Series Theme: Expectations Meditations
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 10. Foolish Expectations
Ex 5:2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go.”
Expectations are all about ‘anticipated outcomes'. Putting it like that they may be positive or negative anticipations. For most of the time we are focusing on positive anticipations and later on in the series, when we tighten our focus on ‘hope', we will consider the Christian's hope, a ‘confident anticipation built on the promises of God'. In the light of these positive expectations, I hesitate to write this study because in some ways it is so negative, but it is a vitally important lesson in order to understand our whole world and so we will persevere with it.
As we have been working our way through the early chapters of the Bible we come to this terrible story of Pharaoh versus Moses. I recommend you read it in chapters 5 to 14 of Exodus for I will not attempt to cover it all here, Some key points:
The Lord had called Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3 & 4)
Moses had picked up his brother Aaron and they had told the elders what would happen and they received it with worship (Ex 4:27-31)
Moses had approached Pharaoh this first time and he had responded as our verse above indicates.
Moses persisted but Pharaoh simply made the work of the slaves harder (5:3-21)
The Lord reiterated His intentions in detail to Moses (6:1-8) and expanded on this after Moses faltered (7:1-5)
Moses performs his first mini-miracle-sign but Pharaoh's magicians simply copy it (7:8-13) and Pharaoh is not impressed.
Then comes the first of the ‘plagues' – blood (7:14-21) Pharaoh is not impressed
A week later come frogs (8:1-8), then gnats (8:16-19) then flies (8:20-25) and so on.
Now what we start to notice as we read these incidents is that initially the magicians copy the first ‘plagues' and initially Pharaoh rejects them outright, but then comes a long process where he half relents but doesn't! The plagues get progressively worse and it becomes more and more obvious – because Moses is speaking them out before they happen – that it is God doing this, but Pharaoh continues to try to weasel his way out of it and get his way.
These chapters of Exodus, more than any other verses in the Bible, show us the way Sin works in an individual. I have defined ‘Sin' as self-centred godlessness resulting in unrighteousness. It is that self-centred element that is at the heart of all this and is at the heart of the human condition that leads us then to be godless and then to make a mess of life, living contrary to God's design for us (unrighteousness).
Now we just said that expectations are all about ‘anticipated outcomes' and when we read through the story involving Pharaoh we see this; he anticipates that the outcome will be that his will, will prevail and (presumably) God and Moses will give up. When you hold this understanding in the face of these ten plagues that are getting gradually worse, you realise the crass folly of this self-centred godlessness. But there it is, and it is in every single human being.
It may manifest itself in a variety of ways. Like Pharaoh it can be the intense intention to resist God and to deny His will. Alternatively it may be the simple intention to pretend that He is not there and struggle on through life on our own. Now it is a complete mystery why one human being will go to the stupid lengths that Pharaoh went to, while another is completely opened hearted to God, hears Him and responds easily to Him. We speak about the human ‘heart', not meaning the muscle that pumps blood round the body, but the inner being, the inner intentions or, as one dictionary has struggled to put it, “ the central, vital, or main part of a human being, real meaning, essence, core of that being, the center or source of emotions, personality attributes, etc.” The mystery is why one person, e.g. Pharaoh can be ‘hard-hearted' and others ‘open-hearted', but it is like that.
Understanding this is vital to understanding human experience and understanding the message of the Bible. Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) When we see this in operation within Pharaoh, we can see that it sets the mind on foolish thinking that is echoed all around us: “I will get my way! I will do what I want. I don't care about God. He has no power over me.” It is the folly of unbelief that tries to pretend there is no God: “The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." (Psa 14:1, 53:1) and a footnote in your Bible says, “The Hebrew words rendered fool in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” It isn't just an intellectual thing, it is a moral thing.
I headed this study, ‘Foolish Expectations' but it could easily have been ‘Deceived Expectations' or ‘Utterly Unrealistic Expectations' for that is what these ‘hopes' or ‘anticipated outcomes' are that come out of the sinful heart. We recently did a study on Jacob and I have to be honest and say, I catch myself again and again, plotting or planning or scheming to get my own way or prove that I am right, and have to stop and hand it all over to God. When the apostle Paul wrote, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires,” (Rom 6:12) and later, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature,” (Col 3:5) these were commands that recognized that although we have died to sin when we were born again, we find that people, circumstances and Satan constantly challenge us to be self-centred and godless, and we need to make an act of will to reject that approach and purpose not be like that and then to act contrary to that.
You are not immune to it just because you are a Christian. You are different from your non-Christian neighbour because you now have a living relationship with a Saviour and you have been empowered by his Spirit and you have a new goal to work for. So yes, picking up on those last words, we will see later in the series, how our ultimate goal is indeed to act as a motivating force to keeping us on the right track on a daily basis.
So, finally, if we are wise, we will check out ourselves on a regular basis to ensure we have not let the seeds of self-centred godlessness germinate, take root and grow within us, for they lead to unrealistic and foolish expectations. Every time we respond to pride and let it empower our present actions, they lead towards folly and destruction. Every time we let negative thoughts about another settle and grow, we are moving towards self-centred godlessness which is contrary to the Spirit of Christ. It is an ongoing battle, but he is here to help us and works with us to help us overcome. Pharaoh died because he refused to let go his pride and self-centred godlessness and, tragically, that will be the end for multitudes around us who act similarly and refuse to heed the call of God. May that never be you or me.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 11. “It will be all right” Expectations
Ex 32:1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt , we don't know what has happened to him."
The story of Israel and the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai is one I would much rather avoid for it is horrifying on so many levels, but it is the natural follow-on to the thoughts we had about Pharaoh and how the godless human race behaves. Let's cover the details quickly:
Moses goes up the mountain to receive more law from God and stays there forty days (Ex 24:18).
