Holding onto God’s Promises.

April 27, 2010

Learning how to overcome the mountain.

Faith

Faith, PLR

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you whatever you have asked for in prayer believe that you have received it and it will be yours.” Mark 11:22-24

Anyone who calls himself a Christian should know the verse above. If you’ve been around in the church long enough, and have explored your faith beyond the four walls you were second-born into, you have, no doubt, encountered that verse coming from a middle-aged man in an expensive suit and slicked-back hair. Under the stage lights he proclaims the word with a deep booming voice and a greasy smile, and he implies that God exists simply to provide you with everything you need. He will often follow that one up with “The Lord gives us the desires of our hearts” (Psalm 37:4). You just gotta believe and you will receive! Next he’ll tell about God loving a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), and how Jesus multiplies all your seed, so if you’ll just humbly take out your checkbook, the Lord Jeezyus will give back to you ten times the amount you give to this ministry, and you will be blessed just as the Lord has blessed me! How many souls, desperate for truth, desperate for attention from somebody or something, desperate for money, tried this man’s advice and came up with nothing? You can be sure the check was cashed anyway. What is the final conclusion? God must not exist, or even if he does, he doesn’t care about me. We have all had some kind of negative experience that corrupts our view of God and makes it difficult to trust him. Some us were turned off of by hypocritical preachers, some got burnt by Christian friends or family members, many of us had a rough time with our fathers, and we project our daddy issues onto our Heavenly Father.

Once you’ve accepted the truth of the gospel, it is almost easy to believe in salvation from Hell, and we abstractly anticipate a place that is better than the life we live in today, but do we really believe God for all the promises he gives us for today, for living life right now? Does God follow through with his Word; does he really hear us in the darkness of the night as we cry out in the desperation of our souls? The Bible says that God’s word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11), and that without faith it is impossible to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Many times unanswered prayer is viewed as a lack of faith, and if we just simply muster up enough belief, God will come through for us. This gives us a picture of a God up in heaven looking down, shaking his head and wagging his finger at us: “I’d like to help you out here, but your faith meter just doesn’t have enough juice! Gee, I’m really sorry.” However, Jesus also tells us, “Which of you fathers, if your son asked for fish, will give him a snake instead?…If you then, though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13). God is our father, and he delights in all his children. He wants to bless us, but let’s face it; sometimes the motivation of our asking is not always righteous. We are real good at justifying what we think we need, but God is a wise father; he knows when to hold back and when to give. How many parents give their kids everything they want when they want it? Of course, good parents provide for all their kids needs and then some, but doesn’t a wise parent train their children to be responsible? It is only after their children have proven they are trustworthy that they are able to gain more freedom and more privilege.  There is a level of faith that produces miracles; if there wasn’t God would be a liar, but before we get to that level, we must be raised up and trained by God. Faith begins simply by learning to trust that God is good. The end of Hebrews 11:6 states that it is impossible to please God without faith because we must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. This implies that God is simply happy with us when we acknowledge that he’s real and he’s good and we appreciate the good he brings us. However, this is where we begin; like any good father would, he also tries to push us to reach our full potential.

Hebrews Chapter 11 can be considered the beginning of God’s faith hall of fame taking us all the way back to Abel. It starts off, however, with a definition of faith: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). The Revised English Bible translates it a bit differently; “Faith gives substance to our hopes and convinces us of realities we do not see.” Is it possible that faith is an actual spiritual substance? Think of Love. When you love someone, there is a bond, a connection that reaches beyond our physical bodies and we can feel their love even when they are not present. Might not faith work the same way? When we believe God, despite our circumstances, our faith reaches out through the spiritual realm and actually changes the natural realm. It is the substance by which we allow God’s blessing to flow in our lives and also to forbid the enemy to work. In Proverbs 3:5-6 Solomon says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” And later the Apostle Paul says, “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). For a Christian, faith is believing in something from God that you don’t actually have yet; you can’t physically hold it, or you can’t see it at work in your life.  It is trusting God to do what he promises. The key here is that we can only trust in what God has already promised us he would do. Many people have a “name it, claim it” philosophy of faith. They view God more as a candy dispenser or a genie in a bottle; however, submitting to God’s direction in life (acknowledging him in all your ways) is a prerequisite to walking on straight paths. Graham Cooke, a modern day prophet, teaches that the first step in asking God to work in our lives is simply to learn to listen to him. We need to find out what He wants us to do, and what he wants to do for us, and then we can ask him for it in confidence.

