Spiritual Warnings for 21st Century Living 

Lost in Space was an American science fiction television series in the 1960’s.  It followed the adventures of the Robinsons, a pioneering family of space colonists who struggle to survive in the depths of space.

When danger was near to the Robinson family, Robbie, their protective robot, would cry out, “Danger”.   Similarly, we teach our children to be aware of danger.  They call out a warning, “stranger danger” when they feel threatened.

Stranger danger!

Warnings play a huge role in sheltering us from potential harm or danger.  Because of the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, we carefully heed the medical warnings provided to us by both our local and our state health officials.  With the growth of cyber-crimes in our nation, we quickly respond to security warnings by purchasing systems to protect our personal assets.  Police warnings of increases in crime incent us to invest in elaborate surveillance and security equipment.

However, do we, with the same diligence, heed spiritual warnings as we move through these fretful times?  Are we concerned about the health and well-being of our souls? What about our family’s spiritual well-being?  During the next few weeks, we will be using the book of Hebrews to discuss “spiritual danger warnings” in the 21st century.

Opportunities in warnings

The writer of Hebrews gave five (5) warnings to his readers.  Although the historical context for this epistle is different than in 2020, the warnings included in Hebrews are still relevant for today.

Warren Wiersbe, noted teacher and biblical scholar had this to share concerning the practical applications that can be found in the book of Hebrews:

Many people have avoided the epistle to the Hebrews and, consequently, have robbed themselves of practical spiritual help.  Some have avoided this book because they are afraid of it. The warnings in Hebrews have made them uneasy. Others have avoided this book because they think it is too difficult for the average Bible student. To be sure there are some profound truth in Hebrews, and no preacher or teacher will dare to claim that they know them all! But the general message of the book it’s clear and there is no reason why you and I should not understand and profit from it.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4).  Let’s get ready to dig in!

The God of All Comfort: A Time to Revisit

It’s been 6 months since we first published “The God of All Comfort”.  The intent of that March recording was to offer words of encouragement during the extraordinary times created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the virus’ arrival, we’ve referred to the changes caused by it as the “new normal”.  However, secretly, we hoped the changes would not be “typical” but instead only “temporary disruptions” that would eventually “go away”.  But they didn’t and they haven’t.

In that video, we shared our belief that God was in control of this situation and that He would be with us during the time of this dreadful health pandemic.  So today, we revisit March 2020 to see where we’ve landed and to see if the God of all comfort has made good on His offer to comfort us.

Where has the time gone?

It’s time to inventory how you’ve been spending your time. In March, we offered several ways to maximize our time while sheltering in place and practicing social distancing.

We talked about the need to sustain our relationships in new ways.  It included expanding our technology to “reach out and touch”.  Since that time, I can’t share the number of Zoom events I’ve attended–meetings with family, Zoom coffees, Zoom birthdays.  God created us for relationship (Gen. 2:18). That’s why it is important to maintain our personal communities during this time.

For Ron (my husband) and I, the most difficult thing with COVID-19 has been separation from our family. We miss the trips to be with siblings and the special times we share–laughing, hugging, and doing silly things together.  I guess that’s why God created family (Gen. 1:28).

In the meanwhile

Stephen Colbert has a segment on his late-night show called, “In the meanwhile”.  It is the perfect lead into this part of my WordBytes today to describe the events that have occurred in tandem with the coronavirus.

In the meanwhile, our shrinking economy, social unrest, and political division are proving to be as deadly as COVID-19.  This is because they further weaken our fragile economy and strain our emotional capacity to deal with all the changes in our life.

In the meanwhile, we now live in a COVID-19 world.  Businesses are slowly reopening.  We’ve implemented public health directives intended to slow the spread of the disease and ensure safety of the community.   Mandates to encourage social distancing and the wearing of masks, like many of the changes we now live with, have been met with anger and resistance.

In the meanwhile, demands for equality and social justice further heighten racial tension within this nation. What is the best way to educate our children–online, in-class, or hybrid?  Only time will tell. In the meanwhile, where is the God of all comfort?

God of All Comfort:  Our Constant

“The God of all comfort” is an Old Testament description of God who is the ultimate source of every true act of comfort (Ps. 23:4; Ps. 119:76).  The Greek word for comfort is related to the familiar word paraclete, one who comes alongside to help.  It is another name for the Holy Spirit (John 14:16).

