Testing

Tragedy (1 Kings 9-11)

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The man who loved God (1 Kings 3:3), the man God chose to use to finally build Him a dwelling place, the one who had the privilege of fulfilling promises and had promises made to him by God who revealed Himself to him personally twice, the one God blessed by answering his prayers and going beyond just answering into exceeding blessing and peace and prosperity…

That one, did the very thing his dad had warned him not to do, the very thing God had spoken to him twice about directly in a very personal way.  After the overflowing blessing of chapters 9-10, 1 Kings 11 is a tragedy of monumental proportions!

We can be tempted sometimes to think something along lines of; “if only I had…….. then I’d be content”.  Solomon is probably the clearest example in all of Scripture exposes that thinking as false.  

Solomon had God’s favour as a chosen man with destiny, God’s promises, God’s blessing financially, God’s blessing in his role as king with peace in the nation, God’s blessing with wisdom.  More than this he wasn’t single wanting to be married but was married…

And yet he wasn’t satisfied!  That’s because things don’t satisfy us, only God can truly satisfy us.  

Solomon’s desire for more is most clearly expressed in his insatiable lust for women.  Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines!  His lust for women blinded his eyes and shut his ears to the words of his father and more expressly the words of God and the commands of God which urged him to follow God’s ways and God’s commandments.  

God had specifically instructed him not to marry foreign women for a specific reason – God knew that they would cause him to compromise and would lead him astray to the worship false gods.  And that is exactly what we discover happening in 1 Kings 11. 

So God eventually swore He would tear the kingdom from Solomon, divide the kingdom into two parts.  Was God not gracious in swearing to do this?  Sometimes we read the Old Testament and make a wrong conclusion that somehow the God depicted in the Old Testament is different to the New Testament- but that is not true.  After all, God didn’t make this pronouncement after the first foreign wife or the second or the third or the 300th or 600th….!

God is is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and yet God is also holy and pure and righteous and He can not leave sin unpunished…

And so the glorious reign of Solomon has a dark lining – it’s a sad end and at the end of his life Solomon himself declares;

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” Ecclesiastes 1:2 (NIV84)

So sad, what a tumultuous fall from grace and favour!  So what can we learn?  How does this apply to our lives?

If the one guy in Scripture who literally ‘had it all’ wasn’t satisfied by earthly things, by relationships by sex, money and power – do you honestly think you’ll be?

Seek God, find your joy in God, He alone can truly satisfy as God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (Piper).  So don’t be tempted and distracted by temporal things or even the good blessings given to you by God, love God more than anything find your joy in Him.

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Complaint to Praise & Prayer (Psalm 28)

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Confident Complaint!

David begins this psalm with a declaration of faith (God is his God) and an expression of  his feelings toward God whom he calls, “my rock”.

“My Rock” – God is personal immovable and immutable.  Because of this God can be trusted, God is worth calling out to in prayer.  If God were not God and if God were not personal or immovable or immutable it would not be worth calling out to Him in prayer!  Because God is all these things and we can confidently call out to God in prayer.

And yet David’s prayer is also a complaint.  Sometimes it feels like God is not hearing, like God is not speaking, as if God is unmoved by our situation or unaware from our perspective.

(vs3-5) In these verses David’s complaint is outlined, it feels like God is treating him no differently to his enemies, he is looking for God to act on his behalf and seemingly hasn’t seen God’s answering his prayers.

What’s happening in your life that feels like God is not hearing, not seeing, not aware, not speaking or answering?

I urge you to lift your eyes again to your God. 

Why not declare as David did that God is your ROCK, your FORTRESS (another way of translating the underlying Hebrew word).  God can be trusted because He cannot change, will not shift under your feet, God is worthy of our trust even when we can’t see what He is doing or why He is allowing something to happen.  So, call out to Him again, put your faith in God again.

Passionate Praise

The psalm changes in vs6-9 becoming a psalm of praise.  David is convinced now that God has heard his cries, his prayers, his lament.

David has been strengthened in his faith, knows God is his strength and his shield (protection), God is the One whom his heart can trust and so He finds help in his moment of need.

And so his heart exults, it jumps for joy (literal translation) and bursts into song!  What a transformation when we see God for who he is, when we enter again feeling his presence and the warmth of his love.  David had been feeling like God was no where now David’s heart is bursting with praise and thanks and love for God.

Worship is warfare!  When we feel like God is distant or disinterested, we should take drastic action, reminding ourselves of the truth about our God our immovable immutable rock who is worthy of our trust and we should begin to worship as warfare against those feelings of doubt choosing to warfare not wallow in those feelings of doubt.

In worship we declare what we believe (God is our ROCK vs1, our SHIELD vs7, the ONE who HELPS us vs7, our STRENGTH vs7 & the SAVING REFUGE OF HIS ANOINTED vs8).

