Journey 5- The Weariness

We’ve been studying the Exodus, and relating it to the journey of life. I was going to look at murmuring, whining and complaining, but after the week I’ve had it might be a little too raw. So I want to talk about another aspect of the journey: weariness. 40 years is a long time to wander aimlessly in the wilderness, but many of us do this for years in our lives too!

Some of you here are weary. Feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all. I’m on your side, when times get rough . And friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled waters.

1.      THE JOURNEY IS LONG

 

Most journeys seem long, like a long and winding road, usually longer than you want. The Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, which is around 39 years 11 months longer than they should have.

 

In our family, our long journeys started with a familiar refrain… “are we nearly there yet” before we reached the top of the driveway.

 

We are impatient to arrive, all of us. The length of a journey is entirely subjective. Kaileigh considers a drive to Buderim too long, and going to Sydney seems like a long journey until you go to Europe. Life is long, the journey is long, and so along the way we get weary, but remember compared to eternity this life is actually short.

 

James 4:14 (ESV Strong’s)

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

 

Psalms 90:10 (ESV Strong’s)

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty;

yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.

 

2.      THE JOURNEY HAS CHALLENGES

 

Every journey has challenges. There are highs and lows, mountain tops and valleys, sunny days and stormy. Some here are going fine, but many I feel are facing dark, difficult times.

 

Psalms 23:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

If you are facing challenges, even big challenges, remember that the Lord goes with you, leads you, guides you, upholds you and will ultimately bring you through, even if you are getting weariness.

 

3.      THE JOURNEY HAS SETBACKS

 

Kira and I were in Munich, and it snowed. Our flight was so delayed, we missed our connecting flight in London, and had to overnight there. They could not get us a flight to Brisbane, but they said they could fly us to Tokyo. We’ll take it! In Tokyo they could get us to Brisbane, but could get us to Cairns. We’ll take it! There were no seats to Brisbane, but if we went to Melbourne we might get some. We’ll take it! Finally in Melbourne we got a flight to home!

 

Many times we face setback in our journeys. Sometimes these setback are of our own doing, or someone close to you! That’s what the Israelites discovered. They sent spies into the Promised Land, but then chose to believe the 10 who brought a bad report. So they decided to form a coup against Moses, stone him and go back to slavery in Egypt. Had they believed Joshua and Caleb, they could have taken the land right then and there, but they refused, and rebelled. God said,

 

Numbers 14:32-34 (ESV Strong’s)

But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’

 

Some of you have suffered setbacks in your journey because of someone else. It’s not fair, but it is life. Maybe you had a rough start in life, abused by parents, or maybe you married someone and it didn’t work out. Some have sinned, ignored God, or walked away.

 

If you’ve had setbacks in life, either because of circumstances, someone you loved and trusted or your own foolish, sinful decisions, then I have great news this morning. You can get those wasted years back, even the weariness!

 

Joel 2:25 (ESV Strong’s)

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,

 

A set back is just a set up for a come back if you trust Jesus!

 

4.      THE JOURNEY HAS PROVISION

 

A long journey requires provision. On any journey need food, water, fuel. You need sleep. Today as your travel you need other essentials, like masks, gloves and toilet paper. You need a phone to get GPS and updates on the corona virus, which has killed 0.005% as many people as the common flu last year, so you can panic and fret like everyone else.

 

In the Exodus, they had no phone. No GPS. No toilet paper. But when the people were thirsty, God gave them water from the rock. When they were hungry, God gave them manna. When they got sick of that, God gave them quail. They didn’t say thank you, they complained and whinged and  whined while they dined.

 

Numbers 11:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)

We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

 

They said, Slavery wasn’t that bad… We use to eat leeks and onions and meat. Now all we have is manna breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s coming our of my ears. I have manna toast for breakfast, with manna mite spread, manna hotcakes, manna burgers, manna curry, pad manna, fillé  of manna, and with my Chai latte I have bamanna bread.  Hey man-na am I sick of manna.

 

If you’re tired on life’s journey, stop wasting your time complaining about what you don’t have and start rejoicing in what you do have. We have more stuff than ever before, yet we are the most ungrateful people ever.

 

Colossians 4:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

 

WEARINESS MAKES YOU…

 

The Israelites faced a long, wearying journey, made longer and wearier by their constant whining and complaining and by their own foolish decisions.

 

When you get weary you open yourself to a variety of emotions. When you get weary and tired you get stressed, overwhelmed and depressed. Weariness opens you to making bad decisions, and changes how you see things. You look back with rose coloured glasses and don’t see things properly.

 

Numbers 14:2 (ESV Strong’s)

And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!

 

When you get tired and in weariness, sometimes death looks like a better deal than your life. Listen, it never is… Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.  40 years was a long time to wander because of sin, but they did eventually make it through to the Promised Land. The Bible says, and it came to pass, it didn’t come to stay.

 

PERCEPTION AFFECTS EVERYTHING

 

Perception affects everything. How you see life, the journey, the troubles, the challenges, the highs and the lows, all are primarily affected by your perception.

 

They did an experiment one time… 2 boys, one an optimist, one a pessimist. The pessimist was locked in a room with ice cream, a TV and playstation. After an hour, he cried about ice cream melting, the game is too hard and TV just has news about the corona virus.

 

The optimist was locked alone in a room with a huge pile of horse poo. After an hour he was throwing poo a lover the room. With all this poo, there must be a pony in here somewhere.

 

Perception. That’s why Paul says,

 

Philippians 4:8 (ESV Strong’s)

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

 

You  can choose how you see things. You can choose to see the good or the bad. You can choose whether to

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

As you journey, you can choose to see the lack of food, water, or see the blessings…

 

Deuteronomy 29:5 (ESV Strong’s)

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

 

40 years without a new pair of shoes might sound awful for some women, by God provides.

 

In your troubles, in your weariness, God provides for you. Stop doing your own thing, stop pulling away from God, draw near to Him and see, perceive the blessings and goodness you have already.

 

Hebrews 4:16 (ESV Strong’s)

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

 

YOU HAVE CHOICES

 

One of the most pivotal parts of the Exodus occurred in the wilderness of Paran, where 12 spies were selected to check out the Promised Land. When they returned, they all agreed it was beautiful, productive, everything God had promised, but 2 said let’s go, but 10 chose to bring a bad report.

 

Now, when you hear a bad report, you face a choice… believe it, or not!

 

Numbers 13:32-33 (ESV Strong’s)

So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”

 

See what they are focussed on… Not the Lord, not His promise, but their own observations and fears. We seemed like grasshoppers, tiny, easy to stomp on, we predict disaster, the world falling in, corona virus, quick, buy up all the toilet paper!

 

But the people had a choice. Who to believe?

 

Numbers 14:2 (ESV Strong’s)

And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness!

