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Stop Living in a Cave

Have you ever lived in a cave before? Are you living in one now?

No, not an actual hole in the side of a mountain, but a hole in your soul, one that you’ve crawled into of your own choosing.

What am I talking about? Someone lives in a cave because they’re hiding from something, something that they fear may hurt them. When you act or fail to act out of fear, it’s like you are hiding, living in your own little cave.

You fear being ridiculed in a meeting, so you retreat into your cave and never speak up. You fear not being good enough to be picked for a team, so you stay in your cave & never try out. You fear an ugly argument regarding a thorny area of your marriage, so you play it safe in your cave & never bring it up.

Your cave is yours and yours alone: you have constructed it out of your own fears, your own past failures & mistakes, and the pain, pressures, & expectations that others have thrust upon you.

It’s so much easier and safer living in your cave. You don’t get hurt, you don’t have to risk, and everything is fine as long as you stay inside your nice safe little cave.

Or is it?

Is your life really safe, really ok inside your cave?

What happens to people who live in caves? For the security & safety that you gain, what do you lose?

First, people who live in caves lose connections. If you prefer security to risk, you will find that you will move toward isolation to stave off the possibility of rejection. That cave you’ve made is only big enough for one soul, and its walls will keep out anyone who tries to connect with you.

People in caves also lose strength. Keeping the muscles of your soul in shape requires regular exercise, but the safety of staying in your cave constricts you from stretching, from moving, from growing, from trying new things. Little by little, your willpower & courage will weaken & wither away.

Next, you will start to lose vision. As you back further and further into your cave, you’ll be able to see less and less of your world. Tunnel vision will take over. You’ll not see options, you’ll not see opportunities, in fact you’ll not see anything outside of your cave. Yes, you’ll be shielded from that risky thing you were originally trying to avoid, but you’ll end up being shielded from everything else as well— growth, excitement, joy— everything but the dark walls that you’ve retreated into.

Finally, if you spend enough time in your cave, you’ll even forget who you are. The classic example is the creature Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Retreating underground in his fear of losing his precious ring, he eventually forgot even his own name. Fear can do that: it can make you forget who you are: your strengths, your mission, the very essence of your soul. Before you realize it, the very life of your soul that you originally sought to protect has been lost not to the thing you feared, but to the fear itself.

Don’t let fear do this to you. Look, honestly, at your life. What cave are you hiding in? Whatever safety it seems to afford, it’s not worth the cost to your soul. Come out into the light, and live with courage. Life is too wonderful to spend it in a cave.

Fear (not?)

Fear is something every human has to face, and it all started with one man:

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”

This first instance of fear illustrates what fear is: the emotion that grips us when we know something awful is looming ahead.  It may be certain or only a possibility, but the impact on our soul is the same. It may cause us to feel frozen or to run in terror, but the power of fear can overwhelm all of us.

Adam may have been the first person to feel fear, but he certainly wasn’t the last.  The first pages of the Bible are littered with fear of every kind and shape.  In Genesis 18:15 Sarah is afraid that a stray comment she says to two visitors might show her foolish.  In Genesis 19:30 Lot, who had just been personally rescued by the angels of God from utter destruction, is so afraid of strangers that he decides to live alone in a cave.  In Genesis 20:8 the men of Abimelech are afraid of God’s judgment.  In Genesis 26:7 Issac lies because he is afraid that the men of Gerar might kill him.  Jacob, on the other hand, seems to live his whole life in fear: he is afraid of God in Genesis 28, afraid of Laban in Genesis 31, afraid of Esau is Genesis 32, and afraid of the ruler of Egypt, who we know turns out to be his lost son Joseph, in Genesis 42.

But all is not fear in Genesis.  There is another voice to be heard.  A single voice which keeps speaking out against fear, and bringing comfort to the hearts of men.  It is the voice of God.

In Genesis 15:1 Abram is living  in a strange and hostile land, and God tells him, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”  In Genesis 19:30 Hagar is in the desert about to see her son die from thirst, and God directs an angel to say, “Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is… I will make him into a great nation.”  In Genesis 26:24 Issac is afraid of a hostile army and God proclaims, “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you and multiply your offspring for my servant Abraham’s sake.”  And God reassures fearful Jacob at the end of his days by saying, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation.” (Genesis 46:3)

God and only God was able to say, “Fear not…” to all of these people, because only God has infinite knowledge to know the future, infinite power to change the future, and infinite love to craft the future so that His children are preserved.  From Abram to Israel, these men & women of old were able to trust what God said because they knew who God was.

