Series Theme: Expectations Meditations
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 1. Introduction
2 Cor 3:18 we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit
I have recently completed a short series on Christmas and, as always, I have felt challenged by the events of Advent as found in the Bible, but as I got near the end of that little series I found an awareness of something I had not particularly noticed before, the sense of expectation, and this has sent me off down a path I have not travelled before but which feels like it is going to go somewhere significant.
To summarise the feeling that I have, it is that throughout the Bible – because of the nature of it, that it is an ongoing history of God rolling out His purposes which have yet to be completely fulfilled – there is this sense of “What next?” or “Where is this going?” or “What more have you got for us Lord?”
I used to be an avid fan of the TV Series, The West Wing, a seven series attempt at an insight of what goes on in the world surrounding the American president. Crisis followed crisis, problem follo wed problem, difficulty followed difficulty, and as each one was resolved the words that became a familiar refrain from President Bartlet came: “Okay. What's next?” It is an indication that one thing has come and gone, so what's the next thing on the agenda. It is also the suggestion that, for the White House, for God, for us, there is something more on the agenda. We never stand still – or at least that is how it is supposed to be when you read the Bible. I wonder how many Christians live with a sense of ‘having arrived' and ‘this is it'?
Our starter verse above, from 2 Cor 3:18, is a classic illustration of this as it speaks of how we, with an open relationship with the Lord, (unveiled faces) thus now “reflect the Lord's glory” and so “are being transformed into his likeness ”. But this is where it becomes highly significant in the light of my above comments, because it is “with ever-increasing glory” and if we wonder why we are told that it, “comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” So the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives means that the more we go on through life, the more He will be working so that we more and more reflect God's glory. (‘More' becomes a key word!) The Living Bible puts it, “we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and morel like him”.
Now how can we catch this more fully? I nearly titled this series, “Newness, Expectations and Hopes” because it strikes me that the Lord is constantly recreating the present situation, and bringing in something new, but I excluded the ‘Newness' to make it more simple – but the idea is still there! As I have let my mind wander over the Bible to see where we might go with this, I get this sense, that there are, again and again, times when the Lord comes out into the open, so to speak, with something new, some revelation of which we were not aware previously. But isn't this how it is with our individual lives. A new person, a new situation, a new set of circumstances will confront us today. How we handle those, indicates where we are in our walk with Christ, but his desire is that we handle them well with his grace.
So a needy person turns up today, someone perhaps just needing to be listened to, someone who simply wants love and acceptance. The world is often too busy for them, but Jesus never is, and so as we find a sense of compassion inside, we sit and listen, we give them time and care and love and Jesus is expressing himself through us. Perhaps we hadn't ever done it like that before and so it was a new experience for us, so God's glory was being revealed through us in a new way. Perhaps it is how we usually cope well with people and so that was simply another time when God's glory was seen through you, but ‘another time' is still another new expression of him in and through you.
Or perhaps there is a difficult situation that arises at work. Other people are getting stressed about it, some are gossiping about it, putting a negative spin on it, but instead you quietly pray and as you sense the presence of the Lord with you, you remain at peace and thoughts flow that turn out to be wisdom (from God) and you contribute as a peacemaker in the situation. Whether the others realise it or not, you were reflecting the glory of God into the situation, a new presence was brought into it, that brought peace.
So, yes, there is so often a sense of newness in the things that God does, but they are only new as far as we are concerned for God saw them, knew them, planned them long back. He's not caught on the hop by any situation and His knowledge, wisdom and resources of power are always up to the task. So we potter on through life, just like the saints of old recorded in His word, and then suddenly He speaks and there is this air of expectation; He's on the move, He's revealing His heart and His plans and although so often we only get a clue, that is enough, we know we're in one of those “What's next?” situations.
If you don't see life like that, then I hope in these coming days it will become more clear as we pick up on person after person, situation after situation that are there in the Bible and catch this sense of expectation that comes from the throne room above. That is my hope, that is my expectation.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 2. It's too big!
Gen 12:2,3 I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
An obvious starting place when thinking about ‘expectations' has got to be the story of Abram and these first verses of Gen 12 in particular, and I believe they will say some very significant things to us.
The context of these verses is that Abram, later called a Hebrew, lived in Ur (Gen 11:28) in the area of Mesopotamia , the so-called ‘cradle of civilisation', the location of the now-hidden Garden of Eden. We know his father's name was Terah (v.27), that he had a wife named Sarai and that she could not have children (v.29).Terah had taken Abram and some of the family to travel to Canaan (v.31) but when they had arrived at a place with the same name as one of his sons who had previously died, they stopped there and settled there until Terah died there (v.31,32). After this Abram set out again for Canaan (12:4,5). It is into this context that we are told that “The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.” (12:1) which implies that this word had come to Abram previously and had probably been the motivating force that started the family off for Canaan from Ur .
So much for the facts of the story; what does it suggest? Think of the background again. Abram is married but his wife appears not able to conceive. Having children would be the desire of every man who, at the least, would want his family name continued through him. (You only have to look back at the earlier chapters of Genesis to see that family lists were already a big thing.) And then – somehow – he hears God. We don't know how but it is in such a clear way that he is convinced he's getting divine guidance. What he hears impinges directly on his greatest heartache: it promises him children in abundance if he will go to the foreign land. He goes with great expectation. This is at the heart of Abram's story. At this point ‘the land' is only secondary to and the environment for ‘a great family'. Again and again both of these things – the land and the family – are spoken about by God. Why? We will see.
