Reading: Judges 7 and 8
Gideon made the gold into an ephod, which he placed in Ophrah, his town. All Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family. Judges 8:27 NIV
Gideon, I'd love to know exactly what you were thinking when you decided to make that ephod. I was really enjoying the story up to that point. When you put 120,000 enemy soldiers to flight with only 300 men of your own, that was totally awesome. Four hundred of them for every one of you, and you still sent them packing. Of course, you had God on your side. But still, it must have been terrifying, and exhilarating! I found myself thinking, “Wow, with God, nothing is impossible!”
But then Gideon, you stumbled, and made that ephod that became an object of worship. And what made it such a let down was that after your victory, you were perfectly placed to turn Israel away from their love affair with idols and foreign gods, and back to the One who truly loved them. That was the reason God called you.
I wonder how you feel about it now, looking back? What would you have done differently? And what wisdom would you pass on to me to help me avoid the same trap, the same snare?
Snare: A trap for catching birds or mammals, typically one containing a noose of wire or cord; a thing likely to lure or tempt someone into harm or error.
Nobody intentionally walks into a trap. If someone is caught in a snare, they are generally caught unaware. In the case of Gideon, I suspect that rather than intentionally doing something foolish or wrong, he simply didn't realise that making something from gold to help in the worship of God was the wrong thing to do. He had grown up surrounded by idol worship — perhaps he had never seen God being worshiped in the way God had prescribed, and was simply in error.
But I wonder, did Gideon seek counsel? And did he take heed of the gentle prompting of the Spirit of God as he assumed his leadership role over Israel?
Leadership requires humility. If I am to lead well in whatever role I find myself, whether great or small, two things will keep me from error.
First, I need to humble myself before God and seek his voice, his direction. And second, I need to seek counsel from wise and godly people, that I might not get carried away with my own ideas and somehow stray from the path God would have me to walk.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 NIV
Thank you Lord that with you, nothing is impossible. Help me always to seek your voice and your guidance, through prayer and through your Word. But I ask too that in this season of my life, and in the seasons to come, you would place around me godly people to advise me and help me stay true to the calling you have placed on my life.
Reading: Isaiah 50
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. Isaiah 50:4-5 NIV
How beautifully this scripture describes the Holy Spirit at work, in and through Jesus. Speaking though Isaiah, Jesus reveals his attentiveness to the voice of his Father, and how the precious words he heard became, in his own mouth, such a blessing to others.
These were no ordinary words. They carried the power to save, to sustain the weary and bring hope to the broken hearted.
Not one word that the Father spoke to Jesus fell by the wayside. Rather, they were welcomed and acted upon, for this was his life and ministry – to do his Father's will.
Here too is my life's calling, to hear the voice of the Spirit, and to obey it. Just as Jesus was filled with Spirit, so too God has graciously imparted his Spirit to me, and to all who would receive him.
This entire week I have the privilege of 'escaping' to the beautiful Maniototo Basin in the South Island of New Zealand for the express purpose of learning to hear the voice of God and move in the gifts of the Spirit. With the guidance of Rodney Francis, Len Butner, and John Fergusson, I am discovering that, more than I ever knew, God is speaking to me.
I have often struggled with those gentle promptings. Is that God speaking to me or is it just my own thoughts? So this week, I have put it to the test. I have been asking God to speak to me, to give me specific words for the people around me – words that would encourage and minister to them. Most of these folks I have only met this week.
Trusting God for those first thoughts and impressions that come, and sharing them with those people in a spirit of love (and with some trepidation), I have discovered to my delight that the words really are from God. He has given me things I could never have known about those people and enabled me to speak healing and encouragement to them, often in very specific ways.
I feel so encouraged! The Sovereign Lord really is giving me “a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” He is “waking my ear to listen like one being instructed.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit and is, I believe, a ministry for all believers.
For so long I have prayed that God would open my ears, and it seems that perhaps, they were open all along. And so, with Jesus I declare that I will not be rebellious or turn away. Nor will I be constrained by fear. Instead, I will seek his voice, listen and obey.
Thank you so much Father for your Spirit, and the gifts he brings. Thank you for your voice. Please help me as I endeavour every day to listen for your promptings, to put aside fear, and to bless others by sharing your precious words with them.
Reading: Numbers 7 – 9
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.
At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out. They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses. Numbers 9:22-23 (NIV)
When God led his people Israel into the desert, he gave them no itinerary. There was no route guide, and no time frame. He simply said, “Follow me.” They were “the People of the Presence”.
Every moment of every day, God's visible presence could be seen by every one of them, from the oldest to the youngest. He was in the cloud that hovered over the Tent of Meeting. By night, the cloud was still visible and looked like fire.
“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped.” (Numbers 9:17-18)
And so it was that for forty years, whenever the Israelites set up camp, they did so in the knowledge that they could be leaving again in the morning. Or, they could be stopping for a year. They just didn't know.
There was no opportunity to put down roots in a physical location or become dependent on the land's resources. Instead, God was both their home and their provider.
