Pray] that the Lord your God may show us the way in which we should walk and the thing that we should do. Jer 42: 3
We have some friends whose names we have brought up in church on a regular basis for prayer as the wife has been battling breast cancer for over 2 years with good reports and surges in faith alternating with bad reports and assaults on that faith. Currently, after a double mastectomy and a not great pathology report indicating a spread of that cancer, faith is under tremendous attack. The husband and I had a brief visit where he shared the above update and said, " I just went to the Lord and said, ' Father, you've got to give me something- a word of encouragement or a scripture; just something to hold onto!' The Lord said, ' I am good, and Christ must be fully formed in you' "
For the past month, a teaching/ message has been forming within me regarding the story of the remnant in Jerusalem, devastated by the Chaldeans, "seeking" God's direction from the beleaguered but reputable prophet of God, Jeremiah. They were not casual people of God; they were the remnant who had survived the unraveling of a once glorious kingdom. A remnant who had stayed true to their heritage and their God though they had recently endured the devastation of siege; thirst , starvation, terror and dread. They had just avenged the murder of Gedaliah, the Judah friendly, Nebuchadnezzar appointed governor of Judah.
Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, I have heard you. Behold, I will pray to the Lord your God according to your words; and it will be that whatever thing the Lord will answer you, I will declare it to you; I will keep nothing back from you. Jer 42:4
These are difficult times in the world, in this nation(USA) and I believe in the lives of the body of Christ. My friends' case is extreme, but anybody going through something that is in opposition to their desires and best hopes, is experiencing " hope deferred" which Proverbs tells us , makes the heart sick. This remnant had endured a ghastly siege by the mighty army of Babylon, and the overthrow and humiliation of Judah's king, a descendant of David! And yet, they apparently had stayed true to their faith and were consulting a prophet whose message had been despised by Judah's secular and religious leadership.
Then they said to Jeremiah, May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we fail to do according to all the things that the Lord your God sends you to tell us.
Whether it is good or evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to Whom we are sending you [to inquire], that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God. Jer 42: 5-6
My friend's wife was a bit less sanguine when confronted with the post surgical pathology report. According to my friend, she was angry! " I have a Daddy in heaven who sent His Son to die! That by His stripes, I might be healed!"
I've read reports that state that as a person drowns, rather than the violent battle for oxygen that you might imagine with a frenzied panic at the realization that there is no oxygen, the victim is seduced to surrender by a strange peace induced by oxygen starvation. There's a similar seduction to unbelief: faith fighting what is plainly seen can be exhausting. The allure to give in and accept what your faith wants to change can be persuasive; there is a peace offered in contrast to the turmoil of battle. Faith disturbs the peace between what is and what can be. The faith/ Word movement overthrew the fatalistic and incapacitating, "if it be Thy will"; the addendum that robs prayers, particularly for healing, of their power. We have learned what God's will is in many circumstances, and that our faith will secure God's will for us, not His sovereign moving; He's already moved!
And after ten days the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah.
Then he called Johanan son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces that were with him and all the people from the least even to the greatest,
And said to them, Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, to Whom you sent me to present your supplication before Him:
If you will remain in this land, then I will build you up and not pull you down, and I will plant you and not pull you up; for I will relent and comfort and ease Myself concerning the evil that [in chastisement] I have done to you [and I will substitute mercy and loving-kindness for judgment].
But the faith movement, maybe slightly intoxicated by its own success, insisted that by faith, you could live your best life now and enjoy perfect health and riches, procure ever faster and more plush airplanes, and give away cars and receive the harvest.
When gifted preachers and teachers are skillfully presenting scripture to promise your flesh it can be whole and satisfied, things can run amiss. Jesus told us that His followers must carry their own cross daily, upon which their flesh must be crucified; that ours is to seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and that those needs of this life in the flesh would be added to us. Paul warned us that our flesh and carnality are at enmity and opposed to the things of God; that we must be led of the Spirit, not after the dictates of the flesh. If you've spent any time seeking God, you know that He and His truths are found in times of trying and distress and very often, in times of peace and repose, we can drift away. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God!
