Welcome to a sacred place!
For what looks like words may be life. And what is spelled out in black and white may be transformative.
“…what happens in the next few minutes borders on the holy…The quietness will slow my pulse, the silence will open my ears, and something sacred will happen. The soft slap of sandaled feet will break the stillness, a pierced hand will extend a quiet invitation, and I will follow.”
~ Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, p. 19
The day held a sense of expectation. As I took my place in the pew at the Beth Moore simulcast, I knew God was going to do something great. But, as each session slipped by, so did the hope that God would speak to me in a personal way. Until the afternoon session…
After lunch, I engaged a woman who had prayed the opening prayer, mostly because I was interested in receiving the Bible study she had written on Nehemiah. We chit-chatted a bit and then an unusual thing happened. She looked me dead in the eyes and said, “May I pray for you?” Not knowing how life-changing the next few moments would be, I answered, “Sure”, in a rather nonchalant way. What transpired in those few moments has become the impetus for this website.
She prayed a powerful, Spirit-inspired, prophetic prayer over my life. I have no accurate recollection of the specific words that were spoken; I just had the awesome sense of being in the very presence of God and hearing Him speak directly into my soul. She prayed over my ministry. She prayed over my family. She prayed over my future, but most importantly, she prayed an answer to a prayer I had been winging toward heaven for close to six years. I had been seeking God for something I could do for the Kingdom that was tailor-made for me and this stranger named my specific niche in ministry. She called it out from the hazy boundaries of my subconscious and the oblivion of my fearful desires and she birthed in me a monumental dream: a dream of writing.
The Lord joined this dream to the trauma I had experienced through my lifetime to create something new, something bold, something transformed. He formulated a vision in me of how that dream might play out, “You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isa 48:12b)
God has taken me on a number of detours since that day: a left-turn at heartache, an underpass of pregnancy in my 40’s, a bridge out sign directing us to move countries, and a traffic jam of waiting on God. Another almost-six years have passed me by since that startling day and God is calling me out again. This call feels similar – to inhale His truths, to breathe out life through the medium of words – and yet different, because I am different. God has broken me down and has begun His good work of rebuilding me brick by painstaking brick.
I am humbled by this opportunity and greatly conscious of my inherent weaknesses. But I invite you to join me as I write with passion, with trepidation, and with, what I feel, is a powerful undergirding of the Spirit. Will you join me in helping to rebuild some walls in our lives and in the lives of those who are broken around us?
Part 5 of 6
The Significant Decision
Eating Humble Pie
A number of years ago, I was afforded the privilege of teaching voice lessons to an exceptional young sixteen-year-old woman named Maria (name changed). She had more talent in her little pinky finger than I had in my whole body, so it was very intimidating for me to try and teach her anything, but I felt the Lord leading me into this journey with her. I taught her everything I could in the limited time we had: music theory, music history, voice training, genre and literature, and of course, performance. On top of the musical side of things, I felt very led of the Lord to mentor her in regards to her spiritual identity in Christ. Every day we met, we prayed and worked through many of the identity statements of Scripture.
Somewhere in the middle of that school year, Maria was scheduled to give a mini-recital. Regularly, I had her perform three pieces in different genres and languages before a small audience, who would gently encourage and critique her. These were stressful times for Maria, but I saw her rise to the challenge time and time again.
Except for one fateful night.
She called me the night before the recital and said that she just couldn’t do it. Her mom also felt that I was expecting too much of her, but I knew Maria’s potential, and very firmly told her that she was prepared and would do great. The next day, despite her trepidation, she sang magnificently, pulling off a German piece, a musical number, and an art song with hardly any stress at all. I told her how proud I was of her and that is when she finally broke down.
She told me how stressful it was to do all these recitals and how I was pushing her too hard. I asked her if she thought she could manage it and she said she thought she could. The stress was actually coming from her other studies and her mom, who continually verbalized the thought that I was too exacting. I felt that June, the mother, was managing Maria’s life - and mine, as a result - and I said some things about her mom’s involvement that bordered on unkind. After we had talked through all that Maria was feeling, we ended the conversation in a pretty good way, or so I felt.
However, the Lord began to work on me. I was shown pretty clearly that while my motives were pure, my methods of dealing with the tension between her mom and my teaching style were not. I knew the Lord was asking me to apologize to Maria and to her mom, but that was where I struggled. I saw her mom constantly pushing her way into my classroom, overriding my teaching techniques and calling the shots, even though she had given me express permission - even sought me out herself - to teach her daughter as I saw fit.
Back and forth, the Lord and I went. It was a struggle of wills; it was a crisis of decision. Finally, I surrendered.
I called June and we set an appointment to meet. In the days prior to that meeting, I was overcome by fear, but I was also determined to go through with the Lord’s clear path for me. When I sat down with her, I ate the whole humble pie. I told her how my heart had struggled against her involvement and how much I resented her telling me how to do my job. I confessed my hard feelings toward her and ended my monologue by asking for her forgiveness. I even told her I would step down from teaching if she thought I was not the right person to coach her daughter.
June was very gracious; in fact, much more so than I deserved. She did forgive me, although she was surprised at my strong territorial feelings. We talked through some of the stresses in her own home and how that impacted her reactions. Both of us brainstormed as to how we could help Maria excel, both at school, at home, and in her musical spheres of life. We ended our time together much better friends and even partners, with Maria’s best interests at heart. In addition, I spent a long time with Maria, apologizing for putting her in the spot where she had to choose between her mom and me. She, also, graciously forgave me.
All of that stress and tension between June, Maria and me could have been avoided if I had stuck my head in the sand like I really wanted to do. I could have given in to Maria’s desire to quit, not nudging her on to greater heights. The unkind statements could have been shelved if I had not cared for Maria so much. The conviction of the Holy Spirit might not have been heeded if I had listened to my pride. The decision to confess my hard heart and ask forgiveness could have been put off if I did not love the Lord so much. But none of these “could haves” and “might haves” came to pass.
As it turned out, all of the stress, the pressure, the conviction, the fear, the confession, and the reconciliation were part of God’s good plan for me, for June, and for Maria. The build-up of all of those little straws was actually a gift from God. Without the burden of differing opinions, I would not have engaged Maria’s best interests. Without the squeeze of a recital, I would not have stood up for what I thought was best, despite my overreaction and seeming unkindness. And without that pressured ungodly response, I would not have seen the real state of my heart, would not have sought repentance, and would not have confessed to make things right. It was the strain and stress of a burdensome circumstance that moved me into greater freedom with God, better communication with June, and a much more effective ministry with Maria. The pressure of that prison circumstance enabled me to open up my heart to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, who is most concerned with conforming me to the likeness of Christ.
Where We Have Come From
There are only two weeks left in this six-week series, although this is the seventh week I have been writing on this topic. A couple of weeks I waxed more eloquently than normal, but my personal hope is that I will be able to finish this series Counted Worthy: Trusting God From the Prison of Unanswered Prayer by the last week in November.
This has been the hardest series I have ever written; mostly because I am on the inside of my prison looking out. I wish I was more like the apostle Paul, who sat in dungeon-like house arrest writing faith-filled, courageously encouraging, monumentally-stalwart pillars of doctrine, but I am not. Though I am expounding from the inside of my dungeon walls, my writings are more like the Psalms of Lament, emotions ebbing and flowing like the tides of the ocean: some rising higher than a ship’s mast; some falling into deep troughs of despondency; but all crashing inevitably upon the shores of crisis while waiting to recede once again into deeper depths, depending on the circumstantial tides’ exertion upon them.
My desire in this series has been to address doubts that arise when God chooses not to answer our prayers. There are many side roads we could have taken in this journey - and I have taken quite a few of them - but for the most part, I have tried to closely follow John the Baptist’s incarceration as seen in the Gospel of Luke. We have addressed four groups of doubts already: doubts arising from a sufferer’s dungeon; doubts that overwhelm with their suffocating darkness; doubts about the dichotomies of God; and last week, doubts about the sacrifices involved in being a disciple of Christ. I continue to add to the visual table below which contains the basic gist of all that we have studied so far.
Part of the reason doubts arise in our minds is that our legs are planted in the soil of this earth. Our minds have been shaped by this planet’s ideologies. Our environments have encroached on our faith like weeds in a rose garden. To root out those doubts, a spiritual lobotomy is needed. God’s thoughts, ideologies, and perspectives must be sown into the fabric of our mentalities, replacing the lies with the truths of His Word. As long as we keep walking in this world’s muck and mire, doubts will flow through our systems of belief; this is our truthful reality. But equally important to
remember are these words: you have the mind of Christ as a spiritual woman (1 Cor. 2:15-16). Your thinking is not static. Your heart can be softened. And your perspective can grow to encompass the faith vistas of a child.
This is my prayer for my heart and mind as I write about who God is, what He can do, who I am, and what I can do through Christ. All of my meditations - both floundering and rock-solid - are the essence of Holy-Spirit sanctification. I write to fight the pull of this world on me. I write to meditate on God. I write, my friend, to abide in the Vine. And I write, above all, to ensure that my heart remains aligned to the perspectives of heaven. I want to be counted worthy of the sufferings of Christ (Acts 5:41 and 2 Thes. 1:5). I do not want to waste the lessons God intends for me in this season, which is so very easy to do. Complacency, sinking down into despair, is the simple way out. It takes courage to stand on the Rock and lean on our Lover. A dungeon mentality almost always obscures the face of God and boy, do I ever want to see God’s face. I must have Jesus and I believe you must as well.
Introducing Our Main Passage
You might have thought it strange that John the Baptist’s reactions and responses were noticeably absent from last week’s text, even though this series has formally invited him to be our guest lecturer. All that Jesus spoke concerned John, yet John, himself, never heard Christ’s affirming words. That is because those words held up John as the epitome of a disciple so that the crowd - including you and me - would see a picture of what God desires in this give-and-take relationship called discipleship.
This week’s lesson continues in the same vein, with nothing being said to John and a lot being said about him. Jesus continued to set John’s life before the crowd in an exemplary fashion, but He added a comparison involving His own life and ministry. The striking differences between the two ministries were expounded in order to jar His listeners out of their complacency. It was to move them to a crisis of belief. That day, and forever forward, the requirements of discipleship took a daunting turn: they required a choice, a significant decision.
Let’s see where that choice leaves us as we study through these incredible words from Luke 7:29-35 that hold so much depth of meaning: (“All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) ‘To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’. But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
Every road in life will eventually come to a crossroads. Choices will need to be made about whether to turn south or north, east or west. The spiritual journey is no different. In fact, the left-turns and right-turns of a faith-walk with God will inevitably lead to some sort of a crisis of faith. You will begin to question truths you thought you held indivisible, beliefs that were indomitable, and prayers you thought unquenchable. Those forks in the road are not always induced by trauma or a prison circumstance, although I think those determinants are often the pressure God needs to get our attention. It is true, though, that sometimes crossroads are just trust-choices: turns that continuously challenge us to trust in God more deeply than ourselves. He wants us to choose Him so He adds a little pressured crossroads into our already-pressured days. Those turning options force us to slow down and choose wisely.
Less than a mile from our house, an underpass is in the process of being built. I am sure this roadway monstrosity will eventually ease traffic, reduce accidents, and shorten the time sitting at lights, but for now, the ongoing underpass work is a disaster, a roadwork and time-travel crisis. Every time I leave my home and go anywhere, I have to sit at this particular crossroads. This sitting - and anxious stewing, I might add- always leads me to ask some questions:
- Which way is faster this hour? You see, the lanes are constantly shifting from time to time.
- Is there another shortcut? There really isn’t, but I ask anyway.
- What do I do while I wait for the three rotations of the light? Reading a book always calms my impatience.
- Does Google have another exit? Is there any other way? No, there isn’t...yet, so I wait in nail-biting hope.
- How late am I going to be today? How much will this wait disrupt my plans? I tend to plan for this contingency, so am usually still early despite the ten minutes I may lose at the crossroads. But the thought that timeliness is out of my hands is pretty stressful to me.
- And my favorite question: what is the good of all this mess anyway? I’m sorry, but I do not see any good.
Your spiritual journey will always include some construction zones where God seeks to firm up habits, fill in some sink-hole ruts, and ease some snarled-up traffic jams caused by busyness or skewed priorities. And in those zones, there will be a crossroads: times of decisions about where to go, what to do, and how to change your direction. Those crossroads may be anxiety-ridden due to the questions that inevitably bombarb your thinking. How can I get to where God is leading me faster? Where are the shortcuts? What do I do while I wait for this constructive repair in my life? Is there any other way but through this season? How much will this detour disrupt the plans I have? And God, what is the good of all this mess anyway?
