Sunday, October 30, 2011

Waiting time is not wasted time!

"O Lord my God, in thee do I put my trust: save me from all them that persecute me, and deliver me:" -Psalms 7:1

"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as Eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." -Isaiah 40:31

Living for God is sometimes painted as being glorious. We hear the testimonies of others and think, "If I can just get there, I'll be alright!" We thrill with the stories of deliverance, shout and dance at the stories of triumph, and rejoice at the stories of the awesome power of God. We read the scriptures (and we hear the testimonies) of what we like to call "triumphant faith"!

Sometimes, however, when the shouts have died away and we are alone and apart from the glorying masses, there is a whisper. A small voice inside of us that keeps asking things like, "When is my turn?", "When does my deliverance come?", and "How long am I to be shackled in this situation before God will set me free and let my life be a testimony to others?"

This blog is for you, the nameless face in the middle of the masses that longs to be set free. It's to the one who thrills to hear the testimonies, but desires to be one yourself. It's to the hurting soul on the verge of giving up and giving in to the voices that scream at you that your beliefs and your God is a lie. Let us examine some things today and take a close and hard biblical look at some real questions and their real answers.

First, lets explode a myth:

"The joy of the Lord is my strength", the scripture says. It is NOT the scripture that is mythical, but rather our modern understanding of it. We hear it said, almost constantly, that God's people have got to hang on to their joy. We have to guard our thoughts and hearts so we don't "lose our joy". We are warned not to let Satan "steal your joy".

The problem with all this is that we are subtly being told that OUR joy is one and the same as GOD'S joy. We are led to believe that if we don't FEEL joyful all the time that somehow we aren't right with God. We are told we are strength-less because we have allowed OUR joy to subside.                                                          

Look at Job, my friend. It's a hard book to read, and it's a much ignored book. Why? Because it paints a picture of God and his relationship with us that we don't like. What do you mean God ALLOWED Satan to attack Job? God is LOVE. He won't allow his children to suffer, the "faith preachers" scream at us. We are told that when we are suffering that the problem is US- all we need do is repent of our bad attitude. Further, if we will just give enough money, make the right sacrifice, or hold to our faith, then God will magically make it all go away- quickly.

Now take a hard look at Job. He lost his children, his livelihood, the respect of his peers, his standing in the community,his health, and even the respect of his wife. Why? Because God made a wager with Satan! OK, Satan. You think you're so tough. Attack Job, but only as far as I allow. Job won't turn. He'll remain faithful to me through it all. Do you really think that Job FELT Joy at all of his troubles? It all was terrible for him, but it happened- and God allowed it. Why? Because God knows the hearts of his people. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows how far we can be pushed without completely falling apart and leaving him. God allowed this because he knew just how strong Job was!

Now, look at the story again. Are there any scriptures that say that Job said, "Thank you Lord for taking all this from me?" No. Are there any that say, "And Job gave (x) amount of money to the priests and God caused it all to go away?" No. Are there any that say,"And Job shouted a sacrifice of praise and danced before the Lord after his wife left him?" No. Job does say, "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away- blessed be the name of the Lord." But, he says it with gritted teeth. Desperately, he holds onto his integrity (his faith in God).

Look at it again. Does Job go through all this without complaint? No. He spends chapter after chapter being attacked by his "friends". Does this sound familiar to anyone? How many times have trials come our way and we find our "friends"- our "brothers and sisters in the Lord" attacking us, rather than praying for and supporting us through them? If you're so righteous, "Why are you poor?", "Why are you sick", "Why is God allowing all this in your life, if he's not trying to get you to repent?"

 He spends chapter after chapter defending himself from the "fruit inspector" friends he has. "I haven't walked away from God." "I do make the sacrifices he requires." "I do pray and fast." "I do read his word and reflect on the lessons found there." "I have given to the needy." "I have given to the work of God." He finally says, "If I knew where God was, physically, I'd go there and ask him myself why this stuff is going on in my life, but I've prayed and looked and it's not because of my own actions!" Yes, that's Mike's paraphrase, but that's the essence of what he says.

Yet, in every new test and trial, the scriptures say that God tells Satan "You tried and LOOK at my servant Job!" Can you hear the JOY in God's voice as he jabs his enemy with Job's continued stand for God?  Can you feel the elation of a Father who's SO VERY PROUD of his son for a job well done?                              

