Deuteronomy 1-3 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He sometimes waits to answer our prayers to make us stronger

There’s nothing I like more than when God says yes to my prayer.  Bring out the brass band, serve the fried chicken and potato salad.  It’s time to celebrate!  When He says no to my prayer, I may have a low day or two or 30, but eventually, I accept His wisdom.  When He says wait, I want to perhaps negotiate a deal, offer a bribe or, in my weakest moment, move forward on my own.  Not good.  I have come to understand when God says wait, it’s not because He wants to make me suffer, but it’s because He is perfecting me or my circumstance to answer my prayer according to His will.  He always has a purpose in my waiting.

After 40 years traveling in the desert to make an 11-day journey, Israel was finally poised to enter the Promised Land.  In Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, we’ve learned in our reading that God was perfecting His people, but it seems they were terribly slow learners. “Forty years after the Israelites left Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month, Moses addressed the people of Israel, telling them everything the Lord had commanded him to say.” (1:3)

Moses began his instructions from the Lord with a brief history of their travels since they had left Mt. Sinai headed for Canaan.  Because of the people’s negative response to the scouting reports by ten of the spies sent into Canaan, they would have to wait as a nation to receive the answer to the prayers that they had cried out in Egypt. Because of their hard hearts during their waiting period, only their descendants realized the answered prayer, except for Joshua and Caleb.

It seemed like every time the Israelites moved forward one step, they would retreat two steps, and, of course, it’s impossible to make any progress on a journey that way. As with Israel, it’s in the waiting period that we discover what we are made of.  While we wait for our prayers to be answered by God, our choice is whether or not will we trust Him or murmur, complain and disobey like the Israelites did in the wilderness.  The writer of Psalm 119 understood the challenge, “My eyes are straining to see your promises come true.  When will you comfort me?” (82)  No one has said it’s easy to wait for our answers to prayer, but do we really want to turn an 11 day waiting period into 40 years? Help! 

It’s in the waiting period that we learn what God is made of.  Through the history lesson of Moses, the Israelites learned that God was faithful, even when they were not.  God was merciful even when they didn’t ask for mercy.  God was loving even when they were unlovable.  God was leading even when they didn’t want to follow.  Even more important was that God revealed His glory to them throughout the entire journey whether they wanted to see it or not – a glorious pillar by night and by day.  We are not alone while we wait! God is revealing Himself to us along the way.

It’s in the waiting period that we learn what we are made of.  Will we trust Him regardless of the circumstances?  As we wait for God’s answers, are we learning what He is made of?  Do we see His glory leading us along or have we closed our eyes in discouragement?  Ultimately, God may answer no as He did to Moses when he requested to enter Canaan; but regardless of the answer, it will be the perfect answer at the perfect time.  After all, one day Moses’ journey would be to the eternal Promised Land.  His final answer was yes.  There’s nothing I like more than when God answers yes to a prayer in His timing and in His way.

Moving Forward: Some days I’m straining to see answered prayers, but in His perfecting and with His grace I sense His glory and receive His goodness as I wait.  He can be trusted. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 21-24

Numbers 33-36 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  His instructions will provide a blessed future for us

I really don’t like going to the doctor, but sometimes I just have to do it.  A while back a doctor diagnosed me with pharyngitis, sinusitis and some other itis and then ordered a prescription of antibiotic to kill all the infection.  His most important instruction was that I will be certain to take all the medicine even when I started feeling better because we want to kill all the infection or it could return.  And really, when those with experience and authority give instructions to us, it’s wise to follow them.  Sadly, the Israelites just didn’t see it that way. 

@ Numbers 33
The Israelites had finally finished their 40-year trek in the desert and sat poised to enter Canaan, God’s Promised Land.  Through Moses, God gave a prescription of sorts to the Israelites for them to enjoy a healthy and productive life in Canaan.  “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.” (51-53)  The instructions seem clear enough, take all the medicine, drive out all the people and destroy all their idols.

Like my doctor explained to me, God let the Israelites know what would happen should they fail to drive out all the people, “But if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live.  And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” (55-56)  And as we know, that is precisely what happened to Israel.

Because they failed to drive out all the Canaanites and destroy all the idols, the Israelites’ everyday lives were slowly infiltrated by them, and this brought about their downfall.  Eventually, the Assyrians and Babylonians swept in and drove them out of their land.  What part of all do we not understand?

