LORD HELP ME BELIEVE

For a lot of us, faith doesn’t come easy. We’re prone to doubt. Sadly, shamefully, we’re prone to doubt God most of all. Distrust is built into sinful human nature. It’s like we don’t trust anyone. Not really. Including God. I know it all boils down to whether we’re going to believe God or not. Are we going to believe what God said? Or are we going to believe what everyone else is saying? What the circumstances are saying? What that demon who’s perched on our shoulder is saying? Trusting God is easy when everything’s going our way. But when everything’s stacked against us, fear and logic kick in and pretty much put an end to whatever little faith we had.

In our saner, better moments, we wish we could trust God more! How we wish we had more faith! Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief!

God is a merciful God. He wants us to trust Him and He helps us do that. I will never cease to praise Him for that day long ago when, in the midst of my struggles and doubts, He brought me to Psalm 9:10 and said, Here, son, is how you get strong, abiding faith. I read the verse and my life’s been changed ever since. Those who know Your name, O Lord, will put their trust in You.

You have to know the Lord before you can really trust Him. I know we all like to think we know the Lord. We have a fairly good knowledge of God and the Bible. Yet, in our knowledge, we’re still prone to argue with God, to question, doubt, and distrust Him. Why is that? It’s because we don’t know Him as we should. We have a bookish knowledge of Him, but we don’t have the kind of intimate, faith-inspiring knowledge that can be had only in the context of a close and personal relationship with God.

It’s like two people who know the President. One’s a reporter who digs up all he can about the President in books, magazines, the papers, the newscasts, and the net. He’s never met the President, but he knows a lot about him. Then there’s the President’s confidant and close friend. He spends a lot of time with the President. He knows the President’s heart and soul. Which of the two, would you say, knows the President well? Of course, the guy who spends the most time with the President himself.

This is the way it is with God. The Bible is great and our bookish knowledge of God is gobs better than ignorance. But God is a Person. He’s a Personal Being. And, like we are with one another, He wants to be with us. That’s what salvation and eternity are all about: it’s about God saving us so that we can spend eternity with Him. But God isn’t waiting for eternity to be with us: He wants us to draw close to Him right now. He wants us to have an intimate friendship and relationship with Him. It’s called communion. Hanging out. Spending time with the one you love.

YOU DON’T REALLY KNOW A PERSON UNTIL YOU SPEND TIME WITH THAT PERSON. There are things that can be known only in the context of a close friendship or relationship. Like a marriage or friendship, the more time you spend with someone, the more you get to know that person. And the more you get to know the person, the more you love, trust, and respect that person.

TRUST COMES EASY WHEN YOU KNOW WHO YOU’RE TRUSTING. If you’re following God from afar and don’t have much of a relationship with Him in prayer or in the Word, then faith won’t be easy for you. YOU CAN’T TRUST SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW.

Do you want to have faith? Do you long to have a strong, abiding faith in God despite the trials and the adverse reasonings and circumstances of life? Get to know God better. Spend more time with Him in prayer and the Word. Talk to Him lots. And keep quiet long enough to hear Him speak back to you. He’s got so much He wants to say to you! So keep quiet and listen. Work on your relationship with Him. FAITH WILL COME AS A MATTER OF COURSE WHEN YOU KNOW THE LORD IN A PERSONAL SORT OF WAY.

Are you having problems with doubt? Are you trying, struggling, to believe? Clear your mind of the thoughts that trouble you. Focus on God. Draw near to Him and get to know Him better. THE MORE YOU KNOW HIM THE LESS YOU’LL DOUBT HIM. THE MORE YOU KNOW HIM THE MORE YOU’LL TRUST HIM. AND THE MORE YOU TRUST HIM THE MORE YOU’LL SEE HIS SAVING HAND AND HELP. For You, O Lord, do not forsake or abandon those who seek You (Psalm 9:10b).

May God grant you a heart to know Him. And, in knowing Him, fill your heart with faith and your mind with peace. God bless you.

