13. Provision – A Different Set of Rules

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 13. Provision – a Different Set of Rules

Mt 13:12   Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.

And Now: We have been considering the way the Lord meets the various needs of life that so often impose uncertainty on us, and we’ve just done it by reference to the life and ministry of Elisha. We noted the amazing range of daily needs that cropped up, each and every one of which the Lord met, and we challenged ourselves as to whether we let Him do that in our own personal circumstances. But it crosses my mind that sometimes we fail to remember that life in the kingdom of God works on very different rules from life in the world. Let’s check some of these out.

The ‘Having’ Principle: Our starter verse above is an instance of this that comes in the context of the Parable of the Sower, which provoked the disciples to ask Jesus why he used parables.  The above verse follows Jesus referring to the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom.” (v.11) I like the way the Message version puts it: You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears.” Insights and Understanding. Sometimes people say, “But I don’t seem to get anything out of the Bible,” to which the reply has to come, “But how much time do you spend reading His word, thinking about His word, studying it, meditating upon it, waiting on Him in prayer for understanding?”  The absence of these things reveals the heart. The disciples had chosen to follow Jesus, to stick close to him and learn of him, that is what being a disciple is about.  This is about provision which overcomes uncertainty, the uncertainty that fills so many minds. ‘Having’ comes from being in his presence.

The ’Giving’ Principle: Check this out: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Lk 6:38 NIV) The Message version puts it, Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity,” and Easy to Read version puts it, “Give to others, and you will receive. You will be given much. It will be poured into your hands—more than you can hold. You will be given so much that it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you.”

The whole question of giving reveals in quite an amazing way the state of our heart. Many people don’t give because they feel insecure. It’s not that they don’t have anything, it’s that they fear losing what they have and God not turning up to provide more for them. The whole of these recent studies has been about the certainty of God being a provider, but it is a learning process and the Bible clearly teaches that faith can grow. Now I confess to not believing we should just throw our money haphazardly around at charities etc. but instead seek the Lord for wisdom how to bless others, yes the church obviously, charities He may put on your heart, but also be open when He puts a specific person and their need before you. This takes us on to:

The ‘Using’ Principle: Did you note in that Lk 6:38 reference the phrase, “For the measure you USE it.”? God doesn’t only want us to have open, generous hearts but to also purposefully use what He has given us and when we do, He will multiply it. Jesus’ parable of the ‘talents’ is the classic teaching on this. Matthew records Jesus speaking about a man handing out bags of gold to his servants (Mt 25:14- older versions refer to ‘talents’ being a monetary value) with the expectation that they would each use what he gave them. You probably know it well enough for me not to expound on it. Luke spoke of the same story (that Jesus probably told more than a few times around the country) but had the man handing out ‘minas’ (Lk 19:11-) and it is in this context Jesus teaches, I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away,” (Lk 19:26) which appears to have a much wider meaning than simply insight and understanding that we saw in the context of explaining the Parable of the Sower. This implies it applies to all the talents, abilities, resources, opportunities that we have. Will we let God have access to them for them to be used by Him as He sees fit?

Example: Elijah’s Widow: We have already referred previously to the widow who Elijah stayed with who had, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug.” i.e. she was at the end of her resources. Nevertheless the prophet presses her: “first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’” (v.13,14)  He asks her to make and give away to him the last of what she has, but adds that when she does that, God will bless her resources. She responds with faith and it happens.

Example: Boy with a little: “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish.” (Jn 6:9) At the feeding of the five thousand it is John who points out that Andrew (who seems good with people) finds a boy with the resources that Jesus then uses to feed the massive crowd. We tend to lose him in the midst of the miracle but the fact of the matter was that this boy will willing to give Jesus his supplies, and a miracle ensues.

And So? And thus we see the principle of the kingdom being worked out – when the need arises, give what you have into Jesus’ hands and leave the rest to him. Uncertainty was the name of the game with Elijah’s widow – whether she could survive, whether she could trust the prophet. It was also behind the small boy’s offering – what could so little do, and can I trust Jesus? In both cases faith overcame uncertainty. When God’s word comes, when the Son is on the scene, can we trust Him?  May the answer be in the affirmative so that our uncertainties may become an opportunity for Him to transform the situation and reveal The Certainty. Amen? Amen!

12. Uncertainties of Provision (2)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 12. Uncertainties of Provision (2) 

2 Kings 2:9   Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

And So: As I suggested in the previous study, I suspect virtually all of us in the West take for granted the ease with which we can get hold of food, drink, etc. and I went on to examine some of the ways the Bible shows God supplied for some of His saints in the Old Testament period. However, and I don’t know if it came out clearly enough in that study, provision is directly tied to need and need invariably involves uncertainty, as we are finding out today. (I stood in a queue for ten minutes recently waiting to do my usual weekly shop while security guards let people out to let people in!) Yet there is another side to this which we will shortly move on to consider in the next study after we have first picked up on that other amazing prophet, Elisha, who followed on from Elijah, and in a similar fashion observe how need and provision go together.

