trusting God when it seems impossible

2

Category : 1 Kings, faith, fear, live for the eternal, taking action

  

Life can be hard.

There are millions of people without jobs.  They wonder how they’ll feed their families, pay their mortgages, and make things work.  There are millions more who are without food, hundreds of thousands sold into sex slavery, and countless more without any kind of health care. 

How do you deal with those things?

This isn’t an academic conversation to me.  This is real.  This hits home. 

I’m out of a job because I acted in faith when God told me it was time to move on.  I acted, and now I wonder if that was the right thing.  Did I hear him correctly?  Or did I eat some bad pizza?  Of course at the time I had no idea what was going to happen to the economy.  I had no idea how hard it would be to find another job (I’d never had a problem in the past).  I acted because I believe that’s what God wanted me to do. 

I don’t pretend to understand everything.  I’d also be lying if I said I’m not tempted to find a solution “on my own.”  Isn’t that the reasonable thing to do?

The world tells us we need to fend for ourselves.  And in those quiet moments when we’re alone, isn’t that what we hear whispered from the bottom of our soul?  Don’t we hear a voice that says, “this problem can only be solved if you do something!”

That must have been the voice Asa heard. 

Asa was a king who was once described as someone who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 15:11)  That was high praise considering the kings before him were pretty awful people.  But by the end of his life, Asa had succumbed to that voice.  He was being attacked from the south and feared his kingdom would be overrun.  So he did what any rational, normal person would do – he made an alliance with someone stronger. 

He listened to that voice and “did something.”

You see that voice is right.  Our problems won’t be solved if we don’t take action.  If we sit around paralyzed by fear, doing nothing, nothing is exactly what will happen.  Unfortunately Asa thought action meant bribing a foreign king (1 Kings 15: 18-19) when he should have realized that action meant trusting God.   

That’s the danger we all face.  We want to take action.  But we don’t always want to wait for God to get involved.  So we act.  But what happens when we’re wrong?  What happens when action without God is the worst thing we could have done?  

No one wants to hear God say, “Because you relied on man, and not God, your problems will be worse than before.”  Asa wasn’t any different.  When he was told that, he didn’t say “gee thanks, I didn’t realize that.”  Nope.  Asa took the man delivering the news and threw him in jail.  (2 Chronicles 16: 10)

In the end, things did get worse.  Asa died from an infectious disease.  In his feet.  Not exactly the best way to go out.  But even worse, in the end Asa didn’t even bother turning to God to ask for help.  He decided it was more important to “do something” then to rely on God.  So he sought out the best doctors of the time - and died two years later. 

That’s not where I want to be. 

No matter how scary it gets not having a job, I don’t want to “do something” if that something means leaving God out of the solution.  I don’t believe for a minute that God wants us to sit around waiting only for a miracle to occur.  I think he wants us to give problems every ounce of our strength.  If you are sick he wants you to see doctors.  If you’re facing an invading army, he wants you to seek allies.  If you are homeless he wants you find a home.  If you’re jobless he wants you looking for a job.  But he doesn’t want you to do it alone. 

There are times we need to trust God when it seems impossible.  Asa failed that test.  But we don’t have to. 

No matter what our problems are, trusting God is the right solution.  Because as Asa discovered, no matter how brilliant a doctor is, they are still limited by time, knowledge, and skill.  I’m not saying following God is easy.  In fact, following God is tough.  It’s even painful at times: the man who told Asa he was wrong, wound up in prison.  Yet, there are more important things in this life than having a job, defeating an invading army, and even your freedom.

There is a point to life.  And sometimes to get there we have to trust God even when it seems impossible. 

wealth and power

Category : God, Judges

   

Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family” (Judges 8: 27)

I’ve been thinking a lot about wealth and power, and I think I’m finally coming to the point in my life where I can honestly say I don’t want any.  There was a time where I would have loved to have been famous, or at least well known.  The thought of being influential and remembered in history was exciting.  (I still smile when I think about school kids 200 years from now trying to remember trivial facts about my life.)  It would also be nice to not have to worry about money.