Our modern society loves the quick fix approach to life. We want everything, yesterday, and the faster the better. Lord, I'll suffer for a few minutes, but then I want my cake and eat it, too! We, as parents try to show our kids we love them by the THINGS we can give them. We, as God's children, mistakenly equate God's love toward us with the same attitude. What has God given me lately to prove that he loves me? We are SOOOOO wrong!

God is in this for the long haul! His gifts are meant to be eternal gifts. His care for us LONG TERM!

If I, as a parent, don't give my child a new car, does that mean I don't love them? No. But, if I don't give them hugs and words of endearment, it does. If I don't give them those new clothes they want, do I not love them anymore? No, I still love them. But, if I don't teach them godly life lessons that will empower their faith in God and future walk with God, then I don't love them like I say I do.

God gives us precious promises. But, it's in the waiting for those things to happen in our lives that he teaches us the godly lessons we need to know. God says I will not leave you, nor forsake you. But, he allows attacks that makes us FEEL like he has in order for our faith to be built when we discover that he was carrying us through those hard times. He allows hard times, so that in the future hard times, we will remember how proud and joyful our Father was of us when we made it through the last time and be that much more determined to stand for him THIS time.

Consider some facts that may help us:

1) Yes, Job suffered. But, God restored twice what he lost when he held on to God in spite of his circumstances. Do you believe that Job would say that his ending was worth the hard times? Yes.

2) Noah heard from God to build an Ark. He told people why and faithfully built it for 100 years- never hearing another word from God during the building of it. How many times did he doubt? How much ridicule from his peers and families heap upon him? How many times did even his wife and sons question him? How many problems did he have to overcome in building the boat? Nothing like this boat had ever been built before- and wouldn't even be close to it until the 1900's (some 5000 plus years later- talk about being ahead of your time).

He had to make blueprints, find and acquire the needed supplies, find and make or acquire the tools needed to accomplish it, dig for the pitch, cut down and drag trees, etc. He had to learn about how to care for the animals- all the known animals of the world (and how many others showed up that he'd never seen before?). Yet, he only heard from God once and all this he did from that one conversation. YET, he stood strong and for his reward, he was able to see his family and all the animals in the world saved from God's wrath. Do you think Noah would tell you it was worth the difficulties? Yes.

3) Abraham is told by God that he will have a son in his old age, if he will just go and do what God tells him to do. He's 75 when he receives the promise. In between, 2 kings try to take his wife, his nephew tries to hinder his family business, and he has to fight several wars. He and Sarah even give into the culture of the day and try to force God's hand in giving them an heir- a decision we are all still dealing with the negative effects of even today. Yet, through it all, and in spite of it all, God is faithful to him and gives him a son- 25 years later!

Why so long? Couldn't God have told him and brought it about a year later? Yes. But, Abraham had to learn some things. He had to go through the battles to learn that God is his strength. He had to make the mistakes to learn that God would forgive and work in spite of our sinful efforts to manipulate the circumstances. He had to father Ishmael to learn that God could use him to father Isaac in his even older age. He had to accept the lesser pastures, to know that God would give him the greater. He had to almost lose his wife- twice, to know that God will protect his marriage and do what he said.

These experiences built the faith in God that was needed in order for him to be able to pass the ultimate sacrifice- the God ordered execution of Isaac- his promised offspring and the ultimate goal of Abraham's life. If he had not been through all that he went through, he could not have submitted to God at the end. And God his Father would not have felt the JOY he had when his son passed the test!

The JOY of our Father comes through the trials we endure and don't walk away. The JOY of the Lord comes through the lessons we've learned that allow us to stand through and pass the tests.

It's in the waiting that the lessons are learned. It's in the waiting that our strength is built. It's in the waiting where our character is built to be able to withstand the future. It's in the waiting that our faith and relationship with God grows and our Father is given JOY.

So, let us take heart and endure the testing of our faith. Let us WITH PATIENCE run the race that is set before us. Knowing that one day, the TESTING of our faith will bring forth GOOD fruit and bring forth the true fulfillment of "The Joy of the Lord is my strength!" One day, dear em-battered saint of God, your trials will be told as a testimony to encourage others- who feel exactly the way you do right now.