We worship with faith and in worship faith is renewed.  And on that foundation of renewed faith we can ASK God for the future (vs9).  Amen.

And… (Nehemiah 4:7-23)

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I love how the spirituality of the Bible is so practical.  All through this chapter there are references to Nehemiah’s response to the opposition to rebuilding from both without and within God’s people.

The pattern that emerges is that Nehemiah’s first response was to respond to criticism/opposition, threats or doubt with prayer.  We read of this in vs4 and again in vs9 which follow the pattern from Nehemiah 1:4, 2:4…

But what strikes me in Nehemiah 4 is the word; “AND”.

Some people are so spiritually minded that they are no earthly good!  But this is not the spirituality of the Bible.

So with Nehemiah & God’s people they hear of the threats and the mocking of Sanballat & Tobiah and in vs4 they pray AND in vs6 we read “So we built the wall”.

Later in chapter 4:7-8 when Sanballat and Tobiah get angry at the news of the rebuilding, they plot together to come and threaten overthrow those rebuilding Jerusalem.

God’s people under Nehemiah respond to the threat; “so we prayed to our God” (vs9) AND “we set a guard as protection”.  I love that!

They didn’t hear the threat and make a plan and then go to God when their plans had failed, no they went to God first in prayer AND they made a plan for protection.

This is attractive spirituality to me, it is trusting in, calling to God first but then it is thoroughly practical too, God gives us the facility of thought and the ability to make plans and it is not unspiritual to do so but is in fact us utilising the God-given talents we have.

So, when you face opposition and threats – whether they come in the form of internal monologue and doubts and fears (see vs10&12), or whether they come from doubt (vs10-11) or opposition from the outside, I urge you to respond first in prayer taking the trouble to the Lord AND then act, do what God’s told you to do, be decisive and use the ability and understanding God has granted you.

Making a plan with the resources you have is not to lack faith but to have faith believing that God has given you what you need to accomplish what He has planned for you.

So, don’t be immobilised but act (Nehemiah made a plan to arm the workers and to organise a strategy to gather if there was an attack, he posted watchmen by night).

Lastly, we read in this passage the crucial role that good leadership plays.  There is a moment when Nehemiah stands up and counters the negativity that was draining their faith in God and says;

“Do not be afraid of them, remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, sons, your daughter ” (vs14)

Again, a wonderful balanced spirituality; “remember the Lord…AND fight!” (vs14).  And because of these prayers AND action; ‘God frustrated their plan’ (vs15) as a result of their prayers.

PRAY AND ACT!

Overcoming opposition… Nehemiah 4:1-6

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The Christian life isn’t like a battle, it is one.  Christ Followers have an ever present enemy who will resist us, obstruct us and try to discourage us at any opportunity.

Most significant advances for God, whether those be personal in nature or corporate, will attract the attention and opposition of our enemy.  In fact if there is no opposition it’s worth asking whether you’re attempting anything great for God in your life!

Nehemiah chapter 4 is an example of kingdom advance being opposed:

  • In Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah called for the people to join together in rebuilding the wall
  • In Nehemiah 3 we read about the rebuilding project having begun in earnest
  • Yet as soon as that rebuilding project had begun opposition to it arose (Nehemiah 4:1-6)

Analysing the Opposition:

Anger/Rage (vs1) – the more you love God and serve God’s purposes the more you anger/frustrate and irritate the enemy.  Advancing God’s kingdom through your life shrinks his kingdom’s influence.  Don’t try to make people agnry, but anger in others isn’t always a sign that something is going wrong, but rather might well be that you’re doing something right as you serve God.

Jeering/Mocking (vs1-2) – opposition often takes the form of an attack on one’s identity, character, wisdom or ability.  “What are these feeble Jews doing?” – said Sanballat.  This is designed to humiliate, to influence the perception of others and to insert doubts into the mind and heart of the person being derided.  We do well to remember that our enemies name is the “Accuser” of the followers of Christ and so ought not to be surprised when we face such opposition.

Doubt (vs2) –  Another one of the enemies favourite tactics is to get into our minds and sow seeds of doubt.  “Will they restore it for themselves?”, Sanballat questioned.  Such questions can set off doubts that can cause the ones being opposed to back off, pull-back, to reconsider thereby capitulating to the opposition and being controlled by it.

Misrepresentation (vs2) – “Will they finish in a day?”, Sanballat said.  At no point did Nehemiah or the Jewish people rebuilding the wall claim that they would be finished in any short-time frame.  Opposition often takes the form of misrepresentation and distortion of what one has said or claimed they would do.  Unjustified misrepresentation cuts deep as one often isn’t afforded the opportunity to correct misrepresented facts about oneself.  Again the strategy here is to pull the rug out from underneath the person being opposed, distracting them from the task at hand and undermining their will to proceed.