I’m happy to report that I have taken all my medicine so that not even a little trace of infection is left to grow and infect my body again. What we don’t destroy could destroy us. And so it is with sin.  How foolish it is to preserve something that we know to be sin simply because it seems so harmless, because it is too beautiful to let go of or because it makes us feel good.  There’s no such thing as a little bit of pornography, a little bit of stealing or a little bit of lying because eventually it will grow, spread and easily affect our entire lives.

The lesson we learn from the Israelites today is to follow all of God’s instructions, and then we can be assured that we will live happily and healthily in the land He has given us.

Moving Forward: Lesson learned! Taking all my medicine and following all of God’s instructions. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 16-20

Numbers 29-32 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: Just as He is faithful to His word, He expects the same from us

Sometimes it’s difficult to accept people at their word, particularly if we don’t know them very well.  In fact, if we’ve been taken a few times, it’s easy to become a little cynical when we’ve provided goods or service for someone in exchange for a promise to return with a payment.  When I’m asked to do this at my book table, I have to admit I sometimes hesitate for a second or two. That old spirit of suspicion creeps in, and I wonder if I’ll ever see the promised payment.  I’ve learned, however, sometimes for God’s people to be blessed, we have to put aside cynicism or preconceived ideas and just trust. 

@ Numbers 32
Moses understood this scenario all too well.  After leading this challenging group of Israelites for over 40 years and experiencing many disappointing responses from them, He was asked a favor, a request from the men of Gad and Reuben that involved trust. “The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock.  If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.”(4-5)  Because Canaan was to be divided amongst the tribes of Israel, this request did not seem so unreasonable, except that the rest of the territory west of the Jordan had not yet been conquered!

Moses may have choked on his manna at this request as he offered this immediate response, “‘Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?’ Moses asked the men of Gad and Reuben. ‘Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land…’” (6-8), etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.  Moses ends with, “You brood of sinners, doing exactly the same thing!” (14)

Even a great leader like Moses was capable of jumping to the wrong conclusion on occasion. The men of Gad and Reuben had no intention of deserting their brothers before conquering the land.  They desired to leave their wives and flocks east of the Jordan while they joined their brothers in the battle for the rest of the territory. These tribes were true to their word and fought alongside their brothers until the land was conquered.

We can’t really fault Moses for misjudging the intention of these tribes.  As a whole, the Israelites had not lived over the previous 40 years in a manner that would develop trust in them, but giving others the benefit of the doubt rather than living with cynicism is a much more enjoyable way to live.  If we lose something tangible in the process, it’s good to remember everything in this life is fleeting.  On the other hand, if we live our lives in a way that builds trust in the hearts of others regarding us, this discussion is a moot point.  I’ve always told teenagers that their parents will trust them when given a reason to do so, and the same is true for us in our relationships.

Perhaps Moses was sensitive to the request of Reuben and Gad for another reason as well.  Why did these tribes desire to stop short of the Promised Land? Rich pastures and grazing land were a substitute for God’s intended blessing for them.  Some people just choose to live on the edge of God’s blessing, but then that’s a discussion for another day. 

Moving Forward: I choose to live my life today without cynicism towards others and to live with integrity so that others will know I am true to my word. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Chronicles 11-15

Numbers 13-16 (NLT link)

Discover His heart: He will provide all we need to step into our destiny

I remember when my granddaughter learned the word humongous while watching Sesame Street and used it with great excitement whenever she saw something she considered really large.  I thought of her this week as I read the story of the twelve spies.  The spies returned to the Israelite camp with a humongous cluster of grapes so large that two men had to carry it; but, unfortunately, all they remembered were the humongous giants in the land.

@ Numbers 13
“We entered the land you sent us to explore, and it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey. Here is the kind of fruit it produces. But…” (27-28)  The children of Israel stood at the threshold of their destiny to occupy their promised land and allowed the little three letter word but to keep them from it.  “‘…the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!…We can’t go up there against them! They are stronger than we are!’  So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites.” (28,31-32)

The names of all twelve men are listed in Chapter 13, but of those names, we only remember two of them.  The others are all very forgettable.  When we are positioned by God to step into His destiny for us, we can easily lose sight of it if we focus on the humongous obstacles that may be present instead of the humongous promise He has given to us.  Those grapes were huge and represented God’s promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, rich and abundant.

Joshua and Caleb were impressed by the grapes, not by the giants.  “They said to all the people of Israel, ‘The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land! And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey. Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!’” (14:7-9)

When we are on the edge of something wonderful that God has planned for us, we want to have the faith of Joshua and Caleb, not the fear and doubt of…of…whatever their names are.  God will never promise something to us that is impossible to attain.  Of all the Israelites standing in the camp on that day, only Joshua and Caleb entered the Promised Land to receive God’s humongous blessing. 

