Our Steps Are Progressively Revealed

 

backside of woman hiking on heavy fog path

Have you ever walked down a path that you thought was the best way to go, only to find that you were greatly in error and you should have gone the other way—even though it didn’t seem ‘right’ at that time? Perhaps God pressed on your heart to travel in a direction where there is thick fog and you are unable to see past it. Yet in all other areas, it is mostly clear, or maybe just a little bit dense. Do you keep going where He is leading you? Or do you follow your common sense and go where it is easier to see most of the way?

In the book of Acts, the Lord told Philip the Evangelist through an angel to “Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert” (Acts 8:26). Now, to our natural, finite minds this does not seems logical.

Why should he go out into the desert? There is nothing there but rocks and sand almost as far as the eye can see. It is not very likely that anyone is out there to visit.

At the same time, right there in Jerusalem, hundreds of people are present almost everywhere at any given moment. It would seem best for him to just stay there, or maybe to go to a nearby village instead. Besides, the shade of the buildings in that area makes it cooler.

But that is not how God works in our lives. He reveals our path to us one step at a time. When we walk into an area of thick fog, it hits our eyes at first like a wall. As we move further inward, we can begin to see a little bit more of the walkway. And so, the pattern continues, as we progress even farther into the cloud and our way then becomes somewhat clear again. Notice how it only becomes clearer after we move to the next area. This is what the Lord wants us to realize.

We must go when He directs, even if the road ahead appears impassable, or just a waste of time. Not until we obey is the subsequent stage made visible to us.

Look again at Philip’s predicament and see what occurs. “And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot read [Isaiah] the prophet” (Acts 8:27,28). Notice that he ‘arose and went’, meaning that he was obedient to the Lord’s command. As a result, the Lord revealed another section of the way to him.

“Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot” (Acts 8:29). If Philip wanted to know what was to come, he first had to obey another directive from the Lord. Of course, he could have just kept on walking, since this person was linked with royalty and he was merely a commoner. After all, it wasn’t proper protocol to just run up and “join thyself to this chariot.” No. He fully obeyed what the Spirit of God put forth, and, in turn, the Lord opened the way for another step to be revealed. And Philip ran [toward] him, and heard him read the prophet [Isaiah], and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him” (Acts 8:30,31). Whether Philip was royalty or not, this eunuch wanted Philip up beside him to explain God’s word to him.

As a result of Philip’s diligent following of God’s commands, each part of the way was progressively made visible to him. At any point he could have concluded that there was no other way to go and reversed his course. Or he could have kept on moving instead into unsafe territory. Yet, if he had done so, this individual “of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure” would never have known Jesus Christ, never have accepted His plan of salvation, and never have been baptized.

We are not expected to know the whole picture that God sees in advance. He wants us to trust in Him for each part of the way.

It is human nature to want our whole day laid out ahead of time. Most of us would be quite content to know that at a certain time in the morning we will do this thing. Then at a later time, we will do something else. At noon we eat lunch, at five we eat dinner, and then we read some more of our favorite book and go to bed. We really prefer our life set before us in advance like this, and, of course, we want a little variety randomly distributed here and there throughout each week. As a whole, it is our human desire to know what lies ahead, both immediately, and in the distant future.

Yet doing so would only lead us to a lack of dependence on God. Why should we bother to look to Him, when we already know what each day will bring? This is the reason we need to trust in Him for the next step we are to take. No matter how obscure or odd the way may be ahead of us, if the Lord directs us to go, we need to move forward. Philip did not know that the treasurer of the Queen of the Ethiopians was out in the desert that day, and he certainly would not have expected that he would reveal Jesus Christ through the book of Isaiah to him.

But Philip did obey God, and one more soul was added to God’s Kingdom.

Actually, every step of our walk with the Lord needs to be ordered by Him. We, like Philip, need to let God’s Spirit direct us to wherever He wants us to go. It is not necessary to see the whole road ahead in advance. We very likely will not know who we may reach out to or speak with along the way. Instead of trying to figure out where we are going next, we need to let our eyes be on Him as He progressively reveals each step of the way.