ONE BAD DECISION: A GOOD IDEA GONE AWRY

In the course of a twenty-four hour period we make gobs of decisions. Some of these we make with a serious amount of forethought and prayer. But, if you’re like me, we make many of our decisions spontaneously with little or no thought as to the consequences or impact our decisions will have—not only for ourselves, but also for the many others whose lives are intertwined with  ours.

Have you ever thought much about how a single decision can change your life forever? Sometimes a single decision will change us for the better. And sometimes a single decision will change us for the worse.

In these blog posts I’d like to look at the singular decision that some people in the Bible made that changed their lives forever…for the worse. By looking at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word it’ll give us reason to stop and think about both the long-term and short-term ramifications of the decisions we make. Lots of forethought and prayer, I’m convinced, will save us from the pain and regret of a hastily-made decision for the worse.

A GOOD IDEA GONE AWRY

We all have good ideas. Sometimes they really are good. Other times, they just seem good to us at the time, but really they’re not. The hardest part to understand or accept is the fact that SOMETIMES GOOD IDEAS CAN HAVE TOTALLY UNFORESEEN, REALLY BAD, CONSEQUENCES. Here’s a case in point.

The Israelites have journeyed out of 400 years of bondage and slavery in Egypt. They’ve trudged wearily through the hot desert sands and finally arrived at a place called Kadesh-barnea. It’s the last desert town. Beyond it lay Canaan, the land of promise. It was their destination and home. Excitement was in the air as the travel-weary Israelites finally got within sight of home.

Moses, the leader of the Israelites, called for a nation-wide assembly. You’ve finally come to the land of promise. This is the land that the Lord your God has promised you. It’s yours. And it rightfully belongs to  you. Unfortunately, there are people living in this land. The natives aren’t going to hand over their lands and vineyards to you. You’re going to have to take it from them. This means war. But don’t be fearful or disheartened. We’ve got a huge fighting force here. With God on our side and with your prayers, we’re going to go in and take possession of the land, one acre at a time, one city at a time, one step at a time. With God’s help we will take possession of the land!

It really was a rousing speech. You’d think the Israelites would be all pumped up and ready to launch their invasion. In hindsight, that’s what they should have done right away. God had given the marching order. The battle cry had been sounded. It was time to go in and fight and take possession of the land.

But the fearful and unbelieving have a way of making things more difficult and complicated. They have a way of making themselves heard. They weren’t convinced that the war was going to be a piece of cake. They had an idea. And, quite honestly, at first sound, the idea was a really good one. It made perfect sense. Whoa, Nelly. Let’s not be so hasty and get ourselves into something we don’t know anything about. We have no idea what lies ahead of us. We don’t know where the enemies are or how strong their city walls or forts are. Let’s send a scouting party out so that they can spy out the land, know the terrain, know the enemy’s strongholds, strengths, and weaknesses. We don’t have cameras. But at least they can draw us a map and show us where we need to attack. Let them see what’s ahead of us so that we’ll know where and when to start our invasion (Deuteronomy 1:22).

The idea made good military sense. Joshua used it when he launched his invasion of Canaan forty years later. Every nation under the sun, even to this very day, reconnoiters the land before launching an invasion or attack. That’s how things are done. That’s how wars are fought. And won.

The only problem was, that’s not what God told them to do. Yes, it may have been a good idea. But GOOD IDEAS AREN’T REALLY GOOD WHEN THEY CONTRADICT OR DISOBEY GOD’S INSTRUCTIONS. God’s instructions were, Go and take possession of the land. Don’t be scared or intimidated by the enemy. I will give the enemy and their lands into your hands (Deuteronomy 1:20-21).

Moses should have listened to God. But, unfortunately, He listened to the fearful and unbelieving. So twelve spies were chosen and sent to scout out the land.

After forty days of reconnoitering the land, the spies came back with a mixed report. We went to the land where you sent us. It really is a land flowing with milk and honey. Here’s some of its fruit.  (28)  But the people who live there are strong, and the cities have walls and are very large. We even saw the descendants of Anak there.  (29)  The Amalekites live in the Negev. The Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites live in the mountain region. And the Canaanites live along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and all along the Jordan River  (Numbers 13:27-29).

