Trusting God First

The Israelites of Jeremiah’s day believed they could trust in their army, the diplomacy of their king, and their foreign alliances to protect them from the powerful Babylonian empire. They gave lip service to their trust in God, but their actions showed where their faith really was: in their military and financial might. God spoke through Jeremiah to warn them that He would not bless those who trusted in anyone or anything instead of Him.

Placing your ultimate trust in anything other than God is idolatry. How can you know if your faith is not truly in God? Ask yourself these questions: Where do I turn when I experience a crisis? When I am hurting or afraid, to whom do I go? When I have a financial problem, whom do I want to tell first? Where do I seek comfort when I am under stress or discouraged?

Could it be that you are saying you trust in God but your actions indicate otherwise? God often uses other people as His method of providing for you. Be careful lest you inadvertently misdirect your faith toward His provision instead of toward the Provider. God may meet your need through your friends, but ultimately your trust must be in God.

The Israelites were so stubbornly committed to trusting in human strength instead of God that, even as the Babylonian army approached Jerusalem, they continued to desperately seek for a person, or a nation, or an army that could rescue them. They realized too late that they had neglected to trust in the only One who could deliver them.

Don’t make the same mistake as the Israelites. Go straight to the Lord when you have a need. He is the only One who can provide for you.

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Faith That Doesn’t Ask

Asking God for a miracle may indicate a lack of faith. Some feel that they demonstrate great faith by continually asking God for miracles. They assume that in every situation God wants to do the spectacular. They presume, for example, that God wants to heal anyone who is sick or provide a miraculous escape from every difficulty they face. Jesus condemned those who insisted that He perform miracles, because He knew their hearts. He recognized that they could not believe Him without constantly undergirding their faith with signs. Their faith was not strong enough to survive without a regular supply of the miraculous. Jesus condemned this lack of faith and left them.

There are times when we prefer the miracle over the miracle worker. God calls this idolatry, and He discouraged it by refusing to provide miracles on demand (Jer. 2:11–13). Sometimes the greatest act of faith is not to ask for a miracle. One of the most amazing statements of faith in the Old Testament came from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they faced the fiery furnace because of their obedience to God. They expressed true faith when they assured king Nebuchadnezzar: “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Dan. 3:17–18). They were confident in God’s ability to deliver them, but they trusted Him so completely that they did not ask to be spared.

Does your faith need miracles to sustain it? Or do you trust God so totally that you can say, “But if not, I will still trust the Lord!”?

Power, Not Fear

The only fear that God encourages in a Christian’s life is the fear of God (2 Cor. 5:10–11; Heb. 10:31). Fear of people does not come from God. The problem is that many Christians fear people more than they fear God. Their fear hinders them from pleasing God because they waste their efforts appeasing other people.

Timothy was a young man, timid by nature, and probably not strong physically (1 Tim. 5:23). He knew of Paul’s frequent trials and persecutions. He knew that he, too, might suffer those same persecutions. Paul reminded his young colleague that fear of others does not come from God.

Fear causes us to stop and question what God has clearly told us to do. Perhaps we were confident in our obedience until persecution came; now we doubt whether we heard God correctly. Most fear is fear of the unknown. We do not know what lies ahead of us, so we become apprehensive. Our imaginations can magnify problems until they seem insurmountable. We need a sound mind to see things in proper perspective. That is why God gave us His Holy Spirit, to enable us to see things as God sees them.

Fear is no excuse to disobey God. There is no reason to live in fear when you have the mighty presence of the Holy Spirit within you. Fear will enslave you, but Christ has come to set you free. Ask God to free you from any fear you are experiencing and to open your eyes. As He reveals the reality of your situation, He will enable you to continue in obedience.

The Living Word

Jesus joins those who are earnestly seeking Him. Two men walked along the road to Emmaus discussing the confusing events that had just occurred in Jerusalem. They thought they had understood the happenings of their day, but the death of Jesus had left them disoriented to God and His activity in their world. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, but His death had left them perplexed and discouraged. They needed answers.

