Faith for long haul

When faith is tested we like immediate vindication. Sometimes faith leads into a lifelong process. Take Noah, he was given a significant challenge –

 “Build a large boat from cypress wood … Make the boat 450 feet long…” (Genesis 6:14-15NLT)

This was to be the world’s largest ship till Brunel built the SS Great Eastern in 1858!

When building something normal, techniques exist. Noah would have to make up construction techniques as he went along. How many times did he start again because the logs were too weak to sustain the weight?

How was Noah’s faith sustained through a hundred years of building? How many times did he quit? How many years did the construction lie dormant? Yet ultimately –

So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him. (Genesis 6:22NLT)

What hope in that commendation!

What sustained Noah for 100years of ridicule, building this huge structure at vast expense? With no external vindication we often begin to doubt. Did God really say …? There was no creeping destruction for validation.

Two promises sustained him.

“Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die.  But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives.  (Genesis 6:17-18NLT)

A coming judgement and a covenant relationship with God. May we too have faith to live to the end the life God sets before us.

Hope in discouragement

I have to be pushed beyond my resources before I recognise my need. My soul cries for God but my body interprets the cry as – eat more comfort food, get emotional space, be entertained.

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1-NIV)

In discouragement I need God above all. He is my lifeline.

I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? (Psalm 42:2-NIV)

In discouragement God seems distant.

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and 6 my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan… (Psalm 42:5-6-NIV)

In discouragement, there is one hope – my Saviour and God. The road begins when we choose to remember him, even with only the smallest trickle of encouragement as a spring on a barren mountain.

 I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me. (Psalm 42:7-NIV)

Life’s trials sweep over us reinforcing the question, “Where is your God?”

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life. (Psalm 42:8-NIV)

The Lord pours out his love, will I receive it? Will I acknowledge that he sent it? Will I rejoice with him that he sent me life? I must choose to receive salvation though I don’t feel like it.

 

For more detail – the original study

Relational battles

There is a person blocking us in an endeavour we sensed the Lord directing us towards. It had seemed a case of praying and seeing how the Lord would protect his endeavour. Then Psalm 18 challenged me.

I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed … [Psalm-18v37-38-NLT]

The Lord entrusts the battle to us, a challenge of faith to someone who avoids confrontation.

You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me. You made my enemies turn their backs in flight, and I destroyed my foes. [Psalm-18v39-NLT]

The Lord’s desire for destruction challenges my compassion. There is a reason-

Many caught in sin only apologise where caught. There is remorse but no brokenness that owns the guilt. All is explained away and fault is assigned to others. There is no humbling or turning their backs in flight merely withdrawal to a new defiant defensive position.

They cried for help, but there was no one to save them – to the Lord, but he did not answer… [Psalm-18v41-42-NLT]

The enemy’s defeat challenges their self-righteousness. Those who have stood in defiance presume God is with them. Defeat forces self-righteousness to acknowledge its presumption.

You have delivered me from the attacks of the people; … They come trembling from their strongholds. [Psalm-18v43-45-NLT]

The battle is not one sided. The enemy fights back and fights dirty, yet God delivers.

Surrender is not merely to us, but from the strongholds of self-righteousness. Through victory the enemy’s road to reconciliation with God is cleared.

 

Freedom for today

The offer of freedom to indulge our every whim is only as free as all the other offers we don’t believe. Those who taste its fruits become enslaved in dysfunctional relationships and addictive behaviours.

To these slaves, the Lord calls-

Sit in a place of honor. Remove the chains of slavery from your neck. (Isaiah 52:2 NLT)

How are we supposed to remove the chains? If it was down to us we would fail, but the Lord promises intervention.

I can redeem you without having to pay for you.” (Isaiah 52:3 NLT)

The price of freedom has been paid by Jesus. The question is, am I willing to take the challenge of faith that he presents.

Get out! Get out and leave your captivity, where everything you touch is unclean. Get out of there and purify yourselves. (Isaiah 52:11 NLT)

The way to freedom is easy. It only requires us to act on a choice to leave everything that has held us and everything that is unclean. It may seem hurtful and uncaring to those we leave behind, but the Lord justifies and he transforms the circumstances so that ultimately the road to freedom will be acknowledged as the road of love.

You will not leave in a hurry, running for your lives. For the Lord will go ahead of you; yes, the God of Israel will protect you from behind. (Isaiah 52:12 NLT)

The Lord offers to protect those who are willing to go with him and we follow him to a place of honour.

 

The Bible study for Isaiah 52

 

 

 

 

Return to intimacy

When we feel far from God, restoring intimacy seems doomed to failure. We feel like prisoners, devoid of life. Sometimes the Lord has brought us to this place!

 When I speak to the rivers and say, ‘Dry up!’ they will be dry. (Isaiah44:27-NLT)

The Lord does this with an intention of restoration.

… I say to Jerusalem, ‘People will live here again,’ … I will restore all your ruins!’ (Isaiah44:26-NLT)

This is a message of hope, but can we listen? The Lord’s message comes with a context,

“Pay attention, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I, the Lord, made you, and I will not forget you.” (Isaiah44:21-NLT)

The Lord calls on Jacob, ‘the deceiver’ whose life he had turned around after creating a threat Jacob could not worm his way out of. Having won him, he will not forget him. Jacob struggled with God through a night of anxiety till finally he surrendered and received a new identity – Israel, ‘he struggles with God and overcomes’.