Questions are the earthy, tangible nature of any crisis of faith. They are the infrastructure of rebuilding. Are you really sold out for God or are you hedging your bets? Do you love God more than these: your family, your ministry, your passions, your dreams, your spouse, your safety, your reputation, your significance? Do you know God enough to constantly give yourself over to His plans, even when they do not jive with yours? Do you trust Him to provide for you or is your own provision more foundational than your faith? Do you believe you can do all things through Christ who gives you strength or are those only words you parrot when you are in a church community? Does the rubber hit the road for you or are you skidding through every crossroads in your life, barely making it to the next inevitable faith decision? Are you rooted and grounded in love, able to handle life’s storms with no fear of bad news because your heart is steadfast (Ps. 112:7) or are you shaking like a leaf whenever the wind begins to blow (Isa. 7:2)?
Questions of faith pile up higher than construction rubble. These few I have listed are just a tiny portion of the ones I have wrestled with over the years. However, I have found that many people will opt out of the journey altogether. They will allow fate to decide their course for them, thus showing the maturity level of their faith. These I-will-choose-whatever-others-choose Christians become like waves of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind: faithless, foundation-less, and fruitless and frankly, they become statistics of discipleship. James calls this type of head-in-the-sand Christian a double-minded man, unstable in all she does (Jms. 1:6-7). Do you hear what James is implying? Christians who abdicate these wrestling type of choices at their faith-crossroads are considered unstable at best and foolish at worst. Take note of these two parables: the wise and foolish builders (Mt. 7:24ff) and the parable of the foolish virgins (Mt. 25:1ff).
The intimidating part of any spiritual journey is that you have no idea how to answer those faith-questions with any integrity unless some pressure is applied. You will not know how to choose wisely if a crossroads of faith is never introduced. Our faith requires testing so that we become proficient at persevering. And apparently, perseverance is very important to God. It matures us, completes us, teaches us to trust, and makes us wise (Jms. 1:3-4). And above all, we are to get wisdom. Though it cost everything we have, we are to get understanding (Pr. 4:7). That exchange of our earthly, wishy-washy wisdom for God’s rooted, confident, all-encompassing wisdom begins at those pressured crossroads of faith. And my friend, those crossroads usually sit smack-dab in the middle of a prison circumstance. The prison is the pressure that forces us to choose God or safety. God or money. God or comfort. Wholly pure, loving God or an ethereal pipe-dream of illusion.
You might be at a crossroads today. If not today, then tomorrow’s journey may abruptly surprise you. Crossroads are inevitable. The question you need to answer is this: What will you do with your crisis of faith? What choice will you make both at your crossroads and in your prison circumstances? God may not be answering your prayers. He may not be moving the pieces of your life around in the pattern you desire. What will you do with that reality? Can you hold both truths in your hand, that God is good and that He may choose not to answer your prayer in the way you want? Is that kind of trust even possible, and if so, how do we get our hearts on board? These are the kinds of questions we are going to explore today.
Hovering between two opinions is not an option, my friend. It divides your mind, undermines your stability, and segregates your belief in God. Thinking that you do not need to make a choice at your crossroads is a dangerous delusion. God does not take too kindly to a lukewarm, riding-the-fence kind of spirituality (Rev. 3:16) and to be honest, choosing anything besides God reveals a benchmark of idolatry. Joshua spelled that truth out pretty clearly: “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped...and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:14-15).
My friend, today’s passage of Scripture opens up a critical crossroads for you and me. It illuminates a crisis of belief, which is often the source of doubt. Our earthly perspectives cry out in Defense of our Dualism. We invest heavily in our concrete, fleshly lives, but inherently understand the need to hedge our bets on the safety of our spirits as well. We know our purposes involve living for God, but we also want our hopes and dreams to come to fruition. We like the stuff of this earth, even while realizing we were made for heaven. In essence, we want our cake and the option to eat it, too. We are dualistic, ambivalent, dichotomous, defensive, self-serving creatures.
God knows this dualistic, indecisive, ambivalent, vacillating, doubt-filled inner struggle will eventually smother our faith. Because of the danger of this disunity in our souls, God throws a few crossroads into our journey. They require us to take steps forward in real, grounded-in-the-Word faith. When we choose God’s ways, we take on God’s perspective. We Display the Difference of true wisdom and out of that transformative choice emerges fruitful change and a blossoming, turned-to-the-Son kind of faith.
This faith-journey is what God desires for you and me. When there is a prison circumstance, a crisis of belief, an unanswered prayer, a trial of suffering, He wants us to stand at that crossroads and look. He wants us to ask for directions to the tried-and-true way. He wants us to hear a voice behind us saying, ‘Here is the way, walk in it.” And He wants us to discover the rest that comes in choosing the godly, wise route for our souls. (Isa. 30:21 and Jer. 6:16). In essence, that crossroads is designed with you in mind, with your faith in sight. God wants you to choose Him: His ways, His perspectives, His very life. In essence, He longs for you to H - Hunger to express His wisdom through your changed life.
Will you join me on this difficult, rubble-filled constructive journey today? Let’s see what God reveals to us about Him and about our hearts? And let’s make a pact to be pliable in God’s creative, constructive, rubble-removing hands.
A Crisis of Faith
In weeks past, we studied how John the Baptist struggled through a crisis of faith. Simply put, a crisis of faith is when a person questions whether what they believe, how they see, or what they are committed to, is actually true (Kent Annan, https://www.huffpost.com/). John’s question to Jesus encapsulated his doubt, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else” (Lk. 7:19). You see, John had come to a crossroads of decision. He needed to know, somehow or other, whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. What drove him to that crossroads of belief was the pressure of his prison. If Jesus was the Messiah who could perform miracles, then why on earth would He not use one ounce of his supernatural, God-given ability to free John from his prison circumstance? Either He was strong enough, or not. Either he loved John, or not. At the core of John’s crisis was the reality of God and His love for him.
At the beginning of this devotional, I recounted to you a crossroads that God led me to. The pressure behind that crossroads, the prison circumstance, if you will, was an insecure young woman begging and crying for a reprieve and a forceful mother who overrode my methods of teaching. These pressures, along with the Holy Spirit’s conviction, required me to make a decision at an important crossroads.
I could have chosen to ignore Maria’s cries for help as well as June’s efforts to interfere, but wouldn’t that have only been a shortcut, a defense of my dualism? I would never have had to face the turmoil inside. It would not have solved any problem but my immediate desire to release the pressure. I would have demonstrated a hard heart toward those who were hurting which would have, in turn, revealed an immature sink-hole in my faith. Also, I could have quenched the conviction of God, but wouldn’t that have been the most foolish decision of all? To turn off the voice of reason is an option an unbeliever would take. This is not a prerogative for a bonafide disciple who loves the Lord with all her heart, soul, mind and strength (Mk. 12:30). Other options came to my mind in those hours of decision and conviction like: duking it out with June; quitting teaching altogether; or giving in to Maria’s hopeless, fearful request.
As I sat before the Lord, He revealed my true heart. The crisis for me was two-fold. The whole incident erroneously spoke to me of my significance before God. Do I really matter to you, God? Why does June make me feel so worthless? Why am I being questioned in my field of speciality? Doesn’t my opinion, my expertise, my vision count? Am I important to you? Is my ministry important to you?
The second part of my ambivalence had to do with my view of God. I struggled with God’s goodness. I thought you were good and that all your ways were good. This situation is not good. Three people are hurting because of this pressured prison circumstance. With Your ability, why can’t You just turn this all around? On top of my doubts about God’s character, I also doubted His love for me. If you are so loving, God, why are you letting this happen? If you give good gifts to your children, why am I hurting so badly?
God’s answer to me was similar to His answer to John. Look at Who I am. I heal and cure, raise the dead and preach the good news (Lk. 7:22) . My character has not changed at all. Not only that, but I do love you: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Lk. 7:23). My favor rests on you, despite the circumstances. In spite of the pressure you feel, I am still the same God. My love for you does not change like shifting shadows. You are significant to me; even blessed, if you adopt my perspective.
And there was the crux of the decision. God’s perspective saw that there was a problem in my belief system. My cries to Him stemmed from right motives, but very wrong methods. I wanted to fix the problem; God wanted to fix my heart. I knew what I had to do. God had been so clear. Humility, repentance, honest confession were the guides to turn my faith-journey in the right direction at my crossroads of belief. I stood at that hazy crossroads and looked at my options. I asked for the right path. I asked for the good, godly way and God answered, “Choose life. Choose humility. Choose repentance and confession,” so I did. Because the love of my Lord is better than life, I chose wisdom at my crisis of belief and found rest for my soul (Jer. 6:16, Isa. 30:21).
Characteristics of a Crisis (Luke 7:29-35)
Our target passage today can be interpreted many different ways, I am sure, but what stood out for me in Jesus’ words to the crowd, was a clear-cut picture of what a crisis of faith involves. I believe these seven verses outline for us some patterns that run rampant through every moment of decision.
There are the never-ending questions: Should we stand instead of run? Should we look instead of closing our eyes in denial? Should we ask the Lord what to do or move forward in our own wisdom? Will we hear the Lord’s voice when He talks to us? And will we obey the way forward that He chooses to reveal? These questions move in a very linear pattern, but underneath the questions are haphazard migrations of doubt. These doubts hinge on six very important words that show up, for me, in every faith C.R.I.S.I.S. Let’s see if they seem familiar to you.
C - Choice (vv 29-30)
I have already raised one strong-willed child and I have another one in the process of becoming independent. One tip I learned a long time ago from Dr. Dobson on this topic of raising strong-willed children was to give them choices. So many times there are fights about what they are required to do, but if a choice is given, they are empowered by their ability to decide something for themselves. The problem comes when you offer them two choices and they pick choice C. That is the dilemma I am currently negotiating with my strong-willed five-year-old, but I have learned to simply restate the two options he may choose. This reminds him that he can decide something for himself, but he also must stay within his given boundaries.
Crisis moments, at their very bedrock core, are all about choices. When you come to a crossroads, there are four options; a T road has three. But all roads that involve a turn involve a choice.
Jesus clarified that truth for his audience and in so doing, He pressured them gently into a crossroads. Verse 29 says, by way of parenthesis, that all the people made a choice to be baptized by John. The pharisees and teachers of the law, on the other hand, rejected God’s way because they had not been baptized by John (v 30). In other words, the crowds accepted a baptism of repentance (Lk. 3:3), while the religious leaders rejected a baptism of repentance.
Every faith crisis will involve accepting God’s perspective on a matter or rejecting it. If your crisis has come about because God has not answered your prayers, your choice will be to accept God’s non-answer as your way forward or reject Him out of great bitterness. If God is asking you to do something, you have the same choice: accept what He is calling you to do or reject it.
There are consequences for saying “no” to God, probably far more severe than balking at what He asks. Disobedience will lead down a spiral, the beginning point being a loss of the intimacy we talked about so much last week. That consequence alone, if you think carefully about it, may be enough impetus for you to move into His perspective, but it may not. Often, there are other issues involved in a full-blown crisis of belief.
R - Recognition (vv 29-30)
A crisis always involves some type of recognition. All crossroads require you to stand, look, and ask. If you take the time to look left-right-left, you can see if a road disappears into nothingness. You can check out the quality of the tarmac, whether your car will fit on the road, or whether traffic is backed way up. These quick glances both ways are reality checks on your physical road adventures.
A spiritual journey is very similar. Each time you come to a crisis of belief, a time where you must choose to trust God over your own wisdom, you will need to come to some eye-opening recognition. You will need to ascertain which way is really right. It is important to see which roads are closed and which ones are open. Other travelers can help you recognize the quality of the road ahead. It is important to open your eyes and really see where God is working so you can join Him in that work.
Luke tells us in verse 29 that all the people, even the tax collectors, heard Jesus’ words and made a choice. They recognized or acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. They knew a repentant journey because of John’s preaching and they recognized that Jesus’ ministry was also one of repentance. Lining these two very different preachers’ words up against one another, they realized in their hearts that God was involved in both of these varying evangelists’ ministries.
The Pharisees and experts in the law, on the other hand, failed to recognize where God was working. They refused John’s baptism of repentance, thereby rejecting God’s purpose for them (v 30). Because their eyes were blinded by their hardened hearts, they did not really see John for who he was: the forerunner of the Messiah. And because they misjudged John, they never saw Jesus as the Messiah at all.
Every faith crisis requires your spiritual eyes to be opened. If you are blinded by your pain, your frustration, or your bitterness, you will not see God at work around you. You will be too focused on yourself to recognize the Messiah in your midst. God’s glory will pass you by, like it did with Moses, and you will miss it.