But as I sit here thinking about those things, I just don’t want the trouble that comes with wealth and power.  I can barely manage my own problems, I don’t need any more.  And wealth and power seem to bring a lot of problems.  Consider that the Steelers are going through ownership struggles.  The Steelers founder gave a share of ownership to each of his sons, and that’s been passed down the line.  Now one brother (Dan Rooney) is trying to buy out the other brothers.  For a variety of reasons neither side is happy with the other.  And a sale doesn’t look promising, which means no Rooney will own the team their father/grandfather founded.  They make sacrifice the family legacy, break the hearts of millions of fans, all for a few million dollars.  Is money worth that kind of legacy?

Or if you’re a music fan just look at the divorce hearings of Phil Collins or Paul McCartney.  I’m not in a position to say how much money the ex wives deserved or didn’t deserve.  But there’s no question the divorces would have been less acrimonious and less public if there wasn’t so much money at stake.  Money makes you do funny things.

We are all vulnerable to it’s influence.  Even people God personally selects to do amazing things, like Gideon.  After living a life that God used to save thousands of lives, Gideon gives it all away for wealth and power.  The wealth he accumulates becomes “a snare to Gideon and his family”

Jesus said “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  I don’t think that’s because money is evil.  I think it’s because money changes who we are.  And I’m not sure I want to take that risk.

living in faith

Category : Deuteronomy, God, taking action

 

Imagine what it must have been like for Israel on the verge of entering the Promised Land.  They had been wondering in the wilderness for 40 years, and now God was just about to fulfill his promise.  But before they could enter the land, Moses had some final thoughts for them.  In that speech Moses laid out where they had come from, why they were there, and where they were going.  He wanted them to understand just how important the next part of their history would be.  It would have been an exciting time to have been an Israelite.

And in that speech Moses told the Israelites was to “Observe [the laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’” (Deuteronomy 4: 6)

In that one sentence Moses really captures a lot about how to live a life of faith.

  • Wisdom is not simply knowledge but action – the Israelites not only had to know the law, but live it.
  • Talking about living a life of faith is entirely different than living a life of faith.
  • Following God is the surest way of “proving” that he exists – when our lives are filled with God, people can’t help but wonder why we’re so different!

People respond to God when they can see him in our lives.  It was true 4,000 years ago, and it’s still true today.

retirement

Category : Genesis, God, bible, faith, taking action

  

Abraham was 75 years old when God showed up and said, leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

Think about that for a second.  75.  Most of us are hoping to be long retired by then.  And here God was taking a man and changing the course of human history.  Apparently the excuse “I’m too old” or “I’m too tired” or even “Haven’t I worked hard enough already?” doesn’t hold much weight with God. 

doing it my way

Category : Genesis, God, faith, trust

  

It’s hard to trust God.  Partly because we don’t believe that the promises he makes us are going to happen.  “God’s a busy guy, he’s probably just distracted” we tell ourselves.

And so we do it our way.

We take matters into our own hands instead of waiting for what God has promised.  At least this is what happened to a guy named Abraham.  The Bible tells us Abraham and his wife couldn’t have children.  In fact they were actually too old to have children by the time God got around to making his promises. (Genesis 12:4)

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem like a promising start to me.

On top of that, it took 25 years for God to fulfill his promise.  But Abraham didn’t know it was going to take that long.  So after waiting about 10 years he got impatient.  (10 years is more than generous, right?)  And decided it would be a good idea to sleep with his servant.  A perfectly acceptable thing to do in that time.  But it wasn’t what God wanted him to do.

We want to do things our way, because at least we can see what we’re doing.  We figure where there’s movement there’s progress.  But that’s not really the case is it?  Sometimes all that movement means we’re just stuck on the treadmill and can’t get off.

So often forcing the issue with God makes things worse.  I’m sure Abraham thought it was a good idea to sleep with his servant.  This way at least he had some kind of heir.  Heck, his wife was the one who suggested it.  But this just isn’t the way we were designed to live.

And so there were consequences.

Interestingly the first person to be affected by this decision was his wife – who became jealous.  The second to be affected were the child and mother.  The third: Israel itself, because Ishmael and his sons “lived in hostility toward all their brothers.”  (Genesis 25:18)For those of you scoring at home, that’s pretty much the hat trick for bad decisions. 

Why is it that we try to force God’s hand?  We convince ourselves that we know better.  And we plow on ahead, even when, deep down, we know better. 

Sometimes we just have to take him at his word, and wait.

