We Christians also fight for faith. We fight for faith because the world and the flesh and the devil conspire to spiritually deaden us. They come at us with sleeping pills, with tranquilizers of relaxation, with the offer of a life filled by the hypnotic trance of digital amusements. And what Jesus wants us to see is that “faith and hope and love are the antidotes to the soporific effects of the world always trying to get you to go to sleep.” So how do we stay awake? And how do we fight to stay awake in the entertainment age? Here’s Pastor John, preaching in 2005 at an outdoor venue — a conference maybe. I’m not sure about the context, but you’ll hear the wind at times. Here is John Piper.
“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed” (Romans 13:11). Today is the 80th birthday of Dan Fuller, which doesn’t mean anything to most of you, but means a great deal to me because Dan Fuller was for me in 1968, ’69, ’70 and ’71 God’s instrument for turning my world upside down and opening my eyes to the Scriptures and the glory of God. So, I got on email yesterday, and I wrote him a long letter of appreciation and gratitude. And among the other things that I said, I said, “Dan, salvation is closer to you now than it was the day you believed, and every groan of your 80-year-old body is groaning closer to Jesus. Every heartbeat in your fragile old body is a heartbeat closer to the glory of Jesus Christ.”
I hope he takes heart in his 80-year-old frame. And I hope you take heart from knowing your salvation — which is the completion of your redemption, with a new body and the end of battling with sin — is closer today than it was yesterday. And every groaning of your aching body means, “I’m one groan closer to the glory that is arriving.”
Sleepwalking and Skydiving
Then the third thing he says in verse 11, in the first half of the verse, is this: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11). And you remember what we said about that? Most of the world that is not treasuring Jesus Christ as its supreme treasure is sleepwalking. Even though their life is very glitzy, it’s just bombarded every day with advertisements to say, “Do this, and you will live,” when in fact, it’s the devil wringing his hand, saying, “Do this, and you will go sound asleep” — sound asleep to what that sun is really saying today.
How many people in Mounds View do not hear the glory of God being declared from the heavens? Why? Because they spent all night watching television. They’ve saturated their lives with an entertainment mentality, and their spiritual eyes have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller until most people without Christ can’t see anything glorious in spiritual reality. And Paul says, “The day has come. This is not a time for sleeping. This is not a time for sleepwalking.”
It’s not a time for being like skydivers — this is like a parable of the world without Christ. The skydivers are leaping out their planes, and they are watching the air go at 120 miles an hour through their fingers, and feeling this is the apex of the thrill of life. But there’s just one problem: they have no parachutes. And the gravity that is pulling them inexorably toward what will happen in about a minute or two is called the wrath of God. Because Jesus said in John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” And they think they’re so alive.
One of our great tasks is to so let the light of the gospel shine that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, eyes will wake up to the fact that day has come. Christ has come. The sun of righteousness has risen over Mounds View and over the Twin Cities. Wake up to the glory of your Savior, and believe him and enjoy him. Don’t be a sleepwalker. Don’t be a sleep-skydiver. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to get dressed. That’s what this text is about today. Get dressed. Take off your pajamas. Stop going to work in your pajamas.
Entering the War
So, we start now at verse 12. And what we’re finding here is that we’re being told what to wear as the light has come and what to do in this clothing. Romans 13:12: “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then cast off the works of darkness.” You see the logic? “Because it is day, so then . . .” These are pajamas. Cast off the works of pajamas. One way to define sin is pajamas. You should be embarrassed to go around sinning. I mean, who would go to work in his pajamas? But people go to work in the works of darkness every day when it’s day. Wake up! It’s day. The King of kings has come.
So, “cast off [take off] the works of darkness and put on” — and then he chooses a word that is surprising. I didn’t expect him to choose this word. It’s a word that signals that the Christian life is not just wakeful; it’s war. You see that word? The day is at hand; so then, take off your pajamas — that is, the works of darkness — “and put on the armor of light.” I mean, I would expect it to say, “Put on a shirt or a cloak” or “Dress well for work” or something. And he says, “Put on the armor of light.”
“The Christian life is not just wakeful; it’s war.”
So, out of the blue comes — I mean, we don’t just go from pajamas to clothes to armor; we go straight from pajamas to armor. What does that say about life? It says life is war. The Christian life is a battle — though God has been so merciful to give us a foretaste of heaven today, and we may wonder, how can we even think in terms of life as being war and a battle and darkness to be overcome?
Armor of Light
So, put off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Now, here’s my question: What is the armor of light, and what does putting it on mean? But let’s make the question a little broader. Verse 12 and verse 14 both used the words “put on.” Notice verse 14: “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” So, now you’ve got two “put-ons”: put on the armor of light when you take off your pajamas of sin, and put on the Lord Jesus Christ. So, my question really is, What’s the relationship between putting on the armor of light and putting on the Lord Jesus Christ? What do those two things mean? And I think the answer is given in 1 Thessalonians 5:7–8.
So, if you want to go there with me, you can, or you can just listen. I read this two weeks ago because 1 Thessalonians 5:7–8 is the closest comparison in all of Paul’s writings to what we have here in Romans 13:12–14. When I read it, you’ll hear the relationship. So listen carefully to 1 Thessalonians 5:7–8:
For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on [now there it is: we have armor, so we know we’re in the same sphere of thought] the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
So, Paul mentions two pieces of armor: breastplate and helmet. We know there are more from Ephesians 6, but that’s all he’s dealing with here. We’ve got a breastplate to cover your heart and your will, and we’ve got a helmet to cover your brain, because those are the only three things the devil’s interested in. He wants your heart; he wants your will; he wants your brain — so get yourself covered good here and here. And he says there are three things that this armor stands for: faith, love, hope. Sound familiar? These three are the great ones — faith, hope, and love.
Staying Awake in a Sleepy World
So, now I come back to Romans 13:12, and see if this will help us. “So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” That is, let us put on faith, and let us put on hope, and let us put on love.
“Faith and hope and love are the antidotes to the soporific effects of the world.”
In this world of sleepwalking, the message is coming at you all day long — every day from television and from advertising and from all other kinds of things — to say, “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep with regard to God, with regard to Christ, with regard to the Bible.” And the less you want the Bible, the less you want Jesus, the less you want God, the more effective you know the sleeping pills of the world have been in your life. And what he’s saying here now is that faith and hope and love are the antidotes to the soporific effects of the world always trying to get you to go to sleep. So, combat that sleep-producing effect of the world by putting on faith and putting on hope and putting on love.
I am drawn to adventurous movies of warriors and superheroes fighting against evil. Or a boxing warrior like Rocky fighting against impossible odds to achieve victory. I love the war movies of people fighting throughout the ages in the struggle against evil. Have you ever thought about God like this or is our view of God more passive.
Exodus 15:3: The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is His name. Another translation says: God is the Master of war, God is His name. Exodus 15:3
Yahweh is a warrior and is at war. God fights every day and night, and there is never a time that Yahweh is not fighting. God is on the battlefield fighting battles. Yahweh always fights for His people. God never loses. God is never defeated. God cannot be pushed back in battle into defeat. Nothing can overcome his power and strength.
This truth coincides with an important name of God, Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, which also describes God as a warrior who fights for his people. The Hebrew word” hosts” means to wage war, warfare, and a leader of an army organized for war. Names in the Hebrew culture were a distinctive mark and indicated the essential character of that to which the name is given. In Scriptures the names of God reveal important characteristics of His nature and attributes. Yahweh Sabaoth, Lord of Hosts, is the most frequent compound name of God used in the Bible. This phrase has been translated “Yahweh of the Armies” or Yahweh who commands armies. The armies are primarily armies of heavenly beings (angels), but also this name has been associated with the armies of Israel, who is called the God of the battle lines of Israel, and armies of things in creation such as stars and planets. It is the militant name of God as the commander in chief and illustrates that God is far superior to any adversary and able to achieve victory in the most impossible human circumstances. It is the magnificent name of God in battle in all His majesty defeating every foe with His surpassing power that nothing can stand against.
An examination of this wonderful name the Lord of Hosts in the Old Testament, we see Yahweh move with extraordinary power to establish His Word and to accomplish His purposes. This is especially true in the future when the Lord of Hosts, the Warrior God, establishes the kingdom of His Son Jesus Christ upon the earth. The Lord of Hosts is a fierce protector against anything or anyone who tries to intrude into this relationship. The Lord of Hosts declares if you touch, lay a hand on, or strike out against my beloved children who trust in me, you have touched the apple of my eye, and I will rise up to declare war on this aggression. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts is ignited in prayer and burns white hot in the heart of God against all who defame His name or harass His namesake. The Lord of Hosts also is an avenger against all who pridefully fail to consider their wicked ways and humbly turn to Him. He is the enemy to those who turn a deaf ear to his words, refusing to obey Him.
In its first usage in the Bible in I Samuel 1, this name is inextricably linked to prayer and is used in time of dire need when all hope seems lost, and defeat seems inevitable. Yahweh is not passive in prayer or indecisive, but rather is a mighty warrior that prayer invokes to action to fight the battles of His people. Yahweh and His heavenly armies are moved in prayer to unleash Yahweh’s almighty power in the earth to break walls, move mountains and shatter chains. God wants us to see that He is ready to wage war in prayer and bring all the resources of His kingdom against every foe that stands against us. How our prayer life would change if we believed that we are praying to the Lord of Hosts! God is a warrior who knows no defeat. He cannot be ambushed, deceived, diminished, or annihilated. God does go AWOL in time of need or disappear from the battlefield. The warrior God is for us. He is on our side. Nothing can stand against us when we put our trust in Him. We need to know when we pray that we are praying to the Lord of Hosts.
We are introduced to Hannah in I Samuel, a wonderful women devoted to prayer who would give birth to one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. As the curtain unfolds in I Samuel we see a woman in agony, distraught that she is barren and has no children. In Hebrew culture, it was considered a disgrace not to have children as they were considered a blessing from the Lord. On top of this she was constantly mocked by Peninnah, her husband’s second wife, for being barren. Hannah invokes the warrior God, Yahweh of the Armies, to raise His mighty arm and do the impossible, bring her womb to life so she can give birth to a son.
I Samuel 1:12:
And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”
Hannah was in great pain and anxiety, vexed in her heart about her barrenness. Her prayer was raw and unfiltered as she poured out her soul to Yahweh. The range of emotions that Hannah experienced are set forth in this chapter. She was sorrowful, bitter, frustrated, distressed, and sobbing in a flood of tears. She did not hold back her sorrow and bitterness, but laid out all her emotions, frustrations, and irritations at the feet of Yahweh. She had reached the end of all her futile struggles. She realized her inability and weakness to do or change anything as only the Lord of Hosts, the warrior God, could fight this battle of barrenness and open her womb. She made a binding promise to God that if He would give her a son, she would give him to the Lord all the days of his life. She knew in her heart that only Yahweh could remove this curse from her and bless her with children.
The word “remember” is used idiomatically in this verse and does not mean to just mentally remember, but to act on one’s behalf. Prayer is where we pour out everything in our hearts to the Lord, asking Yahweh to act for us and declare war on that which holds us captive. Hannah’s prayer was not a ten second exercise of a few rushed words that lacked faith, and simply fell to the ground with no impact. Verse 12 says she spent “a long time praying” or in the Hebrew she multiplied her praying. Like Jacob she clung to Yahweh and refused to let go until he answered her prayer. This is the tenacity of prayer, that relentlessly pursues Yahweh to breathe life into any situation.
The Lord of Hosts graciously granted Hannah’s prayer, and she lifted her heart in praise to Yahweh and in her second prayer, we see the wonderful character of Hannah and some timeless truths about prayer to the Lord of Hosts.
I Samuel 2:1-4,9,10:
And Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in your salvation.
“There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed.
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble bind on strength.
“He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness, for not by might shall a man prevail.
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.”
The Hebrew word for “exults” in verse one means to jump for joy. Hannah jumped for joy that the Lord of Hosts triumphed against her calamity and granted her prayerful request. No desperate condition, no overwhelming circumstance, and no human power can stand against the Lord of Hosts in prayer. Nothing can compare to our God as all the weapons and strength of an earthly kingdom or the gods of all the religions on earth cannot even come close to measuring up to Yahweh. Yahweh is the only rock, and the immovable security and confidence in the instability of our times. We can summon the Lord of Hosts in prayer to shatter the bows of the mighty and break into pieces the adversaries of Yahweh. You cannot contend, strive, chide, or file a lawsuit against Yahweh and win. You cannot modify, change, adapt or alter Yahweh to fit in with cultural mandates. The Lord of Hosts does not lose. The Lord of Hosts does not retreat. The Lord of Hosts does not compromise. The Lord of Hosts does not come in second. The essence of praying to the Lord of Hosts is the promise of Isaiah 14:22 that “I will rise up against them.” The Lord of Hosts promises to rise up and fight every one of our battles with the tenacity of an undefeated warrior.
Jeremiah 10:6,7,10-12,13b,15-17 (Voice) declares:
This message is for all of Israel. Listen to what the Eternal (Yahweh) is saying to you.
O Eternal One, there is no comparison. You are great; even your name is powerful.
Who wouldn’t worship You? It is only right; You are the King of all kingdoms. The wise and powerful men of all nations in their realms are still nothing compared to You.
Just look at the contrast! The Eternal is the True God: He is the living God and eternal King, not some lifeless idol. The whole earth trembles when He is angry; nations crumble beneath His wrath.
Say this to anyone still worshiping idols: The so-called gods you worship did not make the earth and the starry sky above it. And one day they will all be blotted from the earth beneath those stars.
Know whom you’re dealing with! God alone is powerful enough to create the earth. He alone is wise enough to put the world together. He alone understands enough to stretch out the heavens.
Those who make idols are shamed by their creations. What they fashion out of gold are imposters— breathless, lifeless frauds.
Their idols are worthless, the work of their hands an embarrassing mockery. They are doomed to perish under God’s judgment.
The portion of Jacob, the Eternal One, is not like any of these. He was not fashioned out of human hands. Instead, it is He who made all things and appointed Israel to inherit it all. His name is the Eternal (Yahweh), Commander of heavenly armies (The Lord of Hosts).
A second great truth wrapped up in the name of the Lord of Hosts is that God fights our battles This is so hard for us because we are wired to be our own superhero. We want to do it, we want to be the prime mover, and we want to get some if not all the credit. We want to be self-reliant, self-sufficient and self-achieving. We want the pat on the back and to exalt ourselves to the forefront of faith-filled Christians. We love the applause. We want to be known. We want to show everyone how spiritual we are. How hard it is to just let go. How difficult it is to cast everything to Yahweh with no strings attached. Any solution or strategy rooted in the flesh will fail. Yahweh will fight and Yahweh will conquer if we only let Him.
