"God Gives Us Keys In The Wilderness" (January 2004)
I'd like to preface this month's message with another message so that you won't misunderstand or miss the point of what I am trying to say in this message.
Our God is a Sovereign God and in His sovereignty He allows Christians to go through trials, temptations, tribulations, hardships, problems, pain, suffering, grief and sorrow. There are those who teach that Christians will never go through anything- like we are exempt somehow. This is not true. The Bible tells us that "many are the afflictions of the righteous" (Psalms 34:19a) and that we "must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22b). Look at the Apostle Paul's life. He had an encounter with God on the road to Damascus that left him blind. When the Lord told Ananias to go to Saul and lay his hands on him so that he might receive his sight, one of the things the Lord told him concerning Saul was, "For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (Acts 9:16) Hebrews chapter eleven, the great faith chapter, reveals the sufferings of those who follow the Lord. Of Moses it was said, "By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season: esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt." (Hebrews 11:24-26) We read in Isaiah 43:2- "When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee." The scripture said, "When- not if" you pass through the waters and the fire; representing the fact that we would go through times of trials and testing. Even Jesus was a "man despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3a), and He told us that "in this world we would have tribulations" (John 16:33a)
There are those who also teach that it's not God's will for us to face anything- God doesn't want us to go through problems or difficulties. Again, this is not true. Actually, God orchestrates situations in our lives in order to place us right smack in the middle of tribulations. "But he knoweth the way that I take; when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10) "When He [God] hath tried me." It was God Who proclaimed to satan that Job was a "perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil", (Job 1:8), yet He allowed satan to "rock Job's world". "And the Lord said unto satan, 'Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.'" (Job 1:12)
If you still don't believe that God allows suffering and trials into the life of a believer, let's look at some more scriptures. "Thou [God] prepareth a table before me in the presence of mine enemies." (Psalms 23:5a) Being in the presence of your enemy is definitely a "trying" place, and it's God Who prepares the table for you to sit at. Another example, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced the fiery furnace. "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace." (Daniel 3:17) God did not deliver them from going into the furnace; He allowed them to go through it. God did not keep Daniel out of the lion's den; Daniel faced the hungry lions. Paul prayed three times for the thorn in his flesh to be removed, but God did not remove it. Instead, He told Paul "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:8,9) It was the Spirit of God Who led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. If God led His own Son into a place of trial and temptation, would He not lead us as well. "Then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil." (Matthew 4:1) Keep in mind, I did not say that God tempts us; He does not. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man." (James 1:13) But He does try us and allows us to be tempted and tried. "Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10)
Suffering, trials, and tribulations are a fact of life- they are ordained by God and serve a purpose in our lives- "Knowing that tribulation worketh patience" (Romans 5:3); "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7); "But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you." (1 Peter 5:10)
Jesus said, "I must needs go through Samaria". (John 4:4) We "must needs" go through trials and tribulations. We "must needs" go through the valley, and the fire, and the wilderness. There are some things that you cannot "pray" your way out of, "confess" your way out of, "fast" your way out of, or "believe hard enough" to get out of. Paul prayed for the thorn in his flesh to be removed- three times he prayed- but God would not remove it. It wasn't because He didn't pray or because he didn't have faith, God in His infinite wisdom knew what Paul needed, and because He loved Paul He would not remove that which was most needful for him. Paul had been "caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Corinthians 12:4) Paul recognized that the thorn in his flesh was necessary "lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted about measure." (2 Corinthians 12:7) Paul knew that he could very easily fall into pride because of all the revelations that the Lord had given him. He also knew that if pride came into his life it would destroy him. "Pride goeth before destruction." (Proverbs 16:18a). The thorn in the flesh was necessary as a constant reminder to help him keep humble.
During the days of Jeremiah the prophet, Israel was taken into captivity. God determined that they would stay there for seventy years- not one day more or less. It didn't matter how much the people prayed, or cried, or how many false prophets came along and said that they wouldn't be there that long- God's sovereignty said they would stay there. My point is, God is in control and what He says is what will be so we need to learn to trust Him, rest in His love and wisdom toward us, and remember that His plans for us are good- they are plans to give us a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Therefore, if He allows us to go through these times (and He will) we can know that they are all working together for our good (Romans 8:28).
I said all the above so that you would know that I am not saying that God is not sovereign and in "full" control. The final decision is always up to God. Now, having said all that I would like to get to the heart of this month's message.
While there are some things that we can't change- if God said you are going to be in bondage for 70 years, you are going to be in bondage- there is nothing that you can do except learn to be content in whatever state you are in- there are some things that we can change. Once you know the difference the thing to decide is which "key" to use in that particular situation. I believe this is where the church misses it; we walk around defeated and discouraged because we don't know which key to use to open the door to victory. Sometimes it takes the "key" of prayer- "Ye have not because ye ask not" (James 4:2b); sometimes it takes the "key" of fasting- "This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29); sometimes it takes the "key" of authority- "Behold, I give you power...over all the powers of the enemy" (Luke 10:19); sometimes it takes the "key" of obedience- "If ye be willing and obedient" (Isaiah 1:19). The Bible tells us that there is a "time for everything". Sometimes you speak to your mountain to be removed; sometimes you sing and praise your way out of the prison; sometimes you pull out the weapons of warfare.
