartners referring to high-school students. What is clearly missing from the thoughts of the 10 faithless spies is the Word of God. Not once do you hear the spies refer to God’s promise to them. Their fearful response begs a question of me: When I am confronted with a challenging transition or situation, what do I refer for guidance, direction, and comfort?
Do I refer to the promises of God in His Word? Do I seek counsel from people who depend on God’s Word? Or, like the 10 "faithless" spies, do I rely on my own abilities to handle it? Do I try to be self-sufficient? The latter choice will always produce a fearful response.


grj said...

As I get older I look back on my life, and I see God's hand guiding me and shaping my life and character. It is impossible to deny the many dangers, toils, and snares he has delivered me from by his grace.
I live daily relying on his promises to his children, and to me, and I am so grateful for His Holy Spirit that strengthens me, and yet some days I find myself taking His grace for granted and not seeing His grace as the miracle that it is, and even finding myself doubting at times.
So today I pray for the Lord to make me truly grateful, to help me to recognize Him in every area of my life, to never again take His mercy and grace for granted, and even though I believe, to help me with my unbelief, that I may be profitable for His Kingdom and His Glory.amen

Frontier Forest said...

It might seem like over simplification on my part…. but walking and living by faith, understanding who we are and what we are in Christ Jesus, when responding to the promises of God …. why should we fear? Whom should we fear? What should we fear?
“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love!” (I Corinthians 16:13-14)
When facing or standing against any and all fear, Paul’s stern and commanding words gives us some pretty powerful antidotes. Paul’s commands are clear:
1. Be alert
2. Stand firm
3. Act like mature men (women)
4. Be strong
5. And above all things…… live by loving
For every fear that arises, we know He is standing with us! Therefore, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out all fear!” (I John 4:18)
Often overlooked, I believe one of the most profoundly powerful, yet simple spiritual solutions against all forms of fear is spoken forth in Ephesians 6:10 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of HIS MIGHT!”
We have all read this verse many times. But what does it really mean? How many of us have ever slowed down long enough to realize whom we are to be strong in, or, how do we acquire His Mighty strength to overcome fear? Paul commands us, in Ephesians 6:10; to have a Biblical concept of God…. Know that all power and strength, and authority comes from abiding in Him. Knowing are Heavenly Father means much more than the a casual knowing or having an informal acquaintanceship. Literally speaking, Biblical Knowledge means being intimate, dear, drawn near, cherished by His presence, humbled by His power, being in splendor of His Majesty, enthralled by the Strength of His Spirit, and broken by the enormity of Biblical truth!
Knowing Who HE truly is, His attributes, His very nature, this is the victory over all fear, “being strong in the Lord, and in the strength of HIS MIGHT!”
But God warns us so many times… NOT in our own strength!
Never assume just because we have read a book about overcoming fear, we will be automatic victors! Never assume, just because we are on God’s side, we can put fear to death on our own terms.
This is pure presumption… and presumption is never part of our faith walk! Presumption is feared-faith!
Here these victorious, fearless words from God’s Words of promise! Hear the Voice of our Triumphant God!
“It is Christ, the Lord God who goes before you." "The Glory of the Lord is our Rear Guard!"
"And it is the Lord who goes ahead of you; He will be with you. HE will not fail you or forsake you." "Do not fear, or be dismayed! Stand by! See what the salvation of the Lord will accomplish! The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent!”
When responding to the promises of God, we can stand bravely before any fear, for in Christ, we are victorious conquerors over all fear!