What about you?  What are you afraid of?  Where in your life do you need to hear God say, “Fear not?”  You may not have the experience of verbally hearing God like Abraham & Issac, but you have the same God, the God Who has revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture as worthy of your trust.  Trust His goodness, trust His character for any & every fear in your life today.

Book Review: Fearless

Fear.

Everyone knows that name.

You can see it on the face of a startled infant; you can see it in the eyes of a dying man.  Fear is one of the inescapable consequences of being human.

Or is it?

Is it possible to live without fear?

Max Lucado says we can fight fear, and learn to live without its life-draining presence, as we learn to trust in Christ.

His newest book, Fearless, examines fear and how we can combat it.  Starting with the nature of fear, he deals chapter by chapter with a wide variety of fears we commonly face, including significance, parenting, violence, and our relationship with God.  In his trademark style of wisdom, compassion, & hope, Maxwell points us beyond our fears to Christ:

It’s not the absence of storms that sets us apart.  It’s whom we discover in the storm: an unstirred Christ…  Whether or not storms come, we cannot choose.  But where we stare during a storm, that we can.  … Do whatever it takes to keep your gaze on Jesus…

In the back of the book is an excellent study guide that digs deeper into each chapter.  Each chapter of the guide has space for journaling “examining fear” (reflecting on key ideas from the chapter), “exposing fear” (reflecting on key Bible verses), and “battling fear” (practical steps of faith).

All of us have to face fear.  Lucado reminds us that we do not have to face it alone.  A good book to read and share.

How to NOT Figure Life Out

 quite puzzling by cayusa via flickr

Life is pretty mixed up at times.  It’s easy to conclude that the only solution to the anxiety and frustration we feel is to somehow “figure life out.”  Until we find THE ANSWER to the question life is posing us, we often find no rest for our souls.

I remember twenty years ago, when I was vexed with not knowing whether I should ask a particular young woman out for a date.  I wanted to BE SURE I was making the “right” decision.  But try as I might, I couldn’t seem to come to an answer that I thought was definitive.

After several months drug by (yes, I was a sad case), I showed my roommate at the time an extensive logic table I had drawn up, showing the various advantages and disadvantages of deciding to ask this woman out vs. not ask her out vs. delaying a decision.  He looked at me with his “What planet did you come from?” expression and said, “JUST ASK HER OUT!”

I had tried to resolve my frustration at not being able to figure life out by, uh, trying to figure life out.  Well, all that got me then, and all it ever gets me now, is just more frustration.  There are some things that just can’t be figured out about life.  Sometimes you just have to live it out.

Today I read a quote from the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke:

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves … Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.    — ”Letters to a Young Poet”

Ask yourself: Is the thing troubling me really something that I can answer today?  If not, let it go, and spend your life living instead of trying to figure life out.

The Fear of the Lord

I am very pleased to have my good friend Ken Fletcher, director of development Southeast region for the Alliance Defense Fund, to be guest writing a post this week.  Here are Ken’s thoughts on The Fear of the Lord:

In the last couple of months, I have heard several speakers tell their audiences, to “Fear Not.”   They point out that the Bible says 365 times to “Fear Not” and that God does not want us to “fear.”  I tend to differ.  Although we should not fear man (Psalm 27) nor worry about food or raiment, (Matthew 6:25 -34), it was Christ that said, “I will warn you whom to fear:  fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.  Yes, I tell you, Fear him!” (Luke 12:5)  If there is a message that needs to be shouted from the mountain tops in America today, it is that our citizens and the church need to develop a fear of the Lord. 

I love the song by Casting Crowns, “I Can Only Imagine,” but on THAT day, I’m in the “to my knees will I fall” camp.  The way we now dress, the music that we play, and the things we do at church communicate a real casual friendship with the “Man Upstairs.”  If God had a first name, I’m sure we would be using it by now.  We treat coming before God with as much fear and trembling as we do the cashier at the McDonald’s drivethrough.  I sometimes wonder as we desire to have people “love the Lord” if we do not delay or prevent it by not stressing the fear of the Lord first? 