Comfort is often used to mean softness and ease.  But this is not the meaning in 2 Cor. 1:3-4.  The Apostle Paul is saying that God came to him in the middle of his suffering and trouble to strengthen him and give him courage and boldness.

Paul thanks the God of all Comfort for his deliverance from the trials and tribulations he experienced in Asia (Acts 19).  Consequently, God delivered Paul from all these (2Cor. 1:8-10) and provided for all his needs.  This deepened Paul’s love and trust in God.  It was Paul’s personal need and God’s divine response–His mercy and comfort–that drew Paul even closer to God than before his trials.  Are you closer to God since March 2020?

God is still in the heavens and He reigns over all the world (Ps. 103:19). God has not changed (Mal. 3:6; James 1:17).  Has God not come alongside us (paraclete) to help us during this time of trouble?  Has God not been there to provide divine comfort–strength and courage–during this time of change?

God promises to faithfully care for us even in the midst of our trouble.  This is evident in the fact that WE ARE STILL HERE. It is in recognition of God’s comfort that with gratitude we can lift our hands in praise to God.

That we may be able to comfort…

What have we learned since March 2020 about the God of all Comfort?  How will we share what we have learned with others?   Just as Paul shared with the church at Corinth, sharing how we endured afflictions and trials can benefit others (2 Cor. 1:5-6).  As God comforts us, we can comfort others. In doing so, we not only encourage those going through these difficult times, but also ensure their ability to persevere.

By extending our comfort, we can help our community not only survive but thrive in the midst of change.  We can help others increase their emotional capacity and their ability to move forward rather than being stuck in the past.

Most importantly, we can introduce them to the God of all Comfort.  Gloria Gaither leaves us  this observation about the God of all comfort.

God walks with us. He scoops us up in His arms or simply sits with us in silent strength until we cannot avoid the awesome recognition that yes, even now, He is there. 

Who would you recommend?

In this new age of consumerism, people are always looking for the best deal.  It’s understandable.  If we’re going to spend our money, we want to insure we’re getting the greatest value for our buck.

Services such as Angie’s List, Yelp, and Business.com, offer us a way to hedge our bets before spending our money.

The modern consumer thrives on information. Before making a buying decision, customers have long sought out the opinions and experiences of others to inform themselves as to whether a company is creditable or not. Today, this process is quick, easy, and accessible to anyone with a computer and internet connection.

Consumerism and politics

We are rapidly approaching general elections in November.  Unfortunately there is no service we can pull up on our computer to help with selection of the best candidates.  During this “season” of health pandemics, social crisis, and family challenges, we are in search of individuals who can reverse the problems we’ve experienced in 2020.  All the candidates, locally and nationally, claim to have the best “offer”.  Who would you recommend?

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is presented as an active, compassionate, and obedient Servant who ministers to the physical and spiritual needs of others.  Consequently, this gospel moves quickly to His public ministry where He performs many miracles (there are eighteen).  Jesus used these miracles to demonstrate not only His power but also His compassion.  As I look around at the needs of our city and our nation, service to and compassion for people are characteristics of one who will quickly attend to the problems and trials we face. Such was the case in our study text which is only recorded in Mark’s gospel.

Best qualified

In Mark 7:31-37, Jesus is found in the region of Decapolis by the Sea of Galilee.  A man who is both deaf and speech impaired is brought to him.  They recommended Jesus as the One best qualified for the task at hand.  It isn’t clear whether those seeking Jesus’ help expected healing but they did ask that Jesus “put His hands” on the infirmed man. (v. 32)   Sometimes we come to Jesus in our prayers not knowing what to ask But Jesus, who is omniscient knows exactly what we need (Rom. 8:26-27).

Better than expected

I’m sure the man, unable to hear or speak, was curious as to what was about to happen to him.  It is noted in one commentary, that Jesus in preparing the man for his healing used His own form of sign language:   And He (Jesus) took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue (v. 33). Then Jesus looked to heaven, and sighed, and said to him, “Be opened.” (v. 34)  With one command, both impediments were cured.  The crowd was astonished.

Although Jesus charged the crowds to say nothing about the miracle, they could not help themselves and in their zeal shared the miracle with this observation:  “He has done all things well. He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak” (v. 37).  To do things well means to do things “excellently”. (1 Cor. 14:17; Gal. 5:7)

Consumerism, the soul, and Jesus

Unfortunately, consumers, as a rule, aren’t very intentional when it comes to matters of the soul.   I don’t know where they go to seek out the opinions and experiences of others to inform themselves.  Where do they go to insure their spiritual needs are addressed excellently?  Where do they go with their fears and anxieties? Who would you recommend?

