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Posts Tagged ‘God’s faithfulness’

Series: Faith in God

We are focusing on faith because this is how we receive God’s blessings. So let me just ask, “How many of you want to receive the blessings God has for you?” “Do we want God to provide for our material provisions, to give us peace, to give us more and more of the Spirit – and all of God’s other promises to us?” Well, we must ask for these things and we need to ask fully trusting in God and God’s promises to us.

But let’s just note the obvious. Faith doesn’t just spring up within us. It’s not a natural part of us. We would much rather walk by sight;that is, by what we can see and control. But God calls us to walk by faith; that is, trusting in God even when we can’t see what’s ahead or control things (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And so, like the disciples, we too don’t trust God at times. We can honestly say, “I don’t have this kind of faith!” Or “Where does it even come from?” You know, “How can I have confident assurance in God’s promises to me?” And we especially ask these questions when what faith we have is being stretched and tried by difficult life circumstances.

Well, this is what we’re here to talk about today – overcoming doubt so that we can walk in the path of faith, so that we can receive God’s blessings in our lives.

Last week we looked at –

What doubt is

And specifically about how Scripture speaks of doubt, not really about intellectual doubt, but concerns of the heart about God’s faithfulness.

Doubt means that you are not fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised (Romans 4:21). The reason for doubt is that you fear that God will fail you. When you look at the circumstances and difficulties around you, you think, “Is God going to come through for me?” And, then you think, “If God doesn’t come through for me, this could get really bad.”

Doubt is really about wavering. It’s a state between firm faith and unbelief. You say, “I should trust God.” But then you say, “No, I shouldn’t trust God.” You are double-minded, going back and forth between the two. And the end result is that doubt keeps you from acting on God’s promises. It’s too risky if you aren’t sure God will come through. So you “shrink back” (Hebrews 10:39).

What can you do to overcome doubt?

Perhaps you are trusting God to provide for a need, or as we looked at last week, to give you the words to share with a friend who doesn’t know the Lord. Whatever your situation –

1. Fight your fear. Fear is where our doubt comes from, so this is key.

Last week we saw how Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” – Mark 5:36. He was afraid that since his daughter wasn’t just sick, but had died, Jesus couldn’t help him. Well, when we think that God can’t help us we need to hear this too! “Don’t fear, only believe.”

Here are two ways to fight your fear: Ask the Spirit to give you the strength to be courageous. Our flesh is weak and vulnerable to fear. But the Spirit can give you the strength to die to your fear, to crucify it and to trust in God’s promises. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak.” But he also said, “the Spirit indeed is willing,” that is, willing to help us and empower us – Mark 14:38.

Next, when Satan tries to reinforce your fear rebuke him in the name of Jesus. Tell him to go away. He comes to us and puts ideas in our head  – “you should be afraid!” Or “God won’t come through for you!” As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

When you are seeking to trust in God to come through on his promise to you, and your fear rises up – fight it in these ways. Draw on the power of the Spirit to strengthen your heart and on the power of the name of Jesus to clear your mind.

2. Keep God’s word in your heart. Where does faith come from? “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” – Romans 10:17. Now this is talking about the promise of salvation through Jesus. But the general principle stands: God’s word to us builds faith within us.

God can speak to us through the Scriptures. And I don’t mean merely reading Scripture. The word is powerful and alive. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active . . ..” So, I’m talking about when we read Scripture and God’s truth comes alive and goes down into our heart and touches us. And we know the truth at a level that goes beyond simply the mind and the senses.

When God speaks to us like this and we receive it God’s word builds us up and strengthens our faith. Something supernatural takes place within us, that is powerful and life changing. So when you are struggling, immerse yourself in God’s word and let the power of his word work in your heart.

3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness. First, remember that God is always faithful. Lamentations 3:21-23 helps us see this. The writer here, is despairing and is suffering greatly after the destruction of Jerusalem. And then he says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” He finds hope in God’s unchanging character, despite his awful circumstances.

