We all have at least one thing in common: we are facing an uncertain future. We may think that we have the course of our lives planned out, but we never know what might happen to change those plans. Sometimes, the evening news makes that all the more real. It might be a natural disaster, an accident, or the result of the evil acts of mankind, but there is always something happening that will put boulders in our path. This will be especially true if the path we are following is not God’s path.
The Israelites experienced this regularly; one specific example is their exile to Babylon. They spent 70 years there! I can tell you that I would feel forgotten by God long before that. But the Israelites were not forgotten and neither are we. In Isaiah 41:10, the Israelites are returning from exile and facing the prospect of starting over amid other nations. God tells the Israelites that they need not be afraid. He is with them; He is their God. It’s always nice to have a companion to help you face the tough times, but so much better when your companion is the all-powerful God of the universe. God promises to strengthen them, help them and uphold them with His righteous right hand. Righteous. That means that he notices when we disobey. The Israelites constantly disobeyed and God had done something about it. God had told the Israelites in Jeremiah 29:10 that they would be subject to Babylonian rule, and that He would get back to them in 70 years. But take note: that is the verse that comes right before the popular and well-loved verse of Jeremiah 29:11. I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you a hope and a future. The following verses (Jeremiah 29:12-13) assure them, and us, that God will hear our prayers and will be available to us when we seek Him with all our hearts.
Sometimes the challenge of this life seems like it is far too much to handle, and it probably is unless we have God’s help. He wants us to depend on Him, to trust Him to see us through the trials we face. He assures us over and over again in His Word that He is strong enough, He is able and He is willing. We need not fear; we just need to come to Him.
Have you ever felt like you wanted to move forward, but every time you take a step you run into a brick wall? So you take a step in another direction, and there is another brick wall. You are surrounded by mile high brick walls everywhere you turn. That’s the way I’ve felt lately. It’s frustrating and discouraging. Sometimes I feel hopeless.
Because of a car accident I was in a couple of years ago, I function at a much lower level than I used to. There are things that I want to do, but I just can’t. One of the few things I didn’t have to give up on was book club—truly one of the greatest blessings in my life. On Monday, we had our annual Christmas brunch. As has become a bit of a tradition, our leader read a story while we passed around a gift according to directions given in the story. The gift would be given to the person who was holding it when the story ended. This year, that person was me. Among other fun, unique and beautiful things was a fairly large box. When I opened it and pulled out the first tissue wrapped item, I quickly realized that the contents were letters spelling the word HOPE. They are designed to hold candles and could be used as a centerpiece on a table or buffet. But for me, the beauty of this gift was the much-needed reminder from God that I could have hope.
Only a few hours later, I came across Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." These are words that God said to the Israelites, a people who weren’t sure if they could have hope. They had disappointed God with their rebellion and had been exiled because of it. How could they know that God had not given up on them? How could they be sure that God would not punish them further? The word God gave to reassure them also reassures us. If we are children of God, He is with us, He will strengthen and help us. He will uphold us because He is righteous. The whole reason for Christmas is that God sent Jesus to be God with us. Emmanuel. (Matthew 1:23) Through Jesus, God is keeping for us the same promise that He made to the Israelites in Isaiah 41:10. No matter what we are facing, we can turn to Him and find hope.
Today's post was written by Robert Driskell.
Christians are often accused of wanting to force their beliefs on others, of wanting to make America a theocracy. A theocracy is defined by Webster as the, "government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided".
Many Christians are rightly accused of trying to get the laws of the Old Testament installed as the law in America. These Christians recognize that the world would be a much better place if everyone lived according to the standards that God has given us. After all, He designed and created the universe; shouldn't He know best how it should work?
The problem is that there are many who think they know better than God how things should go. These people reject God and His plan for humanity. Nevertheless, there are some Christians who seek to force these non-believers to live according to God's plan, even if it's against their will. This is where the conflict reveals itself.