Being a parent and a former school teacher, I have learned a valuable lesson that if you do not establish a healthy “fear” and reverence, the opportunity for love is missed or stunted.  Some of the most useful advice I ever received as a teacher, was the concept of “Don’t smile until Christmas.”  Respect followed by friendship.   As a new teacher you entered the teaching profession wanting to be each of your students’ friend and buddy, but if you did not establish the teacher-student relationship first, it would never develop into anything positive.  Think back to all of the teachers that you loved… in every situation they established respect and authority from the beginning.  The first day of school you thought you would hate their class, but by the end of the year they were your favorite.  The teacher that tried to be your buddy was neither. 

With your children you must be a parent first and then in the late teen years a true and lasting friendship develops, but if you get these out of order, the results can be tragic.  If you try to be a friend and not a parent, the child only manipulates you with their affection, dribbling it out only when given what they want, and the spoiled brat never obeys without a struggle.

So, fearing our Heavenly Father is even more of an important principle to be mastered by His children.  If we do not fear God, we do not shut up or sit still long enough to listen to His instruction.  If He ask us to do something we don’t like, we have a spiritual tantrum or ignore his commands altogether.

Think for a moment, why would the Scripture say “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom?” (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 15:33) Consider the power of fear and think of times you have experienced it.  You are so in tune, your senses are 100% functional, and your awareness is hyper-sensitive.  Pretend with me, that you are in a crowded restaurant and everyone is eating, laughing, and, generally having a good time.  Then all of a sudden, a 6’8’’, 375 lbs., angry man with an assault weapon busts in the front door.  Everyone goes from talking and laughing, to listening.  Everyone is focused on the object of their fear and the fact that your fries are cold is no longer a real concern.  Those in the room listen to every word and are sensitive to every move.  No one challenges him, or questions his instructions, nor would dare to offend him in anyway.  Obedience is the rule of the day.  

Now ponder the modern culture, fear of the Lord is so absent.   Even in our churches, fear of the Lord is not a hot topic, yet I would think that it is the desire of parents and pastors everywhere that our children would become wise.  It could be possible that if we do not start (the beginning of…) with the fear of the Lord, wisdom is not possible.  Fear of the Lord is the foundation upon which wisdom is erected.  Maybe the discussion on “YOU’RE NOT GOING TO WEAR THAT TO CHURCH!!” is more important than we think. 

Too often the church encourages individuals to love God without reminding them every now and then to fear Him.  God has been promoted as their friend, and desperate for their love.  They grow up in their faith without real respect and honor for God.  If you fear God, you will seek to avoid what is offensive to Him and not worry so much about other’s opinions and trends of the world. (1 Samuel 15:24, Psalm 1:1-3)  When we fear God, we will seek what pleases Him while what we prefer will no longer matter.  Our worship will be focused on the One we fear, not on our personal worship style.  When we fear God, we will obey His Word even when we don’t fully understand or like what is being commanded.  

and we shout for joy because…

Clap your hands, all peoples!

Shout to God with loud songs of joy!

For the LORD, the Most High, is…___

Ok, fill in the blank time, everybody. Psalm 47 commands all people to shout to God with loud songs of joy because the LORD is…

?loving and merciful?

?gracious and forgiving?

?maybe because He has a wonderful purpose for your life?

Well, even though all of those answers sound “nice” the Bible actually commands us to shout to God with loud songs of joy because the Lord is…

to be feared, a great king over all the earth. (Psalm 47:2 ESV)

Wait, wait a minute. We’re supposed to be so filled with joy that we break out in song because God provokes fear in us? No, that just can’t be right.

Or can it?

The word for “to be feared”, I bet the ESV just got the translation wrong. Yea, that’s it. I mean the NKJV and the NIV say “awesome”, yea, that sounds better, “God is awesome”— sounds like a line out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Of course, there is the little matter of the actual Hebrew word yare’. It is a primitive root that, uh, means “fear.” In fact, in the old KJV, translated before 20th century sensibilities about how we should think of God set in, the word is translated “fear” 188 times, “afraid” 78 times, and “terrible” or “dreadful” 35 times.

