Turning Back

Been here?

  • Standing at a very familiar life intersection wondering how many times you have to keep crossing
  • Staring in the face of prior pain dreading its possible return
  • Knowing you’ve taken a step backwards but not sure how or why
  • Believing you heard and followed the right path but unsure it’s going to be as advertised

Congratulations! Welcome to the human race! It’s been going on for centuries. Here’s an example:

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea; you must camp in front of Baal-zephon, facing it by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites: They are wandering around the land in confusion; the wilderness has boxed them in. I will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that he will pursue them. Then I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh.” So the Israelites did this.”

‭‭Exodus‬ ‭14:1-4

Yes, they turned back as instructed, but soon began to challenge the decision. That’s what we all are tempted to do. 

  • “What are you doing, God?”
  • “Why are you making me turn around into the face of pain that I thought you had rescued me from?”
  • “This makes no sense at all. God, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

We find ourselves at the intersection of Faith and Pain, or Trust and Doubt, or Follower and Fool. We are faced with the choices from being turned back. 

  • Will we believe in God’s salvation for this moment
  • Do we believe that He truly cares
  • Can we trust this God who dishes out unbelievable promises

If He says it’s for His glory, shouldn’t we want to see the outcome? Getting to the other side of the sea ain’t easy when all we do is question God. It’s much more awe-filled, beautiful and serene when all we’re doing is resting, walking and trusting in all His knowledge and power. When He says, “Turn back,” our response should be, “How Far?”

Here’s a Turning Back Prayer you might say if you’re having a difficult time saying, “How Far”:

God, thank you for Exodus 14. Thank you for turning them back so now all of mankind is still talking about your power, your glory, and your willingness to fight for your people. I have no reason to fear. I have no reason to believe you will make a mistake. I have every reason to remember you have always remembered me. Forgive me for wanting to run forward when you may want me to turn back so you can be glorified. Fight for me. I’ll do my best to be quiet.

What if God Doesn’t Meet My Expectations?

   

In his book The Prisoner in the Third Cell, Gene Edwards makes you face this question. That’s a good thing. Why? Because all of mankind has silently or openly asked it but not all have dared to stop and determine their answer.

Edwards makes you face this question by telling the story of John the Baptist. His was definitely a unique life. And at the end of it, he had questions that we can’t be certain he found satisfactory answers before his life was disregardly taken.

Other biblical characters faced the same challenge-Joseph, Job, Peter, Elijah, Ruth, Mary, Noah, Jonah, John, to name a few. Some of these were graciously granted a resurrected view of God before they died, but even that cannot be guaranteed to anyone who places their faith in God.

And therein is the core of the question. How deep is your faith? When your finite expectations are tested by an infinite God, what do you do? Will you continue to follow? If you want to be challenged to meditate further on these questions, this book is a good resource. If you can’t answer yes to the blog title question, this book should be in your next-to-read pile.

More than Being In

There is a vast difference between being in something and actually being it. For example, being an American is vastly different from being in America. Ask anyone who’s gone through getting their citizenship.

So when Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that “…you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord,” he’s saying something rather significant. He didn’t say you were once in the dark and now you are in the light. He said you were dark and now you’re light. A vast difference. Being in the dark isn’t as dire as being dark; being in the light isn’t as powerful as being light.

Believers have been changed. They are now light. As believers, it seems we walk too often trying to be in something rather than actually being who we are through the new person our faith in the resurrected power of Jesus has created us to be. Yes, we are to walk in His light. But we are also to be light. Our lives can be much more than just being in the Light. 

I am finding the more I take hold of this new identity the more I am light rather than just being in it. I am finding out more “what is acceptable to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:10).

Fear and Conviction

One more insight to share from Wilson’s book, The Next Level. Here’s a quote from chapter 27, The Excuses Test:

Our response to change is a reflection of the condition of our hearts. We live in fear when we insist on every question being answered and success guaranteed before we are willing to take the slightest step. We show our conviction of God’s wisdom, goodness, and strength when we trust and move forward without knowing all the answers.

If you find yourself paralyzed by fear, one way out is to stop demanding. Demand less from yourself, from God and from others. Pray for enough trust to take just one step out of your fear without demanding any degree of guarantee.