Elisha’s Provision: Let’s first note how God provided for him:

– he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9) and apparently got it.

– he was enabled to cleanse a polluted spring (2 Kings 2:19-22)

– he receives God’s protection of his reputation via two bears! (2 Kings 2:23-25)

– he brings reassurance to Jehoshaphat and Joram against Moab (2 Kings 3:14-19)

– he guided a widow into a miracle of provision of oil to cover her debts (2 Kings 4:1-7)

– he was given hospitality in Shumen (near the Jezreel valley, south of Nazareth) (2 Kings 4:8-10)

– he promised a son for the woman there, which she had (2 Kings 4:11-17)

– he raised up her sick (?dead) son (2 Kings 4:18-37)

– he cleansed some poisoned cooking (2 Kings 4:38-41)

– he fed a hundred men with only twenty loaves (2 Kings 4:42-44)

– he brought about Naaman’s healing (2 Kings 5:1-19)

– he retrieved a lost axe-head (2 Kings 6:1-7)

– he blinded the Aramean army at Dothan (2 Kings 6:8-23)

– he foresaw and withstood arrest (2 Kings 6:30-33) and prophesied provision (2 Kings 7:1-20)

– he prophesied a seven-year famine and protected a woman (2 Kings 8:1-6)

– he prophesied over Hazael his future as leader over Aram (2 Kings 8:7-15)

– he instructed prophetic anointing of Jehu to be next king (2 Kings 9:1-13)

– on his deathbed he prophesied over Jehoash limited victory (2 Kings 13:14-20)

An Aside: When we compare Elijah and Elisha, it almost seems that Elijah’s reputation is eclipsed by that of Elisha, for Elisha was clearly a miracle-working prophet in a way that Elijah had not been. Nevertheless Elijah’s reputation stands having been the one who had stood in the face of Ahab’s wickedness and the presence of the prophets of Baal and is clearly honored by the Lord as he is taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Yet his ministry seemed to slide away after his apparent breakdown after the Carmel victory and we saw the Lord provided a successor for him in the form of Elisha, and only used him a further three times (items 10 to 13 in the list in the previous study). There seems to almost hang over him an element of failure that restricted his ongoing use. Now what is beautiful is that on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, we see that it was Moses and Elijah (summing up the Law and the Prophets?) who were seen with Jesus planning his departure (Lk 9:31). Was it that because there had been an element of failure hanging over both men (Moses having blown it with the water out of the rock) that the Lord in his grace has both men seen in this honored role, as if to say, ’These are my honoured servants, even if they didn’t always get it perfectly right’ – an act of amazing grace?

Times of Need: Now we have said that miracles happen in the face of need and need is so often about uncertainty. Put the other way around times of uncertainty reveal a need and a need is an opportunity for God’s glory to be seen. Now let’s go back over those instances of provision in Elisha’s ministry and now observe the uncertainty and the need that provoked the provision:

– Elijah is going, Elisha is uncertain as to how to proceed, he needs reassurance.  (2 Kings 2:9)

– a spring is polluted and unusable (2 Kings 2:19-22)

– his reputation is at stake (2 Kings 2:23-25)

– the two kings need guidance (2 Kings 3:14-19)

– a widow is in financial need (2 Kings 4:1-7)

– he needs a base, somewhere to stay (2 Kings 4:8-10)

– the woman is childless (2 Kings 4:11-17)

– the son has apparently died (2 Kings 4:18-37)

– the cooking has been poisoned (2 Kings 4:38-41)

– there are a lot of hungry followers with no provisions (2 Kings 4:42-44)

– Naaman has leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19)

– an axe-head has been lost (2 Kings 6:1-7)

– the Aramean army at Dothan threatens him (2 Kings 6:8-23)

– he is likely to be arrested and killed (2 Kings 6:30-33) there is shortage(2 Kings 7:1-20)

– a seven-year famine is coming and the woman will be affected (2 Kings 8:1-6)

– the remaining ones were all about knowing the uncertain future (2 Kings 8:7-15, 9:1-13, 13:14-20)

Go back over this list and catch a sense of the uncertainty that would be prevailing in each and every case. These things range from providing food and finances, finding lost articles, bringing guidance, bringing childlessness to an end, bringing new life to the dead, making food or drink usable, dealing with enemy threats, and making the future clearer. It is perhaps one of the most remarkable periods of Old Testament history that reveals the Lord who is a provider. The New Testament equivalent with some remarkable similarities is, of course, the ministry of Jesus in the Gospels.