Now, as I have pondered this story, there is something that Abram ‘could' have thought which I see reflected in contemporary Christianity again and again. I say he could have thought it but clearly didn't. It is the thought that might well come in response to God's words of the future, “Oh, come on, that can't be it's too big, it's too impossible!” Now I read that on people's faces sometimes when they are brought a prophetic word for their lives today. “Who me? Surely not!”
The starting thing I believe we should focus on about expectations and hopes, is that they aren't automatically received. When God speaks the future into our lives – and this is what expectations are all about – we can either say with Mary, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38) or negatively respond like Zechariah, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Lk 1:18) We choose whether or not to hold a faith stance, a position of expectation when God has spoken.
Tomorrow we'll consider times when He hasn't spoken personally but circumstances say that expectations are natural, but the point here is that expectations are natural because God has spoken. Zechariah looked as his natural circumstances (both he and his wife were well beyond child-bearing age) but Mary looked to God and not her circumstances. Abram would have every reason to think he would go to his grave childless. When the years have passed and you have tried again and again and again and still nothing happens, it is natural to give up. Then some bright character turns up and prophesies, “You will have a baby within a year,” (and I've had the privilege of doing it twice) and you can either respond with cynicism and mutter under your breath, “Insensitive slob!” or you can receive God's word for what it is, and rejoice. Abram received it and started out for Canaan .
Now there is something else here than could be missed. Without doubt, as history shows, the Lord wanted Canaan, or Israel as we know it today, to be the home for His people, a place where He could interact with them as a people in their own right with their own land. The Lord thus used the fact of Abram's childlessness as a spur to get him into that land. There are times when I believe the Lord uses what I will call ‘additional reasons' to bolster our expectations. He knows we often need the encouragement. Something I have watched time and again (and became aware of it in my own life again just a week ago) is that when a vision is proclaimed, it often takes time to be fulfilled and the natural temptation is to allow it to dim, and so the Lord often speaks again and again, to remind us of it, to remind us we have a part to play. I have at the present time a vision of something I am to work into and I know it will be a long-term thing, probably at least a couple of years, and I also was reminded just this last week, that I had been allowing it to dim because the ‘thwarting circumstances' of the present almost squashed it.
This is the thing about a vision from the Lord, a prophetic word that speaks of your future, so much of the time such a word cuts across the present stagnation of life and speaks of newness, about creating something that isn't there at the present, and that is the challenge. When we have lived with the non-activity for so long, it takes real faith to believe that, yes, it can be changed, yes, God will do it, yes, I have a part to play in it, and that part will result in change. It is only as we step out in small steps that we see the change slowly beginning to take place. In many ways Abram's story is a story of small steps, little episodes of faith, until eventually the Lord says, “This is it! You'll have your child within a year!” (Gen 18:10)
But there's one final thing we need to add: the expectation is real, the word was from God, He IS going to do it, but the end result may not be as you think at this moment of receiving it. Apart from Ishmael, Isaac was the only child of the promise, Abram never saw a family like sand on the seashore as promised. That picture would take centuries but it did happen. (He did have six children through his concubine who he married, Keturah – Gen 1:2, 1 Chron 1:32 but they were not what became the Hebrew people – Israel , God's chosen people.) The vision may not be fulfilled in exactly the way you anticipated but it will be the way the Lord anticipated and as such you may hold to such a word and live in that expectation and that, we will see, is what the Christian life is all about.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 3. It's what should be!
Gen 25:21 Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren.
Abraham's Unfulfilled Vision: The writer to the Hebrews spoke of Abraham, “ he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” (Heb 11:10) which suggests a hope or expectation that Abraham had, that out of his family would come such a community of people that, instead of living the nomadic life he had known, they would settle down with God in what would surely be a city. Yet in his lifetime that never came to be. He would have rejoiced over a future Jerusalem if he had been able to see it at its peak in say Solomon's day. But that was yet the future.
Isaac's Waiting: Then came Isaac, the child of promise, born miraculously when both his parents were well beyond child-bearing age. No doubt as he grew they would have shared with him their story. He now is part of the fulfillment of the start of a people who would eventually become like the sand on the seashore, so numerous you cannot count them (Gen 22:17). Isaac grows up and Abraham gets him a wife: “Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah” (Gen 25:20) Eventually, and it was very much a case of ‘eventually' Rebekah has two twin boys, Esau and Jacob: “Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.” (Gen 25:26) If that was all you knew of the story it would be unremarkable but actually there is a verse in between which speaks volumes: “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Gen 25:21)
Isaac's Frustrated Expectations: A quick calculation shows that Isaac had been married twenty years before he became a father, twenty years of waiting to see how he was going to be part of the fulfillment of God's word to his father, which he later reiterated to Isaac (26:3-5). So we have a picture of another from this family tree of Abraham, Isaac, who had this sense of expectation formed by the Lord, and expectation of something that was in addition to his natural inclination and expectation as a husband. Although in our somewhat distorted world today in the West it is not always the case that husbands, let alone their wives, want children, in most societies throughout history having children is the natural expectation of being a husband or wife. In fact, apart from the natural expectation of a child to grow up and enter into a (sexual) relationship with a partner (husband or wife), this is probably the most basic expectation in the human race. So, when that expectation is frustrated, as was both the case with Sarai and Rebekah, it is especially hard, as those today know who try for children to no avail. It is often heartbreaking.