Gossip/Slander (vs2-3) – Sanballat is making these comments and accusations in the company of his brothers, the army of Samaria and Tobiah.  Opposition often takes the form of slander and gossip.  When we face such things, we need to be careful not to get drawn into ourselves sinning too against those who slander against us.

Criticism & Exaggeration (vs3) – Tobiah joined the chorus claiming that the wall they were building was so weak that it would break down with even just a fox walking on it!  We need to know who we are, we need to also know what we are doing to allow unfounded criticism to not disrupt our progress or sow seeds of doubt.

Responding to criticism 

1. Take it to God!  “Hear, O our God, for we are despised…” (vs4)  Your Father is large and in charge of everything.  You have free access into His presence because of Jesus and your faith in Him.  You are the beloved child of the most high God.  So take the opposition you face to Him, lay it out before Him because you can and because He loves you.

Their prayer at this point essentially was; ‘defend us God & vindicate us Lord’.  When you take criticism and opposition to God in prayer it relieves you of the need to try to defend yourself or vindicate yourself.  Letting go of your right to feel wronged helps one to keep focussed on what you have been called to do and to keep focussed on being like Christ in the midst of this opposition.

2. Get back to the job at hand. “So we built the wall” (vs6)  After praying, they got back to the work at hand in spite of the opposition.  Isn’t that the best response to opposition, to proceed with the course of action you know God told you to proceed with?

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We will all face opposition to the mandates God gives us personally and corporately to advance His kingdom in our lives and through our church.  May we never get drawn in by the tactics of our enemy, distracted from the task, tempted to sin, but may we take it to God in prayer and may we get back to the job at hand!

Unreasonable? (John 6:1-21)

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There is a crowd large gathered, after all Jesus has been doing signs and wonders.  Jesus was seeking out some down-time but as the crowds gather Jesus chooses a grassy hilltop on which to teach them.

Seeing approximately 10 000 – 15 000 men, women and children gathering to hear Him Jesus leans over to Phillip and essentially says; ‘How are we going to feed all these people?’.  Philip is astounded.  I can imagine him thinking; ‘This is unreasonable, this is not our problem, we don’t have the resources for this, Lord what are you suggesting?’

Can you empathise with Philip? 

Have you ever felt like God was being unreasonable?  

John doesn’t record Philip ever recovering from his feeling limited by their apparent available resources – in South African currency Phillip estimated that it would have cost R20 000 to buy enough bread to go around.

What is going on here?

Why would God ask us to do what only He can do?  

John 6:6 contains the key to the answer to questions such as these.

He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. (John 6:6)

Jesus is not scatterbrained, hasn’t lost the plot, isn’t unaware of realities and constraints.  No Scripture pointedly reveals Jesus’ motive in the scenario; ‘He said this to test him’.  Jesus was not uncertain as to how He was going to deal with this dilemma of so many people and feeding them, John records; ‘for He Himself knew what He would do.’

There is a difference between what we think we believe, what we say we believe and what we do believe.  What we truly believe is revealed by our responses to situations and our actions.

I know this feeling.  It’s easy sitting in your room with your bible or sitting in church listening to preaching or in a small group discussion thinking or saying what you believe… And then it happens!  Something arises in real life and that belief is tested, is it real, do I really believe?

Philip no doubt has just been with Jesus, heard Jesus’ clear claims to being the divine Son of God, has seen Jesus do amazing miracles – but did Phillip truly believe?

Jesus sets up a scenario that will test him, will squeeze out of Philip and the other disciples whether they truly believe that Jesus is God, that Jesus has authority over all things.

Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers in such a way that it is clear that he can empathise with Phillip, Paul knew what it felt like to have God test his faith, test him to see what was really in his head and heart. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

Likewise, James urges believers to consider it pure joy when we are tested, when our faith is put on trial because such tests from God give us the opportunity  to see steadfastness grow in us so that we might mature in our faith not. (James 1:3)

What’s happening in your life that might be God testing you?

Is there anything God’s asked you to do that you think is unreasonable?

Friend.  God’s not malicious, He’s not having fun with you.  No, your heavenly Father wants to test the genuineness of your faith, wants your faith to grow and to mature.

Andrew did better than Phillip in this moment.  Philiip doesn’t manage to lift his thoughts above the challenges and constraints and reasons why he can’t do what Jesus is suggesting he do.

Andrew at least thought about what they did have and believed Jesus could do a miracle.  He probably didn’t know what Jesus would do, didn’t know the magnitude of the miracle Jesus would do, but his actions do reveal that he did believe Jesus was able to, was going to do something astounding and miraculous.

What do you have in your situation?

Focus on what God had entrusted you with.

Give that to Him for His purposes mixed with faith.

And watch Jesus grow your faith and reveal His majestic power and purposes.