Second, remember that God has always been faithful. This is not a theoretical concept. God has a track record that you can look at. In Psalm 77:11-12 the writer is troubled and concerned. Is God still faithful? He feels that God has deserted him. But then he says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” He goes on to remember God’s miraculous deliverance of his people from Egypt. And this encourages him. God has always been faithful. And the Psalm then ends on a note of faith.

You can remind yourself of God’s faithfulness too. Recall Scriptural stories of God’s faithfulness, perhaps toward Abraham or David. Think about stories of God’s faithfulness in history or People’s testimonies that you know. And remind yourself how God has been faithful to you; how God has answered your prayers and come through for you in the past. Remembering these things build up our faith. It will strengthen and encourage you.

 4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles. Stay focused on God’s truth to you, and God’s faithfulness. Otherwise you will be overwhelmed by your difficult life circumstances; by the heaviness of it all; by the craziness going on around you. It is these that feed our fear and doubt.

Remember Peter walking on the water? He started out great! He walked on the water to Jesus. That’s amazing! But when he took his eyes off of Jesus, and started to focus on the circumstances – the strong wind and no doubt the waves, he became afraid, he doubted and he sank – Matthew 14:30. This is a perfect picture of what happens to us when we focus on the wrong thing and fall into fear and doubt.

What you choose to focus on makes a difference. Focus on God.

5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling. Feelings you can’t always control. But you can control your choices. So deal with what you can control, your choices. Even if you feel fear (you’re all alone, it’s gonna fail, God’s not gonna come through) still make right choices. Your feelings will come into alignment with God’s truth eventually, if you keep making choices of faith.

2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “We walk by faith not by sight.” And we could just as easily say, we walk by faith and not by feelings. Let the reality of God’s truth determine what you choose, not your feelings about your present difficult circumstances.

6. Be around others who will encourage your faith. Especially if you are struggling. Fellow Christians can help build up your faith, encouraging you, praying for you and ministering to you.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:23-24. The problem here is wavering and the answer is to be stirred up by others, knowing that God is faithful.

So this is –

How we overcome doubt

  1. Fight your fear
  2. Keep God’s word in your heart
  3. Remind yourself of God’s faithfulness
  4. Keep your focus on God, not your obstacles
  5. Remember faith is a choice, not a feeling
  6. Be around others who will encourage your faith

I encourage you to put these lessons into practice in your life. I want each of us as individuals, and as a congregation to receive all that God has for us. And trusting in God is how this happens.

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(I am working through this material again to get to the rest of the book)

Follow the link for The literary structure of 1 Samuel 1:1-20

This morning we are starting into the story of Hannah found in 1 Samuel, and today we are in chapter 1. She is a strong and godly woman, as we will see, and we can learn much from  her.

Today we begin with –

Hannah’s prayer for a child

What I want to say is that she is an example to us of what to do when you have a really heavy burden. Do you have a heavy burden this morning? Is something weighing on your heart? Keep this in mind as we go through this story and let’s see what we can learn about how to handle these.

By way of orientation, the story centers around two places Ramathaim (Ramah), where Hannah and her husband are from and Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord is at this time (Joshua 18:1). Remember this is before there was a permanent temple building in Jerusalem. These two cities were about 15 miles apart, or a journey of two days by foot with family.

Hannah’s difficult situation

1There was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim of the hill country of Ephraim whose name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, son of Elihu, son of Tohu, son of Zuph, an Ephrathite. 2He had two wives. The name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other, Peninnah. And Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.

In v. 1 we get some background on Elkanah. (Based on the larger story of Samuel and other Scriptures [1 Chronicles 6:26-27, 33-34; Numbers 3:33] perhaps he was of Levite descent but lived in the area of the tribe of Ephraim.)

And then v. 2 gets to the heart of the issue – “he had two wives.” Polygamy was not forbidden in Israel, even though the Genesis teaching is one man and one woman. It wasn’t too common because a man had to be well off to support more than one wife.