Prayer: It is in this context that we find only the third reference in the Bible to someone praying. The first instance had been Abraham who prayed on God's instructions for Abimelech (Gen 20:17), then there had been Abraham's servant, sent with the task of finding a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:12), and now we have just read that, “Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife.” Prayer is the natural response to desperation. We don't know how many years Isaac waited and waited before he started praying and we don't know how long he prayed, but it was twenty long years before Rebekah conceived and tomorrow we'll see what followed.
Delayed Visions: But here is the thing about expectations that come, either from natural inclination or following a word from the Lord – they can be frustrated and delayed in their fulfillment. I spoke yesterday morning about a long-term vision the Lord has given me, something I have in which to play a part, and it was only later in the day I found myself gazing on the situation in question thinking, “This is never going to happen,” and I had to take hold of myself and remind myself this is God's vision, not mine.
Delays Weary: A while later I was talking with a lovely Christian lady who had been married for 38 years to a non-Christian husband and she has anguished for him and prayed for him for that whole period, apparently to no avail. Last year they went through a particularly tough time in respect of his poor health and I found myself saying, “Would it help if I told you that I believe this last year has been a preparation for what is coming in this next year?” She answered in the affirmative, because she is a “good evangelical Christian”, a ‘strong' believer, but I sensed in reality it went straight over her head (despite the fact that someone else apparently has recently said the identical thing), because year after year of frustrated praying can wear down the soul.
Our Delays: Many of us harbor these hopes, these expectations; it may be about wanting a child, it maybe about wanting a partner, it maybe about wanting your partner to come to the Lord, it maybe about wanting your children to come to the Lord, it may be about a desire for healing. In all of these instances, it seems, there can be frustration. Solomon apparently knew this when he wrote, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov 13:12) That is the natural response to this hope being dashed again and again, but to stop it killing us (spiritually at least) we need to somehow grab His grace to help keep us faithful. The enemy would seek to make us jaded and cynical, but the Lord works to deepen our faith and our confidence in him
I wrote fairly recently in a Christmas meditation about how Abraham was an example to us, of faith, and then how important example is. Sometimes our example can impact others, whether it be others seeing your fortitude in the face of anguish or simply they see the sort of life you live as you wait in expectation. Mostly the Bible doesn't have a great deal to say about such situations. Peter did say, “Wives …. be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives,” (1 Pet 3:1) and we could substitute for that word ‘behaviour' the word ‘example', and there are of course general guidelines as to how we are to live as husbands, wives, parents, children, workers, members of society etc. but that's about it.
And So: Being an example will not get you pregnant, just help others. That's why some of these things feel so hard. We feel helpless to bring change, and yet we have this as yet unfulfilled hope. It is one of the hardest areas of being a Christian because you know God could step in and yet, for whatever reason, He has decided not to. So all you are left with is prayer and more prayer and a seeking for grace to maintain a right attitude. After that we have to leave it up to Him. We never said this series on expectations and hope would always be easy, and so it is important, early on, that we see just how difficult it is sometimes. The Lord knows, He still loves us, He is no doubt still working within us to bring changes in us, but He does know what we feel,
and He feels it with us (see Ex 3:7). When the Lord says He is concerned by what He sees, He means it! At Lazarus's tomb that concern was shown by tears. I believe the Lord anguishes with us, but sometimes He sees that the best, as hard as that is to receive, is to wait, and in what follows we'll see some reasons why. Try and hang on in there while you wait.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 4. God's Plan, not mine
Gen 25:23 "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."
Family Expectations: The awareness of being pregnant surely brings an anticipation of the days ahead, and indeed the years ahead. The creation of a family must surely be one of the greatest forces for raising expectations of the future – and also the potential for getting it wrong! How many children have suffered and been distorted from God's design from them, by their parents own expectations. Again and again I watch young parents – and it may be the mother or the father – who works to do everything possible to provide the best for their child or children and guide and steer them to achieve something that is the image of the parents, Within the Hebrew people, there was a regular custom of giving a child a name in accordance with the hopes of the parent. The naming of the sons of Jacob is a classic of this found in Gen 29 & 30, although they tended to be to act as a reminder of the circumstances surrounding the birth. It's not a practice we tend to follow!
But now we come to Isaac and Rebekah again. Previously we read, “ Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Gen 25:21) For twenty years Rebekah had anticipated being a mother – it's what wives become, isn't it! Eventually she conceives. At long last! Well it has happened, so what will we name our child, what will they be a boy or a girl, what will they be like? These are the sort of questions would-be parents ask. But then something happens: “The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to inquire of the LORD.” (v.22)
Rebekah seeks the Lord: Now I have the highest respect for Rebekah at this point (she doesn't do so well later) because after having to wait for twenty years, she has become a godly women. When something starts going wrong, she talks to God about it. If only more Christians today would build this into their life habits! But more that this, she doesn't just talk at God (which today so many do in their superstitious prayers) but she enquires of the Lord, she asks Him – and then listens – and hears! Again, oh, if only more Christians would learn to do this today! The Lord reveals to her that she is carrying twins, but He takes the opportunity of her listening heart to convey something about their future to her: “The LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (v.23).