 

[Image credit:Jason Blackeye/Unsplash]

God’s Blessings Are to Be Used Completely When Given

line drawing of Israelites gathering manna

“And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they [knew] not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat. This is the thing which the Lord hath commanded, Gather of it every man according to his eating, an omer for every man, according to the number of your persons; take ye every man for them which are in his tents. And the children of Israel did so, and gathered, some more, some less. And when they did [measure] it with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating. And Moses said, Let no man leave of it till the morning. Notwithstanding they [listened] not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and [reeked]: and Moses was [angry] with them” (Exodus 16:14-20).

In the early stage of their journey in the wilderness, the Israelites reached a point where there was no food readily available. Rather than calling out right away to God for help, they decided to murmur and complain about their situation instead. Yet God still provided for them, and in a way that they were not expecting. He blessed them with what has been referred to as “angel’s food,” or, as the people called it, “manna.” It was the ‘perfect’ food.

Unlike other things they had eaten, manna could not wait and be harvested at a later time. It had to be gathered and processed each morning; otherwise, it would rot or melt away.

They only took “every man according to his eating,” (other than on the sixth day on the week) as God had told them. Whatever they collected each day, it was always sufficient, and “he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack.”

We need to consider God’s blessings in our life in a similar manner. Whether small or great, we are not to delay in using what He has given us. So often, following a period of great need, we have the tendency to ration and store away what God blesses us with. We tend to take for granted that what has been distributed will always be there, or at least it will be for an extended period of time. Some of the Israelites acted in the same way. “Notwithstanding they [listened] not unto Moses; but some of them left of it until the morning, and it bred worms, and [reeked].”  Actually, if we do this, we are allowing unbelief to resurface in our hearts. We succumb to an attitude that either His blessing is not going to come to us again, or that He will keep our former shortfall from ever reoccurring.

As the children of God, we should not only ask of Him for all of our necessities and believe that He will supply, but we must also completely use what He blesses us with wisely in return.

When the Israelites gathered the right amount that they had to have of the manna for each day, they used it to satisfy that which they needed most. In this case, it was for the satisfying of their hunger. They didn’t pool it with their neighbors, making one big meal for the whole day, and then grumble about their ravenous appetite the rest of the time. Neither did they barter it with the surrounding nations to get meat or rich delicacies which would have had much less nutritional value.

Ultimately, what God desires in all of this is for us to depend on Him for our concerns. He wants us to come before Him continually.

The Lord does not like to see us hoard that which He freely gives us, and then become complacent or less reliant on Him. Therefore, let’s cheerfully and generously use with thanksgiving all that He blesses us with.

 

[Image credit:CCXpistiavos/Pixabay]

Forty Days or Forty Years?

A painting by Krzysztof Lubieniecki of Moses striking water from a stone

Josh, an avid explorer and amateur archeologist, decided to act on his old desire to travel to the Middle East. He wanted to view some of the past along with some of the more recent archeological excavations in the region, and even hoped to do some digs himself along the way.

He asked his archeology classmates to join him, and six of them committed to the project. Less than eight months later, Josh and his team found themselves in the Middle East, on their way to a well-developed archeological work near the southwestern portion.

After spending many days both observing and working with professional archeologists, Josh decided that he and the team should move on to their own project some distance away. They all packed up their gear, said their farewells and headed out from the camp, excited yet reluctant. They had met many who were familiar with the area that considered Josh’s intentions and departure with skepticism. But he remained confident that he and the team could fulfill their mission in around four days.

Two days into the trip, Kathy, one of the less experienced members, began to grumble about how the ‘place’ Josh kept speaking of seemed to be farther and farther away.

Then Julio, a seasoned archeological student, came to his defense when he remarked that all the surrounding terrain looked very similar, and they should not give up so soon.

Their fears were allayed when Josh came across the first stop on their journey through the wilderness. The dig he found was small, but they were able to unearth several artifacts that might have come from King David’s era. The team cheered over their find, but the following morning, a few of their provisions ran out, and so did their enthusiasm.

That afternoon, they come across a small pool of water with a few trees nearby. One team member was elated, and he hurried over, quickly removed his boots, and walked into the water. But he had no sooner entered before wild shrieks burst forth. Josh rushed over as the man raced out of the water, only to find snakes—dozens in all sizes—moving rapidly toward him. After fleeing quickly away, Josh and the team packed as fast as they could and fled the area before anyone was bitten.