As believers, we know one thing is sure.  We have a Savior, Jesus Christ, who is more than equipped to handle the challenges we face today and tomorrow (Jude 1:25).  He is best qualified to meet our every need—provisionally and spiritually, because “He does all things excellently”.

It is natural for us to expect Jesus “to save us” by doing miracles in our life, like the deaf and dumb man.  And HE DOES.  But Jesus also wants us to know that He can be trusted with the daily events of our life.  Jesus’ grace will provide all we need to manage both our spiritual and temporal needs (Ps. 23:1-3).   Why?  Because He (Jesus) does all things well! (v. 37)

As we prepare for this day and the days ahead, look to the only One we can recommend to see us through these tumultuous and challenging times.  Trust the only One who died for us (John 11:25); who never fails (Is. 55:10-11); who cannot lie (Num. 23:19). Jesus has the power and authority to do “all things” (Matt. 28:18).    Jesus does all things well.

How am I to pray?

 

Where do I begin? I believe in prayer and have made a commitment to be more intentional in it along with fasting.  As I asked Jesus to help me know how to better hold that time with Him, this question came to mind, “How am I to pray?”  More specifically, how am I to pray during these tumultuous times?  What is to be the area I focus on during my time with Him?

Finding the right fit

Several years ago, I joined a prayer group that prayed for our nation.  In the center of the prayer circle, in which we sat, was a picture of the president of the United States.  Later we prayed for the world.  The president’s picture was then replaced with a map of the world.

I’m sure we used the circle to help us focus our attention and prayersThe Lord already knew who the president was.  And since God created the world (and everything in it), I’m sure geography wasn’t an issue for Him.  Thank God for leading us in how to pray because sometimes we really don’t have a clue.

What does the Bible say?

The Bible provides some general areas for our prayers.  Here are a few to help point us in the right direction.

Who are we to pray for?

  • our leaders (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • our enemies (Matt. 5:44)
  • the saints (Eph. 6:18)

How are we to pray?

  • without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17)
  • believing (Mark 11:24)
  • according to the will of God (1 John 5:14-15)

Why are we to pray?

  • so people will come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4)
  • so God’s kingdom will be realized (Matt. 6:10)
  • to keep us from temptation (Matt. 26:41)

Let the Holy Spirit lead

In Romans 8:26-27, the Apostle Paul makes the case for relying on the Holy Spirit to guide our prayers.

(In the same way) the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings.  Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of God.

Prayer circles are helpful and important to the Kingdom, but sometimes it’s best to let the Holy Spirit lead us in our prayers.  For example, He may lead us to pray for specific people or circumstances.  All the while leaving the outcome to His sovereign will.  This type of prayer, intercessory prayer, invites us to cry out on behalf of another.

“I just want to testify”

In March our church prayed for a baby born prematurely.  The hospital saw this child’s chances of survival as slim to none.  But our church prayed without ceasing.  The hospital was in awe as the baby not only survived but ultimately thrived.   Our baby went home in August as a witness to the power of intercessory prayer.

In April, we invited friends and family to pray for New York City.  They were, at that time, the epicenter of the COVID pandemic.  We prayed, and I tell you, things shifted the following week.  Now New York City is viewed as the model for managing during this pandemic.  And they praise God for His mercy and grace.

At the end of July, our small group prayed that the violence in our city would cease.  While I haven’t been able to access the impact with monthly statistics, I believe our prayers made a difference.  Why? Not because I have the numbers to prove it but because of what God says in His Word.  John writes in the close of his epistle about the certainties of faith, including our prayers.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.   1 John 5:14-15

We asked according to God’s will.  We are commanded not to kill (Exod. 20:13).  It is the Lord’s will that we love one another (Rom. 12:10) and be reconciled to each other (Matt. 5:23).  This is God’s revealed will.  We therefore believe God heard our prayer and that we will have the petitions that we asked from Him.

Pray for this moment

Prayer changes things, especially when guided by the Holy Spirit.  God alone knows where He wants us to join Him in His work.  In doing so, we get the opportunity to observe His glory and His power.  This strengthens our faith and encourages us to pray without ceasing, even when we don’t see immediate results (2 Cor. 4:18).

The failures and faults of 21st century living require more than man can provide.  Why?  Because the problems we face deal with the conditions of the human heart—selfishness, hate, jealousy, envy, and covetedness—just to name a few.