Which brings us back to the beginning: it’s hard to trust God.  Not just because we don’t trust God; because even when we trust him, waiting is so difficult for us.  Fortunately for us, God always follows through in his promises, just like he did for Abraham.

being real

Category : God, different, faith

   

One of the things that tells me the Bible is true is that people in these stories are so honest with their feelings.  No one attempts to cover up their mistakes, sins, or weaknesses.  We get to read all of their mistakes.  In a way it’s very humbling.  How would you like to know that people will be reading about your fears and doubts 2000 years from now?

I find that honesty encouraging.  If people as amazing as Peter, or David, or Moses made mistakes and had doubts, then God is probably okay with my problems.  God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. 

As I look back on my journey with God it’s very obvious that I’ve had lots of ups and downs.  And some of those downs are on the same day I had the ups.

One passage in the Bible I find interesting was written by a guy named Jeremiah.  Now Jeremiah had an average, run of the mill, job.  Y’know, the kind where you tell everyone around you that they are going to be destroyed by God because they had been so awful for so long.  (And you thought giving a presentation at work was rough!)  Naturally this job caused a lot of emotional and physical pain for Jeremiah.  Israel didn’t really like being told about their sins.  And they certainly didn’t want to hear they were going to be destroyed by an invading army. 

So instead of telling God they were sorry, and changing their behavior (which would have saved them) they insulted and punished Jeremiah.  I picture them collectively sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling, “we’re not listening…we’re not listening…”

After one particularly rough period in Jeremiah’s life he calls God out, saying “you deceived me.”  Think about that for a moment, someone who God hand picked for the job is yelling “God!  What are you doing to me?! This job description you gave me is crap!” 

It’s clear that Jeremiah is angry.  From his perspective he’s only been doing what God asked.  He’s being honest toward Israel, and doing the “right” thing.  And instead of being rewarded he’s put in jail.  Seems to me he has a case for being angry.

His anger fades, however, and a few sentences later he says, “Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.”  Now Jeremiah seems pretty happy, and grateful for God.

But one sentence later Jeremiah says this, “cursed be the day I was born!”

The man is all over the place.

Just like we are.

A few days ago I wrote that maintaining a relationship is a hard task.  Considering it’s such hard work, how do you manage that if you can’t be honest with God?  How can you expect a real relationship of trust and faith and love to develop if you can’t tell God what you really feel?

The answer is obviously that you can’t.  Fortunately God wants us to be honest and real.  He didn’t ask Jeremiah to pretend he was okay, and to “man up.”  Instead he lets Jeremiah vent, and express his feelings.  In fact just about everyone in the Bible has a moment where they are angry at God.  And not a single person is struck down by a Divine Lightning Bolt of Justice ™.

So the next time you’re upset, don’t hide it from God.  Tell him what you really feel.  If you have questions about him that you don’t understand: ask.  If you have fears: tell him.  If you’re lonely: share that with him.  God didn’t ask Jeremiah (or David, or Paul, or Jesus) to hide their feelings.  And he’s not asking that of you.    

thinking of yourself first

Category : God, faith, old testament

   

Some days I think I’m firmly following God.  But if I look closely at how I’m living my life, it’s apparent I’m not.  Usually it’s nothing major.  But it almost always means trouble is soon to follow.  I’m sure if I stopped to think about my actions, they would scream “Danger! Danger! Will Robinson!”  But I don’t.  I often don’t even realize I’m on that path until it’s too late.  Usually I don’t realize it until I’ve sacrificed closeness with God for some tangible, worldly thing.   And then I always say, “why? what was I thinking?”

I wonder if it ever occurred to Solomon that this was happening to him as he built his own palace.  You see, it took him 13 years to build a home for himself, but only 7 years to build one for God.  (1 Kings 6:38 – 7:1)

Despite all of his wisdom, I imagine that difference never occurred to Solomon.  But if he had paused to consider what that implied about his love for God verse his love for wealth, would he have ended up rejecting God in the last years of his life?

relating to David

Category : David, God, hope, love, old testament

   

There are some people in the Bible that I can relate to better than others.  David is one of those people.  And let me be upfront, it is not because I carry a sling!  So who was David?  Not only did he ultimately become the king of Israel, he was also this courageous, adventuresome, bold man – this is the guy who volunteered to fight the precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger after all…  David had a lot of guts.  And, well, I decidedly lack guts.  I would have been one of those soldiers cowering in fear, not the one challenging a behemoth.  So I can’t really relate to his acts of bravery or leadership.