The Bible has many verses concerning this simple truth:
When you go out to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army larger than your own, you shall not be afraid of them, for the Lord your God is with you, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
And when you draw near to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people
And shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are drawing near for battle against your enemies: let not your heart faint. Do not fear or panic or be in dread of them,
For the Lord your God is he who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.
Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. 30 The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes,
And the Lord said to me, ‘Say to them, Do not go up or fight, for I am not in your midst, lest you be defeated before your enemies.’
2 Chronicles 20:15-17:
And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s.
Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel.
You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”
In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.”
Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me!
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
Is there any doubt that God wants to fight our battles? Is there any question that our God is a warrior, the Lord of Hosts, and He is a fighter. He will stand against any devil spirit, any fear, any army and any circumstance that rises up against us. This truth has not changed. What little faith we have that God fights all our battles! What lack of trust we have in Yahweh as our deliverer! We have more faith in the Devil to oppress us than in God to deliver us. God is blamed for sickness, for death, for oppression and every other form of evil. In fact, there is a whole segment of Christian “theology” that teaches God inflicts us and makes us suffer to make us better Christians. Isn’t it time we quit blaming God for evil? Isn’t it time we quit whitewashing the works of Satan to make them look like the works of God. Isn’t it time we quit calling darkness light and evil good? When the Lord is for you, when the Lord is with you, when the Lord is in you, nothing can stand against you. Yahweh cannot lose. He is the God of triumph and victory. Yahweh is the God that obliterates His foes. Who do you want on your side?
Exodus 14:10-14 (NIV):
As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord.
They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again.
The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”
When the Israelites lifted their eyes to the horizon, they saw Pharoah charging toward them in horses and chariots leading the mightiest army of that time. Pharoah chose six hundred of the best chariots and rounded up all the other chariots of Egypt all manned by his elite officers. He had summoned all the military power of his empire to crush the rebellious Israelites. The Hebrew word for “pursue” means to run after with hostile intent and to chase with considerable effort, focus and intensity. The Pharoah was moving in for the kill.
From a human perspective, all seemed hopeless. Israel had nowhere to go and no place to flee. They were backed up to the Red Sea with the strongest army of the greatest empire of the day racing towards them. All odds were against them as they were easy prey to the Egyptians. The Israelites reaction was extreme fear and dread. They originally cried to Yahweh, but not for long as they turned on Moses screaming “what have you done?” and “leave us alone!” These are the cries of unbelief not the cries of trust or faith. How short was their memory! Had they already forgotten the magnificent deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery with ten miraculous plagues that rocked Egypt and decimated its gods? Did they disregard the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that Yahweh used to go before them and lead them through the wilderness? This was not some story that they heard about; they saw these amazing manifestations of the power of Yahweh with their own eyes. Yet they desired to return to the land of cruelty and oppression where they were ruthlessly made to work as slaves and their lives were made bitter with hard service. How quickly they disregarded their own desperate groanings because of their slavery in Egypt, and that they had cried out to Yahweh for deliverance.
Moses said the conditions for God to fight our battles-Stand firm, do not fear, be still and you will see that Yahweh will fight for you. Do you believe it?
We are to be warriors with God. But Jesus said, “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5) Unless God is with you, you can never be a mighty warrior. But when He is with you, you operate in a completely different realm. It’s not your strength or power than matters any more. It is the might of the Lord of hosts that flows through you. The life of the warrior is found wherever God is present in a person. The life of the warrior is a life of spiritual proximity, not human potential. Drawing close to God is the only way of the true warrior. God and me. Anyone who wants to fight his demons with his own weapons is a fool.” How many of us attempt to fight our own demons with effort, technique and motivation from ourselves? How’s that working out? Self-reliance is a sure formula for failure. “I admit that I am powerless” is the necessary precondition for recovery because it puts away the foolish arrogance of believing that I can rescue myself.
David, the warrior-king, knew that no victory was possible in his own strength. In fact, the most disastrous consequences to his people occurred when he took the path of self-reliance by counting the size of his army. David’s strength rested in God’s ability to fight for him, not in his ability to marshal his own resources. Read the Psalms again and you will find a man who learns to lean on the Lord. Even the mighty men know that running to God for rescue is the only successful battle plan. Zechariah 4:6: Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
Contemporary Christianity proclaims a Savior who delivers us from the punishment of sin. But far too often that message promotes delayed victory. In other words, we are told that when we get to heaven our troubles will be over. The Hebrew idea is much more tactical. Rescue and deliverance are needed now, in this life, on this earth. If Yeshua’s deliverance is only good after death, then we are the most miserable of creatures. We are stuck in the staggering evil of the world, waiting to die in order to be redeemed. May it never be! Rescue is reinforcements in the midst of the battle. God’s will must be done on earth. His salvation is revealed in the Kingdom at hand. Some day we may see an Exit sign ahead, but today the sign says “Run To Me.” Every believer is called to be a track star – in reverse. Run back to the source of your strength. There will be plenty of time to move forward again, after the Lord clears away the high hurdles.
How magnificent is His name! This is who we pray to! Not some manufactured idea or dead agenda, but the Eternal One, Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts, the Commander of the heavenly armies. Hezekiah knew that the mighty Assyrian empire was walking on sinking said when it attacked Yahweh and those who trust in Him. He understood it was utter futility to declare war on the Creator of the heavens and earth. The trick of the enemy is to lull us into a false sense of security by providing tangible distractions to our true condition. We pile up wealth, health and friendships, imagining that somehow these will protect us in a storm. Of course, they won’t, but that doesn’t prevent us from acting as though they will. There is nothing wrong with securing these resources, as long as we recognize that they are nothing more than God’s gifts for Kingdom purposes. Most of the battles in the enemy’s territory begin right here – knowing our vulnerability and God’s reliability. The enemy wants all of us to think we are generals.
Psalms 46:11 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah. The Greek Septuagint translates LORD of hosts with the word dunamis – which speaks of One with inherent ability able to produce a strong effect. Literally the Greek translation reads “Lord the dunamis God” the one able to carry out whatever He deems fit and proper! We need to remember this truth about His Name.)
Spurgeon: It is a truth of which no believer wearies, it is a fact too often forgotten, it is a precious privilege which cannot be too often considered. Reader, is the Lord on thy side? Is Emmanuel, God with us, thy Redeemer? Is there a covenant between thee and God as between God and Jacob?
Psalm 46 gives us a great picture of the attitude and action that believers should be able to manifest if they truly appropriate the truth inherent in the great Name, Jehovah Sabaoth, LORD of hosts. I see that I can do nothing, and that all reliance on man is vanity. “Not by might.” I see that no visible means can be relied on, but the force is in the invisible Spirit. God alone must work, and men and means must be nothing accounted of. If it be so that the Almighty God takes up the concerns of His people, then great mountains are nothing. He can remove worlds as boys toss balls about or drive them with their foot. It may be a great mountain, but even before my feebleness it shall become a plain, for the Lord hath said it. What can I be afraid of with God on my side?
Joshua 1:5 I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.
THIS word to Joshua is often quoted; it is the basis of that New Testament word, “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Beloved, a life of warfare is before us, but the Lord of Hosts is with us. It would be woe to us indeed if Jehovah could fail us but, as this can never be, the winds of disquietude are laid to sleep in the caverns of divine faithfulness. On no one occasion will the Lord desert us. He will be at our side. Come, my heart, be calm and hopeful today. Clouds may gather, but the Lord can blow them away. Since God will not fail me, my faith shall not fail, and, as He will not forsake me neither will I forsake Him. Oh, for a restful faith. The Lord of hosts is with us, and who shall resist His sin-destroying power?
Psalms 84:12 O LORD of hosts, How blessed is the man who trusts in Thee!
Who is the King of glory? God as king win battles. The King of glory is the most victorious of them all; the One Who is mighty in battle. We don’t think of God in terms of warfare. Why? He is no longer described in terms of tangible reality. God is removed from our real experience of life as it is. Is it any wonder that we are slowly erasing God from our culture? He is no longer the warrior king, the Rock, the strong right arm, the cleft, the fortress or the holy fire. Isn’t the cry of our culture like Zephaniah: Zephaniah 2:15a: This is the exultant city that lived securely, that said in her heart, “I am, and there is no one else.” Isaiah 23:9: The Lord of hosts hath purposed it, to stain the pride of all glory, and to bring into contempt all the honorable of the earth. Isaiah 66:3b: They have chosen their ways and their soul delights in their abominations.
I want a God Who is my king! I want a God Who is a mighty warrior, Who will fight battles for me. I want to smell the battlefield and know that He is victorious. I want to see the enemies of God stacked like cordwood. I want to walk the scorched earth where He passed.
Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not neither be dismayed.” If Jehovah Himself goes before us, it must be safe to follow. Who can obstruct our progress if the Lord Himself is in the van? Nor is the Lord before us only; He is with us. Above, beneath, around, and within, all the time, even to eternity. The Lord of hosts is with us! Being before us and with us, He will never withdraw His help. He cannot fail in Himself, and He will not fail toward us. He will continue to help us according to our need, even to the end. As He cannot fail us, so He will not forsake us. Let us not fear nor be dismayed; for the Lord of hosts will go down to the battle with us, will bear the brunt of the fight, and has given us the final victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Spiritual warfare is not a metaphor. It would be more accurate to say that human warfare is a metaphor — and an expression — of the even more real and pervasive spiritual war being waged all around us. And unless we engage it seriously, we will not be serious players in it, and may be swept away by it.
Demonic powers are in no way impressed by our intellect or other abilities. What impresses them is the strength of the Spirit of God and the weapons he provides. And these have divine power to destroy the works of the devil and cause us to stand firm in the evil day (2 Corinthians 10:4; 1 John 3:8; Ephesians 6:13).
And God wants us to stand our ground and not yield an inch. More than that, God wants us to take back ground that Satan has seized and free others he has enslaved through fear (Hebrews 2:14–15).
Schemes of the Devil
The evidence that a soldier takes his battle seriously, and understands the strength of his enemy, is seen in how he arms and prepares himself. That’s why when Paul launches into the most famous spiritual-warfare exhortation in the Bible, the first thing he says is this:
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. (Ephesians 6:10–11)
Like any other war, there will be no defeating our spiritual enemy if we do not have the right equipment. Wars waged carelessly are wars lost. Protective armor and offensive weapons matter.
And all we have to do is look at the armor that the experienced warrior lists to understand the nature of this fight: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the gospel, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:14–17). This is a war over what is real, which means it is psychological warfare at its worst.
Look around you to see the destruction it wreaks. When humans are deluded over what’s real, they think and do terrible, unspeakable evil, individually and collectively. Look carefully, longer than you want to. See the horrors, too diverse to begin to catalog. What you are seeing are the outcomes of the devil’s schemes. This is what he wants to do to you and those you love. You know that, because you know what goes through your mind and what pulls at your depravity.
You can stand against these schemes, and more than that, you can defeat them and drive your enemy back. But you need to understand who you’re up against and take them with all seriousness.
We Do Not Wrestle Lightweights
Listen again to how Paul describes these foes:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Many Christians in the West respond to Paul’s description of these spiritual beings like they do to descriptions of smallpox: a terrible scourge that really doesn’t affect our lives today. They wouldn’t say this in so many words, but they live like it. Which is a massive mistake, and likely evidence that they aren’t really engaged in the war.
Try taking spiritual territory from “cosmic powers” and you know what happens? All hell begins to break loose. We are assaulted with oppressive psychological warfare, we are tempted to suspect people we love, sickness hits, relationships go sideways, churches strain at the seams, and more. If you’ve been in the battle, you know what I mean. Press against a spiritual stronghold of evil, and very quickly our flesh will scream at us to get away from there.
This is not meant to scare us away from the fight. We have a superior power and better weapons at our disposal (1 John 4:4). But we ought not underestimate our enemy.
If we are going to follow Jesus, we will confront beings far beyond our natural selves, beings who are more powerful than we thought and who attack us in ways we don’t expect, beings who will do everything they can to delude us about what is real while trying to destroy us and everything we love.
Stand Your Ground, Take Your Enemy’s
If speaking like this makes us tremble, good! Soldiers only take their armor and weapons seriously, and learn how to use them, if they believe they really need them. God wants us to know that we really need our armor and weapons.
But God also wants us to know that our armor and weapons make our enemies tremble too. They are scared to death of God. And nothing on earth is more dangerous to a demonic cosmic power than a Spirit-filled Christian who wears his armor and wields his weapons. That person is pure destruction to evil. The fiery darts of deception are ineffective against a shield of faith. And the word-sword of the Spirit hews holes in the demonic line.
Battles are intense affairs. But if we take the battle seriously, and use the divine equipment God provides us, we will “stand against the schemes of the devil . . . in the evil day” (Ephesians 6:11, 13). Do not underestimate your enemy, but do not underestimate your spiritual Ally either. We will win.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God . . . and having done all . . . stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Stand your ground. Do not yield an inch. More than that, press your enemy back, and take his ground. He will fight back, and it will get ugly at times. Don’t panic. Fight. “With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes” (Psalm 108:13).
We as humans have a hard time staying in love with something for a sustained period of time. We get bored, we get distracted, we get our fancy tickled by something else, and we usually walk away. Then we do it all over again. This is the cycle of love that engulfs the world. We toss things away when they lose their relevance in our lives.
The book of Timothy warns us that perilous difficult times will come in the last days and one of the characteristics is that love for God is nonexistent. 2 Timothy 3:1,2,5 says people will be lovers of self, lovers of money and lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God. What camp are you in? Lovers of self or lovers of God. Lovers of pleasure or lovers of God? Lover of money or lovers of God? Whom do you love more? The reason people do not love God is that they have been seduced, deceived, and bamboozled. We are being seduced away from God to love something else more. Something is more important than God and deserves our love and attention. This is the great battle of love. Our entire life is defined by whom we love.
God is love in all its perfection. God commands us to love Him and to love one another. This is not optional. It should be the fabric of everything we are and everything we do. Love is the measuring stick of our Christian life.
Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Agapao: means a love, which is awakened by a sense of value in an object that causes one to prize it. It springs from an appreciation of the preciousness of an object and is a love of esteem for the value and worth of an object. It is to love with wonder and admiration, prizing the worth of the person loved. It means to cherish with reverence.
The figure of speech polysyndeton-many ands-emphasizing the importance of each of these four ways we are to love God. All our heart; all our soul; all our mind; all our strength. This is how we love God. It is a command.
Our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.
Joshua 23:11: So take diligent heed to love the Lord your God. ”Diligent heed” means to guard, to protect, to watch over. It’s an attitude of attentive care. We must guard, protect, and keep a protective hedge around our love for God for it is always under attack from the enemy. The devil wants to steal, kill, and destroy your love for God.