But if you say, We will not dwell in this land, and so disobey the voice of the Lord your God,
Saying, No, but we will go to the land of Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the sound of the trumpet or be hungry for bread, and we will dwell there,
Then hear the word of the Lord, O remnant of Judah. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: If you are fully determined to go to Egypt and you do go to dwell there temporarily,
Then the sword which you fear shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine of which you are afraid shall follow close after you to Egypt and in it, and there you shall die.
There is a subtle message implied in much of faith teaching that says You can learn and thrive without going through difficulties, that illnesses are not put on you by God to teach you something but by the enemy to destroy you and if resisted, he will flee. And that is scriptural! But if you could learn and thrive without difficulty, James would not tell us to rejoice when we are tried and tempted, and Peter wouldn't value the trials of our faith over the preciousness of gold!
The phenomena I have witnessed in my journey is that when the flesh gets very determined to have its way, the soul ( and thus the individual) can subtly begin to resist the hand of God. Peter urges us to surrender and yield ourselves to God; to humble ourselves to Him, and in due time He will lift us up. The flesh says " I want my way now!" This is the fleshly attitude that Satan was appealing to when He tempted Jesus: " bow to me and I'll give You Your destiny now; or throw yourself off this building and see if Your God is true to His Word, then the people will 'get' who You are and give you the kingship you crave!" Satan was appealing to Jesus' wants, but Jesus was too strong for Him and too skilled in wielding the Word to succumb to Satan's seduction. We sometimes give in.
AND WHEN Jeremiah had finished speaking to all the people all these words of the Lord their God—everything for which the Lord their God had sent him to them—
Then Azariah son of Hoshaiah and Johanan son of Kareah and all the proud and insolent men said to Jeremiah, You are not telling the truth! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, Do not go into Egypt to dwell there temporarily.
But Baruch son of Neriah is setting you against us to deliver us into the hands of the Chaldeans, so they may put us to death or carry us away captive to Babylon.
So Johanan son of Kareah and all the captains of the forces and all the people did not obey the voice of the Lord to remain in the land of Judah.
As I read this story, I thought of the history and heritage of these people, this remnant. They had read the story of Asa's deliverance from the Ethiopians, or his son, Jehosaphat's victory over the Moabites and Ammonites with choirs and praises! Or the story of God slaying 185,000 Assyrians who had defied Him to the members of Hezekiah's royal court! They had watched in horror as the hand of God did not move against Nebuchadnezzar, but rather bolstered him in his conquest of Judah- as Jeremiah had prophesied!
So now, as happened so many times, God's people wanted His blessing on their plan to turn to Egypt, symbolizing the arm of the flesh, rather than trust in God who promised them that Nebuchadnezzar would not harm them as Jehovah was God and greater than any king or emperor!When confronted with the Word of God from the prophet of God, they rejected it!
The remnant rejected God's instruction and compounded their sin by dragging Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch to Egypt with them. In Egypt, Jeremiah delivered a lengthy and scathing Word from God, leaving no aspect of His displeasure in doubt. It's long, 12 verses, and it's clear: those who went to Egypt were to be destroyed as God was fed up with His people's treachery and disobedience, and their worshipping other gods! Their response shows the incredible hardening of their hearts towards the great Jehovah:
Then all the men who knew that their wives were burning incense to other gods, and all the women who stood by—a great assembly—even all the people who dwelt in Pathros in the land of Egypt, answered Jeremiah:
As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to or obey you.
But we will certainly perform every word of the vows we have made: to burn incense to thequeen of heaven and to pour out drink offerings to her as we have done—we and our fathers, our kings and our princes—in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem; for then we had plenty of food and were well off and prosperous and saw no evil.
But since we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.
[And the wives said] When we burned incense to the queen of heaven and poured out drink offerings to her, did we make cakes [in the shape of a star] to represent and honor her and pour out drink offerings to her without [the knowledge and approval of] our husbands?
