Four hundred thousand men against twenty thousand men – those seem to be odds that are definitely giving favour to one side of this war. There were two battles and in each of the two battles, the larger force lost twenty-two and eighteen thousand men respectively, so forty thousand in total.
What I love about this story is they were given permission by God to go and fight and even though they were the larger force, they were defeated. I am not sure what the attitude was when they fought – my imagination would lead me to believe that they entered the first battle with some thought that this would be easy, a simple victory, just by the sheer size difference between the two opposing forces.
After the first loss, they came back weeping. They confirmed that they should go forward again, and the Lord said yes. After the second loss they seemed to get they were doing something wrong.
One has to give credit to this group for going back one more time making sure it still was the Lord’s will that they go forward – and it was. This time however, they came with weeping and fasting after their second loss setting up for the third battle after affirming that this was still what the Lord wanted them to do. Here the battle turned and they won. So when the third battle took place, they seemed to have a God-given strategy. Very different from the first two battles and they were inspired.
I am reminded of the time Jesus cast a demon out of a boy and the disciples asked why they could not – Jesus responded that this only can happen through prayer and fasting. There is something very powerful, very humbling when it comes to fasting. Fasting purges our souls and separates us from the worldly elements of our lives. It allows us to be infused with God.
If I am to have hope in raising my children, having a healthy marriage, and finding the favour and wisdom of God in my job, if I am to go before God with my spiritual battles and needs, weeping is not enough – I need to fast.
Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went back to Bethel and wept, sitting there before the Lord; they fasted that day until evening. Then they offered burnt offerings and sacrifices of well-being before the Lord. – Judges 20:26
Hope and confidence regardless of the present circumstances because of our respect for the future – God is my health and my salvation.
Biblical hope doesn’t deny the pain of the present. Nor is it wishful thinking. Rather, true hope is “in God,” in the one god who is fully and finally reliable.
In our blue moments, we wait for God who is working out our purposes.
God is the only one who is perfectly capable and faithful to do the right thing every time.
Psalm 43 identifies a lists of hope in its first four verses –
- God’s power to deliver – He is faithful and will continue to walk with us
- God’s presence and protection – His being our fortress of truth
- God’s direction – the Word gives us the answers that we need
- God as our joy – Joy in Him and His Word and we will experience hope even in hopeless situations
My hope is in God. Even though I don‘t feel like it. Even though I don‘t feel as if
He were here. He is. My hope is there
Maybe it is time to speak to our soul when we find ourselves down. Speaking God’s Word in particular fill us with hope and encouragement.
Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. – Psalm 43:5
The way to forget our miseries, is to remember the God of our mercies. David saw troubles coming from God’s wrath, and that discouraged him. But if one trouble follow hard after another, if all seem to combine for our ruin, let us remember they are all appointed and overruled by the Lord. David regards the Divine favour as the fountain of all the good he looked for. In the Saviour’s name let us hope and pray. One word from him will calm every storm, and turn midnight darkness into the light of noon, the bitterest complaints into joyful praises. Our believing expectation of mercy must quicken our prayers for it. At length, is faith came off conqueror, by encouraging him to trust in the name of the Lord, and to stay himself upon his God. He adds, And my God; this thought enabled him to triumph over all his griefs and fears. Let us never think that the God of our life, and the Rock of our salvation, has forgotten us, if we have made his mercy, truth, and power, our refuge. Thus the psalmist strove against his despondency: at last his faith and hope obtained the victory. Let us learn to check all unbelieving doubts and fears. Apply the promise first to ourselves, and then plead it to God. – Matthew Henry
I think we do not ask ourselves enough times why we are feeling depressed or anxious. When we rehearse the why we usually do not find sufficient reason for being so. But in case we find that our fears are as bad as they are and maybe as overwhelming as we seem to feel, then, as always, we have to put and then keep our hope in God. There are many promises we can remind ourselves of including God being faithful and loving – two good reasons for hope. Our faith will kick in, victory is anticipated as we put our fear into His hands and we wait for Him to rescue us.
“For yet I know I shall him praise
Who graciously to me,
The health is of my countenance,
Yea, mine own God is he.” – Presbyterian Church of England Hymnal
So our active praise and worship allows us to declare God as God – we will wait for Him! and we will hope in Him! This is not mindless and is not passive but rather a spiritual confidence that God will participate because He always has.
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. – Psalm 42:11
My mom wishes she could have an angel come and visit her. I think that is mostly because she knows it can happen – not just because of the experiences in the Bible, but both her mother and her sister had experiences with angels.
There are certain emotions that come with angel visitations I am sure – surprise, hope, expectation – all causing me to give special attention.
When the angel announced to Samson’s parents that he was coming and that they should make sure to have him follow all the nazirite traditions, they knew God was ready to do something special and that their son was being prepared to be used by God one day.