John 21:15:17: When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Do you love the Lord more than these? What is the “these” in our life? Do we love him more than our house, our car, our sports team, our job, our success, our business, our money, our 401K, our hobbies, our self-image, our family, our goals, our opportunities, our ministry?
What is the temperature of your relationship with God? Is it hot, cold, or lukewarm? How much affection is in your relationship with God? How much passion is there in your relationship? How much of a bond is there between you and God? Does anything come between you and God? How much time are you devoting daily to your relationship with God? Is it a passing thought before you go to bed or night or a minute devotional before you start the day. Is He a backburner God or a second-string God? Is He just another contact that you mean to catch up with? Are you consumed with God?
We have so “evolved” in culture, that we just don’t need to be consumed with God anymore or, so we are told. Who needs God anymore as long as I have my iPad? Who needs God when I have the world at my fingertips from my computer in my cozy house? Who needs God when I have Netflix, iTunes, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, and Xbox? God must be more than just on our mailing list. God must be more than just on our wish list. God must be a living, burning fire in the depths of our heart. God must be more alive, real, present, close, and looked to than any earthly thing. An electronic device may fascinate you for a moment, but it can never bring you peace, love, joy, or true satisfaction. It is a sad characteristic to this “enlightened” world that God is so dead in the hearts of people.
It is sad to say that there are 10,080 minutes in a week and 524,160 minutes in a year, and we think we are doing God a favor if we spend 60 minutes a week for Him or 3120 minutes a year. We wonder why spiritual anemia is rampant in our lives. We wonder why God is not real to us and why we lack the demonstration of the power of God in our lives. The white hotness of your love for God is in direct proportion to how much time you spend with him. If we love Him, we will place our lives at his disposal.
The challenge is to keep the flame of God’s love alive in our hearts. Romans 12:9: Let love be genuine (without hypocrisy), vs 11: Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Fervent-boil with heat, be hot. Describes water boiling or metal glowing with heat. Zeal, fervency, and service flow out of our love for God. Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you-2 Timothy 1:6. Feed it until it is ablaze. We need to feed and stoke our love for God, so the fire does not go out.
Look what happened to the love of these great leaders! 2 Timothy 4:10: For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. They forsook Paul, they forsook God, they abandoned their first love.
Tozer: Man unlike any other of God’s creation, is uniquely created to experience God. Not to know God and His intimacy is to deny our fundamental purpose. Humanity has been guilty of revolt. We have broken with God, and the Bible teaches that we are all alienated from Him. That is, we-the human race-are strangers to Him. We have ceased to love and trust Him and enjoy His presence. Redemption simply brings us back to intimate fellowship with God.
Psalm 10:4: In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
The world does not love you if you walk with Christ. The world hates you. The world hates Him. This causes many to fall away in their relationship with God. When lawlessness abounds, it will test your love for God. Does it grow or fade? Does it burn brightly or wax cold.
Matthew 24:9-12: Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold.
Wax cold-reduction of temperature by evaporation. Cool by blowing, to wane, to chill. The fervency and intensity of our love for God begins to wane.
Revelation 2:4:But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
Abandon-to depart, to send away, to let go, to desert, to leave. Have we abandoned our first love? Has the flame of our love flickered and been blown out? Who in this generation truly seeks Yahweh? Who in our age really seeks God’s face? The wicked has no room in their thoughts for God. They are dead in their love for God. But are we the same? Do we want all of God? Have we created a god in our own image? Is God our most treasured possession? We need to breathe in God’s presence daily. We need to live in the conscious, vital, living presence of God.
Love for God starts with a love of who is He is. More you know who is He and His characteristics, the more you love Him.
Psa. 42:1-2: As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Does your soul thirst for God? Do you pant for God? How thirsty are you for God?
Love God test: I John 4:20,21:If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. We cannot say we love God and hate our brothers and sisters in Christ. How we love others is a measuring rod of how much we love God?
And as he came still nearer to the city, he caught sight of it and wept over it, saying, “Ah, if you only knew, even at this eleventh hour, on what your peace depends—but you cannot see it. The time is coming when your enemies will encircle you with ramparts, surrounding you and hemming you in on every side. And they will hurl you and all your children to the ground—yes, they will not leave you one stone standing upon another—all because you did not know when God Himself was visiting you!” (Luke 19:41–44, PHILLIPS)
Is Jesus crying over you this day? Is He crying out to you, ‘’Must your heart rebel against me forever? I gave my life for you. You have so much potential, so much promise, so much power because of my sacrifice! Why are you wasting it? Why are you not walking in my victory, letting me live through you? Why are you letting your heart become entangled in the trivial matters of this world that have no eternal value?” Jesus weeps over the wasted potential of His church and what could have been. He weeps over the many hardened hearts. He weeps over those who have been deceived. He weeps over those who are enslaved to sin. He weeps over the hearts that have waxed cold and forgotten their first love. He weeps over those who have closed their ears to His voice because they are offended at His words.
To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it. (Jeremiah 6:10, NIV)
You cannot love God if you do not listen to Him. Your ears determine the temperature of your love. Can you imagine having your ears so attuned to God that every day you hear His voice encouraging and helping you to be your best in your service for His kingdom? We are so accustomed to spiritual deafness that such an idea seems far-fetched and beyond our reach, but God wants you to know His voice like a loving Father and faithful friend. Pray that God awakens your ear to His voice.
Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.
Jesus is standing at the door of your heart wanting you to let him in so you can commune and fellowship with him with the deepest love. Will you open the door?
If Christ finds His chief delight in us, should we not delight in Him? Should not our principal pleasure derive from Him? We can never get too much of Jesus or be too happy in Him.
The number one enemy of staying in love with God is idolatry. Idolatry dulls the heart for God, steals our love, and extinguishes the flame. Every problem that has ever plagued humanity can be traced back to the sin of idolatry. Tertullian called idolatry “the principal crime of the human race.”[i] Idolatry devours people, cities, governments, and nations. Idolatry has infiltrated every generation, hanging over them like a dark cloud, wreaking havoc like a deadly plague. Idolatry is the great destroyer of civilization.
The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: “Look now, people of Judah; you have as many gods as you have towns. You have as many altars of shame”— (Jeremiah 11:13, NLT). The sad truth is that in America, our list of gods far exceeds the number of gods in Judah. We have pursued other gods with a fanatical obsession and have become a nation wholly given to idolatry. Surely God weeps over a world that has sold their souls to an endless list of worthless idols that have corrupted their relationship with Him.
Isaiah 65:1-4 NLT: The Lord says, “I was ready to respond, but no one asked for help. I was ready to be found, but no one was looking for me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am!’ to a nation that did not call on my name. All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes. All day long they insult me to my face by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on pagan altars.
Above all other things, idolatry breaks the heart of Almighty God for He created men and women in His own image and greatly desires fellowship, love, adoration, praise, and worship from His precious creation. But idolatry ruined everything and caused a wall of separation between God and the human race as they gave their love to another. Idolatry is the human choice of substituting their Creator for a thing, image, person, or ideal. Idolatry is an act of treason against the God who gave us life. The sin of idolatry declares God is not good enough, not great enough, not glorious enough, not complete enough, and not all that He claims to be. It says that something else is more worthy to be loved and served. Who do you love the most? Do we love God? Do we really love God or has an idol replaced Him?
The price to pay for idolatry is extremely high as it demands everything, and ultimately will destroy our lives. It chokes the life of God from our hearts. This condition of the idolater’s heart is described in Isaiah 59:11: “we grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noon day as in the night: we are in desolate places as dead men.” The idolater has lost his eyes to see the magnificence of the God, lost his ears to hear the loving voice of the faithful God, lost his way to see the path of the righteous God, and lost his life to the service of a dead god that mocks his reason for existence.
A.W. Tozer said in The Knowledge of the Holy that “the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”[ii] Idolatry begins when we lose the sense of awe and wonder of God and relegate Him to a simple concept that gets lost in the thousands of other things that bombard our minds daily. God becomes mundane, unneeded, unimportant, and bothersome in the schemes of our lives, and other things become more exciting and valuable to us. This is fertile ground for idolatry.
“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. “To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal? Some people pour out their silver and gold and hire a craftsman to make a god from it. Then they bow down and worship it! They carry it around on their shoulders, and when they set it down, it stays there. It can’t even move! And when someone prays to it, there is no answer. It can’t rescue anyone from trouble. “Do not forget this! Keep it in mind! Remember this, you guilty ones. Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. (Isaiah 46:3-9, NLT)
God has no rivals. He alone is God, and nothing from the tiniest blade of grass on earth to the remotest star at the far reaches of the universe, can be compared to Him. He is the first and the last; He is the beginning and the end; He was, is and always will be. He is unchangeable in the beauty of His character, and the holiness of his nature. He is everything we could ever dream Him to be in all His perfection, and a billion times more! God’s wisdom is infinite, His understanding limitless, His love fathomless, His righteousness untouchable and His mercy boundless. He alone has the right to be worshipped, praised, and loved above all else. How can we not love God?
Psalm 27:8 NLT My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.”
What do you do when the Lord calls? Too busy? Get to him later? How would you describe your relationship with the Lord? Is their affection? Is there a tender bond?
A recent survey indicated that the average Christian spends 8 minute a day in prayer and the average minister 12 minutes a day in prayer. Are we too busy for God? How often do we practice His presence in a day? How often do we seek his face? Do you know God? Really know Him? Do you know the Lord Jesus? Really know Him? Do we experience God intimately on a personal level daily? When was the last time you sought his face? Really sought his face?
Each day presents a new opportunity to experience God and fellowship with Him. Nothing should so occupy the mind of the Christian than discovering God in his day. When did you last seized Him and cleaved unto God and say, “Lord, I can’t go another inch without meeting You this morning.”
Dr. Tozer said as a mature man in his sixties that there were times when he lay on the rug for hours. He said, “I’m lost in adoration, I see Him in His glory, in His majesty, in His beauty. I can hear those holy beings crying, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord.’” And he said, “I’m silent in adoration before Him. I had no language, it is beggared.”
Have you forgotten to love Him? We fail to love because we forget God hours upon hours, and He doesn’t even enter out mind. One of the great flaws of the human heart is to fall into habitual forgetfulness of God. We tend to not remember God daily. A parent’s heart would be crushed if their beloved child forgot them. A bride’s heart would be wounded if her groom forgot about her love and devotion to him. There may not be a worse feeling for someone than to feel that you have been forgotten. No one wants to be a distant memory. Yet God is consistently forgotten day after day in the busyness of our hectic lives. God easily disappears from our thoughts with a troubling constancy. The heart forgets. The heart does not remember. God fades from our memory with a relentless persistency, and the heart of God is grieved that His very own children have so easily forgotten Him.
Can a virgin forget her ornaments or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number. (Jeremiah 2:32, ESV)
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deuteronomy 32:18, ESV)
This is the great tragedy of forgetfulness that we live our lives unmindful of God, barely giving him a thought. We have forgotten the God who intricately knitted us together in our mother’s womb and beautifully formed every physical detail of our bodies. We cannot love God if we forget.
The Hebrew word for “forget” means to ignore, to wither, to cease to care. We must not allow God to wither from our hearts by ignoring Him and giving Him little attention. We cannot cease to care about God being at the center of everything we do and everything we are. We must never let God be labeled “the forgotten one” in the depth of our hearts.
It is sad to say, but most of us give more attention to our grocery list than God. We have become consumed with everything else, but God. We are consumed with our television shows, music, careers, schedules, success, sports, businesses, families, education, politics, fitness, comforts, and finances. We remember more about our iPhone apps than we remember about God. We remember the latest sport scores and statistics more than we remember God. God must be more than just on our mailing list when we send Him a nice card from our hearts twice a year on Christmas and Easter. For a Christian, God should be more alive, important, and thought of, than any earthly thing. God must be the living and burning passion of our hearts. We cannot follow the ways of this world where God is dead in the hearts of people. God must be more than a fleeting thought or a desperate prayer when we are in trouble. God must become the lifeblood of our heart, and the reason for every breath we take.
However, most of us have not given our hearts to God completely, without reservation, and with nothing held back. Too often we have honored God with our lips, but our heart is far from Him. We have a whole religious culture today with churches on every corner, but so few of us have ever really given God all our heart, with no strings attached. If God does not have your heart, then you will forget Him. God is knocking at the door of your heart right now. He is pleading with you to let Him in. Dine with Him! Abide with Him! Give Him the keys to your heart! Don’t shut Him out! Don’t forget Him! God cries out daily like He did in Proverbs 23:26: “My son give me your heart!”
The Hebrew word for “forget” has even a deeper meaning when we look at its word picture. Remember that Hebrew is a pictographic language, and each letter of the Hebrew alphabet represents a picture. The Hebrew pictograph for the word “forget” is Shin-Kaf-Chetand means what destroys the fence around the open palm or hand. He has put a fence or protective boundary around our heart that allows us to live separate from the chaos of this broken world. To forget is to tear down and destroy this fence.
You make the choice, whether your heart is going to remember God or forget Him. It is interesting that one of the root words for “sin” in the Hebrew means forgetfulness. At the core of sin is a heart that has forgotten the majesty, grandeur, and holiness of God. At the core of sin is a heart that has erased God from its thinking, forgetting His instructions, and deliberately choosing to follow another god.
RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE
I don’t know about you, but I want to finish this race the way I started. I want my marriage to finish even better than it began. I want my love for Jesus to increase. Everything in my being, everything in my voice, everything in my eyes simply wants to exude the deep relationship I have! Perhaps you started out so in love with Jesus, yet somewhere down the road that love has degenerated. In your heart you know that your relationship with Him is not what it used to be. How do we come back to our first love? I believe it starts with asking the Lord to ignite our hearts once again, and then simply reaching out and embracing Him.
Jude 21: Keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
The Greek word of “keep”: To attend to carefully, to guard; Keep is an aorist imperative, a command calling for “urgent” attention. Let love be the “atmosphere” you breathe and in which you obey.
John 15:9-11: As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. Abide in His love by keeping His commandments and your joy will be full
You see, the opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s indifference. “I don’t care” is far more painful than “I hate you.” Hate implies strong emotional connection. Just like love. The relationship remains, even if it’s a hostile one. But “I don’t care” wipes away the relationship. Not hot. Not cold. Nothing. It says, “You don’t matter to me. You’re nothing to me.”
God knows us intimately, like a best friend, a lover of our soul. We are real, embodied, emotional, relational beings whom He chooses to deeply, personally, and compassionately understand. Do you know that God thinks about you all the time? Do you know that God’s love for you is immeasurable and unfathomable and to such a degree that it transcends human understanding? Do you know that God longs for you to fall into His embrace and to cleave unto Him with all your heart and strength? Do you know that God wants to be wanted by you, He wants to be loved, He wants to be cherished, He wants to be adored, He wants to be treasured, and He wants to be worshipped? The Psalmist says that God’s thoughts toward us are so many and so wonderful that they cannot be numbered.