But how can this be? How can a God who makes men afraid, who is terrible and dreadful make us burst out in joyful song?

The key is the next phrase, because God is “a great king over all the earth.” Only a God who can make us drop to our knees quaking in fear is a God who can also make our enemies drop to their knees quaking in fear.

To borrow from one of John Eldredge’s favorite allusions, do you want a Jesus who is more like Mr. Rogers or more like William Wallace? Well, if you see life as a war, as a life and death struggle between good and evil (which it is, by the way), and these guys show up in your “neighborhood”—

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which one of these men would make you shout for joy to have on your side?

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Bring on the blue face paint, baby!

Yes, we can gladly shout for joy because our God is a God to be feared!(cross-posted at www.xpound.org!)

Where is Wisdom?

What mutual funds should I put into my retirement account?

Should I devote time to establishing a fall garden or just wait until next spring?

How many pieces of pizza for dinner if I’m half-heartedly trying to lose weight?

How do I counsel a woman who tells me she just left her alcoholic husband because she couldn’t bear having her children hear his awful profanity day after day?

I was in all of those situations Wednesday as I turned 42.  Some of the questions were rather trivial, others quite serious.  But I wanted answers.  I wanted good answers, “right” answers, “practical” answers that I could follow to make my life turn out for the better.

That’s how most of us view wisdom: practical answers to make life work.  The question is:  So where can I find wisdom, where am I going to find the answers I want to make life work?

Job asked that same question four thousand years ago.  His life wasn’t working very well.  All of the answers Job thought would work had failed him miserably. Job was out of answers.  So three friends came to him and gave him their answers on how to make his life work.  Unfortunately, their answers were miserable.  After seeing that his friends didn’t have wisdom, in chapter 28 Job forcefully presses the question, “Who has it?  Where is wisdom to be found?”

We’re no different today.  Although none of us are in as dire straits as Job was, life is still hard, and the answers we come up with ourselves end up failing us.  Instead of only three friends, we have thousands:  our bookstores and radio and television programs and internet sites are wall-to-wall fountains of wisdom.  The book section is usually labeled “self-help” but it really means “I don’t have a clue how to make my life work but I’m hoping the guy that wrote this book does.”  Every one of us is searching to find answers to make life work.  Every one of us is with Job asking, “Where is wisdom?”

Job starts out his answer to where wisdom can be found by poetically describing the search for something else: precious metals and gems deep in the earth.  Just like wisdom, all of these items are valuable, are beautiful, are hidden, and require strenuous effort to be uncovered. 

Most of all, however, Job makes the point that gold, silver, and gems are “doable”; they can be found by man.  As verse 1 starts out, “Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place where gold is refined.”

But in verse 12 Job lays out the contrast, “But where can wisdom be found?”  This is no mere sterile academic question for Job at this point: his life is beyond desperation and beyond hope, and he frantically needs an answer.  For Job, an answer to his suffering would be incredibly precious, more so than gold or silver or onyx or sapphire or pearls.  But he concludes that true wisdom, an answer to his life that would truly make sense, cannot be found by human means.  In verse 21 he says wisdom is “hidden from the eyes of all living.”

But in the depths of his despair, Job still realizes one truth:  God has the answer.  God has wisdom.  Job stakes his belief on the fact that God “sees everything under the heavens.”—  God has perfect knowledge of every circumstance.  Job also realizes that God created all natural laws and processes by which the world operates: “he gave the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure.” Then Job concludes the chapter by telling us what God has commanded man in his search for wisdom:

Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.

This was not a mere pious platitude to Job:  he had based his life on this command of God. In the first chapter God Himself described Job as “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.”   Job, even in his intense suffering, still acknowledged that wisdom was only found by fearing God.

So, what has Job told us about wisdom?

A. We need it
B. It is precious
C. Only God has it
D. You must fear God and turn away from evil to get it

So, only one question left:  what does it mean to fear God?

Hmmm.   I have found that often this is one of those questions like “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”  You hear a lot of stilted, awkward answers about what it means to fear God that tend to be evasive, incomplete, or otherwise unsatisfying.  And yet, the Bible tells us again and again that wisdom is found by fearing God.  God first commands it here in Job, and again in Psalm 110, and three times in Proverbs.