Moving Forward: I don’t want to miss all that God has for me because of obstacles that I perceive to be bigger than they really are.  I want to be Joshua and Caleb who saw the huge blessing God had waiting for them. 

Tomorrow @ I Chronicles 20-24

Numbers 1-4 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart:  He has promised victory to all who serve in His army

Numbers!  Math was my least favorite subject in school, and I must admit that I approach an entire book entitled Numbers with fear and trepidation.  While the book opens with the numbering, or census, of the Israelites, Numbers is really not so much about math at all but is more so a story about a group of people at the threshold of incredible promise, their response to that promise and God’s undeniable patience with them through it. 

@ Numbers 1
At the opening of Numbers, the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, traveled south to the area around Mt. Sinai and were camped there for almost eleven months. During that time, through His spokesman, God built a nation and established the nation’s purpose by renewing His Abrahamic covenant with Moses.  He set up the nation’s constitution by providing the laws needed to govern.  And most importantly, He gave the guidelines for the construction of the Tabernacle, providing the means He would use to fellowship with His people.  When we think about the time spent in Sinai in light of this agenda, a great deal was accomplished in a very short time.

Now at the beginning of Numbers, God is ready to advance His people to their new home.  He directed Moses to count the men, “A year after Israel’s departure from Egypt, the Lord spoke to Moses in the Tabernacle in the wilderness of Sinai. On the first day of the second month of that year he said, ‘From the whole community of Israel, record the names of all the warriors by their clans and families. List all the men twenty years old or older who are able to go to war.’” (1-3) This directive from the Lord alone must have served as an indication to the Israelites that war was ahead for them.  Moses needed to know how many troops he had for the battles that were ahead, and we should note that this directive did not ask for volunteers.  It was all men over 20, all hands on deck, stand up and be counted and be all that you can be! The army was formed and ready to possess the land!

Similarly, when we give our hearts to the Lord, we automatically become a part of His army, and there isn’t a separate sign-up sheet for active duty.  Just as the enemy of God’s chosen people fought them on every front even before they entered their land, our enemy will fight to keep us from entering the territory God has for us.  If this isn’t the case, why has God provided all our tools for battle in Ephesians 6:13-17?

The Israelite army totaled 603,550, a strong military by any standards, but by the time they reached the battleground, only 2 had survived the journey.  As we read their story over the next several weeks, we will learn how they became casualties on the way to the Promised Land.

We, however, need not be dismayed or discouraged by their outcome because we have reinforcements they did not have in the way that we do, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness… Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:26,35,37)  And my personal favorite is, “Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4 KJV)

Numbers is more than a census, more than a page in Jewish history.  It paints a picture of God’s patience with us, and on occasion, it also portrays how not to serve in the army of the Lord.  Sometimes He just needs to draw a picture for us… 

Moving Forward:  Suited up according to Ephesians 6 and ready to rumble!

Tomorrow @ 1 Chronicles 5-9

Genesis 44-47 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: The guidance of His hand is just, merciful and good

Ah…the sweetness of reconciliation!  Books have been written about it, movies have portrayed its beautiful stories, and most of us have experienced it.  Outside of the amazing, and I do mean amazing, reconciliation with God that takes place when we accept Jesus as our Savior, the story of Joseph and his brothers tops the list for me.   “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place…God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.  So it was God who sent me here, not you!” (45:4-8)

Not only is this a story of reconciliation, but it is a strong and deliberate message about the providence of God, the intervention of the Divine into our lives to bring about His purposes for our good. “So it was God who sent me here, not you!”  When Joseph forgave his brothers and reconciled with them, he partnered with God’s will to bring about God’s Divine plan for a nation. Our obedience to the Word of God has ramifications beyond our imagination.  Had Joseph refused to forgive, God would have sought another vessel to accomplish His good. 

@ Genesis 46
“I am God, the God of your father,’ the voice said. ‘Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make your family into a great nation. I will go with you down to Egypt, and I will bring you back again.’” (3-4)  I can only imagine the hesitancy in Jacob’s heart to leave Canaan, the land promised to his grandfather, Abraham, for the heathen land of Egypt.  When we think about it, this move changed the history of Israel.