We cannot orchestrate our own struggle with God only prayerfully give him permission. The Lord does the hard work of surfacing the issues, then he looks for a response.

I have swept away your sins like a cloud… Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free.” (Isaiah44:22-NLT)

In Christ the price was paid. There is no chasm for us to cross, yet returning to freedom in God requires a surrender and many hang on to the end before being willing to give it.

 

You can read my source Bible study at this link.

When life is an open wound

Many think prayer should be dignified as if God would take offence at our saying what we really felt.

I yell out to my God … with all my might, (Psalm-77:1-Message)

Sometimes life demands prayers that yell.

my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.

Constant pain, aggravated by the least stress presses our character. Our world collapses to pain management and love for others is challenging. Yes, we yell to God.

When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”
I didn’t believe a word they said. (Psalm-77:2)

Others, who have not suffered, patronise us with words they want to be true to protect their theology.

I go over the days one by one, …. I strum my lute all through the night, wondering how to get my life together. (Psalm-77:5-6)

Such pain is a lonely place. We are alone with our thoughts and our music.

Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders. (Psalm-77:11-12)

When we realise we are unable to put our lives back together we seek God again. We need to rediscover who the God of the Bible really is.

You … walked straight through roaring Ocean, but nobody saw you … hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, (Psalm-77:19-20)

Our pondering from pain brings us to new understanding of how God works.

I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens. (Psalm-77:1-Message)

No explanations are given, but we do come to know him deeper, and are assured that he is listening.

 

For a more in depth study – The undignified prayer

Price of abundance

8 Praise our God, all peoples, …

13 You brought us to a place of abundance.

These verses of Psalm 66 begin and end with something we desire: To overflow with praise at God’s abundance. The road to abundance however, runs through fires of refining.

11 You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. 12 You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water,

These fires might push us towards bitterness in our frustration. We question how the Lord can be glorified through such situations where the unrighteous are winning and our response is far from good.

10 For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver

The point of refining is to expose rubbish so that it can to be dealt with. Without heat, we imagine ourselves to be godly. Only when heat exposes poor character can we become aware of our need to ask the Lord for help to deal with issues that He was always aware of.

Often the way to refining is opened by a poor decision. It is a necessary step for without the refining we would be unable to appreciate or rest in the forthcoming abundance.

9 he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.

The Lord encourages us that He will preserve us. We may stumble, but the Lord keeps us from slipping. In this hope we can face the challenges that come our way with an assurance that He will bring us through to a place of abundance.

 

For more detail – Price of abundance

What do we value?

Our culture has only one question to determine value – “Does it work?” Jesus takes a different view. After feeding the 5000 He leaves.  Most would have continued the ministry. When the people find Him, He challenges their motives –

  ‘… you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  (John 6:26)

What is the difference between eating bread that came as a miracle and seeing signs? The difference is in the focus. If I look for Jesus because I ate, then I am looking for myself and the focus is on me. If I look because I saw miraculous signs my focus is on Christ and I am looking to worship Him.

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ (John 6:27)

This focus is seen in our relationship with God. If the focus of my spirituality is on what works, then it is subject to men’s evaluation which inevitably is temporary and ultimately spoils. The fruit Jesus is looking for is the fruit of lives changed by faith. Faith is proven through trust even when things don’t seem to be working –

‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ (John 6:29)

Are we able to trust Jesus in how He directs rather than try to use Him to get what we want? This is food that endures to eternal life.

 

A fuller study

Live for eternity

Jesus’ unearths His followers’ motives following the feeding of the 5000 because it is here that the eternal value of what someone does is seen.

‘Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. John 6:26

What is the difference between eating bread that came to people as a miracle and seeing signs? They were the same event! The difference is in the focus. If I am looking for Jesus because I ate the bread and had my fill, then the focus is on me. If the focus is on Jesus, then I am looking for Him in order to worship Him. Jesus’ statement asks questions about my direction and focus in life –

Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.’ John 6:27

In our materialistic age I can be caught up with what is ultimately material, even if it seems spiritual. Paul identified Faith, hope and love as the three that persist. (1 Corinthians 13:13) Jesus asks questions of our motives too. Seeing our lives through the lens of ‘faith, hope and love’ helps us see if we are trying to use Him to get what we want out of life or whether we are working for the food that endures to eternal life.

 

See a more complete study 

Choose Jesus’ way

Jesus talks of how we choose to receive His word. An emphasis on visible results has pushed us towards –

The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy.

Results are easy! We can count green shoots of decisions and boast of fruitfulness. But easy come brings easy go –

But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.

Noticing the failure trailing this approach, many abandoned the focus on decisions for a journey into the Christian life. This sounds good, but the thorny issues of life are not dealt with in repentance. So –

The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.

Protecting ourselves and others from Jesus’ cross is producing a fruitless faith. There is however another choice –

But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” Mat 13:18-23 (NIV 1984)

Jesus is clear about what this choice involves–

…  unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

Let’s choose Jesus’ way!