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Part 4 | What’s in your heart?


It seems strange to record that God tests us to see what is in our hearts, as though He didn’t already know. We read a similar thing in Abraham’s life where God called him to his greatest ever exploit of faith, namely to offer up his promised son as a sacrifice on the altar. Amazingly, Abraham does not argue or prevaricate but immediately obeys, climbing the mountain with his son.

As the boy is bound to the altar and the knife in Abraham’s hand is raised to strike him, God’s command pierces the silence. Abraham needs to go no further. His son’s life is spared. ‘Now,’ God says, ‘I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me’ (Gen. 22:12). But God knows all things, we might argue. Surely He knew what was in Abraham’s heart? Why all these tests? Inevitably there are mysteries too great for us to understand, but we must never drift into a theological stance which regards everything as so buttoned-up that the whole world and your personal history are merely on autopilot, that everything is inevitable and a locked-up system.

Obviously we will never fully understand all of God’s ways. We are mere creatures with very limited understanding, clouded vision, uncomprehending minds. Many of God’s mysteries are beyond us. Our demand for everything to submit to human logic is misplaced when we approach these themes requiring neat answers. There are secret things which are beyond us. ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law’ (Deut. 29.29).
 

Reverent fear and holy joy


It’s not for me to know why God tests you when He already knows you through and through. Your responsibility is to live this life in reverent fear and holy joy, trusting Him with every unexpected turn in the road and believing that the One who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all is not careless or capricious. He is not heartless or indifferent, putting us through pains that we don’t need to bear and delays that we don’t have to endure.

In our fallen world there are many setbacks and mysteries. The perfect has not yet come. One day every tear will be wiped away, the whole universe, the new heavens and the new earth will be transformed into God’s temple and nothing unclean will enter in. Paradise will be regained.

Endurance through pain and delay will no longer be called for. Only in this passing age are we called upon to endure pain, setbacks and incomprehensible departures from or anticipated journey. When the Lord comes, faith will be swallowed up by sight, mysteries will vanish and we shall know as we are known. Meanwhile, we are called upon to run this race looking to Jesus who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. He is our ultimate model of endurance. With no sense of his Father’s nearness and the horrors of death waiting to envelop him, Jesus stepped into our place enduring in his own self the fury of a holy God, His just and righteous wrath against sin.
cross 2
In faith and patience Jesus walked towards the cross, climbing Golgotha in full faith and certainty that his Father would not abandon his soul to Hades nor allow him to undergo decay (Acts 2:27) but would raise him up and give him glory. ‘Consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself so that you may not grow weary and lose heart’ (Heb. 12:3). No one else has known comparable suffering. So let’s run the race looking to Him full of faith and confidence, believing that ultimate, indescribable joy awaits us and that after we have done the will of God we will receive what is promised.

Don’t get sluggish. Make sure you inherit the promises!


 

This is Part 4 of 4



Photogragh by Waiting For The Word

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Part 3 | Dealing with delays

Eugene Peterson, in his famous translation of the Bible, says, ‘Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come to you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colours. So don’t try and get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way’ (James 1).

Again in the Message he tells us further, ‘We continue to shout our praise even when we are hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next’ (Rom. 5).

Joseph had every human reason to feel that life had been cruel to him and that God had forgotten him, but we are told that even in prison he was a successful man. How do you remain successful when everything looks so dismal, when events and people treat you so harshly?
prison bars
Surely one of Joseph’s secrets was to forgive his brothers completely and not to accuse God. He refused to be trapped in his immediate circumstances and to allow bitterness and unforgiveness to wreck his life. You cannot be successful if you are always living in the past, full of regret and recrimination. You cannot enjoy God’s keeping grace if, in your heart, you are accusing Him of failing you and thereby trap yourself in some earlier painful experience.

Joseph kept believing God. He knew his brothers meant to do evil to him but he kept believing in God’s total providence and reckoned that although they meant it for evil, God meant it for good.

God was at work painting a bigger picture and unfolding a greater design. Joseph’s freedom from the past gave him liberty to enjoy God’s provision of peace in the present.
 

Some day my prince will come


Joseph also overcame the temptation only to live day dreaming about the future and putting everything on hold until things worked out. He did not press the pause button and just wait for a better day. Endurance is not about day dreaming that ‘when I’ve finished school’, ‘when I get married’, ‘when I’m full-time’, ‘when the kids grow up’, ‘when circumstances are more convenient’ – ‘I’ll be fulfilled.’ Meanwhile I am marking time.

Some people seem to think ‘there’s a bright tomorrow and I’ll wait for that to come along.’ Some think ‘until they make me an elder how can I really serve?’ or ‘if I’m not full-time there is nothing I can do.’ Delay then brings frustration not maturity.

Jesus tells us first to be faithful in the small before we are given the large, to be faithful with other people’s things then we will be given our own, and even to be faithful with financial matters before we are given the responsibility of true riches (see Luke 16:10-12).

Delay is not like the commercial time on TV – time to flick through the channels; time for short-term distractions until returning to the plot. Delay is part of the plot! Delay is God’s way of proving you, testing you to see what’s in your heart. God told the Israelites that He had led them through the wilderness for this very reason, ‘that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not’ (Deut. 8:2).

Soon, like Joseph, they were to be in a good land of overflowing blessing. How would they manage the desert first? Joseph was soon to see the total fulfilment of God’s promises. He managed the delay with flying colours. He endured by continuing to believe and by keeping his eyes on God.

 

To be continued...

This is Part 3 of 4



 

Photograph by mgbradley


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Part 2 | Don’t be sluggish

 
The writer to the Hebrews warns us of a great danger in the Christian life, namely that if we don’t enjoy immediate results, we tend to throw in the towel. Or, if we don’t completely abandon the cause, we at least begin to drag our feet, lose our joy and simply go through the motions with no genuine expectation.

Our Christianity becomes routine, dull and fruitless. To use his phrase, we get ‘sluggish’ (Heb. 6:12 NASB). Not an attractive alternative to the dynamic and enduring faith of our Bible heroes.

The challenge is to make sure that faith remains faith even when we experience delay. We must not slip the car into neutral and begin to coast. We must keep the gear of faith fully engaged, especially when we encounter unexpected curves in the road.
bend in road
When we first received the promise we expected that the road would be straight, the way would be direct. Joseph was promised that his brothers and even his parents would bow down to him. He was already his father’s favourite. His special coat already distinguished him from the others, so he guessed the bowing down part would soon follow.

No! There was a long, winding road before the promise was fulfilled. He encountered not only delay but what looked like setbacks of devastating proportions.

Rather than bow down to him, his brothers sold him as a slave to some foreign nomads. Cruel lies and false accusations resulted in his imprisonment far from home. Surely time to ditch the dream. What makes Joseph such an exemplary character is that he kept believing God. His dream did not fade. His vision remained sharp. He never abandoned his confidence in what God had told him.

 

Tell me your dream!

 

I can imagine how I would have reacted if a fellow prisoner had told me that now he had had a dream. If I was Joseph, I would have said, ‘Forget it! I also had a dream. Look where it got me!’ Instead of cynicism, Joseph displayed excitement and eager anticipation. ‘Tell me your dream,’ he urged his incarcerated companion. A dream was still to be believed. A promise could still be trusted, even when circumstances could not look worse.

‘do not throw away your confidence,’ the Bible tells us. ‘You have need of patience so that after you have done the will of God you might receive the promise’ (Heb. 9:36). There it is again. Faith and patience!



 

To be continued...

This is Part 2 of 4




Photograph by Rodney Campbell


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