Day four arrived with no fanfare at all. In fact, most of the team was dismayed and disappointed. Kathy went into another tirade of murmuring and complaining. As she walked all around their camp, she made known her disgust and unbelief. When she became unable to restrain herself any longer, she confronted Josh face-to-face about their current predicament.

“Okay, Mr. Intrepid Explorer, where is this wonderful place you keep leading us on about? It has been four days, actually eight if you include the main archeological base, since we left the airport. What have we found? Rock and sand, tons of both, and a few artifacts! I thought the archeologists and locals way back there were wrong in their skepticism about us coming out this way. But now I’m in full agreement with them!”

Another team member came up right beside her, yelling, “Yeah, it was pleasant at that camp, and at least somebody was finding artifacts, not wandering around aimlessly in temperatures that would not only fry an egg, but dehydrate and package it for shipping, too! Where are all these water holes and the huge oases you told us about on the plane?”

Josh responded hesitantly with a vague answer. Then he wandered away and climbed up a small mountain passageway and looked toward heaven, wondering what to do next. An hour later, he concluded that continuing forward would be best, hoping the site would soon appear. After much effort, he eventually convinced the team to go on rather than going back, especially considering all the snakes in the pond earlier. So off they went with only a little more than half of their supplies remaining, and no end to their journey in sight.

photo of Sinai desert

Their high expectations continued to turn to disappointment and despair as day after day dragged by. They soon gave up and cried out to God for help. But no sooner did He provide, then they would take Him for granted again and begin complaining and wandering around. Before long Kathy arrived at an awful conclusion, saying: “Hey! We passed that rock formation a week ago. Way over on the right is the pool with the snakes! This means that, for over a month, we’ve been going around in a circle! Josh, how could you and your God let this happen to us?”

A scenario like this really did happen in the Middle East several thousand years ago, when the Israelites were led out of Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the wilderness.

God intended for them to pass through the land in less than forty days, but they trudged on for forty years instead. Like the exploring team in this story, they had been going around and around in a circle.

They would not trust God. They wanted to go back to the land God had just delivered them from. They’d cry out to God for help. As soon as He provided, when the next test of their trust in Him came, they would murmur and complain all over again. They repeatedly took God for granted, and ended up going around in yet another circle. They finally reached a point where God could not let them into the land promised to them, because they no longer believed that He could help them. They would rather go back into the bondage of Egypt than trust God.

It wasn’t until sometime later that God said to the next generation of Israelites: “Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward” (Deuteronomy 2:3). Going “northward” meant to finally travel into the land that God had promised them forty years earlier.

This account of the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness spiritually parallels our walk with God as believers in Him. God will deliberately lead us into what we consider to be a wasteland, in order to break us of our reliance on self, and bring us into dependence on Him. The problem comes when we don’t allow God to work in our lives. We want to have everything on our terms and conditions. As a result, we frustrate and hinder His efforts and, in the end, we take Him for granted.

Multitudes around the world are compassing a mountain right now, and will continue to do so until they yield to God.

He doesn’t want us to remain this way any more than we do. But, as long as we complain and murmur against Him and what He has done for us, our time spent wandering aimlessly will grow longer and longer.

Let’s not reach the point of the first generation of Israelites and be denied entrance into the Promised Land due to continual unbelief. Let’s obey as God commanded and “turn you northward” out of the wilderness and into His Kingdom. Our trust has to be in Him, not in ourself. Don’t let a forty day journey turn into forty years!

 

[Image credit:Krzysztof Lubieniecki [Public domain]; Sabine Kulau/pixabay]

Are You Holding God’s Hand—or Is He Holding Yours?

young couple holding hands while walking down a railroad track

Two young children decide to take a walk together across an empty field near their backyards, holding each other’s hand. Then a gander and several geese suddenly burst forth through a broken portion of a back fence. One child notices that two of the geese have become stuck in part of the damaged section of the fence. He is concerned, and a little too eager to help them. He pulls the other child along, very noticeably against her will, in the direction of the noisy new arrivals. But as the children approach closer, the geese—out of fear—manage to get themselves free. Then, with no warning, the ever-vigilant and protective gander races toward the children, its beak angrily honking and snapping at them. They both run back to their homes, screaming and crying—quite scared and upset!

