In Matthew 9, Jesus was at the home of Matthew eating with some unsavory people. The top religious leaders saw him dining with them and asked, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” (NLT) They asked it loud enough that Jesus heard them, which meant that Matthew and his friends heard it too. Jesus said, “Heathy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do.” Then he challenged them to go and find the meaning of the scripture that says, “I desire mercy [that is, readiness to help those in trouble] and not sacrifice and sacrificial victims. For I came not to call and invite [to repentance] the righteous (those who are upright and in right standing with God), but sinners (the erring ones and all those not free from sin)” (AMP).
I figured if Jesus wanted them to find the meaning, He probably wanted us to find the meaning as well. The original passage is found in Hosea 6:6. It says, “I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me” (GNB). The first thing God wants from any of us is an unconditional, constant love. A couple of verses back, He says that His children’s love vanishes as quickly as the morning dew. The kind of love that irritates God is the conditional kind that depends on what He does.
God loves you no matter what you do, and He expects the same. Jesus was upset with the Pharisees because they claimed to be the holy ones in Israel, but inside they were anything but holy. When His actions didn’t meet up with their expectations of the Messiah, their love and wonder waned. What Jesus was pointing out to them in the Scripture He sent them to was that they really didn’t know God, and He would rather they know Him instead of knowing what the Law said.
We have to be careful of the same trap they fell into. We cannot let our love for God depend on expectations we have of Him when we don’t fully know Him. God knows that the more we know Him, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more we will have a readiness to help those in spiritual danger. They are the ones who need our help the most. Jesus knew it, and He wanted us to know it too. The heart of God beats for the lost, and He’ll do what it takes to reach them, even if it doesn’t make sense to others. When we truly know Him, our heart will beat for the lost like His.
There are two things I find I need most often: strength and peace. There have been so many times I cry out to God, “I can’t do this on my own anymore. I don’t have the strength to go any further.” I always wonder if God gets impatient with me in those times. I wonder if he says, “Again? When will you learn?” I know that the joy of the Lord is my strength, but I somehow allow my situation to steal that joy which leaves me weak and vulnerable.
David must have felt this way pretty often as well. When I read the Psalms, they don’t always line up with this bad to the bone warrior I’ve built up in my mind. They often show an insecure person who struggles with his situations. It’s in conflict with the mental image I have of him, but the truth is, they show someone just as human as the rest of us. They show an accomplished person who loves God, but still relies on Him for everything.
I like being a self sufficient person. I like not needing to have to have help, but those are not qualities God admires. David was known as a man after God’s own heart. He was a man who wasn’t afraid to cry out to God for help all the time. The things that I think make him appear weak are the things God finds as strengths. We were not made to fight our battles on our own. We were not made to fight alone. We were not made to be self sufficient. We are to find our strength and sufficiency in Him.
In Psalm 29, David talks about how powerful the voice of the Lord is. He writes great acclamations of God, and then he finishes with a truth that is very relevant to us. In verse 11 he says, “The LORD gives his people strength. The LORD blesses them with peace” (NLT). Strength and peace are gifts from God. To act like we don’t need them is to deny God from giving them to us as blessings. David had it right. We need God’s strength and peace more than we care to admit. If we are willing to get over our pride and to ask Him for them, He is willing to give them to us.
Since I was a child, I have heard the story of King Saul in I Samuel 13. The army of Israel had won a small skirmish with a Philistine garrison. The Philistines then mustered an army several times the size of the Israelite army. As they waited for battle, fear crept into the Israelite camp. Men began to desert the army. Those that remained were visibly afraid. Saul looked around, saw their fear, and then checked the calendar. Where was the prophet Samuel? He had said he would be there by now.