Ok, so there’s no way around it— if we are to find wisdom, we must fear God, and that must mean we must learn what it means to fear God.

So what is this fear? The Hebrew word used in Job 28:28 is yirah.  It is a straightforward word meaning “fear” in all of its contexts.  And speaking of contexts, yirah is used 45 times in the Old Testament.  Out of all the scary events and stories, how many times is this word for “fear” used specifically to describe a person’s reaction to God?  Forty-two out of the forty-five.

Ok, so fear of God is pretty central here.  That still doesn’t tell us exactly how we fear God though.  The most common things I read run along the line “oh, that really means like an awe or respect for God.”  Well, that would work fine except for the fact that there are Hebrew words for awe and respect:  those words are not what the Bible uses forty two times to describe our desired posture toward God, the word fear is.

Another explanation is “Sure God wants us to fear Him, if we fear getting punished that will keep us from sin.”  And to be sure, a person who lives in rebellion to God has good reason to fear the condemnation from the Righteous Judge.

But that can’t be what Job means, for he did not see God as condemning judge, but as the His redeemer and vindicator (Job 19:25).  And that cannot be how God wishes us to view Him, for Romans 8 tells us “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

So what is the nature of this fear that God commands us to have?  It is simply viewing God as He really is, to turn away from evil and turn toward a true vision of Him. Picture in your mind the following scene where God the Father reveals Himself to Isaiah:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me!”  (Isaiah 6:1-5 ESV)

Now listen to how God the Son revealed Himself to the apostle John:

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. The hairs of his head were white like wool, as white as snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.  (Revelation 1:12-17 ESV)

Finally, listen what happened when God the Spirit revealed Himself to the nation of Israel in smoke and thunder:

On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled.  Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly.  And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. (Exodus 19:16-19 ESV)

What is God really saying when he commands us to fear Him and turn from evil?  He is saying “Turn away from your rebellion, and approach me as I am, the One who shakes mountains, the One whose voice is like thunder.  I am greater than all Gods, and I will be worshipped as such.  That is the starting point of your relationship with Me, and that is the beginning of wisdom.”

Do we do that?  Do we fall down before our God?  Or are we looking the other way in rebellion?  Or looking to a cosmic Santa Claus in self-centeredness?  Or just looking at God as the man upstairs, or any other way that doesn’t fully acknowledge His majesty and holiness?  If we do not look at God and react with fear, then we aren’t looking at the true God.  And if we aren’t looking at the true God, then we certainly aren’t in a position to understand who He is and what He is doing in our world and in our lives, which is what we are really talking about when we say we need wisdom.

The fear of God, looking upon Him in all His majesty and glory and power and holiness, is indeed the beginning of wisdom.  But for the true Christian, it is not the end.  The same Father whose robe fills the temple of heaven has adopted us as His children and loves to give us good gifts.  The same Son whose eyes of fire caused John to fall down as one dead is also the Christ who died for our sins.  And the same Spirit who shook Mount Sinai is the very one who dwells within our hearts.

So fear God today, see Him for all He is, pray to Him and worship Him and seek His face in spirit and in truth, for you cannot get wisdom, you cannot make life work, without the fear of the Lord.

Questions for Reflection:

Be honest: if you were offered the choice of “practical” answers of how to make your life “work” or to know God truly and deeply, which would you choose?  Why would we be tempted to just have life work?  Why should we choose otherwise?

Why is the fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom?

What is wrong with “practical” advice from books or seminars if the first step of fearing God hasn’t been taken, either by the teacher or by us?

How do you usually picture God in your prayers and in your life?

How can you fear God today?

 
For further study on how to properly relate to God consider a very old book, Communion With God by John Owen and a new book The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb.

 

For a downloadable teaching handout on this study go to the Downloads section. 

Why Are You so Afraid?

And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”  (Mark 4:37-40 ESV)

The questions of Jesus always go straight to the heart; they reveal it, diagnose it, challenge it, and heal it.