What do we do, then, when it just seems like God is not coming through on his end of the bargain? There are a number of Biblical answers depending on the specific circumstances of your life, but we can take a lesson from the man who can be considered to be the father of our faith, Abraham. Genesis 15:6 states, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He forged the path that eventually led to Jesus; that our salvation comes not by works, but by faith in God (Romans 4). However, even Abraham had his moments of weakness and lack of trust in God. According to what scripture has revealed to us, Abraham was the first human being to interact with God since the flood. He proved he was God’s man through an amazing act of trust. God basically told him one day, “Hey Abe, pack up your stuff and start traveling. I’ll tell you where you’re going when you get there.” Abraham, did not just put together a bindle and hop on the next passing train, he was an established landowner with a wife and many servants. This was a big production. On his way to wherever he was going, however, he also showed an amazing lack of trust in God, and he risked the honor of his wife, Sarah, twice! In his fear of being murdered for her beauty, Abraham lied to two kings and said Sarah was his sister. Fortunately, God stepped in and kept both kings from taking advantage of her. If either of them had slept with her, it would have compromised the famous promise that God would later give to his servant Abraham. This is the extent of faith that most Christians show. When God calls us out of the world and into the Kingdom of Heaven, we approach this new adventure with fear and trepidation, but with a new hope and excitement for something better. However, when trouble comes, we are quick to compromise our virtue and make our own way out to save our skins.

Abraham eventually wandered into the land of Canaan, and God said, “This is it; this is your new home.” Abraham made peace with some of his new neighbors and he went to war with a couple others. Eventually he settled himself in and established his new home as his. He became very rich, but as the years went by, and as he and Sarah grew very old, he still had not produced any children. One day God came to him, and said, “You know what, Abe; I’m going to bless you even more. Look up at the stars; see there? That’s how many descendants you’re going to have. In fact, I’m going to use your offspring to bless the entire world.” Abraham cleared his throat and simply mentioned, “Um, God, I’m not sure if you noticed, but Sarah and I, we don’t have any kids. Just how do you plan to make this happen?” God replied, “You just trust me.” Abraham did, and God considered that trust, that belief in what he had said was going to happen, to be more important than all the righteous deeds Abraham had committed, and more amazingly, more important than every foolish thing Abraham had done. Abraham probably went straight home, put on a little Al Green, and made Sarah feel like she was still in her twenties. We would expect the story to end with: “and nine months later a bouncing baby boy was born…”, but that’s not how it happened. Ten years later: nothing. This is the stage of faith that takes us beyond just believing in salvation for the afterlife. This is the part of the journey that is long and tiresome and full of thirst. This is what makes or breaks many Christians; more often breaking us. Most of us do what Abraham and his wife Sarah did, we screw it up by taking matters into our own hands. We still believe God will come through; we just think he needs a little help getting there. Sarah, like most women of her time, wanted to be a mom. So she suggested to Abraham, “Hey, look, I’ve got this servant, Hagar; we pretty much own her, right? You sleep with her, and get her pregnant, then when she gives birth, we’ll just raise the child as our own.” Even if you don’t know the story, you can guess what happened next. After carrying the child, named Ishmael, around for nine months, Hagar was not willing to give him up. This lack of trust in God coming through on his own and in his own time caused soap-opera-level drama in Abraham’s little piece of the world, and has had repercussions that have fallen down through the ages until today.