God has always loved you no matter what you have done. God has always been there even in your darkest hour even though you may not have ever realized it. God will never give up on you for He is a loving God and not just a fickle person. God will never quit chasing you for His love for you burns deep and true. God is pleading to you, please let me be your God, your everything, your reason for breathing and let me bear my mighty arm for you and show you my goodness and glory. God has never forgotten you, not ever, not even for a second. Don’t you want to know and love this God?
Don’t let you’re your love for God be diminished in this critical hour. Come back to your first love, whether you have walked with God for fifty years or for ten. Simply come back to that place where you love Him with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. We must have the flame of first love burning brightly in this dark hour. This is what our testimony should be; this is what will bring Him glory in our generation!
[i] Tertullian, On Idolatry (Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2004), 3.
[ii] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God: Their Meaning in the Christian Life (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961), 3.
Isaiah 40:9: Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
Have you paused in your busy life to reflect on our awesome God? What do you perceive God to be in your heart?
A.W. Tozer says in The Knowledge of the Holy:
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…No religion has ever been greater than its idea of God…For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at any time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God…Without doubt the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God…That our idea of God corresponds as nearly as possible to the true being of God is of immense importance to us…A right conception of God is basic not only to systematic theology but to practical Christian living as well…It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God…is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity…low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them…The essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him…The idolator simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true…The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of God.
What is your mental image of God? What do you conceive God to be like? Do you carry thoughts of God that are worthy of Him? You will go no further in your spiritual walk with God then the picture of God you carry in your heart. Our faith, our prayers, our trust, our worship, and our fellowship are all dramatically affected by the thoughts we carry about God.
Psalm 9:10: And they that know thy name (character and reputation) will put their trust in thee.
Faith is confidence in the character of God and if don’t know what kind of God He is, we can’t have faith. We must know the character of God. We need a restored knowledge of God. Today we have more Bibles, more books, more preachers, more missions, and more schools than at any time in history, but how little we know about the character, reputation, and name of God! We have lost the lofty truth about God, and the wonder, the awe, the majesty of Yahweh. This has led to a tremendous decline in our spiritual growth both individually and as a church. A.W. Tozer said, “One hour with the majesty of God would be worth more to you now and in eternity than all the preachers-including myself-that ever stood up to open their Bible.”
How much do we study and know about the attributes of God? An attribute of God is whatever God has revealed as being true of Himself. An attribute is what God is. The attributes of God refer to his fundamental, permanent, and unchanging characteristics. This is the most important knowledge we can possess. The knowledge of God begins with His attributes. Scripture tells us that God possess attributes about which we may know. What is God like? What kind of God is He? How may we expect Him to act toward us? How much do we know about God? God has revealed Himself in the creation, in the Bible and in His Son. Human character is not constant and varies with intensity throughout their lives. God’s attributes are perfect and do not change or vary. He does not possess them as qualities, but it is what God is. No contradiction exists in God. He is unified in all His attributes.
Jeremiah 9:23,24: Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
We cannot understand Yahweh without understanding His attributes. The great purpose of all life is to know God in an intimate relationship. Only in a true knowledge of God does one understand their identity and their purpose in life. Hosea 6:3 says, “Let us press on to know the Lord.” Yet we live in a culture that mimics Job 21:14: “They say to God, ‘Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.” This is a life of chaos. This is a life with no eternal purpose wandering aimlessly in the darkness of this world. This is a true waste of life.
,here are literally countless attributes of God, but let us look at four attributes of God today that will help build our knowledge of God and expand our vision of Him.
God is Eternal
This is one of the most amazing attributes of God and distinguishes Him from all creation. God is without beginning or end. There is never a time He did not exist, and there is never a time He will cease to exist in the future. God is timeless, always existing, and never changing. We are for a moment, but God is forever. He was God, is God and will be God forever. As God is, so He will be. This truth is so necessary to right thoughts about God that it cannot be overemphasized.
Isaiah 57:15 says that God “inhabits eternity.” In the Hebrew, the word “inhabits” comes from the primitive root meaning lodging, and is where one resides and permanently stays. It is where one settles down and abides. God’s lodging and permanent abode is eternity.
Psalm 90:2 (Amplified): Before the mountains were born or before You had given birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are [the eternal] God.
Isaiah 43:10: “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.
Tozer: We cannot think rightly about God until we begin to think of Him as always being there and being there first.
God never began to be. God was. God didn’t start from somewhere as God just is. Time cannot apply to God. There never was a time when God was not. God dwells in the everlasting now. God has no past and God has no future. Time is a little mark across eternity. God has no yesterdays and no tomorrows. God has already lived all our tomorrows. God never panics because God never looks at clocks or watches. We have become slaves to time, but we find our immortality and eternity in God and nowhere else. We need God for God is our eternity. God is our guarantee of eternal life and will one day take us into the heart of the everlasting now. He is the only one that has the promise of everlasting life.
We begin to see this verse in a deeper light.
John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
God never fades, never disappears, never dies, and never ceases to exist. His care for us is everlasting.
Psalm 48:14: that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.
God promises He will care for us and guide us forever. Pluralism is just another name for idolatry. There is only one true God. There is no other that is even worthy to be called God.
Isaiah 46:9b, 10: for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
Even a pagan king changed his concept of Yahweh.
Daniel 4:34,35: At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
We bless, we honor, and we praise Him for God is eternal.
God is great
God alone is great. Everything in creation is dependent on Him. No comparison can ever be made between God and any other creature or thing. He is infinitely above anything in creation. God is incomparable. He defines greatness. God is greater than we can even imagine.
Nehemiah 8:6 Yahweh is the great God.
Jeremiah 10:6: There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might.
2 Chronicles 2:5b, 6a: For our God is greater than all gods. But who is able to build him a house, since heaven, even highest heaven, cannot contain him?
Nehemiah 1:5a: I said, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God…
Deuteronomy 7:21b: For the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.
2 Chronicles 29:11: Yours, O Lord, is the greatness..
The Hebrew word for “great” means great in magnitude and extent. This word does not mean great in number. It is great in largeness and majesty. It is to be immeasurable. God cannot be measured or weighed. God cannot be confined or analyzed in a laboratory. There is no limit to God. Job 11:7b: “Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” There is no end to God’s greatness. It also means to be great in intensity, importance, and distinguishment. Great in wisdom, power, and strength. Nothing comes close to the greatness of God. The unparalleled, incomparable, unrivaled, and unequalled greatness of God. It is the truth that is utterly relevant for everything in life. We are to be gripped by His awesome reality.
Psalm 145:3: Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,and his greatness is unsearchable.
Deuteronomy 10:17: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
Job 5:9,10: As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number:
God is so great He does things that we think are beyond doing. The uniqueness and magnitude of God is wrapped up in this word great. We must never forget that our God is great beyond anything we can ever imagine.
God is omnipotent
This refers to the attribute of having infinite or unlimited power. God can do all that He has determined to do and no person or force can hinder Him.
Psalm 62:11b: “Power belongs to God.” What an awesome truth and this power is without limit.
Genesis 17:1: I am the Almighty God. The word “Almighty” in Scripture is used 56 times and is never used about anyone else but God. He is the Almighty-having absolute and infinite power that is never exhausted, never burns out and never has to be replenished.
God cannot contradict Himself in the exercise of His power. God can do everything that is in harmony with His Holy character. God is all powerful and thus has unlimited authority & influence. He has the ability to do whatever His will dictates. He has both the resources and the ability to work his will in every circumstance in the universe.
If you prefer a simpler definition, just think of these three words—” God is able.” That’s what omnipotence means. He is able to do everything he needs to do or wants to do. No one can stop God’s plans. No power can thwart His purposes. What God starts, He finishes and no matter how great the need, His resources are never depleted. He has unlimited power to carry our burdens and solve our problems. God is unlimited in His strength, capacity, vigor, and force. God can hold you up when no one else can. God contains, perpetuates, and sustains all things.
Jeremiah 32:17: Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.
He has the same amount of power today than when He made the heavens and earth. God doesn’t expend energy, He is energy.
Luke 1:37: For nothing is impossible with God.
Psalm 147:5: Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
Nahum 1:3: The Lord is great in power
Job 42:2: I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Deuteronomy 9:29: For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm
2 Chronicles 20:6, 12b: O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.
Isaiah 40:26: Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.
His power does not miss one thing. God is powerful, but personable. We can call Him “Abba Father.”
Psalm 115:3: Our God is in the heavens;He does all that he pleases.
His power is not constrained by the limits of human reasoning.
Psalm 29:4: The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
As Christians God has shared some of His power with us as a gift.
Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
Where is the power in Christianity? It was never meant to be a dead battery.
Ephesians 3:20: Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.
Ephesians 1:19ff: And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
We activate God’s explosive power by our believing.
People often ask why all the suffering in the world if God is omnipotent? God does bare His arm and exercise His power for those who trust and seek Him, but we live in a generation where no one seeks Him, but they still ask why. They also don’t understand that Adam committed high treason when he transferred the authority God had given him to the Devil. Lucifer has a limited jurisdiction upon this earth until Christ establishes His kingdom on the earth in the future. if God is not truly omnipotent, then evil is more powerful than God. This simply is not true as seen in page after page of scripture.
Psalm 23:4: I will fear no evil because you are with me. Romans 8:31-If God be for me who can be against me?
God’s unlimited power is a truth that we often do not believe and thus fail to utilize in our lives.
God is Faithful
I Corinthians 1:9: God is faithful.
The faithfulness of God guarantees that He will never be or act inconsistent with Himself. God will never cease to be what He is and who He is. He will always be true to Himself. God is His own standard. God imitates nobody and is influenced by nobody. He never acts out of character. Nothing can force God to act otherwise than faithfully to Himself and us-no person, no circumstance, nothing. God will remain faithful because He never changes. God is never partly anything as He is perfectly faithful in all He does.
Deuteronomy 7:9: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations
He is the faithful God who never broke a promise, never violated a covenant, never told a lie, never said one thing and meant another, and never overlooked or forgot anything. He always fulfills every jot and title of His Word. If God said it, you can believe it. God cannot contradict Himself. God’s faithfulness should destroy our unbelief. Unbelief says somewhere else, but not here; some other time, but not now; some other people, but not us. We believe in miracles yesterday and miracles tomorrow but not miracles today. God is perfectly willing to do the impossible when His people dare to believe that He is the faithful God and meant what He says. Do you take God at His Word? When you read the Bible say “God wrote this and God is faithful and He cannot lie.” God’s words and works are also completely faithful.
Faithfulness communicates the idea of stability and certainty. God is worthy of absolute trust because He is faithful. We can depend on Him without any doubt or reservation. God’s faithfulness means He will do everything that He has promised in His Word.
2 Thessalonians 3:3: But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.
2 Timothy 2:13: if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
Hebrews 10:23: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
I Thessalonians 5:24: The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.
Lamentations 3:22,23: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Exodus 34:6: And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness
Deuteronomy 32:3,4: For I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.
Psalm 100:5: For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
God’s faithfulness depends on His power and immutability (He does not change). God has unlimited power to fulfill His promises and does not change His will on His promises. God is able to do all that He has promised.
I Kings 8:56: Not one word has failed of all His good promise.
Isaiah 14:24: The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand.”
Psalm 36:5: Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.
Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
God is utterly dependable and reliable 100% of the time. He does not falter, fail, forget, or disappoint. There is no taint of doubt. There is no tinge of uncertainty. Faithfulness is what God is. God is worthy of trust and confidence because He is faithful. We can have faith in God because He is faithful.
Psalm 37:3: “Feed on His faithfulness.” It should be the diet of our soul.
You are a monument to God’s faithfulness.
There are so many more attributes of God’s character that we do not have time to cover in this sermon but provide a rich study for us. God’s holiness, love, grace, mercy, wisdom, goodness, longsuffering, justice, righteousness, omnipresent, omniscient, immutable, and truth. He is the absolute perfection of each of these qualities and together they form a unity of His character.
We know that this awesome great God has made a promise for our future. He is absolutely faithful and has the unlimited power to bring to pass this promise of eternal life and an everlasting kingdom. We will for all eternity shout “Behold our God!”
Isaiah 25:6-9: On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a w ise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:10–13).
In this portion of Scripture, the apostle Paul was essentially saying, “I have brought to you the real Jesus. I have laid a foundation of truth for you as the people of God. The real Jesus will never fail you; He will not forsake you; He will walk with you through the fire. Whatever you have to go through, He promises to go with you.”
It is important to hold on to this truth, for we are entering a difficult season as a society that is not unlike the ones people of previous times have had to pass through. You see, there have been times throughout history when the world became hostile to the Word of God, the presence of God, and ultimately the people of God.
The prophet Isaiah spoke of the social condition in such a season: “No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity… Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey” (Isaiah 59:4, 14–15).
At this time, the people of God were about to come under persecution because they had dealt casually with God’s Word. And as Romans chapter 1 warns us, when any nation deals falsely with the truth, they are given over to a depraved mind, and they begin to do everything that the sinful heart of man has always longed to do apart from God’s restrictions. They call that which is unholy, holy and they begin to call that which is good, evil.
Furthermore, the culture itself turns against those who believe that God’s Word is the standard of truth. Many of you today cannot speak the truth of God’s Word in your workplace. As soon as you do so, you are considered a hater. You could even be in danger of losing your employment. Sadly, the Word of God warns that the true gospel will be attacked in the last days—from without as well as from within the professing Church. Many people do not realize that the gospel has been attacked for a few decades in our nation. We are just waking up and beginning to realize what has been happening.
Paul said to his young protege, Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:1–4).
The interesting thing about turning aside “fables” is that it does not necessarily refer to lies. The Greek word simply means “good stories.” There will be a lust for entertainment in the house of God. Many people will begin to gather around storytellers rather than preachers of the gospel. These stories may have a moral to them, and they might even bring you to tears. But if they are not the Word of God, they have no power to transform your life.
Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!” (2 Corinthians 11:3–4). In other words, “I fear for you being so open to entertainment that somebody might come and present to you another Jesus.”
Build-A-Bear is a popular store in many malls throughout the country. I went there with some of my grandchildren one time and discovered what fun it is to build bears. When you go into the Build-A-Bear store, the first thing you do is pick an image of a bear that appeals to you. Does that sound familiar? In the last few decades, many churches in America have just been franchise operations for “Build-A-Jesus!” You pick an image of Jesus that you like and then find a church that caters to it.