In the midst of the storm, the disciples’ hearts are filled with the emotion most of us would display—fear, the overwhelming fear of imminent death.  So, to human wisdom, to ask “Why are you so afraid?” is an exercise in absurdity.  I can almost hear Peter say, “Duh…we were all about to die!  How were we supposed to feel, Jesus?”

But Jesus is not just in the business of calming winds, but transforming hearts. He points the disciples to an astonishing truth: A heart that is filled and ruled by faith cannot be ruled by fear.  If a heart is firmly fixed on the unchanging truth that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, fear is not even an issue, not even a possibility.  It simply can’t exist.

The history of the early church is filled with saints that withstood horrible persecution, torture, and death without showing a shred of fear, often puzzling and infuriating their enemies, and often providing such a powerful testimony of a transformed heart that the witnesses embraced the Christian faith.

How can this be?  How can a human heart display such faith?  The answer, of course, is the same one that Jesus gave the disciples about salvation–”With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)  God is the one who implants faith into a regenerated heart; God nurtures, strengthens, and sustains the faith through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  With God all things, even the banishment of fear from our lives, becomes possible.

What God Thinks of Pragmatism

Pragmatism:

def.  the doctrine that practical consequences are the criteria of knowledge and meaning and value

Sounds good, doesn’t it?  I mean, we all want to be practical, don’t we? What could be wrong with that?  At least, that is increasingly what our entire society is built upon, blatantly in some areas, more subtly in others.  And, if we are not careful, that is what our own lives can be based upon.

Pragmatism is deeply rooted in the human soul.  It was in Eden that the first “pragmatic” decision was made.  “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”(Genesis 3:6 ESV)  Adam and Eve were very practical, but very wrong.

The Bible is filled with misguided pragmatism.  Here are just four examples from the dozens that are in the Scriptures, four different types for us to be on our guard against:

1. To Abandon God When He Delays His Action—Misguided Impatience

In Exodus 32 it had been forty days since Moses had went up to the mountain of God, and the children of Israel called out for leadership.  This God is taking too long, we don’t know what has become of Moses, let’s do something.  And so they abandoned God, and 4000 men died that day.  How many times do we try to force God’s hand, when a job isn’t going as planned, when we are still single after so many years, when a wayward child still has not come back home?  Whenever we take a step beyond God’s will in the conviction that we must solve the problem, we will be judged by God.

2. To Use Satan’s Devices When the Going Gets Tough—Misguided Fear

In 1 Samuel 27 King Saul was surrounded by his enemies and didn’t know what to do.  Terrified, he consults with a medium, which was against both the laws of the land and God’s law.  From the dead Samuel judged him, and told him that he had sealed his greatest fear by his disobedience—he would die the next day.  Struggling through tough times, fearful of the future, how many Christians have turned to addictions, to lying or cheating, to violations of either man’s law or God’s law, and then saw the consequences of their worst fears coming true?  And how many babies are being aborted each day by pragmatic people who know that their choice is the most “practical”?

3. To Try to Do God’s Work Through Man’s Wisdom—Misguided Concern

In 2 Samuel 6 we come to a passage that many people are uncomfortable with.  The Ark of the Covenant is being transported to Jerusalem.  However, it is being transported on a cart, against the written law of God.  The cart shakes, the ark is about to tumble off, and a priest named Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark and touches it.  He is instantly struck dead.  All us pragmatists shout, “He was only trying to help! He had a good heart!  He wanted to do what was right!”  And God’s reply to the argument of pragmatism was swift and obvious.  God’s work can only be done in God’s way.  Unfortunately, this brand of pragmatism is rampant within the church today.  If it increases attendance, if it “brings people to Christ”, if it allows us to reach this worthy goal or that worthy goal—all done in the name of pragmatism, often without asking whether or not the book or program or campaign or philosophy is Biblical or not.

4. To Try & Serve Both God & Money—Misguided Greed

In Acts 5 we come to a very pragmatic couple.  They want to give some money to the church and be justly recognized for it, but surely it isn’t a big deal if they keep a little for a rainy day.  As we all know, it was a big deal to God.  Lying to the Holy Spirit, motivated by their desire to try and serve both God & money, was not a little matter.