 

CHOICES HAVE CONSEQUENCES

 

Be aware that every choice you make, good or bad, has a consequence. You can choose to believe the lies, believe the worst, give up, say you can’t take this any more. You can leave the marriage, the church, the job, but there are consequences. The right choices bring life, they bring blessing. That’s God’s preference for you. The wrong choice brings curses and death.

 

Going into the Promised Land a generation later, Moses said this…

 

Deuteronomy 30:19 (ESV Strong’s)

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,

 

HOW TO OVERCOME WEARINESS

 

So here’s the bottom line… Obey God, seek God, make the right changes and you can overcome weariness.

 

You can overcome weariness and make it. Even if the road is long, with many a winding turn.

 

Psalms 55:6 (ESV Strong’s)

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest;

 

So let’s look at some practical steps to overcoming weariness, and many of you here are weary and flat and over stressed. So how do you beat weariness?

 

1.      GET SOME REST

 

My life has been overwhelmingly stressful of late. Finances, holiday, family, work and especially church, have drawn all of my energy, filled my entire headspace and sapped all my joy. I’m tired, I’ve slept 3 hours a night, I was miserable and almost ready to quit being a pastor. Then God reminded me of His call for Ignite, and simply said, GET SOME REST in your weariness!

 

Matthew 11:28 (ESV Strong’s)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

 

If you need rest, take a day off, take a caravan trip, take a holiday to Coronoville, or maybe just get an early night or two.

 

Sometimes when you are in weariness, the most spiritual and obedient thing you can do is to sleep and rest.

 

2.      GET SOME INSPIRATION

 

Over the last several months, under the most intense pressure and attacks of my ministry career, and greatest weariness, I needed sleep, yes, but even more I needed inspiration. That’s when I turned to the Word of God, the Bible reading plan, I read it, studied it, prayed it and I lived it. As the Lord said to Joshua,

 

Joshua 1:8-9 (ESV Strong’s)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

 

3.      GET SOME SUPPORT

 

Get inspired. Listen to sermons, podcasts, read Christian books, speak to strong believers, read God’s Word. What’s kept me going over the last few months of intense weariness is those around me encouraging me, believing in me.

 

My wife, our team here at Ignite, other pastors, friends new and old, are what keeps me going in my weariness. It is their encouragement and support.

 

Proverbs 27:9 (ESV Strong’s)

Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

 

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (ESV Strong’s)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

 

Friends standing with you, like Aaron and Hur, can support your arms and hold you up when you need it. So reach out in your weariness.

 

4.      GET PRACTICAL, TAKE IT STEP BY STEP, OVERCOME WEARINESS

 

When you feel weariness again and again you get you’re down.

 

Matthew 6:34 (ESV Strong’s)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 

When you are weary and facing overwhelm, take each problem one at a time. Take each day one at a time. Don’t try and do it all at once, seek God and take on one giant at a time.

 

5.      GET FOCUSSED ON JESUS

 

What you focus on determines what you see, and what you see determines where you are going. The spies that gave a bad report only saw troubles, they saw giants, they saw themselves as grasshoppers.

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

If you are weary right now, start to take your eyes off the hassles and soul sapping troubles you have and fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith.

 

Welly

 

6.      GET SERIOUS WITH GOD ABOUT YOUR FUTURE

 

God promises you that He has a plan and a future for you. Pray like you believe it! Live like it!

 

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV Strong’s)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

But people forget the next 2 verses,

 

Jeremiah 29:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

 

So in your weariness, in your weakness, seek God with all your heart for your future. He’s on your side when darkness comes!

 

COME TO ME

 

Galatians 6:9 (ESV Strong’s)

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

 

Some of you here, you love God, you want to serve the Lord, but you’re tired, you’re down, you’re flat, you’re just plain struggling with weariness. And  if you get enough knocks, enough set backs, enough criticisms, you can get tired of doing good. Today I’m like that… I’m tired, and I need a touch from the Lord. Maybe you do too!

 

Jesus knows you feel this way. He says,

 

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV Strong’s)

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

 

Jesus calls you today… If you are feeling the weariness , sad, tired, fading, discouraged, down, then that’s the promise of Jesus right now.

 

Maybe you’ve been believing for a loved one to come to Christ, for a breakthrough, or a healing or a job. You still love God, you still believe, you’re just tired and weary. Jesus says,   Come, come and be refreshed.

 

Acts 3:19-20 (ESV Strong’s)

Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,

 

When you come to Christ, it’s not all peaches and cream, unicorns and rainbows. There are still burdens, still trials, still attacks that can cripple you and depress you and make you tired and weary and just about ready to give up. Many give up on their dreams just before their big breakthrough.

 

But when you come to Jesus, your burden, your yoke, which once was ill fitting, rubbing, scaring, hurting, tiring, He now fits for you. His yoke is made for you. It’s still a yoke, there are still burdens, but they no longer rub or hurt or drain you. His burden is easy and light, and allows you rest for your soul.

 

So today, I know some of you, myself included, are weary. You’re not in sin, you’re not far away from the Lord, you’re just tired and weary.

We’ve been looking at the journey of life through the Exodus, and I want to stop along the way and more closely examine a fascinating story, concerning a prophet by the name of Balaam. This is a case study in how people, including us, attempt to manipulate God…

BALAK’S INSURANCE POLICY

The children of Israel are wandering through the desert, and have just successfully beaten up, killed, and plundered the Amorites. Balak, the king of Moab, has just seen all of this, and he is worried that his people might be next in line. What he is looking for is an insurance policy, and he sees his chance in a guy called Balaam. He sends a load of what’s called “fees for divination,” read a healthy bribe, and says this…

 

Numbers 22:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)

“Behold, a people has come out of Egypt. They cover the face of the earth, and they are dwelling opposite me. Come now, curse this people for me, since they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them from the land, for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed.”

 

Balaam had a reputation as someone who knew God, could hear God and could curse or bless people and it would stick. He also had a reputation as a prophet for profit, dispensing God’s blessing or curses as he desired to the highest bidder.

 

When first approached, Balaam does the right thing, he goes to God…

 

Numbers 22:8 (ESV Strong’s)

And he said to them, “Lodge here tonight, and I will bring back word to you, as the Lord speaks to me.” So the princes of Moab stayed with Balaam.

 

The Lord clarifies who these men are, and what they were asking Balaam.

 

Numbers 22:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)

God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” So Balaam rose in the morning and said to the princes of Balak, “Go to your own land, for the Lord has refused to let me go with you.”

 

GRUDGING OBEDIENCE

 

I’d have thought that was a pretty clear answer… Do not go with them. You can’t get any clearer than that! Now, God doesn’t always tell you why. He might just say “No.” But apparently Balaam had such a good relationship with God that He even told him why he wasn’t supposed to go. “You shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.”

 

This is where we start to see sin crouching at the door, the slow, subtle decline into disobedience. Balaam could have said, “I can’t curse these people, because God says they are blessed,” But he didn’t. Notice what he did say… Verse 13… the Lord has refused to let me go with you.

 

What does that mean? He means that he wished he could go, but “God won’t let him.” Remember, he expected to be paid for his work. “I’d love to do it guys, but that big old mean God won’t let me!”