Henry Blackaby, in his book Experiencing God, states over and over something to this effect, “Look around you to see where God is already working, then join Him in that work.” Your faith crisis will require you to enhance your observation skills. Friend, stand at those crossroads and look. Really look. Which way seems right to you based on the Word of God? Which road most resembles the one Jesus would have taken? Which road is too wide to be the way to God’s priorities (Mt. 7:13)? Can you see where God is already at work? Is He moving and orchestrating events on the narrow path that no one else seems to want to travel? That, my friend, is most likely your way.
Let me remind you of God’s P.R.I.O.R.I.T.I.E.S as seen in Part 3 of this devotional series:
If your faith crisis has you wallowing in a pit of confusion, remember to recognize these truths. Where the Gospel is declared and sinners brought home, where faith grows and Satan’s kingdom is pushed back, where broken people are mended and righteousness is restored, where truth reigns and glory shines, where leaders are rising up and relationships with God are growing in intimacy, you can know, without a doubt, that God is on the move. And my friend, you will then recognize the safety and favor of moving in that direction also.
I - Influence (v 31)
We’re pretty strict in our house about sweets. We have them. We eat them, but my desire is that self-control is learned pretty early on. For that reason, we just do not consume a lot of sugar and I think we are far healthier as a result. But there are large blips on the sugar horizon, like Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, which make self-control harder to teach.
Timmy, our five-year-old, has a huge bag of candy in the fridge from his trick-or-treat, Halloween celebration. If he is not showing signs of a cold or his allergies are not bothering him, he may have a small amount of that stash every now and then. Last night, he dipped into that goldmine to taste the goodness and enjoyed it very much, but we noticed he disappeared around the corner with it when no one was looking. After a few minutes, he came back into the kitchen and began to put the candy away.
My husband was naturally suspicious so he asked, “What is in your mouth?” Timmy opened his mouth, which was empty, but Tony kept probing, ‘Did you eat some already?” And that’s when time slowed to a crawl: Timmy thinking and his parents waiting for him to do the right thing.
Timmy must have stood there thirty seconds, thinking through his answer. His eyes were running to and fro as his mind whirled through all of his possible options. You could see the wheels turning, Will I get into hotter water by lying or just taking the consequences I know will come?
I am so glad to say that finally, his little head did go up and down. He had eaten extra amounts of candy and I’m so proud to say, chose not to lie about his actions. I quickly told him that sweets were off the table for a couple of days and reminded him that sneaking food was not the answer. After all, his bag was huge and would be in the fridge for another time. My husband then got down next to Timmy and made sure to affirm his choice to be truthful.
It felt like a momentous moment, a crisis of faith. It always does when truth is on the line.
Timmy had come to a crossroads. He had to make a decision: whether to lie or to tell the truth. His crossroads came about by a pressure situation, which involved that huge bag of candy calling to his sweet tooth. He succumbed to disobedience at his original crossroads because of a great amount of sugary influence, but as he stood there trying to decide what decision to make at his second crossroads, he was inundated by many other kinds of influence. There was the influence of self-protection and reputation. He was influenced by his growing sense of morals. As a very young believer, there was the influence of the Holy Spirit on the inside of him. And he was influenced by his desire to please his parents, which, of course, warred against his strong rebellious nature. All of these influences pressured him as he stood there mulling over which way to turn at his crossroads.
Like Timmy, you and I face the pressures of influence at our crossroads as well. Most of those influences are packaged in a more grown-up version than Timmy’s, but they are just as strong in their impact as the ones Timmy faced. We struggle with self-protection and reputation, people-pleasing and significance. We war against our fleshly desires and the new desires of the indwelling Spirit. And we wrestle with the ever-increasing domination of the world’s pull on our hearts and minds.
Jesus alluded to this worldly pull in the words he spoke next to the crowd, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like” (v 31)? “This generation” refers to the influences of your friends, your peers, your social set, and your family. It speaks to the leaders that influence your children and the preachers who impact their faith. It recalls to mind the entanglements of the media you allow in your home or the messages from books and music that shape your moral life. When you think of all the people, things, and environments that impact your faith, you can quickly know how “this generation” messes with your crisis decisions.
When you encounter a crisis of faith, you can know, without a doubt, that you are being influenced. Like Timmy, as his mind flitted through all his options, you will have to determine what holds the greatest sway over your decision: the pull of “this generation” or the pull of Christ’s purposes in your life. If your thoughts are so dominated by media and friends, reputation and significance, you will struggle in your crisis of faith. Faith may not even be very high on your agenda. But if you regularly soak in the influence of the Word, daily set your mind and heart on things above (Col. 3:1-2), and think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8), your crisis may not cause you very much angst. If you continuously align your mind with the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), you will hear the voice of your Master directing you in the path you should take, even at those crucial, heart-stopping moments when you struggle to know which turn to make.
S - Second-guessing (v 32)
Jesus answered His own question about how to compare the people of “this generation.” He said they are like children (v 32). Children, my friend.
This comparison can be positive. After all, Jesus told His audience one time that they needed to be willing to change and become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3). Children are humble and innocent, trusting and teachable. These sweet childlike characteristics are prerequisites for salvation, yet Jesus is not referring to that side of how a child responds in this scenario.
Listen to how He describes the children of “this generation.” “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry’ ” (v 32). Jesus is not referring to a child’s trusting character in this instance, but the natural bent that comes out when satisfaction is stymied.
Filipinos do not spank their children, on the whole. So many times I have been in a public place, like a mall or a grocery store, and have watched a child throw a literal fit on the floor. Screaming. Yelling. Bad-mouthing. Crying. Arguing. Pulling hair. Yanking items off shelves. It’s embarrassing for me to witness the tantrum; I cannot imagine how it must feel to be the parent.
So what is going through that child’s mind? Maybe something like this, Well, I didn’t get spanked last time. Maybe the public arena will put some pressure on my parents to get me that toy. How far can I push them before they snap? Will my parents still love me? I tried something different last trip to the mall. This worked for my friend over there, so I’ll give it a go?
Children learn how to behave appropriately by trying an action and observing the reaction, by guessing at a button and pushing it. It is a game of second-guessing, rewriting the script and second-guessing some more. What will mom do this time?
So what does a typical Filipino mom do? Usually she reacts to the onslaught by yelling at the child, which makes the child yell even louder back. Sometimes she smacks the child up the side of his head, which causes louder screaming, but most often, she leaves the child on the floor and walks around the corner. I have seen it countless times. She distances herself from the childish behavior due to her own lack of parenting ability. In other words, childishness brings out a second-guessing type of behavior in the parent. What do I do? How should I respond? Everyone is looking at me and judging me? I really don’t know how to handle this? What would my mom do? I’m so embarrassed.
Children are not usually very confident. That character quality comes over time with experience, success and affirmation. Before they are secure in what they think and feel, children struggle to know what pleases them. They may play a few flutes, but recognize that you are not dancing so they second-guess their assumption. They may sing sad dirges, and be surprised that you do not cry. Again, they rethink their assumptions. Their expectations often are not met and they also, begin to second-guess their actions moving forward. A lack of firm parenting due to an inner struggle of second-guessing leads to a wishy-washy, petulant child who will continue to second-guess her ability to please others.
Every crisis involves assumptions. I wrote a pro and con list the other day about a decision I am trying to make and realized when I was finished, that the vast majority on both sides of my list were assumptions about the future. I was trying to make a wise decision, but was throwing in possibilities instead of facts in order to determine my way forward. This is dangerous, my friend. As I looked down over my list, I realized that I was so full of a second-guessing mentality that I was even creating future negative scenarios. I needed to scrap that list, dwell only on facts, and refuse to allow fear about the “what ifs” to cloud my vision.
Children are immature and behave in childish ways. They second-guess their surroundings constantly. That is why they need constancy and consistency to grow into people of wisdom. Adults who live in assumptions, who struggle with ‘what ifs’ and live in the ‘if onlys’ also will second-guess every decision they make.
When you come to a crossroads, know this: there may be flute-playing without dances and dirges without crying, but most likely, expecting the unexpected will not help you in your crisis. Do not assume anything. Do not second-guess where God is leading. Take time to sit under God’s parenting skills. Understand His ways of discipline. Be trained by His hand and you will not feel the fear of ‘what ifs’ when you come to a crisis of decision. You will have a holy confidence that the teaching of God has led you along the path to wisdom. And you will trust His voice when He tells you which way to go.
Do not assume what you do not know and do not second-guess what you do know. Live in the safe, clear path of the Fountain of Life. In His light, you will always see your lighted way (Ps. 36:9).
I - Illusions (vv 33-34)
Due to the fact that I have lived in four countries over my lifetime, I have spent a lot of time on airplanes. I remember as a child looking out of the airplane window one day at the huge cumulus clouds billowing up around the wing. I used to think about how soft those clouds were, how much like cotton balls they seemed. I wondered, in my tiny knowledge of gravity, how it would be to step out of the airplane and jump from cotton ball to cotton ball.
It is true that clouds are puffy and big and real, but they are not solid. Their appearance of grandeur and mass are really an illusion. If I had tried to step out on one of those clouds, I would have dropped through them like a rock. I know this information now, but I did not know it then.
The term ‘illusion’ has three simple definitions. 1) A thing that is or is likely to be wrongly perceived or interpreted by the senses (like a mirage or funhouse mirror), 2) a deceptive appearance or impression (like a wrong impression of a person), 3) or a false idea or belief (a delusion or deception) (Oxford dictionary online). I had an illusion about those clouds on three counts: my senses wrongly perceived the situation; I was deceived by an impression; and I had a false idea about their being able to hold me up.
Jesus taught the crowd about illusions based on a comparison between His ministry and John the Baptist’s. John’s life was characterized by asceticism because he did not eat bread or drink wine. Those who looked in on his life had the erroneous illusion that he was possessed by a demon as a result (v 33). Jesus, on the other hand, came eating and drinking. He did not deprive Himself like John did, but the people wrote Him off as well. They were under the illusion that anyone who ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners was a glutton and a drunkard (v 34).
The fact is that both men acted according to their consciences; they lived in the way that followed God’s plan for them. Additionally, both men’s teachings were spoken out under the power of the Holy Spirit. But they were both perceived negatively because the hearers were full of false ideologies and beliefs. The listeners felt uncomfortable when confronted with each man’s lifestyle and by each speaker’s message. Neither messenger fit into their neat boxes, into their pre-thought perceptions and interpretations, so both the messages and the messengers were ostracized and ignored.
When you drive up to a crossroads in your personal life, be sure that your passenger seat will be occupied, to some degree, with illusions. These illusions might take the form of false beliefs taught to you by legalistic overseers or hands-off parenting. Because your eyes are blinded by the pain of your prison circumstance, you may not have the ability to perceive the right course of action; your perceptions may be compromised. Or the illusion may be even deeper. Your judgement may be completely impaired by deception, whether by your own sin or the lies of the devil that have been woven into your journey through the sins of others.
When you come to a crossroads, you must stand at the crossroads and look at your beliefs (Jer. 6:16a). Are they based on reality, or are they formed from illusion? Ask God for the ancient paths, for sure, but also ask Him to unveil your faulty perceptions and reveal truth as it stands in godly reality. You will not find rest for your soul if you move forward in the steps of deception...ever! Dear one, whether in pretend fun or in sobering reality, illusions can deter a person from a wise course of action. You must be wise, so ask for wisdom (Jms. 1:5).
S - Standards of wisdom (v 35)
Jesus ends His discourse to the crowd with some very interesting, and hard to understand, words: “But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” I have meditated on this sentence for a couple of weeks, trying to understand what Jesus meant. It helped me to look at other translations, so let me list a couple of those for you:
- “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (ESV, NKJV).
- “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (HCSB, NASB).
- “But wisdom is proved to be right by what it does” (NCV).
- “But wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it” (NLT).
- “Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating” (MSG).
- “...the wisdom of God will be proven true by the expressions of godliness in everyone who follows me” (Passion Translation).
The first two examples I listed here, which are the major translations, seemed unclear to me at first because of that word ‘justified’ or vindicated. That word ‘justified’ means “to be declared as just or accepted as just, to exhibit one to be righteous” (ESV Strong’s). To ‘vindicate’ someone is to show or prove someone to be just or right or reasonable. What I think they are saying, though it is a bit unclear to me, is that wise people will know what is right or just. In the context of the conclusions people were drawing about John and Jesus, I think Jesus was saying that wise people who know God would know that God was working through both John and Jesus, though there were differences in their lifestyles and in their messages.
But as I ruminated on these different translations, it seemed to me that the NCV, NLT, and the Passion added another dimension to the main translations’ interpretations. Look at their succinct thoughts: wisdom will be proved right by what it does (NCV), by the lives of those who follow it (NLT), and by their expressions of godliness (Passion).
