Do you ever get to the point where your problems become overwhelming? There are times and periods in life when I just can’t seem to shake free of a cycle of problems. It depletes my energy and saps my spirit. To stop and look at everything in front of me and see a never ending line of things coming at me can easily leave me feeling depleted. It feels like I’m on that show “1 vs. 100” sometimes, except there’s no cash prize at the end of the line of things I’m facing. What I usually forget during those times is that I’m not facing it alone.
In II Kings 6, the king of Aram was trying to attack Israel, but God kept showing Elisha their plans and Israel averted them. The king was angry and wanted who in his army was the traitor. When someone told him that it was Elisha who was giving away their position and plan, he mobilized his entire army and went to attack Elisha. That next morning, Elisha’s servant woke up and went outside. When he saw an entire army camped against them, he panicked. He was overwhelmed and didn’t know what they would do.
I love Elisha’s response to him in verse 16 when he comes outside and sees the army. He said, “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs!” (NLT). Then Elisha asked God to open his servant’s eyes, and he saw an army of horses and chariots of fire. The army didn’t defeat Elisha that day because God was on his side. Elisha remained calm under the pressure of being in a 1 vs.100 type situation because he knew that God was with him. He didn’t panic, but instead trusted.
When facing those insurmountable odds, instead of panicking, we need to remember that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (I John 4:4). In those moments when I feel overwhelmed and outnumbered by my problems, my prayer is that God would open my eyes to see He’s on my side. I need to know that I’m not going to be defeated and that God has everything under control. It doesn’t matter if it’s 1 vs 100 or 1 vs 1,000,000, when God is on our side, there are more on our side than on theirs!
My wife made some comments last night about how the book of Judges ended. I decided to open it up and read there today because it has been a while since I’ve dug through that book. I started in chapter 20 and found something I know I’ve read before, but now have a new perspective on. The story she was referring to was there. An Israelite had been traveling through the country and was in Benjamin’s territory. The men of the city came to them, raped his wife and killed her. He let the other 11 tribes know what happened and they came to his defense.
When the city and tribe of Benjamin wouldn’t give up the men who did this, the other 11 tribes sent word for their armies to come to the city to deal with it. Around 400,000 warriors showed up. They prayed and asked God which tribe should be out front in the attack. God responded with Judah. They went to attack and lost. They came back to God and asked, “Should we attack them again?” God replied, “Yes! Attack them.”
The next day, they went to battle again and got whipped. They came back weeping and crying. They fasted the rest of the day and asked God one more time if they should attack or should they call it quits. God said, “Attack! Tomorrow I’ll give you victory.” They went out the next day just as before. The army of Benjamin came out full force to attack, but this time was different. The army of the 11 tribes was victorious to the point they almost wiped out the entire tribe of Benjamin.
What I saw was that God gave them the go ahead to go into battle and they lost. Twice. They were in the will of God, there was no sin in the camp and they still lost. They didn’t just lose. They were humiliated. Their army of 400,000 was beaten twice by an army of less than 30,000. Plus, they had God on their side telling them to attack and to go into battle. When they went to God each night, He didn’t give them a reason that they lost. He just told them to go attack again. I’m sure their faith was shaken by the third day when they approached the battlefield.
Just because we’re in God’s will it doesn’t mean we won’t suffer loss. Even if we have God’s exact words to do something, we may not get the result we thought we were going to get. He may not tell us why we are suffering in the place He told us to go. We may feel humiliated about our circumstances and wonder what other people are saying. Doubt can come in and say, “Are you sure you heard God? Why did God bring me to this place just to let me be defeated?” Guard your mind against those thoughts and do what the army did each night.
They returned to the presence of God day after day. They continued to listen to His voice. They still followed His directions even though it had meant loss before. They also entered into a fast to ask for His favor. Then God said, “Tomorrow I’ll give you victory.” I don’t know when your “tomorrow” is, but I do know if you’ll keep trusting and obeying what God says, tomorrow will come. Victory will be yours. This time of loss will end and you will once again be restored and bring restoration to others.
One of my favorite things I used to do was to go float the Frio river. There’s something about lazily floating down the river in an inner tube with no worries. Eventually, as you’d float along, you’d come to a bend in the river that had created a cliff. At that cliff, there would be people who would climb up and jump off into the water. It looked like a blast. I paddled over to the shore, climbed up the side of the cliff and walked to the edge. That’s when it hit me: that’s a long way down.
Immediately fear crept in. I know knew why so many in front of me walked up to the edge and turned around. As I stood there contemplating whether or not to jump, my mind begin to think of every negative outcome. What if I hit a rock and was paralyzed the rest of my life? What if I messed up and belly flopped in front of everyone? What if I turned around and got back in my inner tube and kept floating? What if everyone behind me laughs? I could feel my heart beating in my throat as I stood there looking over.
Since that time, I’ve been to Acapulco and watched the famous cliff divers there. They were amazing. They had no fear. They climbed even higher than I had at the Frio. Their cliff was more treacherous. They stood up as crowds watch and video and took the leap. Some were doing inverted flips and then spreading their arms like wings to gracefully fly towards the water. I wish I could say that’s what my jump looked like. Mine looked more like a pencil being dropped into a glass of water vertically.