And us? The challenge here is that we are shown a God who clearly delights in moving in and through His servants to meet the need of the hour and remove the sense of uncertainty that hangs over it. Dare we step into the arena of belief and confront and put to death our unbelief and ask the Lord to enlarge our faith so that we bring every area of our daily needs to Him – expectantly!  May it be so.

11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 11. Uncertainties of Provision (1)  

Gen 22:14   So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide.

Present Day: I write this particular study (for those who might come across it in the years ahead) in the early months of 2020, the year we suspect will go down in history as either the Year of the Great Coronavirus Pandemic, or the Year of the Great Coronavirus Panic. If I had written about God’s provision a few months ago, I guess most Christian readers would have read it with a big yawn. After all, we live in an age of immense abundance and so have no fears of running short. That was a few months ago. Since then we have seen reports of panic buying in both the UK and the USA, so much so, and creating so much government concern, that we even saw the American President on television at a press conference appealing to his people not to panic-buy.

Abraham: It is the incident involving Abraham going to sacrifice the miraculous child of promise, Isaac, that provokes the first reference to God being a provider. In his case it was simply the provision of a ram to use instead of his son, prefiguring Jesus being our lamb who is offered instead of us. But a Provider is one who supplies something to meet a need, whether it be Jesus to replace us at the Great Judgment or simply physical needs being met to preserve and continue life. It is the latter we will consider in this study.

Manna: It is the need of Israel in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land that has the Lord providing in a most incredible way with this miraculous “bread from heaven” (Gen 16:4), that appeared as ‘thin flakes like frost’, (v.14) “white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (v.31)  I called it miraculous because

– it appeared every morning, except on the Sabbath,

– if you collected too much of it, the excess went off the next day,

– on the sixth day you collected twice as much to cover the Sabbath – which didn’t go off!

– it continued coming for forty years until they went to enter the Land.

It was supposed to have been a provision for a month or so until they entered the Land but when they refused and ended up wandering the desert it continued for the next forty years. No doubt, as they had herds of cattle and sheep they sometimes supplemented it with meat but it was God’s basic provision for them throughout that time.

Joseph: Special provision is meeting needs in special times of need and so the onset of a famine would be such a time. I suspect we rarely think of the story of Joseph in Genesis as a story about provision, but it is 100% that. God knows that in a couple of decades a famine is going to strike the whole of what we refer to as the Middle East. The story of Joseph is the story of God choosing a man who will be open to His prophetic leading and come up with divinely inspired wisdom so that in seven good years of abundance, cereal is saved in large quantities in order to feed the nations in seven years of famine. Whether we say God caused the famine or God simply knew it would happen, is really irrelevant. The key issue is that He provided for the world through His wisdom, a multiple provision if you like:

– the amazing circumstances that brought Joseph to power, that a number of times involved ‘the favour of the Lord’ opening the way up for him,

– the gift of interpretation of dreams that opened the door into the palace,

– the gift of wisdom to know how to handle the revelatory dreams,

– seven years of great abundance,

– grace and insight to understand God’s purposes and deal kindly with his brothers.

Elijah: During another such time,  through the life of Elijah, we see multiple examples of the Lord’s provision:

  1. Famine ushered in by the word of the Lord through Elijah (1 Kings 17:1)
  2. The famine would not have taken hold when the Lord tells Elijah that He will provide for him by ravens bringing food (1 Kings 17:4-6) while he lived in seclusion to the east of the Jordan
  3. When his supply of water there runs out the Lord instructs him to go north of Israel to Sidon where a widow will provide for him (1 Kings 17:7-10)
  4. She has run out of flour and oil but the Lord miraculously provides for her, and him! (v.12-16)
  5. A while later her son dies and Elijah restores him (v.17-24)
  6. In dealing with the prophets of Baal (v.19-41) fire consumes Elijah’s offering
  7. When it is all over, by Elijah’s word the rain comes (v.41,45)
  8. When Elijah flees Jezebel’s wrath, the Lord sends an angelic provider (1 Kings 19:5-8)
  9. The Lord also provides him with a successor (1 Kings 19:16)
  10. Yet he still brings a convicting word from the Lord to Ahab that brings him to repentance (1 Kings 21:17-29)
  11. Later Elijah challenges Ahaziah’s messengers about his unbelief (2 Kings 1:3-5)
  12. Again and again he receives protection against arrest (2 Kings 1:9-15)
  13. He gets a word condemning the king who dies (2 Kings 1:16,17)
  14. God sends a chariot of fire to take him home (2 Kings 2:11)

Summary: So how, in what situations full of uncertainty above, did God provide for Elijah, thus bringing certainty by His provision?