Some of the people down below give up waiting for Moses and demand that Aaron make ‘gods' for them to follow (our verse above)
So Aaron made a golden calf (Ex 32:2-6a) and they offered sacrifices before it.
Then they held a celebration party (32:6b)
Moses comes down, sees the revelry and calls on the Levites to execute all the revellers. Three thousand died. (Ex 32:19-28)
There is a lot more to the story but those are the basics. Left to themselves for forty days without leadership, and Israel turn to idolatry. Now what is so incredible about all this is that Israel had seen the Lord at work:
Through the ten plagues in Egypt (Ex 5-12)
Killing Pharaoh and his army (Ex 14)
Providing miraculously for them on the way to Sinai (Ex 16,17)
With sights and sounds at Sinai (Ex 19,20)
With the revelation of Himself to their leaders who saw Him (Ex 24:9-11)
So how could it possibly be that within a very short while, some of the people (the fact that only 3000 were killed out of a population of possibly nearly 2 million suggests it was only a relatively small number of the whole who did this) seem to forget all they have seen, and they turn to idolatry like other peoples (and they had covenanted to go with God Ex 24:7) and act so badly? For an answer we have to answer, as we did in the previous study, the deceitful human heart.
How is this all about expectations? Well let's try and think of reasons that people act like this – and I suggest we all do in a greater or lesser measure. Oh yes we do; I see it in my own responses and I see it in other people. One month we can be at a great Christian convention committing ourselves body and soul to the Lord, and a month later we are complacent and indifferent and when calls come for people to attend the prayer meeting, the Bible Study, or join an outreach team, we are ‘too busy' or ‘too tired'. Sadly, for some of us, it will get worse. We will do things – and let's not bother to list them – that we know are plain sinful, whether (OK I will list some) watching pornography, making designs on another man's wife or another woman's husband, oh so accidentally it came about! Or we cut corners at work, cheat in exams, falsify accounts, oh the list goes on and on. This is what human beings do – even Christians!!!! How can we do it? It's all about expectations. Let me explain.
Having said that, we must dispose of one truth that isn't about expectations, I believe, and it is the fact of our poor memories and tendency to live for the present. Isn't this why Jesus said of the communion service, “do this in remembrance of me”, because he knew we have the tendency to so easily forget. There are a number of things in the Old Testament as well, where God got Israel to do things that would act as a reminder. It is probably in the realm of sex that ‘immediacy' kicks in most strongly. We know that the forbidden fruit, even just this one time, will have consequences that will develop and wreck our lives, but we push on nevertheless and our lives are never the same again.
But I think the expectation issue in all of these things above, is summed up by the philosophy that Satan got Eve to subscribe to – “It will be all right.” So we see whatever it is in front of us and he whispers, “It will be all right,” and linked with that, “God won't do anything, what does He care about this, it's such a small thing.” But the truth is that it isn't such a small thing, it's the start of something which, if He doesn't step in and act, will multiply and multiply and get right out of control. It is the false and foolish belief that these things DON'T have consequences that releases human beings to do foolish things that run contrary to God's design.
Israel were supposed to be a light to the rest of the world, revealing the Lord to His world, revealing His ways to the rest of the world. Forgetting the past year and giving way to present desires was foolish and went directly against the very reason God had set Israel free from Egypt and was taking them to their own new land. They may have thought, “It will be all right, Moses is not here, God isn't watching, nothing will happen,” but that was deception and we know where that comes from. Moses did return, God was watching and this could not be permitted to continue, and a simple scolding would not achieve that. Drastic steps were required.
How do we counter such things? Overcome evil with good, the Scriptures teach, so how do we do that. We fill our hearts and minds with His word as we meditate on it daily. We pray and seek His face daily. We worship with all our hearts. We give ourselves over to His purposes and declare ourselves available to Him on a daily basis and we listen for the leading of His Spirit to be a blessing to those around us. And we also remain alert to resist unwise courses of action. We steer clear of temptation and avoid compromising situations as far as it is possible. If we fail and fall, repentance is the start of the way back and seeking His grace. It's not the end – but it's better if we can avoid falling off the rails to start with!
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 12. Reality versus Possibility
Judg 6:11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.
We're about to consider another of my favourite incidents in the Old Testament, that has so much of significance about it. The context is clearly stated: “ Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel , neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help.” (Judg 6:1-6)
Now I've titled this study ‘Reality versus Possibility' and the verses above are the reality of life in Israel at that moment, They were a people that had turned from the Lord and so the Lord lifted off His hand of protection from over them, so that the Midianites invaded the land and oppressed Israel. That is why there is such irony in our starting verse: Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press which, in those days, was a dip in the ground and he's doing it there because he is hiding from the Midianites of whom he is afraid. Yes, that is the reality of this situation.
What is the reality for the Christian living in the West today? Well in most of the advanced Western nations Christianity appears in the decline and the world about largely derides Christians and their voice is muted. In America , much of its voice is associated with a particular political party and because of that has lost much of its uniqueness and is far from the pattern of the New Testament. In the UK it is such a minority that even where it is thriving, it is a battle against the world around it. In Western nations Christians are struggling to cope with materialism and relativistic morality that permits things that the Bible calls unrighteous and ungodly. Both the USA and the UK are struggling with changes that have come from changes in thinking and the outcomes are unclear and perhaps even questionable (that may bring the clear judgment of God). In many places the Church is inward looking and the majority in society continue with little or no knowledge. The quality of church life is far from the New Testament standards. That again is reality; you may disagree if your experience is different but the picture I have painted is largely true across both nations.
Now here's the question: does it have to stay like that? Israel had started crying out to the Lord and so we find, first of all, a prophet coming to the land with a message of confrontation of their sin (see v.7-10) and you might have thought that that was the end of it – this reality would continue as it was – but the Lord deals in possibilities. So, he sends an angel to Gideon and this is where it starts getting funny. Here is this little man hiding away in fear and the angel says, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior .” (v.12) Gideon splutters over this and says, look at the reality of our situation, how can you say God is with us? But the Lord just turns to him and says, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?” (v.14) This is a little like Moses at the burning bush. “Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel ? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (v.15) i.e. I'm a nobody! The Lord replies, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.” (v.16) and so it turns out.