In Hebrew it’s clearer that Hannah was the first wife. In this case Elkanah most likely married Peninnah to carry on the family lineage, since Hannah couldn’t have children. That’s why he has two wives.

If you look at the stories in the Bible that talk about polygamy, they certainly don’t glorify it. It caused problems and this is what we turn to now in our story.

3Now this man used to go up year by year from his city to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord.

Here we see that Elkanah is a devout man, coming to the tabernacle at Shiloh each year to worship. This appears to be a voluntary pilgrimage beyond what was required by the Law (three visits a year for men on major festivals). So this was a yearly family event, like a “family vacation,” where everyone is together in close proximity. And it caused problems. (That never happens with us, right?) 

4On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5But to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.

Now meat was not too common for meals in the ancient world. But when sacrifices were made some of the meat and other items were given to the family for a feast (Deuteronomy 12:17-18). And how this was divided up highlights Hannah’s predicament.  Peninnah got more for “all her sons and daughters.” But she got less.

Elkanah did give her a double portion, because he loved her, which most likely means more than Peninnah got for just herself. But it reminded Hannah that she couldn’t have children.

The phrase, “though the Lord had closed her womb” (also v. 6) doesn’t mean that if you can’t have children God is specifically causing this. God allows much to happen in this world that is not his direct or preferred will. Although God may specifically be behind this in Hannah’s life, even here it might simply mean that God has allowed this to happen.

6And her rival used to provoke her grievously to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her.

So you can see the family dysfunction – Hannah is beloved but unable to have children. Peninnah has children but is feeling slighted by Elkanah, and so she torments Hannah. A vicious circle. Peninnah is Hannah’s “rival,” an enemy who is very cruel to her. (See the language of “rival wife” in Leviticus 18:18)

Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. 8And Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

This was supposed to be a festive time of celebration, but it became a yearly time of suffering for Hannah.

This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a husband tried to console his wife, without really understanding what she was upset about. In that day it was a real social stigma for a wife to produce no children. Others looked down on her. And who would take care of her in her old age? [The mention of ten sons is possibly a reference to the story of Jacob and Rachel, where he loved her more, but Leah, his other wife, had ten sons, with help from her servant (Genesis 29:31-30:22) (Bergen).]

Hannah’s prayer

9After they had eaten and drunk in Shiloh, Hannah rose. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. 10She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.

Different translations render it differently, but it appears that the rest of the family feasted, and when the party was over Hannah, too distressed to eat or drink (v. 7, 8, 15), slipped off to the tabernacle to pray.

The condition of her soul is emphasized, “she was deeply distressed” “and wept bitterly” as she prayed.

11And she vowed a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Vows are voluntary commitments made to God. They are acts of devotion that go beyond what God requires. They often have a deal quality to them. God if you do this, then I will do this, and you can see that here.

Her vow is that if God gives her a son, then she will give that son right back to him to serve the Lord forever. And in fact, she places the son under a Nazarite vow for his whole life – a special state of consecration to the Lord, so that he can’t cut his hair as well as other restrictions (Numbers 6:5).

Notice the awareness of her lowliness. She is “afflicted” and she calls herself a servant three times. She knows that God listens to the lowly (Psalm 138:6). And she calls on the Lord to remember her in her lowliness.

12As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman. 14And Eli said to her, “How long will you go on being drunk? Put your wine away from you.” 15But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. 16Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for all along I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation.”

So she is involved in some really intense silent prayer. But Eli, who is overseeing the tabernacle, mistakes what’s going on. Since alcohol was a part of such festive celebrations (e.g. Exodus 29:40, Leviticus 23:13 and in our own story 1:24) he thinks that she is drunk.

Hannah is quick to correct him, for she did not partake in the family feast. Rather she is praying desperately to God for help. (Notice the contrast – her condition is not from pouring out wine, it is from pouring out her soul.) (Notice the irony – while she is offering up her possible son to be a Nazarite, who cannot touch wine, she is accused of being drunk.)

