God’s Deadlines

If you’ve had or worked with children, you have likely faced this scenario. A child does wrong repeatedly. After much instruction and admonition, the parent or teacher says, “If you do that one more time, you are going to face this consequence.”

The child does it one more time. The adult begins to administer the promised consequence, and all of a sudden, the child starts doing whatever he was supposed to, or starts crying and pleading for mercy.

Knowing when to be firm and when to show grace was one of the hardest parts of parenting for me. But if I had promised my children a certain consequence would follow certain actions (or lack of actions), I felt I needed to follow through. They needed to know I would keep my word, plus they needed to be trained away from last-minute feigned repentance that only occurs when punishment is coming.

Our church is reading through and discussing Jeremiah together, five chapters a week. Jeremiah’s message was not a popular one. Basically he had to tell the people to get ready for the consequences of their actions. In the Israelites’ case at this time, the consequences for their continued idolatry, disobedience, and lack of repentance involved the king of Babylon conquering their city and deporting most of them to Babylon as captives.

Sometimes people accuse God of cruelty when He sends judgement on people, but they forget the years of longsuffering that led up to the judgment in question. Closing the door of the ark so no one else could get in seems drastic, but people had several decades of preaching and warning beforehand. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis 6:5) and “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence (verse 11). 1 Peter 3:20 says, “God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.” God was patient, but He also said His Spirit would not always strive or contend with man (Genesis 6:3). There was a deadline.

Similarly, God had sent His prophets over years to preach to the people in Jeremiah’s time. God told Jeremiah a couple of times not to pray for the people, and the ESV Study Bible notes how unusual this command was  I don’t think that meant that Jeremiah could not bring them before the Lord at all. But, if I understand it correctly, he couldn’t pray for God to turn away His judgment unless the people repented.

But the people flat out refused to repent. A few times they came to Jeremiah to inquire of the Lord for them, or they called out to God to help them, but their repentance was either not genuine or was short-lived. At one point, they responded to God’s pleas for their repentance and warnings of future consequences with “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart” (18:12). Another time they said, “As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not listen to you” (44:16). God pleaded with the people to turn away from their folly and come to Him, but they wouldn’t. So, eventually, consequences had to come.

God’s consequences are often meant to have a sanctifying effect. He chastens out of love and for our good.

My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.

. . . He disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-6, 10b-11)

Scattered throughout Jeremiah are God’s promise of future restoration of His people. They would spend 70 long years in exile. But among those taken captive were future heroes of the faith, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who would take a bold but gracious stand for God and witness for Him to foreign kings. Ezekiel preached to the exiles. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people back to Israel.

But not everyone made it back. In the course of 70 years, many died.

Back in Numbers 13-14, Israel refused to advance into the land God promised them. He pledged to be with them and help them overtake it, but they refused in fear. They were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until every adult who had refused to obey had died.

But God’s deadlines don’t refer just to chastening. Earlier this year it was on my heart to write to a woman who was like a second mother to me. But I put it off. I would be sending her a Mother’s Day card in a few weeks, and I planned to write a letter to send with it. But then I received word that she’d had a series of medical issues, was unresponsive, and was in her last days. I know with all the joys of heaven, she’s not thinking of not receiving a letter from me. But I have the regret that I didn’t respond to that prompting and share some words of encouragement. When my grandmother and aunt died, I also regretted that I had not kept in touch better in the last few years. A pastor’s wife told of the regret she felt when she leaned that a lady she saw regularly at some place of business had died suddenly. She realized that she had never spoken to her about the Lord. We only have so much time to do good.

Proverbs 27:1 (NASB) says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

Sometimes when we think about the limitations of time and the shortness of our days, we can get into a frenzy. But that’s not what God wants, either. Jesus only had 33 years on this earth, with only three and a half of those years involved in official ministry. Yet He was not frenzied. He didn’t heal or preach to everyone on earth at the time. He rested sometimes. But He did everything God wanted Him to do. We need to seek Him for wisdom, guidance, and the right priorities for each day.

Eventually, we are all going to face a final deadline. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

It’s wise not to put off repentance and believing on Jesus as Lord and Savior, because we never know when our time will be up and we’ll hear God’s final call.

It’s wise not to put off obedience, because the consequences have to come at some point.

It’s wise not to put off doing good, because someday we’ll no longer have the opportunity.

The older I get, the more I’m aware that I have more days behind me than before me.  I want to follow God wholeheartedly until that final deadline comes.

How about you?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode, Recharge Wednesday, Worth Beyond Rubies, Share a Link Wednesday,
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When God wants me to do something I don’t want to do

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I had another interesting intersection between my devotions, messages at church, and my other reading last week.

I’m in Exodus in my Bible reading just now, and I can always empathize with Moses’s reaction when God calls him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Overwhelmed, he he responds with all the reasons he couldn’t possibly do such a thing, and God graciously promises His provision in every facet.

Who am I? Why would they listen to me? I will be with thee.

What if they ask me what God sent me to them? I AM THAT I AMThus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you

They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. God provided three signs to demonstrate before Israel.

O my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

God was very patient with Moses until, at this point, Moses says, “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” I’m not sure exactly what all that means, but it seems to indicate he’d really rather God sent someone else. God tells him his brother Aaron will be his spokesperson, and sends him on his way.