The prophet Jeremiah accurately described our current condition in the world when he said “the heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable​—​who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Man’s heart has not changed.  Only God can heal what ails us.

As we look at the conditions of this world, know that God is ever present and vigilant.  He neither slumbers nor sleeps, and is aware of the people, places, and plans that need our prayers (Ps. 121:4).  Our task is to be more intentional and disciplined in our prayer life.

As a nation we need God’s direction and intervention.  While politicians and special interest groups have their place, we need to place our full confidence in God.  He is the only One who can lead us to His desired outcome for the world (Jer. 29:11).  Let’s put God and His will in the middle of our prayer circle and see where He leads us.

Time for a New Thing

Is it time to do a new thing?  Can we maintain status quo in the wake of the coronavirus, a shrinking economy, and social unrest?   These realities have changed each of our lives.  This new normal appears to be here for the long haul dictating our daily routine and our future plans.    Is it time to change?

It is human nature to resist change.  Change is hard especially if it is the result of something we had no say in.  As we attempt to move to some sense of normalcy in this nation, we are being asked to do something new.

“Hell no!  We won’t go!”

Local and state mandates have been issued in order to guard public health.  These instructions are not only being challenged but most often totally disregarded.  This is especially true among our young people.  I wonder who they learned that from.  Even when we’re told lives can be saved and the economy restored, we refuse to change.   Is it time to do a new thing?

From the head of this nation to the head of church congregations, resistance is seen as a rallying cry and badge of honor.  But is it?  Or is it really evidence of our inability to accept change?  Is resistance to exercising safe distance, wearing masks, and avoiding large crowds symptomatic of our unwillingness to do a new thing?   

God’s “new thing”

In the Old Testament, the use of “new thing” is cited in only three (3) texts:  Isaiah 43:19, Numbers 16:30, and Jeremiah 31:22.  Here they describe situations where God’s greatness and sovereignty is on display.  God invites man to join Him in accomplishing His divine purpose.

I will not conclude that the challenges we face are part of God’s divine purpose.  I do believe, however, that God throughout man’s history continually exercises His sovereignty and His authority.  This time in history, 2020, was viewed long before today.  God saw it from eternity (Is. 46:9-10).  Pandemics, politics, and problems in this world never catch God by surprise.

In the New Testament this concept of a “new thing” was manifested in the fulfillment of the Messiah who came to save us and to restore man to God’s original purpose. God was unable to fulfill His purpose through families, tribes or kings; through prophets, mediators or priests.  God brought salvation to earth through Jesus Christ—“God’s new thing”.

God’s new thing resulted in:

  •     The Kingdom of God coming to earth. (Matt. 4:17)
  •     Mercy, grace, and truth. (Ps. 85:10)
  •     Man becoming a “new creation”.  (2 Cor. 5:17)
  •     Freedom from the penalty and power of sin.  (Rom. 8:1)

God’s new things always result in our good and His glory.   As we seek stability during these tumultuous times, know that God is more than able to sustain and keep us (Ps. 46:1-3; 7-10).

Things are changing

As we move through the challenges we face as a nation, know that God is still doing new things.  The world we knew a year ago has changed.  The life we cherished 6 months ago will never return.  Our reality this week may be different than it was last week.  Things are changing.  How can we prepare for change—the new thing?

  • Trust God—believe in His ability and willingness to guide us to a new thing.
  • Position yourself to hear God—pray and read His Word.
  • Look for areas needing change in your life—be honest.
  • Identify and confess sin in your life—what’s interfering with God’s new thing?
But God

God is the key to change.  Most importantly, God can do a “new thing” even in the midst of change.  This includes COVID-19, financial downturns, and social injustices.  He invites us to join Him as we do a “new thing.”  When we trust God with our life, we can look forward with purpose and not fear (Jer. 29:11).

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Finding our wilderness rest

Rest.  Who needs rest?  We all do!  Health professionals agree that the need for rest is critical.  It is essential for our overall well-being.  This includes our emotional health and cognitive performance.

But how can we rest?  21st century living has introduced a unique set of challenges that radically impair our ability to rest.  Our current life experiences have resulted in heightened anxiety within our families, our cities, and our nation.

Similarly, rest for believers has always been (and will continue to be) challenging.  This is because we live in a fallen world.  However, the writer of Hebrews (Heb. 4:9-11) offers a “viable solution”.   He invites believers to enter God’s rest—wilderness rest.