If you find yourself lacking conviction, check the object of your faith. Conviction’s strength comes from the object of faith. If the object is personal peace from having all the answers, life is going to be very stressful. If the object is the character of God, life is going to be more joyful. Discuss with God the object of your faith. You’ll find He’s a good listener, particularly to those who choose him as the object of their faith.

Ambidextrous Faith

Gregory of Nicea once called St. Basil’s faith ambidextrous because he welcomed pleasures with the right hand and afflictions with the left, convinced both would serve God’s design for him. (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God)

When we look at our lives at what seems best for us, rarely would we think that afflictions fit in the picture. So it appears unnatural for someone to welcome them with conviction that God is behind them, at work completing his design. But as believers, we should know from biblical examples that this it true.

  • Joseph, whose affliction led to thousands being saved during famine
  • Esther, whose race was rescued after she stood up to a bully
  • Naomi and Ruth, whose heartache led to a new family in the lineage of the Messiah
  • Job, whose wholly affliction has given hope to every generation since
  • Jesus, betrayed/beaten/forsaken/crucified in order that all may have eternal life with his Father

Are you in an affliction? Have you considered how it might fit into God’s design for you? If not, take a look at the pleasures in your right hand and thank God for them. It might help you develop ambidextrous faith as you look at what’s in your left hand.

Faith Things

Read one of the most quoted verses in Hebrews this morning:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews‬ ‭11:1‬ ‭ESV‬‬

These questions came to mind: what are some examples of these “things”?  What things, by faith, do we hope for?  What things, by faith, are we convicted of?  Is there a difference?  How might it help our faith to determine these things?

The difference is pretty clear by the definitions.  Hoping for something and being convicted of something are based on different levels of certainty.  You can hope for good weather on your wedding day, but you can be convinced that regardless of the weather nothing will stop you from walking that aisle.

Convictions are what we build our lives upon, what we build our faith on. For example, verse three of chapter 11 states the conviction of faith that God created the world.  That is a conviction of faith, of something unseen.  As believers, we have many of these.  We are convinced of eternal life.  We are convinced in the trustworthiness of God’s Word.  We are convinced the kingdom of God is inhabited by serving citizens.  We are even convicted to tithe by faith.

CHALLENGE: Write a list of your faith things you are convicted of, that you have no doubt about and determine your worldview and how you live.

Things hoped for are then the things that play out in our lives based on the faith things we are convicted of.  Parents hope, by faith, that how they have raised their children will bring the desired results.  So they parent assuredly in the things they hope for.  Employers hope, by faith, that their hiring processes result in building the right team.  So they offer the job assuredly in the things they hope for.  These faith things of conviction and hope work together.

CHALLENGE: Write a list of your faith things you are hoping for, keeping in mind they aren’t a random wishlist but stem from and should partner with your conviction things.

May your faith be commended along with those people listed in the rest of Hebrews 11.  Your lists may set you on the path to being commended by God because of your faith things.

Bonhoeffer on Obedience & Submission

Reading through Breakfast with Bonhoeffer thinking I’m not getting much. Then here come these quotes from chapters 7 & 8:

Bonhoeffer says Jesus calls us to a concrete faith. We can’t just have faith in general; we must take specific steps of faith – visible, concrete steps. And the steps can’t just be anything; they must be the steps Jesus tells us to take. We can take great risks, thinking they will please Jesus, but unless Jesus initiates them, they are faithless steps…Obedience doesn’t merely reflect faith; obedience leads to faith.

Bonhoeffer has convinced me that the number one reason so many of us are stuck in spiritual immaturity is that we commit to Christ rather than submit to Christ…Commitment still leaves us in control, deciding, according to our own agendas, when or where we’ll serve Jesus. Submission means we yield to the will of Christ and do what he tells us to do day in and day out, altering our lives in obedience to him and his word (Galatians 2:20).

I’m awake now.

Questions to meditate on: 

  1. Am I committed or submitted?
  2. What area in my life needs altering in obedience?
  3. What concrete steps of faith in my past can I look back on and see where my obedience led to faith?

Please leave any comments or stories that might encourage others with their obedience and submission.