“People who want to avoid the truth about themselves can always find something in the preacher to criticize. This is one way they justify themselves. But God’s wisdom is not frustrated by the arguments of the wise and prudent. It is demonstrated in the changed lives of those who believe this is how true wisdom is “justified” (Warren Wiersbe, The Exposition Commentary, p. 197). In essence, wisdom will show up in changed behavior. This important thought is fleshed out in James 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.”
Now you know that there are different standards of wisdom. There is an earthly standard and a heavenly one. In case you do not know the difference, James does a brilliant job of describing both of these determining standards.
Earthly wisdom is characterized by bitter envy, selfish ambition, boasting, and denying the truth. This kind of wisdom does not come from heaven, but is earthly, unspiritual, and of the devil. If you do not know what kind of wisdom you are accessing, look around you. Where there is envy and selfish ambition, you will find disorder and every evil practice (Jms. 3:14-16).
Heavenly wisdom is very different. It is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Where wisdom abounds, so does peace. Where peacemaking abounds, so does a harvest of righteousness (Jms. 3:17-18).
Every crisis of decision will involve one or both of these types of wisdom. You may not know where to turn so it is important to see what standard of wisdom is covering the paths you are contemplating. If your decision is rooted in bitterness, envy, selfish ambition, boasting or a denial of truth, you can bet your bottom dollar that you are not asking where the good way is (Jer. 6:16), or, at the very least, not yielding to wisdom in your heart. However, if one of the paths reveals the good fruit of purity and peace, you can know God is in it. If your heart is full of submissiveness, mercy, and sincerity, your soul can rest in peace, knowing God is showing you where to turn.
So to recap, what are six characteristics of a crisis? How will you know when you are struggling with a crisis of belief? Jesus spoke to this question quite clearly when He led His listeners to a crossroads. In every crisis of faith ponder these six elements:
A prison circumstance will push you to a crossroads of decision, where your faith will be tested. Do you believe God is good or not? Do you have faith in His promises or not? Can you trust Him or not? These questions are further complicated by doubts. This is a significant decision that God is wooing you to. What will you do when you are squeezed between a prison circumstance and a crisis of faith?
Follow the advice of Jeremiah 6:16. Stand at the crossroads and look. Ask for the right way to go. Ask for clarity about your choices, your spiritual recognition, the influences weighing down on you, your tendency to second-guess, the illusions that deceive you, and the wisdom that changes you Listen for His voice (Isa. 30:21); He will, most likely, speak out of these six underlying movements. Precious one, there is a right way to act, a right thing to say, right thoughts to think, and a right path to traverse. Walk in that way and you will find rest for you soul, even though the way may require a crisis of your faith.
Loaves and Fish Crisis
I want you to see a faith crossroads in action. Many times we are not able to assimilate the spiritual truths of Scripture until we see them in a story, word picture, or parable. For me, the Lord used a very familiar passage to illustrate the characteristics of a faith crisis. You will recognize this passage; most children are taught this story early on in sunday school. The basic gist of the story line is very familiar: the disciples were sent out to preach and heal; they returned excited but exhausted; Jesus invited them to go with Him to a secluded place to rest; that secluded place ended up being the gathering arena for over 5,000 people; that large multitude was hungry; and God worked an incredible miracle to feed them from five loaves and two fish that a young boy offered up to the disciples.
The disciples were the ones Jesus led to a crossroads of faith. He birthed a prison circumstance for them, a pressured situation where 5000 plus people needed food. The disciples had no idea how to feed that many people, although they came up with some good-sounding options. None of their options sufficed, for Jesus wanted them to stand at the crossroads and look, ask for the wise way of faith, and walk in it. Their crisis came when they began to question whether what they believed about Jesus, what they could see in the physical realm, and what they were committed to, was actually true. In short, they had to come to a point of believing Jesus was enough for the situation or not.
Let’s see how the disciples fared at their crossroads. Let’s determine together how the characteristics of a faith crisis played out in their situation. In order to examine this illustration more thoroughly, you may want to turn to Luke 9:1-17 and its parallel passage in Mark 6:7-13, 30-44.
C - Choice
The disciples were technically led to three main choices. Luke 9:2 shows Jesus commissioning them for ministry, but their choice came after they heard both the good and bad news of verses 3-5: don’t take anything for the journey; stay in any house that welcomes you; if you are not welcomed, shake off the dust of your feet. The disciples made the choice to accept Jesus’ call. “They set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere” (v 6).
Choice 2 involved rest. When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus all the good things that had happened. Mark 6:31 tells us that the disciples were so busy that they did not even have a chance to eat. This depletion on top of their full days of ministry was honored by Jesus, “Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (6:31b). They again had a choice to accept or reject Jesus’ plan for refreshing, but verse 32 is clear: “they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” They made the choice to accept Jesus’ invitation.
The last request Jesus spoke to them was the icing on the cake of all choices. The people were hungry and very far from a source of food. The disciples tried to get Jesus to send the people away, but He told them, “You give them something to eat” (6:37). In other words, they were to believe in a miracle, to accept the fact that God could work through them. They could have accepted or rejected this audacious request. They struggled at this crossroads, but the Lord moved them gently in the direction He desired for them, the direction in which they witnessed a miracle of multiplicity.
R - Recognition
Remember that recognition requires an opening of the eyes to see which way is right and which way reveals where God is working. In Jesus’ commissioning service, He told them to recognize where people’s hearts appeared to be open to the Good News. If they were not welcoming, the disciples were to shake off the dust of their feet against that town (Lk. 9:5).
As the disciples were going about their Master’s business, they did preach that people should repent. They recognized that a baptist of repentance was the only way forward to the Kingdom. They also drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them (Mk. 6:12-13). As they obeyed the word of the Lord, they recognized the same incredible outcomes that flowed from Jesus’ ministry.
In the secluded spot where 5000 people showed up, they knew they were in trouble when the people would not leave and the day was drawing to a close. They looked at their remote location and at the size of the crowd, and they could not recognize what to do. They could not see the way forward. They could not understand how Jesus could remedy the situation. This crisis of faith led them to a major crossroads where they struggled to believe that Jesus was who He said He was and that He could do what He said He could do.
I - Influence
There are many influences crowding the crossroads of crisis, but we talked about two of those: this generation’s methods of doing things or Jesus’ purposes. As the disciples were preaching and healing, those who heard about these miracles sat at a crossroads. King Herod, himself, heard about all that was going on, that some people thought John had been raised from the death or that Elijah had appeared, or another prophet had come back to life. Herod was perplexed because he had beheaded John (Lk. 9:7-9). You see, his response was a typical reaction of foolish and worldly people: find the answer in what is already concretely known. At his crisis of faith, Herod was influenced by his own generation more than by God’s purposes.
When the disciples returned from their ministry, they were tired and hungry. Jesus recognized their physical needs and so He offered them some rest. In that rest, however, He had already foreseen a great, pressing multitude. “How on earth would a multitude of people be restful?” this generation would cry out. Yet Jesus’ economy and purposes are very different. The multitude, the press of more ministry, the prison circumstance, this hard crossroads was actually God’s influence on those disciples to bring them to greater faith. This generation would decry the press of people, but Jesus’ purposes were nestled in that same pressing multitude. He did not turn the multitude away; He welcomed them (Lk. 9:11). Unbeknownst to the disciples, the stimulus of the prison circumstance moved them to a synergistic alliance with the Lord of the impossible. The multitude’s influence was God’s purpose for greater faith.
S - Second-guessing
When the day was almost done and the disciples began to trouble-shoot how to feed the crowd, their expectations were rooted in the stable matter of this earth, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here” (Lk. 9:12).
Sending the crowd away was their best guess for how to handle the situation. Jesus countered with these words, “You give them something to eat” (9:13). With this statement, Jesus drove them to a crossroads, where they began to second-guess all physical appearances and possibilities. They had wanted to send the crowd away, but at that point, they opted to send themselves away: “unless we go and buy food for all this crowd” (9:13b). Additionally, they began to add up the mouths needing fed. Their second-guessing type of approach led them to realize it would take eight months of a man’s wages to feed the multitude (Mk. 6:37b).
All that second-guessing led them to think more deeply, but the result of all their thinking was rooted in the physical options they had always known: stores, lodging, money, and personal sacrifice. They could not see that all they had to do at their crossroads was to stand, look, and ask which way Jesus might want them to go. He was not asking them to work a miracle; He was simply asking them to ask what wisdom could do with a little bit of faith.
I - Illusions
The disciples were bound by their own inferences. Jesus told them to come away and rest with Him. When the multitude showed up, their ill-founded illusions of rest vanished (Mk. 6:31-33). They did not need seclusion or a quiet place in order to find some semblance of rest; they needed to be with Jesus. In their illusion, they could not see that intimacy with God was all the rest that they needed.
In Luke 9:12, the Twelve came to Jesus and told Him to send the crowd away. Their belief system could not handle the amount of people that needed to be fed. They thought the people should be sent back to the towns and villages in order to find food and lodging, in order to be satisfied. In essence, the disciples clung to the illusion that their remote location excluded them from seeing a miracle. Jesus blew that illusion right out of the water. The lesson is clear: you will never be too remote, too secluded, too lonely to see a miracle of God.
In answer to the disciples’ query about how to feed the crowd, Jesus told them to feed the people. Their answer was based on faulty beliefs, “We only have five loaves of bread and two fish - unless we go and buy food for all this crowd” (Lk. 9:13). These poor disciples were immobilized by the illusion that the little they had to offer was inadequate and insufficient. Jesus overcame that illusion as well.
At the end of the Lord’s miracle, where He multiplied the loaves and fish to feed thousands, Scripture paints a sweet picture: “they all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Lk. 9:17). The Twelve were full of the illusion that they could do nothing to alleviate the crowds’ problem. They were further deluded in that the crowd could never be satisfied unless they went away to the source of food and lodging.
Jesus demonstrated pure and total satiation at the disciples’ crossroads of faith. Not only was the crowd filled to overflowing, but the disciples were able to gather remnants enough that they each had a full basket to themselves. We coddle the illusion that the world and its food and lodging will satisfy. Jesus shows us that true satisfaction is found in what He offers, even down to overflowing leftovers.
S - Standards of Wisdom
If you will recall, we talked about two kinds of wisdom: earthly and heavenly. Earthly wisdom says that the world’s offerings will fill us up, take care of our needs, and bring the rest we desperately need. “Send the crowd to the food,” earthly wisdom declares. God’s wisdom declares that only Jesus will satisfy: “Send the Bread of Life to the crowd.”
In answer to the disciples’ solution to the hungry crowds, Jesus told them, “You give them something to eat” (Lk. 9:13). Earthly wisdom told those disciples that the best answer was to send the crowd away so that someone with more money or brains or brawn could cover their hunger and weariness. The disciples felt incapable and inadequate. Their best would never be good enough, they thought. God’s wisdom informed those learning men that when they offered what they had in their hands, God could multiply it to cover a multitude’s needs. Little is enough when God is in it.
The story of Jesus feeding the 5000 is an allegory of a crisis of faith. At their crossroads, Jesus gently moved them to make some choices that involved accepting Jesus’ paradigm, recognizing where God was working, allowing themselves to be influenced by God’s purposes, changing some expectations that came from second-guessing, defraying some illusions, and following the wisdom of heaven. Throughout the Lord’s entire teaching encounter, those Twelve were wooed by the rest that comes from believing God at critical faith moments.
The Potentiality of the Crisis
We have been talking about prison circumstances for some weeks now. The term “prison” evokes incredibly heavy, negative thoughts, so my next questions may seem highly jarring. However, in light of the potentiality of your crossroads, I will ask them anyway to percolate your thinking. Is there anything good about a prison circumstance? What positive outcomes could come from a dungeon sentence? What hopeful results could ever emanate from a pressure situation, especially one in which God seems to be ignoring your voice, your desires, and your prayers?
A couple of months ago, God led me to a sermon that almost blew my spiritual mind. Priscilla Shirer preached from Luke 9:1-17 (and Mark 6:7-13, 30-44) in one of the most powerful messages I have ever heard, entitled The Multitude. This multitude is the same crowd that pressed on the disciples’ last nerve, that became the force that drove them to a crossroads, and that ultimately moved them into greater faith through a multiplying lesson about loaves and fish.
This sermon spoke to me specifically about my prison circumstance: that awful, unyielding, hard, depleting situation that will not change no matter how much or how hard I pray. Everything that came out of Priscilla’s mouth ministered to me in a very deep place. The significance of the multitude has rested on me for weeks and I knew the Lord was leading me to share some thoughts from that passage in this context today. I will be quoting heavily from Priscilla’s message (https://www.youtube.com/) because honestly, it is far more brilliant than anything I could ever write or speak.
