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Have you ever planned all the details of a trip and then nothing goes as planned the moment you start the trip? First you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport; then you get a flat tire; then you miss your flight because you’re late arriving at the airport. Road block after road block seems to stop you at every move. It’s aggravating when things don’t go as we planned, but do we look at these delays as God trying to get our attention?

This is what I thought about when I read Numbers 22:1-35. In this passage Balak, the king of Moab, summoned Balaam to put a curse on Israel to stop them from conquering his country. Balaam refused to go per God’s command. Then Balak tried to summon him a second time and this time God instructed Balaam to go with Balak’s officials. However, on his way to Moab, Balaam’s donkey stopped him from traveling three separate times. Balaam snapped and resorted to beating his donkey for delaying him. In the midst of this the donkey spoke and suddenly Balaam realized the angel of the Lord was in the middle of the road ready to strike him down.

The angel told Balaam, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.” Suddenly Balaam paid attention to God. Embarrassed by his angry outburst over these simple delays, he admitted his sin and offered to turnaround. But the angel told him, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” Balaam is about to be tempted with many riches to curse Israel so God reinforced to Balaam the importance of not making snap decisions and only speaking the word of God.

How many times do we proceed recklessly with our lives and our own interpretation of what God wants us to do? We saddle up our donkey and press on toward the destination where God is leading us with our own ideas, ill-prepared for trials that await us. Then we get angry when things occur that stop us from moving forward. Instead of recognizing God is trying to get our attention, we lash out until suddenly our eyes are opened so we clearly see God. In those moments we need do as Balaam did and recognize our sinful behavior and our need for full submission to God; to lay down our selfish pride and recognize that we need to wait patiently and only do what God instructs us to do.

I would like to say that I am always ready to respond to God’s call with a positive attitude, but that would be far from the truth. There are days when I feel discouraged and beaten down by the world; days when I am fed up with grumbling people complaining about everything. So when I read Numbers 20:1-13, I could relate to how Moses was feeling when God showed him how to provide water to the Israelites.

From the moment Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he endured endless grumbling, often pointed at him. We see the same old complaints in this chapter: “Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness (verse 3, NIV)? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place (4)?” Why? Why? Why? It is enough to make anyone angry. Who could blame Moses for letting off a little steam?

At first Aaron and Moses responded to these complaints with the right attitude by falling facedown before the Lord at the tent of meeting (6). The Lord appears to them and tells them to take the staff, speak to the rock, and water will pour out “so they and their livestock can drink (8).” However, when Moses gathered the assembly before the rock he snapped and said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock (10)?” Then Moses struck the rock and water gushed out for all to drink (11).

This show of anger was not exactly what God asked Moses to do. In return for this outburst God tells Moses, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them (12).” Because of his actions Moses missed out on the promised land.

Verse 12 caused me to stop and consider how I represent God to those around me. I contemplated what I might be missing by not controlling my anger. Do I trust God enough to follow his ways or do I take matters into my own hands? Do I honor God as holy in the sight of others or do I let my frustration mar my witness to others? I wonder how many times I missed out on blessing others with God’s love and grace because I let my anger guide my actions?

Fear can be a powerful motivator or hinderance in our commitment to following God, particularly when we are called to go to a new and unfamiliar place. The most difficult part is often the journey, the transition between your old place and the new place. There is a tension between the uncertainty about where you are going and the familiarity of where you have been. It is this in-between place where doubt and fear can take hold of us, where faith and facts compete with one another. This is where the Israelites were as they approached the land God promised them.

In Numbers 13 and 14 God instructed Moses to “send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites (Numbers 13:2, NIV).” The spies spent 40 days exploring the land and reported that the land “does flow with milk and honey (13:27).” But they also reported that “the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large (13:28).” This is the moment where fact and faith present themselves to the Israelites.

God has laid out a plan for your life, a journey that will lead you to “a land flowing with milk and honey (14:8).” With each new step, he asks us to follow him in faith. The challenge is to not do what the Israelites did and take your eyes off God, to not let fear take hold of you. In Numbers 13:33 there is a telling phrase where some of the spies say, “in our own eyes.” They could only see that they looked tiny, like grasshoppers, compared to a foe who appeared “stronger” and “of great size (13:31-32).” They were scared they would be crushed like bugs even though God assured them they would take the land.

God asks us to view things through his eyes, not the world’s eyes of things like power and riches. Sometimes he asks us to take a step of faith even when the challenges look insurmountable. That’s when we need the advice of faithful followers of God like Joshua and Caleb. In Numbers 14:6-9 they tell the Israelites not to be afraid, that the Lord will give them the land; that it is a good land; that the Lord is with them and they should not be afraid. Numbers 14:24 tells us that Caleb “has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly.” This is the type of counsel we need to encourage us on the path that the Lord has laid before us. If we let fear instead of faith dominate our actions, we may miss what God has in store for us.

Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. – Numbers 14:30-31 (NIV)

In reading the book of Exodus, I am struck by the similarities between the Israelites back then and Christians today. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we are in a foreign land full of sin and false gods. At times, when our struggles become too much to bear, we cry out to God to save us. Just as God sent Moses to save the Israelites, God sent his son Jesus to show us the way out of enslavement to sin.

Yet Satan is not so quick to let us go free. He is the Pharaoh of our day who attempts to tighten his grip on us, trying to keep us repressed by sin. He tries to intensify our struggles on this earth, tempting us with discontent, anger and idols. But God is the victor. Even though armies may pursue us, God shows us the path to freedom.

We must remain determined to continue to follow Jesus, to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. As we wander through the desert of this world parched and hungry, let us not desire to return to the enslavement of the land of sin. May we focus on God’s promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. May we listen to the words of Joshua and Caleb, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good (Numbers 14:6-7).” May our faith in Christ Jesus and our love of the Lord God grow deeper in the midst of temptation to return to our old life.

“The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” – Exodus 15:2 (NIV)

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)

He walked the streets surrounded by wicked people. It seemed evil thoughts dominated everything in the community all the time. Corruption was everywhere, yet he chose to remain faithful to God. He pursued righteousness in a world of unrighteous behavior.

This is the world of Noah before God revealed his plans for the ark and the flood. Noah had been tested in a thoroughly corrupt world yet he remained devoted to pursuing God. This is why Noah found favor in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8); why God entrusted him with the building of the ark (Gen. 6:14-21); why “Noah did everything just as God commanded him (Gen. 6:22). Noah’s obedience to God was built on a life of faithfulness to God even when surrounded by a world saturated with evil.

This helps me understand Noah’s determination to finish building the ark. His desire to do everything God instructed was built within him before God revealed his plans to destroy the world with a flood. Scripture tells us about the world Noah lived in, but it does not reveal what must have been a daily struggle for him to remain faithful to God while surrounded by evil people. Noah was tested and proven faithful to complete the overwhelming task of constructing the ark.

When I read about Noah, I try to put myself in his place. Would I continue to live a righteous life in the midst of a world obsessed with evil? Would I become discouraged being surrounded by wicked people all the time? Would I find favor with God as Noah did? Would I willingly accept God’s command to build the ark?

Some day God will again destroy the earth and all its evil, replacing it with a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). Like Noah, God is looking for his faithful in an evil world, the faithful who will answer the call to obedience. He is seeking true followers of Jesus Christ determined to accomplish seemingly insurmountable tasks for the Kingdom of God. He wants us, like Noah, to be prepared to do everything that God commands us to do.

What would you have done that day if you were standing in the crowd when Pilate offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27)? Would you have shouted “Barabbas” like the rest of the crowd or would you have shouted “Jesus”? Would you have been persuaded to choose a rebel and murderer, instead of the Son of God, the Messiah?

Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas was “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” While Jesus chose the will of God, Barabbas chose to join others who decided to take matters into their own hands with a violent uprising. Pilate asked the crowd that day, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews (Mark 15:9)?” The crowd was swayed to choose the insurrectionist Barabbas over Jesus. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)!”

What’s amazing about that day is that even though the people in the crowd chose to reject Jesus, God still offered redemption to them with the death and resurrection of his Son. Like Barabbas, we are rebels condemned to die for our sinful, selfish desires. Yet in God’s infinite mercy and love, he offers us freedom and eternal life through his son Jesus Christ who paid the price for our rebellion so that we could forever live in the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

There are times in my life when I want to hide in a deep dark cave; times when discouragement causes me to retreat from the front lines of God’s work; times when the attacks from my enemies cause me to respond in fear instead of faith. It seems one moment I am fearless for the Lord and the next minute I am fearful of those who attempt to thwart God’s plans. It is in that moment of fear, that moment of vulnerability, that the evil one sows seeds of doubt that suddenly take root. It reminds me of Elijah.

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has a show down with the prophets of Baal. In verse 37, Elijah calls on God to “answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Instantly, the fire of the Lord consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, dust and water in the trench. Then Elijah slayed the prophets of Baal and a few verses later he outruns Ahab to Jezreel. Elijah has declared his allegiance to God and it appeared he was unstoppable until he realized he was a major target of the evil one.