Notice the characteristics of this: 1. Gideon IS a nobody but 2. The Lord obviously knows his potential, what He can do with him, and so 3. Sends him to deliver Israel , but 4. Says He will be with him and will be part of it. We have moved from the reality of the situation to consider the possibilities of the situation. If God says He's going to sort the Midianites – and use Gideon to do it – He WILL do it.
So what does God feel about our situation today? Well certainly He must be angry with two nations who have known His blessing in the past in such measure, but there are also signs, despite how we have described the overall picture, that He IS moving in His Church where they are open to Him. And that seems to be the key issue – are the people of God open to His leading. With some encouragement, Gideon did get on with it and Israel were delivered. It happened in stages, but it did happen.
First of all it needs a people who will look at their situation and say, “This is NOT how God wants it!” Does God want a little church that huddles fearfully making no impact on society? No. Does He want a mega-church where people get spiritually fat, sitting and listening to affluent preachers whose lifestyles are the exact opposite of Jesus of Nazareth, who run church like a corporate business? Definitely not!
So what are the signs of a church that is operating on New Testament lines? Yes, they will study the Bible, and yes they will pray and worship but they will not be pew-fodder. They will be Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered people who are able to minister revelation and power to one another – and to the world outside. They will be serving the community and opening the hearts of the community to receive the love and the word of the Lord and His salvation.
And in case you wonder when I say ‘they' that is not just leaders, that is the whole congregation. Now if your church is not like that, face the reality of where it is but see the possibility of where God wants it to be, and pray and seek His grace and His wisdom and declare your availability to be used to help bring it from the present reality into the glorious possibility that the New Testament reveals.
If you find yourself making excuses why you can't be part of that, then you are in the place of Gideon - but the Lord IS with you. Listen to Him and follow what he says. He will have specific instructions for you in your particular life circle and when you follow them, get ready for change! Hallelujah!
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 13. Expectation Boundaries
Judg 13:24,25 The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him
The Judges Context: The story of Samson is not one of my favourite stories but like so many, as we are perhaps beginning to see, it is full of expectations. We are still in Judges and so the setting is familiar: “ Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.” (Jud 13:1) Now what is intriguing is that mostly the Lord waited for Israel to cry out in repentance before He would bring a deliverer, but on this occasion He gave up waiting and took the initiative.
Childless Transformation: And it's yet another of those ‘childless' stories of which there are so many in the Bible: “A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless,” (v.2) but, “The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, "You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.” (v.3) He then tells her, “Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” (v.4,5) I have quoted so much here because it makes it very clear that from the outset, even before he is conceived, Samson is chosen of God to deliver Israel and the Lord expects him to be set apart for his ministry. So we've already had a change of expectations from a childless future to a future with a saviour son. How dramatic a change is that!
Be Understanding: Now it's a tricky story so we need to lay out some basics. First , God does not MAKE us be the sort of people we are but, as we saw with Jacob and Esau, second , God KNOWS what we will be like. Now here's the big thing: third , God will even take and use our folly and failures for His purposes, which are of course always to bless His people and bless His world. Now bear all that in mind when you read Samson's story.
The Samson Story: He turns out to be a strong minded, self-centred, sensuous young man. Let's short circuit the story and just summarise the start of it:
He spots a Philistine woman (remember v.1 the Philistines were oppressing Israel ) and wants her for his wife (14:1-4) and is not put off by his parents' concerns.
The power of the Lord is revealed when Samson kills a young lion with his bare hands (14:5,6) Later he took honey from the lion's carcass (14:8,9)
At his wedding feast he taunted the Philistines there with a riddle based on the honey from the wild bees' nest in the lion's carcass (14:10-14) which for three days they failed to get. The Philistines lean on his new wife and after a week of pleading he gives in and tells her and she tells them. Samson goes and, under the power of the Lord, kills thirty Philistines and gives their clothes as the promised prize for guessing the riddle and then leaves his wife (14:15-20)
When he went back later to reclaim his wife, he finds she has been given to another and so he sets all their fields on fire, together with their vineyards and olive groves (15:1-5) In the foray that ensues, he kills more Philistines (15:6-8)
The men of Judah are now feeling threatened and tie Samson up and hand him over to the Philistines but he simply snapped the ropes in the power of the Lord and then killed a thousand Philistines (15:9-17)
And so the story goes on and on revealing a) the folly of Samson, b) the power of the Lord and c) the destruction of the Philistines. In the end game Samson dies taking down the Philistine rulers in their temple (read Jud 15 & 16) Israel are delivered.
Lessons: This is a story that suggests that it would have been helpful to have a prophet of the Lord somewhere around in the background who could have explained at the time what was going on. It is only later when the story is written down that the scribe reveals the hand of the Lord obviously there, empowering Samson, even in his folly, to bring the downfall of the Philistine oppressors.
Warning to ‘Instruments': Your life and ministry may mean that you are an instrument in the hands of the Lord. You may bring great blessing, freedom and deliverance even, to God's people but that does not give you a license to act in a self-centred way. God will still hold you accountable. Over the years, I have watched various anointed leaders who were starting to reveal more of self than of God and God disciplined each of them. If we abuse the name of the Lord or take Him for granted, He will simply lift off His hand of protection from us and we will go one step too far and a ministry comes tumbling round our ears. In my lifetime there have been a number of Christian leader ‘casualties' but in each case, no in most cases, the Lord spared their lives but brought discipline.