Four thoughts stood out to me like a lighthouse beacon on a stormy night. These revolutionary reflections on Priscilla’s part have moved into a deeper-layer part of my soul and have expanded on my interior, making room for new possibilities. They are God’s perspectives, I am sure, which makes them integral to moving forward into greater faith. As I have meditated on these profound thoughts, they have begun to unearth some dungeon mentalities. This turned-over ground, softened by suffering, has received these words as seeds of potentiality in the soil of my heart. I am not completely convinced yet, but I do pray that the power of these principles will help me to make a full break with the illusions that have encased my theology in order to take the wise turn at my faith crisis.
1 - True Rest
The disciples, at Jesus’ bidding, engaged in a difficult and drawn-out ministry against the Kingdom of darkness. When they had completed their mission, they returned to Jesus and reported to Him all they had done and accomplished. There were so many people coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Mark says. Jesus could see their exhaustion. He knew the fatiguing fall-out of ministry as well as the danger of ignoring Passover principles. So He invited them to come with Him by themselves to a quiet place in order to get some rest (Mk. 6:31).
Have you ever been drop-dead, on-the-ground, burnt-out exhausted? In those moments, the body and the psyche cry out for some “coming-away.” Getting alone in a quiet place is imperative for a needed recuperation. Jesus honored their humanness; He understood their frailties. So He offered them rest, but notice, the means of that rest was for them to come with Him. This thought is imperative to understanding true refreshment. Friend, “your intimacy with Him is your cure for your exhaustion” (Priscilla Shirer). Whenever you are tired, weary, overdrawn, underpaid, and sick of it all, do not turn to books, to movies, to social media, to friends, or to comfort foods (or worse addictions). Jesus is the only capable restorer of the soul (Ps. 23:3). Nothing will soothe your beleaguered inner places like the Balm of Gilead. Get yourself to God. Move into His safe refuge. Yoke yourself to Him in love-encasing intimacy and you will find rest - true rest - for your souls (Mt. 11:29).
2 - The Gift of the Multitude
The Twelve and Jesus slipped away from the crowd, got in a boat, and went to a solitary place. Luke informs us that the quiet place they sought was called Bethsaida (Lk. 9:10). When the disciples disembarked on that supposedly secluded, quiet ground, there was already a huge multitude waiting for them. Many people saw them leaving and while the disciples were crossing the lake, they ran on foot from all the towns and got to Bethsaida ahead of them (Mk. 6:33). The dismay that must have crossed the disciples’ faces would mirror yours and mine if we had been promised peace and quiet and had received, instead, demanding voices and needy people.
What makes me ponder this switch-up in the story is that Jesus knew the multitude would be waiting for them. When He said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place,” they were expecting a quiet place. Yet, He already knew the press of the crowd that would be waiting for them. What on earth was Jesus thinking?
Are you in a season where there are pressing issues waiting for you? You thought that maybe this year would be easier, that job would garner a promotion, this new child would make you happy, and that retirement would give you a chance to rest. But, no! This season is full of drama. That job ended in a cut in pay. This new child has Down Syndrome. That retirement package is not enough to pay for the health challenges you are now facing in what was supposed to be your season of rest. My friend, “The Lord has allowed you to be pressed upon by a multitude and you’re trying to figure out how the weight of this multitude is helping you with your exhaustion” (Priscilla Shirer).
In your mind, you cannot figure out what God is trying to do. Life was going along just fine, you thought, when suddenly, you were thrown unwillingly into a prison circumstance. It is taxing. It is confining. It is lonely and it presses upon you like a smothering weight. The disciples were obedient and successful in their ministry. It tired them, so they needed the intimacy of Christ to rest them in their souls. However, Jesus had other plans; He had a multitude waiting for their anxious, tired souls.
How can the multitude be good? How can the prison circumstance yield a positive result? These are the questions we ask as we sit interred in a dank, dripping dungeon. Why would God allow, even ordain, a prison circumstance when you are so exhausted already? According to Priscilla, the answer is in the text, “The five loaves and two fish were the gift to the multitude, but the multitude was the gift to the disciples...Without the multitude, there is nothing pressing a demand on them, there is nothing taxing them, so they have no choice but to open up their drawer, pull out the treasure that they have been given, and see what God is going to do in multiplying it to feed these masses.”
God invites a multitude into our tired midst to press on us, to imprison us in an uncomfortable place for a reason. It is only in the prison circumstance that we will be motivated enough to look up and look in. It is only when we are hopelessly incapable of handling the multitude that we will stand at the crossroads, look up and down the way, and ask the Lord what the good road entails. And, my friend, it is only when you are pressed by a multitude that you will look down to the treasures that you already hold in your hands.
3 - Your Five and Two: The disciples knew they had a problem. The end of the day was upon them and there was no food in secluded Bethsaida. As if Jesus did not know of this concern, they asked if they could stop the ministry and send the people away, so they could find food in the neighboring towns. Jesus’ answer stunned them, “You give them something to eat” (Mk. 6:37a). Immediately, the disciples began problem-solving. They could go and buy food, but they did not have the eight months’ wages it would cost to feed the crowd. Jesus fired another question at them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see” (Mk. 6:38a).
Is your prison circumstance pushing you to a crossroads of faith? Are you at a place where you can see no potentiality? Are you without hope in that dungeon? That multitude you are facing right now is God’s gift to you so that you stand at your crossroads and look. “Go and see,” Jesus told the disciples, and He commands us to do the same.
The extent of the food the disciples could come up with were “only five loaves of bread and two fish” (Lk. 9:13b). They were a meager pittance in the face of impossible odds. How could five loaves and two fish be sufficient? There was no possible option emanating from such tiny resources, or so they thought.
In this brief, yet powerful, exchange, Jesus showed the disciples that they held the solution to their prison circumstance in their hands. That small amount of food was enough. Five loaves in the hands of the Bread of Life is sufficient. Two fish blessed by the Master Fisherman is all that is needed to satisfy your multitude. Do you see it? Can you believe it? This is your crossroads, dear one. Stand. Look. And ask.
What is in your hands, my friend? A little time. A bit of money. A simple spiritual gift. Some fruit of the Spirit. That untapped passion. That seemingly insignificant desire. May I suggest that the untapped potential that will answer your prayers - maybe even some of those unanswered ones you are laying before the throne of grace - could already be in your own hand? It may be the treasure you are already seeking. “What you need is already at your disposal” (Priscilla Shirer). Go and look. Find your five and two and offer them up to Jesus.
4 - Broken and Spilled Out
The disciples handed over the bread and fish. Notice that Jesus did not disparage their gift. He did not look down on their meager offering. He took it and He blessed it. “Everything changes when God’s favor is on your five and two” (Priscilla Shirer). Offer your gifts, your time, your sweet heart to Jesus. He will always take it and bless it. That is what favor means, my friend. When something is given to God, He blesses it into abundance.
After all the people sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties, Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up to heaven, gave thanks and broke the loaves (Mk. 6:41). He takes something so small and then He chooses to break it down into even smaller pieces. Are you noticing that the small fish you offer or the paltry loaves you sacrifice are being broken? What kind of math is that? What the disciples did not realize is that the “multiplying is in the dividing, that as we are broken before the throne of grace...as we yield everything to Him...we are setting ourselves up for the multiplication process (Priscilla Shirer). As we allow our five and two to be divied up, we are being set up for a miracle that will satisfy those around us who are clamoring for Jesus.
Notice that the people were asked to sit down to receive the bread and fish (Mk. 6:39). Where they sat, Mark says, was on green grass. This is the same grass that was under the feet of a pressing, obnoxious, undesirable multitude. This grass had been deemed desolate, full of needy clamor, solitary and rugged. My friend, recognize that this is the grass that lines your prison circumstance. “And when we look at our seasons and our circumstances that are filled with multitudes we are prone to say, ‘There ain’t nothing good about this place I am in.’ Jesus said, ‘Sit yourself down in the green grass so that you can see there is always proof of my grace and my mercy. It is brimming with life and brimming with possibility and brimming with the potential of what I can do for you’” (Priscilla Shirer).
Your prison circumstance is a miracle waiting to happen. The pressure of that multitude forces you to a crossroads of faith. Will you believe God can do the impossible? Do you know that He desires you to pull out your treasure box of potentiality that He has already given you? Have you seen what is in your hand? If not, you need to stand at this crossroads and look. Ask God for what He desires you to offer Him, then offer it up to Him. It will require some breaking, but that breaking of your five and two will precede a multiplying. Your meager resources in the hand of an outrageously-generous God can stretch to feed a multitude.
Sit down on the green grass of your prison. Lay back to receive the abundance Jesus offers. Your multitude will be fed. Your resources will be enough. And my friend, there will be satisfying, satiating, and sweet baskets of leftovers for you, because that multiplying miracle that overflows into abundance will be the rest and refreshment your tired, weary, exhausted soul needs.
So, what is the potential in your crisis? What hidden gifts are waiting in that prison circumstance with you? There is the potential for pressure, a pressure that will move you to a crossroads of faith. Without the prison circumstance, without the multitude, you would never change from your comfortable spot. The pressure pushes you to a crisis of belief. Then, as you stand at that crossroads and begin to look for the right way to turn, you will hear the Master say, “What is in your hands? Go and look.”
You will take the time to realize the inherent worth of your gifts, talents, character, skill-set, passions, and dreams, and you will desire to offer them up to God. He will take your pieces of treasure and will break them, but the breaking will precipitate a satisfying feeding. You will experience the favor of God and the abundance of a multiplying miracle. Look at the green grass of your prison and hope in the times of refreshing that will come through the intimate interaction with the Multiplying Bread of Life.
The What? The Why? And Now, the How?
Before I head into my final thoughts, I want to recap just a little bit. In talking to the crowd about the differences between John’s ministry and His own, Jesus set before them a choice. He brought them to a crisis of belief, a crossroads where the wisdom of God would be proven true by the godliness of those who follow Him (Lk. 7:35 - Passion). Remember that God’s wisdom at a faith crisis is demonstrated in the changed lives of those who believe. Those who stand, look, ask, listen, and follow are the ones who are truly wise.
So far, we have probed two different thoughts in the context of a faith crisis: a portrait of a crisis and the potential in a crisis. We spent a good amount of time walking through Jesus’ words in Luke 7:29-35. These informed us of the ‘what’ of a crisis, the characteristics that show up in every crossroads of faith (the portrait of a crisis). Next, we explored the potential in a crisis. Through the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, we examined the ‘why’ of a faith crisis. In every crisis, there is great potential for good, for change, for multiplication and satisfaction, and yes, for wisdom to have her say. Wisdom is proved right by those who recognize that she is at work, even in prison circumstances.
What I want to explore now is the ‘how’ of a crisis. What do you do with your crisis of belief? When you are stuck between a prison circumstance and an impossible crossroads, how do you navigate that dilemma? What are the procedures of determining which path is the wise road to take? How do you go about standing, looking, asking, listening, and walking into rest for your soul?
Between a Rock And A Hard Place
A number of weeks ago, I was in a pretty bad place physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As I worked to figure out what God wanted of me in that destitute Bethsaida-type wilderness, the Lord led me to another very familiar passage. I have heard numerous sermons on this topic, but the Lord showed me a twist on the familiar, which really ministered to my soul. I am often amazed at the Lord’s sovereign hand, for as I worked through that passage, I never thought it would be used for anything else but my own encouragement. But as I prepared for this devotional, it became very clear to me that those principles were truly the ‘how’ of navigating a faith crisis. So, without further ado, I take you to another familiar children’s story of the crossing of the Red Sea, found in Exodus 14:1-18 (specifically verses 13-18).
As we look in on the Israelites’ journey, they had just left Egypt. God was on the move, guiding them by night with a pillar of fire and by day with a pillar of cloud (Ex. 13:21-22). The Lord purposely did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was the shortest way. His rationale was, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex. 13:17). So God led the people on the desert road toward the Red Sea.
Does this type of reasoning sound familiar in light of the last story we studied? The disciples were tired and needed rest. Jesus took them to a place where they were inundated with a multitude. How ironic. In this story, there is another irony: the Israelites were on the march but God thought that war with Philistines would make them turn back, so He ordained them to go the desert route; a route, mind you, that took them to directly into a crisis of belief.
They camped by the sea and then God tightened the screws of pressure on them by hardening Pharaoh's heart. Pharaoh realized all that he had lost with the Israelites’ exodus and decided to take his whole army to go out after the Israelites and bring them back to slavery. Scripture says that this hardened slave-owner, king of that well-established empire, overtook the Israelites as they camped by the sea (Ex. 14:9). Picture what this means as the Israelites were caught between a rock and a hard place. These dear people of God were quite literally caught between a prison circumstance of angry Egyptians (where their prayers of deliverance were not being answered), and an impossible, impassable crossroads of faith (the Red Sea).