Turned out, the land itself was good. But the people in it weren’t. They were militaristic and militarily equipped. They lived in walled cities. Impregnable fortresses more like it. The land was well populated with many different races of people. And worse of all, the giants, the sons of Anak, lived there.

Naturally, the news was dismal and it caused quite a ruckus among the people. Joshua and Caleb tried to calm the people and get them to focus on the God who would lead them into battle and to the victory. But nothing doing. The fear and unbelief of a minority spread like wildfire until it consumed the entire nation.

Numbers 13:30-33  tells the story. Caleb told the people to be quiet and listen to Moses. Caleb said, “Let’s go now and take possession of the land. We should be more than able to conquer it.”  (31)  But the men who had gone with him said, “We can’t attack those people! They’re too strong for us!”  (32)  So they began to spread lies among the Israelites about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored is one that devours those who live there. All the people we saw there are very tall.  (33)  We saw Nephilim there. (The descendants of Anak are Nephilim.) We felt as small as grasshoppers, and that’s how we must have looked to them.”

Long story short, the Israelites refused to go to battle. The Lord punished them by making them spend forty years wandering aimlessly in the desert until an entire generation of murmuring, fearful, unbelieving Israelites perished in the desert sands.

So what began with a good idea ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people, if not a million or more, over a forty-year span of aimless, senseless desert travel. I dare say, they lost more people in the desert than they would have had they obeyed the Lord and launched an immediate invasion. The desert—not the war nor Israel’s enemies—ended up killing the great majority of the Israelites.

So you’ve got a good idea, huh? As long as it agrees with God’s ideas, that’s mighty fine and dandy. But you’d better make sure first before you follow through on what you think is the best or the right thing to do. Learn from the Israelites, dear friends. IF GOD TELLS YOU TO DO SOMETHING, THEN DO IT. DON’T LET YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS, OR ANYONE ELSE’S FOR THAT MATTER, FOOL YOU INTO DISOBEYING GOD. GOOD IDEAS CAN GET YOU KILLED IF YOU DON’T LISTEN TO GOD AND OBEY HIM. In this sad and tragic way, what parades as a really good idea is anything but good for you. A GOOD IDEA THAT INSPIRES FEAR, UNBELIEF, AND DISOBEDIENCE IS REALLY A BAD IDEA. Any dead Israelite buried in the sand will tell you that.

FIGHTING OUR GOLIATHS PART 5

CULTIVATING A HABIT OF COURAGE AND FAITH

God’s talking to us today about cultivating a habit of courage and faith. IF WE’RE GOING TO FIGHT OUR GOLIATHS AND WIN, WE NEED TO BE ARMED  WITH COURAGE AND FAITH. Why?

Because IT’S GOING TO TAKE COURAGE AND FAITH TO GET OUT OF THE FOXHOLES, FIGHT THE GIANT, AND WIN.

So how do we go about cultivating a habit of courage and faith? There are four things that I’d like for you to see in the way David conducted himself in his day to day life as a shepherd.

1. DAVID STAYED AND FOUGHT HIS FIGHTS. Getting into a tussle with a hungry lion or bear is no light matter. People have been killed and eaten in that horrible way. Many, if not all, of us would have run. But David chose to stay and fight! HE DETERMINED FROM THE VERY START TO FIGHT LIFE’S TRIALS AND BATTLES, NOT SHIRK THEM OR AVOID THEM.

Nobody likes trials. Most of all me. I don’t like them and I don’t volunteer to go through them. But I’ve learned that YOU DON’T GAIN ANYTHING BY SHIRKING YOUR TRIALS. IN FACT, YOU DO YOURSELF MORE HARM THAN GOOD WHEN YOU RUN FROM YOUR TRIALS!

(A) For one thing, whenever you shirk your battles and refuse to fight them you’re making a coward out of yourself. You’re reinforcing and strengthening the grip that fear and unbelief have on you. It’s as if you’re building a prison cell around you that will keep you locked in in the prison of fear and unbelief.

WHENEVER YOU GIVE UP FAITH AND DON’T ENDURE YOUR TRIALS YOU’RE MAKING IT HARDER AND HARDER FOR YOU TO BELIEVE AND ENDURE THE NEXT TIME AROUND.