I would probably have had all the same objections Moses did, and more. They make sense and seem quite valid, except that God promises to overcome each one, no matter how the situation seems to appear at this vantage point.

Some of our Sunday evening services have dealt with Jonah, who, as you know, disobeys God’s command to preach to the Ninevites and goes in the opposite direction. His reasons are less sympathetic; in fact, they are wholly unnoble. The Bible doesn’t say he was afraid of them or afraid to speak to them. He was afraid they would actually respond to his message, and he was so prejudiced against them that he did not want that result. His chastening was pretty severe, and he repented in the belly of a fish. But his heart still wasn’t entirely right. “It displeased Jonah” when the people of Nineveh repented. In fact, he tells God that was why he didn’t want to come to them in the first place, because “Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2).

Then, when I’ve had time after my devotions, I’ve been reading in The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs. Around the time I was reading about Moses in my Bible and hearing about Jonah in church, I came to the section about Mary in this book. What a contrast. She may have had concerns and fears, but didn’t voice them. Or she may have just believed that God was sufficient to take care of whatever the repercussions would be. No objections. No “what ifs.” No apparent anxieties or apprehensions. Just, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

I found in my quote file this from Elisabeth Elliot, though I failed to note which book or newsletter it came from:

The story of the glory of heaven brought into a common, little house in Nazareth to a simple peasant girl, who must have been amazed and baffled, but she was instantly obedient. How often you and I insist on explanations and understanding before we’re willing to be obedient. There are many things in God’s world that will never be understood until we obey. Her response, Mary’s response—”Let it be to me according to your word. I am the handmaid of the Lord” — should be our response, too, shouldn’t it? Whatever He asks us to do.

I haven’t been called to anything of the magnitude of these three, but sometimes my response is more like Moses’s to what God has called me to do. First, “Who, me?!” Then, “I can’t, for all these very good reasons.” Sometimes, “That’s not my spiritual gift.” And sometimes, sad to say, “I know You will be with me; I know You will enable and provide. But I’d really rather not.” I’d like my nice, quiet, even life with very few and very minor bumps in the road, if that’s ok.

But that’s not ok. My life is not about my ease and comfort, or at least it’s not supposed to be. It’s about glorifying God and allowing Him to work through me in whatever way He wants to. I may not feel equal to the task, but that’s ok. That reminds me the strength to do it is not my own, but His. His provision and enabling usually comes at the time of obedience, not before. And what times I have cooperated with Him in this way, it has been wonderful to see how He has worked and to experience His presence through those things. When we believe on Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know God is with us by faith even if we don’t always feel it. But somehow when we trust Him through difficult things, we experience His presence and help and grace in ways not known before.

Sometimes I get to the, “Yes, Lord, I am Yours: Your will be done” after reluctance, objections, repentance, and reassurance. I hope, like Mary, to get to the place where I can go there directly.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Learning from the Savior’s learned obedience

One of the verses in my Daily Light reading for this morning was Hebrews 5:8: “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” The context for all the rest of the verses in today’s reading had to do with affliction, but that phrase about Jesus learning obedience arrested me, not for the first time. He had always obeyed the Father perfectly, but in Gethsemane  was the first time, as far as we know, that He prayed “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). So perhaps learning obedience had to do with obeying the Father’s will despite His own will? (There is more helpful commentary on this verse at the bottom of this page.)

One way in which this encourages me is to observe how the sinless Son of God obeyed and endured. Here are a few thoughts:

1. Our will and His will. It’s not necessarily wrong to struggle with God’s will. For us, more often that not, it usually is a problem of faith or obedience. People throughout Scripture have been called to do things that at first they didn’t want to do: Moses, Ananias, others.There are many times when God’s call to someone included encouragement that He would be with them and help them: Joshua, Jeremiah, Paul to name a few. These days people say you’ll know something is God’s will when you “have a peace” about it, but sometimes God’s will causes fear, trepidation, reluctance. Jesus asked, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me,” and then submitted His will to the Father’s: “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” We can follow His example when we shrink from something He has called us to do. He was sinless, but we can pray and seek His Word to deal with any sinful issues we might have in regard to submitting to Him.

2. Remember our purpose. In John 12: 27, Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” The plan of redemption had been decided upon from the foundation of the world. I’m sure many of the people mentioned above had to go back to their calling and remind themselves of God’s purposes and promises when they were later in the thick of things.

3. Seek His glory. After saying, “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour, Jesus said, “Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:28). When we look at ourselves, our safety, our pain, our fears, our comfort, we shrink back: when we seek His glory we can find the purpose and strength we need.

4. Resist temptation with God’s Word. Satan tried to derail Jesus from His purpose, but Jesus resisted with God’s Word. We need to read and know His Word that we might do the same. Though He never sinned, we do fail, and thankfully God promises grace to forgive and help us. But he also wants us to be filled with His Word and grace and enabled to resist temptation thereby for His glory.

5. Remember the coming joy. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrew 12:2). I wonder what all was encompassed in that joy: perhaps having finished His course, pleasing His Father, being reunited with His Father and back home in heaven where all is right and no sin or sorrow dwells, providing the way for us to go there, too. And that leads us to…

6. Look beyond the momentary to the eternal. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Are there any other ways in which Jesus’ obedience encourages your own?

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16