Warning to Watchers: If you watch the goings on of ‘great leaders' be careful not to glorify them. There is a lot of that, especially on the American Christian TV circuit. As I have watched I have concluded that where there are mega-churches, mega ministries and big Christian TV shows, it almost seems impossible to avoid stardom status, but be warned, God will not share His glory. If you were around watching Samson, you would no doubt have marveled at his immense strength as the Spirit came on him – but it was the Lord's strength and He was out to deliver His people. Trying to catch the big picture, the Lord must have known exactly what Samson would be like but nevertheless decided to use that in the absence of anyone else around at the time who could have done it in a better way. As we see at the Cross (see Acts 2:23) God will take and use the sinful acts of men (who He doesn't MAKE act like that) for His ultimate purposes.
There are Consequences: Samson expected that he could get away with that carnal outlook on life but he had to learn that if you live like that you need to expect life to go pear-shaped. It is a lesson that millions today in the West don't seem to be learning. There are consequences to that lifestyle and they should be heeded. How long, I wonder, will it be before our societies come to their senses and realise this and repent, and turn back to God. There are boundaries set in life by God – they are what I refer to as God's design for mankind. God expects us to live within those boundaries; so many people expect that they can get away with it when they cross those boundaries. They have wrong expectations.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 14. The Cry of Anguish
1 Sam 1:1,2 There was a certain man from Ramathaim…. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
The number of women in the Bible who initially appeared barren may cause some surprise. We've already seen Abraham's Sarai, and Isaac's Rebekah and even Samson's mother. Each one provides a case study of anguish and calling on God for help – which He does bring, but perhaps none of them is as distressed as Hannah in the first chapter of 1 Samuel. The thing about barrenness is that there is this natural expectation in a woman to be able to bear a child, and that is being frustrated, and what is worse is that there is nothing you can do about it.
Hannah's anguish of childlessness is accentuated by the fact that she is one of two wives of this man. Admittedly her husband tried to compensate for her situation “because he loved her ” (v.5) but that only stirred a competitive spirit in the other woman that made her nasty to Hannah (v.6). The ongoing situation caused such anguish in Hannah that she wept (v.7). But love and weeping don't change barrenness. The key event that perhaps opened the door to change occurred at Shiloh where the Tent of the Lord was situation and people went to worship God. At their annual visit Hannah was in such anguish that he poured her heart out to the Lord: “ In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.” (v.10,11)
Now before we carry on we might do well to note something that has appeared twice already in the story: “to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb . And because the LORD had closed her womb , her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her.” (v.5,6) The perception was that God is the withholder of life and the bringer of life, but what is the bigger truth here?
Does God ‘play' with human beings, especially women, causing them great anguish. I believe the bigger truth is that, because of the Fall, things go wrong. Because of the presence of Sin the world does not work perfectly as originally designed and that includes all of us, so our bodies break down and we get ill or we suffer infirmity or malfunction or mis-function, and so barrenness is just another of those things that occur as a result of the malfunctioning fallen world. The only problem about this, from our side of things, is that sickness etc. etc. strikes not according to individual guilt but randomly. Someone carrying the flu virus has close contact with me and pass it to me (which is why the elderly are wise to have injections). There is no link with guilt here. I am guilty of being a sinful member of a sinful human race and therefore there are times when I suffer simply for being a member of this human race, not because I have just committed some terrible sin! And the same thing applies to barrenness.
Now of course God could step in and heal instantly every case of malfunction but He is reticent to keep on overriding our self-sovereignty. He waits until we call. In our anguish and distorted thinking we may blame Him, for yes, He could keep us from such things but that would change the nature of design where negative consequences follow misuse. If I misuse my body it is likely to break down and it is foolish to demand God override my folly. But Hannah, and many other ladies like her demonstrate it is not their fault they are in anguish. If it helps, when we see God in close-up in the form of Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus, we see Him anguishing in tears for the anguish of those around him. God does not stand afar off stony-hearted.
The expectation of many people in this world, as they view life and the difficulties of life in this fallen world, is that God is cold and callous, and even if they concede He is not the specific author of our woes, they anticipate that he will stand afar off, uncaring. That is not the God who left the comfort and security of heaven, came and dwelt in human form, that of a vulnerable baby, lived on the earth for some thirty or so years, died on a Cross for our sins, rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven. That was a God who gets His hands dirty, so to speak, a God who comes alongside and, wherever given the chance, brings healing and blessing. That is what the incredible revelation of Jesus Christ shows us. – and yet he wept with us.
But what was the outcome of this particular story? The Lord intervenes and enables Hannah to conceive and Samuel is born and Samuel will be the last of the Judges to rule Israel and become a transition between the period of Judges and the period of kings, and he will do that because he is also a prophet! Would Samuel have been that if Hannah had had no problem conceiving? I don't know. All I do know is what happened: in the prevailing situation caused by the fallen world, the outcome was that when God intervened, a saviour for Israel was born and because Hannah was so desperate, she was happy for her child to be brought up on the presence of God at Shiloh as that saviour, one who would have a closer relationship with the Lord than was normal then.
No expectation of a child, then expectation of change through an anguished prayer, and then, who knows what – because we have not had a judge like this before. This is a new day. What am I saying? This whole matter of expectations is wrapped up in the sovereignty and maybe even the providence of God (His sovereign moving behind the scenes) and so from our point of view it is not entirely clear what is going on. As we saw in the outset of this series, sometimes expectations arise when God speaks clearly (Abram). Sometimes there are natural expectations of life (Isaac) but it is at that point as we see here again, that it can start getting murky. In this fallen world, natural expectations don't always work out as we expect. The lesson is to hold them lightly, but hold our relationship with the Lord ever more tightly. The future may be unclear to us, but it is not to Him. The future may be limited from our perspective but when He steps in, anything is possible. Let's remember that.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 15. Don't Mess with God
1 Sam 5:1,2 After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon's temple and set it beside Dagon.
As much as I would like to move on to deal with expectations we may have as Christians – expectations of blessings – while we remain in the Old Testament we must accept the lessons that come through there, and if we think them negative, that is because we have never perhaps considered the seriousness of the ‘bad news' of the Bible, that sinners should not mess with God but put their lives right with Him – and we're all sinners. Having done some fairly in-depth studies in the Old Testament, my conclusion why it is there is twofold: 1. To reveal the glory and greatness of God. 2. To reveal the folly and sinfulness of mankind and the need we have of salvation.