Hannah’s faith

17Then Eli answered, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” 18And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.

Eli speaks out pastorally – go in peace. And he prays that God will answer her. And this is enough for her. She comes to a place of faith and trust in God and so she can put away her sadness and finally eat. She has “prayed through” as the old phrases goes. Even though her circumstances have not yet changed, she has put her burden in God’s hands and has peace and hope.

This brings us to the end of our story –

Hannah’s prayer is answered

19They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”

God did indeed remember Hannah and gave her a son. She names him Samuel, which involves a word play  with the word for “ask” – which is how she got her son from the Lord.

This was a true miracle and it marked the child as special, someone from who great things will be expected. And as we know, Samuel doesn’t disappoint.

Encouragement for us

1. Hannah was in a very difficult situation . . . She wasn’t able to have children which caused others to look down on her and put her in a place of weakness socially. And on top of this her rival tormented her about this year after year. It was so bad that she wept bitterly and was deeply distressed and couldn’t eat. She felt afflicted and forgotten by God. She was troubled, anxious and vexed.

. . . what is your situation? We all go through deep waters that push us to the limit and more; where we feel forgotten and overwhelmed. What is on your heart this morning? What burden are you carrying?

2. Hannah took her problem to the Lord in prayer . . . She poured out her heart to God. She acknowledged her weakness and lowliness and dependence on God. She prayed boldly, even making a vow before God. She prayed so intensely that Eli thought she was drunk. She prayed and prayed until, through the words of Eli, she came to a place of faith and peace – that God would take care of her. She “prayed through.” She connected with God and was able to leave her burden with him and move forward in faith.

. . . we should too! Take your burden to the Lord, cast your care on him for he cares for you. Pour out your heart to God. Pray intensely. Pray boldly. And pray until you connect with God and come to a place of peace and trust, knowing that God has heard you and will take care of you.

3. God took care of Hannah . . . He did remember her, he did help her, he did save her from her situation by giving her a son. She gained a new future, full of hope and life.

. . . and God will take care of us. I can’t say how specifically. It’s not always what we think it will be. For instance, not every godly man or woman who has prayed for a child has received one. But we can say with full confidence that God will hear and act, and be faithful to us as well.

4. God brought something good out of her trial for others . . . God not only answered her prayer, but through her God acted for all of Israel by giving Samuel who will lead the people back to God and new life. It was through her difficulties and her faith that God accomplished this.

. . . God can use our trials to bless others. God can transform our suffering into something that will bless many, many people beyond us. God can bring much good out of our struggles. So don’t give up! Trust God and wait for him to act. He will not only take care of you, he will use your trials to bless others.

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We are in Daniel chapter 3 today. This is the familiar story of the fiery furnace (quite a contrast to our temperatures today). I want us to hear this story again today, perhaps with new ears, to glean some lessons for when we go through difficult times of trial in our lives.

Let’s begin with some –

Background

– to our story that helps us understand what’s going on. Nebuchadnezzar has conquered the people of God and taken many of them back to Babylon. Daniel was one of these, but our story today focuses on his three friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

So they are living in exile in a foreign land, but they were determined to be true to God, even though they worked for the government. And this wasn’t easy, especially with the beliefs and practices of the people of Babylon.

v. 1 sets up our story – “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, whose height was sixty cubits and its breadth six cubits. He set it up on the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon.” So this was a really big idol – 90 feet high and 9 feet wide.

And he had big plans for it.  V. 6 conveys his order to everyone, “whoever does not fall down and worship (the image) shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace.” Now for most people this was no big deal. They worshiped many gods, and the idols that represented them, and so this was just one more.

