It is often said that the main opponents we must overcome in our search for excellence in our chosen task, is the good. Yes, the good, is the enemy of the excellent; for instead of pressing on to achieve the excellent result, we settle half way, for the good, and stop working further. We have achieved “a” solution and it works! – Great, let’s move on now to another job!
In our relationship with God, we tend to do the same. But in doing so with God, it is not the good we are settling for, it is much less than that. As Jesus tells us in Mark 7:27-28“But Jesus said to her, Let the children first be filled. For it is not right to take the children’s loaves and to throw it to the dogs. And she answered and said to Him, Yes, Lord, yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” If we are settling for part of the Gospel, part of the Good News, part of God’s generosity, it is like Mark 7:27-28 where the dogs feast on the crumbs which the children drop from the dining table. This is certainly not what God wants. He wants us at the table as a son and daughter, eating our full share, and enjoying His companionship.
Our God is a God of time and duration. He is not a capricious God, snatching things away unreasonably or at short notice, just as we reach out for them. He is a God of long-suffering, patience and endurance; a God of second chances who so much wants us to return to Him that He gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for us, on a cross at Calvary, 2,000 years ago.
God has His plans for us – but in these plans, we are to do our part. God has done His part, now it is our turn; but the yoke He has for us, is light and easy – we just need to take it up (Matthew 11:30). God calls us constantly to appreciate His perspective and world view and to enter into it by faithful obedience. When we do this in faith, we honour God’s sacrifice, though we cannot perhaps see it or sense it in our present circumstances. For as Hebrews 11:1 teaches us: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
When we have faith, we have new eyes and a new understanding, which don’t see the universe the way the world sees it: as an astronomical or a physics problem to be solved or investigated. Instead, faith looks at the universe in order to see that which is self revealed in and by the universe itself: the Creator. As Psalm 19:1 says “the heavens declare the glory of God; and the expanse proclaims His handiwork” and Psalm 97:6 continues, “the heavens declare His righteousness, and all the people see His glory.”
God has invited us, as His children, to partake of this revelation with Him, as Isaiah 55:1, 6-9 demonstrates and promises:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat. Yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. ……
Seek Jehovah while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways,” says Jehovah.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.””
Again, in Jeremiah 29:11-14 we read of the plans which our God has for us. Plans for our prosperity, plans for our future, plans for our hope and our peace:
“For I know the purposes which I am purposing for you, says Jehovah; purposes of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you shall call on Me, and you shall go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you shall seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you, says Jehovah; and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have driven you, says Jehovah. And I will bring you again into the place from where I caused you to be exiled.”
God invited the nation of Israel, but they rejected Him again and again, and killed His prophets, so He sent Jesus for us. Jesus makes it clear for us in John 8:31-32 saying “to the Jews who believed on Him, If you continue in My Word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” The words are explicit and easy to understand.
Yet He chose to repeat Himself in John 15:7 saying “If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you shall ask what you will, and it shall be done to you.” The promise of God here cannot be more explicit or more succinct or more easy to understand, as He says to us, that if we live in Him, He will live in us. How much more could we ask from the maker of all of creation, that He lives within us?
But here we run into the contradiction; for the revelation of truth does not enable us to be obedient. No, it is the other way around and quite counter-intuitive to the ways of a world educated in Greek logic and philosophy. In Christ, we come to understanding, from an internal faithful obedience. When we have faith and “simply believe”, then we can come to understanding.
The challenge which God is laying before us is this: we must stop worshiping our inadequacies and start worshipping Him! As the good is the enemy of the excellent, our inadequacies are the enemy of God’s generosity, God’s largess, God’s love and all that which Gods has told us He wants to bestow upon us.
Second Chronicles 7:14 is a well quoted verse “if My people, who are called by My name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Oh how often we have prayed for the forgiveness of our sin and the healing of our land as His children. But this is only half of the verse and misses out the crux of the verse which God has so carefully and painstakingly laid before us. Yes, it presupposes prayer – both individual and corporate – which He will hear from Heaven, but more than that, it requires a fundamental change in us before anything else is possible. We are to do four things and the four in the appropriate order:
1) We are to Humble ourselves
2) We are to pray
3) We are to seek the face of God
4) We are to turn from our wicked ways (repent)
Then and only then, will God hear from Heaven and forgive and heal, only then, after we have humbled ourselves, prayed, sought His face and turned from our worldly ways – only then, only then, will God hear. In Jeremiah 29:11-14 the same is true: if we seek His face we cannot fail but to find Him, for He desperately wants us to find Him, for He is a relational God, not a remote, distant, hands-off, aloof or uncaring God. Quite the opposite is true.
Yet when Christians look at themselves, what they see first and foremost, are their own inadequacies. We do not see ourselves as God sees us, for as in First Samuel 16:7 “Jehovah said to Samuel, Do not look on his face, nor on his height, because I have refused him. For He does not see as man sees. For man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks on the heart.” But worse than this, we begin to make idols or our inadequacies and worship them, making them our excuses for the lack of blessings from God, for our poverty, for our lack, for our distance from God. We start to play the blame game; blaming God for His shortcomings; for His failure to live up to His promises and His side of the bargain. When we do this, we begin to move from God’s camp, into the enemy camp.
Each time we give excuses as to why we do not pray, why we do not do the things which we know in our hearts are the correct and godly things to do, we are effectively declaring we are above God. When we are in that rarefied and exalted position, God cannot, nay, will not, help us. Psalm 51:17 tells us what is pleasing to God, for ”the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” But lest we become victims of our own religious pride saying “that is others, not me!” the words of Paul from Second Corinthians 12:7 challenge us and ground us in humility as he says “and by the surpassing revelations, lest I be made haughty, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be made haughty.”