I would add that I find two faults that often appear in modern Christianity. First, that ‘Sin' has gone out of fashion and so it is only dealt with in a legalistic condemnatory sort of way, so we fail to see the depth of the problem of sin, both before we come to Christ and, indeed as something to be rejected as a spoiler of the Christian life. Second, because of that, we so often fail to see the wonder of the Christian life and experience, failing to appreciate and apprehend the full wonder of what Jesus has done for us and the wonder of life in the Spirit that he has opened up for us.
So here, back still in the Old Testament, there are lessons to be faced, very real lessons that impact on modern day living as much now as then. We come to a time when the period of the judges is almost over. Eli the priest is coming to the end of his time, Samuel has just been called by God and Israel are at war with the Philistines – and the Philistines have just won a battle over Israel . This had already happened once (1 Sam 4:1,2) and so the people of Israel rashly decided their failure was because God was not with them (that part was true), and so they would take the ark of the covenant with them into battle the next time (4:3,4) – but that was superstitious folly. So the Lord allowed them to be defeated and the ark taken. Now I think He allowed that, not so much as to lose the ark but to show Israel that they couldn't use Him as a talisman or good luck charm. However He would also use this incident to teach the Philistines some things about Him.
Now on to expectations. First Israel : they expected that if they took the ark with them it would force God to turn up for them. Wrong! Repentance would do that, but they weren't ready to do that yet. Second the Philistines: they expected the ark to be just another representative of just another ‘god' who they half believed in, gods who they sought to appease because it is sometimes a hard world and you need every bit of help you can get, and if this works, so be it. That is what is behind so much idolatry (worshipping idols representing ‘gods'), not any real relationship with a deity. All such ‘gods' were of course, mere figments of superstitious, fearful, human imagination. Isn't that how some people still treat God today – some superstitious entity to be appeased or placated in an endeavour to get help to handle this fallen world?
The story of what follow is worth a reading, if for no other reason than to get a laugh, but the better reason is to see the sovereignty and power of God Almighty, the Creator God of all things. Let's summarise what happened:
The Philistines put the ark next to the idol of Dagon their god. After all, the god of Israel is just another god, isn't he.
Next morning Dagon is found flat on his face (5:3) and when they replace him, next morning, he's flat on his face again but now headless and with no hands (5:4)
Then the people of Ashdod , where the ark was, all start suffering from bad tumours or maybe boils and so send the ark to another group (5:6-8)
The same thing is repeated in Gath (5:9) and then Ekron where it got worse and people started dying (5:9-12)
To cut a long story short the ark was returned to Israel (6:1-12)
What we have here is an example of how God looked after His own image. We need to learn a lesson: God does not need defending. When He is rejected by a people or nation, that nation starts falling apart. We might say it is the way He has designed us and so, when people start living contrary to that design, it all starts going wrong, but as much as that is true, it is more than that: He lifts off His hands of protection and even invites the enemy to have free reign until people come to their senses (and that may take a long time).
However, all the while He will have His representatives, His people, there as a testimony, there as a witness for Him and He longs to bless us in the midst of the rebellious nations of the West, so that we will stand out as demonstrations of His love, His power and His revelation. That is what we can expect in the midst of this fallen world and being part of nations that have largely rejected Him. He will deal with these nations, but in the meanwhile He wants you and me to be His representatives as the body of Christ, revealing Him to whoever's hearts are beginning to soften and turn and look for answers to the mess. At the moment, these nations, just like the Philistines, think they can play with God – largely reject Him but maybe play lip service to Him, allow Him to be mention as big state occasions and so on, but not be Lord.
That is their folly and the fruit of that is being seen in the breakdown of society in so many ways, with unrighteousness being seen again and again at the very top levels. Some of us tolerate this as the best of two evils, but we are called to stand out and reject ANY injustice, any unrighteous tweets, words, dealings or whatever, by whatever party. If we fail to do that, we align ourselves with unrighteousness and that will probably be seen in other ways as well – family unfaithfulness, break-up of marriages, rebellious out-of-control children, financial difficulties, chaos and confusion in general.
If we will not stand out as a holy, righteous, just, loving, caring and serving people, we align ourselves with the people of Israel in Samuel's day, thinking we can get away with it because ‘we are the people of God' and our expectations are false for, as the apostle Peter said, “ it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God,” (1 Pet 4:17). When God comes to do a clear-up job, He starts with His own people and then moves on to the world. That's what we see in the first part of 1 Samuel, and we should heed the lessons. In a day when we rightly emphasise the grace and goodness of God, we should also remember that we cannot use that to excuse our infidelities. May we hear it today.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 16. Beware Appearances
1 Sam 16:1,2 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD's anointed stands here before the LORD." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
When it comes to the kingdom of God, there is one particular area in respect of expectations where we can get it spectacularly wrong, and it is the area of what we think of people when we see them. These opening verses of 1 Sam 16 are some of my favourite verses in the Old Testament, because there is so much humour behind them. The Lord tells Samuel to go to Bethlehem to anoint a man of his choosing to be the new king, because Saul has fallen down on the job and one of these days will need replacing. He sends Samuel to the family of Jesse, a local dignitary. He has a number of sons so Samuel asks for them to be lined up so he can bless them.