 

How many of us are like that?  We know God wants us to be obedient, and we are, but grudgingly. See where Balaam’s heart is pointing right now? How often, when we know what God wants us to do, do we go through the motions, not out of love but out of duty or fear.

 

BALAAM: DISOBEDIENCE MASQUERADING AS OBEDIENCE

 

So Balak, sensing an opportunity to bend Balaam and hence God to his will, sends more princes, more numerous and distinguished than the former.

 

Numbers 22:17 (ESV Strong’s)

for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’”

 

Notice once again Balaam’s answer revealing his reluctant obedience…

 

Numbers 22:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)

But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.”

 

Let’s recap… Balak asked Balaam, Balaam asked God, God said no. Then Balak asked Balaam again, Balaam again grudgingly said no, then added, let me just ask God once more. Balaam is trying manipulate God into giving him what he wants, and he does it in a very pious and religious sounding way!

 

So what about you? When God says no, how do you respond? Do you demand a reason? Do you try another method to manipulate God?

 

There’s a big difference between just obeying God on the outside, and obeying from a thankful, joyful, loving heart. I don’t obey God because I have to, or because I’m afraid He will zap me with lightening if I screw up. I obey Him because I love Him.

 

DEAR LORD I WANT IT…

 

Let’s look at an example… you’re looking for a husband or wife. Along comes a nice girl or guy, kind, pretty, smart. Problem is, they’re not a Christian. So you say, “I’d love to date you, but God says I can’t.” That is a green light for them to try plan B, or C, until they find a way to win you over. They will often pretend to get saved just to get you!

 

And the start of this decline comes when God says no and you say, let me just check in on that again and see if maybe God has changed His mind.

 

When you want a job, a ministry, a spouse, a house or anything else that bad, you need to understand how wicked that actually is, and realise that you’re opening yourself up for all kinds of attack. You’re saying, not what you want from me God, I demand this!

 

If the devil knows you’re convinced that God is the wisest, and that you know it’s best to follow His counsel, that you trust Him no matter the result, then he doesn’t have a point of attack. But if he knows you lack conviction, then all he’s got to do is get you to believe that your desires or opinions are better, smarter, or more pleasing than God’s principles.

 

WHAT’S YOUR PRICE?

 

Balaam sees the entourage coming, and it’s not just the messengers, it’s the corporate VP and general manager, and he thinks, “hmmm, I really want this, I might just go and work on God some more. This is a one time offer I need to take no matter what.”

 

A poll was taken in the US asking men and women how much money it would take for them to agree to sleep with a stranger. The average amount for the men was $10.00. The average for the women was $10,000. But as the dollar amount got higher, almost everybody at some point said, “Yes, I’d sleep with a stranger for a million dollars.”

 

But what I’d say to all of them is – you’re all prostitutes! All you’re changing is the price. You’re willing to set aside your convictions for money. If you can be bought at any price, then God doesn’t care about the price. He only cares that you can be bought.

 

At what point are you willing to disobey God? What is there that can buy you? Are you for sale? Is God for sale in your life? Is obedience for sale?

 

James 4:17 (ESV Strong’s)

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

 

2 Corinthians 1:17 (ESV Strong’s)

Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?

 

The flesh vacillates, it changes according to whims and fashions and social norms, but the Word of God stands forever. We need to be obedient, not trying to manipulate from God the answers we want!

 

LET ME PRAY ABOUT IT

 

If you’re going to disobey God and sin, do it in a Christian way. Say, let me pray about it. But if you are asking God, and God says no, but you keep asking until He seems to allow it, beware!

 

Numbers 22:19-21 (ESV Strong’s)

So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

 

Balaam should have said, I asked, God, He said no, that’s the end of it!

 

James 4:7 (ESV Strong’s)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

Balaam didn’t resist the devil, he entertained him. He invited the devil in for tea and scones! He should have told the messengers to go, but he essentially said, “let me go talk to God. Let me pray about it. Maybe God will change His mind by the morning.”

 

How many people have gone to hell “praying about it”? How many people have disobeyed God saying, “Well, I really have a burden for this,” or “I really feel led to do that.” I’ve seen dozens of people claiming God told them to leave a church, and they go nowhere, and achieve nothing for God!

 

I can’t believe the number of people that say, “Well, I’ve really prayed about it…” I don’t care what you’ve prayed, I want to know what God said, not what you’ve convinced yourself you’ve manipulated Him into doing for you!

 

Christianity is not a tool to get what you want. We need to pray with open, honest hearts, ready to obey, not trying to manipulate God. Some preach

 

Mark 11:24 (ESV Strong’s)

Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

 

Some teach this means you can get God to do your bidding if you just believe hard enough. God can be your celestial Santa Clause giving you whatever you want if you ask and believe for it. They completely overlook what it means to pray according to God’s will. If means trusting God even if you don’t get what you want!

 

GIMME, GIMME, GIMME SAID BALAAM

 

God answered Balaam, and Balaam appeared to get his way. God had said no, but as some spouses know, nagging can get results.

 

God says “No” to Balaam one time, and the next time He just tells him, “All right, go,” without giving any reason. Beware. If God says “No,” and then you keep asking, He may just say, “All right, if you’re not going to be obedient, go ahead. Do what you want.”

 

Numbers 23:19 (ESV Strong’s)

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

 

Watch out – if you keep whining and whimpering to God about that thing you want after He’s already told you “No,” you’d better be very careful…you just might get what you’re after. He may finally say “Yes,” and you will have to live with the disastrous results.

 

WISDOM FROM AN UNLIKELY SOURCE

 

Now for a spot of comedy.

 

Numbers 22:22 (ESV Strong’s)

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the donkey, and his two servants were with him.

 

3 times the donkey disobeyed his master, and Balaam beat him. Then, weirdly,

 

Numbers 22:28 (ESV Strong’s)

Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?”

 

Now Balaam should have stopped and thought, that’s odd, a talking donkey. But he was so intent on sinning, he never stopped to see the obvious. Sometimes we are so intent on getting what we want we miss the obvious warning signs!

 

Numbers 22:29-31 (ESV Strong’s)

And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face.

 

God gave Balaam what he wanted, which led directly to death, but his donkey saved him… The angel said,

 

Numbers 22:33 (ESV Strong’s)

The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.”

 

THE LONG SLIDE

 

This is where Balaam’s words get really interesting.

 

Numbers 22:34 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.”

 

Let’s analyse this. I have sinned… OK, he acknowledges his sin, that’s a nice start, you might even think he is repenting, turning around and heading home. But no, look at what he says. He’s not sorry he’s sinned, he’s just sorry for the consequences. But his next statement sounds pious but is really very, very wicked… Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” It means, “If it displeases you, I will turn back.”

 

What more do you need, Balaam? Your donkey is talking to you, and you’ve got the angel of the Lord Himself standing there with a drawn sword ready to kill you, and you’re saying, “If it displeases you, I will turn back”!