I’ve found that in my life right now I’ve been called out of a life of floating along. I’ve been called to take that leap off faith. I’m standing on the cliff right now looking down. Those thoughts of doubt creep in and make me fearful of taking that leap. There is uncertainty of what the future will look like after I leave the ledge. I have a choice. I can turn around and get back in my inner tube and float along or I can jump. My heart beats with anticipation. There’s excitement and fear at the same time.
Where are you today? Are you floating along safely in your inner tube? Are you looking at others who are jumping off their cliff and wishing you had the guts to do that? Maybe your climbing up the rocky cliff now and wondering how much longer you have to climb. You could be standing in line watching other turn away in fear and starting to doubt getting out of the inner tube. Are you standing on the edge of that cliff, looking over and thinking, “What if I fail?” Wherever you are, I pray today that you have the courage to keep going until you jump off that ledge.
It’s often foggy when I drive to work in the mornings. It gets so thick I can hardly see very far in front of me. I know where I’m headed, but the exits and interchanges are difficult to see in the fog. I typically have to drive slower on days like that to make sure I don’t wreck or miss an exit. As the sun comes up, the fog begins to dissipate and my vision becomes clearer.
I think it’s a lot like that for most of us when it comes to God’s plan and vision for our life. We might know where God has us going in this life, but we can’t see very far into the future. When we look down the road of our life, all we see is cloudiness and very few street signs. It’s hard to know which way to go, where to turn or when to brake. Others pass us as if the fog doesn’t exist. Are they being careless or is their vision somehow more clear than our own?
I know personally how difficult it is to not be able to see very far ahead. I know I’m heading in the direction that God told me to go. I don’t want to end up like the Israelites where I’m wandering in the desert for 40 years. I want to know where the Jordan river in my life is and make my way to it. I want to be camped on its banks when God says, “It’s ok to cross it now. I have dammed the river up and you can cross on dry ground.”
There are choices we can make when dealing with the inability to see very far ahead in our lives. The first choice is to be frozen by fear of the unknown and to stay where we are. I’ve always heard people say, “If you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward.” The longer it takes me to move forward, the longer it will be until we get to where He wants us. What if Abraham had waited around when God said, “Go to the land that I will show you”? What would have happened if he had stayed where he was until God showed him where he wanted to go?
God simply said, “Go.” God can correct our direction and movement, but only if we’re moving. He can’t change our course if we are sitting around. That brings us to our next choice. We can move in the fog and deal with the limited sight distance. I’ve noticed that when I move forward in a fog, I can see a little further than I could from where I was. Each step forward reveals things I had not seen before. I begin to see the signs I couldn’t see before. Moving forward in faith reveals more of God’s plan.
The more time I spend with God, the more I allow His light to shine in my life. If I lift up the Son in all I do, I’ve found that my focus changes from the fog to pleasing Him. The fog is lifted because my faith has grown and my vision improves. I begin to see further down the road than I had. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has plans for us. They are good plans and we need to trust Him one step at a time. He will reveal those plans for us as we move closer to Him and in the direction He is sending us.
Most of us know the story of Thomas after Jesus was resurrected. Other disciples had seen Jesus but he had not. They kept telling him that Jesus was alive, but he knew what he had seen. He watched as they beat Jesus with a whip that had 9 strands on it with chunks of glass. He saw them put the crown of thorns on His head and then nailed His hands and feet to that splintered wood. He was even there when the soldier took a sword and rammed it through the ribs of Jesus. He heard Jesus say, “It is finished.” You couldn’t tell him that Jesus was alive after that.
Can you blame him? It’s easy to sit here two millenniums away and call him “Doubting Thomas”. Would you or I have been any different? Are we any different now? Thomas allowed circumstances to dictate his faith. He had also walked with Jesus and watched as He healed people with leprosy, issues of blood, lameness, mutism, deafness and all kinds of incurable diseases. He even watched on a few occasions as Jesus raised people from the dead. Yet here he was listening to others as they said they had seen Jesus.
Many of us have walked with Jesus too. We have seen what He has done in our lives, can point to healings that we’ve witnessed and watched as The Lord touches the hearts of the worst among us yet we still don’t fully trust in Him. We allow circumstances and things going on in this world to rob us of our joy, hope and faith. Our faith rises and falls on what happens around us. It is far too easy to forget what God has done in the past when there is a mountain ahead.
It’s no wonder that Thomas uttered the famous words, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in His hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in His side.” We do the same. We just say it different. “God if you’re really there and if you can really hear me, I need you to do…” It’s a good thing that God is patient with us. When Jesus saw Thomas, He didn’t mock him or ask why he didn’t believe. Instead, Jesus walked up to Thomas and gently said, “Thomas, put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”
I think that’s what Jesus would say to us today. Don’t be faithless any longer. Don’t allow what you’re going through cause you to forget what He’s done for you in the past. He is patient and kind. Slow to anger. He is talking to you this morning and is inviting you to trust Him. He is in control even when it doesn’t feel like. He sees you where you are and knows your fear. He is deeply concerned about you and wants to show Himself to you and to provide the opportunity for you to touch Him. Thomas had to reach out and touch Him to believe again. Will you reach out today to touch Him in order to believe again?