The boys named: To understand the future we need to see what follows: “When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau . After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob . Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them” (Gen 25:24-26) Esau simply means ‘red' and ‘hairy' so naming a poor child that doesn't really do much for his self-esteem as he grows up! But if that wasn't bad enough, Jacob means ‘he grasps the heel” or ‘grabber'! It was no surprise that Jacob grew up to be that sort of person!
So, although I said I admired the way she sought the Lord, once the babies have arrived – and it may be a sign of her weariness after having had twins – she doesn't do a good job giving them inspiring names. Maybe it was a sign of what both the parents felt about God after having had to wait for Him to turn up for twenty years. I don't know. If they were around today, Esau's friends would probably unkindly refer to him as ‘that hairy mutt'. Jacob, well possibly, “here comes the grabber, hold on to your toys!” Not a good entry.
Upset causes divergence: All of this is followed, once they reach the age of maturity, by a rite of blessing and it all goes horribly wrong with Jacob conning his brother out of the best blessing (see Gen 27:1-40), but this is only after Esau has already shown he doesn't care anything about his birthright (see Gen 25:29-34). In the long term the family tree of the people of God stayed with Jacob who became Israel, while Esau went off and married a Canaanite in a peak of anger (Gen 28:8,9) and becomes father of the Edomites who became enemies of Israel so often. (see Gen 25:30, 36:1-)
God's Sovereignty? Now the apostle Paul uses this situation to demonstrate the sovereignty of God in choosing who He will (Rom 9:10-13) but a wider reading of Scripture suggests again and again, that ‘God's sovereignty', while clearly being that, is in fact based upon what He sees and knows from the outset before the world is even created. how unique individuals will use their free will to choose the life they will live, and in the light of that, He chooses who will be blessed, but it is simply those who turn to Him and follow Him. Thus in the story we have been considering, the Lord knew the outcome when he said to Rebekah, “ one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger,” and knew that Esau would despise his family name, care little about his parents (thus dishonoring them) and go off contrary to the declared will of God (to bless the world through this particular family) and marry Canaanites. He knew that although Jacob would start off his life as a twister, he would end up a wise old Patriarch who we see prophesying over all his boys and thus growing into a nation that God would bless and use.
And Us? And so? Be careful with your expectations for your family. Pray your heart out for them for God to bless them and draw them to Himself but be careful not to have favourites who you spoil to the detriment of the others (as we'll see in later studies), and don't try and make your children something other than God has designed into them. Your child may be an artist. Let him be. Your child may be a scientist. Let her be. Guide them ethically and morally by all means, be the example we have spoken of before, of faith and righteousness, but don't impose your image on them. Hold your expectations lightly as you pray for them daily, otherwise you may be working against the will of God!
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 5. Expectations Interrupted
Gen 32:24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak
The Appearance of Jacob: We have already started to consider Jacob in the previous study but what I want to focus on was the expected destiny of this man and why it didn't turn out as we might have expected. Everything about Jacob in his younger years said ‘grabber' or ‘twister'. That had been the meaning of his name, simply because when he was born as the second twin, he was clutching at the heel of the first one born, Esau. From the outset he seemed to be clutching for something more, and that from his brother.
A Birth-right Taken: Then there was the silly incident as the two boys started to grow up, when Esau came in, hot, sweaty and tired after a day's hunting. Jacob clearly preferred the home life and was cooking (Gen 25:29). When Esau came in, “ He said to Jacob, "Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I'm famished!” (v.30) and at this point Jacob first showed his real colours: “Jacob replied, "First sell me your birthright.” (v.31) In response Esau showed his casual feeling about his family and inheritance: “Look, I am about to die," Esau said. "What good is the birthright to me?” (v.32) But Jacob pushed it: “But Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob.” (v.33) It concludes, “Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.” (v.34) We tend to remember Esau's casual attitude, but it was provoked by Jacob's conniving.
A Blessing Stolen: Then later there was the incident we have already previously referred to where I said Jacob conned Esau out of his father's blessing. It is too long to recount (Gen 27:1-40) but by the help of his mother in an even more devious scheme he made his near blind father believe he was giving the blessing to the older son. Third indicator of a grabber!
Jacob with Laban: Jacob has to flee the wrath of his brother and is sent by his parents to look for a wife from the brother of his mother, i.e. from his uncle, Laban. It is there that Jacob seems to meet his match when he falls for Laban's younger daughter but is palmed off with the older, uglier one and ends up having to work fourteen years for Laban to win the hands of both girls. (see Gen 29:16-30)
Jacob and the Lord: However, before we observe his dealings with Laban, we need to pick up on an incident that occurred on his way to Laban. He had a dream (Gen 28:11-22) about the gateway to heaven and the Lord met him and reiterated His promise to multiply his family and give him the land. When he awoke Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father's house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God's house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Gen 28:20-22) But note the conditional almost bartering and almost condescending nature of it. IF God will look after me, He can become my God and I'll make this place His house and I'll even do what others do and give my deity a tenth of what I earn. It is still the words of an entrepreneur (who certainly doesn't realise the magnitude of the LORD, the I AM.)
