And so, the New Year Begins! The question on everybody's mind is, "How far do you trust God?"
No, it isn't actually. The question on everybody's mind is, "What is going to happen now?" How are things going to change? What difference does anything really make? What is the weather going to be like tomorrow? The first question, "How far do you trust God?" is probably only on my mind, and that only because I just read 2 Kings 13:14-19 recently.
Kings 13:14-19 is the account of the King of Israel coming to a now dying Elisha, and the prophet tells the king to take arrows into his hand and strike the ground with the arrows. The king strikes the ground three times, and makes the prophet angry, because if he had struck the ground several more times, he would been given utter and complete victory over his enemy, the nation of Aram. God would have been abundant in His blessings if the king had trusted more, and acted more aggressively on that trust.
Which made me think of asking, "How far do you trust God?" I have no command from God for you to strike the ground or anything to measure your trust and establish the size of the blessings of God for the coming year, but it seems like a good way of looking at the year ahead. We are going to face opportunities and challenges in the coming year - individually and corporately. How far you trust God - or how much - may well determine what you make of the opportunities and how you weather the challenges of the next twelve months.
Of course, there may not be an entire twelve months ahead. The world could end and we get to enter eternal glory before the end of next December. I sure hope so. I am ready to go to heaven, if only God wills to stop all of the troubles, sorrows, evils and ills of the world and bring us to that glorious day of salvation. Judging by experience, we can expect all twelve months - but then, one of these days, experience is going to prove a poor way of anticipating the future.
It could also be that while the rest of the world has twelve months to live - and that many times over yet - some of us (or all of us) have an appointment before the throne of God set for some time in the next months. We all have that appointment set and absolutely firm, but God is not telling us which day is our day ahead of time. If we have that appointment this year, the question of how far you trust God will become urgent, actually, - and the answer - in truth -will be displayed openly. So, it seems to be appropriate to stop and think about it for a moment anyhow. The end of one year and the beginning of the next are traditionally a good time to confront these sorts of questions.
Every time we face the opportunities of life, particularly as we seek to do the Lord's work and will, we stand like King Joash, arrows in hand, facing the question of how far we trust God. He did not realize what striking the ground with those arrows was about to mean. If he had even an inkling of how important the number of times he struck the ground was going to have, he probably would have struck the ground until he couldn't lift his arm again. Once he stopped, it was too late. God had given him an open-ended command (through the prophet) and for a host possible of reasons, Joash stopped at three strikes. It disappointed Elisha - and probably God - and limited the blessings he was going to receive.
Our opportunities set before us the question of how we will meet them. We can be realistic, and not be too eager or confident of where we are going or what we can accomplish. We can play it safe, not take any risks, not stick our necks out too far - and we will probably reap from our opportunities proportionate gains or blessings. Or, we can go for it, trust God will bless, and give our opportunities everything we have to give - and trust God to make it work.
Like Joash, we don't know for sure which opportunities mean what. Building that church building; is it wise? Is it possible? Should we stretch out for it, or play it safe? Stewardship - a great King Joash moment; how should we deal with the time, the abilities, and the riches God has given us to manage in the coming year? What is wise, and what is foolhardy? Can we trust God and spend more of ourselves for Him and the Gospel - or should we hunker down for the long haul and cautiously shepherd our resources? That could be foolish if that long haul ends, say, in August. But, if we have a decade - or twenty - ahead of us (although very few of us will live another two hundred years) conservation seems wise - don't want to run out of stuff.
Missions - another Joash kind of thing. How urgent is it that we speak of Christ and tell others the good news of salvation? Of course, the question is, 'How urgent is it for whom?' We might have years to confess Christ yet ahead of us - but the person in front of us at the store, or fishing just in the next boat, might have that appointment in the next week. Not so urgent for us, but urgent for them. And, maybe, urgent for us.
James wrote by inspiration, "You do not have because you do not ask." Sometimes we do not get anywhere in the faith or in the work we are doing for the Lord because we aren't actually trying to get anywhere. We aren't always trusting God to actually bless us and our work. It is like when we worry about running out. Running out of what is not important. We confess that God is our Provider, our Source, our Protection, our Guide, our Shield, and so forth. If He really is, (if we really believe it) can we run out? And if we run out, what does that mean?
It could mean that we are doing that which He hasn't given us to do. It could mean we have done exactly what we were supposed to, and the next step belongs to someone else. It could mean that we are doing precisely the right thing, and we don't need more to keep doing what we are doing. It could even be a test of our resolve - and only a temporary condition. The point is, how far do you trust God? Do you approach the opportunities and challenges of life with confidence that He will sustain and bless and provide, or do you just tap the ground three times with them arrows, and call it good?
I could apply these questions to congregational life, or to your personal issues in life. I cannot answer all the questions, but I can invite you to weigh them. Until God revealed the meaning of the striking the ground with the arrows, Joash's three strikes seemed reasonable. Paul wrote: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." However we may evaluate the conditions of the present time, God has revealed that nothing about it, not even the pains and sufferings we must endure, are going to seem too extreme for the gift of salvation and life and glory which He is going to give to us at the end of our time here on earth. We cannot out-give God, nor outspend His provision. We cannot trust Him too much, nor confess Him too freely.
Of course, we can be foolish, and put the Lord to the test by creating situations God did not plan for us. For example, we can give all of our money away, and be poor. God will still care for us, but His care may not match our expectations, and we might be tempted to despair. We might also - by doing foolish things - put ourselves in a position where we cannot accomplish the things God has given us to accomplish, such as take care of our families, or of ourselves, and thereby fail to do what we have been given to do by imagining that God wants us to do something we haven't been given to do.
So, we are confronted with a situation that is not simple. We cannot simply heave all of our resources into a basket somewhere and figure that such an action means that we are being faithful. We cannot simply take care of number one first, and then share whatever might be left over with the work that Christ has given us to do. We need, instead, to think and pray and consider all that God has given us to do - starting the things we know about; home, family, profession (or job, or whatever).
This next year will challenge us and offer us wonderful opportunities. In every situation, we need to consider what we believe to be the will of the Lord, and we need to judge the situation by faith. How far do you trust God? If we trust Him just a little, we are, in effect, asking Him to do just a little, like Joash. How will you respond when the arrows are in your hand? You have the gift of life, of health, of time, of abilities given to you, of resources and money, of energy, of wit and intelligence - and of forgiveness of sins, the coming resurrection, and eternal life in glory! In this coming year - or the part of it the Lord grants to you - how are you going to answer the challenges and opportunities God gives you? How far do you trust God? Let's work it out together.
Yours in the Lord,
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