They come in order of age and so Samuel starts with the oldest who also looks big and tough and thinks, this must be the one. But the Lord has other ideas and declares this very significant principle: “The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” So he works his way along the line and still the Lord hasn't indicated this is the one. I can imagine him praying silently, “Lord, I've run out of sons. What do I do?” He turns to Jesse and asks if these are all the sons: “There is still the youngest," Jesse answered, "but he is tending the sheep.” Now that is like Jesse is saying, “Well, yes, I do have another one but he's not worth considering because he's just the youngest and he's the one who looks after the sheep.
Now when we think about the Shepherds in the Nativity story we tend to remind ourselves that they were the outcasts of society who were always out in the hills with their sheep and not able to join in the life of society. And this is David, and from what he tells Saul later on, he's obviously been doing it for some time and making a good job of it, fighting off bears and lions (17:34-36), but as far as the family is concerned he's not likely to be someone the important prophet – the religious man – is likely to be concerned with.
Our problem is that so often we cannot see the heart of a person and so we go by what they look like, and we measure them but what they have done or achieved in life so far and if they tend to be poor, or don't appear special we so often tend to write them off. Or like those in the Bible, we tend to measure them by their social position. For them the oldest son was always the most important, but that had nothing to do with their heart, which is what God is concerned about.
We've already recently considered the children Rebekah was expecting when the Lord spoke to her and warned her that they would turn out differently to what might be expected: “the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23) We find something similar when Jacob is blessing Joseph's sons (see Gen 48:8-22), and he gave a greater blessing to the younger son, to Joseph's displeasure, but the giving of a blessing is the equivalent of speaking prophecy over them and true prophecy is always the Lord's will for the person. The Lord knows the potential of the individual, He alone knows the state of their heart and indeed what they are capable of.
The amazing and beautiful thing about personal prophecy is that the Lord works on a person's future potential, not merely what they are now. We cannot see this but He can, which is why He told Samuel not to go by outward appearances. The truth is that the Lord has higher expectations of us than we do. We so often struggle, because of the knocks of life, with low self esteem. Because of our past failures or because of the things unkind, insensitive and thoughtless people have said about us in the past, we so often think little of ourselves, but the Lord doesn't go so much on the past as what He sees inside us, what sort of heart we have, and what He knows He can do with it.
When Saul had blown it, Samuel spoke prophetically: “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command.” (1 Sam 13:14) even though it had not happened yet; in the prophetic realm, which so often operates outside of time, this was God's will and it was merely a matter of it now coming about, which is what we have seen in chapter 16. The Lord chose David because He saw his heart, saw he was a young man after God, and we see that in subsequent chapters which we'll go on to consider in the next study.
In the kingdom of God it is not what we think about people that matters so much, but what God thinks about them. Yes, He loves every person, but this is all about the persons individuality, what they are like as individuals, and thus what He can do with them.
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 17. The Waiting Game
1 Sam 16:1b Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem . I have chosen one of his sons to be king."
Yesterday we saw Samuel in this same chapter being obedient to the word in our verse above, but that was all about Samuel's expectations. Now we move on to the expectations that David must have had, and how they worked out.
The Present: First of all observe the present circumstances. The Lord has referred to a new king in the verses above. When David appears, “ the LORD said, "Rise and anoint him; he is the one." (v.12) i.e. there is no question but that Samuel is anointing David to be the new king: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.” (v.13) Now there is a question mark over the record: did Samuel make clear to David that this is what he was doing? He does not say it in the record. Sometime later when David fled to the Philistines we read, “the servants of Achish said to him, "Isn't this David, the king of the land?” (1 Sam 21:11a) but that was only because of what they heard had been said in Israel : “Isn't he the one they sing about in their dances: " `Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands'?" (v.11b) Similarly, later still, Jonathan said to David, “Don't be afraid, My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel , and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.” (23:17) but again that was possibly not because of what happened at Bethlehem, but simply because of his rise to fame. It is probable that Samuel would have said something to David but it is not made public and David, in his humility, does not refer to it.
The Future: So let's summarise what went on in the following months and years:
David carries on looking after his father's sheep..
Because of Saul's need, David enters his service to play the harp and be a part-time armour bearer for Saul (1 Sam 16:14-23).
Nevertheless David still looked after his fathers sheep (17:15), eventually killed Goliath (and we'll consider that tomorrow) (17:48-51), stayed with Jonathan (18:1,2) and entered Saul's army (18:5) and was so successful that it started making Saul hate him (18:6-9).
Twice Saul sought to kill David while he was with him (18:10,11 & 19:9,10).
When Saul gives the instruction that David is to be killed (19:1) David eventually flees and leaves the army and fled to the Philistines (21:10) at Gath .
He leaves Gath and settles in Adullam (22:1) and collects a mini-army of followers (22:2) and carried our guerilla warfare against the Philistines (23:1-5).
Twice Saul came after him and his men and twice David refused to take the opportunity to kill Saul (24:3-22 & 26:1-25).
David escapes to the Philistines for protection from Saul and joins them (27:1-6) but carried on his guerilla tactics against the enemies of Israel (27:8-12).
Eventually Saul is killed in a battle with the Philistines (31:1-).
David is made king over Judah (2 Sam 2:1-4) and reigned there for seven and a half years until all Israel made him king (2 Sam 5:1-5).
Israel 's Expectation: It is only then that there is any reference to any prophetic words: “In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the LORD said to you , `You will shepherd my people Israel , and you will become their ruler.' " (2 Sam 5:2) but one wonders if that refers back to a word spoken by Samuel to Saul which was public, when he rebuked him: “But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command,” (13:14) or whether more had been said and it had got out when Samuel had anointed him.
The Time Factor: The main point here, which we would do well to learn, is that between the time of being anointed, and possibly having a prophetic word spoken over him, to the time when he eventually became king over all Israel, many things happened, many of them not good. We've seen that before in the case of Joseph and it frequently happens with us. We need to distinguish between prophetic words that are time-specific, e.g. “This time next year you will have a baby,” and the more general ones such as, “the Lord is giving you a ministry of leadership where you will be known for your perseverance and strength of character.” That latter sort are the ones that involve process. How do you learn to persevere? You are given tough, slow, difficult circumstances! How do you develop strength of character? Time and trials and tribulations!