I want us to look at a few of the keys that the Lord has given to us to use in our times of testing. I believe obedience is the key to the "main house". God always blesses and honors obedience. (Read Deuteronomy 28) If obedience is a key then disobedience is a key as well. Many of the hardships we face are brought on by our own disobedience. If that's the case, then the way out is...obedience. Recently, I ran into an old classmate. She is a Christian and she knows that I am a Christian. She came running up to me desperately needing prayer. She asked me to please pray fervently for her finances- she was really in a financial straight. The first thing I did was ask her if she was paying her tithes. She told me that she wasn't going to lie to me, no she hadn't. Her way of escape out of this financial bondage was not prayer, it was obedience. She could pray, I could pray, she could have every church in the area praying, but until she obeyed God's commandments concerning tithing her financial situation was not going to change. God honors obedience. "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse... And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes." (Malachi 3:10) God honors obedience. The only prayer that will help her is the prayer of repentance. You can stand in every prayer line from here to Kalamazoo but if it is an obedience problem, your situation is not going to change until you obey.
Another key is "faith". Usually we are accused of not having faith when things don't work out like we prayed they would. This is not always the case. But there are times when we find ourselves in wilderness situations because of unbelief. Look at the children of Israel, they wandered around in the wilderness for forty years because of unbelief. "They to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief." (Hebrews 4:6b) You know the story, God promised them the land of Canaan but the spies brought back an evil report and told the people that it was not possible for them to possess it because of the giants that were in the land. They didn't believe God's word but chose rather to believe the report of man. They didn't believe what God had said but chose instead to believe what their own frail five senses said. Unbelief will get you in trouble every time. It will keep you going around the same mountain day after day, week after week, year after year- caught in a vicious cycle. Perhaps this is where you are. You have been going around this same mountain, caught in this same wilderness and see no hope in sight. The Israelites wound up in the wilderness because of unbelief, usually that's the same reason why we get stuck in the wilderness- we didn't believe God can do what He said He can do. Our problem looked too big for God; we didn't believe that He was able; our own human reasoning said it wasn't possible. Your key in this situation would be-- believe God, take Him at His word, trust what He says, trust that He is able. Repent of your unbelief and believe God. Let me insert something here that I feel I need to say to someone reading this- you know this is where you are and you know what God has said and you want to believe but you are having a hard time believing. The word the Lord wants me to say to you is the scripture found in Mark 9:24. Once you have asked for forgiveness then pray this prayer, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
The last key I want to talk about has more to do with the authority that God has given us. We think that as long as we pray that's enough. While prayer is vital- you "must" pray- there comes a time when you have to do more than pray. "Having done all to stand... Stand" (Ephesians 6:13b) Much of what we go through is an attack of the enemy. So there comes a time when you have to draw your sword and stand against him. This is what Jesus did in the wilderness. The Bible tells us that Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. After Jesus had fasted for forty days He was hungry. This is when the devil came to tempt Him. (Matthew 4) What did Jesus do? How did He respond to the devil? Before we answer these questions, let's think about how some of us would respond. Some would pray- "Oh, Lord, the devil is after me, rebuke him for me." Some would whine about it- "Oh, this devil just won't leave me alone, I can't take it, he is always there; why won't he go away." Then there are some who would complain to God- "I don't know why You let him tempt me like this; I have fasted and prayed, I obeyed You when You led me into this wilderness; why aren't You doing something, God?" Then there are those who accuse God of not caring or He wouldn't have let the devil tempt them in the first place. Then if the devil didn't leave the first time they prayed, they would accuse God of not answering their prayers and begin to start feeling sorry for themselves. Does any of this sound familiar? Isn't that just like us- what we do? Only this is not what Jesus did; He left us an example to follow. Now, let's discuss what He did. He stood against the accusations of the devil with His sword drawn- the word of God. "The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". (Ephesians 6:17b) Jesus didn't pray; He didn't call His prayer partner; He didn't start singing praises; He didn't get discouraged and wonder why this was happening (after all He was where God led Him). He didn't stop and say, "Oh, well, this must be the will of God." No, He knew which key to use. He stood upon the word of God, not once but three times. I hope this is getting into your spirit. The devil will keep harassing you, keep riding roughshod over you, he'll keep trying to destroy you (after all, that's his job), if you let him. Church, there is a time to stand up and proclaim- "Greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world." (John 4:4) There is a time to "Let him that stole, steal no more." (Ephesians 4:28) God has given you "Power over all the powers of the enemy". (Luke 10:19) He has made you "More than a conqueror in all things". (Romans 8:37) He said, "No weapon formed against you shall prosper". (Isaiah 54:17) Jesus already defeated the devil, so why are you letting the devil defeat you?
Put the word of God on him. "It is quick, and powerful, and shaper than any two-edged sword." (Hebrews 4:12) You don't have to let him depress you; you don't have to let him make you fearful; you don't have to listen to his lies and accusations; you don't have to believe anything he says and you don't have to listen to him; tell him to "Get thee behind me, satan." (Matthew 16:23)
We have already determined that God will allow you to go through some things. We have also determined that you can't do anything about some of those things except go to sleep in the boat and let the storm rage on. But we have determined as well that we were given armor for a reason and there is a time to use it. It was God's sovereign will for Jesus to go through the wilderness, so Jesus couldn't do anything to change that; but when the devil came to tempt Him in the wilderness, there was something that He could do about that. This is where we need to learn a valuable lesson. There is a time to submit to God's sovereign will and just rest in Him during the times of trials, tribulations, and testing that He has ordained for us to go through. But there is also a time that we have to do something. Are you going through something? Is it God's leading into the wilderness or a thorn in the flesh that He is giving you grace to bear? Or is there something that you need to do to see the situation change? He has given you the keys.