Finally, some time later when Abraham was 99 years old, God visited him in the form of three men. As they ate together, God said, “It’s time. This time next year, you will have the son I promised you so many years ago.” Abraham finally got his child of promise, a child with the wife of his youth, the love of his life! Hebrews 11:11-12 honors this moment, “By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise. And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.” This should be a time of celebration, and it was, Sarah named her child Isaac, which means “laughter,” but it did not come without conflict. Abraham still had an illegitimate child that was technically his firstborn. The conflict between Sarah and Hagar became so great, that Sarah demanded Abraham send Hagar and Ishmael away to fend for themselves. He did so with much regret after God assured Abraham he would take care of the child and his mother. Unfortunately, this rivalry would not end here. One of the main conflicts between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East is whether or not Ishmael, Hagar’s son, or Isaac, Sarah’s son, is the true child of promise from God. When we take matters of God’s promises to us into our own hands, it is doubtful we’ll provoke racial wars thousands of years in the future; however, we can cause just as much turmoil in our personal lives, and at the very least delay the true blessing God wants us to have, if not forfeit it altogether.*

So this is it. End of the story. We learn that we just need to wait for God. Not so fast, though, there is at least one more level of faith God wants us to have. Years later, it is debatable as to how old Isaac actually was, God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac—to give up the thing he had waited so long for–to give up his only son. This is totally out of God’s character. He is not into human sacrifice. Why would a loving God ask something so horrendous? When I became a Christian, I chose to serve Jesus because of who he is, because I became certain that he loved me, and he was wholly good by the testimony of his Word. If my earthly father asked me to kill my son to prove my love for him, I’d consider him a psychopath, and I’d never let him near my children again. So, why was Abraham willing to do this? Hebrews 11:17-19 has the explanation: “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promise was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, ‘It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” Abraham was willing to commit this act because of his confidence in God’s character—that he is good and trustworthy—because he knew that God had made a promise through Isaac, and God does not break his promises. God stopped Abraham’s hand before he could drop the knife on his son; he called out to him and provided a ram for him to sacrifice instead.

Graham Cooke says that there is no security in what God does; there is only security in who God is. When God calls us to something more than we are experiencing at the moment, when he gives us a promise, we need to believe him despite what we see. This is the faith that takes us over the edge, faith that causes us to step over the side of a boat onto water in the midst of a storm. Most Christians will never make it to that level, but God wants all of us to be more willing to take risks for the sake of furthering his Kingdom, for bringing more people into the salvation that we enjoy. Jesus said it only takes the equivalent of a mustard seed of faith to overthrow a mountain of problems, but most of us cower at the sight of molehills. God wants us to love him more than the objects he uses to bless us; he wants us to trust him with our possessions, even with our very lives. The evangelist A.W. Tozer once said, “Pseudo-faith always arranges a way out incase God fails. Real faith knows only one way and gladly allows itself to be stripped of any second ways or makeshift substitutes. For true faith it is either God or total collapse.”

If God knows all things, why does he test us in the first place? Can’t he just see into our hearts and know how we are going to react, and know whether or not we will believe? I believe so, but he also chooses to give us free will; while he knows exactly what we believe or don’t believe about him and the principles he wants us to follow, he does not force us to believe in him or to follow him. But he also sees the potential we all have if we actually did step up and learn to completely give ourselves over to “acknowledge him in all our ways.” No man can live the perfect moral life that Jesus led, but by faith we have access to the grace and power that Jesus displayed. God wants all of us not only to be saved, but to experience as much freedom from sin as we can, so we can therefore be used to demonstrate his love on earth. He wants us all to reach our fullest potential in whatever he has called us to do on the earth. James 1:2-4 states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” When we cry out to God for help, what God is most interested in changing is not our circumstances but our character. Faith does not always remove us from bad situations, but more often, God uses our faith in him to mold us into stronger people who can move through difficult challenges without giving up. When our character is developed enough to express thanksgiving, joy and peace in the midst of a trial, God will then be able to use us to bless others who are still learning to overcome their problems. You can see this process in the life of Abraham. What if God gave him Isaac as soon as he moved to Canaan? Would Abraham have been willing to trust God enough to be obedient to him, even when it didn’t make any sense to do so? We can see that with each new challenge God brought to Abraham, his faith increased a little more each time until he was able to meet the main challenge. Abraham’s obedience to God had tremendous literal and symbolic significance that laid the groundwork “for all nations to be blessed through his seed.” Real faith does not cause us to sit around and make random requests from God to make us feel better, but rather it causes us to take action in our obedience to God. James 2:20-24 states: “You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the alter? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,’ and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” As we acknowledge God’s ways, he makes our paths straight not so much by reconstructing the road, but by making us stronger, swifter and more agile. Before we can have the faith that lifts up mountains, we need to first learn how to climb up the rock-face and trust that God will catch us when we fall. It is only after we learn to trust God that he can trust us with the kind of faith and authority that moves mountains.

