When the Israelites were at the edge of the Promised Land, as recounted in Numbers 13, the Lord told Moses to send twelve men to spy out the land, one leader from each of the twelve tribes. So, these twelve went up and hiked all over the mountains, valleys, and plains of the land. They found that it was lush and fruitful, just as the Lord had promised. They also saw large, fortified cities and tall, powerful people living in them, descendants of Anak, who are sometimes referred to as giants. After forty days, they went back to report to Moses and the Israelite community.
They reported the good and the bad, the desirableness of the land and the considerable strength of the people who lived there. Then came the recommendations. The majority of the spies, ten of them, “spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored (v. 32),” saying that the inhabitants of the land were bigger and stronger than the Israelites and that they could not be conquered. Two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, recommended going forward, because the Lord would give them the land he had promised, despite the perceived difficulties.
What effect did the reports have on the community? As often happens, they listened to the majority. Ten spies were advocating fearful retreat. Only two said they should not be afraid, that they could certainly take possession of the land, because the Lord was with them, protecting them and he was not with the people of the land. The bad report won out. The people cried and complained against Moses, were fearful for their lives and the lives of their children. They wanted to pick a new leader and go back to Egypt.
How often are we like the ten spies, imagining every dreadful thing that might happen and spreading fear among others? Only two, Joshua and Caleb, reminded them of the Lord’s promise to be with them, to protect them, to fight for them and to give them victory. Granted, there are times when the Lord directs us not to proceed with a certain endeavor, and we would be foolish to go on with it. But when we know he means for us to move forward, may we have the courage to stand up for his word and not shrink back, even if we’re in the minority.
Because of their rebellion, the Israelites endured forty years of wandering in the desert until all the adults, those who had been twenty and older at the time, died. Only the children they had been so worried about and Joshua and Caleb survived to enter and enjoy the land. It’s a lesson to think about in these days when we seem increasingly to have to choose between the supposed security and safety of the familiar or the accepted, and the courage to lay claim on what our Lord has promised, no matter what the perceived danger. When the next opportunity arises, will we be like the ten, or like the two?
We are constantly provoked to be anxious, angry, bitter, resentful and depressed when listening to or reading the news. Day after day the headlines reveal the latest scandals, corruption, crimes, blatant political manipulations, power grabbing, fraud, outright lies and worse. Massive protests are organized to no avail. The perpetrators of evil deeds seem to be untouchable, getting completely away with their wrongdoings and living in luxury at the expense of helpless, ordinary, law-abiding citizens. What are we to do about it? There seems to be no justice.
In Psalm 37, David gives us guidance with some powerful words. He suffered all kinds of injustices. He had to flee into the desert and suffer starvation conditions to save his life. But he was a warrior who had led many victorious battles. He should know how to get revenge and obtain justice. So, what advice does he give us? It may not be what we expect.
In verses 1-4 he tells us, “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart”. In verses 8 and 9 he further clarifies, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret — it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land”. True to these words, those who opposed David were destroyed and he was restored as king.
As Christians, we must realize that nothing happens without the knowledge and consent of the Lord. We must have faith that He is in charge and He is just. As the Psalm indicates, justice will be served. It may be immediate and precipitous. I have personally witnessed two impressive cases where I have seen the Psalm come true when it did not seem possible. Or it may be served in an eternal scope which is the overriding scope we should all have.
Instead of fretting, we should have pity on those who do evil. Our task is not to get revenge or be envious but to try to lead them to know Christ because without Him they will be destroyed. The price they will pay for their evil, corrupt ostentatious living during their fleeting existence on earth will be far greater than the temporal benefits they enjoy. Jesus gives us a stern warning in Mark 8: 36, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”
Meanwhile, we must also take Psalm 37 to heart for ourselves. We must steer ourselves away from the temptations that appear in our paths. I personally have “lost” two multi-million-dollar projects because I put zero corruption as a precondition. I do not regret it in the least. We must reject smaller temptations that crop up much more frequently. Little missteps on the wrong trail eventually lead over a cliff.