 

When you disobey and then dull your conscience, beware… You are headed to destruction. Balaam wanted the rewards so bad, even in the face of disaster, he still paid lip service to repentance without actually repenting.

 

THE ATTITUDE GOES DOWNHILL

 

So Balaam gets his wish and goes with the men, and Balak expects him to curse the people of Israel. Balaam points out the following…

 

Numbers 22:38 (ESV Strong’s)

Balaam said to Balak, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.”

 

Balaam is saying, I’m here, but God has me over a barrel, and I’m not happy about it, but sadly, I have to obey God. Reluctant obedience!

 

Listen, no one gives up anything for God. Serving God is the greatest privilege and joy I know, but I’m sick of hearing people who say I’ve given up this career or that guy or this opportunity for God.

 

The Apostle Paul had power and prestige and respect, but he said this

 

Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV Strong’s)

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ

 

Count them as rubbish, which in Greek literally means dung or poo. It means all the things I could have in life are like pieces of poo next to knowing and serving Jesus. I don’t give up my garbage, I throw it away. If you put God first, unlike Balaam, then He will raise up in you potential you probably don’t even know is there, and you can impact this world for Jesus!

 

STOP, AND LET IT GO!

 

So over the next few chapters, Balak takes Balaam to different locations hoping to get a good curse out of him, but all Balaam can do is bless the people of Israel. Why is Balaam still there? Why is Balaam following him? Balaam just won’t let this thing go. Maybe it’s a word to someone here to stop pursuing your own way and turn back to God while you still can.

 

Balaam tries everything. He makes loads of sacrifices, prays a lot, inquires of the Lord, gets all religious, but in the end all he does is bless instead of curse, and Balak is getting really mad at him.

 

Numbers 23:12 (ESV Strong’s)

And he (Balaam) answered and said, “Must I not take care to speak what the Lord puts in my mouth?”

 

That’s a religious Spirit right there. He claims to be speaking the words of God, but he sure hasn’t been obedient… It’s just lip service. Balak drags Balaam from mountain to mountain, offering more and more money, and Balaam keeps following him because his eyes are on the loot!

 

Well, Balak has had enough and is so angry he says

 

Numbers 24:11 (ESV Strong’s)

Therefore now flee to your own place. I said, ‘I will certainly honor you,’ but the Lord has held you back from honor.”

 

In other words, you’d better get out of here before I wipe you out!

 

WHERE THERE’S A WILL, WE FIND A WAY!

 

Numbers 24:14 (ESV Strong’s)

And now, behold, I am going to my people. Come, I will let you know what this people will do to your people in the latter days.”

 

At first glance you might think Balaam has come to his senses, but hidden in Balaam’s words are more than oracles of blessing upon Israel. After he leaves,

 

Numbers 25:1-2 (ESV Strong’s)

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods.

 

Balaam couldn’t get his way by manipulating God, so he found another way. As a result 24,000 Israelites died of plague.

 

Balaam could not curse Israel, but he offered Balak a little friendly advice, probably to get the fee he was after: “If you want to know how to get them, send your hookers, send your daughters, own there to entice them and tempt them and intermarry with them. Then invite them over to your religious services, to your gods, and you’ll steal their hearts away from their God.”

 

Balaam was pretty smart, you know. He said, “I can’t curse them because God won’t let me. But sin will curse them. If you can get them to sin, you won’t need me to curse them. Sin will do it for you.” Here’s proof of his advice…

 

Numbers 31:16 (ESV Strong’s)

Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.

 

Revelation 2:14 (ESV Strong’s)

But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.

 

Balaam got his way eventually, but he also got his comeuppance!

 

Joshua 13:22 (ESV Strong’s)

Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain.

 

You  cannot manipulate God and get away with it. I bet when they parted, Balaam, left a rich man, but he was really a fool…

 

Mark 8:36 (ESV Strong’s)

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?

 

What does it profit you if you manipulate God into giving you your own way but compromise your relationship with Him?

 

2 Chronicles 16:9 (ESV Strong’s)

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

 

OBEDIENCE OR BUST

 

Balaam error was twofold: 1. He used the gift and calling of God for his own selfish gain, and 2. When God said clearly no, he kept asking. He did his best to look religious and pious while finding a way around actually being obedient to God. He spoke God’s words, but he didn’t have God’s heart.

 

And if you don’t share God’s heart, you might think you’re doing what He wants you to do, but you may in fact only be going through outward motions of obedience. You might read your Bible and say your prayers and keep the rules, yet in your heart be can be a wicked, wicked servant.

 

You must know His heart and His attitudes; share His hatred toward sin, and His love for souls… His love for others and His love for you.

 

How many want something specifically right now?

 

The Journey 3- The Tests

Any great journey has, built into it, various kinds of tests. Any great voyage faces some kind of trial. Some time of choppy water or tempest before we make it safely into the harbour.

We’ve been looking at Exodus, and like any other epic journey, Moses and the people of Israel faced many tests along the way. If you know anything about tests, if you’ve sat any tests before, you would realise that the purpose of these is to examine you, what you know and how you perform. A test is something you can either pass or fail. If you pass, you get another round of tests. If you fail, you get to resit the test.

Moses led the people on a journey that lasted 40 years, and right at the end as they were about to enter the Promised Land, he told the people this…

 

Deuteronomy 8:2 (ESV Strong’s)

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

 

Tests in life come that He might know what’s in our hearts.

 

Lord speak to us now, and if we face tests right now, speak into those very situations, we pray in Jesus’ name.

 

THE PURPOSE OF TESTS

 

Unless you test something, you can never be sure it works properly. Imagine what our roads would look like if all we had to do to get a licence as say how good a driver we are? Imagine how confident you would be in a surgeon who studied but never passed a test in medical school, but did drive a Lexis? Imagine if you came to me with a vision problem and without testing your eyes I prescribed a random lens I hoped would help you see? Wouldn’t  you look at me and say, “Should’ve gone to the other guys?”

 

1.      TESTS PROVE YOUR COMPETENCY AND CHARACTER

 

Tests are not bad or evil, they are necessary to prove to your examiners and to yourself that you are competent, able to do the task, and also that you have the character, the ability and integrity perform the task wisely.

 

Moses was tested many times. He failed when he murdered the Egyptian, or when he struck the rock in anger, but he passed the plagues and the Red Sea showdown with flying colours!

 

If you are facing a test right now, don’t get discouraged; it’s not an affliction, it is an opportunity to shine! Tests prove competency and character.

 

James 1:2-3 (ESV Strong’s)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

 

2.      TESTS ALSO DEVELOP YOUR COMPETENCY AND CHARACTER

 

Testing places you under pressure, and it also causes you to develop in both competency and character. As you pass one test, your confidence and faith to face and pass the next test increases.

 

Joseph looked back on a life of unbelievable tests with God’s perspective

 

Genesis 50:20 (ESV Strong’s)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

 

He saw that God had used the tests he had faced to develop his character and abilities for such a time as this. Tests are not bad, they are good.