As Pharaoh approached them, these formerly bold marchers (see Ex. 14:8), collapsed in fear as they looked up and saw the Egyptians marching after them. They were absolutely terrified and in their fear, they cried out to the Lord (14:10). I want you to know that this crying out was not a whine nor a petulant fretting or sob. I know this because of the Hebrew word that is used for ‘cry:’ sa’aq. It means “to shriek..to cry out for help or in distress or need, to make an outcry, clamor” (ESV Strong’s). These poor Israelites were panicked; so much so that they screamed and howled to God in their distress.
The problem was that Moses got the brunt of their hysterical emotional breakdown, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn't we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (14:11-12)!
The Israelites, as you can see, were not handling their faith crisis with wisdom. They forgot all the truth they had ever known about God and reacted purely from a see-the-circumstances-only kind of perspective. As they stood, rooted in fear, between the snorting war horses at their backs and the endless water stretching out in front of them, they, like the disciples, could not come up with a feasible solution. So they resorted to half-empty thinking. The Defensiveness of Duality. Thoughts of death. Blame. Denial. Rose-colored remembrances and abject despair.
But is this the way wisdom is proved right by her children (Jn. 7:35 - NIV)? Is destruction really God’s purpose at these critical crossroads of faith? Is annihilation of His children the best action that a sovereign, loving Father can do? Or is there a good, loving, healing, maturing spiritual agenda for any child of God when faced with a crisis of faith?
As the story of the feeding of the 5000 has proven, there is a special spiritual purpose in the encroaching proximity of the Egyptian armies of life (or prisons, or multitudes). They gently - or not so gently- herd us toward a crossroads, where we have to dig down deep into the wells of faith we profess to already have. We have to search high and low for the truth, coming to the Scriptures as if our very lives depended on it. We have to meet our Lover in those desert times and hear His sweet song playing over us. We must h - hunger to express His wisdom through our changed life. And when we choose to face our crossroads in these types of proactive, gut-wrenching yet wholly-committed steps, we display the wisdom of God. God’s wisdom is proven true in our lives when we faithfully express godliness, when we truly display the difference faith and intimacy are meant to make, at our crossroads of faith (Jn. 7:35 - Passion).
The question is: how? Practically-speaking, how do you and I display a wise faith at these critical crossroads of belief? Before we step into this question, we need to answer another one. How do we become wise?
Above All: Get Wisdom
This question kept poking at my curiosity so I embarked on quite a lengthy study of wisdom, both in the Old Testament and the New. I will not bore you with all that I found it - it’s pages of pages of notes - but I do want to make a crossroads for you as easy to navigate as possible. With that hope in mind, I believe there are three basic steps that we need to take in preparation for our faith-crossroads if we are truly going to display the difference God desires.
1 - Develop a relationship with the All-Wise One
Intimacy with God is paramount. This step can never be bypassed: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10a). If you want to become wise, wisdom cannot be the focus; God must be your focus. You must come to a deep, abiding, all-consuming, worshipful, sacrificial, first-place-in-your-thinking kind of intimacy with your Lover. You must “know the Holy One” in order to gain understanding (Pr. 9:9b). As your heart becomes entangled with God’s heart, fear of His awesome power, reverence for His holiness, and awe in the presence of His greatness will teach you wisdom (Ps. 15:33).
Out of that relationship is born a dynamic prayer life: receiving and giving, talking and listening, hearing and obeying. If you know that you are not a wise person, that you do not respond to crises with understanding, you are given permission to ask, because God gives generously to all without finding fault (Jms. 1:5). God is the only true source of wisdom (Ps. 51:6, Ecc. 2:26, Pr. 2:6), so it stands without reason that the assimilation of wisdom should be at the top of your daily prayer list.
Do you love your own soul as God does? People who love their soul get wisdom (Pr. 19:8). Do you love God more than anything else? Would you do anything for Him out of the intimacy you share with Him? Those who please God get wisdom (Ecc. 2:26). If you invest in your friendship with God, in your communion with the Trinity, in the affection you feel for your Lover, that close relationship will lead you to beg for the wisdom needed to transform your heart.
2 - Cultivate wise thinking
If intimacy is at the top of your priority list, you will also know the high value God places on wisdom. It is more profitable than silver; it gives a better return than gold (Pr. 3:14). It is more precious than rubies (Pr. 3:15, 8:11). It should be the apple of your eye (Pr. 7:2), for it is supreme in importance (Pr. 4:7a). Wisdom is even thought to be better than strength and the strongest weapons (Ecc. 9:18). Though it cost all you have, get understanding, advised Solomon, the wisest man in the world (Pr. 4:7b). God values wisdom. Pages of Scripture, especially in Proverbs, are given to the importance of wisdom. If you love the Lord, then your identity must be rooted in what the Lord loves.
As you pray about gaining wisdom, these other qualities should be on your prayer list. Our identity in Christ must reflect heavenly wisdom, which is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (Jms. 3:17). In order to cultivate wise thinking, we must inculcate ourselves in the components of wisdom. Pray that God would work these incredible characteristics into your identity.
There are many facets to the word we call wisdom. One such facet is the “quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment” (Oxford Dictionary), but where does the experience and good judgment come from? It must come from wholesome, truth-filled, faith-bulwarked style of thinking. Discernment is not just a word; it must be a prayer, a mentality, an attitude, and a often-perused thought.
A quality life does not just happen by chance. It requires planning, hoping, envisioning, organizing, and implementing step-wise actions. For that reason, I believe it is important to meditate on the benefits of wisdom. Knowing what God desires to bring out of a wise life helps us to cultivate wise thinking. The benefits of wisdom are almost innumerable. Because there are so many, I am going to list just a few for you out of only two chapters in Proverbs. You can do some research on your own to cultivate wise thinking.
I firmly believe that meditating on the possibilities of how wisdom can benefit your life will help to revolutionize your thinking. This thought of possibility and potential is, in essence, the core of hope. Living in hope affects your heart, making it glad. It affects your tongue, giving you a reason to rejoice. And it affects your body, which can also begin to do more than survive; it can thrive in hope (Acts 2:26). Cultivating a wise mindset by valuing it, having it fill up your thought life, and by visualizing its benefits will go a long way to metamorphosing your thinking. A transformed thought life is but a step away from a transformed life altogether.
3 - Abide in wisdom
Another facet of the definition of wisdom has to do with practicality. According to the Oxford Dictionary, wisdom is also “the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment.” Biblical wisdom is the discernment needed to take the truths of Scripture and apply them to real life. In my mind, this is what integrity entails. We must first cultivate intimacy. Then we must cultivate our wise identity. But both of these steps lead naturally to integrity, which is no more or less than living wisely.
What action steps are needed to live wisely? I think there are three steps outlined for us in Ephesians 4:22-24. We must put off our old self, be made new in the attitude of our minds, and put on the new self. So what do these three steps look like as we purpose to abide in wisdom?
First, we need to put off the old self. Earthly wisdom is made up of bitter envy and selfish ambition. It is of the devil and leads to disorder and every evil practice (Jms. 3:14). If we know the value of heavenly wisdom, we can brutally eschew these earthly kinds of wisdom in our life. We can pray that God would reveal where they are showing up in our integrity. We can be proactive in rooting these out of our thoughts and hearts. Ask the Lord, “Is there any part of my life that is full of bitterness, envy and selfishness?” Whatever area the Holy Spirit illuminate, you must be aggressive in putting off that old, earthly wisdom.
The second step involves being made new in the attitude of your mind. Familiarize yourself with how do gain wisdom: accepting Christ’s words; storing up His commands within you; turning your ear to wisdom; applying your heart to understanding; calling out for insight; crying aloud for understanding; looking for it as for silver; and searching for it as for hidden treasure” (Pr. 2:1-4). Pray for the fear of the Lord to overrule your natural selfish motives. Pray that the good qualities of heavenly wisdom will impact your life. Spend precious time sitting at the feet of Jesus. Whatever you put into your mind and heart will eventually bear good fruit.
That last step requires a putting on of the new self. In order to do the right thing, you must know the right thing. Then you must act in the integrity that has been built through your intimacy and identity. Here are just a few of the actions wise people take:
Again, pray these qualities into your mind’s existence. Hope for their reality. Join with the Holy Spirit in coming up with action steps that will incorporate some of these important qualities of wisdom into your life. Do what you can in the power of the Spirit and leave the results to God.
4. Bear the fruit of wisdom
This is actually not a step you can do; it is a byproduct of living in intimacy, identity and integrity. I am just listing it because I want you to be encouraged that when you invest in the first-place qualities of Christianity, the Vine and the Gardener (Jn. 15) will take care of the rest. Those benefits of wisdom that we already covered will begin to occur in your life. I am not saying you will always be healthy, wealthy, and wise by way of this world’s economy. What I am saying is that God’s favor will rest on you in any way that He sees fit; you will be rich in God’s economy.
You will find other fruit growing out of your integrity as well. You will unknowingly begin to develop humility (Pr. 3:34, 11:2). Decisions will be made more and more often out of prudence, knowledge, discretion, wise counsel, sound judgment, discernment, righteousness and justice (Pr. 3:21, 8:12, 14, 20). You may even overhear someone describing you as upright (Pr. 3:32), discerning (Pr. 10:13), understanding (Pr. 10:23), and even righteous (Pr. 3:33, 4:18, 10:31).
These three steps - plus one that happens as you abide - are the ‘how’ of growing wise. They are the meat and potatoes of preparing for a faith crisis. So with these practical ‘how-tos’ under our belts, let’s revisit my original question: how do you and I display a wise faith at these critical crossroads of belief? With the Egyptians at our backs and the Red Sea of crisis at our fronts, how do we know how to wisely navigate our faith crises?
Wisely Navigating A Crisis...Or Not
The Israelites’ panic demonstrated their extreme lack of wisdom. They did the right thing by calling out to God, for God is the source of all wisdom, but in their crying they never asked for wisdom; at least the Scriptures do not list this prayer request. Wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord.These people did not fear God, for when they had the chance to step into intimacy with God, they abdicated out of an earthly trepidation (see Ex. 20:18-21).
Remember what wisdom looks like? It is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, and sincere. These Israelites did not enter their crossroads with any of these qualities. Instead, they were foolish: panicky, chaotic, rebellious, inconsiderate, and strife-loving. Their attitude exemplified a decisive lack of intimacy, identity, and integrity. Their reaction to their crossroads of faith revealed their absolute vacuum of faith. Instead of sinking deep into their intimate relationship with God, instead of dwelling in the truth of their identities, instead of acting in integrity, they ran around like chickens with their heads cut off: shrieking out to God in panic and turning aggressively toward the prophet we know as Moses.
They did not wisely navigate their crisis, but honestly, they acted like many of us do. When our multitude is pressing upon us, we cave. When our prison circumstances chain us to dank walls of negativity, we languish in hopelessness. And when the Egyptian army begins to attack from the rear, we panic in unbelief. Friend, we are not much different than they. This is a sad state of affairs, but often, very true. However, there is good news in all of this shrieking and crying, for I firmly believe that their response to the pressure of the crossroads elicited an essential lesson from Moses and a grace-driven, powerfully-packed teaching moment from their God.
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex. 14:13-14). Moses hoped that these words would calm the raging faces and the emotional breakdowns occurring right in front of him, but they did not, and we will soon see why.
Two years ago, I attended a Jill Ludlow conference. To be truthful, it was the best women’s retreat I have ever experienced. Full of music, dancing, painting, creative centers, spoken words, and good teaching, that conference healed something very deep in my soul. One of Jill’s teaching sessions actually came from this passage. She spoke very eloquently about how the Lord had used this passage to keep her standing in her circumstances without fear. Even as she spoke, something responded negatively in my heart, for you see, I knew the next words in the passage that never made it to her sermon being given that day.
Listen to what comes next, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen’” (Ex. 14:15-18).
Jill gave a very moving sermon about how to stand still in a crisis, but I do not even think standing still is the main point of this passage. After Moses spoke to the people, God spoke to Moses. Did you notice that His first words were a rebuke? “Why are you crying out to me?” God said. That word ‘crying’ (sa’aq - v 15), which God inferred Moses was doing, is the same word used in verse 10 that described the shrieking of the Israelites. In other words, while Moses was telling the Israelites not to be afraid, he was still shrieking, himself, in panic to the Lord. The Israelites were not assured by Moses’ advice because he was responding to the crisis in the same panicky way. His instructions to stand firm and be still were overruled by the Lord, “Tell the Israelites to move on” (v 15).