Defining rest

Webster defines rest as not only sleep but also as freedom from worry or trouble.   Rest in the Bible is used most frequently in non-theological terms.

However, it takes on spiritual meaning when used in relationship to God and His people.  Most specifically, when used in reference to the Old and New Covenant.

God addresses wilderness rest

In the Old Testament, Sabbath rest is first introduced in Genesis as God ceases from His work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3).  God later commanded Sabbath rest as part of the Mosaic Law (Exod. 31:15).  He knew that all living creatures needed physical renewal.

Canaan rest began with the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt.  Rest was defined as deliverance from slavery.  Canaan rest established protection from and victory over Israel’s enemies as they entered into the Promised Land (Josh. 14:15).  By following God’s commandments, Israel would no longer be threatened by attack from Canaanite inhabitants (Josh. 23:1).  Peace in the land would be their rest.

Most importantly, Jesus Christ’s arrival and selfless act of atonement introduced us to God’s eternal rest.  This rest surpassed those previously offered beginning with precious promises (2 Pet. 1:4) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:17, 26).  Believer’s eternal rest will culminate with Jesus Christ in eternity.

Accessing God’s rest

Accessing God’s rest is possible through development of an intimate relationship with Him.  Our rest can be found in listening to His voice and obediently acquiescing to His will (John 10:27).  For example, believers should let God’s Word and Spirit guide us.  God has already provided solutions for our problems therefore releasing us from unnecessary anxiety and fear.

On this matter of rest, Lawrence O. Richards, noted theologian writes:  “The struggle Christians are engaged in is not that of finding their way through life but of entering God’s rest.”  That is, believers need to be more responsive to the Lord.

Responding to wilderness rest

We can find rest as we listen for and respond to the Lord’s voice.  We trust the Creator of all rests—Sabbath rest, Canaan rest, and Eternal rest.

Only Sovereign God can create, deliver, and protect.  He gives use victory over the challenges we face (Rom. 8:37).  God knows the end from the beginning and His purpose will stand (Is. 46:8-10).  It is God’s desire that we live more fully as recipients of His gift of rest.  He invites us to draw near.

Wilderness Living

wilderness experience

Are you experiencing wilderness living?   I’m not talking about a survival challenge where one willingly goes into the wilderness to test their mental and physical endurance.  This wilderness experience is usually thought of as a tough time in which a believer endures discomfort and trials. We are unable to enjoy the pleasant things of life.

Similarly, this new decade (2020) is testing both our mental and physical endurance.  The stress and strain on our emotional health is unbelievable.  The combined effect of the health pandemic, racial strife and financial strain is unrelenting.  As a result, we have seen our lives played out like a bad dream repeated on a continuous loop.

I was encouraged when Michelle Obama shared her personal struggle with mild depression.  Her transparency and vulnerability are character strengths we can model during these difficult times.  In the same vein Israel  needed support to help them successfully navigate wilderness living.

God revealed during wilderness living

Captivity was Israel’s “wilderness experience.”  The nation was away from their land, their temple, and most importantly, their God.  Therefore, God, through His prophet Isaiah, sent words of consolation to Israel during their wilderness experience.  He promised to do a new thing (Is. 43:16-19).

New in Hebrew means to renew, rebuild, or repair.  Most certainly,  people today  need these three actions during times of uncertainty and chaos.   Our minds need to be renewed from the the insanity of the world (Rom. 12:1-2).  Our relationships need to be rebuilt and repaired  (Rom. 12:17-18).  We are divided on so many things.  Therefore, Satan uses these differences to further polarize us and  negate Jesus’ mandate to love one another (Matt. 5:43-44).

Because of His love for Israel, God promised He would not only renew, rebuild, and repair what was loss during the exile, but also   do the impossible.  “For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3).  In other words,  God would revive Israel physically and spiritually.

Facing wilderness living

Wilderness living is different for everyone. For example, for some people wilderness living may be relational—failed, estranged, or disappointing relationships.  For others the experience may be professional—finding the right vocation or personal significance.  But for some, wilderness living may be experiential—moments of personal loss, loneliness, or misfortune.  No two wildernesses are the same.

Likewise our spirit man may also feel strained.  What is God doing in the world and in our lives?  We may feel alone and isolated.  We may even think God has left us and no longer hears our prayers.  Is God with us in our wilderness?  He answers, “Yes!”  It’s in His Word (Ps. 91:15; Isa.43:2; Isa. 49:15).