 

Hebrews 12:11 (ESV Strong’s)

For the moment all discipline (Greek, tutoring, testing, training) seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

 

TESTS ARE NORMAL

 

1 Peter 4:12-13 (ESV Strong’s)

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.

 

Some Christians are shocked when God tests their faith, but we should not be. If our faith is tested in a fiery crucible, we should not be surprised, we should rejoice.

 

Some people teach that if God is in something it all becomes easy, so if it is hard, is can’t be God. That’s not my experience, and I’m pretty sure Moses, Joseph, Abraham, David, Paul and Jesus would disagree. If you’re tested, if you’re challenged, if you’re stretched it’s very often a sign of being in God’s will, not put of it! If you’re sailing through life without problems, chances are the devil has neutralised you and you are no threat to him!

 

YOU CAN PASS OR FAIL

 

Even the Blessing of God can be a test, and with any test you can pass or fail.

 

Exodus 16:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.

 

Moses actually faced the same test twice, with massive consequences and a different result…

 

Exodus 17:6-7 (ESV Strong’s)

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

 

Meribah means test, and so it became a test for the people and Moses himself.

 

Later on in the journey, the people again complained and moaned about the lack of water, at the same place of testing, Meribah, and God said this…

 

Numbers 20:8 (ESV Strong’s)

“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water.

 

But then Moses and Aaron got angry, and note the words…

 

Numbers 20:10-12 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

 

Huge test, huge failure. God is going to test you, but beware of being too arrogant and confident in yourself that you fail the test!

 

TESTS IN LIFE COME FROM A VARIETY OF SOURCES

 

God allows testing in our lives, and it comes from many sources. People we love will often test us. Circumstances will test us. Sometimes temptations test us. Let me share some of the categories of testing Moses faced

 

1.      MORAL TESTS

 

When Moses killed the Egyptian overseer he failed a moral test. He committed murder. When David looked over the fence at Bathsheba he failed a moral test as well. Some tests are tests of our character, and we need to pass them to grow in the things of God.

 

A moral test might look like it’s about you and another person or persons, but it is really about you and God. David confessed his sin of adultery, but he said to God,

 

Psalms 51:4 (ESV Strong’s)

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

 

If you face temptation or some kind of moral test, remember that a moral test is not about them, it’s really about you and the Lord, and if you fail you let God down number one.

 

2.      OBEDIENCE TESTS

 

Most tests you face in life come down to one simple thing… obedience. The options you face might both be moral, but only one is obedience, and partial obedience is actually disobedience!

 

When Moses decided to obey God before the burning bush in Exodus 3, he set out for Egypt with his wife and child, and immediately faced an obedience test.

 

Exodus 4:24-25 (ESV Strong’s)

At a lodging place on the way the Lord met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”

 

When you face a test of obedience, it’s best to do it with godly people. That’s why all decisions made in this church I make with my team. Moses had a good helper in his wife, and godly spouses can make all the difference when we face tests of obedience.

 

Most questions of morality are also tests of obedience. Whether you take that pen at the bank is not about pens or how many the bank has, it’s a test of obedience.

 

3.      TESTS FROM WITHOUT

 

Many tests come from outside of ourselves and are beyond our control. A tragedy, a death, a fire or flood or drought may be a test, but you didn’t cause it, nor did you seek it, nor is there any moral question. It is just life, and life throws up tests for us.

 

No sooner had the people of Israel escaped the Egyptians through the Red Sea but they faced an attack from the Amalekites. Amalek was a descendant of Esau, so this attack came from people they were distantly related to.

 

God allows tests from outside of ourselves to give us a chance to shine

 

1 Peter 1:6-7 (ESV Strong’s)

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

 

4.      TESTS FROM WITHIN

 

Perhaps even more difficult are tests from within. People around us, close to us, can often be a test for us. Moses found this when the very people he rescued, and some he trusted, grumbled and complained about his leadership.

 

Exodus 16:8 (ESV Strong’s)

the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”

 

Grumbling, complaining, criticising… These are tests from within, and this kind of test often pushed Moses and God to the brink! Those closest to you can provide incredible support, or diabolical testing, so be careful what you say.

 

HOW TO FACE YOUR TEST

 

Let me wrap it up with a brief discussion on how you can pass the tests of life. Moses did a phenomenal job serving God and leading he people. He faced and passed test after test, and saved his people time and again.

 

Deuteronomy 9:14 (ESV Strong’s)

Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they.’

 

Deuteronomy 9:18 (ESV Strong’s)

Then I lay prostrate before the Lord as before, forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all the sin that you had committed, in doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord to provoke him to anger.

 

So how should you face the tests life throws at you?

 

1.      FOCUS ON THE LORD, NOT THE PROBLEM

 

Whatever test you face seems big, it seems like a giant, but I’m telling you now that your God is bigger!  Whenever you face a problem, however big it seems, fix your eyes on Jesus!

 

Colossians 3:2 (ESV Strong’s)

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

 

1 Samuel 17:45 (ESV Strong’s)

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.

 

When you face a test, don’t focus on the challenge, focus on God, and let Him fight for you, let Him lead you to victory in the test! How do you do that? The best way to start to focus on the Lord in a test is to have a thankful heart.

 

God spoke to me from my quiet time just a week or two ago about a test faced. I wanted to answer the allegations, I wanted to fire up and fight for what I thought was right, to correct the lies, but God told me otherwise…

 

Exodus 14:13-14 (ESV Strong’s)

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

 

In any test, if you focus on the problem you see only problems. If you focus on Jesus, you see only Jesus, and He sorts your problems and He passes every test!

 

2.      FOCUS ON THE REWARD, NOT THE LOSS

 

Fear is one of the strongest emotions you can experience. It can occupy every space in your mind, causing sickness, sleeplessness and failure. Fear of loss paralyses people and stops them from moving ahead.

 

Moses faced the test at the Red Sea. More than a million people, backs to the sea, facing the oncoming army of Egypt and facing certain annihilation.

 

Exodus 14:21 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.

 

Exodus 14:27 (ESV Strong’s)

So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to its normal course when the morning appeared. And as the Egyptians fled into it, the Lord threw the Egyptians into the midst of the sea.

 

Yet no sooner had they seen this great miracle but they started looking back with rose coloured lenses and the so called good things in Egypt.

 

Later on, after experiencing  this great miracle and many more like it, the people faced the prospect of the dream coming true. God told them the Promised Land was awesome, but rather than take Him at His word by faith, they decided to check it out, and Moses sent 12 spies into the land. 10 focussed on the problems, the enemy, the giants, and 2 focussed on the Blessing…

 

Numbers 13:30-31 (ESV Strong’s)

But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.”

 

When you walk by faith, the future is your friend, and every enemy is defeated. It’s your choice as to what you focus on, but the consequences are dire!

 

Don’t let fear rob you of passing the test. I’m speaking directly to someone here, don’t let your fear stop you stepping out in faith!

