Monday, May 1, 2017

When Prayer Confronts an Unchanging God


Christians need to get used to the idea that since the Lord is immutable, or unchanging, this also includes His will. We need to realize that in any situation, in the end, His will is what will be accomplished. In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before His arrest, kangaroo trial, and crucifixion, Jesus said as much. While He was in the garden praying, He expressed the following: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). And again, a few minutes later: "a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, 'O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done'" (Matthew 26:42). This is an excellent picture of divine transparency—a searching picture of His humanity. He knew what was ahead, and just like the imprisoned John the Baptist, who sent some of His disciples to Jesus asking, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Luke 7:20), when our flesh is under pressure, we can sometimes say or think some things which are completely outside the realm of God's will. Let's look further.
  
Most Bible students are familiar with the story of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt under the mediatorial leadership of Moses. What most could easily recall are the miracles in Egypt, such as, the parting of the Red Sea and their crossing to the other side on dry land as they trekked to the Promised Land. They will also recall that Israel rebelled and had to spend forty years in the wilderness before actually going into the Promised Land under the mediating leadership of Joshua. But many of the "in-between" details some may not recall. 

In Deuteronomy chapter one, Moses briefly recounts events that led to the "why" of their forty-year incarceration in the wilderness; simply put, they refused to follow the will of God. Yes, there were murmurings and complaints, but they are really only a sub-story to the real reason why they did not enter into the Promised Land at the appointed time. At this point, let's allow the Scripture to speak by framing their disobedience in the correct context. 

The Recounting of God's Will
Upfront, I would like to say that when God gives instructions it is never wise to foolishly disobey. Moses tells us that God had spoken to the nation at Horeb and had given the following divine instructions:
6 The LORD our God spoke to us in Horeb, saying: ‘You have dwelt long enough at this mountain. 7 Turn and take your journey, and go to the mountains of the Amorites, to all the neighboring places in the plain, in the mountains and in the lowland, in the South and on the seacoast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the River Euphrates. 8 See, I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to give to them and their descendants after them.’1
These instructions did not come without further direction. Moses recounted how the Lord had led them out of Egypt stating, "In the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place." and further, He "went in the way before you to search out a place for you to pitch your tents, to show you the way you should go, in the fire by night and in the cloud by day."2 God had literally led them, carried them, and chose the places they would encamp.

Israel Refuses to Trust the Lord
So the question is, if the Lord was their guide, protector, and provider thus far, why couldn't they trust Him to take them to the final destination? I realize that hindsight is greater than foresight and we can easily sit in wonderment at their lack of faith, but the question still needs an answer. God had stated His will and there would be no going back on that, His will would be accomplished with or without them and in this case, without them was God's decree.


Do Not Reject God's Leading!
This brings us to the point of the post. When we knowingly and intentionally pass up a divine appointment, and or, opportunity—a door God has opened and set clearly before us—no amount of repentance, prayer, or backtracking will open that door back up. The Bible describes seasons of opportunity—times of visitation—and as believers, our responsibility is to walk in and through them knowing the Lord at the helm and will fight for us. An example?
41 Now as He [Jesus] drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”3
Do you see the last line? All of us have many visitations—times when the Lord is moving us, directing us, and pointing us in the way we should go. It is during these times we must not say "No! I will not go." Again, no amount of prayer is going to deliver us back into that "now passed" and "once decreed" will of God. What we will have to submit to, at least for a season, is God's discipline. It may be, as was the case with Israel, "forty-years" later, that the Lord will again open the door, but not until we have been disciplined to obey.
 
So, what happened to Israel after they rejected God's divine direction?
Well, they went exactly as God desired when He is snubbed and ignored. God, the omniscient One that He is, knew they would try to repent and do as He previously said, but He had already pronounced judgment and slammed that door shut. So, He speaks to Moses asking him to tell them to not try and go through the closed door because He would not be with them. So anything they would try to do would be like running into a brick wall. Here is what we read:
42 And the LORD said to me, ‘Tell them, “Do not go up nor fight, for I am not among you; lest you be defeated before your enemies.” ’ 43 So I spoke to you; yet you would not listen, but rebelled against the command of the LORD, and presumptuously went up into the mountain. 44 And the Amorites who dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you as bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah. 45 Then you returned and wept before the LORD, but the LORD would not listen to your voice nor give ear to you.4
This is not an isolated incident. There are other examples such as Esau, of whom we are told, sought repentance with tears after he gave up his birthright to Jacob, but could not find it (Heb. 12:17). Then there is Peter, who denied the Lord three times, who also wept bitterly for what he had done (Luke 22:54-62). Peter, like any of us with foot-in-mouth disease, could not take back what he had done. Tradition tells us that, even though Peter was fully forgiven of his sin, the action itself never left him. William Bates wrote: "Never, all his life long, did the remembrance of his denial of Jesus leave Peter, and that, morning by morning, he rose at the very hour when the look of the Master broke his heart, to pray once more for pardon.... but the mordant memory of his sin was ceaselessly with him. In the “Life of Phillips Brooks,” there is an account of an extraordinary sermon he delivered at Harvard from the text, 'Thou makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth.” An able minister wrote upon the margin of his copy, “We never get rid of any act: it is a part of ourselves.'"5

The disobedience of Israel at the outset of God's open door to the Promised Land, was a hard price to pay, excepting Joshua and Caleb, only those twenty-years and younger were able to eventually enter the land God had sanctified for their inheritance.


What we can take away from these simple truths, is a one liner: "When God calls, obey." His will will always be accomplished and no amount of complaining or artful persuasive prayers are going to change what He has set in stone. So, the advice I give myself is PBJ, "Pray hard. Be discerning. Join God." I might add, join Him at the time of His choosing!
God Bless

Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, 12 that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.6

1 - The N
ew King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Deut. 1:6–8.

2 - Ibid., Deut. 1:31, 33.
3 - Ibid., Luke 19:41–44.
4 - Ibid., Deut. 1:42–45.
5 - William H. Bates, “God’s Forgiveness of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 79, no. 315 (1922): 260.
6 - Ibid., NKJV, 2 Th 1:11–12.


A Prayer From my Heart

Lord, today and over the past few weeks, I have been facing the issue of job loss. So my first response has been to pray. It is in this vein of prayer , that I come to You. So what am I asking? Am I asking You to change circumstances that affect others in order for You to selfishly answer my prayer? or, am I asking for you to give me peace and patience to wait for the circumstances that involve me, as well as others, to come about as You have sovereignly ordained? I honestly feel, the answer is found in waiting. For if You change my circumstance, rather than allowing me to slide into Yours, then You would need to change the circumstances that involve everyone else to make room for me. That could mean detrimental results for others. Lord, I do not want others to face changing circumstances on account of my needs. But, I do desire for You to work out Your plan in my life in the provisional way that only You can, because only then, will it be a mutual blessing for all parties involved. So I wait... and I pray. I ask for wisdom and insight into Your divine directions. It is through Christ my Lord and Savior I pray, amen.

Pastor Mike

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