Living in the wilderness

Above all, regardless of the type of wilderness experience, we can trust God.  We can relinquish control to God’s sovereign will and His steadfast love.   God is for us and He cares about everything that keeps us awake at night—our family, our provision, and our future.  God will sustain us In short, while we have no forecast as to when and if our world will ever be the same again, we have the blessed assurance that God is with us.  (Ps. 119:116)

After our wilderness experience

Through our wilderness experience God can renew, rebuild, and repair our lives (Ps. 130:5).  As we strengthen our intimacy with Him, we will find true happiness, contentment, and peace (Rev. 21:7).   God can do that for us individually.  Likewise, He can also do that for our nation.

God can do the impossible and bring us back to a healthy, vigorous and flourishing condition (Isa. 40:31).   We may not look the same but because of God, we will be better because of our experience in the wilderness (Job 23:10).

A Final Word on the Sovereignty of God

 

This week we close our study on the sovereignty of God.  It is our hope that a better understanding of God’s sovereignty has expanded your trust and confidence in our “all wise God” (Jude 1:25).

Our appreciation of the sovereignty of God will also help us as we attempt to make sense of these tumultuous times.  We know that our future is not dependent on our past or current circumstances but it is based on Who we serve (Ps. 20:7).

We thank God for His grace.  Grace introduced at Creation when we were given God’s image.  We thank Him even more for salvation resulting in our righteousness, sanctification and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30).  All these are ours as a result of sovereign God’s fulfillment of His purpose for mankind.

The Challenge to God’s sovereignty

As a result of God’s grace and love, we are now invited to freely choose a lifestyle that will result in God’s glory and our good.  So why is it so hard for man to operate under God’s sovereign rule?  The challenge to God’s rightful position and authority boils down to a matter of sin.

Man’s resistance to God’s sovereignty is rooted in sin that began in the Garden of Eden and is still manifesting itself today on the world stage. Remember, the wisdom of God, revealed in His purpose and will are foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 3:19).  Such thinking leads to disobedience.  And disobedience to God is a fast track to sin and ultimately death (James 1:14-15).

God’s sovereignty or man’s sin

Unless led by the Holy Spirit, man, by nature, will most often choose to be wise in his own eyes (Prov. 3:5-6).  He is persuaded by his lust of the flesh, the lust of his eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) which satisfies his fleshly impulses.

However, when led by the Holy Spirit, man can more clearly see and discern the will of God  As it is only by the Holy Spirit who can reveal the sovereignty of God, it is not surprising that when the Spirit has been poured out in such an abundant measure, that this truth has been clearly known and loved.[1]

The biblical account cites many who chose their will over God’s with disastrous results. Yet God’s sovereign will was accomplished (Job 42:2; Is. 14:27).  Many of them were kings, prophets, and people of God.  They “should have known better” but they didn’t do better.  These accounts were written for our learning so that we might not make the same mistakes (Rom. 15:4).  Here are just a few to help illustrate man’s resistance to God’s will.

    • Saul (1 Samuel 10:8; 13:7-10)
    • The children of Israel (Exodus 32)
    • Jonah (Jonah 1)

Alignment with God’s Sovereignty

We can better position ourselves to align with God’s sovereignty when we recognize:  (1) God’s authority and plan, (2) man’s moral responsibility, and (3) believer’s relationship with God.

God’s authority and plan

    • His right—as Creator God, He is the only rightful ruler and authority over His universe.
    • His rule—it is God’s nature, His goodness and greatness that “qualifies” Him to rule.
    • His will—His divine plan of salvation and redemption of mankind is constantly at work.

 Man’s  moral responsibility

    • Our choice—how we exercise our “free will” is an indicator of how we respond to God’s sovereignty.
    • Our love—God is the object of our affection resulting in our loyalty and our obedience.
    • Our obedience—we are to submit to God’s will by actively participating in His eternal purpose.

 Believer’s relationship with God

    • Our reality—it is grounded in the belief that God can do what is needed to bring about His purpose. That belief fosters our trust in God.
    • Our partnership—it gives access to God’s will and ways. This opens up enormous opportunities to join with God in establishing His kingdom rule.
    • Our service—it is a natural outcome of our belief and partnership with God.
Final Words on God’s Sovereignty and You

We conclude this study with remarks from one of my favorite teachers, A. W. Pink.  He shares his “heart” on this matter of sovereignty so that we may grow strong in our faith and witness for the Lord.