 

3.      FOCUS ON ONE PROBLEM AT A TIME

 

I find tests come in groups, and that’s part of the devil’s tactics. He loves to overwhelm you, so face each problem, each test one by one if you can.

 

Matthew 6:34 (ESV Strong’s)

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

 

Step by step. Test by test. Stop worrying about what may or may not result, take every test to the Lord and let Him worry about that. You have enough. 99% of what we worry about never happens, so why waste energy on them?

 

4.      FOCUS PERIPHERALLY ON THE  BIG PICTURE

 

This sounds paradoxical, but as you focus on the test you currently face, keep in mind the overall picture. As I faced many tests and exams at Uni, I focussed on the test, but my peripheral vision, what kept me going in the toughest times, was on the prize of qualifying in my profession.

 

That what makes footballers great, they see the ball and the player coming at them but they are aware of every player around them. Peripheral vision makes a good player great, and so it is with us.

 

As you face your tests, take them one by one, focus on Jesus not the test, but never lose sight of the big picture. God has a plan and destiny for you. He has plans to prosper you, not to harm you. Even though you face a severe test right now, He has you in the palm of His hand, and you can trust Him and you will pass this test!

 

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV Strong’s)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

 

The Weaving

 

My life is but a weaving

Between my God and me.

I cannot choose the colors

He weaveth steadily.

 

Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;

And I in foolish pride

Forget He sees the upper

And I the underside.

 

Not ’til the loom is silent

And the shuttles cease to fly

Will God unroll the canvas

And reveal the reason why.

 

The dark threads are as needful

In the weaver’s skillful hand

As the threads of gold and silver

In the pattern He has planned

 

He knows, He loves, He cares;

Nothing this truth can dim.

He gives the very best to those

Who leave the choice to Him.

 

You can’t see the whole picture, but you know the guy who sees the whole picture!

 

TESTS ARE YOUR MOMENT TO SHINE!

 

Tests are not to be feared, they are  your chance to shine, to show the Lord your faithfulness and trust in Him.

 

Right now some of you are being tested. As Moses was so often.  Some are tested by circumstances, some by health, by finances, by people close to you. Whatever the source of the test, the aim is to pass it, and to move further into what God has for you.

 

Proverbs 17:3 (ESV Strong’s)

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

 

Silver is put in the crucible, it’s heated and the dross, the impurity rises to the top. The silversmith scoops it away, then heats it again, even more intensely.  In this test, more dross rises and it removed, then he heats it again, and again.

 

Up to 7 times. Someone asks, how do you know when the silver is pure, when it is refined. The silversmith replies, when I look into it and see my own image.

 

God is testing, He is refining, and if you are faithful, if you pass the test, He will see His own image reflected in you.

The Journey 2: The Hardening

We’ve started a series on the journey of life, and I’m taking some lessons our of the Exodus. Today want to zero in on the hardening of the heart, as we see so clearly in Pharaoh.

WHAT IS A HARD HEART?

A hard heart is defined by Merriam Webster as “to stop having kind or friendly feelings for someone or caring about something.” Look around at our world today and you’ll see that peoples hearts are harder than ever. Even Christians seem to tolerate a hardening of hearts, and if they get hurt or upset, so instead of opening up to God when hurt, they harden up to minimise the pain. It’s a protective response.

 

In a physical sense, human hearts can calcify or become sclerosed, which means they become harder, less flexible and less able to pump blood and sustain life. Picture a rubber-band, initially stretchy but over time becoming hard and snapping instead of stretching.

 

Your heart in Scripture is the seat of soul, which is your mind, will and emotions. It’s the you that lives forever, and that’s why you need to guard it…

 

Proverbs 4:23 (ESV Strong’s)

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

 

Spiritually it is the same. Having a hard heart towards God means you toughen up, stop connecting to, listening to or  obeying God. We can all of us experience a hardened heart.

 

HARDENING IS A PROCESS

 

Much like a hair care product, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen! The hardening of a heart is a process, one that feeds itself and gathers momentum, and if we are not careful we can all experience this. Paul’s describe unbelievers in this way

 

Ephesians 4:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

 

When I first started playing the guitar my fingers hurt so badly! The pressure of my finger tips on the strings was immense, but as I persisted, I developed callouses and soon I couldn’t feel anything. Hardening is a process, and the more you do it, the less you feel.

 

Jesus describes this

 

Matthew 13:15 (ESV Strong’s)

For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

 

The Greek word for dull is pachyno, which means fattened, thickening and insensitive. A hard heart is insensitive to God. And we can all go there if we make wrong decisions and resist God in our lives. So let’s look at Pharaoh…

 

WHO’S HARDENING WHO?

 

So, the question is did God harden Pharaoh’s heart, or did Pharaoh?  As I searched to understand who is hardening who here, I came upon an analogy that helped.

 

Think of God as an author. He writes a book with characters. The characters in the story makes decisions, but did they make the decision, or did the author? The answer is, both, isn’t it? The characters caught up in the plot make decisions that affect their lives, but the author is still guiding the overall plot and not forcing them to make the decisions. Paul talks of Pharaoh,

 

Romans 9:18 (ESV Strong’s)

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

 

So heart hardening is a process involving our free will decisions plus God’s sovereignty.  It is fascinating to examine the hardening process in Pharaoh, because it gives us clues as to how human hearts in general can become hardened towards God.

 

GOD IS SOVEREIGN

 

Exodus 4:21 (ESV Strong’s)

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

 

And we could leave it at that general level and simply affirm and celebrate the truth that God is sovereign over the human heart. Exodus goes deeper describing hard hearts, but it is all under the banner of God’s sovereign will.

 

THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL OF HARDENING A HEART

 

In the Exodus account there are 10 plagues inflicted on Pharaoh and the Egyptians, starting with

 

Blood: Pharaoh’s heart “became hard” (7:22)

Frogs: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (8:15)

Gnats: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (8:19)

Flies: “Pharaoh hardened his own heart” (8:32)

Livestock die: Pharaoh’s heart “was hard” (9:7)

Boils: “The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (9:12)

Hail: Pharaoh “hardened his own heart” (9:34)

Locusts: God announces that he has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:1,10:20)

Darkness: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (10:27)

Death of the firstborn: God “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (11:10)

 

In the first 5 plagues, either Pharaoh is said to have hardened his heart (plagues 2 and 4), or the source of the hardening is ambiguous, (plagues 1,3 and 5). In plagues 6-10 something changes, we hear four times that God has hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so there is a change, a progression in the process.

 

THREE MEANINGS OF HARDENING

 

The are 3 distinct Hebrew words used for hardening.

 

1.      QASHAH, k-shar

 

This means to stiffen, make hard or stubborn, and it is only used in Exodus 7:3, which is before the plagues actually begin.

 

Exodus 7:3 (ESV Strong’s)

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt,

 

How many of us have resisted God and stiffened our hearts. Like when someone punches you in the stomach, but you stiffen or harden your abs to resist the force.