After selecting an image, the next thing you get to do at Build-a-Bear is choose the stuffing. Just like you might get to choose what will go inside this Jesus you are building. If some of the parts of the Bible seem a little too hard, you get to eliminate it and just put all the soft stuff in there instead—all the nice, fluffy words. Then you choose his eyes—what he decides to see. Perhaps a Build-A-Jesus overlooks sin. Next you get to choose his heart. You can even write things on the heart of your Build-A-Bear! So let’s take out all the warnings about sin and anything that makes you uncomfortable. And lastly, you get to record your voice and put it inside the bear so that when you pull the string, it says what you want it to say! When you pull the string of your Build-A-Jesus, His voice sounds a lot like you! Does that sound like some of the doctrines that have gone around in this nation for a couple of decades?
Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” You cannot get to the Father’s hand except through the real Jesus. There is no genuine security in this world if you have a Build-A-Jesus in your heart. There is only one Jesus that will survive the coming fire. Remember, you and I are going to go into a season of trial. We have warned you from this pulpit for many, many years. The world as we know it is launching a wholesale and perhaps a final rebellion against the lordship of Jesus Christ. The lawlessness is not going to get better; the deception is going to get deeper. There is going to be a revulsion against Christ and the people of God that will intensify until the Lord Himself returns and intervenes. I am writing about this today because I do not want you to burn in the fire. I do not want you to find out at some point that the Jesus you have embraced is not the real Christ.
Remember our opening scripture when Paul said, “the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). A trial will test the Jesus that you’ve laid hold of. I understand this from some of the past experiences in my own life. Pastor Teresa and I have gone through fire, the loss of all things. We have gone through a flood; we have gone through sickness and trials. But by the grace of God, the real Jesus has walked with us through it all. If you have a living relationship with the Son of God, nothing and no one can triumph over you!
Three Who Refused to Bow
In the book of Daniel, we read about a season when a king called Nebuchadnezzar decided he was going to erect an image of himself and command the people to bow down to it. “At the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, you shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5–6). Does that sound like the day we are living in? Once again, fallen man says, “We will tell you what truth is. We will tell you what society should look like. And you will agree with us—you will bend, you will bow, and you will do it our way. If you don’t, it is going to get exceedingly hot for you.”
Three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, sat over the affairs of the province of Babylon. That means they had a good income; they had influence and authority. But suddenly, in the midst of all this, they had to make a choice: Do we bow to this other image or do we hold to the true image of God? And the report came that these three young men refused to bow to the cultural order of the day.
Nebuchadnezzar called them in and said, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you…do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:14–15).
They answered the king, “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17–18). So the king, in his fury, commanded the furnace be heated seven times hotter—so hot that it killed the people that threw the three young men into it. But suddenly he said to his counselors, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (3:25).
Untouched by the Fire
This is my point: The real Jesus doesn’t burn, nor do those who are in His hand. The flames of fire could not touch the Hebrew boys. Each of us, too, must decide today: Who will we serve? If you are serving a Build-A-Jesus, then you will probably have no problem bowing your knee. When you pull the string, your Jesus will tell you it is okay to do that. But remember, it is not the voice of the Son of God but rather your own selective truth.
The end result of these three young men refusing to bend their knee is that the laws of the land were changed. Likewise, if we want to see change in our society, God’s people are going to be required to speak the truth and they must be willing to suffer whatever the consequences may be. Oh, may God give us the love and courage to refuse to bow to anyone but the real Jesus—that we might be able to stand and make a difference in this generation!
Sometimes the mental pictures we have of certain Bible characters are not quite right. Once we get a particular image in our brain, it’s almost impossible to get it out.
Take Moses, for instance.
When I think of Moses, I see Charlton Heston in my mind’s eye, about to part the Red Sea. It’s Moses and then it’s Charlton Heston and then it’s Moses.
Such is the power of the silver screen that for many people over the age of 50, Charlton Heston is Moses. Once you’ve seen The Ten Commandments, no one else could ever be Moses.
If you are younger and have seen The Prince of Egypt, Moses comes to mind as a completely different character. At the very least, you’re not thinking of Charlton Heston.
All that is harmless enough, but sometimes our images get in the way of reality.
Again, Moses is a good example.
Most of us think of Moses as a mighty hero of faith. He stood up to Pharaoh and led the children of Israel across the Red Sea on dry ground. He received the Ten Commandments and spoke with God face to face.
All those things are true.
But there’s another side to the story. If you roll the tape back to the beginning, Moses was anything but a hero. When the Lord spoke at the burning bush, he told him: “So now, go.”
Simple and clear.
“Moses, I’ve got a big job for you to do. Put your sandals back on and head for Egypt. I want you to talk to Pharaoh for me.”
The only problem was, Moses didn’t want any part of it.
He had two objections to the whole plan. First, he didn’t want to tangle with Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world. Second, he didn’t think the people of Israel would follow him.
In short, he thought the whole idea was a disaster and that maybe God should look somewhere else for a leader.
That brings us to our text for today. We pick up the story in Exodus 3:11. But here’s the takeaway for all of us:
When God calls, don’t make excuses!
Before we jump into the text, let’s note that Moses is 80 years old. We could hardly blame him if he felt he was too old and the job too hard.
As for his two objections, both were rooted in reality. It’s not as if Moses is making this up. Pharaoh wouldn’t be glad to see him and didn’t want to let the Jews go anywhere. Who could blame him? He was getting free slave labor. As for the second objection, Moses had every reason to worry about how his countrymen would receive him. After all, he had been gone for forty years, and the last time they saw him, he was running from the law.
I don’t blame Moses for having his doubts. Psychologists talk about the “Imposter Syndrome,” which means you secretly think you aren’t qualified for your job. You’re a faker waiting to be exposed.
We’ve all felt that way at one point or another.
Moses makes five excuses to the Lord about why he isn’t qualified to do God’s will.
See if they sound familiar.
Excuse #1: I’m Unqualified
But Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11).
Was he unqualified? The answer is yes. From a human point of view, he’s not a likely prospect to go toe to toe with Pharaoh. After all, he had been gone a long time, he had killed a man, and his reputation wasn’t the best. If you were picking candidates to lead God’s people out of Egypt, Moses would not have been at the top of the list.
That’s the answer. God’s whole reply can be summed up in five words: “I will be with you.” That’s the bottom line. Nothing else matters. If God is with Moses, then he cannot fail.
When Moses says, “I can’t do this,” God’s answer is, “You’re right. You can’t, but I can.”
Excuse #2: They Don’t Know Me
Then Moses asked God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them,
‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what should I tell them?”(Ex. 3:13).
It’s true. He had been gone for 40 years. A whole generation had arisen that knew nothing about Moses. If they heard anything about him, it would have been that he was a fugitive from the law.
He killed an Egyptian, hid his body, and then he ran off into the desert. No one had seen him since then.
So this excuse contains a kernel of truth. But that’s not the issue. The question is not, “Who are you?” but rather, “Who sent you?”
That reminds me of a story from the days when Richard Daley (the father, not the son) was mayor of Chicago. In those days you got a job through patronage. You knew someone who knew someone who could get you a job.
One day a man went to a certain office asking for a job. But no one knew him, so the question became, “Who sent you?” The answer came back, “No one.” The man in charge famously replied, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.”
That’s a good principle to remember in spiritual matters. If you come on your own authority, we don’t have time for you.
God knew the people would ask Moses that question, so he prepared him with the answer: “I AM” has sent me to you” (Ex. 3:14). That simple phrase contains the essential truth about who God is. He is the personal, eternal, self-existent God of the universe. He always was, he always is, he always will be.
He is above all things, beneath all things, behind all things, and in front of all things.
By him all things hold together.
In him all things have their being.
Without him, the universe does not exist.
Think of it this way. According to his name, he is the essence of whatever you need at the moment.
I am your strength.
I am your courage.
I am your health.
I am your hope.
I am your supply.
I am your defender.
I am your deliverer.
I am your forgiveness.
I am your joy.
I am your future.
God is saying to you and me, “I am whatever you need whenever you need it.”
He is the all-sufficient God for every crisis.
Go to the elders of Israel.
Tell them what I told you.
They will believe you.
Go to Pharaoh.
He won’t cooperate.
I’ll work miracles.
He will let you go.
Plunder the Egyptians on your way out.
Ask for gold and silver.
They’ll give it to you.
In other words, don’t worry about the future. God has a plan that covers all the details.
Excuse #3: They Won’t Believe Me!
So now Moses has another “What if” question:
“What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Ex. 4:1).
That’s very possible.
Likely, in fact.
Moses had a checkered past. After being raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, he rejected Egypt and chose to suffer with God’s people. But then he murdered an Egyptian, covered it up, and ran away.
He’s been gone 40 years.
Now he shows up saying God spoke to him in a burning bush in the desert.
There is no way the Jews will believe that story.
It sounds crazy.
God knew that, so he asked Moses a question:
“What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied (Ex. 4:2).
We’re talking about a shepherd’s staff. It was a walking stick. Every shepherd had one. There was nothing special about it. Moses no doubt found it in the wilderness.
Several years ago, I had a bike accident that broke three bones in my left leg and led to three surgeries. I was laid up for almost three months. During that time, my brother-in-law Mark carved an ornate cane with a fancy top and a four-toed rubber bottom. It’s the only cane I’ve ever used. It’s quite a treasure because Mark made it by hand.
Moses’ staff was nothing like that. It was the sort of staff you found in the desert, used for a while, and then threw away.
What’s the point? God will now use the ordinary to do the extraordinary. He told Moses to throw the staff on the ground, where it turned into a snake. God told him to pick it up again, turning it back into a wooden staff.
By the way, the hard part was picking it up again!
God has three answers for Moses. The first was the wooden staff (vv. 2-5), showing that God can work miracles with ordinary objects. The second was the leprous hand (vv. 6-8), proving that God has power over the worst diseases. The third was turning water from the Nile into blood, which was a preview of the first plague (vv. 8-9).
This was God’s way of saying to Moses, “I’ve got your back. As long as you obey, my power will convince the people God is with you.”
Don’t miss the original question. Moses asked God, “What if.” We all want to bargain with God. Something in us makes us slightly suspicious of God’s motives.
“Now Lord, what if I get in trouble for speaking up for you at the office, what are you going to do then?”
“If I volunteer to teach Sunday School and the kids turn out to be brats, can I get out of it?”
“And by the way, about tithing my money, if I give my money and then can’t make my car payment, will you make it for me?”
Moses had the same problem we all have.
He knew exactly what God wanted him to do.
It was perfectly clear.
“Moses, you’re the man to lead my people out of Egypt.”
That was the whole job description. Moses’ problem wasn’t his knowledge. He knew exactly what God wanted. His problem wasn’t his education or his family background.
God had already taken care of all that.
Moses’ problem was fear. He was afraid it wouldn’t work out right if he did what God wanted him to do.
Something would go wrong.
Like maybe the Pharaoh would have him thrown to the crocodiles, or the children of Israel would laugh at him, or he would end up trapped by the Red Sea and only a miracle could get him out.
Moses wanted assurance of the result before he took the first step.
So he’s out there by the burning bush trying to “what if” the Almighty.
We do the same thing.
That’s why we hesitate to obey God.
We’re trying to “what if” the Almighty.
When God calls you, it will work out one way or the other. All your little “what ifs” are just so much wasted time.
And that really is the issue, isn’t it?
As long as you are saying “what if,” you aren’t obeying. You’re negotiating. And there’s a big difference.
To obey means you say, “Lord, I’m ready. Now you work out the details.” Negotiating means saying, “Lord, you work out the details, and then I’ll obey.”
All Moses has to do is obey, and God will take care of the rest.
If Moses needs a miracle, he’ll get one.
If he needs an answer to prayer, it’s on the way.
He’ll get whatever he needs as long as he obeys God.
For Moses there was one issue and one issue only.
Will I obey God?
Excuse #4: I Can’t Do It
But Moses replied to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent—
either in the past or recently or since you have been speaking to your servant— because my mouth and my tongue are sluggish” (Ex 4:10).
Evidently, he thought the Lord would fix his problem:
“If I sign up for your team, you’ll make me eloquent. That’s the deal, right?”
God’s answer comes in the form of a question:
“Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Ex. 4:11).
God says to Moses, “Yes, you are inadequate because I made you that way. But your weakness is part of my plan.”
God promises to give Moses whatever he needs in spite of his weakness. All Moses has to do is go and speak to Pharaoh.
The rest is up to God.
Excuse # 5: I don’t want to do it
“Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else.” Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” (Ex. 4:13-14).
At last, we get to the heart of the problem.
God has called Moses, and he doesn’t want to do it.
No wonder God got angry.
But even now God has an answer to this objection. If Moses can’t speak, his brother Aaron will speak for him. Perhaps Moses had stage fright, or perhaps he had trouble putting his words together. Maybe he was a fast thinker but a slow talker.
God’s solution is simple. He will tell Moses what to say. Moses will tell Aaron who will do the public speaking.
Aaron must have been persuasive and a natural leader because he founded the Levitical priesthood.
Moses will be “like God” to him.
It’s a workable solution, but not without problems. A few months down the road, while Moses was talking with God on Mount Sinai, Aaron would do nothing while the people built a golden calf.
What is in Your Hand?
I remember a powerful sermon on this text by Jack Wyrtzen, founder of Word of Life, called, “What Is That In Your Hand?” Jack loved reminding his listeners that a wooden staff is not very beautiful. It’s just a staff you used to herd the sheep.
But God took the thing Moses depended on and worked a miracle.
We all have gifts, talents, and abilities.
We all have handicaps of one sort or another.
We have things God has given us.
We have doubts and insecurities.
We are just clay pots into which God has poured the treasure of the gospel. That’s always been God’s plan.
Paul said it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:7:
“We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
Scholars tell us the “jars of clay” were cheap, ordinary, everyday clay pots. The kind of pots a housewife might use for milk or soup. They might even be used as a “chamber pot.”
That’s you and me.
That’s all of us.
A pot has value if it is useful to its owner. It’s not worth much by itself. But though it is cracked and scarred, and though it will be eventually thrown away and replaced, the pot holds something precious.
It contains God’s power.
When we get to the end of all our excuses, God says to us what he said to Moses: “Trust me. I can do more through you than you can imagine. Make yourself available to me, and I will do amazing things in your life.”
Two Quick Applications
1. God has the same question for you and me: “What is in your hand?”
A staff may not seem like much, but when you place it at God’s disposal, it can be part of a miracle. Everyone has “something” in their hands.
Your “something” won’t necessarily be the same “something” your neighbor has.
You may have a gift for writing.
You may have a talent for singing.
You may have a desire to care for the needy.
You may have financial resources.
You may have time to help others.
You may have a green thumb for gardening.
You may be a painter, architect, teacher, nurse, accountant, or administrator.
You may have children or grandchildren who need your guidance.
You may teach Sunday School, or perhaps you can lead a missions trip, or maybe you will run the soundboard during the second service.