The sovereignty of God is something more than an abstract principle which explains the rationale of the divine government: it is designed as a motive for godly fear; it is made known to us for the promotion of righteous living; it is revealed in order to bring into subjection our rebellious hearts.

 A true recognition of God’s sovereignty humbles as nothing else does or can humble, and brings the heart into lowly submission before God, causing us to relinquish our own self-will and making us delight in the perception and performance of the Divine will.

 When we speak of the sovereignty of God we mean very much more than the exercise of God’s governmental power. Truly to recognize the sovereignty of God is to gaze upon the Sovereign himself.  It is to come into the presence of the august “Majesty on High.”[2]

[1]   The Sovereignty of God,  A. W. Pink

[2] Ibid.

Is God really in control? Man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty

Last week we discussed man’s responsibility in light of God’s sovereignty.  I put forth the thought that although God is all powerful, everywhere present, and knowing all things, we are expected to act prudently and biblically responsible (Titus 2:11-12).

We, as believers, are to use the resources available to us to accomplish the purpose and plan of God.  This includes our gifts and talents.  This mindset of acting responsibly begins with the conscious choices we make through our free will (Gal. 6:7-8).

While mindful of the theological discussions on the relationship between God’s sovereign plan of salvation and man’s free will, they will not be addressed in today’s teaching.  For those interested in pursuing this area further, I have included this reference to begin your personal study and for follow-up discussions with your pastor.

What is free will?

What is free will and how does it fit with God’s exercise of sovereignty?   Free will simply put is having the “freedom to choose”.  When God created man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27), He empowered him with a gift that no other creature possessed. Man could operate under his own volition (the faculty or power of using one’s will).

Webster defines freedom as not under the control or in the power of another.  It denotes one’s personal sovereignty with the right of self-determination and self-expression.  Will in the Hebrew language is most often used to define the inner man.  It includes the soul—mind, will, and emotions (heart).

Adam and Eve chose to exercise their personal sovereignty and pursued their soul’s desire.  It is here that the core of sin began in the independent use of mind and will to choose what was good and what was evil (Gen. 3:5,22).

It is not surprising (and with intention) that God included these core elements of the soul in His great commandment (Deut. 6:4-5):  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD; and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  Isn’t it remarkable that love for God had to be “commanded”?

Free will—not force

God does not force us to follow Him.  However, God’s plan will be accomplished either with us or without us.  God may even choose to use another means by which to accomplish His plan.  But His plan and purpose will be achieved (Is. 23:9).  Remember the icebergs?

While we are working in the external realm, God is exercising His authority, in both the external and eternal realm to bring into fruition His plan resulting in His glory and our good (Is. 14:27).  As the noted writer and theologian A.W. Tozer noted, “God’s plan will continue on God’s schedule.”

Choice not coercion

God’s placement of His image in man demonstrated His great love for His creature.  Mankind was the apex of His creation.  The result of this unique relationship was to have been God living in unbroken fellowship with man and man loving God.

However, “The God-who-Sees” must have known that with the gift of free will would also come the risk of a “divided heart” (1 Kings 18:21; 1 Sam. 7:3).  Adam and Eve chose “free will” over God.  The reality that began in the Garden is the same reality we must acknowledge in 2020—alignment with God’s sovereign will is really a matter of choice.

Our Free Will-Our Choice

After contrasting man’s free will with God’s sovereignty, my takeaway is to be more intentional and prudent in the choices I make.  My choice—large or small—is a reflection of how much I love and trust God.  It is my acknowledgement of God’s wisdom, love, and sovereignty.

Abdicating my will to God is not based on coercion or fear.  It is “freely given” to the one whose image I bear (1 Cor. 15:49) and who gave His life for me (John 3:16).

As in every area of our life, Jesus is our supreme example of perfect obedience to the will of God without the lessening of personal choice.  Although Jesus was fully aware of His purpose and the outcome of His life, He still prays in Gethsemane, “Father, if thou art willing remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)   Let all the redeemed of the Lord follow Jesus’ example.

Is God really in control? Man’s responsibility versus God’s sovereignty

God's sovereignty vs Man's responsibility

What is man’s responsibility in light of God’s supreme authority and power over everything?  Does God’s predetermined plan and purpose negate man’s responsibility to move forward with his own personal plans?  Where does God’s sovereignty end and man’s responsibility begin?

These are questions that have been debated for centuries among many great theologians and dedicated scholars.  Today we will begin to explore how to better operate (cooperate) within the sovereign rule of God.

