We don’t say it out loud, but often we expect that if we believe and live correctly, we’ll have great marriages, healthy bank balances, well-balanced children, and freedom from major problems.
Of course, we know better—but we still lean on the side of expecting blessing for obedience.
The truth is, we have expectations of God. And sometimes, honestly, He fails those expectations.
There has always been only one way to God—even in the Old Testament. That way is by grace through faith in the object of God’s choosing. Bethel gives us a peek at that way.
In his flight to Haran, Jacob spent the night at Bethel, where years earlier his grandfather Abraham had heard God promise that he would receive all the land as far as he could see. There, Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven, and the Lord repeated to him the promises that Abraham received.
Shaken, Jacob awoke and cried:
How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. —Gen. 28:17
Jacob named the site Bethel—“house of God.” The dream gave more than a vision of God’s house.
It offered a foreshadowing of how to get there.
If you think about it, King Solomon never started out to build pagan shrines. It was his failure to deal with the tiny spiritual cracks in his heart that produced a life of compromise and dissatisfaction.
(Photo: Design Pics, via Vivozoom)
The backwash from Solomon’s life reminds us how we only kid ourselves when we think we can have a healthy walk with God and still keep our hidden life of compromise on the side.
The good news? We don’t have to.
We are more than physical creatures with physical needs. Notice in most prayer meetings that you’ll hear requests for God to help with the tangible needs. That’s fine, except it often ends there.
We don’t always realize how desperate our need is for truth beyond the tangible.
The trouble is, when we face temptation, our challenge is anything but physical—even when the temptation appeals to a physical needs or desires.
Overcoming temptation begins long before temptation.
Jesus shows us how.
Life is full of moments that expose our doubts. In spite of all the Scripture we’ve learned and all the past victories the Lord has given us, occasionally something will happen that causes serious doubt.
Maybe it’s a financial situation that undercuts future security. It might be a miserable marriage. Perhaps it’s a pastor or a leader who has failed. Maybe it’s our own failure.
Whatever the reason, seasons of doubts and confusion can come even to the most committed followers of Jesus:
- John the Baptist struggled with doubts about his own beliefs about Jesus (Matt. 11:2-3).
- The apostle Thomas found the resurrection of Christ something he had to see before he’d believe (John 20:25).
- Some of the disciples had doubts about Jesus’ appearing to them, even at the Great Commission (Matt. 28:17).
I confess, I’ve had my doubts as well. Sometimes circumstances literally demanded I doubt God.
I will never forget one evening during my first few days in Jerusalem. A simple walk gave me an essential reminder that helped relieve my doubts.
The first Christmas looked like a coincidence. From a human perspective, politics set the agenda: Caesar took a census of his people. Period. End of story.
(Picture by Danka Peter)
But from the divine viewpoint? God orchestrated ordinary events for extraordinary outcomes.
Think about this past year in your life. Many ordinary events occurred. Most you don’t remember. But God has been working.
It isn’t just the Christmas story. It’s your story too. God uses the power of providence in your life as well.
When we think of the Bible’s Christmas couple, of course we picture Joseph and Mary. But there’s another couple in the Christmas narrative. In fact, they appear even before Jesus’ parents do.
God had been silent for 400 years. No additional Scripture. No more prophecy. No visions. Just waiting for the Messiah. 400 years! Then, God spoke to an old man in Jerusalem.
God had been silent to Zacharias and Elizabeth as well. They were elderly and had no children. They prayed for years. But nothing.
God’s Word makes the point that they were righteous in God’s sight—blameless in God’s Law. In other words, their childless home wasn’t because of their unfaithfulness.
Times of waiting on God can even come to a point of what seems impossible. Most times of lack are like that.
Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. (Rom. 8:24, The Message)
God had something special planned for them. And for you.
Most of us Christians have experienced those incredible moments of intimacy with God when we have no yearning for any earthly joy, much less for sin. Christ becomes our entire desire.
In those times, we make impassioned commitments of absolute dedication. We really believe we have turned a corner in our spiritual lives. But for some reason . . . it doesn’t last.
In those deflating moments, our spirituality exits like air from a balloon:
- Driving away from church, our family fights over where to eat.
- After our quiet time, our bickering children rapidly rob us of joy.
- On the way to work, a hurried driver cuts us off and waves with only a fraction of his hand.
All of a sudden, commitment wanes. And these are just the little things.
What about real life crises? What about those times when success is demanded but a lack of success seems all we get?
Jesus spoke words of encouragement for moments just like these.
It happened again. A man I know shook my hand and said, “Let’s grab a coffee soon; I’ll call you.” I didn’t say it, but I wanted to reply: “No, you won’t.”
I always try to give someone the benefit of the doubt when he or she makes a commitment. But honestly, it doesn’t take many times for someone to fail keeping a promise, and I lose confidence in the person.
The only way we can trust that people will keep their word is if they have kept their word.
The same is true of God’s promises.