Monday, 14 June 2010

Mix Faith with God's Promises

According to Heb 11.6 faith is a prerequisite to doing anything that brings pleasure to God. Last time I focused on the character of God. This verse does the same. We have to believe that He is a 'rewarder of those who diligently seek Him'. The pursuit of God ends in rewards - from Him.

If we are to truly embrace the will of the Father we must begin by having a conviction that He is for us. As Rom 8.32 says; "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" Once you've given your best, it's not difficult to let go of anything else. God has given us His best - His only begotten Son; His greatest treasure and now He is ready to give more to those who walk by faith, 2Cor 5.17. And He places no limits on this. He will 'freely give us all things'.

Heb 3.19-4.2 says; "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore since a promise remains of entering His rest let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the Gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it".

This is referring to the period when the children of Israel had been delivered from Egypt and had the opportunity to take an eleven day journey into the Promised land. This was the goal of their deliverance; to enter into the promise and blessing of Canaan. However, when the twelve spies returned from viewing the land, ten of them gave the people a bad report.

This report acknowledged all the good things God had said about the land being fruitful, but they chose to emphasise the size of the enemy and the walled cities that protected them from invasion. Despite the protests of Joshua and Caleb, they discouraged the heart of the people who put more faith in this bad report than they did in God's word. As a result they were consigned to the wilderness for the next forty years. And that's where they died.

Let me introduce two military terms they may help us at this point; strategy and tactics. Strategy is the overall plan. It's what generals create. D Day during the second world war would come under that category. It was the allied invasion of Normandy; Operation Neptune as it was called. But tactics involve the decisions that front line soldiers have to make based the on the real situations they encounter. Perhaps a road they planned to take is blocked and another route must be taken. The objective and strategy is kept but captains make tactical changes in order to reach the same objective. Such flexibility is crucial in real warfare.

This is close to how God works. He has a strategy; an overall goal that won't change. From the beginning He has wanted man to rule His creation, (see Psalm 8), and now in Christ He has secured that destiny. There is a man on the Throne who has been crowned King and His name is Jesus. Likewise, with Israel God wanted them to experience the Promised land. That is why He redeemed them. But they, in effect, said no and died in the wilderness. Does this thwart God's plan? Has He failed to do what He promised?

Not at all. Remember He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God of the generations and He acts generationally. The generation who responded with unbelief died in the wilderness, but a new generation arose. They inherited the promise. They responded in faith. Tactically God took a new course; strategically He stayed on target. This is because human choices really do count. Not only that, He preserved the two men who were faithful to God, Joshua and Caleb. Later in life both of them claimed the strength of men of forty while they were in their eighties.

The promise of God contains within it the power to produce all that it offers. Like the apple seed; hidden deep within is the promise of fruit. From planting to harvest, which usually takes three years, farmers know that the seed contains everything they expect from and apple tree. The seed just needs the right environment. God's word is like that. And just as the seed must be planted in good soil - the right environment; so God's word must be mixed with faith. Faith creates the environment that releases all that is in the Promise and we then experience the fulfilment, over time.

Consider David in 2Sam 7. The chapter begins with David's desire to build a house for God; a place for Him to dwell fitting for His greatness. But God reveals to David that in fact it is His desire to build a house for David - an abiding dynasty. His descendants would rule the nation. In this prophetic revelation we see two dimensions to its prophetic fulfilment. In the first place it is fulfilled by Solomon who does in fact go on to build the temple that David dreamed of. In the longer term it refers to Jesus, a descendant of David, whose Kingdom is established forever.

The rest of the chapter is a record of David's prayer of thanksgiving to God for His amazing kindness and blessing. But this offer of an abiding Kingdom is not the first time God has it on His heart to give to a King, nor would it be the last. Consider Saul, the first King of Israel. He was chosen by God to reign over Israel, 1Sam 10.24. They had asked for a King and God gave them a King. It wasn't His plan but He allowed a tactical change based on the desire of the people. It wasn't His will, it wasn't His idea. In fact it was a rejection of His Kingship. Yet He did not wash His hands of them either, but rather encouraged them through Samuel the prophet that they could still find a way forward if they served Him with all their heart, 1Sam 12.20-25.

Later in 1Sam 13 we have the record of Saul's unlawful sacrifice. He is ready to go to war but is waiting for Samuel to show in order to make sacrifice to the Lord before the battle. Samuel is late and Saul feels the pressure; so he makes the sacrifice himself; something only a priest is allowed to do, 1Sam 13.9-12. Samuel's response is a sharp rebuke, but we also see the loss of an amazing opportunity.

And Samuel said to Saul, "You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your Kingdom over Israel forever. But now your Kingdom will not continue."

Either this is the truth or Samuel is lying. Either this is a genuine revelation of what was in God's heart for Saul or we are being conned. If you live with a theology that tells you Saul was the people's choice and David was God's choice then this is a difficult scripture to deal with. There can be no real integrity in this statement. But if, like me, you believe that Saul was also God's choice and that through his disobedience he forfeited an enduring kingdom then it becomes a salutary warning to us not to make the same mistake.

Like Israel in the wilderness, where God's promise passed to another generation that believed and experienced its fulfillment, Saul's unbelief cost him an enduring Kingdom. The first thing that was removed from him was an abiding dynasty. This would be given to David, a man who lived by faith. Saul's second major failure is recorded in 1Sam 15 where he spares Agag, King of the Amalekites and the best of the sheep and oxen; things commanded by God to be utterly destroyed. In this instance it is not just that Saul looses an enduring Kingdom, he now looses the Kingship itself, 1Sam 15.26. and so in the next chapter the Spirit of God departs from Saul and comes on David, newly anointed by Samuel, 1Sam 16.14.

