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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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If I boil down the essence of obedience, it usually comes down to a battle of wills — a battle between God’s will and my selfish will. More times than I like to admit, my insistence that I have a right to do something drives me to disobey God. Yet so many of the people in the Bible teach us quite the opposite. 

This is what impresses me about Joseph in Matt. 1:18-24. He had his life planned out for the foreseeable future. He would marry this local girl Mary and they would live happily ever after. Except verse 1:18 tells us that before they came together “she was found to be pregnant.” Joseph responded as any Jewish man might have at that time and decided to act according to Jewish law which gave him the right to divorce her (Deut. 24:1). 

We get a sense that Joseph was a man who deeply desired to follow God. Verse 19 tells us he decided to quietly divorce her to prevent her from facing public disgrace. He planned to follow Jewish law yet he had empathy for Mary. But God had a different plan for Joseph.

In verse 20, an angel tells Jospeh in a dream, “do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Verse 24 tells us that when Jospeh woke up, “he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Joseph decided to set aside his right to divorce Mary and instead obey God’s command.

Joseph modeled for us what obedience to God looks like in practice. He laid aside his selfish rights, his plans, in order to follow God’s commands. We should be willing to do the same by letting the Spirit of God guide us instead of our selfish will.

I have always been intrigued by the encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Here we have two people seeking Christ. One is seeking to serve Christ, the other is seeking to find Christ. It’s an instructive, God-ordained encounter that should encourage us to follow the prompting of the Spirit. It also shows us how God is preparing the hearts of those who don’t know Christ for such an encounter.

The passage opens with an angel of the Lord directing Phillip to go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He doesn’t know why, but he obediently starts down the road. He encounters an Ethiopian eunuch which verse 27 tells us was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (NIV).” The chariot must have been an intimidating site, but at the Spirit’s prompting Phillip walked along side the chariot and discovers the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53:7-8. 

The next verses show us how God had worked on this man’s heart, preparing him for the encounter with Phillip. The eunuch had been worshiping in Jerusalem and was now reading the prophet Isaiah. He was searching for Christ and Phillip was able to tell him “the good news about Jesus (verse 35).” Upon hearing about Jesus the eunuch stopped the chariot by a pool of water and remarked, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized (verse 36)?” Truly this man was ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

This passage is a good reminder to followers of Christ Jesus to be ready to follow the prompting of the Spirit as we go through our day. We may feel God nudging us toward an intimidating encounter, as Phillip and the official in the chariot, but we should remember that God has likely already been working on the person’s heart. Our job may be to sow more gospel seeds or to bring a person to Christ. Either way obedience to Christ can enrich our lives as well as the lives of those ready to hear the gospel.

When we don't have faith in God's purpose, we can act like the boy in Judy Viorst's children's book.

In her children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst tells a story about little Alexander and his bad day. From the moment he wakes up, nothing goes his way. “I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” he says on the first page. Sure enough, from there on, a series of bad things happen to him from not getting a window seat in the car to the Dentist finding a cavity. Alexander’s solution is to move to Australia, but his mother reminds him at the end of the book that some days are like that – even in Australia.

Like Alexander, sometimes we wake up with the attitude that it’s going to be a bad day. Why? Because we decide things that don’t go our way are bad. We get frustrated at the obstacles we face and angry about unfulfilled expectations or lost dreams. Left unchecked, this attitude can taint our view of life and put us into a downward spiral.  We become like the beaten down woman in Paul Simon’s hit song “Slip Slidin’ Away” who says, “a good day ain’t got no pain” and “a bad day’s when I lie in bed and think of things that might have been.”

Yet how often do we lie in bed and think of what might be if we focused on God’s purpose instead of our own expectations. Romans 8:28 tells us, “And now we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” If you “trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5 NIV) then your expectations will center on God’s purpose for your life. You will be better equipped to understand that God has a purpose for everything, even the terrible, horrible, no good very bad things that happen to us.

In 2 Cor. 11:24-26, Paul describes the many bad days he experienced in his ministry. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.” Even though Paul experienced many horribly bad days, he continued to trust that God had a purpose for everything. He remained focused on spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told us that those who follow him will have bad days. “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.” (John 15: 20-21 NIV) How well do you know Christ? How much faith do you have in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for His purpose”, not ours. Do you trust that God is in everything, even the horrible stuff? The way we view each day can say a lot about how we view God in our lives.

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