God reads the heart and knows the honest pursuit of His will by His children. Jesus drew near to these men, walked with them, and opened their minds to what the Scriptures said about Him and about the events of their day. As Jesus was speaking, their hearts burned within them! As they listened to Jesus relate the Scriptures to what they were experiencing, they knew in their hearts that they were hearing God’s truth. Their doubts vanished, excitement overcame them, and they raced back to share the truth with their friends!

If you become bewildered by circumstances in your life, Jesus can reorient you to Himself through the Scriptures just as He did for these two men. From your human perspective, the situation may be confusing and discouraging. It takes the presence of Christ to open your eyes to the truth of the Scriptures. Have your circumstances confused you? You need Jesus to give you His perspective. Once you’ve heard from Him, you’ll be like these two men, excited to join God in what He is doing around you and eager to include others in the experience.

Every Careless Word

Jesus spoke plainly about our idle words, yet His warning often goes unheeded. Jesus said that for every idle word there will be a time of accounting in the day of judgment. We would expect Jesus to condemn profane and vile uses of the tongue, but idle words? Idle words are things we say carelessly, without concern for their impact on others. We too quickly assume that the sins of our tongue are minor sins, sins that God will overlook. Yet Jesus was fully aware of the devastating nature of our words, for the idle words that come from our mouths give a lucid picture of the condition of our heart (Matt. 15:17–20).

The Book of Proverbs encourages us to speak less rather than risk saying something offensive (Prov. 17:28). Often when we have nothing significant to say we are tempted to speak injurious, idle words. The more time we spend in idle chatter, the greater the likelihood that we will say things that are harmful. James cautioned believers to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). We are in much less danger of saying something offensive when we are listening than when we are speaking!

Think carefully about the words that come from your mouth. Christians should speak only words that uplift and bring grace to others (Eph. 4:29). Do you need to speak less? Do you need to be more careful about the kind of humor you use? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you evaluate whether your words build up others or whether they destroy and hurt others.

Whoever Is Least

John the Baptist’s role was to decrease in prominence while Jesus’ ministry increased (John 3:30). John allowed his disciples to leave him in order to follow Jesus. His ministry lasted only about six months before he was wrongfully imprisoned and executed on the whim of a cruel monarch. Yet Jesus said that no one who had come before John was any greater in the kingdom of heaven. Moses had parted the Red Sea; Elijah had raised the dead and brought down fire from heaven; Isaiah had written a revered book of Scripture; yet in the brief time of service granted to John, he had matched them all for greatness in the kingdom of heaven!

Incredibly, Jesus said that we have the opportunity to be even greater in the kingdom of heaven than John the Baptist. He announced the coming of Christ, but we, as Christians, have Christ living within us. We must remember that service to God is the greatest privilege we can receive in life. To serve God in even the most menial way is an honor far greater than we deserve. John was given less than a year to complete his assignment, and he did so with all that he had. We have the opportunity to allow Jesus to carry out His work through our lives, so that greater things are done through us than were ever accomplished through John the Baptist. Our mandate is the same as John’s: to lift up Jesus while denying ourselves. Oh, that we would do so with the same fervor as John the Baptist!

The Agony of Prayer

Prayer is not difficult to understand. It is difficult to do. When was the last time your heart so grieved for those you were interceding for that your entire body agonized along with your mind and heart? (Heb. 5:7).

We are a generation that avoids pain at all costs. This is why there are so few intercessors. Most Christians operate on the shallowest levels of prayer, but God wants to take us into the deep levels of intercessory prayer that only a few ever experience. Deep, prolonged intercession is painful. It involves staying before God when everyone else has gone away or sleeps (Luke 22:45). It involves experiencing brokenness with the Father over those who continually rebel against Him. How many of us will experience this kind of fervent intercession?

We long for Pentecost in our lives and in our churches, but there is no Pentecost without Gethsemane and a cross. How do we become mature in our prayer life? By praying. When we do not feel like praying is precisely the time we ought to pray. There are no shortcuts to prayer. There are no books to read, seminars to attend, or inspirational mottoes to memorize that will transform us into intercessors. This comes only by committing ourselves to pray and then doing so.

Why not accept God’s invitation to become an intercessor? Don’t allow yourself to become satisfied with shallow, self-centered praying. Stay with God in prayer until He leads you to pray at the level He wants.