You may be a coach who can teach kids how to hit a baseball, play half-court defense, or pole vault.
You may know how to program a computer or how to make money on social media.
You may be a photographer, calligrapher, fisherman, or hunter.
Perhaps you can make reels on Instagram or TikTok videos that millions of people will watch.
Don’t waste one second complaining you can’t do what someone else can do. As I survey this long list I just made, I’m happy to report I can do almost none of those things. Perhaps one benefit of being further along in life is knowing what I can’t do so I can spend more time doing what I can do.
God has placed “something” in your hands.
Use it for his glory!
2. God will equip you with everything you need to do his will.
Moses is the only person in history to whom God spoke from a burning bush. The only one!
That didn’t happen to Abraham, David, Joshua, Nehemiah, or anyone else in the Bible.
Moses had seen God’s glory.
And he said, “Send someone else.”
No wonder God was angry with him.
It’s one thing to wait for confirmation. But while we wait, we ought to think and pray and read the Bible and consult with wise counselors.
At some point, “waiting by faith” becomes “stalling by faith.”
There’s a little Moses in all of us.
Don’t make God angry by saying no when he calls.
When God calls us, will we obey?
When we read it in the Word of God, will we obey?
When we hear it from the pulpit, will we obey?
When we discover it in our quiet time, will we obey?
When a friend gives us a piece of advice we recognize is of the Lord, will we obey?
When we dare to say “yes” to God, even when it hurts, that’s when the miracles begin.
It’s a big step forward spiritually when we can say,
“Lord, I’ll get involved.
I’ll stop sitting on the sidelines.
Here am I. Send me.”
Then, and only then, the miracles kick in, the answers begin to come, and the sun begins to shine again.
Once we obey, God is obligated to take care of us.
As He did for Moses, so he will do for us.
This world is in deep need.
There is trouble everywhere.
God has called us to go with the Good News.
He will not let us down,
He will not let us off,
He will not let us go.
So we come again to the bottom line: When God calls, don’t make excuses!
May God give us the grace to say,
“Here am I, Lord! Send me!”
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
In March of 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made the first-ever phone call, which, in time, came to dramatically transform how we relate to one another. On the surface, the communication revolution has seemed to render isolation something of an endangered species — we’re more connected than ever, right? And yet one wonders if isolation eventually mutated into something more subtle and yet equally dangerous (perhaps even more dangerous for being subtle). At least one prominent sociologist fears that’s the case:
We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk. (Sherry Turkle, Alone Together, 1)
Or, as the subtitle of her book says, “We expect more from technology and less from each other.” And whenever we expect less of each other, we inevitably drift further and further from each other, leaving us as isolated (or more) as the lonely man before the advent of the telephone.
What Kind of Isolation?
Some may read the last few paragraphs and quietly envy a time when no one called, emailed, texted, or (worst of all?) left a voicemail. A life with less people actually might sound kind of appealing. You may struggle to relate to the possible dangers of isolation. Wisdom, however, knows the hazards hiding in the shadows of our seclusion: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment” (Proverbs 18:1).
What kind of isolation did the wise man have in mind? The next verse gives us a clearer picture:
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion. (Proverbs 18:2)
He doesn’t want to hear what others think; he only wants someone to hear what he thinks. This strikes a major nerve in the book of Proverbs. As this wise father prepares his son for the realities of life in this wild and menacing world, he wants him to see that some of the greatest threats are stowaways, striking from within. He warns him, in particular, about the ruinous power of unchecked pride.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. (Proverbs 3:7)
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. (Proverbs 14:12)
The proud man, we learn, breaks out against all judgment because he invites destruction on himself. Arrogance makes his isolation dangerous: I don’t spend more time with other people because I don’t need other people — because I know better than other people. This pride distinguishes isolation from the virtues of solitude, which God encourages again and again (Psalm 46:10; Matthew 6:6; Mark 1:35).
The ways that lead to death are the ways we choose for ourselves while refusing meaningful community — relationships marked by consistent honesty, counsel, correction, and encouragement.
Alone with Our Desires
What draws us into the spiritual shadows of isolation? Our own selfish desires. “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire.” Whenever someone leaves or avoids the community he needs, he has been lured away by sinful desires — desires for privacy or autonomy, for comfort or ease, for money or sex, even for vindication or vengeance. At root, it’s our desires that divide and isolate us:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. (James 4:1–2)
“Whenever someone leaves or avoids the community he needs, he has been lured away by sinful desires.”
The desires that keep us from one another are varied, but they’re all rooted in selfish discontentment: We want and do not have, so we excuse ourselves from love — either by attacking one another or by abandoning one another. Our desires, Scripture says, are what isolate and undo us (Jude 1:18–19). Consider, for instance, the lazy man:
The desire of the sluggard kills him,
for his hands refuse to labor.
All day long he craves and craves,
but the righteous gives and does not hold back. (Proverbs 21:25–26)
The sluggard dies in sin because he’s been hardened by its deceitfulness: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12–13). Whenever we isolate ourselves from the perspective, encouragement, and exhortations of others, we open ourselves wide to the deceitfulness of sin. And why is the deceitfulness of sin so compelling? Because Satan studies and preys on our desires. He’s a master gardener, carefully seeding selfishness, discontentment, and bitterness in just the right places.
Consistent, meaningful community, however, exposes and thwarts him. It reveals just how thin and shallow his lies are, and just how far our desires can sometimes wander.
Sweetness of a Friend
The opposite of soul-wrecking isolation, though, is a life deeply rooted in the hearts and counsel of good friends. “Where there is no guidance, a people falls,” Proverbs 11:14 warns, “but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” As is so often the case, wisdom, fruitfulness, and safety grow out of humility — out of a willingness to submit our thoughts and plans, dreams and desires, sins and weaknesses to someone else.
“The most effective and fruitful people are those who distrust themselves enough to diligently seek out guidance.”
The most effective and fruitful people are those who distrust themselves enough to diligently seek out guidance — not three or four times over a lifetime, but several times each month, maybe even each week. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22; see also 20:18) — notice, not just advisers, but many advisers. And not just many advisers, but the right advisers: “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Online articles, sermons, and podcasts can be a great gift, but we all need flesh-and-blood, life-on-life perspective for our particular personalities, struggles, and circumstances. We need friends who can look us in the eye and see what no one online can.
So who are your advisors? Who knows you well enough to challenge your plans and decisions? When’s the last time someone pushed back on something in your life? If you can’t remember, you may be more isolated than you think, at least in the ways that really matter.
Wounds of Togetherness
One way Satan isolates us is by convincing us that the counsel and correction we need is burdensome, not life-giving. Both Scripture and experience, however, testify against him:
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy. . . .
Oil and perfume make the heart glad,
and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel. (Proverbs 27:5–9)
Life in rigorous community is not a stifled life, but an enhanced one. Faithful counsel may wound us in the moment, but only so that it might heal and preserve us. As Ray Ortlund says,
When iron sharpens iron, it creates friction. When a friend wounds you, it hurts. So, do you see? There’s a difference between hurting someone and harming someone. There is a difference between someone being loved and someone feeling loved. Jesus loved everyone well, and some people felt hurt. So they crucified him. If we don’t understand this, then every time we feel hurt we will look for someone to blame and punish. We will make our emotional state someone else’s fault. (Proverbs, 168)
Don’t judge your church or small group or friendship by how much it hurts when hard words come. Ask what those hard words are producing in you over time. Is the friction you feel slowly drawing you closer to Christ and making you more like him? Has the pain you’ve felt in certain conversations led you deeper into repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10)? If so, then your wounds may be healing wounds from faithful friends — rare friends who are worth keeping at whatever cost.
Antidote for Isolation
What practical advice would I give to someone who realizes he is more isolated than he thought? My first piece of advice would be to find, join, and serve a local church.
Friendship is a great weapon against spiritual isolation, but one meaningful covenant with a church family is worth an army of friendships. When our desires begin to harden us to God, his word, and his will, friends may stay and fight with us, but our church has vowed to stay and fight — until death ushers us together, sinless, into the presence of Jesus.
Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
Isolation dies in church families that know they need, and want, to gather. For them, Sunday mornings aren’t a sweet addition to a full and happy life; they are the foundation of a full and happy life. God means for us to know him, serve him, enjoy him, and become like him as a part of Christ’s body. The more isolated we become, the more we cut ourselves off from the fountains of his grace, mercy, and guidance.
Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability or strength of someone or something. Trust is to have confidence in someone or something that they will not harm you. All of us regardless of age, background, or location in life trust in something or someone. What do you trust in every morning when you get up? What do you trust in throughout the day? What do you trust in when you go to bed at night? Whose strength do you rely on? Who or what is truth in your life? All of us trust in things or people that we build our lives on? Sit down a minute, be honest and reflect what you put your confidence in day in and day out. What or who has the priority of trust in your heart? Trust is the bricks that we build our life on. Many trust their own abilities. Many trust their bank accounts and stock portfolios, many trust their relationships with people, many trust their intelligence and ability to discern, many trust a political idea or a secular philosophy, and many trust their religion. What or who do you trust?
Many of us have trust issues. We have been burned in the past in a relationship and are fearful to put our trust in anything. The world around builds mistrust. We are led to believe no one really cares about me. We fear to trust. We are afraid to get burned again. We are tired of trusting in the liars and the deceivers who we have believed the lie or the mirage and have been greatly disappointed. Things will always let you down, people will so often hurt you and fade away when you need them. Our trust issues lead to disillusionment and hopelessness in life. Our trust issues build fear and worry in our lives.
You become what you trust in. Psalm 115:8: Those who make them (idols) become like them; so do all who trust in them. We reflect like a mirror the object of our trust.
We were created in the image of God and are wired to trust in Him. He does not lie. He is faithful to His Word. He is able. He is truth. He is 100% reliable all the time. He will never let you down. It is impossible for God to lie and it is impossible for him to be unfaithful to His Word.
Romans 10:11: For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him [whoever adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Him] will not be disappointed [in his expectations].
Whoever means whoever. Anyone of any race, any location, any age, any gender, and any occupation that trusts in God will never be disappointed in his or her expectations. No one else can make that promise.
Psalm 22:4: To you they cried and were rescued; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
“Put to shame” in the Hebrew means “to be disappointed, to be ashamed to the point you are pale and blush, to fail in hope and expectation, to be confounded, be troubled and disturbed, and to be confused.”
We will never be disappointed if we build our life on our trust in God and are not swayed by the rumblings of the world. We will never be embarrassed by our trust in God. We will never be ashamed when we trust in God. We will never be troubled or disturbed to trust in God for He will not fail us. Only when we trust in God does rescue and deliverance come. Only He can bring us to safety and is a rock and refuge in this troubled and uncertain world.
God wants us to put Him first in our lives. He wants us to put our confidence and trust in Him, all the time, in everything. God wants us to let go and let God and to trust Him without reservation. This is not something that is done overnight. It takes time to build trust. We need to build our trust in God one day at a time.
Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
We must trust God and put our times, passions, desires, goals, and dreams in His hands.
Psalm 9:10: And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.
The key is to know His name. Know who He is and what He promises. He promises He will never forsake you, ever. He will never desert you, never. Do you believe it? He promises that He will provide for you. Always. Do you believe it?
Proverbs 3:5,6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
We cannot trust half-heartedly. We must be all in. We trust Him with all our heart, and we have to not lean and rely on our abilities and our own understanding. It is a child-like confidence in our Heavenly Father. We learn to acknowledge Him every day in everything and He promises He will direct our lives. He will guide us to where we need to be to fulfill His plans for our lives. It all begins with trust.
But as for me, I trust in You, O Lord, I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14 NASB
In Hebrew, bāṭaḥ (trust) expresses that sense of well-being and security that results from having something or someone in whom to place confidence. It is to be secure and fear nothing.
In general, the Old Testament contrasts the validity of that sense of confidence that comes from reliance upon God with the folly of any other kind of security. It is made plain that all such trust will end in disgrace and shame, whereas those whose hope is in God alone will be delivered from their enemies (Ps 22:4).
Notice how David expresses a sense of security and confidence. “You are my God.” There is a lot packed into this declaration. First, it declares the YHVH is David’s only God. In a polytheistic world, this declaration matters. David is restricting any help from the divine to this God, and this God alone. David is no Laban, keeping a few household gods on the side in case one or the other failed to perform. If YHVH doesn’t come through, David is SOL.
Second, David asserts that he totally relies on YHVH. His well-being and security, top priority issues in this poem, are going to be resolved only by YHVH’s hand. He is placing no confidence in any other solution. This is not a matter of believing some creed or dogma. This is hope, David’s only hope. While trusting in men may be expected to fail, with God everything is at stake.
Trust in God is more than a motto on the back of a coin. In fact, we might wonder if biblical “trust” can even be understood apart from Hebrew thought. The word here is batah. It seems to have no cognates in other ancient languages. That makes it uniquely Hebrew. The fundamental meaning of the verb is to rely upon, to place confidence in, to experience well-being and security.
There are several Hebrew words that are translated “trust” in the Old Testament. One in particular, “batach”, stands out in terms of what it looks like to trust in God when viewed in its pictographic form.
Gesenius’ Hebrew Lexicon defines “trust” as; “to set one’s hope and confidence upon”, “to be secure fearing nothing”
Let’s next take a look at the pictograph of each letter that forms this word “trust” (batach) and see how it can help us to wrap not only our thinking but our actions around the valuable revelation of this Hebrew word.
The Hebrew letters in “betach” are “bet”, “tet”, and, a “chet”.
“Bet” is the first letter of the Hebrew word “betach” and it is a picture of a tent, home or family. It speaks of being on the inside, abiding, and rest.
There is no security or trust outside of Him. In Him, there is nothing to fear. We are safe and protected inside God’s tent and can enjoy the warmth of His presence.
The second letter of the Hebrew word for trust “betach” is a “tet” and it is a picture of something wrapped.
The concept of wrapping can be related to how a baby loves to be swaddled and wound tightly in a blanket. It seems to be soothing to babies to be bundled in this way. We are securely wrapped in the blanket of God’s love and protection when we trust in Him.
“Chet” is depicted with a fence or a wall and is attached to the concepts of surrounding and protecting. This pictograph differs in thought from “bet”, in that, it speaks more of boundaries. Our part of trusting God as it concerns this letter is for us to stay within the boundaries of God’s purposed and determined ways. God has placed a divine fence around us that protects us against our enemies. God is not obligated to protect us when we step outside of those fences He has built for our protection.
Trust in God is living without concerns. It is the sense of confidence that comes from God’s total reliability. It is participating in the community that depends on God’s past history. To believe is to remember. Faith is the feeling I have when I experience the reality of God’s care. It does not exist independently of my experience. It is not something out there, waiting for me to affirm. It is the present-moment reliability of God’s hand in my life. My faith is the confident expectation that God is God, that what He does is good and that He cares for me. Trust is the continued expectation of deliverance.