Settled in their Promised Land, Abraham’s family was growing in size, wealth and power, and it just seems as though carting them off to Egypt for 400 years was somewhat counterproductive to God’s divine plan for His people.  After all, He could have abundantly blessed Jacob in spite of the famine years and brought the nations of the world to him.  In the natural, without the impact of the supernatural, we might wonder about His purpose in this.

Because of the move to Egypt, the Israelites would one day migrate back to Canaan and spend many years in war with the occupants of Canaan who had also grown powerful over the past 400 years.  But this is where we are challenged to trust the hand of God even when we don’t understand it.  Early on when God promised Abraham a son, He foretold of events to come, “You can be sure that your descendants will be strangers in a foreign land, where they will be oppressed as slaves for 400 years…After four generations your descendants will return here to this land, for the sins of the Amorites do not yet warrant their destruction.” (15:13-16)

God could not yet give Abraham his entire inheritance because He is just.  Abraham’s neighbors in Canaan did not believe in Jehovah, but God gave them 400 years to choose Him over their witchcraft and idols before He allowed Israel to destroy them for their wickedness. In the meantime, the family of Abraham was ever growing in numbers over in Goshen, all their needs were provided, and He was making them ready to step into their destiny.

Sometimes the hand of God in our lives seems to be without purpose and direction in life’s economy.  We may question what the kingdom of God gains through our loss, our dysfunction or our trial?  Well, so often we just don’t know, but through His Word, we understand all that He does is just, merciful and good for us as well as all others who live and breathe on the planet.  As He was with the Israelites in Egypt, so will He be with us in our Egypt.  “I will go with you down to Egypt…” 

Moving Forward:  In my obedience to Him today, I know I can trust His hand to guide me with justice, mercy, and goodness.  “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts…And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” (Isaiah 55:8) 

Tomorrow @ I Samuel 6-10

Joshua 11-15 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has a strategy for our lives that will bring victory

Strategic planning, surveillance and big guns are all important components of a successful army at war. Although Germany had developed the most powerful tanks during World War II, those tanks did nothing to keep the German soldiers alive in the frozen Russian countryside – their strategy had failed them.  All resources are necessary to win a war, but even with the most sophisticated equipment and strategy, success will not be realized unless the boots on the ground obey orders.  Because of this, training for military service is not for the faint of heart, and only those men and women who have learned to submit to their authorities are allowed to serve.  Joshua was one of these faithful soldiers who understood the chain of command, and because of it, God appointed him General. 

@ Joshua 11
Moses, Israel’s great leader, was gone, but he left a strategy and assignment for his assistant, Joshua.  Now in command, Joshua could have easily thought that he had a better plan, a more strategic way of conquering the Promised Land; but no, not this trained military man.  Joshua followed the chain of command, “As the Lord had commanded his servant Moses, so Moses commanded Joshua.  And Joshua did as he was told, carefully obeying all the commands that the Lord had given to Moses.” (15)

The Israelites soldiers won battle after battle because they, too, followed the orders that were given them.  After seven long years at war, victory had come, “So Joshua took control of the entire land, just as the Lord had instructed Moses.  He gave it to the people of Israel as their special possession, dividing the land among the tribes. So the land finally had rest from war.” (23)  We can be assured of victory as well when we obey the commands from our General and all those He has placed in His chain of command over us.  We may think we have a better strategy to take new ground, but we will never be more effective than when we, like Joshua, follow God’s plan and do as we are told.

I hate to mention this after such glowing reports of success, but a few of Joshua’s soldiers had a little trouble following his example of carefully obeying all the commands they were given by completely destroying the enemy, “But the tribe of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, who lived in the city of Jerusalem, so the Jebusites live there among the people of Judah to this day.” (15:63)

Over the years, the Jebusites grew in number to where they controlled Jerusalem, this beautiful city promised to Abraham.  King David finally captured it 400 years later, but even after that, King Solomon had to deal with them and made them servants in the land.  Now, some 3000 years later, many non-Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem lay claim to this war-torn city because they maintain that they are from the line of Jebusites, even the late Yasser Arafat claimed to be a Jebusite.  Whether this claim is based on truth or not, it would not even be considered if the Jebusites had been completely destroyed by the soldiers.

There is no need to belabor the importance of obeying all the commands of the Lord because we understand the ramifications.  In the battles we face against the enemy in our own lives, we should be careful not to allow any part of his wickedness to dwell in our camp to affect our future and that of our children.  Joshua did as he was told. 

Moving Forward:  I want to be Joshua today, carefully following the Lord’s strategy and commands for my life, insuring victory!

Tomorrow @ Psalm 6-8