God doesn’t think much of pragmatism.  If you noticed, in each of the examples the pragmatic people turned out to be dead people.  In whatever form it takes it comes down to rebellion against God.  How can we guard against it?  By realizing how pervasive it is, by saturating ourselves with Scripture, by taking wise counsel, and by continually bathing ourselves in prayer that we might humbly walk with God and commit to following His will no matter how “practical” or “impractical” it first appears.

 

Moving Beyond “Little Faith”

Four times in the book of Matthew Christ uses the term “little faith” to challenge the disciples to grow deeper in their spiritual walk. Each time He spoke to a different aspect of their(and our) life of faith:

1. Learning that Anxiety is Unnecessary

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious… Matthew 6:30-31 ESV

The first “little faith” lesson in Matthew is in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is speaking to His followers, people who by faith had come to realize that He held the words of life.

His message is that anxiety is unnecessary. Isn’t it interesting that the largest section of the Sermon on the Mount(besides the Lord’s prayer) is devoted to anxiety? And even though we all know that passage well, how well do we apply it every day? Just as Jesus described, we worry about food, about clothing, about everything. We aren’t sure what the future will hold, and so we worry.

Jesus gives us 3 keys in the passage to defeat anxiety. First is to remember how valuable we are to the Father(v. 26). Only when we are convinced of God’s boundless love for His children can we ever be free of anxiety. Second is to remind ourselves that God knows our needs(v. 32); He knows better than we know, and He alone has the power to ensure that our needs are met. Lastly, Christ instructs us to focus our lives on the needs of the Kingdom rather than our own needs(v.33). God “has our back”—the knowledge that He will provide our needs can free us from anxiety and free us to plunge forward to accomplish great things for His kingdom.

2. Dismissing Fear When We Follow Jesus

And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him. And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Matthew 8:23-26 ESV

There is so much treasure to be mined from these few verses that are so familiar to us. First notice the two-fold faith of the disciples: First, they followed Jesus; they had the faith to want to stay close to Him. Second, they had faith that He could do something about the storm and so they cried out to Him.

So far, so good. So where was their faith lacking? Their cry for help was not borne out of calm and trusting dependency, but out of sheer desperation. Fear had gripped them, fear that, like their anxiety, was unnecessary. Fear is lack of complete trust in God for the present, while anxiety is lack of trust for the future. Both anxiety and fear can weaken and paralyze us from moving, physically and spiritually.

How can we dismiss fear from our life? By realizing “what sort of Man is this, that even winds and sea obey him”(v.27). We must let the truth of Christ’s infinite power grip us, and be convicted that as long as we are in the boat with Him, we have nothing to fear from any storm in our life.

3. Defeating Doubt in our Life

And Peter answered Him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out His hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:28-31 ESV

Compared to most of us (and the rest of the disciples), Peter had great faith, not “little faith”. He was the only one who got out of the boat, in fact he is the only man in history whose faith was great enough that he walked on water.

So where did he fail? Just where I do too—with doubt. I have faith, I believe that God is who He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do, but when the wind is fierce, I look at it, I look at the intensity of my problem, my battle, my lot in life, and I take my eyes off Jesus. Anytime we are looking at any problem in our lives more than we are looking at Christ, doubt will come. And when doubt comes, we sink.

The answer to defeating doubt and keeping our head above the water? You already know the answer—to keep our eyes on Jesus.

4. Looking at life from God’s perspective rather than man’s

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves saing, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive?” Matthew 16:5-9 ESV

How often I am guilty of exactly this—like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6, my eyes see the immediate situation, the armies arrayed against me, and my eyes are not open to the armies of God. That is the situation the disciples found themselves in—it was not simply misunderstanding Christ’s metaphor, it was their entire world view that took in only their human perspective and not God’s perspective.

Again, they had “little faith”—if they had no faith, they would not have been listening to Jesus at all. Their “little faith” propelled them to be with Jesus and listen to Him, but they were still having trouble understanding Him because their perspective was still rooted in their old nature.

How do we change our perspective? Jesus told them one way, to remember what things God had already done for them. When we bring to mind God’s hand, both in our lives personally, in the lives of the saints whose biographies we can read, and through the Scriptures, our spiritual eyes are opened, strengthened, refocused to see God’s hand, and to both walk in His way and to bring vision to others around us.