  1. a) Prophetic words changing the circumstances (1 – famine, 7 – rain)
  2. b) Prophetic words to individuals (10 – Ahab, 11,13 – Ahaziah)
  3. c) Miraculous provision of food (2 – ravens, 8 – an angel)
  4. d) General guidance (2 – go east, 3 – go north)
  5. e) Fire from heaven (6 – against false prophets, 12 – against arrest)
  6. f) Other miracles (4 – flour and oil, 5 – raising dead)
  7. g) Ongoing (9 – a successor, 14 – transport to heaven)

A combination that we might boil down to revelation (prophecy etc.) and miracles (power).

And So?  I remember the testimony of a man of God who was crying out to God, “Where is the God of Elijah?” and back from heaven came the challenge, “Where are the Elijahs?” The reality is that we may add a further list to clarify the point of this series, the uncertainties coming through the threats or spiritual apostasy that Elijah faced:

– unbelief in the nation and in kings, false prophets,

– threats brought by those rulers and spiritual deceivers, and threats to his very existence,

– the uncertainties of living in times of famine and personal shortage,

– the uncertainties of his role as a prophet.

I think the conclusion to all this about Elijah must be that he certainly was a somewhat scary guy to encounter, simply because God was so powerfully with him. The trouble about that is that it can disguise the uncertainties that he himself had, most clearly seen after Jezebel threatened him. If you were Elijah you certainly would have been able to look back at triumphs but that in no way detracts from the uncertainties that went with it.  But then serving God by faith is like that.

And Us? That leaves me pondering, is it a case of the greater the faith we have, the greater God can use us? I suppose the corollary to that must be if we have little faith, God will be restricted in using us. Ah, but Jesus said you only need faith the size of a mustard seed (i.e. tiny) to be able to move mountains! (Mt 17:20) Where does faith come from? By hearing (Rom 10:17) so the more we learn to listen – and then obey the little bit we’ve heard – the more we can be used by God. Awesome! Let’s go for it!

10. A Kaleidoscope of Uncertainties

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 10. A Kaleidoscope of Uncertainties – the Psalms

Psa 2:1   Why do the nations conspire?

Psa 6:3   My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?

Psa 10:1  Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psa 13:1  How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

Psa 15:1  Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?

Psa 22:1  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

Psa 42:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Biblical Realism: Have a realistic view of this world with its uncertainties but make sure you hold on to The Certainty we have been talking about in these recent studies. That is the message that I have felt coming out in all these studies, this is what I have felt the Lord saying to me. Sometimes we have such a romantic view of the Psalms that we lose a vital truth that comes through in them. Yes, sometimes they are songs of praise, songs of triumph, songs of worship, but quite often they are also cries of anguish. Have you ever noticed how many question the psalmists present to God? Those questions flow out of uncertainty and the anguish that goes with that uncertainty. But let’s extend our consideration of uncertainty to pinpoint three different causes.

  1. Varying Circumstances: Is David a schizophrenic? I ask that because there are times when he comes out with such dynamic faith in both his psalms and his history, that it almost feels difficult to believe it is the same man who is now bewailing his plight. I think one of my favourite quotes of his is, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) and then later, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:36,37) Brilliant, what faith! No, I don’t think he’s schizophrenic, it’s just at different times of life the pressures are different, so yes there are times when David was strong and full of faith, and other times, perhaps feeling tired and jaded, he is struggling.
  2. Burnt Out: We could ask the same thing about Elijah. He does some great stuff, the peak of which is challenging Ahab and his prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. What a miracle, what a triumph, so much so that he goes running ahead of Ahab all the way back to Jezreel (1 Kings 18), but then Ahab’s wife threatens him and he does a runner to a cave in Sinai on Mount Horeb, as far away as possible from Jezreel, where the Lord finds him in a miserable state. He’s on the verge of a breakdown it seems, utterly wiped out. Perhaps we should realize that sometimes when we fight a great battle against the enemy and triumph, there is a price to be paid. Perhaps it shouldn’t be like that, I’m not sure, but it often is.
  3. Enormity of the Future: I think it is indisputable that one of the two greatest cries of anguish in the Bible comes from Jesus as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He faces the greatest of anguishes, not merely physical but certainly spiritual in what is about to come: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” …. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Lk 22:42-44) A prayer of immense human anguish, and yet I believe it was more than human fear; there was also, I believe, the awareness that having been through one separation from the Father – leaving heaven his eternal dwelling – he was about to face an even greater separation when he took the sin of the world on himself in such a measure that it would blot out the awareness of the Father that had kept him going for three years of ministry, and that second great cry would be dragged out of him, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34)

In the face of the enormity of the awfulness of what was about to come, Jesus shows us himself in immense anguish. He shares in the same experiences that we encounter. How did he cope with it? It is too easy to say, well he was God and had all of that strength, but that ignores the humanity that he carried.  Listen to the writer to the Hebrews: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1,2) How did he do it? He looked beyond it to what would follow.