Without trust, no relationship can last. It really doesn’t matter if you have legally binding documents, a contract, a negotiated peace treaty or death-bed promises. Without trust, it’s just so much air. We cannot have a relationship with God unless we trust Him.
So, what does it mean to trust? If we look at the uses of batah, we find that it often describes false security. The Bible tells us that men trust in riches, property, weapons (military strength), places, and other people. All of these are misplaced. None will last. Most importantly, the Bible condemns trust in myself. Men who look to themselves for security are not only foolish, they are sinful. When this use of the word batah was translated into Greek, the translation was pepoithenai (to put confidence in), but when the word batah was translated into Greek when it expressed trust in God, then the Greek word was elpizein (to hope in). That distinction helps us understand the true nature of trust. It is not principally about the context of my ordinary life security. It is about the final outcome of my confidence.
God is completely different then anything else we trust in. He is utterly reliable, completely faithful and totally trustworthy. He is my only real hope. God is Who He says He is. That is my hope. That is why I put all my confidence in Him. Without trusting in God our hopes and dreams eventually will vanish into thin air. Proverbs 10:28 says the expectation of the wicked will come to nothing and perish.
The hope in God is not a wish-fulfillment, but a confident expectation. God’s chief characteristic is His faithfulness and trustworthiness These characteristics show themselves most clearly to a believer who recognizes that he is utterly without personal resources. The believer must trust completely on a gracious and dependable God. Putting one’s confidence in anything but the sovereign God is complete foolishness. In the Bible, there is a long list of false grounds for security. In particular, the Bible heaps scorn upon those who live in complacency, never having evaluated the flimsy basis for such complacency (Isa. 32:9-11, Ezk. 30:9, Amos 6:1).
Trust is a very serious word for a Christian. We often say that we trust God, but our actions deny these claims. Recovery begins when we honestly examine our lives and commit ourselves to do something about what we find. A fearless inventory of our behavior usually reveals that we are still trying to take care of things by ourselves. We really don’t think God is reliable in every area of life. That is not trust. Trust says, “God, you are able. I put all my eggs in your basket. I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but unless you come through for me, I’m finished”. Start today. Pick the one thing that you have tried over and over to fix in your life but nothing happens. Decide to trust.
Do your actions show that you trust God, or is “trust” just another word in your religious vocabulary?
2 Kings 18:5,6: He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following Him but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses.
To trust in the Lord is to hold fast to Him in all circumstances, to cling to Him always and to not depart from following Him. He is at the forefront. He is the one who leads. He is the one who directs. We know his unfathomable love for us and that He will never let us down. He will never lead us astray. To trust God is to keep His Word.
Psalm 27 is a beautiful illustration of trust in the Lord.
Psalm 27:1ff The Lord is my light and my salvation— Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the refuge and fortress of my life— Whom shall I dread? Though an army encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, Even in this I am confident.
One thing I have asked of the Lord, and that I will seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord [in His presence] all the days of my life, To gaze upon the beauty [the delightful loveliness and majestic grandeur] of the Lord And to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will hide me in His shelter; In the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock.
And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, In His tent I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy; will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; Be gracious and compassionate to me and answer me.
When You said, “Seek My face [in prayer, require My presence as your greatest need],” my heart said to You,“ Your face, O Lord, I will seek [on the authority of Your word].”
Although my father and my mother have abandoned me, Yet the Lord will take me up [adopt me as His child].
Wait for and confidently expect the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for and confidently expect the Lord.
Psalm 37:5: Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.
God will always act when we trust in Him. God never sleeps. God is a mover, He will constantly act on our behalf when we trust in Him. We need to commit our way to Him always and not waver.
Psalm 62:8: Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
Who do you pour out your heart to? Have you ever tried to pour it out before the Lord? He hears. He understands. He knows. He cares. You can trust Him at all times and in all circumstances. He will not fail you.
Psalm 118:5ff: Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free.6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?7 The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me.
What do you take refuge in when times get hard? Where do you run to for refuge? Who do you call on to set you free? Who is your helper? God is the only refuge that can set you free and deliver you from every burden and sustain you through every difficulty. No politician or philosophy can make that promise.
Psalm 56:3,11: When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?
We will never be afraid when we trust in God. Fear loses its hold on us when trust in God grows in our lives. Fear and worry are a manifestation of our lack of trust in God.
Psalm 112:7,8a: He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
Trust in God is a firm foundation in the uncertainty of our times. We can be fixed, steady, stable and solid no matter what happens around us. Our confidence is in God, not the daily news.
Psalm 32:8: I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
God promises His instruction and counsel if we only trust in Him. He will guide us every moment of the day if we trust Him.
Jeremiah sets forth a wonderful promise to those who trust in the Lord.
Jeremiah 17:7,8: Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
Four Practical steps in learning to trust God.
You have to make a decision to not worry or fear and make an intentional decision to trust God. Trust and worry or fear are mutually exclusive. You cannot trust God if you are full of worry and fear. The only way to truly trust God is that you have to decide to trust God. And you can’t trust God if you’re worrying about the things you’re trusting Him with. Once you make this decision, you’ll soon find yourself having to practice it regularly. The devil will begin to hit you with situations and stressors that cause you to worry and be anxious and you’re going to have to remind yourself of the decision you’ve made. Philippians 4:6,7: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Pray is a key in trusting God. We are not be anxious, fearful or full of worry about anything. We give it to God and He will give us peace.
Matthew 6:25ff: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?[g]28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Anxiety and trust cannot coexist together. God will take care of every need in our lives if we will only trust Him. Anxiety and worry never benefits us in anyway. They are traits of those who do not trust God.
Constantly monitor your thoughts and feelings.
The battlefield of life is in our mind. Our minds and thoughts are constantly speaking to us. We are also constantly bombarded by talking heads that are trying to influence us with words. We must refuse negative thought patterns and refuse to allow our minds to sink into thoughts of anxiety, worry, unworthiness and hopelessness. You control your thoughts and we can change the way we think. We must be the guardians of what we think. Proverbs 23:7: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. We must train our thoughts and minds to trust God and reject the noise of the world that builds mistrust in our Heavenly Father. God will help us to be aware of thoughts and begin to think right. Trusting God begins with our thoughts. Romans 12:2: And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Our transformation begins by not conforming our thinking to the world, but renewing our minds to trust Him and His Word.
Saturate your mind and heart with the Word of the God
In order to take those worrisome thoughts captive, you need something to replace it with. Reading the Word of God is such an important part of our learning to trust God. Matthew 4:4: But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone,but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Just as you need physical food to survive physically, you need spiritual food to live spiritually. We must feed on His Word daily, reading it, thinking about it, digesting it, meditating on it and memorizing it. The Bible is the Word of Life. It gives light, it gives wisdom. It reveals to us the heart of God. Psalm 119:9,10,11,42 How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!I have stored up your word in my heart,that I might not sin against you. then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,for I trust in your word.
2 Timothy 3:16,17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of Godb] may be complete, equipped for every good work.
We are feeding our minds daily. They are constantly being bombarded with the images and words of this world. We must saturate our minds with the Word daily. It starts with a simple reading of Scripture every day and builds from there. It starts with spending time with God and being still in His presence. These are the building blocks of trust that will transform your life.
Replace the negative thoughts and feelings with the promises of God
The Bible contains thousands of promises concerning life, relationships and the circumstances we face daily. How many do we know? We need to build the promises of God in our thought life. Each promise is built upon the faithfulness and steadfast love of God. God is 100% reliable on His promises. It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18, Titus 1:2).
Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? God’s name is Yahweh in the Bible and means the God who acts. God wants to fulfill His promises in your life but you must have faith in those promises. You must trust God that He is faithful to bring them to pass. Instead of dwelling on the negative or being filled with anxiety and worry, let the promises of God flood your mind and fill your heart.
God never changes His mind on His promises. His promises are God speaking into our lives.
2 Peter 1:3-4: His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
Romans 4:19-21: He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness[b] of Sarah’s womb. 20 No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
Abraham is considered the father of those whose believe because he never wavered on the promises of God. He was fully convinced that God was able and willing to do whatever He promised. He trusted God would bring it to pass His promises even in the most dire circumstances. God is always faithful to what He promised when we trust in Him and believe His Word.
Pray the promises of God. Claim the promises of God over your life. Our faith and trust in God is the key to God’s promises becoming fulfilled in our lives. The world is filled with lies many of which are very deceitful and alluring. But these lies will let us down when we need them the most. These lies cannot bring us peace. These lies cannot deliver us. These lies disappoint and can give us hope. These lies are built on sinking sand. The Bible says our spiritual enemy the devil is the father of lies (John 8:44). He bombards us with these lies daily (You don’t need God; you are unworthy, you are worthless, you are not good enough; God hates you; God doesn’t care for you; you will never amount to anything; you cannot make it; no one loves you; God doesn’t hear you; you are a failure). We have to decide daily whose words are we going to believe. The father of lies or our Heavenly Father? The more we learn to trust in God, the more we trust His Word. His promises are true and cannot fail when we believe them without wavering. Our trust in God will blossom as we stand on His promises and have confident expectation that He will deliver on His promises in our lives.
Isaiah 41:13: For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
What a wonderful promise from God. It is His invitation of trust is to take Him by the right hand and let Him help you and lead you. What comfort to know we can go thru life holding God’s hand.
Deuteronomy 7:9: Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
Yahweh is the faithful God, the God who keeps His promises, who is full of mercy and love and keeps His word to a thousand generations.
Lamentations 3:21-26: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;3 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.
Great is God’s faithfulness! It never ceases. God’s Word to you is to prove Him. Take Him at His Word. See if He is not faithful to His mighty promises. What do you have to lose?
Not until I purposely took a break from this series on Ecclesiastes did I realize, while meditating on some of the material we have covered, that we have been covering a sub-theme that flows just below the surface. Solomon never names it directly, but it is nonetheless present, especially in chapters 4-6. Perhaps, if I can put a modern name to this theme, it will help bring some clarity: It is materialism. Solomon is showing that materialism is a poor source for seeking satisfaction in one’s life.
Materialism is the modern label given to the ancient philosophical doctrine that physical well-being and material possessions constitute the highest good in life. Here in this Western world, our cultures have been virtually overwhelmed by this thinking.
Materialism Is Not the Answer
Before proceeding any further, we will quickly summarize Ecclesiastes to this point. Recall that, in chapter 1, Solomon essentially states that life is meaningless. This is the starting point of his thesis, which ends with him declaring that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13). He thus states dogmatically that, despite what carnal men say, a clear purpose exists for life, and the concepts of materialism do not drive God’s purpose for this world.
Thus, in chapter 2, he immediately launches into what he had learned about his works of building material things like houses and gardens and seeking even greater wealth. His conclusion? All of these material achievements were nothing but vanity, a grasping after wind.
He finds no real, sustained profit in them, nothing that truly added to his quality of life, no lasting fulfillment. He does not mean they resulted in no sense of achievement or passing pleasure, but that their fruit never truly fulfilled God’s purpose for man. Therefore, those things are poor substitutes for a sustained sense of well-being. He then proceeds into an exploration of wine and entertainment. These are simply another form of materialism, ways of pleasing the flesh. He concludes that they, too, are folly, a mad pursuit.
Chapter 3 seemingly deviates from this theme, but the deviation is purposeful. He is planting a seed for further, wider, and greater understanding, a true foundation to build on. He shows that God, though unseen, is actively guiding and deeply involved in working in His creation, effectively moving both time and events to fulfill His purposes for individuals and nations. God has already given us a priceless gift: He has put eternity into our hearts to remind us that His work involves us in an eternal, spiritual—not a material—purpose. Our lives have direction.
In chapters 4-6, he shows us that satisfaction in life is produced or given as a result of gifts tendered by God, who is intimately involved with us in working out His purpose as we seek Him. Thus, he comes to a partial conclusion at the book’s halfway point.
Satisfaction in life is not derived from wealth, status in society, or any material thing. Material things can provide pleasure, and that is good, but like everything physical, the pleasure is momentary compared to the eternal. It is the eternal, spiritual relationship with our Creator, in which God gifts us with what we need to use our lives wisely, that brings the balanced and sustained measure of satisfaction. To make right use of this life in glorifying God is our goal. It is the righteous pursuit.
Satisfaction and Contentment
Part Six showed that satisfaction in life is not attained simply because a person may have an abundance of material means and goods to accompany him through life. It also requires his life to be accompanied by God, imparting gifts that provide him with the proper appreciation of the blessings he is receiving.
Chapters 4-6 have influenced my thinking to an extent I never dreamed. Some of the impact is due to my age, but I have also come to appreciate this book’s wisdom as never before. Before this study, I always found Ecclesiastes mystifying; I could not grasp its purpose. I have since found it has much to teach us. I now see it as one of the most bluntly practical writings in the entire Bible. It is, however, not an elementary book in any way. Its thoughts are brief but complex and sometimes difficult. One must research and thoroughly think through its metaphors to discover their lessons.
The primary lesson these chapters impart is how much a Christian needs his relationship with God. Not since becoming converted have I ever thought I did not need the relationship, but since beginning this series on Ecclesiastes, I now see it is an urgent necessity to hang on to it for dear life.
Why? This article takes a step beyond satisfaction in life to contentment. Though “satisfaction” and “contentment” are usually—and correctly—considered as synonyms, there is a meaningful difference. As Solomon shows in the previous chapter, contentment is a learned quality. Paul shows he learned it in his relationship with God (Philippians 4:11). Thus, it is a fruit of faith working within the relationship.
The Bible’s usage of “contentment” comes close to implying a Christian needs no more and suggesting that there is no other source for it than a person’s relationship with God. A contented person is at peace. In contrast, satisfaction contains a momentary, temporary implication. It most certainly includes a sense of gratification and thankfulness but allows room for more and greater satisfaction. It is as though a need has been met, assuring a person that he is on the right course for life, but now on to new challenges. We need both of these fruits for the quality of life that God desires us to have.
For You have formed my inward parts; You have covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well.
This is a somewhat elementary, perhaps even a crude, illustration that clearly pictures why the relationship with God is absolutely necessary. It begins by admitting that we neither created ourselves nor gave ourselves life. David admits someone else made him; he did not arise to life fully formed out of nothing. Like him, we did not determine that we would physically be in God’s image. The Creator made that determination. Can we mentally picture God kneeling down in the dirt, placing Adam’s every part where He wanted it and determining how every part would function with every other system in his body? Even everyday realities such as these need a functioning Creator to bring them to pass.