I was bothered by Jill’s interpretation of this passage; so much so that I wrote her a note. I do not know if she ever read the note or not, but I wanted her to think about the fact that standing still in a crisis does not appear to be God’s best for us. His best option for us at the crossroads of faith is that we MOVE ON!
We finally come to the ‘how’ of navigating a faith crisis in the wisdom that is proven right by change. If we are to display the difference of our faith working itself out in our actions, we will need to do some ‘moving on.’ Does moving on mean we take physical steps, like changing our job or adopting a child in faith? It might. There may be physical, tangible steps we are called to implement like our own family being required to put our house on the market in order to move to the mission field. Usually, however, since a faith crisis involves matters of faith, I believe ‘moving on’ is tied to belief steps taken in the maturity of wisdom. There will be some matters of unbelief in our theology that we will need to ‘move on’ from. There will also be facets of belief missing in our theology that God will hold up before us and ask us to ‘move on’ toward.
The Egyptian army was at the Israelites’ flank. Interestingly enough, this pressure situation was appointed by God. If you remember, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh; in essence, inducing him to move aggressively toward the Israelites. God had also guided His people to the banks of the Red Sea. All of the movements that occurred in this story were sovereignly planned by Yahweh.
You know what this means, then, my friend, don’t you? This means that your prison circumstance is not an accident. It is not a purposeless chance of fate. No, my friend, your prison circumstance is divinely ordained by your God to push you toward a faith crossroads. He wants you to stand at that crossroads, look at all of your options, ask Him which way to go, hear His answer, and then ‘move on’ in wisdom. All of these steps will reveal the change that has occurred in your heart and faith while you explored the pressure of the prison circumstance coupled with the pain of your crisis. I believe the ‘how’ of navigating a faith crisis is in the conjoinment of Moses’ words with the Lord’s. Let’s explore the clear-cut guidance in verses 13-16.
M - Mitigate fear (vv 13-14)
Jill Ludlow preached that fear limits our ability to see God’s possibilities in our problems. She was right in that interpretation. In her own situation, she was immobilized by fear, yet somehow she was encouraged by the Lord’s injunction that she was to stand still in her impossible circumstances? I do not even see that particular interpretation in this text. The Lord did not speak those words about fear; Moses did. Instead, God addressed what we are to do in our crisis of faith.
Moses’ words were very important however; not in regard to how to navigate a crisis, but in how to mitigate fear. His first words were in the imperative sense, “Do not be afraid” (v 13b). This phrase is not a gentle suggestion or even an offering of Moses’ opinion. It is not a boardroom proposal or a manipulative gimmick. No, dear one, these words are a command. They are to be obeyed. Moses knew the paralysis that takes over the legs of a usually-trusting person when fear blankets the system. Fight or flight is the normal response and neither option is helpful when you are needing to make a decision of faith. Before any steps are taken to ‘move on’ into God’s will at the crossroads of faith, there must be a ‘moving on’ from fear.
How do you and I mitigate our fear? How is that breathless, stone-in-your-stomach feeling managed in a wise and godly way? Psychologists and counselors offer a technique called grounding when a person is in the throes of a panic attack. Grounding basically means to bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing your to feel anxious. One way to ground your mind when you are fearful is by using the 54321 technique. In moments of anxiety, you can name: 5 things you can see; 4 things you can feel; 3 things you can hear; 2 things you can smell; and 1 good thing about yourself. (confidentlife.com.au)
Moses was not a psychologist, but he probably would have approved of the wisdom of grounding techniques. All the advice that came after his command, “Fear not,” were actually clear-cut grounding statements. He advised the Israelites to implement their own 54321 technique with a stance, a seeing, a form of security, a choice to surrender, and a mode of silence.
1 - The stance
The first part of Moses’ grounding technique came from these words, “Stand firm.” This is where Jill Ludlow got her own personal marching orders, but as I have said a couple of times already, standing firm is not the choice to make when God is asking you to move on. This is a personal choice in the heart, in the emotions, in the soul, in the spiritual depths of your spirit when you are overcome by fear.
It is easy to run or hide or collapse when you are afraid, but have you ever noticed what a dog does when you begin to run away from him in fear? He chases you and jumps up on you. Running away provokes a more aggressive attack in the natural world. God wants us to face our fears; not run or hide. We do not stand in our own strength, but in the weapons and power that He has given us (see Eph. 6). More than anything else, we are to stand firm in truth.
- In his mini-speech to the Israelites, Moses listed off five grounding truths. The first truth was the truth of God’s name. Twice in these two verses Moses mentioned the LORD, which is the word for Yahweh or Jehovah in the Scriptures. This name was introduced to Moses when God said, “I Am Who I Am.” This name Jehovah indicates that God is self-existent and eternal. He is relational and unchanging. He is not like us at all, but He does keep His covenant with us. By introducing this name to the Israelities, Moses reminded them that the all-powerful God was for them. Meditating on God’s name was a way to stand firm in order to mitigate fear.
- Moses also mentioned God’s character. He told them that God was a deliverer and that He would fight for them. Anytime we are attacked by a moment of fear, we can stand firm when we reiterate the amazing facets of God’s unchanging character.
- Four times in these verses, Moses listed out God’s ways. You will see the deliverance. He will bring it today. You will never see the Egyptians again. He will fight for you. These statements are reminders of how God works on our behalf. We can count on His ways. He is a delivering, promise-keeping, evil-removing, always-fighting God. Reminding ourselves of God’s ways keeps us grounded and enables us to stand firm.
- Moses spoke a very sweet line, “The Lord will fight for you” (v 14a). Notice those words ‘for you.’ They speak of God’s frontal approach. They remind us of His affection and deep, deep love for us. Nothing can separate us from that love. God is for us, not against us. In the midst of great fear, it is important to ground ourselves with the truth of God’s unfailing love. This will help mitigate our fear.
- There is an interesting word that stands out to me in verse 13: the word ‘today.’ This does not mean that God will act the very hour you call on Him or the very minute you begin to stand firm. But it does tell us that God’s timing is perfect. He knows the exact amount of heat you can handle. He is aware of the perfect moment to intervene. Moses, in this simple phrase, reminds us of God’s omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. He will not allow more into your life than you can handle and He will intervene in His perfect timing, His perfect ‘today.’ Count on God’s timing; it is always better than your own.
2 - The seeing
I cannot tell you how comforting it is to hear the words, “you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today” (v 13). So much of my fear is caused by blindness. I can’t see the future so I feel like I am walking in the darkness. Even my present seems shrouded by unknowns. Moses spoke of hope when he spoke of seeing. Jesus gave sight to the blind as one of the many priorities of His mission here on earth. The fact that I will see clearly in the midst of my fear is something I can grasp on to like a drowning woman. You want to deal with fear? Then pray for a clear sight-line straight to your Lover’s face.
3 - The security
Fear is based on the unknown and the unknown gives way to hopelessness. Moses brings hope into our fear with two statements: you will never see the Egyptians again and the Lord will fight for you. These are very clear promises and whether they directly correlate to your fear-filled situation or not, you can know without a doubt, that God is at work on your behalf. God is not static. He is not sitting up in heaven wasting His time. No, He is working to fulfill His Word. His promises, my friend, are your hope. They are the anchor for your security. You do not need to fear when you stand firm on the truths that God has spoken over you.
4 - The surrender
It takes great faith, I believe, to let go and let God. Yet, this is the advice Moses gives that will ground you from a fearful flight. “The Lord will fight for you,” is a truth that requires great humility and trust. It takes much dependence to rest in the truths of Scripture. But God’s Word is clear, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isa. 30:15). Letting go of fear in order to let God’s quietness and strength into your heart takes a great surrender. But in that surrender, there is a transfer of fear from our shoulders to the yoke of Christ. Say the words, “I surrender to your ways. I surrender to your timing,” and you will find a holy sacred moment that mitigates great anxiety. Breathe out fear. Breathe in rest and you will see, quite unexpectedly, that you are standing firm.
5 - The silence
The NIV writes the end of verse 14 like this, “you need only to be still,” but it is interesting to me how different translations have interpreted this phrase:“be silent” (ESV); “be quiet” (HCSB); “while you keep silent” (NASB); and “hold your peace” (NKJV). I will talk about this a bit later, but there is something to be said for refusing to speak out lies. Fear feeds on unbelief. If you and I can just be still for a while, we might be able to hear the Holy Spirit speak into our souls. If we can just hold our peace, we might be able to let go of fear. This mighty verse comes to mind when I think about how to ground myself in order to remove anxiety, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10). When we silence the unbelieving statements that come out of our mouth, we can hear faith arise in our spirit. When we choose to be quiet in our fear-moments, we can hear the Master of the seas say, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mk. 4:39) and the wind can die down so that our fears become completely calm.
Rather than taking Moses’ words as the guidebook for what we are to do in our crisis, I believe all of his statements are the primer for us to mitigate fear. They are the grounding techniques for us when our hearts are pounding in fear. You will not be able to ‘move on’ into the way God would have for you at your crossroads unless you ‘move on’ from fear. Watch your stance. Open your sight-line. Secure your hope. Surrender to God’s ability. And silence your unbelief. This 54321 grounding technique will enable you to “fear not” when you are between an inescapable past and an impassable future.
O - Obliterate crying (v 15b)
I mentioned earlier that the Israelites were crying out (sa’aq) to the Lord in their terror (v 10). I also mentioned that God used the same word to Moses when He rebuked him (v 15), although we do not see his ‘crying out’ words listed in Scripture. That word sa’aq is not a faith-filled type of prayer; it is instead a “proclaiming (an assembly), a call together, a cry in distress or need, a clamor, a cry aloud in grief” (ESV Strong’s). “It means to cry out, to summon an drefers to shouting, complaining loudly, to pleading for relief or justice, calling for help” (CWSB Dictionary).
I lay out these definitions so that you can see how a crisis situation can move a person to incredible doubt, for that is what this type of ‘crying out’ seems to entail. It is a deep, unabated grieving over the prison circumstance. It is a clamor of outspoken lies. It is a proclaiming of complaining.
In this passage, it is clear that God does not affirm this type of crying out. For sure, He hears when we cry. He wants to rescue us from dangerous situations, but when He has ordained the prison circumstance for the betterment of our faith, and we complain and shriek and wail out against it, we disparage His “good plans” for us (Jer. 29:11). He wants us to obliterate the wails of clamor and dissatisfaction. In essence, God is saying, “If you were moving on toward abiding in the Vine, you wouldn’t be shrieking.”
There has got to be a crossroads where we turn from this type of grieving doubt. Instead of crying out in panic, let’s purpose to cry out in joy, in hope, in praise, and in confident expectation. My friend, change your self-talk to God-talk and cry out:
You and I can navigate our crisis of faith when we stop screaming out our calls of little faith. We ‘move on’ from unbelief by taking a decisive stance at our crossroads. That stance includes speaking the good news instead of lies, bandaging our broken heart with the Balm of Gilead, proclaiming freedom over the prison circumstance, leaning into God’s favor, finding comfort in the Word of God instead of our usual places of pain, accessing the provisions for those who grieve, wearing a crown of beauty instead of ashes, drenching ourselves with the oil of joy instead of mourning, and wearing a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isa. 61:1-3). ‘Move on’ from the crying of hopeless distress. ‘Move on’ toward belief.
V - Verbalize truth (v 15c)
In God’s mini-sermon to Moses, He told the crying-out prophet to “Tell the Israelites to move on.” That word ‘tell’ is so important. This is not a silent command. Instead, it speaks to an outward verbal demonstration of the belief that was just chosen in the step above.
We often speak to ourselves with disparaging words. If we would begin to listen to the words that come out of our mouths, we would quickly discern many lies that have been woven into our theology. Satan is very insidious and he uses our own words to capsize our faith. It is sickening when you think about it.
I was reminded about the importance of our speech recently through another Priscialla Shirer sermon entitled Fear Not (https://www.youtube.com/). Priscilla ended her sermon with a personal illustration where she was talking to a friend, Lisa, about a problem asking her to pray for this problem to dissipate. In the middle of her story, Lisa asked her to start over, choosing more wisely the words that she spoke.
She reminded Priscilla of Satan’s agendas, “The enemy is trying to form a weapon against you and the equipment and tools he needs to put that weapon together, you give him with every single word that comes out of your mouth. Before the word comes out of your mouth, the enemy doesn’t have the tools he needs to build that weapon against you, but we hand them to him every time we speak cursing instead of blessing our of our mouths. The Lord watches over His word to perform it so you got you make a decision. Do you want to give the enemy something to work with or give the Lord something to work with?”