Fear, doubt, loss of confidence, these are all tools that Satan uses to attempt to stop us from doing our work for the Lord. Elijah was unstoppable until Jezebel stated her intent to kill him in 1 Kings 19:2. The next verse tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” He had a target on his back because he took a public stand for God. The seeds of doubt sprouted into fear in Elijah’s life which thwarted his work for God. By verse 4 he is discouraged and cries to God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Yet God does not give up on Elijah. He pursued him, nourishing him and encouraging him ( 1 Kings 19:6-7). Yet he still hides in a cave, with the seeds of doubt now fully grown to the point that Elijah is paralyzed with fear (verse 9). What I find interesting in the next verses is that the Lord isn’t in the powerful wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). This is what draws Elijah out of the cave to get him back on track. In this moment of solitude, in the gentle whisper, God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (verse 13)?” God tells Elijah he is not alone and instructs him to go back the way he came. He reassures him that there are thousands who remain loyal to God.

How God treats Elijah’s fear is so comforting to me. It is like a loving father bending down to encourage a scared child hiding in a dark corner. He doesn’t yell at our disobedience, but encourages us with a whisper. His gentle voice tells us, “There’s nothing to fear. I am with you as are thousands of other believers.” He whispers truth that is not always evident to us. It reminds me to stop in the midst of my fear, to pause and listen for the whisper of God in the midst of the storm.

The silence is overwhelming, it pierces my ears

I hear a light wind rustle through the evergreen trees

The snow gently swirls downward in the cold air

In this temple of God’s creation, I feel his gentle hand upon me

I feel his gentle grace, his love surrounding me

It is a moment of solitude away from a turbulent world

A world where a storm rages within humanity

A world where people deny your existence, yet secretly hope you truly exist

Outside the noise and confusion of that worldly place

I find this escape into your creation

It fills me with your spirit of hope, love and truth

Against the cold chill of this world

I see your light piercing the darkness; it warms my soul

Your light gently touches my face, it tells me to trust you and your way

The trampled snow ahead seems the way to go

But God you tell me this is not so

“The path I’ve put you on is full of troubles and struggles.”

He points toward the deep snow, pure white

I do not know where this unmarked path goes

But I do know its ultimate destination

There we will bask in the presence of God’s glory

But for now I must press on, clinging to his hope, trusting him

Letting my faith in God guide me along this uncharted path

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord God Almighty is his name.”

— Amos 4:13

As I look to a new year, I wonder if I have grown closer to God in the past 12 months. I examine my life and contemplate if I am any better at truly having a heart for God; any better at truly trusting him. The struggle remains in how much I am willing to follow the Spirit of God over my selfish desires.

Psalm 119:1-24 is instructive as I look at how to align my life more with God’s desires. Verse 2-3 encourages me to “keep his statues” not just out of compliance, but because I desire to seek God with all my heart — to follow his ways. That desire is expressed in verse four, “Oh that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!”

Verses 9-16 give us practical advice to guide us to “the path of purity (9).” This passage encourages us to live “according to your word (9);” to seek God with all our heart (10); to hide the word of God in our heart (11); to be open to God’s teaching (12); and to not grudgingly follow God’s decrees, but to rejoice “in following your statues (14).”

Verses 17-24 remind me to be teachable and to learn from my mistakes. Asking God to “Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law (18);” to seek to be “consumed with longing for your laws at all times (20);” to not just read the word of God, but to “meditate on your decrees (23).”

I praise God that he is a loving God filled with compassion and grace. I am thankful that he continues to pursue me as a counselor (24), pointing out my faults and working to shape me according to his laws. I pray we can all be resolute in the new year to seek God with all our heart.

After looking at my lastest bank statement, I wondered how much faith I was putting in an account balance versus God’s provision. It’s easy to say that I trust God, but another thing to live it. There are too many days where I rely more on myself and the things of this world than God and his church.

In contemplating this dilemma, I was drawn to 1 Chronicles 21:1-17 where David orders a census of his troops. His advisor Joab warns David, “My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel (verse 3)?” Ultimately David is punished by the Lord for the act of counting the troops, just as Joab foretold.

The problem with the census was the reliance on numbers and earthly strength instead of obedience to God. When I read in verse four that David had 1.1 million men who could handle a sword, I was impressed by the sheer size of his army. It’s easy to see how knowing the size of the army could make you more confident in your own ability to engage in battles not ordained by God. Who wouldn’t feel like you could conquer the world with the size of that army?

The same can be true of us. Over-confidence in our own ability or resources can prompt us to make decisions without consulting God. But the Bible teaches us that being humble and obedient to God is more important than having an army of people behind you or a large account balance. Psalm 90:12 instructs us, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” That is a much better number to focus on.

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