 

2.      CHAZAQ, shaz-ack

 

This word means “to strengthen, prevail, harden, become strong, firm, or resolute.” It shows up 12 times throughout the Exodus account, sometimes in the ambiguous sense, and sometimes God actively doing it. It seems to indicate a strengthening in whatever direction you’re already going.

 

So while ambiguous as to who is doing it, it implies that it is simply a strengthening of the state of the heart Pharaoh already had.

 

3.      KABED, ka-bed

 

This 3rd form of hardening means “to make heavy” or “to deaden.” Both Pharaoh and God are said to deaden Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh’s heart is described as heavy in 7:14, and then beginning in 8:15, Pharaoh makes his heart heavy, or he deadens his heart. This really implies the end product of the progression, which is a heart that is totally deadened towards God.

 

So here’s how it unfolds.

 

AT SOME POINT PHARAOH CROSSES A LINE

 

 

God promises that he will strengthen and stiffen Pharaoh’s heart. During the initial plagues, we’re told that Pharaoh’s heart was strengthened. Pharaoh is a wicked tyrant, so initially all that happens is that God simply strengthens Pharaoh in the direction he’s already going. He lets him do what he wants to do. He doesn’t have to turn Pharaoh’s heart; he just has to let the water take the course that’s before it.

 

Proverbs 21:1 (ESV Strong’s)

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 

God us like that with us at times… His punishment if you like is to actually let us do what we want y ok do, even though He knows that ultimately it will destroy us!

 

Next, in 7:14 it literally says “Pharaoh’s heart was heavy/dead.” It’s a rock, stone. Then as we move past the second plague (frogs), we’re told that Pharaoh deadened his heart (8:15). He dug in. He doubled down. And for the first six plagues, we jump back and forth between Pharaoh deadening his own heart, and God strengthening Pharaoh’s heart [to do what it’s already doing].

 

Then in chapter 10, as the eighth plague approaches, we’re told for the first time that God deadened Pharaoh’s heart. And from then on, there’s no ambiguity. From chapter 10 through to 14 we see God is strengthening Pharaoh’s heart in the direction that indicates God had deadened Pharaoh’s heart. Why is this significant? Well, just before plague 7 (the first in the final cycle of three plagues), God tells Pharaoh:

 

Exodus 9:14-17 (ESV Strong’s)

For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself (Heb lit: your own heart), and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. You are still exalting yourself against my people and will not let them go.

 

In other words, at this point, we’ve crossed a line. The plagues have escalated to the point that, even if Pharaoh refuses to acknowledge God and love Him, you would think that to save himself the pain, he would relent.  God desires at this point to bring the full weight of his judgment on the Egyptians, so he deadens Pharaoh’s heart to the point that Pharaoh won’t turn, even out of self-preservation.

 

In fact, after the seventh plague, Pharaoh’s servants urge him to do that. “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go. Don’t you get that Egypt is ruined?” (10:7). Pharaoh tries to negotiate with Moses and God, but Moses insists on full obedience, but so Pharaoh, because his heart has now been fully deadened, says, “No!” (10:11) and finally drives Moses and Aaron from his presence.

 

SUMMARY OF THE SLIDE INTO HARDENING YOUR HEART

 

So to summarise, at the beginning, Pharaoh is a sinner. He’s a rebel. He’s determined, unrepentant and does not honour God.

 

God sends plagues that initially  inconvenience him, but he stubbornly refuses to budge, because and he and God strengthen his heart to do what it’s already wanting to do. But as time goes on, and as Pharaoh is strengthened in his rebellion, he begins to deaden his own heart towards God.

 

At some point he eventually he crosses a line so that God brings the full weight of his judgment down on Pharaoh; the plagues come on Pharaoh’s heart, causing pain to him personally, and now God himself actively deadens Pharaoh’s heart so that he is completely blinded to the situation and persists in the insanity of disobedience, which ultimately leads to his utter ruin at the Red Sea.

 

IT’S TIME FOR A HEART CHECK

 

So what does this mean for us today?

 

Pharaoh is the poster child for a hard heart, but there are many instances in the Bible concerning hard hearts. Paul looks back on the Pharaoh incident in Romans 9, he also describes unbelievers as having hardened hearts in Ephesians 4:18. Jesus describes religious people as having hard, calloused hearts in Matthew 13, and the people of Israel are described as having hard hearts in Hebrews 3:8, Psalm 95 and other places.

 

How interesting that hardened hearts are often used to describe those who claim to love and serve the Lord. Just because we are believers doesn’t make us impervious to a hard heart, in fact the more religious and judgemental seem to be more prone to hardening their heart to the God they claim to serve!

 

GUARD YOUR HEART, DON’T BARGAIN FOR IT

 

The reality  for all of us is that we must guard our hearts vigilantly. Any of us can suffer a hard heart, towards people who’ve hurt us and especially towards God. The same downward spiral affects us.

 

Someone hurts you, and you feel pain. Usually, the more you love that person the more pain you feel. Right at the start we could take our pain to the Lord,

 

Psalms 34:18 (ESV Strong’s)

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

 

Psalms 147:3 (ESV Strong’s)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

 

But we don’t want to let it go! We take it to the Lord, but inside we feel wronged, unjustly treated, and we feel like we need to not let it go but fight for what we see is right. So to continue that, and protect ourselves from more pain, we harden our heart just a bit.

 

What we don’t realise is that as we harden our heart towards others who’ve hurt us, we also harden it towards the Lord. It’s a slow process, over some time, and like the frog in the pot of boiling water, we don’t feel it, we just fry.

 

If you allow pain, anger and bitterness space in your heart, you will harden your heart for your own protection. If you keep hardening, before long you will harden your heart towards God, and once you build up that crusty, calloused exterior, you will drift away from God, away from the church, away from your destiny!

 

Along the way, so many of us, like Pharaoh, think we can bargain with God. Look at what Pharaoh said…

 

He started off with outright, arrogant rejection…

 

Exodus 5:2 (ESV Strong’s)

But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.”

 

Next, he offered to let Israel sacrifice to their God in Egypt…

 

Exodus 8:25 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.”

 

Then it was, ok sacrifice, but don’t go too far…

 

Exodus 8:28 (ESV Strong’s)

So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only you must not go very far away. Plead for me.”

 

Unable to bear the plagues (8th, locusts) , Pharaoh next tried this one…

 

Exodus 10:11 (ESV Strong’s)

No! Go, the men among you, and serve the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

 

By the 9th plague he was desperate, but still not broken…

 

Exodus 10:24 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Pharaoh called Moses and said, “Go, serve the Lord; your little ones also may go with you; only let your flocks and your herds remain behind.”

 

Until finally God won, and Pharaoh lost, but he still remained stubbornly defiant because his heart was so hardened.

 

WE NEED TO SOFTEN OUR HARD HEART TOWARDS GOD

 

So we have seen that the hardening of the heart starts with us, but if we do not change the Lord allows our heart to grow more and more hardened. Hardening of the heart kills more people than hardening of the arteries!