While living in a theocratic nation would make things appear better outwardly, it would only be a façade, an alteration of public behavior. Man's inner self would still be the same rebellious, sinful entity it ever was; it would just be better hidden. It is not merely the outward behavior of a person that needs to be changed, but the inward condition of the heart. When people are forced to obey laws, there exists within them an underlying spirit of rebellion just waiting for the opportunity to manifest itself. Ravi Zacharias writes that:
"All the rules in the world cannot change a heart or make a person righteous. Only as the spirit is touched by the Spirit of God does the soul rise in worship and true goodness flow." (Deliver Us From Evil, Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Nelson, 1997, p. 208)
We have also been provided a clear biblical example of the ineffectiveness of theocratic rule. The Old Testament record is full of instances of God's rule being spurned by His people. These same people who had received God's protection, deliverance, and presence turned to their own ways on several occasions.
The Bible makes clear that salvation does not come by observing rules and regulations (Romans 3:20-31; Galatians; etc). God's laws were given to mankind to show that His standards are too pure for us to consistently live by. They were to show us that we can't be good enough for God. They were given so that we would eventually come to the end of ourselves and acknowledge our desperate need for His grace. The ultimate example of His love and grace came in the person of Jesus Christ.
"Jesus gets to the heart--not to a set of rules that can be observed while the heart still rebels." (Deliver Us From Evil, Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Nelson, 1997, p. 208)
The Christian wants to spread the love, forgiveness, and fulfillment that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. They desire to see others moved by the love of God and, out of gratitude for what He's done for us, willingly seek to honor and obey Him.
When a person's heart is healed, their actions reflect that healing. This is how a society changes in the hearts of its people.
We should not want to force our beliefs on anyone. Love can't be forced.
Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near. (Isaiah 55:6 NASB)
The Israelites were slow learners. They spent a lot of time doing the wrong thing—not trusting God, not following His guidelines—and then when life got hard, they repented and asked for God’s mercy. In Isaiah 64:1-2, they begged God to tear the heavens apart, and to come down and do the miraculous to save them from their enemies. Even though they were constantly falling down on the job as God’s chosen people, they always knew that they and God were on the same side. Their adversaries were God’s adversaries.
Isaiah 64:4 tells us that since the beginning of time, there has been no one else like God. No eye has seen, no ear has heard any other god who is like Him. But this God who is beyond our imaginings is also the God who is full of mercy and will intervene on behalf of those who trust in Him. The Israelites counted on that, because after trying it on their own, over and over again, they realized that they couldn’t make it without God’s help.
I’m not sure that much is different with us today. That is because we just cannot fathom the infinite nature of God with our finite minds. We don’t understand His power, so we try, over and over again, to do things on our own. Then when we run into difficulties that are more than we can handle, many of us, like the Israelites, come back to God and say, “Oh, yeah, I remember now. I can’t do this without you.” The good news is that God is not forgetful like we are. He is faithful, and He who is rich in mercy, and full of love for us, will continue to intervene for us when we put our trust in Him. (Isaiah 64:4, Ephesians 2:4-5)
Do you ever wonder if God really does have a plan for your life? Maybe you thought that God had a plan once, but it’s been so long that you are sure now that you were mistaken. Isaiah 44:24-28 tells us that God had a plan to release the people of Israel from exile in Babylon, and that it would be fulfilled by Cyrus, King of Persia, who would not be born until more than a hundred years later.
Isaiah 45:2-3 records God’s words to Cyrus. God assures Cyrus that He will make his path clear and remove all the obstacles that get in his way. God will provide Cyrus with treasures that are currently hidden away. In the context in which this passage was written, these words were meant literally. The Israelites would need someone to overcome all of these obstacles to rescue them from captivity, and there really were treasures that had been hidden away, typically in subterranean places. History books will tell you that Cyrus came away from his conquests with many thousands of pounds of gold and silver.
I think that we, however, can look at this passage figuratively. Although we will all face obstacles if we are following God’s plan for our lives, we can trust Him to clear the way for us. Look back at Isaiah 44:24; our God has the power to accomplish His plans. It doesn’t depend on our strength or ability. But that doesn’t mean that our days will always be easy. There will still be hurts, and things will probably take longer than we want them to. In many translations Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness…”. That has always symbolized for me that even in the darkest, hardest times of our lives, we will find blessing. That is the treasure. Through those hard times is when we will turn to God, and we will learn to rely on Him. We will learn that God is God, and that He calls us by name. No matter what we have to go through, God has the power to get us through it, and He loves us. What a source of hope that is!
