30. You’ll see it

Meditations in Deuteronomy : 30 :  You’ll see it

(Focus: Deut 11:8-15)

Deut 11:8,9 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land that the LORD swore to your forefathers to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey.

We have commented before that Moses encourages and exhorts by looking back and by looking forward. In the first seven verses of chapter 11 he looked back to remind them of what they had seen and heard. Now he exhorts and encourages by looking forward to them going in an taking the land.

He starts it off with this intriguing instruction: observe all the commands so that “you may have the strength to go in and take over the land.” Now why should obedience to the laws bring them strength and courage? Well, first, there may be a psychological dimension to that. When you feel good about something you feel strong and capable. If they feel good about their relationship with the Lord, then that may naturally give them a good feeling that is expressed in strength and courage. The second thing, is that it may well be that when they are in a close relationship with the Lord, He is able to impart strength to them. Years later in the book of Judges we see a number of times that when the Spirit of the Lord came upon a man it brought physical strength and courage. The power and presence of the Lord did bring literal changes to a man.

But there is also a second part to the outworkings of obedience:so that you may live long in the land” Obedience will also bring the blessing of security and long life. If they stick to God’s design rules, the Law,  then the Lord will look after them and protect them in the land, and grant them long healthy lives.

Now note that as soon as he starts mentioning the Land, he moves into descriptive mode, saying encouraging things about this land. First of all it is a land flowing with milk and honey.” Milk comes from the cattle they keep while honey comes from the bees that make it from the lushness of the plant life in the land. These are shorthand descriptions of a land that is good, fruitful and bountiful. This is a good land! Then he makes a comparison again: “The land you are entering to take over is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you planted your seed and irrigated it by foot as in a vegetable garden.” (v.10)  This land, he continues, is going to be different from Egypt. There to create plant life you had to walk the land to cultivate it and water it. Water was not plentiful so you had to carry it to your plants like a vegetable garden. It was hard work, but this new land is going to be different: “the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (v.11,12) No, this new land is quite different. It has mountains and valleys and rainfall and that means plenty of vegetation, lush vegetation. It’s a land that receives the blessing of God on it from one end of the year to the other. This is a very different land from that which they have experienced so far; it’s going to be a really good land.

The end product of their obedience will be the promise of the Lord’s ongoing blessing on it: “then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.” (v.14,15) Rain in two seasons will mean it is truly a bountiful land and that for a farmer can be equated with riches and well-being. That is the promise of this new land, that is what they have got to look forward to. But of course it IS conditional on their obedience so that “you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today–to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (v.13)

Now when you consider all the wonderful pictures of the land that have just been painted, there shouldn’t  need to be a stick to drive them to obedience, the wonder of this provision should be adequate motivation to help them along. It is not as if the laws are difficult, for they are not. Similarly today, if people grumble about ‘having to keep rules’ it simply means that they have not understood the wonder of the provision of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ. The wonder of God’s love – when we have eyes to see it – should be more than enough to help us live holy and righteous lives. Indeed, the ‘rules’ of the New Testament are really all different expressions of loving God and loving your fellow man, and once you see the wonder of God’s love, expressing that love back and outwards to others is not difficult. it is not onerous being a child of God; it is a wonderful blessing! Hallelujah!

 

55. Example of Elijah

Meditations in James: 55: The Example of Elijah

Jas 5:17,18 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.

Most of us can look back and see people who, if they weren’t quite role models for us, were certainly people who impacted our lives (for good or bad) in some way. Perhaps we took them for granted, but nevertheless they still made an impression upon us. They might have been a family member or they might have been a friend or a teacher or a leader of some kind. It is natural to look at other people and be touched by their good example, especially. Many Christians come across a character in the Bible who seems to stand out to them and impress them in some particular way. We learn, not only by direct teaching, but also by example.

James uses just such an example to help us focus even more on what he has been saying. Do you remember back in chapter four he called us to side with God against the world?  He called us to live lives submitted to God, lives lived out in the light of our relationship with God. Yes, it was our relationship with the Lord that he went on to talk more about, until in recent verses he comes to talk about prayer as a natural expression of that relationship. In trouble? Pray! Happy? Pray! Sick? Pray! Guilty? Pray! Oh yes, as we’ve said previously, prayer is the classic expression of faith, of this relationship with the Lord being lived out.

But now he wants us to also realise the impact of prayer, the power of prayer, the importance and significance of prayer, and to do that he uses Elijah as an example. Now he’s aware that because Elijah was a great prophet who was remembered for doing great things, we might consider Elijah was right out of our league and therefore not identify with him. Hence he starts off, Elijah was a man just like us.” Yes, he did do some great things, but in many ways he was a very ordinary sort of person. Read Elijah’s story some time (1 Kings 17 on) and you’ll see that he really did have feet of clay sometimes, a very ordinary man. But He prayed. Elijah had a relationship with the Lord and it was that which made him stand out for some of the things the Lord enabled him to do.

But more than that, He prayed earnestly. As he came to God, he obviously caught something of God’s heart, and prayed it some more. As he prayed he found he was getting an assurance from the Lord about what he was praying so, He prayed earnestly that it would not rain. Now when we look up his story we don’t find that part recorded. All we find is, Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1). Because he was so sure that he had heard God, he conveyed it to Ahab the king. Now if you’re like me, I guess that at that point, he is really praying! Once you step out in faith on what God has said, you really want to be justified and see it happen!