Defining man’s Responsibility

How we define our responsibility in light of God‘s sovereignty is often shaped by one of two common views.  One view holds the belief that man has no role and therefore, no responsibility.  This belief contends that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable regardless of what man does.

This is seen as a somewhat fatalistic view with a submissive outlook.  Man is seen as a mere “puppet” in accomplishing God’s sovereign plan and purpose.  If this were true, why then would God created us with free will?  (Next week’s discussion)

Another view of responsibility

Another view is the belief that although God is sovereign, man does retain responsibility for his life.  Through use of our gifts and talents, by our response to trials and tribulation, through the choices we make, we are continually (perhaps unknowingly) participating with the Creator as He executes His plan and purpose.

This partnership can be illustrated by how icebergs move.

In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless icebergs, some little and some gigantic. If you’d observe them carefully, you’d notice that sometimes the small ice floes move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another. The explanation is simple. Surface winds drive the little ones, whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents. When we face trials and tragedies, it’s helpful to see our lives as being subject to two forces—surface winds and ocean currents. The winds represent everything changeable, unpredictable, and distressing. But operating simultaneously with these gusts and gales is another force that’s even more powerful. It is the sure movement of God’s wise and sovereign purposes and the deep flow of His unchanging love.[1]

Sovereignty and Pray

While we may feel incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, He has revealed what we need to know to move forward in our lives.  While the secret things belong to God, the revealed things belong to us—to guide our behaviors and actions (Deut. 29:29).  One of the areas God has revealed to us is our responsibility to pray.

Believers are biblically instructed to pray (Rom. 12:12).  We are even directed for whom we are to pray—our leaders, our enemies, and the unsaved.  We often close our prayer recognizing the sovereignty of God with the pronouncement, “Thy will be done” (Matt. 6:10).

Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God.  If God is not sovereign, we have no assurance that He is able to answer our prayers.  It is in our prayers that we proclaim the power and ability of God to accomplish that which we are praying (1 John 5:14-15).  Prayer is the expression of our trust in God’s sovereignty.  It is our responsibility to pray.

Sovereignty and Prudence

We as believers are also responsible to act with prudence. I never fully appreciated this word until I understood its use in the context of God’s sovereignty.  Though not frequently highlighted in the biblical text, its application is noteworthy in both the Old and New Testament record.

In the framework of God’s sovereignty, prudence is the “use of all legitimate, biblical means at our disposal to avoid harm to ourselves and others AND to bring about what we believe to be the right course of events.”[2]

In the King James translation, prudence is used on three occasions.  Prudence—good sense and insight—is attributed to Solomon for his ability to accomplish the building of the temple in Jerusalem.  (2 Chron. 2:12).  In Proverbs 8:12, wisdom is said to dwell together with prudence—both important for knowledge and discretion.  The Apostle Paul includes prudence—knowledge and holy love of the will of God—as one of the spiritual blessings received by believers as a result of being in Christ (Eph. 1:8).   It is our responsibility to practice prudence.

Do Our Part

Although we recognize the reality that we operate within God’s sovereign purpose and plan, it does not negate our responsibility to “do our part”.  It is with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty that we are to take action with the specific means provided to us to address the situations in our life.   This includes both prayer and prudence.

    • Peter and John though directed by Jesus to “preach to all nations” when threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin prayed that God would “enable then to speak with boldness” (Acts 4:24, 28-29).
    • Nehemiah saw God sovereignly position Israel to rebuild the wall in Jerusalem, yet he posted guards day and night (Neh. 4:7-9) and insured his workers were armed as they worked (Neh. 4:16-20).
The Bottom-line

As believers, we cannot use the sovereignty of God as an excuse not to actively engage in the challenges and opportunities God presents in our lives. God’s sovereignty by no means negates our responsibility to use every means at our disposal to promote the right outcomes.  Those outcomes should be based on what God reveals to us through His Spirt and His Word.  These are proven principles by which we can align with and serve the purpose of God. 

Lastly, when we feel as though we are drifting without purpose and direction, remember the “icebergs”.  They operate simultaneously with gusts and gales AND with another force that’s even more powerful.  We too operate simultaneously—by God’s sovereign purpose AND by our moral responsibility as He works in the ordinary circumstances of our lives (Rom. 8:28).

[1]   Contributor unknown

[2]  Jerry Bridges, Is God Really in Control:  Trusting God in a World of Hurt