“But I said to you, ‘Don’t be shocked or afraid of them! The Lord your God is going ahead of you. He will fight for you, just as you saw him do in Egypt’” (Deuteronomy 1:29-30, NLT).
When the scouts came back from checking out the land God gave them (after their long ordeal in the desert), they complained and got all worked up about what they encountered there. The people were giant, tall and powerful, with large cities and strong walls. Moses tried to reassure them but they were still afraid.
We often come up against giants even now—things that scare us and make us want to run and hide. But we don’t need to be shocked or afraid when we see them. God is already there. Nothing shocks him or takes him by surprise. He goes ahead of us, just as he did for the Israelites, caring for us every step of the way.
“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NLT).
Freedom is a precious commodity. Wars have been and continue to be fought over it, mainly because there’s always a group of people who want to take it away from another group. Even today, when you would think no one would have to be in slavery to anyone, the battle still rages. Slavery takes many forms however and to some degree, most of us would have to say we’re not completely free.
God is the only being in the whole universe who is completely, totally and unequivocally free in every way. The freedom he enjoys is hard for us to understand, because even the most free human being is still limited by a human body, a human mind and the confines of living in three-dimensional space and time. The beautiful thing about God is he wants to share his freedom with us. Because he loves us so much, he’s not happy to see us entrenched in any kind of slavery. He even sent his one and only son to die for us, to set us free forever!
“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NLT).
From time to time, most of us wonder if all the hard work we do makes any difference. Many things Christians are called upon to do are behind the scenes and invisible to others and often don’t bring any short term results. We remind ourselves the long term results are what matter, but just the same, it’s easy to get discouraged and think of giving up.
When Paul reminded the Corinthians to hang in there and to work enthusiastically for the Lord, he was reminding them and us we are not invisible to God. He sees everything we do and it’s never useless or a waste of time. We sometimes think what we do for him has to be big and splashy, drawing crowds and filling stadiums. While those things have their place and do some good, God is just as pleased with the little acts of kindness or the mundane, day after day ways we care for others. Everything we do counts—to him and to those to whom we show love.
“All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely” (1 Corinthians 13:12b, NLT).
Many countries spend a lot of time and resources researching everything from how to grow better crops to curing diseases to providing new energy sources. It seems we have an insatiable need to know as much as we can about everything and to continue improving what we have. It’s slow going and probably gets frustrating when the answers are elusive or it comes to a dead end.
At one time or another, a lot of us have said we are going to ask God some questions when we see him. There are just so many unanswered questions and we know he has all the answers. We no doubt couldn’t handle knowing everything about God or the universe at this point, but it’s comforting to know that God understands us and will one day satisfy our hunger to know all about him and anything else we want to know. He won’t leave us in the dark.
“God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind” (Hebrews 6:17, NLT).
In the past, men (women didn’t usually need to do this, but that’s another story) made an oath when making a promise. It cemented the agreement and showed how serious the parties were. Now we sign contracts, which makes agreements legally binding. We have to do this due to the dishonesty or irresponsibility of so many. Gone are the days when someone’s word was all you needed to back up a promise.
When God made his famous promise to Abraham, he gave an oath. He didn’t really need to because he’s God—he’s perfect and can’t lie. But just to make sure Abraham and everyone else would know he was serious and would come through, he gave his word, which as The Message puts it, is a rock-solid guarantee. God is patient with us and his care and concern are marvelous. When we might say, how do we know you’ll keep your promise, instead of showing anger or frustration, he backs it up with an unbreakable pledge—his perfect word of honor.
“So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it” (Romans 9:16, NLT).
When I was a little girl, I watched the TV show “Bewitched” and wished I could wiggle my nose and make magic. Not only could I not make anything happen, I couldn’t even wiggle my nose without using my fingers. So much for magic. Unfortunately some see God as a sort of magical being whom we can manipulate or use spells to get him to do our bidding (insert legalistic works or special prayers). This simply makes Christians look stupid, God look silly or helpless and makes detractors laugh and jeer.
The truth is God is all powerful. He won’t be manipulated, coerced or influenced by anything we do to get on his “good side.” Our machinations on God have the same effect as wiggling our noses to make our vacuum cleaners move across the carpet. He loves all equally, showers his grace and kindness on all and shows mercy as he chooses, not capriciously or whimsically, but in his great wisdom and love. No nose wiggling—or any other kind of effort on our part—required.
“But thank God! He has given Titus the same enthusiasm for you that I have” (2 Corinthians 8:16, NLT).
A high level of enthusiasm for anything can be difficult to maintain, especially over a long period of time or when we encounter obstacles. Mine sure comes and goes in just about every area of my life. Fatigue, frustration, discouragement—sound familiar?
This verse gives us a look at what it takes to keep up our enthusiasm—God in us! The Greek root of the word means God within us. He gives us passion for everything from gardening to riding a bicycle to writing a blog about him and knowing him better. It also means he himself is full of energy and vivacity, an unquenchable life force he shares with everyone. Our enthusiasm may wax and wane, but his never does. The living water of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate energy drink!
“Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).
With 24/7, instant breaking news, especially in a big election year in the U.S., weaknesses or failures in everyone from politicians to business people to parents are immediately trumpeted, exploited and possibly prosecuted. It almost seems the media is on the prowl to seek and destroy anyone displaying less than perfect behavior. At the same time, hypocrisy is rampant.
It’s human and normal to want to appear strong. We often go to great lengths to hide our flaws and cover up our inadequacies. But that’s not what God is looking for. Paul admitted his weaknesses, including his thorn in the flesh, so he could give the glory to God and his great power working within him. It’s not that God needs us to be weak so he can take the credit. No, he’s not like us, who take advantage of the powerless and the down and out. God wants relationship, not a power struggle so the sooner we acknowledge who has the power, the sooner we can get on with the loving and being loved.
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, NLT).
Even though prayer is as simple as talking to God, misconceptions and superstitions about it abound. One in particular goes away in light of this verse: we must pray to release God’s power and working in our lives. To believe we are the ones holding him back from doing anything because of the inadequacy of our prayers or even the lack of prayer is to limit God in an arrogant, self-righteous way.
God’s power doesn’t need to be released! Using prayer as a magic formula puts the responsibility on us and puts him in a bad light to those who don’t know him. He can do infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine; he blesses us more than we know or would dare to ask and he is not limited by our weak, puny prayers. And that’s why he gets all the glory!
“So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, NLT).
So many things in life are truly enjoyable. Solomon, who had more than enough of everything as he was incredibly rich, appreciated the finer things. He may have overdone it a bit, but he learned an important lesson from all his self-indulgences: everything is a gift from God and without him, even life’s best pleasures can be shallow and meaningless.
Following Jesus and being in a relationship with God doesn’t mean giving up pleasures and enjoying life less—it means enjoying it more. It means savoring the gifts of God with gratitude and understanding and delighting in them the same way he does. God not only gives us gifts to enjoy, he gives us the ability to take pleasure in them and the pleasure itself. Because of him and with him, we can eat, drink and be merry.