And Us? Look beyond today or tomorrow to the vision that God will give you of what will yet come. Let that be part of the strength (as well as His presence and purpose and power) that keeps you today. There is a new day yet to come! Don’t be put off by ‘bad days’; we all have them. Look past them to the next new day, who knows what it will hold. If you read David’s psalms rejoice when he rejoices,  empathize with him when he anguishes and learn from him when he starts out ‘down’, pours out his heart in anguish but comes through to a new place of certainty and is able to praise the Lord and declare his trust.

If, like Elijah, on one day you give out a lot and are feeling wiped out the next day, find a quiet place and regroup, get refreshed, you are still a much-loved servant of God and there is more to do – when you have been freshly resourced. The wonderful thing is that the Lord understands these low times we go through brought on by tough circumstances and enemy opposition, and He’s there with us, watching, understanding, feeling with us, and ready to restore us.

And when the future looks daunting, stretching out ahead of us with trying and difficult circumstances yet to come – whether health issues, work issues, or people issues – grab for His resources for today, receive His peace to be able to face the future, and look beyond the ‘tough stuff’ to see the glory the other side of it. Can we do that? I’m sure we can – with Him.

9. The Certainty of the Kingdom

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 9. The Certainty of the Kingdom

Ex 3:7-9   I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt….. So I have come down to rescue them ….I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’

Ongoing: The good news is that there was only one Exodus and so the Lord will not be sending you and me to deliver a nation….. or will He? Well not a whole nation perhaps, but who knows what He has on His heart for you and me yet to achieve? In the uncertainties of this world in which we live, as we worry about getting by, perhaps we need to go back to that well known verse, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well,” (Mt 6:33) which we might put as, “put seeking God’s will and then doing it first of all, before all things, and then all the rest will fall into place as He provides for you.”  Let’s ponder on this a bit more.

Moses? If you were a friend of God and you were standing beside Him as He spoke to Moses beside the burning bush, I have a feeling you might be feeling ever so slightly exasperated with the Prince of Egypt who is now a shepherd. In fact you might be wondering why the Lord had decided to stop by and talk to this guy. After all, he had squandered an amazing lifestyle in the royal palace in Egypt by suddenly getting the idea that he could be the savior of his own people, Israel. See how that worked out! Well actually it had worked out by him fleeing Egypt and becoming a shepherd – a shepherd!!! an outcast in the desert with only sheep for company –  for forty years! He’s a nobody, so what are we doing here at this burning bush trying to suggest a path ahead that he’s clearly not interested in. In fact it’s much stronger than that, he’s dead set against it! So why is the Lord bothering with him?

Well pause up a moment, will you, remember we’ve said the Lord doesn’t make mistakes? Tack on to that one or two other things we know – the Lord takes the weak and foolish things (people!) to confound the strong and the wise, and He clearly knows people and what He can get them to achieve. So Moses? Well let’s add in a few more things the Lord says in this rather strange two-chapter conversation. I will be with you,” (3:12) and, I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians,” (3:20) and then He gives him two miracles (4:2-8), and He then lays out the plan (4:9), and I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (4:12) and then He gives him Aaron his brother to help him (4:14-16) and, finally, He had said his past is gone and will not come back to bite him (4:19). In other words, the Lord covers all the bases, Moses has nothing to worry about. It may be a bit of a rocky ride but the Lord will be there AND He will be doing the stuff – through Moses – so what more is there to worry about?

And Jesus? Put like that it sounds simple doesn’t it, but it still required Moses to step up to the mark and do his side of it all, and that is pretty scary and coming to think about it, stepping out of a boat and walking on water is pretty scary, but with the Lord we can do it – IF he calls us to do it!  And this takes us back to the talk about the kingdom that we are to seek – Jesus’ reign on his Father’s behalf that he spoke about as soon as he started speaking and ministering in Galilee. It was the message of John the Baptist – “John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (Mt 3:1) and it was Jesus’ message – “Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Mt 4:17) It is also the message of the apostles: the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26)

Establishing the Kingdom: ‘The kingdom’ is all about Jesus’ reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) working to destroy all the things that were NOT there in Eden when the Father first made the world. The last thing is to be death, but before that there is Sin in all its many forms to be dealt with. He deals with that by first of all convicting us by his Spirit so that we repent and die to the old life. The root of sin in us is thus dealt with and the ongoing, indwelling Holy Spirit within us will be working to overcome any resurrection-of-the-old-life attempts by the enemy. And every time we blow it, the Spirit is there, seeking to convict us afresh about that thing so that we may bring it back to the Lord, receive fresh forgiveness and cleansing and the thing be put to death and put under our feet. And so his work in dealing with the things of ‘the old life’ continue as he seeks to destroy them in us and replace them with the fruit of his Spirit. That’s the way he starts to bring about and establish his reign in us.