The need for a relationship with our Creator is beginning to emerge. II Corinthians 5:17 carries the need of the creative relationship a major step further: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We are now a new creation, a spiritual creation. A process begun in Eden continues.
When Paul wrote about a “new” creation, he had his choice of two Greek words. One expresses newness in the sense of “renovation.” However, Paul used the second term, which suggests new in the sense of “brand new.” He indicates, then, a person as a new individual with a new family, a new set of values, new motivations, and new possessions. Nothing new in this sense creates itself. Even a new baby in a womb does not make itself. The baby has absolutely no idea what it is in process of becoming.
Are we making ourselves spiritually? As a new creation in Christ Jesus, we are no more making ourselves spiritually than we did physically. However, this creation is far more difficult and important because it requires our mindful and willing cooperation with our Creator.
How clearly and precisely do we foresee where our spiritual Creator is headed? To say it bluntly, without God’s calling, which creates the relationship with Him, there is no possibility whatever of knowing anything meaningful about what God is in the process of creating, and therefore no eternal, spiritual salvation would exist. Do we know how to give ourselves everlasting life? Do we know where we will fit into the Creator’s finished plan?
Therefore, it is our responsibility always to do whatever is necessary to seek Him and glorify Him, helping to keep the relationship going and knowledge increasing. Without the relationship that He invited us into, there is no possibility of ever accomplishing the end that He is heading toward and yielding to what He desires. It is as though He has opened the gate to allow us back into the Garden of Eden, right into the very source of every good and perfect gift that will enable us to glorify Him by fulfilling our responsibilities to Him. It is as if He says, as He opens the gate, “Now there, let’s begin the next step in My overall purpose!”
The Point: A Fully Developed Life
Are we content with this? Part of the conclusion we can reach from the examples given in chapters 4-6 and from observing the activities and attitudes of many around us is that, somehow, almost nobody learns that enjoyment and contentment in life, not just satisfaction, are generated from within and enabled by the gifts God gives from within a relationship with Him. The basic cause of never learning this is that there is no relationship with Him. Thus, because they continuously grasp for it by other means, the unconverted never reach the state of contentment necessary for true satisfaction. We can avoid this pitfall by avoiding the temptation to reach for satisfaction in the same manner as those living under-the-sun lives.
In a relationship with God, we have the comfort of knowing that creative development is taking place and a purpose is being worked out. This provides balanced contentment and satisfaction in life, even though we do not have complete answers either. It is God within the relationship who provides hope in the face of life’s trials. He, our Creator, has deemed that we must face hardship with Him involved. Did not Israel face hardship under God in the wilderness, even though they had visible representations of Him at all times in the cloud and pillar of fire?
We learn from the Israelites’ example that hardship can come from many different directions. Much of mankind’s restlessness and dissatisfaction in life derives from his carnal nature never being satisfied, a fact that we must come to understand. Human nature forever wants more. Its desires, its cravings, its appetites, like those in our stomach, are briefly satisfied only to return hungering, as though it had never been filled. Rich or poor, wise or foolish, male or female, young or old—all must deal with this same basic issue. All have unfulfilled longings to take in hand.
One commentator compared our desires to being like a tramp, a word not used much today but used frequently during the Great Depression of the 1930s. A tramp is a person who wanders aimlessly about and never settles down in one place to hold a job, put down roots, and prosper. He is never content to stay at home. Thus personified, carnal desire loves to “window shop,” always eager to find or do something new “to make life more fulfilling.” It is as though our desires are always traveling but never arriving, which is why Solomon mentions the wandering of desire in Ecclesiastes 6:9.
Another commentator illustrates how quickly a person’s attention can latch on to a desire, even in the face of grave danger. During the famous eruption of Mount Vesuvius just outside of Pompeii, Italy, in AD 79, the gases and lava flows moved so rapidly that they caught people in the midst of various activities, entombing them right in those acts as though they had been sculpted.
One woman so “caught in the act” was apparently fleeing the eruption. Interestingly, her feet pointed in one direction, that is, apparently in the direction of escape from the dangers of the eruption, but her head, one arm, and hand were pointed behind her. It seems that even as she fled for her life, something behind her caught her attention. She reached back to grab it, but in that very instant, she died and was covered by the eruption’s debris, evidently not even falling to the ground. Was she reaching for a beautiful piece of jewelry that she did not want to leave behind? Nobody knows, but her desire was never fulfilled. It appears to have destroyed her life.
Without saying it frequently or directly, God is gradually showing through Solomon’s illustrations that it is He, giving His gifts within the relationship, who adds purpose and fulfillment to mere living. He has the power to gift us with what truly builds a life of satisfying and contented fulfillment.
Solomon is getting at something that is keenly important. Most of us live in areas where we can watch birds. Birds seem to spend all their waking hours looking for food to eat. All animals have this same characteristic. Their activity provides helpful insight: The birds are alive but not really living as we understand living. They merely exist. Yet, at the same time, they are fulfilling a purpose for which God created them, and they even sing about it.
Solomon is not suggesting at all that it is wrong to either work or eat, nor is it sin that we should have desires, of and by themselves. Working, eating, and having desires can be quite enjoyable and profitable. But if that is all we do, we merely exist at an animal level. We must do something with our lives that is positive and purposeful and conforms to God’s purpose, or we are going to waste them, achieving nothing within His purpose.
Life Is More Than Dreaming
We are part of God’s spiritual creation. A person being spiritually created in the image of God must not drift but deliberately choose to live for goals far higher, goals that God establishes. Solomon is not belittling anybody, but simply teaching a truth, a reality that material things of themselves cannot make life richly satisfying. A Christian’s life must be rightly balanced toward his relationship with God, and he must strive to follow God by living in the same loving manner as Christ did as a human and continues doing eternally.
Ecclesiastes 6:9 is Solomon’s version of the cliché, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” He is essentially saying, “It is better to have little and purposely enjoy it than to dream about much and never attain it.” A problem with dreams is that, all too often, they never become a reality. Thus, a sense of satisfaction and contentment remains unfulfilled. Solomon is not saying it is wrong to have a dream on which to spend our ambition, but that our ambition must be motivated for the glory of God and not the praise of men—including ourselves. If we think material achievements will automatically produce these qualities, we are wrong.
True satisfaction and contentment comes when we do the will of God from the heart for His glory. When that happens, we get to share in real satisfaction. In John 4:34, Jesus says, “My food [meaning that which energizes Him and fills His life with satisfaction] is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” David adds in Psalm 16:11: “You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” That is real satisfaction and contentment. These verses reinforce the truth that satisfaction and contentment in life is within a relationship with God.
True happiness and these qualities in life do not automatically result from “making a good living.” Rather, they are a very blessed byproduct of making a good life with God as our Leader. If one devotes his life to doing God’s will, satisfaction and contentment will be its fruit.
Whatever one is, he has been named already, for it is known that he is man; and he cannot contend with Him who is mightier than he. Since there are many things that increase vanity, how is man the better? For who knows what is good for man in life, all the days of his vain life which he passes like a shadow? Who can tell a man what will happen after him under the sun?
The meaning of these verses is mystifying. One commentator suggests this title: “Questions Without Answers.” This does not mean, though, that one should ignore God and His way and avoid receiving godly correction. Why? Because God does have the answers, and He reveals them individually within the relationship. We may need the answers very much.
The questions must be understood, at least somewhat, against the background of the context of these last chapters, in which he is showing that the roots of true satisfaction and contentment lie within God’s gifting within a relationship with Him. In addition, we must understand them by evaluating the book’s overall theme, in which he urges us to keep God’s commandments, thus to live an above-the-sun life. We can also seek to grasp them by considering Solomon and what he reveals of himself.
Solomon presents a series of perplexing statements, but he gives no clear answers in the immediate context. Recall, however, that the overall subject of the chapter is about finding satisfaction in life, and he uses examples to illustrate circumstances about why life is puzzling and dissatisfying.
Let us consider Solomon himself. Did he know the answers? First, he probably knew the overall answer to satisfaction and contentment in life, but he did not necessarily experience it because he did not apply God’s way well. It is difficult to see how, having a father like David, as well as the personal experiences he had with God early in his manhood, that he did not know the overall answer. However, did he truly believe it? Did he live it? Both are necessary.
God has not answered this in absolute terms as He does regarding David. We have no doubt that David will be in God’s Kingdom. Based on what is in the Bible, the answer regarding Solomon is that he apparently fell short. Is he lost? We do not know.
Nevertheless, he knew intellectually what the missing link is. The answer to contentment in life hinges on whether one knows what God’s overall purpose for his life is. It is another matter altogether whether we believe that purpose is true and make the effort to seek God and live as He commands by faith.
Verse 10 is essentially saying that God is sovereign, and some things that He has established cannot be changed. Naming a thing is an indication that the thing so named is set. This is why the principles given in John 4:34 and Psalm 16:11 are so important to the converted. Being in God’s presence is the overall solution. These statements by Jesus and David give assurance that contentment in life lies within the combination of properly blending the knowledge of God’s purpose and deliberately choosing to live according to that purpose within a relationship with our very Creator.
This combination is what makes everything in life matter in a positive way, producing satisfaction and contentment in life. In this three-verse section, Solomon addresses four situations that revolve around not getting much in the way of these qualities from life because people do not give of themselves sufficiently to make the relationship work. Each verse, rather than answering, produces questions that, with a brief explanation, are helpful. If one does not get answers he can accept, then dissatisfaction and discontentment remain.
The questions that arise in these verses are expressions of justification that a converted person might give himself for not zealously throwing himself into the relationship with God. They are for the most part expressions of doubt that linger to support the lack of progress.
Solomon’s Five Questions
Solomon touches on five questions. The first is based in verse 10: “Since what’s going to be is going to be, why bother to make decisions? Isn’t it all predestined anyway?” This is broadly why some will not really cooperate with God in a relationship. Martin Luther gave this German proverb: “As things have been, so they still are; and as things are so shall they be.” In other words, the proverb is asking if there anything we actually control. Things are so far from our control, why make an effort?
In this verse, the One “mightier than he” is God. We must firmly accept that God can indeed accomplish His purposes without our cooperation. He does not need us, but He most assuredly loves us! God indeed has “fixed,” that is, named what He will accomplish, but He has also given us free-moral agency.
We must know that the world we live in is not a prison. We are free to evaluate and then choose what our personal world will be, but we are not free to change what the consequences of our actions will be. This is why we should give everything thoughtful consideration. Stepping off the roof of a ten-story building may be our choice, but once we commit ourselves and do it, there is no altering the outcome!
Everything matters! Job discovered this in a grueling and humbling circumstance with God. Job 42:3, 6 states his lack of thoughtful consideration before Him:
You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. . . . Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
The reality is that our choices do make a great deal of difference. Like everything in life, they matter.
The second question is also based in verse 10. Why disagree with God? We cannot oppose Him and win, can we? This question suggests that God’s will is difficult, painful to accomplish, and should be avoided at all costs.
Compare this with what Jesus says in Matthew 11:29-30: “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Add to this what He says earlier in His ministry about doing God’s will being nourishing and energizing to a Christian. Why would anyone, making a fair analysis by comparing God’s way with his self-chosen way and seeing what mankind has produced in this world, rather have his own way rather than God’s? That makes no sense whatever!
If God really wanted to make life truly difficult, He would give man absolute freedom—and that is exactly where this world is heading during this end time. It really builds satisfaction and contentment, right? No, not at all.
Like Job, we must know what our limits are, and one of them is that we do not have the wisdom to out-think and out-talk God. We must truly realize that the more we talk, the emptier our words become, which is exactly what happened to Job. This leads to the fact that humanity must accept that God, as sovereign Creator, is free to act as He sees fit in every situation. Such acceptance will help to produce the contentment that mankind yearns for.
The third question appears to be drawn from Solomon’s many words in writing this book, in addition to all the words we might hear in sermons and the like. He asks, “What do we accomplish with all these words? Does talking about it solve the problems?”
Verse 11 in the New International Version reads, “The more words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?” Are we not receiving a thorough education in this as we listen to all the convoluted political and economic arguments in recent times? Yet, these are all words of men. The Word of God is exactly what is needed because it is truth! God’s truths do not bind people; they free (John 8:32). Satisfaction and contentment are the fruits of truth that is accepted and used. One must listen to God’s Word and use it for satisfaction in life.
The fourth question arises from verse 12: “Who knows what is good for us?” This question is directly linked to the previous one. It brings to mind a saying that this same Solomon states twice in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Human history proves that without the knowledge of God, mankind finds himself satanically deceived, drifting forever on a vast sea of human speculations. However, God knows what is good for us, and He is willing to share it with His children. Without the knowledge of God’s truth, life remains vanity, meaningless. God’s Word says, “He who does the will of God abides forever” (I John 2:17)—in, I might add, satisfaction and contentment.
The fifth question also derives from verse 12: “Does anybody know what is coming next?” This question must be understood within the context of the entire book. It is not talking about small, day-to-day issues, but rather the huge ones that pertain to the overall purpose being worked out on earth. Of course, the answer is that nobody knows perfectly except for God. Everybody else’s opinions are largely speculations. If God gave us more specific detail, it might severely damage the vital use of faith. He gives us enough information to keep us looking ahead and to encourage us to be patient and make the best use of the time that He gives us to prepare, because time is valuable.
The Correct Response for All Concerned
The proper answer to all of these questions—especially if it is correct that they are self-justifications raised by converted persons due to a lack of growth—lies in one’s use of the faith that God has given us to function within the relationship that He has opened to us.
Life is God’s gift, and He desires that we spend it involved with Him, using our faith to prepare for an eternal relationship with Him in His Family Kingdom. This will produce the enjoyable satisfaction and contentment in life that He desires for us. Involving Him is the above-the-sun life.
If there is no Kingdom of God, and if no grand purpose is being worked out, then nothing matters except for what is happening at the moment. This is the mindset of the intellectual and ruling elite in this nation, and they are continuing to slide into it more deeply. This mindset is tilted toward either humanism or secularism, and its fruit is the moral and ethical depravity of a Sodom and Gomorrah. They have nothing glorious to prepare for, so why should they deny themselves any pleasure, any excitement, that their minds and bodies desire right now? God’s children, however, because they possess the faith, cannot allow themselves to drift into such a destructive mindset.
That leads into the overall subject of the next two chapters of Ecclesiastes: wisdom. To the modern mind, wisdom seems to have evolved into a philosophical abstraction, so it is difficult to nail down as something concrete and useful for daily life.
However, the Bible takes pains to show that the ancient Israelites perceived wisdom as a practical, mental quality linked to skill and most strongly associated with skill in living. It appears primarily to be a fruit of knowledge and understanding derived from life’s experiences and fashioned into a highly honed skill. In order to achieve the highest level of this skill, a person must be working with truth, and this is exactly where the Word of God becomes exceedingly important.