Two lovers casually stroll alongside a foggy, secluded lake. The young man gently holds the girl’s hand as they approach a narrow footbridge stretching over a wide canal that feeds the lake. They cross the waterway quickly, but the young couple becomes detached when the girl is distracted and lets her hand slip out of her boyfriend’s grasp. With her hands now by her side, she feels lost, her heart filled with longing and emptiness. With fog drifting across the bridge now between them she is confused, unsure whether to go forward, or to wait, or to turn back. The young man is now far ahead and out of sight. But then she hears him calling out to her, and runs toward him. In just a few minutes, she approaches him as he eagerly reaches for her with his arm stretched out. She leaps forward with a quick bound, and slides her hand back into his grasp. Then he gently but firmly clasps his hand around hers, pulling her along as they reach the other side of the lake. Back on the path again, they resume their casual walk around the lake hand-in-hand, the girl now wiser and willing to be more dependent on the young man than she was before.

A middle-aged man stumbles around in the middle of a congested downtown street corner after sunlight reflecting off a window temporarily blinds him. He tries to find his way himself, but has to resort to calling out for help. Some think he’s crazy. Others laugh at him, that is, until he heads toward the curb at Forty-Fifth Street where traffic is moving rapidly in both directions. Some scream and yell when they see where he’s headed. Others quickly turn away, unwilling to watch the impending disaster unfold. But one older gentleman ignores everyone and takes the initiative. He quickly and carefully grabs the man’s hand, while coaxing and leading him away from the maddening flow of vehicles. At this point, all the blinded man really needs to do is to keep his hand in the hand of the other man, remaining fully dependent on him until he is safe.

In their zeal to please God, many people are eager to solve the problem that has just arisen by themselves, like the child who wanted to free the geese, but gave no thought to what the consequences might be.

They are willing to let God hold their hand, but instead of waiting on Him when an unexpected circumstance arises, they end up rushing ahead. As a result, they grab God’s hand and try to pull Him along with them, contrary to His will and plan for their lives. They want to help so much that they end up ahead of Him, and in dangerous places. Twice God warns about such actions: There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25). But Psalm 25:5 says: “Lead me in Thy truth, and teach me: for Thou art the God of my salvation; on Thee do I wait all the day.” And in Psalm 27:14: “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.”

There are others who love the Lord dearly, but tend to become easily distracted in their relationship with Him. Like the girl who crossed the bridge with the young man, they let their hand slip out of His as He moves on and they are left behind.

They become confused as to which direction to go next. Their heart still desires Him, but their mind is caught up with something else. They become disoriented and try to figure out their next step without Him. Before long, they cry out in despair—until His voice can be heard after a while in the distance calling to them. Then they race toward Him, and place their hand back into His outstretched hand. So often we think God has left us behind to figure out our way on our own. Yet the opposite is true. We let go of His hand and no longer keep up with Him. Nevertheless, God promised us in His word that He will not abandon us. “…the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

Finally, there are those who, for one reason or another, are not able to spiritually perceive the way before them. They know where they need to go, but are not able to get there safely on their own.

They grope around, hoping to find the right path so they can go forward on it. They know dangers are all around them, yet they can’t fully perceive where they are to avoid them. They need the help of one who knows the road ahead and can discern the perils all around. The Bible alludes to their answer in Isaiah 42:16: “…I [God] will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”

If you are a child of God, where is your hand today? Is it firmly clutched around His hand, ready to pull Him along your way? Or is it gently resting in His, the same Hand that “…leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3)? Perhaps your hand is by your side, nowhere near Him. So often in our desire to obey God and His Word, we lose track of where we should place our hand. We cannot let distractions keep our hand out of His. Neither can we lead Him along by trying to place His hand in ours. God wants us dependent on Him. This is the day for you to decide to put your hand into His and keep it there—trusting Him from now on to safely lead you every step of the way on the path He has chosen for you,. Then you will experience the peace, satisfaction and assurance that only He can bring into your life.