Expanding the Kingdom: ‘Establishing’ is all about working character into us, Jesus’ character, but while He does that God does not wait around until we are perfect before He can use us. As we saw with Moses, God takes us with our failures and sets us off down the path of service, because He knows that the very progress down that path will help bring about those character changes we referred to above. We get changed as we go, as we do, as we let Him lead us into joining Him in expanding that work of establishing the kingdom in others.

Trying to tie down how that happens is an impossibility because every situation, every moment with God, is unique. The way He used Moses against Pharaoh was one thing, the way He used Joshua to take the Land was another. The way, for instance, He used and worked through Elijah was one thing, the way He used and worked through Elisha, is another. Every person is tailor-made for the situation God puts before them. Every situation ultimately has the same goal – to bring the situation under the rule of Jesus for him to deal with and put to death all the wrongs that came post the Fall – but the way the Lord brings it about will be unique for you and unique for me.

Refocusing:   So here we are thinking through some of the ways this fallen world manifests uncertainty, pondering our part in it all and, in this study, seeing that part in the light of the kingdom. Very often believers find themselves swamped by that uncertainty because they forget (or maybe never learnt) The Certainty that we have been considering here. It isn’t ‘just Jesus’ but Jesus whose goal is utterly set in concrete, to establish and expand the kingdom of God to fulfill the purpose established by the Godhead before the foundation of the world: it is to restore us after the Fall, to redeem us, so that we can enter into a relationship with the Father whereby we can receive all the good He has on His heart for us, be transformed and know the wonder of being His children here on earth as we prepare to enter in more fully to that as we move on from this life to the one in heaven. If you’ve never seen it like that, grab hold of it and never let it go.

And Us – along the way: We’re usually OK with the ‘establishing’ bit but may be a bit fearful about the ‘expanding’ bit. If that is so, remember the things we saw with Moses: the Lord comes with us, never leaves us, is there to guide us and resource us, and provides others alongside us so we are not alone in it (whatever the ‘it’ is) and remember, I used the phrase ‘tailor-made for the situation’ just now. God chose the path He has for you and me knowing that with Him we CAN handle it. There may come times when we don’t feel that and even the great apostle Paul confessed that there were times when he and those with him “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor 1:8) but, remember, when he wrote that he was looking back so that the truth was the Lord had brought him through that and he was still going strong. The Lord never promises that it will always be easy (though it will be sometimes) but that He will be there with us to see us through to the end, i.e. “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:6)  In the midst of the uncertainties of the world around us, let’s make sure we hold on to this confidence, this certainty. Amen? Amen!

8. Responding to the Uncertainties of God

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 8. Responding to the Uncertainties of God

Lk 5:8   When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Ezek 37:3 He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”  I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Ongoing: If we were playing one of those games where someone says a word and the next person has to say something different and yet with a clear link to the first word, and we were using the Bible, then having just seen the response of Job to God, my next link would be that of Peter to Jesus. Job concluded, “my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 4:5,6) Peter, after having given his boat over to let Jesus use it as a pulpit, concluded, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Lk 5:8 AV)

The Uncertainties of God: One of our greatest dangers is making God ‘manageable’. The Anglican translator of the mid-twentieth century, J.B.Phillips, ended up writing a book entitled, “Your God is Too Small”. Both Job and Peter, I suggest, caught something of the uncertainty of God.

After Job had listened to God going on for chapter after chapter about what He could do and what Job couldn’t do, Job began to be overwhelmed by the uncertainty of the enormity of God. You need to prayerfully read those chapters over and over again and let the reality of them get through to you, for perhaps the modern church needs more than anything to be delivered from the ‘God is my buddy’ mentality by seeing Him as the most awesome being we can ever encounter.  But God who is Spirit – power and energy with personality – permeates every minute piece of space that fills billions and billions of light years of deep space in every direction, a description that utterly defeats our finite minds. And this energy, this power with personality, has the capability of expressing a communication we would hear in, for example, four words, “Let there be light,” and instantly with no apparent cause, or original resource, light appears. If only we could grasp that it would almost scare the life out of us which is why, I believe, when we find heavenly revelations in the Bible (e.g. Ezek 1, Rev 4) the word that is so often used is ‘like’ because we would be unable to comprehend an iota of the reality. Instead we have imagery.