But for Jews this was strictly forbidden. The second of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:4-5 says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image  . . .You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” So they had a choice. And this brings us to –

Lesson #1 – They were true to God

When the King had gathered together all his officials to dedicate this golden image and fall down before it, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not bow down. They made the right choice, even knowing the danger it posed to their lives.

And sure enough the report came to the king. In v. 12 they speak, “There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, pay no attention to you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” There must have been a lot of competition between these officials to get ahead and some saw this as “a golden opportunity” to get rid of some of the competition.

The story goes on in Daniel 3:13-15. “Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought. So they brought these men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar answered and said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

Even with all these threats and the rage of their king, they remained faithful to God.

This brings us to –

Lesson #2 – They entrusted themselves into God’s hands

vs. 16-18 – “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”

They already knew they would be thrown in the fire. But they have strong faith in God. In response the king’s taunt, “and who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” (v. 15) they confess that the true God is more than able to deliver them if he wants to. But even if God doesn’t choose to do this, they will still be faithful to him.

Lesson #3 – God was with them in their trials

Things got even worse for them. In Daniel 3:19-23 we learn that:

  •  the king was furious and his countenance changed
  •  the furnace was heated seven times hotter
  •  it was so hot it killed the men who threw them into it

Things are really bad. But God didn’t leave them alone. Vs. 24-25 – “Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.’”

So the king is working on his basic math skills and finds a problem – there was an extra person in the furnace. Who was the fourth man? An angel, who are called sons of god? Or was this the Son of God? All we know is that God sent one of his own to be with them in the midst of their trial. God didn’t let them go through it alone, but was there with them right in the fiery furnace, walking with them.

Lesson #4 – God came through for them

We have already seen that the fire didn’t kill them, but they were walking around in the furnace. V. 26 goes on to say, “Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the burning fiery furnace; he declared, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here!’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire.”

v. 27 tells us that the fire had no power over them

  • Their hair was not singed
  • Their clothes were not burned and
  • They didn’t even smell like smoke

But God not only delivered them, he glorified his Name. In v. 28, the king acknowledges the greatness of the true God. “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.”

And in the end he promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (v. 30).

These are lessons for us

For we are in a similar situation. Just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego we too live in exile in a foreign land. Peter calls all Christians “sojourners and exiles” in this world – 1 Peter 2:10. And the author of Hebrews talks about the saints as those who have “acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” 11:13.

And in our time of exile we too will go through trials of various kinds. The world tries to get us to live by its will instead of God’s will for us. And this often puts us in a bind where we have to choose. And the evil one, the god of this world is always seeking to test and try us. And as 1 Peter 1:7 says, we are “tested by fire.”

So when we go through fiery trials remember this story. 1. Remember to be true to God. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego  made the right choice and stuck with it despite the rage of many and the threat to their lives, so we need to make right choices. We can’t let difficult circumstances lead us to be unfaithful to God.

Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right.” In a time of testing it is easy to grow weary in doing what is right, but we must remain steadfast. James 1:2 says, “Blessed is the one who remains steadfast under trial.” We too must make right choices and stick with them, even when it is terribly difficult.

2. Remember to entrust yourself into God’s hands. Just as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, in full faith, gave their lives into God’s hands in their trial, so should we because God is more than able to take care of us too.

Hebrews 13:6 is a strong confession of faith, “the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Whether God delivers us from our trial or not, we know that God will take care of us and bless us.

3. Remember God will be with you. Just as he was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, so he will walk with you through your fiery trials.

Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And as Isaiah 43:2 says, “I will be with you . . .when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flames shall not consume you.” God doesn’t leave us alone.

4. Finally, remember that God will come through for you. Just as he came through for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, so he will come through for you. Like them, we don’t know how he will do this – through a miracle or strengthening us to endure and overcome in the midst, or in the world to come. But God is faithful and he will come through.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your ability, but with the testing he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

When you go through difficulties, remember you are not the first to do so. There are many examples in the Scriptures that can help us. This morning, let’s learn from the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and be strengthened to endure and overcome just as they did.

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