You see, there’s no doubting the fact that there will be more fights, more trials, more wars up ahead. For David, the  lion and  the  bear were not  the last or  the end of  his  trials. There was a Goliath after that. And even after Goliath, David had his fights and wars as Israel’s king. So you’ve got to recognize the fact that you’re going to have more trials down the road.

Now when you choose not to believe God for the promises and choose not to endure your trials you’re making it less and less likely that you’ll stay around and fight the next fight. You’re cultivating a habit of fear and faithlessness that makes it harder for you to stand up to the Devil, resist him, and drive him and his minions out of the Valley.

(B) Moreover, WHEN YOU SHIRK YOUR TRIALS YOU’RE ONLY ASKING FOR MORE! Stop and think about it for a moment. Who does a bully pick fights with? With those he knows he can push around and beat. Who does a criminal attack? Those who are vulnerable, weak and unarmed. When you read the text of Scripture you see who Goliath haunted and taunted for forty days and forty nights. He haunted the cowards in the foxholes. Those who were much smaller and weaker than him. Those whom he was confident of beating.

Brethren, WHEN YOU REMAIN IN THE FOXHOLES AND REFUSE TO COME OUT AND FIGHT YOUR BATTLES–BE IT WITH THE LION, THE BEAR, OR THE GIANT–YOU’RE ONLY ASKING THE LION, THE BEAR, AND THE GIANT TO KEEP ON COMING BACK, TIME AFTER TIME, TO ROB YOU OF YOUR SHEEP AND TO ROB YOU OF YOUR FAITH. You see, THE TRIAL WITH THE LION, THE BEAR, AND THE GIANT, DIDN’T END UNTIL DAVID PUT IT TO AN END. It took a courageous, faith—filled shepherd boy to bring the trial to an end.

AS  LONG AS YOU REFUSE TO FIGHT THE DEVIL, THE DEVIL WILL KEEP FIGHTING YOU, TAUNTING YOU, AFFLICTING YOU, ROBBING YOU–BECAUSE HE KNOWS HE CAN DO IT AND GET AWAY WITH IT. HE KNOWS YOU WON’T STOP HIM FROM DOING IT. SO HE KEEPS ON DOING IT UNTIL HE’S TAKEN EVERYTHING AWAY FROM YOU. YOUR FAITH. YOUR MORALS. YOUR LIFE. YOUR SOUL.

2. THE THOUGHT OR DESIRE FOR SELF PRESERVATION DIDN’T STOP DAVID FROM FIGHTING. How many of you would like to get into a tussle with a lion or bear? Have you ever seen a lion or bear who was hungry and angry? Our first reaction would be to run and keep a lot of distance between ourselves and that rampaging beast.  Naturally, we wouldn’t enjoy seeing our lambs and sheep get killed. But better the lambs instead of us! As far as we’re concerned, saving the lambs is not worth getting ourselves killed! Father would rather have dead lambs and a live son instead of a dead son and dead lambs. Our first instinct, I am saying, would be for our own personal safety and life. It’s called self-preservation and the desire to stay alive.

But David didn’t think that way! The welfare of the flock was placed directly in his hands and he would not stand idly by and watch his family’s lambs served raw as lamb chops  for some wild beast of the field. Whatever thoughts and desires David might have had about running and saving his own skin, he didn’t let them dissuade him from tangling with a lion or bear. The desire to stay alive and not get killed didn’t stop David from fighting what was, in the natural, a life and death trial. It didn’t stop him from fighting what most of us would have considered a doomed and suicidal fight that was certain to end in defeat and death.

Could David have been killed in his tangle with the lion and bear? Well, there are two ways of looking at anything in life. From a natural point of view, yes, David could have been killed by the lion and the bear. In the natural, a brother or sister who’s going through a severe trial could end up dying. Death is always a possibility—if not a very real likelihood—whenever a Goliath is involved. That’s the natural point of view.