[Image credit: pixabay.com]

Your True Strength—the Joy of the Lord

A beam of sunlight shining through grey clouds on a body of water between two low mountain ranges[Image Credit: Davide Cantelli/Unsplash]

“Make no attempt to leave, thirst and mull over your spoiled gruel and keep it all for yourself, regardless of how much worse another’s condition is: for this night is full of sinful revelry to our Lord the devil: make every effort to feel sorry for yourself; for the misery and disappointment of the devil is your weakness and hopelessness.” Doesn’t this fictitious passage from an “anti-Bible” sound depressing? Yet it could describe just another day and night in the life of many people today. Why is it that way? It is from to a lack of real joy in their hearts.

We most commonly equate joy only with happiness. We can have happiness along with joy, but happiness is not all that joy is. Happiness is only a temporal and often conditional state of mind or being. It will come and it will go. We humans have often proven ourselves capable of going from happiness to misery in an instant. But real joy holds fast, regardless of our current condition or situation. The fact is that true and lasting joy comes from Jesus Christ alone.

Here’s that verse from the “anti-Bible” again, this time in its proper biblical form: “…Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Here the Israelites, who had been in captivity in Babylon over one hundred and sixty years, were just now returning to Jerusalem. While they were removed from their homeland for such a long period of time, they had been kept from really knowing the law of God (the first five books of the Old Testament—basically the “Bible” of that period). When, at long last, the people were able to hear God’s word read and explained to them again, they were grieved in their hearts and down in spirit as they became aware of their ignorance and disobedience.

As a result, Nehemiah, the governor of the land, made this proclamation to the Israelites, in order to encourage and remind them that it was a time of renewal and restoration of God’s covenant.

He and the priests did not want the people to focus on their failures, but on the One who could bring them out of their hopelessness and helplessness.

The “joy of the Lord” in this verse means reliance on the unfailing nature of God. But when men build their hope up on this sinful world, they will be disappointed every time. Joy is one common thread woven throughout the whole Word of God. It is not based on what we do, or don’t do, or only on our current circumstances. Joy is something that Jesus places within those who have committed their heart and life to Him. Joy is not found in what Jesus does, but in Jesus Himself and His unfailing nature.

When Jesus came to this Earth as a man, He didn’t just bring a smile to someone’s face and then move on. That would only be happiness. Instead, His life became the perfect example of joy. No matter what trial or situation He went through, He put “the joy of the Lord is your strength” into practice. He did not wonder or agonize over how, or if, He was going to make it through. He put His whole trust in His Heavenly Father instead, who always made His joy complete. He knew without any doubt that failure was not part of His Father’s nature.

Open Bible laying flat on hardwood table with hands folded and resting partially near lower portion of book[Image Credit: Pixabay]

How can we have the joy of the Lord? Simply by keeping His commandments and obeying His Word. “As the Father hath loved Me, so have I loved you: continue ye in My love. If ye keep My commandments, ye shall abide in My love; even as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:9-11).

How do we effectively keep His commandments? By not trying to physically accomplish them in our own incomplete capacity. Obedience to God’s Word is not like a collection of merit badges that we must try to earn in order to be in right standing with God. Due to our inherently sinful self, it is impossible for us to fulfill all of God’s law and requirements in our own strength—although untold millions have tried to, always without success. That is why He sent His Son to Earth—to be our source of strength. Jesus is fully qualified and capable of fulfilling all God deems necessary to be in right standing with Him. Instead of trying to do everything to be obedient to God by our own efforts, we should look to Jesus—which is just what God has wanted from us all along. All the way from creation to today, He has wanted man to trust and be dependent on Him alone.

All too often we focus only on misery, doubt and disappointment, which are inspired by the devil. But they only keep us in bondage.

No matter how hard we attempt to overcome the trying circumstances that we are in or will be going through, we will never be totally victorious without Jesus Christ. We can even be the happiest and most joyful-looking people around, but that is not lasting joy. True joy is Jesus Christ. He alone is our strength. Always turn to the One who cannot fail. He will carry us through, regardless of the difficulty of the trial or situation. Then we will know for ourselves that the joy of the Lord will be our strength.