What I relate to is how often David screwed up.  David, like all of us, made some bad decisions.  Now that’s something I can identify with!  In perhaps his most well known screw-up he not only sleeps with the wife of one of his soldier’s (and gets her pregnant), but in order to cover up his affair he has the soldier killed.  

David had many other sins as well, such as pride, lust, a temper, and rebellion towards God.  Not exactly the stereotype we have when we think of “godly” men.  So why is David so important?  What is it about David that made God love him so much?  He certainly doesn’t sound like a particularly good role model! 

At the core of David’s story is encouragement and hope.  What separates David from Saul (the previous king of Israel and someone God rejected), is that every time David was confronted with his sin, he honestly, fully, and completely turned to God to seek repentance. David admitted that he screwed up, and he asked God for help. 

It was that simple act that separates David. 

And every time he did that God forgave him.  No matter how badly David screwed up, God forgave him.  This isn’t to say there weren’t consequences to his sins – 1 and 2 Samuel are full of the consequences of David’s sins.   

David’s love of God was so strong, and so complete, that he always turned back to the path of God, no matter how far he strayed from it.  That’s a lesson that all of us can use.  No matter how far from God we’ve become…  No matter how horrible the things we’ve done…  No matter what pain we’ve caused… God loves us.  And if we turn back to him in true repentance, he will always welcome us back.

That’s why I can relate to David. Because David reminds me that no matter what I’ve done, God still wants to know me. 

who am I?

Category : God, Saul, bible, choice, faith, old testament

Sometimes God calls us to do scary things.  He calls us to leave the comforts of our homes and become missionaries.  He calls us to change jobs so we can start ministries.  Sometimes he even asks us to do something really terrifying: talk to our friends about him!  

In my life it seems every time God asks me to do something crazy I go through the same process.  First I say, “I’m sorry, you didn’t really just say that, did you?”  Followed promptly by “d’oh!” when I realize (alright…admit) I heard him the first time.  When I begin to submit to the path God has for me, I find myself honestly asking “who am I to do such things?”

Who am I to do great things in the world?  Aren’t there more qualified people?  Better educated?  Less fearful?

In the Old Testament book of Samuel, God uses a prophet by the name of (wait for it……wait for it…..) Samuel to establish a king over Israel.  Up to this time Israel had been ruled by God.  So by demanding a human king, Israel was quite literally saying God was not good enough.  They wanted to be like everyone else, and if that meant rejecting God, they were okay with that.  They wanted to do it their way, not God’s way.     

So God goes about establishing Israel’s first king, a guy by the name of Saul.  Now not everyone has a great first day of work, and that’s certainly true of Saul.  Instead of a stirring speech, or exciting victory, we find Saul hiding with some baggage.  Not a great way to start when you’re supposed to be replacing the creator of the universe…

But Saul had a big problem: his desire to do things on his own.  (Kind of like Israel’s desire, huh?)  Saul had repeatedly demonstrated that he wasn’t interested in looking to God for help.   He wanted to do things by himself.  Who knows if he wanted to be The Man, or if he was just impatient?  But whatever his reasons, he always chose to strike out on his own. 

I think that is why he was hiding.  I think when he was selected as king he was asking himself: “who am I?”  And the answer hearing was “no one.”  And so he did something entirely reasonable – he hid.  I think if I would have been Saul, I would have hidden as well.  How could you possibly take God’s place as ruler over his chosen people?  How could your resume ever match God’s?  And to make matters worse, Saul believed he had to rely on his own abilities; that he had to do it all by himself.

His fear must have been crippling.  And so he hid. 

Whenever God asks us to do something for him it’s bound to be terrifying.  God is a radical God after all.  And we often don’t like doing something that’s different.  When God moves in our lives, we will often stand out from our friends.  We will occasionally look foolish to the world.  But we are never alone.  And we never have to do things by ourselves.  In fact, God doesn’t want us to do it alone.  Part of the reason he gives us such outlandish tasks is to show us (and the world) that he is control.   We are supposed to turn to God and ask for help. 

So the next time I’m asked to do something that scares me and I find myself asking “who am I?”  I need to follow that up with, “is God with me?” or “am I alone?”