Jacob connives to be rich: Back in Laban's service we see Jacob working to enlarge his flocks at the cost of Laban's. It is a strange thing and somewhat unclear, but before we get to that we need to see it in context. God clearly blesses him as he works the years for Laban's daughters and he also starts accumulating children by the dozen (literally!) and having done that decides he wants to leave (30:25,26). Laban knows he is on to a good thing and so bribes him to stay (30:28). Thus Jacob suggests he earn by taking every spotted or speckled sheep or goat to be his wages. Laban goes along with this but quietly removes all the male sheep or goats that were speckled or spotted (30:35). By a devious and somewhat strange way Jacob nevertheless gets the sheep and goats to breed with speckles or spots and accumulates great flocks. (30:37-43)
Cutting a long story short Jacob eventually leaves, a very rich man. On his way back he hears that the word has got to his brother who is coming to meet him with a great crowd of men. He fears retribution for the past and so, schemer that he is, he divides up his great flocks into two (37:7,8) – and prays. Now again we need to briefly backtrack When Laban had realised Jacob was out-foxing him, he began to feel negative about him and at that point the Lord told him to return home (31:3). On the way home, after he had left Laban, he sees angels and “When Jacob saw them, he said, "This is the camp of God!" So he named that place Mahanaim.” (32:1) which means “two camps” i.e. he still sees God as being off and distinct from him. It is then he splits his flocks to cope with Esau. He is still planning and scheming.
Jacob Changed? Now we have spent quite a while identifying the sort of person Jacob is, a twister and a schemer, but as I commented in the previous study, when you come to the end of his life we find a godly old man, full of wisdom and the Lord, prophesying amazingly over his large family. What changed him? We would have expected him to grow into an even more curmudgeonly old man out to rook everyone in sight – but he's not.
Jacob's Night Encounter: The answer has to be an encounter he now has with the Lord – not just a quiet word into his ear, but a full-on confrontational encounter where the two of them wrestle throughout the night (see Gen 32:24-30). He had just before this, prayed and asked the Lord to deal with Esau for him (32:9-12) but had then – still in scheming mode – plotted to send small groups ahead as gifts for Esau to turn his heart. Prayer and scheming.
So he wrestles with God throughout the night and the Lord's intent is to make him give up and submit – but he won't. So God puts his hip out, so he limped for the rest of his life and could no longer wrestle. It was almost like the Lord was saying, “Look don't you realise I can demolish you any time I want. I've just disabled you so that you can go on, but you will be limited – and I'll rename you Israel as a constant reminder to you that you wrestled with me and wouldn't give up – and that's why you are like you are now!” From then on he is a changed man.
Look, here's the lesson and it is a major one that can affect us or our children or our church. We can be set in our destiny it appears, set in our worldliness, set in our human thinking, our planning and our scheming, and it looks like the future is set – and then God steps in and intervenes and something devastating happens. We don't realise it is from Him, but it is. Maybe He brings it, maybe He just lifts off His hand of protection for a moment – and we are humbled, and the future is changed. We are suddenly godly. We are suddenly prayerful. It happens in a measure when we first came to Christ, but it has a habit of happening again – and maybe again, if the Lord sees we are failing to submit to His will that wants to bless us. Hold your future expectations lightly. Hold them in the face of God and remember, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is the wisest outlook to hold on to!
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 6. Handling Expectations
Gen 37:5-7 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it."
Handling personal prophecy is a tricky thing. I mean, in the Christmas story that was what both Zechariah and Mary received by an angel. Zechariah didn't handle it too well, but Mary did. Now, as we continue moving through Genesis we come to Joseph, the last of the big figures in the book and we see how not to handle expectations! How we handle personal prophecy reveals our state of mind, our state of spirituality and our faith level.
Joseph's Background: To understand Joseph we need to see his family background. He is the youngest but one of the twelve brothers and we read, “ Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” (Gen 37:3,4) So there we have a disturbed family background that has grown up. Not a good setting for what God is about to do – or is it?
Joseph's Dreams: So Joseph has two dreams and gets hostile reactions (37:5-7 & 9): “His brothers said to him, "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.” (v.8) Even more, “When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” (v.10,11) Old man Israel doesn't completely write it off but he is upset at the apparent way Joseph brought the dreams.
The trouble with prophecy, whether it comes in a dream or as a conscious word, is that it is about the future and not the present and what the vast majority of people – including Joseph – forget, is that to get from the present to the future, there is invariably change required and that comes about by process. So, in many ways the process is more important to remember, than the end product. So Joseph is going to end up as an important ruler, but he was not told how or why. For that we have to follow his story.