Just a week ago, we were sharing New Year’s blessings with all our friends and family. I was wishing them happiness, peace, prosperity and good health. “May this be your best year ever,” I would say. “I wish you all the best.” I was optimistic for good things to happen, but the truth of the matter is that nothing much changes just because we turn over a new page on the calendar. We still face the same rebellious children, the health scares, the unhappy marriages, the financial difficulties, the unexpected tragedies. It’s just that now we are facing them when we had our expectations set for something so much higher, just because the year got a new number. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for being optimistic, but saying “Happy New Year” doesn’t take all our troubles away.
Many years ago, when I was in my first year of university, I learned a new song, well new to me anyway. One of the verses said, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” This comes from the King James Version of Isaiah 26:3 which in its entirety says, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee, because he trusteth in thee.” In more contemporary English that might be, “You will give perfect peace to those who stay focused on you because they trust in you.” What a great promise that is!
This verse doesn’t mean that we will be exempt from all trials or heartaches, for we know that in this world we will have trouble. (John 16:33) The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to have trouble, (II Corinthians 11:23-27) but based on Isaiah 26:3, he wrote the very practical advice found in Philippians 4:6-7. Pray and give thanks. We will face situations that seem unbearable to us, but if we focus on God, bring all our cares to Him in prayer and thank Him for His many blessings to us, He will grant us a peace that defies explanation, peace that is not like the world gives (John 14:27), peace that will protect our hearts and minds.
In my last two posts I’ve talked about the fact that there is trouble in this world, and it is a good thing to wait on the Lord. That is because God is reliable and trustworthy. In the King James Version, Isaiah 40:8 says that the word of our God shall stand forever. He assures us that He will keep His promises, no matter what circumstances we may face and whether or not we always understand how or know when.
The Word of God will last and be reliable forever, even though all else is unreliable and passes away. The metaphor that is used here is that the grass dries up and the flowers wither. In Isaiah 40:6-7 we can see that the grass and flowers are referring to humanity and people’s promises. It is sometimes tempting, when we hear someone give a message that we agree with, or that we long for, to start following, even worshipping, that person. It happens often with celebrities, and it happens with evangelists. It happened with Harold Camping. (May 23, 2011) When Camping said that the world was going to end, people gave up everything they had—some even took their own lives—because they believed the man, rather than trusting the Word of God. Joyce Meyer puts it simply, “Follow God, not people.”
Isaiah 40:10-11 indicate that the Word of God will bring deliverance, and that He cares for us. That love and salvation was made human in the person of Jesus. (John 1:1-5) Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross made it possible for us to have eternal salvation and to have an eternal connection with God who cares so deeply for us that He gave up His own Son to redeem us. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Word. (Matthew 5:17) Because of Him we can be adopted into God’s family, and we can trust His promises both now and forevermore.
I have said many times in my blog posts that God has a plan for our lives. Many verses in the Bible confirm this. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that His plans are to prosper us and not to harm us; they are to give us a future and a hope. John 10:10 says that Jesus came to give us abundant life. Ephesians 3:20 promises more than we could ask or imagine. Philippians 4:19 tells us that our needs will be supplied according to His glorious riches. So, God’s plan for us is a good plan, but that doesn’t mean that it will be one that we understand.
I have often tried to figure out God’s plan for my life, and then tried to make it happen. Although I think it is a wise thing to obey God’s Word, and to try to live a life that is pleasing to Him, trying to figure out His plans can be an exercise in frustration. Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that His plans are not like our plans, and His deeds are not like our deeds. Just as the sky is higher than the earth, so are His ways higher than ours. They are beyond our comprehension because He is God, and we are not.
What we need to do is to give ourselves over to Him. Ask Him to lead us in the path that He wants for us, and trust Him to keep His promises. Earlier in Isaiah 55, we are invited to come to God to receive His blessing without cost. This is referring to salvation and the promise of eternal blessings, but by giving our lives over to Him we can also depend on all of the other promises of an abundant life now. He really does have a better plan for our lives than we could make for ourselves. It won’t necessarily be easier, but it will be better, and it will be for eternity.