God is also my home and my provider. And the Holy Spirit is my fire and my cloud. My citizenship now is in heaven (see Phil 3:20), and even as I write, Jesus is preparing a place for me there (see John 14:2). In the meantime, he has urged me not to worry about my needs. They will all be met as I seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness. (See Matt 6:25-34)
Just as Israel looked to God every day to see how he would lead them, I too need to be constantly looking to God, ready and willing to follow his every prompting.
So easily I put roots down into those things that would seem secure. And how hard that makes it to move when God himself is on the move. If however, my roots are in God, I need never uproot again. I will be free to move whenever and wherever his Spirit would lead me.
In ballroom dancing (when done well), the woman follows the gentle promptings of her partner so closely that the two move across the dance floor as one. There is no hesitation and no dispute. It works because each partner understands their role, one to lead, and the other to follow. And the result? Harmony and beauty.
This is my desire Lord, that without hesitation or dispute, I might follow the promptings of your Spirit, that your purpose would be my purpose, and your desire mine. Help me to look to you for all I need, and to seek you and your kingdom above all else.
“…because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Romans 8:14 (NIV)
Reading: Psalm 139
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. Psalm 139:7-11 (NIV)
The presence of God is not like a WiFi hotspot. I can go wherever I like, even to furthest-away places imaginable, and still be connected. And, I can go way beyond my comfort zone and be no less supported by God than if I was right here in my sweet spot. Yes, “even there [in the farthest reaches of my world], your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
The problem is, my sense of confidence is still partially founded on my own limited skill set rather than on God's infinite power. I know this to be the case because I have a “comfort zone”, and when I go beyond it, I get anxious.
If I really had fully accepted the truth of God's constant love and presence, I wouldn't have a comfort zone. Instead, I would feel comfortable everywhere. I would certainly still have a “competence zone”, but beyond that I could nonetheless rest in the knowledge that “even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
As it is, my competence actually comes from God anyway, whether I'm working within my own gifts and abilities or not.
So the current situation is this: The all-knowing all-powerful God of the universe loves me and is with me 24 hours per day, but my sense of competence and security is still, to some degree, based on my own limited natural abilities. Hmm…
When I'm considering, “Can I do this thing?”, my default setting is to measure the task against the “possibility-limiting hurdle” of my own capabilities. But when I do this, it simply shuts me down, squashing my trust in God and capping the level of my obedience. I will never step into all that God has for me with this approach.
Clearly my default setting needs to be changed! What if I ask the question, “Can God do this thing?” The answer will invariably be “Yes!”, which really opens things up! Getting over my own inadequacy puts me in a much better position to decide what I should do. Because fear will no longer be part of the equation, nor my own limitations, but rather, God's enabling presence. What a refreshing place to be!
Lord God, I want my confidence to be totally in you. I want to live the life of faith. I confess that fear has sometimes limited my obedience to your promptings. Please help me as I say, No more! Fear, be gone! Holy Spirit, I give you permission to lead me. Wherever we're going, whatever we're doing, I am willing.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Why not read the whole of Psalm 139! It's such a good reminder of God's constant presence, and of his intimate love and concern for each one of us.
Reading: Acts 16
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. Acts 16:6-7 (NIV)
A good thing is not necessarily the right thing to do. Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, yet the Holy Spirit kept Paul from preaching the Word in the province of Asia, then later blocked his entry into Bithynia to do the same thing. Finally Paul has a vision from God which clarifies where he is to go to preach the Word. All three options were obeying Jesus, but only one of them was the right one.
Why did God not just show Paul and his friends in the first place where they were to go? Was there something he wanted to teach them on the way? Knowing with certainty what is happening next does bring a feeling of security and of being in control. But what if God takes this certainty away? Then, instead of trusting in our circumstances, all we can do is either worry, or trust in him.
I am sure the latter is what God really wants, and is the reason why he sometimes seems to leave us hanging. He is putting us in that place where all we can do is be patient, trust him for the next step, and rest in his hands knowing that he knows the next part of the road even though we don't.
So long as God is in control, I can relax. Then, rather than waiting for my circumstances to give me certainty, I can find certainty in the knowledge that God is good, and he has everything in hand. When options present themselves, I can pray, asking God for wisdom, and then tentatively step forward, trusting God to close some doors and open others. In the meantime, I need to relax and embrace the freedom of not knowing my next step, but knowing that God does.
Father, I thank you for this wonderful example to learn from. Help me to let go, and simply rest in your arms. And when it's time to move, please guide me into things that are not just good, but also within your purpose for me. Holy Spirit, open my ears to clearly hear your voice and help me to keep in step with you.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)
Reading: John 14
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14:10 (NIV)
“Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work”. When Jesus walked on this earth, the relationship he had with his Father was in many ways like the relationship that I can now have with the Father. God (by means of the Holy Spirit) is living in me, and doing his work. That includes both his work in me and his work through me.
