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Series: Visiting Speakers
Sun am 20 July 2014 – Tim Hawkridge
Ps. 77: 1-20; (Num. 11:1-6); Jos. 1:1-9; 2 Cor. 1:8-11; Acts 20:22; Acts 21:10-11
When it comes to faith and the faith journey, we all have our ups and downs. The downs are just as ok as the ups. I have always be deeply suspicious of people who portray the life of faith in a kind of triumphalist way; never a dark moment, never a doubt, never a fear, it is just not real. In fact whenever someone tells me that they have never had a moment of deeply probing religious doubt, I find myself wondering whether they have ever had a moment of vital religious conviction either. One fact stands above all else in the history of God’s people that the price of great faith is the continuous struggle to find it, to keep it and to share it, right there at the heart of the journey of God’s people. When you talk about faith some people picture it as quiet, undisturbed trust etched on a serene and shining face. They see amidst the world’s chaos this placid lake of shimmering water under the moon. I cannot relate to it. In my life faith has never been a quiet and straight forward matter. It has been more like a raging ocean, the swift current of river, something powerful which forges a headway against the tide with difficulty. I believe that faith is a dynamic perspective that must continually adjust and readjust to the flow of life (Read Ps. 77:1-20). It is not a simply seven step to heaven; it is a journey and not an easy one.
One of the major challenges that Moses had as he led that flock was to keep the people of Israel focused on the God’s call and promises to them. They had been delivered from Egypt, crossed the Red Sea miraculously, hopes were high for a better future, then they hit the desert food and water was scarce. They had to learn how to rely on God totally. Often they wanted to trade their freedom for the predictability of slavery (Num. 11:1-6). They spend forty years travelling through an era that should have taken them a few months to cross. That would have left anyone discouraged. But God was not about to let them into Canaan until they had grown out of their slave mentality and had been shaped in relative isolation into a nation that could survive amongst other nations. Moses organised them, he encouraged them, he picked them up when they lost their hope, he smacked them back into line when they were out of line, and he taught them how to be what God wanted them to be. When they were just about to enter the Promised Land Moses died. Then Joshua has to step into the shoes of Moses amidst the intense grief and loss of a nation. He needed all the encouragement he could get, then God spoke to him. After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses … As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Jos. 1:1-9). Strong words and he needed them; encouraging words. Did it mean that everything would go smoothly and be easy? No way! The very first thing they faced was the realization that the land that God was giving to them was unfortunately already inhabited by some other people. They were strong people and they were people well developed in the skills of war. Here come this bunch of ex-slaves and now they have to conquer the land. There would be huge setbacks as they journey towards the fulfillment of God promises to them. Just as they faced discouragement in the desert, they would face huge moments of intense discouragement in their journey to conquer Canaan. There would be moments when the promises of God would seem so distant, so hopeless. They struggled because the people were so often inclined to interpret troubles or opposition as God having deserted them or God having changed His mind about what He wanted. And we do that. When everything is in on track, we praise God. But when things wobble we ask, “Where is God?” Lord, are you sleeping? Many of you know the face of discouragement. Many of you know the intensity of that struggle that Israel had. Perhaps your journey of faith started out with such high expectations but it has not worked out the way you thought it would. Perhaps circumstances, or struggling relationships or health problems have eclipsed the dream that you had for your life. You know what God has called you to do but it seems so hard and it will not come into focus. Perhaps you find that from the moment you decided to put your trust in God things seem to get worse not better, and you cannot figure that out. Your head tells you that if all these bad things are happening maybe God is not with you or you must be out of the will of God. Yet something inside you knows that the choice you made to live for Christ and call you felt upon your life is not the problem. Then what is the problem? What does faith do when all things seem to go wrong? There are so many examples in the Scriptures of people who made this journey through discouragement and through hardship to discover God’s sustaining power. Let us look at the journey of Paul and see what we can learn from him. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sister, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many (2 Cor. 1:8-11). The Apostle Paul was saying that what really happened in Asia was not about what happened to him but what happened in him. It was not so much about what Asia did to Paul but what Asia did for Paul. He understood that life is not about what happens to him but what happens in him and through him. What happens to you is temporal, time based; but what happens in you is eternal. There are two types of people. There are those who focus on what is happening to them and they are those who focus on what is happening in them. If we live according to those things that are happening to us we surrender our will and our life responses to external circumstances and events. What God wants to happen in us and through us is postponed. It is delayed; it may even be cancelled because of what is happening to us. We may let go of our dreams, we may downgrade our plans; we may end up living a smaller life because we believe the lie that we are defined by what is happening to us. People who live according to what is happening to them develop a complicated circumstantial system of interpreting God’s will for their lives. Knowing the will of God for them becomes a circumstantial system of red, amber and green lights. When things are going well, God is with them and blessing them; when things are going badly they quickly changed their mind and start looking for new guidance. They make little mention of what God has told them directly or through His Word, instead they are caught up in looking for signs and Gideon’s fleeces and try to interpret circumstances as if they were ‘throwing bones’. Their entire reality can become determined by what is happening to them and the way they read it. That is very different from living in response to God’s calling and purpose in spite of what is happening to us. That is the kind of person Paul was. Called people are ‘what is happening in me’ people. If we live according to what is happening in us, we subordinate the things that are happening to us to what God is doing in and through us. The most important reality is the call of God and the purpose of God in our lives. Jesus is the center; that makes it the overriding reality in life for us and everything else must be subordinate to that. When we are clear on God’s call, we might find ourselves able to push through extreme adversity and pain. If we are ‘what is happening in me’ people we can push towards an objective that is beyond ourselves and may appear almost oblivious to disabilities, obstacles and public opinion. It is not that the things that may happen to them or what people may say to them will not hurt, but they do not just get deflected by those things, they stay on track. God has a way of impressing His will on our heart until what is happening in us and through us is far stronger than what is happening to us. If we have heard God’s call and we have said “yes” to God and spent enough time living with that call and living within it, we might end in a place where we are asking if we are not fanatics. It is sometimes called divine compulsion. Just because things go wrong does not mean we are on the wrong track.
And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me (Acts 20:22-23); After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles” (Acts 21:10-11). God was saying to Paul that there will be a cost and opposition. God said to Paul “My grace is sufficient for you”. Bad things happen to good people but let us rather say, “Good people happened to bad things”. The Bible tells us far less about what happened to God’s people than about what happened in them and through them. We can safely say that Daniel happened to the lions; David happened to Goliath; Shadrack and Meshack happened to the fiery furnace. Life should not happen to us as God’s people, we should happen to life. It can only work that way if our focus is right.
What is God saying to us today? Do you feel really discouraged because of the things that have been happening to you, individually, even corporately? I challenge you to do two things: Firstly acknowledge where you are right now. We always have to start by telling God what we are feeling, owning the pain. Secondly get some thoughts to what those things may have done for you and in you; to what God is doing in you as you struggle with your circumstances. Does God care about our discouragement? Yes He does, but He seldom responds by changing our circumstances. Most often He teaches us a new way to relate to those circumstances. Much of that learning involves going back to what we do know about the call of God on our lives. We need to spend time living in that reality not simply living in the circumstances that besiege us. We need to go back to the vision, to the call God has given us on our lives, we need to reconnect with that. That will pull us through the current circumstances. When we feel like victims in life, only a larger purpose such as God offers can pull us out of that place. Does your life feel today like stonewall, stuck and you feel like your sense of purpose is not strong enough to pull you? Go back to the last thing you were sure that God said and perhaps it is worth asking: have I done that last thing God said to me? We end up in desert because of that, but also because of circumstances. It is good to go back, to recalibrate and get back on track.