Joseph's Downward Upward Climb: Because of their hatred for him – stoked by these dreams – the brothers take the opportunity to sell Joseph to slave traders (37:19-28) who take him to Egypt where he is sold on to the captain of Pharaoh's guard. (39:36) There he prospers under the hand of the Lord (39:2) and is given charge of all of his master's household. He is learning responsibility with wisdom. A bad situation is made worse when his master's wife tries to seduce him, but he flees her and ends up being put in prison (see 39:7-20). However, there again the Lord is with him and he prospers (39:20-23). He also finds he can interpret dreams (40:5-22). Subsequently when Pharaoh also starts getting prophetic dreams, it is Joseph who is called for and interprets for him (41:1-38) after which Pharaoh puts him in charge of the whole economy to oversee the coming years of prosperity followed by the years of famine.
Fulfillment & Understanding: It is a long and convoluted story but by the end of it, his brothers come and bow before him, not realizing who he is (at least a dozen years have passed), before he eventually reveals to them his identity. The original dreams have been fulfilled but to bring them about two things had to happen. First, circumstances had to come about that brought Joseph to the royal court in Egypt . Second, by the time he got there he had to be changed into a man of humility and wisdom who is open to the Lord and recognizes His presence which he does (see 40:8, 41:16,25,28,32). Moreover, by the end of the story Joseph makes that famous statement that reveals his understanding of the sovereign ways of God: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives,” (50:20) and does his best to put his brothers' minds at rest and to care for them: “But Joseph said to them, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? …. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children." And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (50:19,21)
Transformation: It is a remarkable story of how a man within Israel 's family is transformed and used by God, but his transformation comes about through harsh circumstances, circumstances brought about by the sinfulness of his brothers. God uses our sinfulness sometimes to achieve His end purposes. The greatest illustration of that must be that recognized by the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit: “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you , with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) Yes, the Cross was God's plan, but it came about through the sinfulness of mankind. This so parallels what happened to Joseph, except the big difference is that it was the folly and pride of Joseph at the beginning of the story that opens the way for all else to follow.
The lesson? God will use our folly, our mistakes etc. to work through His purposes. And what are they ultimately for us? That we become more and morel like Jesus (2 Cor 3:18). That will underline all that takes place in our lives, the good and the bad, because the more we are formed in the image of Jesus, the more open we will be to receive God's blessing in our lives and be open to Him to be used to bless His world. Amazing! We may focus our expectations on success and achievement; He focuses on us being changed into the likeness of His Son.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 7. Working for the long-term
Gen 24:1-4 Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh. I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac."
Unfulfilled Prophecy: Before we leave the Patriarchs and Genesis, we need to backtrack and observe an episode in the life of this family that we have now seen grow to such a size it will soon become a nation. Abraham has the son of the promise and he's had the word that God will make his family like the sand on the seashore. The only problem is that, at this time, Isaac does not have a wife.
A Distinctive People: He is living in this foreign land inhabited by ‘Canaanites' – probably a whole group of different tribes, but not Hebrews. He knows that it is his family that God had said He would bless and he has a sense of clear demarcation from these people in this land. He has a relationship with the Lord, and they don't. He has prophetic vision for the future, but they don't. He worships the one true God, who he come to see is the Almighty Creator of all the world (Gen 14:18-22), they worship idols. He has come to understand that God has called him to be a distinctive people, different from all those other tribes or nations around him. He's heard it and he believes it.
The Family Connection: So he has this problem. The only women around are these pagan, idol-worshipping Canaanites. The answer is that he must look elsewhere and the obvious place is the place he has come from, so he sends his chief steward with the task of finding a daughter from his relatives back in Mesopotamia . It is a delightful story worth reading. For our purposes we will simply note that the servant finds Rebekah who is described as “The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milcah bore to him.'” (Gen 24:47) If we backtrack we find, “Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran . ….Abram and Nahor both married. The name of Abram's wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor's wife was Milcah.” (Gen 11:27,29) So that side of the family tree had been – Terah, Nahor, Bethuel and then Rebekah, while on the other side it had been Terah, Abram, Isaac. The former branch of the tree had an extra generation because of course Abram had waited until he was a hundred before Isaac arrived, but Isaac and Rebekah would be roughly in the same age or generation bracket.
Outworkings: So the family will be continued through the extended family and without any Canaanite pollution. Rebekah would also be aware of her similar ancestry. At the end of this particular story, Isaac has a wife and the rest, as they say, is history. The family tree continues through Isaac to Jacob and to the tribes of Israel , the nation that eventually becomes as multitudinous as the sand on the seashore! Now we may not, from our position so many centuries away, be able to identify with this (although many today do work to find their ancestry, following the family tree back) but this is God's plan we have been considering, to bring a nation into being a) through which He can be revealed to His world, and b) His Son from heaven can come in the centuries ahead. If Abraham's servant could not find a wife for Isaac who was sympathetic to their calling and understanding their ancestry, none of what followed would be possible.
Lessons: Now what does this account say to us? I suggest it speaks about a chosen people and today, you and I who are Christians, can say we are a chosen people (1 Pet 2:9). The word for ‘church' originally means ‘a called-out people' so we are also called to be a distinctive people, a holy people (1 Pet 1:15,16), a people who are different from those around us for we are living in conformity with God's design, God's will. Our goals and objectives are His goals and objectives. Abraham's expectations were that God would show the servant a wife for Isaac so together they could continue the family tree, in accordance with God's declared will. There was a clear and distinct purpose behind his search, that would result in the continuation of the family and the presence of a holy people on earth. We, likewise, have become a purposeful people, a people who will express the kingdom of God on earth under the leading of the head of the body, Jesus Christ, who is seated at his Father's right hand in heaven ruling and directing.