*This is not to say that when God promises us something we have no part in its coming to pass. Often Christians make the opposite mistake of doing nothing. If you believe God has called you to be a teacher, you should probably make sure you get to college and study hard while you are there. If Abraham had decided that he was just too old to romance with the missus, he may never have gotten his promise.

Peter L Richardson
2000/2010

God will provide the lamb

God will provide the lamb, PLR

Isaac
for Gabriel

Oh Isaac!
All my years I have yearned for you.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
I used to lie awake wondering,
“Who would you be?”
Trying to picture your precious smile,
The love that dances in your eyes…
your beautiful deep eyes,
when you look on mine.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
The Lord is our Father,
His judgment is right,
But when your tiny fingers grasp mine,
I want them sealed there forever.
Oh Isaac!
Your peaceful night.
The steady beat of your heart:
The hand of love your Father placed on you.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
Yesterday we began the journey;
Today I bind your bones.
Where will the Lord provide the Lamb
When He calls me to raise my knife?
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
There is still so much to see!
Oh Isaac!
The Lord’s hand is upon you,
You are child of God,
as am I.
I am only your brother.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
Covenant child…
Who can separate
what God has joined together?
Oh Isaac.
Forever I am with you…
Forever.
Oh Isaac!
Oh Isaac!
My son. I love you.
My son!
My son!

Peter L Richardson
7/31/1994

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2 Responses to “Holding onto God’s Promises.”

  1. Kim Walker Says:

    Okay. This is getting to be a bad habit. I’m not saying this to flatter you, as that would defeat your spirit of humility, (which is necessary for insight!) but coming from someone who has been a die-hard sold out Jesus-freak for 30 years, this article is amazing. It is amazing in that, the insights you have received, I know, only come from persevering through a lot of suffering, hard roads, and waiting for promises. It only comes from being completely sold-out in seeking God’s best, challenging yourself be obedient and denying yourself, when a much easier alternative is available. The insights are clearly God’s blessing to YOUR faithfulness and perseverance. I don’t think I’ve read a collection of insights that don’t come easily in one place, and I’ve been in the church for a long time. In Malachi, I was impressed in study that when the discussion was on who’s sacrifice God was pleased with, (Jacob he loved, Esau he hated), the side commentary stated that it was “in comparison”. I took from that, that we can “love” things in this life, but in comparison to our love for God, it would be like hate–that we would despise anything that would ever compete with our love for God…. that we would keep God so far in front with our heart and priorities, everything else would pale. The past 2 years I have lost almost everything, and may lose my home in a month. But, in church on Sunday, I realized that this scorching trial has been purifying, allowing me to see and know Christ in such beautiful and intimate ways, my old relationship with the Lord would look plastic and empty in comparison, and I am no lightweight in faith, and have traveled a hard road myself. I realized I was the luckiest person in the room, and wouldn’t change a thing.

    • peterrock12 Says:

      You got it: “Consider it pure joy my brothers when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverence and perseverence must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Easier said than done, but He is faithful to walk us through all of it!


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