As he watched more troops leave, he decided decisive action is what was needed to keep the troops. Verse 9 says, “So he demanded, “Bring me the burnt offering and the peace offerings!” And Saul sacrificed the burnt offering himself” (NLT). Wouldn’t you know that as soon as he finished with the burnt offerings, Samuel showed up. Saul realized that he jumped the gun. He ran to Samuel hoping to smooth things over, but Samuel wouldn’t hear it. He explained what a foolish thing he had done, and now God would take the kingship from him.
For me, this story is a reminder to stay patient when doing what God asks. If we let our circumstances dictate our obedience, we will fail and miss out on the blessings of God. It’s hard enough to stay obedient when God is silent, let alone when your circumstances show your obedience isn’t paying off. The easy thing to do is make assumptions, but assumptions often lead to disobedience. If God asked you to do something, you must keep at it until He says, “Stop.”
I Samuel 15:22 says, “But Samuel replied, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.” Whatever God has called you to do, obedience to that calling is most important. Your calling may seem small and insignificant. It may lack the spotlight that you want, but it is a valid calling. Don’t ditch it to do something more spiritual. God has you doing exactly what He wants you to until He’s ready to give you more. Stay obedient in the silence and God will reward you in due time.
When I travel to New Orleans, there’s a certain homeless person I like to say hello to. He always makes me smile and he never asks me for anything. He’ll say, “It ain’t gonna cost you nothing to come say hello. I ain’t gonna rob you!” I then walk over and say hello and he puts a smile on my face. Except on a recent trip he called me over and said, “You know I never ask for nothing, but could you go in there and buy me an orange juice and sandwich? I’m about to curl up on my cardboard and I’m hungry.”
When I handed him his dinner, he hugged me and thanked me. He then asked, “You know what I’d change about the world?” My mind began to think of any number of answers. No more homelessness. No more hunger. No more devaluing people. No more selfishness. But before I could decide on an answer, he grabbed my shoulder, looked up at the sky, smiled a big toothless grin, and said, “Absolutely nothing!” He laughed, thanked me again and walked away.
I thought about his answer as I walked back to my hotel. Here’s a man, for whatever reason, is sleeping on a cardboard mat on the streets on downtown New Orleans and is exposed to the elements constantly, and he wouldn’t change a thing. Even though he has absolutely nothing to his name, he has found a way to be content. He’s learned to choose joy instead of bitterness over his situation. It’s a lesson we all could learn.
Paul learned that secret and told us about it in Philippians 4:12. He said, “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (NLT). That secret is choosing the joy of contentment with where God has you. That joy gives us the strength to endure whatever comes our way. It takes us from being a victim of life to a victor over our situation. Don’t try to change your world. Change your attitude. The next verse tells us we can. “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
Life is unpredictable. It’s full of uncertainties, crossroads, and unknowns. When we are facing these things in life, our minds get consumed looking for answers and wondering what tomorrow holds. It can suck the energy right out of you if you let it. I think that’s why Jesus told us in Matthew 6:34, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries” (NLT). He knew that with all of life’s uncertainties, we could easily get wrapped up in all the what if’s of life.
The truth is that even though you and I don’t know what tomorrow holds, God does. And He’s not worried. What is unknown to us is history to Him. He knows how it all plays out and He is in control. No matter what each day brings, we can trust that He has a plan for our lives and a path for us to walk down. Psalm 37:23 says, “The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives.” Not only does He direct our lives, He knows all the details that are unknown to us.
Trusting Him in those times is paramount to our peace of mind. Where worry consumes us, His peace frees us. We get peace in uncertainty when we trust that God is in control, that He has a plan for this time, and that He is directing our path. Stress and worry come from thinking we are in control, that God doesn’t care, or that He doesn’t have a plan. He gives you and I the ability to choose in this situation. Do we want to stress or do we want peace through trust?
I’m reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6 when it comes to trusting God in uncertainty. It says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way” (GNB). The word “trust”, in the original language, means to feel safe, be careless. In our most difficult times, we can feel safe and be carefree by trusting God. He will direct our path and show us the right way when the time is right.