Changing Lives: The Lord uses the experiences of this fallen world to develop us. When the apostle Peter said, “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love,” (2 Pet 1:5-7) he was inviting our cooperation in these things. To achieve that list you need time and change – your change! And that change comes about as you cope with life in this fallen world. The end result? You are anointed, filled with the Spirit, and with the character of Jesus, and you are a blessing to the world, just like the Lord intended. The ways of the fallen world surround us and hinder our lives and are there for us to deal with by His grace, so we might as well let them change us, knock off the rough corners and so on, and make us more usable!
I drive a nail in my own coffin, if I may put it like that, when I pray every day, ‘Please Lord use me,” because I know His word indicates that those He loves He disciplines (Heb 12:6) which means trains and transforms and that is what this is all about. He loves us just as we are but He loves us so much He wants something better for us than we have at the present, and that means us being changed, and change means process and process means time. He will be there with us every moment, and His grace will be available for us, but it is still a process of change.
The Future Goal: If you think it is tough sometimes, then look past the present to what He is achieving through this: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) There it is; Jesus looked past the Cross to the joy beyond it, to the wonder of the kingdom being established and millions being set free and brought into the divine family. Look past the present process and know it is going somewhere and that ‘somewhere' is glorious, even here on this earth! Hallelujah!
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 18. Do Giants Exist?
1 Sam 17:26 David asked the men standing near him, "What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel ? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?"
Whereas yesterday we did an overview of David's time before becoming king, now we focus on one particular episode of that time – the killing of Goliath, Let's remind ourselves of the basics of the story:
The Philistines gather about 15 miles west of Bethlehem near the Philistine border (1 Sam 17:1). Israel go out to meet them (v.2)
The Philistines had a champion named Goliath, a giant of a man in armour who came out each day and challenged Israel to send someone against him (v.4-10).
Israel were dismayed by this and the two armies faced each other on hillsides on opposite sides of the valley for 40 days while this continued (v.11,16).
David was sent by his father with supplies for his brothers (v.17-20).
When David arrived and saw the ‘giant' he wondered what would be done for the man who takes down Goliath. This annoys his brothers but he is taken to Saul and reassures him that he can take him (v.23-37).
Saul dresses him in armour but he puts it off and goes and kills Goliath with his sling (v.38-50)
Israel 's Expectation: Now those are the basics of the story but it is David's attitude behind these facts that are the important thing, his expectations of this situation. Before we look at him we should perhaps observe the expectations of the rest of the army of Israel . When Goliath first appeared, they were “dismayed and terrified” (v.11). They allowed his size to immobilise them and, indeed, whenever he came they “all ran from him in great fear” (v.24) Whenever I read this story I find myself marvelling as to why Saul didn't just send ten of his best men to take this ‘giant' down, and I suspect the answer is the same mind set that so often prevailed among kings and generals for centuries, that war was to be carried out in gentlemanly style. There is nothing gentlemanly about war. It is the last resort of sinful men. But my suggestion does give a clue on how to take down ‘giants'. Israel 's expectation? To be killed by the giant.
David's Expectation: But back to David. Listen to his words. First: “ What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel ? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (v.26) Note first of all, “this Philistine ” not ‘this giant'. Then, “this uncircumcised Philistine”. Everyone else sees a giant. David just sees him as another enemy of God. That is emphasised by his second reference which implies, “who is this character who has no relationship with the living God like we do?”
When Saul calls him to come an account for his words and he assures him he can handle it, he concludes, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (v.37) David is confident in his relationship with the Lord. He knows what the Lord has enabled him to do in the past and his expectation is that the Lord will do the same now.
Finally as he approaches Goliath and Goliath mocks him, David delivers the following declaration: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel , whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel . All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (v.45-47) Brilliant! Wonderful! What an incredible young believer! i.e. this is God's battle because you attack His people and so He will hand you over to me. You are dead meat! End of story. Let's get on with it! And he slays him with his sling.
Giants? Now I have titled this particular study, “Do giants exist?” because it is all about expectations and David did not see this Philistine as a ‘giant'. Looking up ‘giant', the first definition given by Goggle is “an imaginary or mythical being of human form but superhuman size” and only later as “of very great size or force”. A giant, I want to suggest, is anyone or anything we consider to be much bigger then us that has greater power than we have and is a threat to us – and so often, therefore, is worthy of our fear.
All about Perspective: The lesson of this story screams at us, “It's all about perspective!” David just saw another enemy of God to be taken down by God through him. He had a godly perspective. Saul and the army of Israel had a godless perspective – they gave no thought to God and just saw themselves confronted by a problem far bigger than themselves, and so seriously scary. When Israel 's spies first came back from checking out the Promised Land, they declared, “they are stronger than we are,” (Num 13:31) and “The people are stronger and taller than we are.” (Deut 1:28) [Indeed they went on to suggest there were giants in the Land – Num 13:33] Both references remind us that these were godless excuses. The Lord had told them He was giving them the land but all they could do was focus on the problems to be overcome. They forgot Him.
Our Giants? What are the ‘giants' in your ‘land', your life? What are the things that we permit to dominate our thinking and limit our walk with Christ and our spiritual growth? Whatever they are, it is just a matter of perspective. Does God want these things to prevail in your life? No, He doesn't! He has adopted us and made us part of His family with all of His resources available to us, A ‘giant' can be anything that dominates our thinking, the sort of things I've referred to before – relational breakdowns, rebellious children, unbelieving members of close family, failures, financial difficulties, health problems; all of these sort of things can blight our lives if we let them and cause anxiety within us.