And Us? The key question has to be, do we see ourselves like this? Chosen, distinctive, purposeful? We might also ask, do we do all we can to help the next generation enter such a relationship with the Lord that we have known? That means being a real and genuine example for our children to follow? We can never guarantee this, but have we done all we can do to show and share the love of God through Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered, distinctive and purposeful lives? At the end of the day it is down to our children to respond as they will, but will they be able to look at us with love and fondness, knowing that we were there for them, full of grace and wisdom? We will fail sometimes but that should not put us off saying sorry to them, and getting up and going for it again. We could add a lot more but there is plenty there to pray over and work for.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 8. When Expectations Die
Acts 7:23,29,30 When Moses was forty years old, he decided to visit his fellow Israelites ….. Moses heard this, he fled to Midian, where he settled as a foreigner and had two sons. After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai
The story of Moses is possibly the strangest in the Bible, It falls into three parts: the first forty years of his life as a Prince of Egypt, the second forty years of his life looking after sheep in the desert and the third forty years of his life leading Israel in the wilderness. One might say the second and third parts were both about looking after foolish sheep in the wilderness.
The pivotal point between the first and second periods comes in our verses above. Up until then, born to a Hebrew but raised by an Egyptian princess, he had lived a life of privilege. When verse 23 says he “decided to visit his fellow Israelites” it suggests that he knew his background but for forty years had been quite content to live in luxury while his own people lived in slavery. However, and for what reason we don't know, he decided to visit his own people and ends up killing an Egyptian slave master. This word eventually gets out and he has to flee the nation and go to Midian where he ends up as a shepherd for the next forty years. The pivotal point between the second and third periods is an encounter with God at a burning bush on Mount Sinai , indicated by verses 29 & 30 above. But this is all about expectations.
When he had been born the expectation was that he would be killed because an order had been given to kill all Hebrew baby boys (Ex 1:16) but his mother had circumvented that order and the Egyptian princess had taken the baby into her own home (Ex 2:1-10) where he grew up as her son. Now, from that point on, his expectations changed dramatically. He was made! The future looked affluent and prosperous and comfy, and so it continued for forty years. Having completely blown it and ending up in the wilderness of Midian hundreds of miles away, question marks would have arisen in his mind. How long will I have to stay here? Will it ever be safe for me to go back ‘home'? Initially it is probable that although ruing his circumstances he nevertheless thought he might be able to return one day when the fuss had died down.
But the years passed and, one thing leading to another, he is still there as a shepherd. Nothing has changed, and it continues not to change, year after year. The only things that change are that he gets married and has children. He virtually becomes a Midianite with a Midianite priest as a father-in-law. As the years pass, the thoughts of Egypt dull. His hopes die until, and this must be humanly certain, he has lost any hope of ever getting back and, even more, as the years pass, his self confidence born of forty years as an Egyptian prince, dies. It completely goes, and we know this by what follows.
So here he is at the age of eighty, a shepherd. No, not even a once-upon-a-time Prince of Egypt. That had all gone. His future is in the desert. Well, in that he is right, but not as he thinks. But he has no future. He will live out his days here with the sheep and occasionally passing by the family home with his flock while he wanders looking for more grass for them. Zero future expectations. And then God turned up.
The conversation between he and God in Ex 3 & 4 is largely one of Moses implying, you have got the wrong man, I'm not up to this. The Lord tells him He has come to call him to go and deliver his people from Egypt , but he knows all about that sort of stuff. He's been there, done the stuff and definitely got the tee-shirt, and it had all gone wrong! Yes, that bit is still implanted in his memories. Shame rarely gets out of our memories when we have blown it. But the Lord encourages him and tell him He will be with him (3:12a) and will do great things to bring this about. End of chapter 3 – but Moses is still not convinced. So the Lord lays on two mini miracle-signs for him to perform but Moses is still not convinced: “ Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” (4:10) I mean, he might have added, I've mostly only talked to sheep for the last forty years! I'll help you speak, the Lord replies and still Moses is opting out so the Lord says his brother can go with him, and that is the end of the discussion. Moses goes and the rest, as they say, is history.
Now about us. How true this story is as an analogy of what happens to many of us. We go through life, full of self-confidence, so confident in fact that we don't need God. Then we blow it. It can be at work, in society, in a family breakdown. We make excuses that it wasn't our fault but deep down we know the truth; it was. All over our country there are women (and it tends to be the women mostly, but it does impact the men as well) whose self-esteem had been shattered when they have been abandoned by their partner, often left to fend for one or more children. I watch them coping and the Lord grieves. It may be you, but just because some stupid, short-sighted, limited thinking idiot of a man abandoned you, that doesn't mean it is your end. It may be you feel you have been consigned to the wilderness and if that's what you want, that's where you could stay – but it's not God's desire for you. His desire is to transform you and put new purpose into your life. At the moment, your expectations may be low. I write this in the Christmas-New Year period and this time is the worst time of the year for the single person who has been abandoned.
