“Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul. ‘Therefore I hope in Him.’” Lamentations 3:22-23 (NKJV)
If I am honest, I would have to admit that I find the subject of statistics incredibly boring. However, the concept of statistical insignificance has direct application to the walk of faith in a Christian’s life. As we come to the end of another year, I have been looking back over the events of this year and those of my life. Most of us have faced multiple challenges this past year personally, professionally, spiritually, financially, and even emotionally. Many of these challenges have been, and continue to be, significant in our lives. It is often easy to be severely distracted by them on any given day, causing us to be ineffective in other areas of our lives.
Something my daughter recently posted on her Facebook page got me to thinking: “looking back at everything God provided for this year–above and beyond what was needed. What seemed like huge problems then were easily taken care of by Him. I am so excited to see what He will do this month and then 2011!” Personally we have had some rather significant challenges, not only this past year, but in the previous ten years as well. I do not believe that we are in any way unusual in this regard. What has made this past year so much easier for us is that we have determined to change our attitude. We have actively worked to maintain an “attitude of gratitude” in all situations. While we have certainly not been perfect in the execution of this “attitudinal adjustment”, we have begun to make significant progress. When we choose to have a grateful heart in all things we take the focus off of ourselves and put it where it rightly belongs, on Him.
It is always easier to be fearful and focus on our problems than to have faith that God will bring us through. The process of maturing our faith in God is hard work. This was one of the principal issues for the Israelites as God brought them out of Egypt, leading them towards the promised land. They were not willing to trust in the God Who had already done countless miracles on their behalf. Instead, they focused on the temporal: the pursuing Egyptian army, the looming Red Sea that appeared impossible to cross, their lack of meat, their lack of water, and finally the strength of the people occupying the promised land which God had so faithfully led them to. These tests of faith in the wilderness resulted in their complaining about God’s provision. “And the LORD heard the sound of your words, and was angry, and took an oath, saying, ‘Surely not one of these men of this evil generation shall see that good land of which I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh; he shall see it, and to him and his children I am giving the land on which he walked, because he wholly followed the LORD!’ Even with me the LORD was angry on your account and said, ‘You also shall not go in there. Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.’” Deuteronomy 1:34-38 (NKJV)
We have all heard many sermons on the exodus and even on this particular passage of Scripture. What we rarely talk about though is that God can get angry. We focus much on the goodness, grace, love, and mercy of God but we often don’t think about the rest of His character and nature. We tend to forget that our God is also a Consuming Fire. We forget that He is Holy and Righteous. While we will acknowledge that this generation of Israelites lost out on their inheritance because of continued rebellion and disobedience, we generally treat the slippage of these forty years as somehow statistically insignificant. However, the intractable rebellion of their hearts ultimately caused this inheritance to pass over them and to be given to the next generation. They never walked into the blessing that God had intended for them and had promised to them.
When we refuse to trust God to meet each of our daily needs and challenges, we are in essence saying: “God, I don’t trust You to handle this problem the way I want You to”; “God, you couldn’t love me enough to deal with this. Your mercy and grace are not sufficient for me. Your provision may not be adequate for what I want and need”; or “God, this problem isn’t that big, I’ll just handle this one myself”. The root of this is pride, the horrible ugliness of pride, and we know from Scripture that God actively opposes the proud. He wants us to come to Him, trusting that we will see the provision of His Hand to be sufficient for our every need.
I would propose that the God Who is the same “yesterday, today, and forever” could indeed become angry with us, just as He did with the Israelites. Even though He loves us with an everlasting love and has never-ending patience, He is not pleased with our persistent rebellion and lack of faith in Him. What have we lost, like that generation of Israelites, because we have refused to completely trust in Him? What presumptions do we make about Him when we have this attitude?
We have, in many ways, treated our God like an eternal Santa Clause. We come to Him asking for what we want or need and presume that not much will be required of us in return–that God’s love and grace will somehow negate any responsibility we may have in the matter. We often neglect to rightly discern that our faith and obedience is a necessary part of the equation that will lead to the resolution of our problem or need. He has given us a free will so that we should willingly chose to obey and trust Him. He expects us to use that free will correctly.
I am increasingly bothered these days at how much it appears we often take the love, grace, and mercy of God for granted. We presume upon it much more than we should. In many ways it seems that we have increasingly used this precious gift as a license for sloppy living. We often act as if, as long as our salvation is assured, our daily practices of faith and obedience are not entirely statistically significant. I would propose that God may not feel the same way.
As I look forward to this New Year, I have made several important resolutions. In past years these have never come to much. This year, however, I want to see significant progress in several areas of my life. I have made a committment to seek the Lord this year until those issues that have, in the past, represented persistent disobedience and rebellion, become areas of tenacious obedience. Just as we resolved to have an “attitude of gratitude” this past year and saw significant progress, I want God to do a new work in those areas of my heart that I have kept for myself. I want to be quick to repent when He shines the light of His Truth into the dark corners of my heart. I want Him to “clean house” so that I become a more fit vessel for the work He has set before me to do.
I am always be amazed at how the mercy and grace of God sustains us through difficult times. I can barely remember so many of the problems which I felt were going to consume me at the time I was going through them. His faithfulness has kept and carried me even when I did not think we were going to make it. I am so very grateful that His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness have covered over my many sins, mistakes, and in some cases, continued rebellion. As I commit to diligently seeking Him this next year, actively working to turn to and trust Him in all things, He will continue to deepen my faith and give me the strength to become more obedient. As a result, the problems and challenges which seem to be so overwhelming today, will be seen in the proper perspective and will take their rightful place in my life. They will become, in the light of eternity, statistically insignificant.
“Thou Blessed Spirit, Author of all Grace and Comfort, come, work repentance in my soul; represent sin to me in its odious colors that I may hate it; melt my heart by the majesty and mercy of God; show me my ruined self and the help there is in Him; teach me to behold my Creator, His ability to save, His arms outstretched, His heart big for me. May I confide in His power and love, commit my soul to Him without reserve, bear His image, observe His laws, pursue His service, and be through time and eternity a monument to the efficacy of His grace, a trophy of His victory. May I be served by grace through faith, live by faith, feel the joy of faith, do the work of faith. Perceiving nothing in myself, may I find in Christ wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, redemption.” (‘The Convicting Spirit’ from ”The Valley of Vision: Puritan Prayers and Devotions”)
“I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel… I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do without man or beast’… there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who sing, as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.’” Jeremiah 33:7-11 (ESV)
Copyright © 2010 by Susan E. Johnson
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