Well, he prayed and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Was it Elijah making it not rain for that time? No, it was the Lord, but Elijah shared in it in as much as he shared in the Lord’s heart and was the messenger to convey it to those on the earth who would be affected by it.  Then James tells us,Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain. Again we are not told in the Kings accounts exactly what he said. What we find is, And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” (1 Kings 18:41,42). Still in the Spirit, following his episode with the prophets of Baal, Elijah turns to Ahab and finds himself basically saying, “OK, now it will rain, now the land has been cleansed of this apostasy.” What is this climbing to the top of Carmel and bending face down and puting his face between his knees? He is praying, and he carried on praying earnestly, for the same reason as before, until the signs of rain came, followed very rapidly by the rain itself.

Now did you see something in that? If we are right in our assessment of how things happened with Elijah, he had a relationship with the Lord in which, as he prayed, the Lord conveyed His heart to Elijah. All that it needed was for Elijah to respond, which he did, which then provided an even greater motivation to pray. In all this it was God taking the opportunity of the relationship He had with Elijah, to make His will known on earth before He acted. Both times He wanted to do something, and used Elijah to convey it. Both times, as James says, it was as Elijah prayed that he caught the sense of God’s will and was able to declare it. Prayer is the doorway to heaven whereby we catch the will of God and are able to express it on the earth. As we express what God has conveyed to us, He then does it and people realise that it is indeed an act of God and He is glorified.

This is why James wants us to maintain this relationship with the Lord, rejecting the world’s advances, so that we can become instruments to bring glory to God. Isn’t that wonderful! Let’s be that!

Walk of Anticipation

WALKING WITH GOD. No.39

1 Kings 18:43 “Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

Sometimes in the Christian life, in our walk with God, we seem to be waiting and waiting and nothing seems to change. At those times it is easy to give up, but that is something we must resist. The writer of the Proverbs understood this: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” (Prov 13:12). The Message version speaks of ‘unrelenting disappointment’. Hope that keeps on getting put off, disappointment that keeps on and on, these are things that wear us down and perhaps these are the things the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.(Gal 6:9). Perhaps that was also in Jesus’ mind when we find, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Lk 18:1). No, the Bible writers clearly understood the human condition and they knew that when we expect something and it doesn’t happen, and keeps on not happening, there is a strong temptation to give up.

This makes the example of Elijah all the more helpful, so let’s see what is behind our verse above. Elijah has just been through the amazing tussle with the prophets of Baal where God turned up for him and brought fire down on his sacrifice to confirm His presence with Elijah. The Lord has stood up for His man, and that must have felt good to Elijah. After the prophets of Baal have been disposed of, Elijah turns to King Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41). Now that is an amazing prophetic command because there has been no rain for three years and the sky is still perfectly clear. For there to be rain there needs to be clouds – and there are none! Elijah is saying to the king, it’s all right, you can go and celebrate now, the drought is over. Elijah has just stood in faith against the prophets of Baal and now he stands in faith against the drought. So what does he do? “So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees” (v.42). He prays! There is an interesting example to follow here. It is all very well to know the will of God (the drought is ending) but we are still to be part of the process of bringing it about by praying for that will to come into being. Elijah knows rain is coming, but he now needs to pray it into being. It’s just how it works.

But Elijah needs to know how long to pray, so he sends his servant to go to look for the clouds. There are none. Now I wonder why Elijah did this? Why couldn’t he have just looked himself? There may be two answers. First he may have been too burdened and felt he needed to totally immerse himself in prayer and, second, he may have felt he wanted to involve his servant and teach him something about spiritual realities. This servant would remember what happened because he was involved in it. His part was to walk the walk of faith, or the walk of obedience, or the walk of anticipation; we can call it a number of things. This servant could have just sat round the corner and not bothered to go. He could have thought, “This is crazy, Elijah has finally flipped after all his exertions with the false prophets,” and not bothered to go. After all, where he was standing he could see around him that there were no clouds!

But this servant doesn’t do that. The man of God has spoken the word from God and so his role is to follow through as requested. He hadn’t had the word but he knew the man who had had it. That was enough. So he goes to the lookout point where he can see across the sea, but there is no cloud. He returns and tells his master. Seven times at his master’s bidding he goes to look and six times he sees nothing. Humanly speaking, with every additional time he would be thinking, “This is a waste of time!” but there is a spiritual dimension to all this – God has spoken, the man of God has spoken, and so ‘sometime’ it IS going to happen. Eventually the word IS fulfilled: “The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, `Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’ Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain came on and Ahab rode off to Jezreel.” (v.44,45)

Prophetic people are notorious for getting the timing wrong, but that need not put us off. For decades now we had heard prophetic words saying ‘revival is coming’, and it hasn’t. It’s all right, don’t be put off when dates were attached that didn’t work out, it will happen, in God’s time. Just keep walking the walk of anticipation. He’s said it, so it will come – eventually.

Listen to how Jesus finished off his parable in Luke 18 about persisting in prayer: “And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?(v.6-8). Keep on praying, he taught, because the answer will come, and by the way, when I come back and you’ve been waiting and waiting for me, will you still be faithful? Will you still be walking the walk of anticipation, knowing it’s just a matter of time? Hang on in there! Walk the walk!