But then there is Peter as we see him in Lk 5. It appears he’s met Jesus before (see Jn 1 etc.) and perhaps he’s caught something about Jesus, although he’s not sure what.  Lk 5 seems to be an expanded version of the abbreviated calling we find in Mt 4:18-20 and Mk 1:16-20 or it is possible each of the accounts we’ve referred to here, had time gaps between them and the Lk 5 account is the last of them. Whichever is the truth, Jesus asks Peter to allow him to use his boat to preach from. This happens and when he has finished preaching there is a sequence of events that conclude in our verse above:
– Jesus says to push out further and cast their nets.

– Peter the fisherman knows these waters, had been out all night and caught nothing.

– Peter the fisherman knows there are no fish there (If you’ve ever lived by the sea perhaps you have seen the movement of the water, even the shimmering silver, that denotes the presence of fish).

– Yet something about Jesus makes Peter want to please him so he throws the nets out – probably with no hope of anything.

But then the nets are full to breaking point! Where did these fish come from? Why didn’t I see them? One minute they weren’t there, the next they were. This is scary. (The cogs of his mind are now rapidly churning over). Oh, my goodness, Jesus knew! Or is there something scarier here, he called them to come? Who is he? Or is there something yet even more scary, did he somehow make them? Who is he?  This is someone out of my league, this guy isn’t religious for religion can’t do this stuff, thus guy is something or someone greater than anything we’ve ever encountered, someone greater than anyone we’ve ever dreamed of. This guy makes me feel like I’m just a kid playing in an uncertain world who really hasn’t a clue about fishing. Who is he? I’m starting to feel seriously uncomfortable being in his presence even. If he knows more about fishing than I do, he must know all there is to know about me. Wow, that is seriously uncomfortable!  “Lord, please go away, I can’t cope with this. You know all things, you know me, and that’s not good.”  “Yes, I do know you and that’s why I’m calling you to come with me, to follow me and I’ll teach you a new kind of fishing – for people.”

Three years later, after three years of the most incredible events the world has ever seen, he’s going to be on this shore again, and if the above is anything like what went on in the first episode, we aren’t left wondering. A question. “you know I love you.” A second question. “you know I love you.” A third question. “Master, you know everything there is to know. You’ve got to know that I love you.” (Jn 21:15-19 Msg) Yes, Jesus, in the midst of all our uncertainties is the Great Certainty, the one who knows all things about us and is there for us with access to a power that can bring light when there was no light, fishes when they were no fishes, and life when there is no life.

And that’s when the ‘word game’ takes us back to Ezekiel and his valley of dry bones. When the Lord gives him a vision of this valley full of bones and asks him, “Son  of man, can these bones live?” (37:3a) He is questioning Ezekiel’s uncertainty about Him. Now dry bones are all that are left after death and decomposition and the birds have picked them clean. There is, humanly speaking NO hope, but why should God ask such a thing if He hasn’t got something in mind.  What is He thinking? Uncertainty! “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” (v.3b)

And us?  So there it is. A God greater than anything we can comprehend. A God who draws close and interacts with us. A God who knows all things and can do all things. A God who, we’ve suggested before, doesn’t make mistakes. A God who calls us, forgives us and cleanses us, equips us and sends us. Certainties in the midst of the uncertainties? Let Him impact you with this truth – and be at peace.

7. God is Too Big to Argue with

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 7. God is Too Big to Argue with

Job 42:1-6  Then Job replied to the Lord… Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

Ongoing: In a quest to make some sense of this world of uncertainty, a stop off in the book of Job must be essential. Thought of as possibly the oldest book in the Bible we might be unwise to declare it factual history or simply an allegory. We really don’t know, but whichever it is it conveys some amazing truths for a book of such antiquity. Be honest, it is not easy to read, in fact I think I have found it the most difficult book in the Bible to read, perhaps it is simply because the arguments that Job’s friends often put forward are only partial truths or even no truths, yet I found many years ago, doing a verse by verse study of it, thoroughly rewarding. So what are the main things that appear to come through in it, things that might help us get a clearer picture of the world of existence that we know? Here are some:

God the Initiator: One of the apparently awful things about this book is that Job’s sufferings appear to be initiated by God. Chapters 1 & 2 give us this picture of heaven as a place where God meets with his angelic beings and considers humanity. God trusts Job and He wants us to see that trust at work. He extols Job: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8) We must assume He knows how such a statement of truth will provoke Satan. He Himself will not cause Job’s misery but having pointed Job out as outstanding, He must let Satan test him (and yet again reveal Satan for what he is!).