Towards an Answer: So the first step in the answer: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) It is a promise – peace – but it is conditional on us expressing our relationship with the Lord in prayer. A short while later Paul was to say, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13) and elsewhere he said, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8) The apostle Peter said the same thing: “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Pet 1:3)
Will we believe these promises of God, will we get a right godly perspective. Oh, I mentioned a clue to help above – you are not alone; you are part of the body of Christ. Find a godly person with whom you can share your heart and your burden and let them bless you. Don't let the ‘giant' prevail!
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Expectations & Hopes Meditations: 19. Expectations Recap 2
Earlier on, in study no.9 we paused up and carried out a recap to see where we had been. Focusing on individual stories sometimes means we lose the thread of the overall idea that is being conveyed and so it seems wise to pause up again at the this point to refocus the studies since that last Recap and see what they have been telling us. I hope by doing this, it will clarify the teaching and help us see where, in our own thinking perhaps, we need to think again.
In the second group (since the Recap 1 in Study 9) we faced these ‘anticipated outcomes' that human beings have and especially outcomes that are false, unrealistic and, frankly, silly. We started by considering Pharaoh with his false expectation that he could outwit and outlast God (Ex 5:2). We then considered the folly of some of the people at Mount Sinai in the incident with the Golden Calf (Ex 32:1) and, as we wondered how they could possibly have done that, we realised it was from the “It will be all right” mentality that Satan suggested in the Garden of Eden and which still prevails as the primary excuse in sinful humanity.
But then we returned to safer ground, the expectations that are brought by God when our self-esteem is low but He can see possibilities, and we saw this in the case of Gideon (Jud 6:11). But Judges is a very mixed history book and when we observed the case study of Samson (Jud 13:24,25) we saw a young man whose expectations were all about pleasing himself regardless of his calling; we also saw how God understood this and used it as a means of using Samson as the current saviour for Israel.
When we moved from Judges to 1 Samuel we saw the anguish of Hannah (1 Sam 1:1,12) caused by frustrated expectations and how the Lord took it to set up the environment for Samuel her son, to operate as a prophet. This was followed by the incident of the distressed Philisti nes who took the ark of God (1 Sam 5:1,2) and then suffered the consequences. They came to realise that their expectation that the ark was simply a symbol of just another god, proved wrong.
As history moved on, we saw Samuel being told to anoint a new king from the family of Jesse and David being chosen (1 Sam 16:1,2). Samuel's expectations of what a new king might look like, were proved wrong. We need to align our expectations with God's, our standards and values with His. With David anointed as king , we might have expected history to move on rapidly to enable him to take the role but such expectations had to be put aside as we realise that God moves more slowly as He allows history to pan out naturally. During the waiting process, we saw David come to the fore in the incident of killing Goliath (1 Sam 17:26) where David's expectations starkly contrast with those of Israel . They saw Goliath as a terror, David saw him as just another enemy soldier without a relationship with God, and so a prime target to be taken down.
Scanning over this list of studies since the last recap, we see that in reality in most of these studies we have examples of wrong or false expectations – things people thought for the future that got them in trouble or proved to be out of kilter with God's ways of looking at things. Let's list them again to see that:
I can outwit God (Pharaoh). No you can't. X
We can get away with our foolish behaviour (Gold Calf revellers). No you can't. X
We have to tolerate enemy oppression (Gideon). No we don't! Z
It's OK to be a self-centred, self-pleasing charismatic (Samson) No it's not. X
I am stuck with the anguish of the fallen world (Hannah). Not with God, you're not. Z
We can treat God as just another human invention (Philistines). No you can't. X
In the kingdom, big is best (Samuel). No it's not. Y
The ‘instant' world is God's world (David). No it's not. Y
We are stuck with enemy ‘giants' (Goliath). With God, no we're not. Z
Wrong ways of thinking, wrong expectations. So common in human thinking, including Christians' thinking. Of those nine examples,
four of them are about wrong perceptions about God and I have marked them with an X,
two of them are about wrong assessments of how the kingdom works, and I have marked them with a Y to make them stand out, and
the remaining three , which I have marked with a Z, are about how the enemy makes us think we are stuck with a situation in the fallen world where we are being oppressed by the negativity of it – but God wants us to learn to rise up in prayer and bring change to it.
So let's refocus those areas. First wrong ideas about God. We would hope that it is only the foolish atheist who hangs on to the silly thoughts about God, but sometimes Christians get led astray in their thinking in similar ways. Satan gets us to do that when we allow ourselves to be kidded that God isn't watching, God doesn't mind or God won't do anything about my shortcomings. Fortunately or unfortunately for you and me, God loves us and “ the Lord disciplines those he loves.” (Heb 12:6). Warnings may come again and again, but because He loves us, if we fail to heed the warnings, beware, sometime the rug is going to be pulled out from under you.
Second wrong kingdom thinking. The world around us teaches us that big is best, beautiful people are the best, clever planning and scheming is best, human wisdom is best, advertising as the world advertises is best; these are the ways the church will grow, these are the way the kingdom will grow. Well actually, no! If they do appear to work it is only a temporary phenomena and the end result is not the real thing anyway. In the kingdom of God it is all about the Spirit's leading and the Spirit's power, and all about people before plans, relationships before methods. It involves time, love, care, compassion and above all, love for God.
Third, powerless oppression. This I observe again and again in the modern church. There may be so many good signs, and yet I still see those who are oppressed by their circumstances. Yes, they may be childless. Yes, I see those whose partners are still unbelievers. There are those with such low self-esteem because of the hurts and rejections they have received through life. In all these cases there hangs over them a cloud of despair: this is how it is and I can see no way of it changing. David would say your ‘problem' is like the uncircumcised Philistine, a prime target to be taken down. When Jesus came, he declared, with Isaiah, this is “the year of the LORD's favor” (Lk 4:17,18, Isa 61:1-3) but, even more, the Isaiah prophecy said, he had come “to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-- to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isa 61:2,3) This is God's desire for you and me. May it be so.