But God’s wanting to teach us a new way of thinking or looking at things. He’s wants us to see things from a spiritual point of view. The spiritual point of view is this. When you’re walking with the Lord and trusting Him and His Word, then IT’S YOU WHO DETERMINES HOW THE BATTLE IS GOING TO END. NOT THE LION, NOT THE BEAR, NOT THE GIANT, NOT THE TRIAL. NOT THE DEVIL. WHEN YOU BRING GOD, THE PROMISES, AND FAITH INTO THE TRIAL, BRETHREN, YOU’LL KNOW HOW THE TRIAL IS GOING TO END.

Look again at verses 36 and 37: Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.  (37)  David said moreover, The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.

DAVID KNEW HOW THE BATTLE WAS GOING TO END BEFORE HE EVEN GOT ON THE BATTLEFIELD! What’s even more astounding is, when David walked out on the battlefield, he got even bolder and stronger in faith! And he wasn’t afraid to speak or confess what he was believing would happen.

David made very specific predictions about how the fight was going to end and he even told Goliath what these predictions were. Look at verse 46, This day [this is what’s going to happen today. Not tomorrow. Not some unknown time in the future. But today.] will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand [Goliath, you’re going to lose this fight]; and I will smite thee, and take thine head from thee [Goliath, you’re going to lose your head today. David is getting very specific here about how he’s going to kill Goliath. And the thing of it is, David doesn’t even have a sword. All he has is his shepherd’s staff, a sling and 5 stones. So how is he going to cut Goliath’s head off?]; and I will give the carcases of the host of the Philistines this day unto the fowls of the air, and to the wild beasts of the earth [David puts God in a position of doing even more and greater miracles for him. Not only is David going to kill Goliath, but he’s going to kill a lot more Philistines today, so that by the time this day is over, the battlefield is going to be littered with Philistine carcasses]; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel.

David, I am saying, knew how the battle was going to end before the first stone was even slung. How did he know that? He knew it because he was trusting God to do the same thing to the Philistine that He helped him do to the lion and bear. By faith, David knew that what God did yesterday He will do today. The miracle that God did yesterday He will do today. Today is no exception. This fight, this trial, this giant, is no exception. God is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. He saved yesterday. He will save today.

Brethren, WHEN YOU’RE BELIEVING GOD, WHEN YOU’RE BELIEVING HIS PROMISES, YOU’LL KNOW SOME THINGS BEFORE YOU EXPERIENCE THEM. BEFORE THEY EVEN COME TO PASS. You may not know everything about how it’s going to end. You may not  know all the details. But you’ll at least know how it’s going to end because, by faith, it’s you who determines how the fight is going to end.

David knew how the fight was going to end.  That’s why he wasn’t afraid to fight. That’s why his desire to stay alive and not get killed didn’t stop him from fighting Goliath. He already knew how the fight was going to end.

We all want to live in safety, in health, and in peace.  We do not savor the thought of dying a horrible death in combat or trial. It’s natural  to  want  to  stay  alive. THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WANTING TO STAY ALIVE AND KEEP OUT OF HARM’S WAY OR OUT OF DEATH’S REACH.

But WHEN YOU LET THE DESIRE FOR SELF-PRESERVATION KEEP YOU IN THE FOXHOLES, WHEN YOU LET IT STOP YOU FROM FIGHTING YOUR GOLIATHS; THEN THAT’S WHERE THE DESIRE FOR SELF-PRESERVATION BECOMES A VERY DETRIMENTAL THING FOR YOU.

Why detrimental? BECAUSE IT’S STOPPING YOU FROM BELIEVING AND FIGHTING. AND WHENEVER YOU REFUSE TO BELIEVE AND FIGHT YOU’RE ASKING THE DEVIL TO KEEP COMING BACK AND TAKING MORE LAMBS FROM THE FLOCK.

Brethren, YOU CAN’T FIGHT YOUR GOLIATHS AS LONG AS YOU’RE GOVERNED BY THE DESIRE TO STAY ALIVE! The desire to stay alive will keep you in the foxholes of life. It’ll keep you defeated, demoralized, and dispirited. It’ll keep the Devil coming back.

Coming Up On My Next Blog, Part 6. A continuing look at how David cultivated courage and faith in his day-to-day life as a shepherd.