Were you aware that you give the enemy the tools to work against you with every negative word that comes out of your mouth? When we “tell” out lies and doubts in the spiritual realm, we are setting ourselves up for Satan’s agenda. God told Moses to “tell” the Israelites to “move on.” In this instance, move on from what? My friend, we need to move on from negative speech, move on from words of doubt and despair; yes, even move on from spewing out lies and move on toward speaking, declaring, and audibly proclaiming the truths of God’s Word.
In case you have been steeped in negative self-talk for so long you do not even know what to say to take a positive turn, I have some powerful truths for you to speak out over your circumstances:
- Speak out with the four living creatures day and night, “Holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:8)
- Speak with the 24 elders who lay down their crowns and say, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Rev. 4:11)
- Sing these words as a prayer of the saints, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12)!
- Cry out in a loud voice with the multitude that no one can count, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).
- Speak these words with a loud voice, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony...therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them” (Rev. 12:10-12).
- Speak out the song of Moses and of the Lamb, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Rev. 15:3-4).
- Say with the voice from the throne, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both small and great” (Rev. 19:5).
- Roar with the great multitude, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine line, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Rev. 19:6-8).
- Speak with the angel, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9) That’s you, my friend.
Compile a list of verses that speak out truths, then tell them to yourself. Tell them to your children. Tell them to your co-workers and tell them to your impassable Red Seas. Truth is powerful. When God spoke the truth, it brought worlds into being and shattered nations. You are an heir of this God. You have the God-given authority of this Master Truth Teller. My friend, move on from lies and negative self-talk. Move on toward telling the truth.
E - Embark on wisdom’s journey (v 15c)
What did the Lord state that Moses should “tell” the Israelites to do? It was not to stand firm in their situation at all, as many people seem to interpret this passage. No, God made it very clear that Moses was to “tell the Israelites to move on.” They were to “go forward” (ESV, NASB) out of their complacency, “break camp” (HCSB) from their spiritual paralysis, “start/get moving” out of their indecision (NCV, NLT, MSG).
God does not want us sitting bereaved, embittered, and unloved in the middle of our prison circumstances. Instead, He wants us to adopt His perspective on the situation. He wants us to realize the ordained purpose of that multitude, that it is meant to move us toward a crossroads of faith where we can stand, look, and ask for the right way to go. He desires that we move on toward engagement and participation in His plans for our lives. He wants us to make a break with our dungeon mentalities and embrace the hope that He offers in the “right way” He will show.
My friend, are you currently between an Egyptian army and an impassable Red Sea? Do you feel mournful about the past and hopeless about the future? Know this: God has ordained the army to get you to a Red Sea decision. He longs for you to break with the discouragement that is common in prisons and reach out for the hope He offers at the crossroads. What will you choose to do at your crisis of faith? Will you reject the path God offers or will you “choose life,” as Joshua clearly offered (Deut. 30:19)?
My friend, choose today whom you will serve. Will you serve the god of this world or the God of heaven with your heart and with your mouth? Move on away from doubt, my friend, and move on toward hope.
O - Offer what is in your hand (v 16a)
What stood out to me the most from Priscilla’ sermon on the feeding of the 5000 was the concept of offering God what is in your hand. The bread and fish were the gift to the multitude, but the multitude was a gift to the disciples because it pressured them into a crisis decision. Would they send the people or themselves away or would they stop and look at the treasures that were already in their hand? One of the choices we have at our crossroads of faith is to believe that what is in our hand has value and can impact others in ministry.
It is no coincidence to me that after God told Moses to “tell” and “move on” that He also told Moses to “raise his staff.” If you will recall Moses’ commissioning service back in Exodus 3 and 4, Moses had all kinds of excuses at his first crisis of faith. Excuse number three went something like this: “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you” (4:1)? The Lord did not speak to any of these concerns at all. Instead, He asked a surprising question, “What is that in your hand” (4:2)? Moses replied, “A staff” (4:2) and God told him to throw it down, where it became a snake.
Moses offered up an awful lot of doubt and unbelief. He felt pressured by his inabilities, but God’s answer was to offer up what was in his hand. God would take the small, insignificant-seeming object in his hand and use it to do great and mighty things. Moses offered up doubt in his prison circumstance. God told him instead to offer up himself: who he was, how he was gifted, and the tasks he was already involved in.
It is no coincidence that a while later, after the plagues that began with the raising of his offered-up staff, after the miraculous exodus, and after following the Lord through the desert, God told him to again raise that staff. At his crisis of faith, God asked Moses to again offer what was in his hand. He invited him to move on from a great feeling of insignificance and unworthiness and move on toward his worth in God. God invited him to a crossroads of discovery where he could choose to extend his meager offerings to God, believing that God would multiply something so small into a monumental miracle. Moses was invited to move on toward discovery and participation in Kingdom purposes.
What is in your hand, my friend? Is it a gift or talent? Is it a character quality or a chunk of time? I pondered this question myself for a little while and finally took it to God. As I meditated on my life, this is the list I believe the Lord led me to write down. A gentle heart. Discernment. Sweet, loving demeanor. Desire to disciple. See people growing in their walk. Intimacy with God. Faith in God. Life-giving words. Songs. Writing. Gift of encouragement. Knowledge of the Word. Wisdom in taking God into real life. Kindness toward others. Desire to obey God.
These are not big, fancy aspects of my life; they are merely what is already in my hand. You will find similar aspects of your life that can be offered to God as you ‘move on’ toward participation in His work. Turn those offerings over to God. Allow Him to break them down even further so that they can be doled out even more. My friend, the adage is true: little is much when God is in it.
N - Nurture your faith (v 16b)
God’s last command to Moses in this moving-on adventure was to stretch out his hand over the sea. When I first began thinking through this passage, this hand action did not make sense to me, so I began a study of outstretched hands in the Bible. What I found out was very interesting and pointed to one basic principle.
I discovered that Satan asked God to stretch out His hand toward Job in order to cause bad things to happen in his life (Job 1:11, 2:5). Nowhere in Scripture, however, does Satan stretch out his hand toward us. This shows me that nothing that Satan brings against us can be done without God’s outstretched hand of authority. Have faith in the God who knows how much you can handle under His outstretched hand.
I learned that when people ask God to stretch out His hand on their behalf, healings occur, miraculous signs happen, and wonders come into being (Acts 4:30). The believers prayed in this amazing instance that God would stretch out His hand and give them miraculous abilities to minister in the name of Jesus. As they prayed, the whole house was shaken and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the Word of God boldly. This incident teaches me that we should pray in faith for God to stretch His hand out over us so that we are able to move forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Most of the instances of an outstretched hand can be laid at the feet of God. When God stretches out His hand, it is usually out of judgment and wrath (Jer. 6:12, Ezek. 6:14, Zeph. 1:14 etc). It is usually against people who are involved in sin. But the overriding reason for the judgments is so that people will know that God is the LORD (Ex. 7:5). He strikes with plagues or wonders to demonstrate His glory so that people will believe. If there are areas of unbelief in your life, I think it is appropriate to pray that God will stretch out His hand over those sinkholes in your theology. There may be moments of discipline that come, but discipline is for a reason. It is to help us know - really have the heart-faith inside - that God is truly the LORD.
In the New Testament, Jesus asked people to stretch out their hands. One example of this is found in Matthew 12:13, where the man with the withered hand was asked to raise his hand. When he acted in faith, his arm was completely restored. “The command to stretch out an immovable hand neatly illustrates faith which was the healing correlative to Jesus’ power” (Tyndale Commentary). From this example, and from many in the book of Exodus, an outstretched hand in faith is required to allow God to do miraculous things (see Ex. 8:5 for example).
If I were to summarize these thoughts, they would all condense into one principle having to do with faith. God stretched out His hand, often in judgment, so faith would be birthed in people who did not formerly believe in Him. Prayers were offered to God in faith that He would stretch out His hand and perform amazing works, which He did. When people were asked to stretch out their hands, faith was required for God to do a miracle. In short, an outstretched hand symbolizes faith that God will work in His way and in His timing.
God asked Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. This required a great amount of faith in God on Moses’ part, but God helped grow Moses’ faith by telling him what his outstretched hand would accomplish. The waters would divide. The Israelites could go through the sea on dry ground (v 16). The Egyptians’ hearts would be hardened so they would follow the Israelites. God would gain the glory through the judgment that would come on those Egyptians and then the Egyptians would know that God is the LORD (vv 17-18). All of these miraculous events would occur when Moses acted in faith by stretching out his hand.
I do not know the content of many of your prison circumstances, but I do know the God who works in mighty ways. He can move mountains when we act in little demonstrations of faith (Mt. 17:20). What are you struggling to believe about your God? Are you doubting His goodness? His power? His love? The biggest lesson in this stretching-out injunction is that God worked miracle after miracle when Moses chose to stretch his faith into demonstrable behaviors. Maybe the only thing keeping you from a miracle is your own doubt and unbelief.
Dear one, move on from that stagnant unbelief that pools your hope into dark puddles of oozing despair. Move on toward light-breaking, dawn-ensuing, crossroads-turning faith. Precious hand-stretcher, ask where the good way is, then move into that stretching, seeking, searching, miracle-expecting step that God is wooing you toward. Your miracle may be as close as your next choice to extend your arm of God-given authority over your prison circumstance.
“Plumb” God’s Wise Will
About a year ago, the Lord impressed upon me a phrase from a song I did not even really know. Three words resounded over and over in my head, “God help me.” I did some research on the internet and found the song that accompanied that phrase that kept pounding in my head. I have walked with the Lord long enough now to recognize the way the Spirit softly impresses and urges, so I knew God wanted to talk to me through that song.
For an entire weekend, I played that song ad nauseam. Its lyrics unearthed a deep lie that was rooted in my belief system and began to drum in my heart a beating refrain of hope. I soaked in the life-giving truths of this song for months until the Lord brought its message to bear on a particular trial that crossed my path.
I was attacked by injustice (a prison circumstance), which led me to a crossroads of faith. I could decide to live out of my flesh or out of my new self. It was clear what God wanted me to do, but my flesh was crying out to be heard. In my crisis of faith, the Lord brought back the lyrics of that powerful song. That song, coupled with a Holy-Spirit-driven passage from Isaiah 7, enabled me to make the wise choice at my crisis of faith.
Here are the lyrics to that song, God Help Me by the artist Plumb. I pray that as you listen to it, you will feel the same power of truth washing over you. (https://www.youtube.com/) This song is about a faith crisis and what a believer does to obey the commands of Jeremiah 6:16: stand, look, ask, and walk.
Verse 1: There is a wrestling in my heart and my mind / A disturbance and a tension I cannot seem to drive / And if I’m honest, there’s quite a bit of fear / To sit here in this silence and really hear you / What will you ask of me? / Will I listen to your voice when you speak?
Chorus: Help me to move / Help me to see / Help me to do whatever you would ask of me / Help me to go / God help me to stay / I’m feeling so alone here / And I know that You’re faithful / But I can barely breathe / God help me.
Verse 2: Sometimes things, they are black and white / Sometimes they are not and it leaves us torn inside / And in the middle we are left to wonder / Who we are, what You want and where we’re going / Oh, such a mystery / I don’t always understand / But I believe
Bridge: I don’t know the future / It’s one day at a time / But I know I’ll be okay with Your hand holding mine / So take all my resistance / Oh God I need Your grace / One step and then the other / Show me the way / Show me the way
This song “Plumbs” the depths of God’s wise will. His perspective on your prison circumstance is that it is the good pressure needed to move you toward a crossroads of faith. You will know when you are in a crisis of faith. Luke 7:29-35 give us a clear portrait of the characteristics, the ‘what’ of a faith crisis. Your response will most likely be some sort of dungeon mentality. You will begin to defend your duality, making excuses for why you should be allowed to respond out of your flesh.
Obviously, a fleshly response is not the purpose of a prison circumstance. God is not pressuring you so that you act unwisely; He is, instead, trying to move you to a choice where faith grows and matures, where wisdom is proved by your changed perspective. This is the ‘why’ of the crisis. God wants you to display the difference that the angst of the prison circumstance has awakened and that the perspectives of God have taught you in your distress.
Choose life, precious daughter of the Life-giver. H - Hunger to express God’s wisdom through your changed life. Take the God-given advice of Moses and Jehovah that was articulated on the shores of the Red Sea Crisis: MOVE ON! Move into the ‘how’ of navigating your faith crisis in the wisdom of your God:
If you are still immobilized at your faith crisis and cannot see the way out, then take one simple action of faith: plumb the depths of God’s love. Live in Love and Love will guide you into the paths of wisdom. God will help you to move, help you to see, and help you to do whatever He asks of you. Just pray, “God help me,” and be willing to MOVE ON!