When I read that a few weeks ago, it grabbed me as a biblical illustration of what is happening today, but it also sobered me as a warning to what could happen to any believer. The desires of the flesh- the need for food and drink, for prosperity and peace- can become so strong as to completely pervert one's understanding of and relationship to God!
We sit back and read our Bibles with the luxury of enjoying the Holy Spirit's perspective on hundreds of years of events for which we have no personal recollection or any other person's interpretation of these particular histories. We have this coherent narrative, all accessible by the mere turning of pages, so it's easy for me to know that Moses' warning that chronic disobedience would lead God to throw them out of the land that they had yet to occupy was realized in the book of Jeremiah! They went to Babylon in 586 BC as a direct result of their sin and hard heartedness over the years. But it might not have been so clear if you were living in that time! If the Chaldeans are marching towards you, you're hoping and praying God will take pity on Jerusalem and destroy this fearsome enemy as He has done in fabled times past! You would not sit there and say "Oh well, this is the punishment that was promised by Moses in Deuteronomy. We might as well just relax and go with the flow." We can flip through the pages and see good kings enjoying God's blessing and bad kings invoking His wrath. We see, overall, a tendency of His people to infidelity , and though saddened, we understand God's decision to empower the Chaldeans to conquer and remove Judah to Babylon. But the carnal mind refuses to accept the things of God and are hostile to the things of the Spirit. So just as Jesus said you can't serve God and mammon simultaneously- you'll serve one or the other- a man can't walk in the Spirit and after the dictates of the flesh simultaneously. The modern day American Christian has tried, but it can't be done. Eventually the longings of the flesh will distort our obvious truths and we'll draw silly conclusions and discard spiritual certainties. I've seen good people leave good churches because discomforting events in their lives served to testify against spiritual leadership and discredits the pastors and prophets and their teachings. " If the TV preachers with their big happy churches are telling me my life should be full of happiness and success , then there might be something real wrong with the pastor and the church I'm going to. Come to think of it, it seems all my problems started when I began going here!"Deprivations of the flesh convince people the good and true path that they're on is unto destruction rather than unto Christ being fully formed in them.
My friends are not abandoning their paths. He can receive that amazing word of the Lord: " I am good and above all, Christ must be fully formed in you!" She continues to be cheered by a good night's sleep or a bump in appetite. The other morning she was awakened by the Holy Spirit who caused her to prophecy over herself. She did and then fell back into a peaceful sleep. She doesn't remember what the Spirit had her declare. On occasion, her faith rises up and she declares in defiance of pain and nausea and fear and uncertainty, " I will live and not die; by His stripes I was healed!" Those of us in their community of faith marvel at their tenderness of heart and strength of faith as their flesh and humanity endure this Job-like torment. We stand with them for her total and complete healing and ask you to do the same.
This life is not to coddle the flesh; its to build the spirit- man. I've come to realize that above all, like our faith father Abraham, God wants us to believe His word and His goodness when everything and every circumstance loudly testifies, "He can't be trusted, He is not good, His word is not true!" No matter what, God is good, the Holy Spirit still operates by the gifts, through the five- fold ministry: apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists, and Jesus is still coming for a perfected bride! Allow the Holy Spirit and the process of life work to perfect you. Don't allow even the worst circumstances to pervert your faith in your Heavenly Father! Stand firm- and by the way, that oft quoted scripture in Ephesians about the armor of God ( Eph 6:11- 18)? the armor is to enable you to stand as you put it on after "having done all..." and resist the enemy's effort to make you stumble! Sometimes standing, having done all, is the hardest part.
Perhaps the subject of another teaching , in very stark contrast to the remnant , is Jeremiah's yieldedness to God's Spirit despite the certainty that his flesh was going to suffer mightily as a direct result of his obedience! May the Word " burn within us" as it did with Jeremiah! May we model his obedience! Theo