We must concentrate on putting our hope in the Lord, taking delight in Him, doing good and enjoying safe pasture. He will take care of the rest. By doing this, we can be at peace whatever the circumstances.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit, Psalm 34:18 (NIV). He heals up the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds, Psalm 147:3. The intimate comfort and heartfelt truth of these verses revived me one cold winter night many years ago.
My husband and I had traveled back home to South Dakota and were gathering with family. It was the first time we had seen this group of family since our baby died six months earlier. It felt like a normal gathering with laughter and food and wine. The loss of our baby was not brought up. It was safer to keep the conversations lighter and I understood that. As the evening went on though, I started feeling suffocated with sadness and loneliness. I didn’t want to spoil everyone else’s night so I quietly stepped outside for a while to be alone. There was no blanket of clouds that night so the stars were so bright and beautiful. I will always remember looking up at that brilliantly lit sky and pleading for Jesus to help me with the pain and loss and void in my heart. Despite the sub zero temperatures that night (plus not taking time to dig through a pile of coats to find mine), a warmth and comfort came over me that was indescribable. Nothing had ever calmed and brought me peace like this. It was like this big hug that enveloped me. My grief lifted more in that moment than it had in any other.
What was it about this night that was different than any other time I had prayed for relief from my sadness? I think it was that I was alone and vulnerable and completely dependent upon Jesus. What I needed most in my grief was God Himself. He met me there and He filled the void that others and the words of others couldn’t fill. He lifted a wound that at times I thought I could not keep bearing. As 2 Corinthians 3:17 states, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” Jesus did help break me free and provided an escape from my heavy burdened heart into a sweet fellowship with His Spirit. Just as John 14:16 states, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever.” I had a new understanding of how the Holy Spirit helper, comforter, intercessor lives in us and walks in our journey with us.
My love for Jesus grew and my desire to know Him and call on His strength grew. I don’t know if I would have gone on a quest for a deeper relationship with Jesus had I not called on Him at such a low point in my life. With gratitude, I know now that we aren't left alone to handle our suffering. Even when we don’t have the words, Romans 8:26 reminds us, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
My prayer for the new year for all is that we make space for the Holy Spirit to breathe new life and hope and truth into whatever challenges and trials we may be facing.
Not long ago we were anticipating the end of the twentieth century! People were anxious about Y2K and what it might bring. Those days passed without incident. That was an incredible century! More inventions and technological advances than in all the rest of history combined. At the same time, moral values degenerated on a scale never before witnessed.
Where will the world be at the close of this century? Where will our church, and we as individuals, be at the end of this year? Nobody imagined what the past year would hold. While we can’t know what to expect, it is a relief to know that our times are in the Lord's hand (Ps. 31:15). We can trust Him, no matter how frightening events seem.
There has been no shortage of people with ideas about what to expect during our lifetime. Prophecies have come and gone without incident. I have a long list of “prophecies” concerning catastrophic events and the Lord’s coming. Many of God’s people have suffered disillusionment when prophecies didn’t happen as predicted.
That shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told His followers, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7). Evidence abounds that our Lord could come at any time. It’s appropriate for us to expect what God has announced, but God hasn’t announced the schedule of coming events. What God has announced is His purpose for His church: that we should be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).
In the light of that purpose, we should be setting goals for ourselves. While I do not like New Years "resolutions," two thoughts impress me. Hopefully these personal goals mark my life. 2 Chronicles 16:9 affirms: "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." Israel's leaders displayed less than total commitment to the Lord. That's a danger for all of us. I want Him to look at my life and find a heart totally committed to Him.
A similar purpose is expressed in song: "May all who come behind us find us faithful." 1 Corinthians 4:2 asserts that our priority as God's stewards is to be found faithful. May those who come behind us find us faithful.
Finally, I have some goals for our church. Most obvious is identifying the person God has chosen to become our next pastor. My spiritual "wish list" starts with the desire to see each person growing spiritually and thirsty to know Him better. Finally, I want to see each participant committed to ministry, using the gifts God has given us.
Total commitment. Faithfulness. A new pastor. Individual spiritual growth, thirst for the Lord, and
participation in ministry. That’s plenty to work on during the coming year, or a lifetime! If the Lord chooses not to return during the coming year, I pray these traits will mark each of our lives and authenticate God's work in us. If He does come, it's all the more urgent! "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"