Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to Believe God

Your life is full of little whispers and bold promises. I think most of us want to believe these things, but I think most of us struggle with how to do that. It often feels like God says one thing and this world says another, and we're left trying to balance the whisper and the promise with the world and its problems.

And there will be problems. There have always been problems. 

Look at Abraham. God called him to the top of a mountain with his son, an invitation to a moment of faithfulness. But Abraham's faith story doesn't begin when he unloads the donkey and starts building the altar; his story begins when he takes his first steps toward the mountain. And you know what? He still had to climb it. 

God called His people, Israel, out of Egypt. Their story doesn't begin in the Promised Land; it starts in the wilderness. They still had to wander.

God called His own Son to Calvary. But the story of Jesus doesn't begin on the Cross; it starts in the stable. He had to minister, heal, rebuke, refine, offend and defend His way to Golgotha.

So many of us hear the whisper calling us to whatever place it is God has for us, and we get discouraged by the road between. We curse this world because we know where God wants us, but it seems nearly impossible to get there. This world, we conclude, is keeping us from God. These troubles are keeping us from getting there. How are we ever supposed to be God's if we can't get where He wants us to be? How are we supposed to be faithful if we can't get to where He is?

That's the lie that is all too easy to believe. Our story doesn't begin when we get to the place where God is calling us; it begins the day we decide to go there. It begins the moment we set foot on the mountain, step out of Egypt, turn our face toward Golgotha. The story of God in our lives begins where we are, not where we're going. God is not waiting for us; He's making a way.

Abraham had the time it takes to climb a mountain to consider what faithfulness meant. It meant taking one more step and one more step and one more step toward a difficult place, not knowing exactly what that place was going to look like. Having a terrible suspicion that these may be his last moments with his beloved son, but keeping his fingers crossed and hands folded for the best. Most of us would have bode our time. We would have zigzagged up the mountain, taking every moment with our child, savoring every step, in no hurry to get to the top. Abraham, so far as we know, didn't do this; he went to the place where God called him. He climbed every agonizing inch of that mountain to get there.

Israel got forty years in the wilderness to consider who God really was. They learned His provision and tender care, in manna and quail and water from a rock. They learned His guiding spirit in cloud by day and fire by night. They learned His forgiveness, the way His presence never walked away even when their hearts did. They were hoping to go to the place where God had called them, but they learned an even greater lesson - they learned to follow. They wandered every inch of that desert, round and round and round in circles, to get to the place where God called them, and where He led them.

And speaking of Israel and the Promised Land, I think most of us would be tempted to think as the people of God did that when we finally get out of this place, it ought to be smooth sailing. It ought to be a place prepared for us, empty, ready to receive our presence as we walk into it and claim what God has given us, what He has called us to. It's not so easy. Israel had to drive out all of the foreign nations, with God's help, as they found them. They had to clear their own Promised Land. They had to conquer, to make space for themselves. It didn't seem fair, but God told them why. 

He said, I can't clear the land before you get there. If I did, the wild animals and savage weeds would take over and it would be even more of a mess than it is right now. If I make the space for you before you get there, this world will sink its teeth into it and there will no longer be milk, there will no longer be honey. It will no longer be the Promised Land as I've given it to you; it will just be land.

The foreign nations looked like obstacles. They looked like burdens. They looked like one more thing between the people and the Promise. But it was precisely because these foreign nations were there that the land had milk and honey at all. It was because these people were "in the land" that there was any land to promise at all. 

You see, sometimes, the things that look like they are in the way are really the things God is using to make a way. To make a way for you to come into that place and for it to be everything He promised you. Don't worry - take one more faithful step toward the place that God has called you, and He will drive out the nations when you get there. He will knock out the obstacles one at a time, as you reach them, so the land is still good and you learn a little thing or two about not just your faithfulness, but God's.

We are so ready to want to believe God for the destination and curse the journey it takes to get us there, but our story never starts in the place that God has called us; it begins with our first faithful step toward His voice. No, it's not easy. Yes, things get in the way. We still have to climb the mountains. We still have to wander the wilderness. We still have to turn our faces toward Golgotha. God's call is not a promise that it's going to be easy; it's a Promise that it's going to be worth it.

And thank God, because if our stories started when we reached the place where God has called us, most of us would die having never lived at all. 

Imagine if that was true of Jesus, if His story really started on Calvary. If the first thirty-three years didn't matter, neither would the last three days. Sorry, but that's the truth. Unless you know who the Man is, it doesn't matter that He dies. Unless He shows you who He is, it doesn't matter what He does. His death doesn't make waves unless He walks on water.

If you want to know what it means to believe God, to really believe Him, the answer is this: it means to trust Him as much for the wilderness as the whisper, as much for the path as the Promise. It's to take one faithful step in a Godly direction because the journey begins now.

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