What I find astonishing is the amazing opportunity he missed. Jonathan could have been the future King of Israel had Saul obeyed, had he put faith in God and not relied on himself. He stepped into a role he was not anointed to do and ultimately lost the anointing for his true calling. It is a testament to Jonathan's character that he didn't become angry or bitter against his father or David. Rather he became David's greatest friend and ally. His unselfish attitude is outstanding.

Now let's fast forward to Solomon. He too fails to stay faithful to God, 1Kings 11.1-13. As a result he experiences the same judgment as Saul in 1Sam 11; the Kingdom is torn away from him and given to another, but with a difference. God must be true to His word and promise to David. So only part of the Kingdom is left for the tribe of Judah to reign over. God is at the same time disciplining Solomon for his disobedience and lack of faith and being true to His promise to David; a tactical change that preserves His strategic objectives.

We need to heed this carefully. The danger is we begin to take God and His promises for granted. God had committed Himself to David to have an enduring Kingdom. His future generations would reign over the nation. But Solomon's disobedience meant this would no longer be a united nation. Whilst our unbelief does not make the faithfulness of God of no effect it can rob us of our personal participation in the fulfilment of the promise, as it did with Israel in the wilderness, Rom 3.3. For all promises require a response of faith.

The writer to Hebrews says we need to mix faith with the word. Whenever we have moved into a new house my first job is often to put up a rotary clothes line. It requires a good cement base. Fortunately they come ready mixed, you just have to add water and mix it all together. Then it becomes solid. This is what faith does when mixed with the promise. It makes the promise solid - for us.

In 1Kings 11.26-40 records how Jeroboam was chosen by God to rule over the ten tribes of Israel. He was met by Ahijah the prophet. What is again astonishing to me is what God put on the table for this young man, not only to be King, but like David to receive an enduring Kingdom, if he will follow God. Listen to the words;

So I will take you and you shall reign over all that your heart desires and you shall be king over Israel. Then it shall be, if you heed all that I command you, walk in My ways and do what is right in My sight, to keep My statutes and commandments, as My servant David did, then I will be with you and build for you an enduring house, as I built for David and I will give Israel to you, 1Kings 11.37-38.

There is a conditional part to this promise requiring faith and obedience. What an amazing offer! I believe it was genuine. God is not playing with words here. Solomon is so threatened by this young man that he tries to have him killed, 1Kings 11.40. Jeroboam lives out his days in Egypt until Solomon dies. Within a short while he becomes King. The tragedy comes in 1Kings 12.26.

"And Jeroboam said in his heart, "Now the Kingdom may return to the house of David: If these people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the Lord at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn back to their lord, Rehoboam King of Judah and they will kill me and go back to Rehoboam King of Judah."

Jeroboam went on to set up the Golden Calves and become the most wicked king in the history of Israel's kings. Every sin of the future kings of Israel is compared to his. This is tragic when you consider what God offered Him. It shows the power of fear and unbelief to rob us of God given opportunities. Consider this:

1. Like Saul, Jeroboam was God's choice. It was not a self appointment or a democratic appointment of the people. God chose him and placed him in this position of authority. No-one had the power to remove him, except God. This is why David would not kill Saul. He would not remove Saul, even though David was the anointed King. He waited for God to do that. It was a test of his faith and patience in God. You don't have to fight to keep your role or responsibility if God put you there. Relax. Don't get fearful and insecure like Saul and Jeroboam did. The God who put you there can keep you there.

2. We must be careful what we speak in our heart. Jeroboam tried to work things out logically and rationally. He left God out of the frame and it lead him into idolatry. What we say in our heart determines the course of our choices in life. This is why we are meant to fill our hearts with the word of Christ, Col 3.16. It is why Joshua was told to meditate on the word, day and night. Lies have a way of taking root through our insecurities. God's truth has a way of delivering us from all our fears, Psalm 34.4, when we give it place in our hearts. What are you saying in your heart today?

3. Jeroboam focused on the people instead of on the promise. People are fickle. They are unpredictable. But that is why we need to focus on God and His word. If only Jeroboam had remembered what God was offering him and focused on the statutes and commands of the Lord. Like Joshua he would have had good success. Where is your focus? Who are you listening to? Does it resonate with God's truth or are you busy trying to preserve your own kingdom instead of seeking His? Where is your focus?

4. Jeroboam thought that the worst thing that could happen would be the people returning to Rehoboam; him loosing power. In fact the worst thing was what actually happened. He abandoned following God and lost everything. His reign lasted twenty two years, barely half a lifetime. It could have been for many generations. What do you currently think is the worst thing that could happen to you? Is God in that reckoning? If you follow Him and put faith in His promises, you will endure.

God's strategy is secure. He will reach His goals. The real issue is, where will we position ourselves in relationship to what He desires. If we choose a faith response we can be assured that promises will be fulfilled - for us. If not, God may make a tactical change that leaves us in the shadows while someone else steps in to fill our shoes. Don't reject what God has placed on the table for you by chasing shadows. Grab it by faith. Like Paul said to Timothy; "Lay hold on eternal life", 1Tim 6.12. Take hold of what has taken hold of you - by faith. Then you are sure to walk into your destiny and take your inheritance.