Satan the Adversary: The writer of Job presumably knows of Satan’s part in the Fall but he sees Satan as there in heaven, one of the heavenly beings, allowed in the courts of the Lord, but still an adversary who takes whatever opportunities he is given to spoil the works of God and harm mankind. Yet in the incredible wisdom of God he is allowed to do that, to become a bringer of discipline or judgment, even on God’s behalf. He is allowed to stir up pagan attackers to bring death (Job 1:15,17), to use the elements to bring destruction (Job 1:16,19), and to bring sickness (Job 2:7)

Job the Enduring: The first wave of these things destroy Job’s property and family and we read, At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb,  and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.” (Job 1:20-22) What maturity. I came from nothing, I’ve been returned to nothing. If that is what God decrees, so be it! Then it comes very close and he is afflicted and when his wife seeks to incite him to curse God, he replies, He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.” (Job 2:10)

Meaning? But if you think this is easy, think again, for this is what the large part of the rest of this book is about, his struggles to cope with this and make sense of it and, of course, the truth is that from his earthly point of view there is no sense in it. When we put it in the context of the first two chapters, we see a heavenly conflict going on that goes to the very heart of why God should create mankind, perfect and with free will, knowing sin will come out of that free will. Can any good come out of that original decision? Is it possible for there to come a relationship between holy God and fallen mankind? When things go wrong on this fallen world – as they surely will, catastrophes caused by the weather, catastrophes caused by the sinful acts of men killing men, catastrophes of illness and death – can out of these things any good thing come? That is at the heart of the arguments of this book.

The Motivations of Arguing: Why do the following chapters happen, why do these conversations ensue? Job’s three friends hear of his plight and determine to “go and sympathize with him and comfort him.” (Job 2:11) When they first see him they are devastated at his state (v.12) and then, bless them, they sit with him in silence for seven days. Amazing! What empathy. So often when we are in such depths of despair all we want is someone to be there. But then Job can’t hold himself in any longer and he expresses the anguish he feels by cursing his very existence (Ch.3). It is a very human response to such overwhelming anguish. That is too much for one of his friends: “who can keep from speaking? (4:2) He gently chides him and says, remember who you have been, “Should not your piety be your confidence and your blameless ways your hope?” (4:6) And so it begins. Job in his anguish seeks to justify himself while his friends work on the basis of ‘no smoke without fire’, and it goes on and on getting more and more theological.

Life can be a storm: Eventually God intervenes and speaks, “out of the storm.” (Job 38:1) Interesting! No mention of a physical storm. Earlier Job had said, “He would crush me with a storm,” (Job 9:17) and later, “You snatch me up and drive me before the wind;you toss me about in the storm,” (Job 30:22) and later Elihu uses the same sort of language, “His thunder announces the coming storm,” (Job 36:33) and so now in 38:1 and later in 40:6 we have this phrase, Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.”  We have used this picture of storms on the Sea of Galilee to portray the world of uncertainty and confusion that we experience so often in this fallen world, and here it is used again. Job has been battling a sea of uncertainty and his friends really haven’t helped.

God who is too big to argue with: And so we come to the crisis point of this book, God has come to declare His verdict but before He does, He does something quite unexpected, He does NOT justify Himself. Instead He simply declares His greatness as Creator of all things (Ch.38-41). Does that explain all this? Only in as far as He shows Himself as the all-powerful One who made everything we know, but that doesn’t explain Job’s anguish. Look at how it concludes. The Lord chides Job’s three friends: “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7, repeated in v.8) Wow, despite all his rantings, despite the Lord quelling him with His might and majesty, he is still in God’s good books we might say today. Indeed the Lord restores him in such a way he is even far better off than he had been before. Job has come through triumphantly.

But what about? But what about the truth, what about the suffering? OK, you won’t find it in the text but as I have pondered this over the years, and only seen it just recently, I conclude that when God goes on at great length about His power, wisdom and might, as the Creator of all things, it is as if He is saying for those who will have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand, “If I have all this, do you think I make mistakes?”  What????? Yes, look, the Bible declares God is perfect and my definition of ‘perfect’ is ‘cannot be improved upon’, i.e. everything about God and everything He thinks, says or does (or doesn’t do) cannot be improved upon. I often find myself saying it, but I am certain that when we get to heaven, if the Lord allows us to look back over existence – and my life in particular – with all of His vision, knowledge, wisdom and insight, we will never ever be able to criticize Him for any of it.

And So? So the big difficulty in all this is that at this moment in our existence we cannot see all of that, we are in a sea of uncertainty, even a storm of uncertainty and that, as we said before, is where trust comes in, that God is there, He is love, He doesn’t make mistakes, He is working for our good (Rom 8:28), He has got a plan for our lives (Eph 2:10) and He has provided all we need in Christ and by His Spirit and our hope is secure awaiting us in heaven.  Yes, we may have read all that in His word and heard it preached many times, but when we’re in the middle of the lake in the middle of a storm that threatens our very lives, that is the time for trust, that is the time it becomes real!  And whether you like it or not, may I say this very gently, I believe trust is one of the most important things God is seeking to work in us as He matures us, and trust is observed as we remain in peace, secure in His love. May we each know it. Amen.