But I come to you with possibly the most important message in this series: God has a good future for you if you will hear it and allow Him to raise faith in you because, like Moses, it will only come about as you let God lead your way. The apostle Paul once wrote, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17) That doesn't just apply to coming to Christ – although it very much does apply then – but it also happens again and again. Living in this ‘fallen world' things go wrong. Such things going wrong devastate our self-esteem but the lesson that follows is that although we cannot do it, He can, and He delights to work in and through us.
Listen to the testimonies of those whose lives were a total train wreck but then they came to Christ, were born again and were transformed. I dread to think what my life would be like if I had not met Christ. But then there are the other testimonies by Christians – me included here – who have made a complete mess of it somewhere along the line and thought the end had come, but as time passes the Lord rebuilds us more in the likeness of Jesus. Yes, the devastating events acted as an opportunity for us to be reshaped more in the likeness of Jesus, and that's when it really gets exciting!!!! Hear it, receive it, and get ready to live a new day.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 9. Expectations Recap 1
The Need for a Recap: I am aware that in the day to day affairs of life, picking up a theme again every morning, is not always easy – too many life distractions come in the way, and so perhaps it will be wise to pause up at the this point and do a quick ‘recap' of where we have been so far in this series, and hopefully that will sharpen the emphasis.
How Expectations Arise: There are times when the Lord comes with something new, some revelation of which we were not aware previously. There are times when life confronts us with new opportunities. In both instances we look forward to the future – the next day, weeks, months, years and wonder about what might be; we have expectations.
Expectations arise when God speaks, e.g. Abram (Gen 12:1,2), yet we learn that the fulfillment of such expectations based on His word, may be delayed. The natural tendency may be to hear such words and thing, ‘surely not, that's too big', for such words cut across the deadness or stagnation of what may have been for some time. But we eventually learn, that yes, it was God!
Expectations also arise in the natural course of events of life, e.g. Isaac (Gen 25:21), things we expect to happen so, for example, a married couple may expect children, but again that expectation can be frustrated or delayed. The life of faith is often living with expectations delayed. Through such times we learn to trust and we learn to pray.
Divinely inspired expectations remind us that it is His will, not mine that is based on wisdom and knowledge and the desire for our best. Sometimes we see that people do not turn out as expected, e.g. Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:23), and family life in a fallen world can be messy, yet God sees and knows and plans accordingly. So it might be that our initial expectations prove wrong when something better is revealed. The lesson is to hold our family lightly, loving all equally, praying for god's blessing on each.
Our low expectations of people can be reversed when God intervenes, e.g. Jacob (Gen 32:24). We can observe someone who appears low on our social expectations scale, one we have little hopes for, but God may have other ideas for He sees potential and so when He intervenes everything changes – new expectations!
When new expectations come in the form of a fresh word from the Lord, e.g. Joseph (Gen 37:5-7) we learn that hearing without understanding can be deceiving and create wrong expectations. We learn that process is all important and change (in me) is almost invariably essential to get us from today to the day of fulfillment.
Expectations coming through God's word set up a new picture of the future – as impossible as it may seem at the moment – and even from what we just noted with Joseph, we come to realise we need to do things to align our lives more fully with God's purposes, e.g. Abraham and his servant getting a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:1-4). When we are able to see the long-term, ‘big picture' it helps us focus our present lives in order to bring about the anticipated expectations His word spoke about.
Very often we don't realise our destiny until much later on and the expectations of life that we have before we met Christ, have to die along the way to enable Him to bring to us and through us the much better and much greater expectations of His perfect will for us, e.g. Moses (Acts 7:23,29,30). Indeed, allowing the vision to die appears a common denominator in many lives, if not all of God's children.
The biggest lessons in respect of these expectations are:
1. God knows better than me what the best future for me is, and
2. As much as I may know that with my mind, it will take years of life molding for me to accept it as a reality and then learn that,
3. Without Him I can do nothing and even what He calls me to do, I can only do as He leads and empowers
Well, that is where we have been so far. There are many more lessons to come in the following studies, some of them quite uncomfortable, uncomfortable that is if the above things are purely head knowledge and not heart knowledge. The Christian life is a process as well as a wonderful relationship with a wonderful, loving God (who we are still frequently unsure about) and it is a process of taking in knowledge and allowing Him to build understanding on that that goes deep within us.
One of the challenges of the Christian life is that the Lord invites us into a partnership of change with Him. He never changes – because He is perfect, complete, cannot be improved upon – but we need to change if we are to be able to receive all the good things He has for us. The incredible thing is that He seems to give us amazing leeway in this relationship to keep doing, getting it wrong, trying again, getting it not quite so wrong, and then realizing we can never get it right without Him. Slowly, oh so slowly, we come to realise it is all about learning to see Him love us. We know it at superficial level, then we fail and fall and He picks us up again and we realise He still loves us, and the truth sinks in a bit more fully.
These examples of the early men of God are examples of men with embryonic relationships with the Lord, embryonic faith, and the more I go through life (fifty years with Him) the more I realise that so much of the time our own lives are just like theirs. We have so much more knowledge than they had, but we're still learning what it really means to be loved by God.
I hope these comments of this recap will have helped sharpen where we have been and where we are going.