In John 5:19-20, Jesus reveals how the “through me” part worked for him: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”
When praying for others, I often just begin praying without giving thought to what God might have in mind for the situation. I suspect things would go a lot better if first I stopped to focus my thoughts on God. “Lord, what are you wanting to do here? What would you like me to do?” I could do this at the time, and even before hand. “Father, what jobs do you have for me today?” For upcoming events or opportunities, I may even choose to fast and pray as I seek to know God's plans for the situation.
Although I don't always find it easy to hear clearly from God, making the effort to listen and to “see” what my Father is doing will surely help. Then I will be able to say with Jesus, “I can do nothing by myself, but only what I see my Father doing, because whatever the Father does, I do too.”
Father God, please open my eyes to see what you are doing. I don't want to work on my own, separated from what you are doing. I belong to you, and I offer myself for your work, to do whatsoever you have in mind – for this moment, for this day, and for the times ahead.
See also, Apart From You, I Shall Do Nothing
Reading: Jeremiah 23:9 – 35
We have obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab son of Recab commanded us. Neither we nor our wives nor our sons and daughters have ever drunk wine or built houses to live in or had vineyards, fields or crops. We have lived in tents and have fully obeyed everything our forefather Jonadab commanded us. Jeremiah 35:8-10 (NIV)
Jonadab had commanded his family never to drink wine, and not to settle but instead to live as nomads. “Then you will live a long time in the land where you are nomads.” (Jeremiah 35:7). Since the time that promise was made, “The descendants of Jonadab son of Recab [had continued to carry] out the command their forefather gave them…” (35:16). They believed the promise, held firmly to it, and met the conditions attached to ensure it continued to be fulfilled.
A Promise: A declaration that something will (or will not) be done or given; an express assurance on which expectation is to be based.
God brought this particular family to Jeremiah and held them up as an example of how all the people of the land should have responded to God's promises and the commands that accompanied them.
The promise that comes immediately to mind for me is one that Jesus makes:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NIV)
The promise is that I will bear much fruit. But what is the condition? “Remain in me”. The last phrase particularly stands out: “Apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, anything that I do “apart” from Jesus (separately; without involving him; on my own) will be fruitless, and not worth the time or effort spent on it.
The opposite of 'apart from' is 'together with'. In using the example of a branch connected to a vine, Jesus is describing a continuous and unbroken togetherness. This is the relationship he wants with me, and my fruitfulness is conditional upon it. There is no “apartness” in the equation; instead there is a continual conversation of prayer. In 1Thessalonians 5:17, Paul describes it in two words : “Pray continually.”
I resolve, with the Spirit's help, to bring everything to God in prayer: To bring him every need, to thank him for even the smallest blessings, to make every job whether big or small an offering of service to him, to seek his guidance and be always listening and ready to respond to his voice, and to enjoy the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in me.
Jesus, I thank you for this wonderful promise in John 15:5. You say to me, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And so I ask for your grace as I make this declaration: “Apart from you, I shall do nothing.” May this become a motto for me. Please help me to do my part in developing that continuous and unbroken togetherness you seek, and may everything I do be done in your strength and your grace.
See also Walking in “Promise Land”
Reading: Exodus 39:32 – 40:38
Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted. So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels. Exodus 40:34-38 (NIV)
Every day and every night of their 40 years in the wilderness, the pillar of cloud and fire reminded Israel that God was with them. They could see it, they could no doubt hear it, and they could feel it as it provided shade by day and heat by night. The pillar was a multi-sensual representation of God's Presence. And where was God's Presence? Covering and filling the Tent of Meeting, indicating that God's desire was to meet with his people.
Whenever the pillar of cloud moved, the people packed up and followed it. They were effectively moving with the Presence of God. Moving where they did not know, but moving nonetheless. Their ultimate destination was the promised land, but in the meantime, they were simply following God. It was guidance by cloud and by fire.
Guidance isn't always easy. There have been times when I could have wished for my own personal pillar of cloud to help me decide what to do next. But now I think of it, the Holy Spirit is just that – my own personal pillar of cloud. He is my Fire. He is God's Presence meeting with me, and I am the 'Tent of Meeting', anointed and consecrated to him; He dwells in me! And He is the one who leads me as I keep in step with him, following his promptings and enjoying his conversation.
No wonder that increasingly my desire is simply to 'move with the Presence of God'. The details about what I should be doing next seem not so important as just meeting with God, and drawing closer to him. He knows what's around the corner, and knowing that he will be with me in all my travels makes the journey a lot less stressful, and actually quite exciting.
Thank you Lord for revealing this wonderful truth. Help me now to follow you, to move with your Presence, and to enjoy the warmth of your presence by night and the peace of your protection by day. Holy Spirit, my constant companion, lead me on.
The Lord watches over me— the Lord is my shade at my right hand; the sun will not harm me by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep me from all harm— he will watch over my life; the Lord will watch over my coming and going both now and forevermore. Psalm 121:5-8 (NIV, personalised)