Another story of hope that God is with us even when it does not look like He is.
And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” – Judges 13:3-5
As followers of Christ, we can make the decision to follow the leading of the Spirit and His call or we can still go our own way. I am not sure if we decide to go our own way as to when we are no longer followers of Jesus.
Paul expressed many times how the Spirit of God was leading him through the instinct and motion of the Spirit and how his whole life was framed according to God’s will and pleasure. The outcomes of his journey did not depend on the journey itself but rather that he obeyed and was faithful – for we know some of the outcomes Paul faced, even death. It was if Paul was addicted to following Jesus – to the profit of the Church – even neglecting his own safety. At one point, he even deprived himself of his most faithful companion, Timothy, so that the Macedonian church would not have to wait for him.
We see a little bit of Paul at this very moment in his letter to the Romans. He writes —
Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.”
This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints – Romans 15:20-25
Paul had an incredible desire to not want to build on the foundation of another – he wanted to work in bringing the gospel to a place that had never heard it before.
Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, “After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.” – Acts 19:21
Paul’s experience in Ephesus must have been amazing. To see the fruit of discipleship displayed so demonstratively with the burning of all their magic books would have been moving.
My first experience was with a drug user who had come to Christ. He took me back to his place where he showed me all of his cocaine and then told me that for Christ he was going to flush them down the sink. He did so. Wow!
I also think of Judas – I know, a little weird – he probably would have wanted to sell all the magic books to redeem their value and give more to the poor. But as usual, he would have missed the point of repentance that was taking place and the turning of ones back to the things that held them prisoner for so long. But also, why put someone else into bondage?
Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. Acts 19:18-19
Hard to imagine the apostle Paul being afraid, but one night God took the time to come to him, through a vision, and encourage him not to be afraid. He had just had an altercation with the Jewish people and had declared that he was leaving them and going to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. There must have been something there that we are kept from because God had to take the time to build up Paul and ensure that he stayed right where he was and continue to do the mission he was called to do. Fear is not a stranger to any of us. Our encouragement has to be that we all fear, even Paul, and let’s continue to reach out to those who have never heard of God’s message of hope and redemption, confident that we walk with God as we do.
It does not mean we have to go on a conversion quest – but it does matter that we firm up our understanding of what our mission is and that we are doing it at the best of our ability, trusting God to move through us as we do. It is scary to tell a co-worker about Jesus, we will face persecution of all kinds, people will not like us or accept us — but all that is OK when we are reminded that God knows what we are facing. He also happens to know the heart of the person we are sharing the gospel with. Regardless of their motives – God will come to us and encourage us through it all. We can hope in Him as we give knowing full well that we will be re-energized and refreshed.
One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” – Acts 18:9-10
Tenth Avenue North – Afraid
Distress is not a bad thing when it happens because you are confronted by people without hope. For those of us moving in the area of missions and Christian witness this is a common expression – distressed for those who do not know Jesus for reality is not without hope.
As followers of Christ we are fully aware that life is held by God – it is also a life where we find ourselves finding our life and our being in Him and by Him. Life is about the fruit of the Spirit in full display as we live out our faith as devoted disciples of Jesus and not in things that do not matter. Since Jesus is the source of our being that enables to be agents of peace and hope to a hurting world, and since we have experienced the love of God and the good news of eternal life, grace and forgiveness, we have much to offer our world of hurt.
When Paul was so deeply distressed when he met a people group who had no idea who God was, maybe Paul was giving us an attitude that modelled somewhat how we need to approach our culture today. Maybe hidden in this is a biblical perspective of culture that we can use to navigate ourselves through it and what our objective should be as we approach our world. Confronting culture starts by engaging culture. Their is neither a blending in because with that we cannot challenge it and we cannot run away and hide for with that we lose hope of changing culture.
Paul did not normally use this approach – sharing his hope in Jesus. Normally he would use an apologetic approach. I like this approach much better – it is definitely a more engaging approach and as a result there were invitations to speak more and to more people.
When we ask the world about their experience of looking for God’s presence and how others have looked for it, we know that we all are looking for that hope that will enable us to face the realities of this world. Imagine what that conversation looks and sounds like at a funeral and then a wedding or a birth of a child. What does God look like – His love, mercy, or truth in the lives of those who sit next to us, talk to us, join us in worship – by listening we find the language to speak of Jesus – crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. – Acts 17:16
Where does your hope come from?
The beginning of the story of Gideon only happens because the people of Israel knew there was only one place to go, one place to put their hope – God – and they began to call on Him and ask Him for help. In the midst of our own trying circumstances, may we not wait seven years to do this as Israel did.
Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the LORD for help. – Judges 6:6
Third Day – Cry Out To Jesus