 

It’s a gradual process, very subtle and extremely dangerous, and is accompanied by feeble attempts to bargain, which Pharaoh did with God, to try and relive the consequences without repenting.

 

If we’re honest, all of us do this from time to time, so we must be vigilant. But if you are finding your heart is growing harder towards the Lord, or someone else, I have some great news for you. Ezekiel tells the hard hearted of Israel,

 

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV Strong’s)

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

 

The hurt, the bitterness, the hard heartedness can be broken right now. You need to make a decision to obey, to repent, to forgive whomever you feel has wronged you. We can start the softening of your heart right now.

 

Hosea 10:12 (ESV Strong’s)

Sow for yourselves righteousness;

reap steadfast love;

break up your fallow ground,

for it is the time to seek the Lord,

that he may come and rain righteousness upon you.

 

When you decide to seek the Lord, He promises that your heart will be softened towards Him, and towards others.

 

 

If you feel your heart has become hardened, even a little bit, I want to open the altar here at the front and have our team pray with you, and together we will believe for a softening of your heart.

 

The Journey 1- The Calling

Last week we talked about what is really important in life. For all of us, life is a journey. Some are at the start, many in the middle, and for some the journey draws to an end.

I want to start a series on the journey of life, because we all are in it. And when you talk journeys in the Bible we need to go straight to the big one… The Exodus. We’re going to start today looking at the call of God.

ONLY ONE LIFE

 

The first point to make is that you have only one life. You don’t get 2 or 3 lives, you’re not doing the Buddhist thing repeating life again and again, the Bible says you get one life…

 

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV Strong’s)

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

 

If you mess this one life up, you can’t replay it. I saw a sign which said, I’m a computer gamer. Don’t tell me to get a life, I have dozens of lives. But that’s fake, folks, it isn’t real. If you mess your one life up, if you waste years, if you invest you life into the wrong thing, you can’t die and start again.

 

After his death, Martin Luther was found to have written 2 phrases in the margin of his Bible… “Born once – die twice; Born twice – die once”. What he was saying was that, everyone is born once, then they die a physical death, followed by eternal death. But if you are born twice, that is born again, you only face physical death and receive eternal life.

 

But we all will die, and we all get one shot at life. Maybe you think you’ve blown your shot at life. Maybe you’ve messed up or missed opportunities.

 

Joel 2:25 (ESV Strong’s)

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,

 

It’s not too late, you can rediscover God’s calling on your life today, right here, and begin the journey, knowing your God is for you and can restore anything you’ve squandered so far on the journey. It’s not too late for you!

 

YOU HAVE BEEN PREPARED

 

Looking back at my life I see the hand of God preparing me to serve Him in my calling. I see things that have happened, good and bad people I have met, some who helped and some who hindered. I see Scriptures confirming, despite what others might say, the gift and call of God as a pastor.

 

And God has been preparing you too, as was said to Esther…

 

Esther 4:14 (ESV Strong’s)

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

 

Everything you’ve gone through, the success, the failures, the times you’ve let God and those who love you down. The pain of rejection, failure, loneliness, even foolish decisions, God can use it all for good ultimately when we obey Him…

 

Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV Strong’s)

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

 

Moses was called of God to lead the people on a great journey. You might say, well that was him, he’s was a great man, but I’m just me. I have this problem, this family, this disability, this hurt. But right at the start, when God called Moses for this great task, He was well aware of Moses’ failings.

 

Moses had a rough upbringing, but he got a break when he was brought up in the Pharaoh’s palace. Then he lost his temper and killed a man, then ran away. He spent 40 years in the wilderness, and some of you here have spent years wandering away from God or church in a wilderness of your own. That doesn’t disqualify you, it just prepares you for the moment when God calls again.

 

YOU ARE CALLED

 

Exodus 3:2-4 (ESV Strong’s)

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

 

God often uses something to capture of attention. What’s your burning bush. Maybe it is the loss of someone you love, perhaps a poor medical diagnosis. Maybe you’ve come to Ignite this morning with a sense in your heart that God has something for you. Today He is capturing your attention.

 

And fair play to Moses, when God called he replied, “Here I am.”

 

So what are you going to say right now to God? Lord, can’t fit You into my schedule. Lord, I’m not worthy. Lord, I’m offended by what the pastor did, or what this or that person said. Why not just put all that aside and say, here I am listening.

 

(Lord speak to us about your calling upon our lives).

 

THE RESPONSE TO THE CALLING

 

The Lord called Moses using a burning bush, but after initially being open to the voice of God, Moses pulled away when he caught a glimpse of what God was calling him to take on. Instead of offering obedience, he offered excuses, and most of us offer the same thing when God calls us. Here’s 5 he offered…

 

1.      WHO AM I?

 

Exodus 3:10-11 (ESV Strong’s)

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

 

Moses first response to the call for leadership was, who am I? He doubted himself, he doubted that God could use someone like him.

 

Moses struggled with his identity. He just didn’t feel qualified; he thought God had picked the wrong leader.

 

And some of you here are like that… you doubt that God can use someone like you. You have hang ups, fears, failures. You’ve done things you are ashamed of, you’ve hurt people you were supposed to love. You’ve failed.

 

Well Moses did all that, plus murder! What ever has happened in the past, whatever you feel towards yourself, you need to stop and recognise that God is God. He made you, He has a plan for you and He doesn’t make mistakes! All you need to do is walk with Him in obedience.

 

Isaiah 29:16 (ESV Strong’s)

Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of him who formed it,

“He has no understanding”?

 

If you are a Christian, the Spirit of God lives in you, so you can’t use the excuse, who am I.  Moses doubted who he was, wondering if God can use a screw up like him. But history shows God does use the base things of this world to confound the wise. Stop doubting the Potter and let Him shape you!

 

God’s response was:

 

Exodus 3:12 (ESV Strong’s)

He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

 

God said,

It doesn’t matter who you are. I am with you…

 

2.      WHO ARE YOU?

 

So Moses countered with a second excuse: Who are You?

 

Exodus 3:13 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

 

It’s one thing to doubt yourself, but another entirely to doubt God! Moses felt a lack of intimacy. He didn’t know God well enough to describe him to the people and lacked convictions concerning his relationship with God.

 

God’s response was:

 

Exodus 3:14 (ESV Strong’s)

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

 

I AM WHO I AM. I AM ever present. I AM everything you need…

 

Destiny is not something that happens to you. Destiny is a series of choices, and the first step towards your destiny in God is to decide to get to know Him. Do the Bible reading plan, come to church, hunger and thirst for righteousness.

 

3.      WHO ARE THEY?

 

Exodus 4:1 (ESV Strong’s)

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’”

 

Moses doubted himself, and God, and now he moves on to doubting the people, and how they will respond. When God calls us one of our big fears is how others will respond.

 

Moses felt intimidated. He was worried about the people’s reaction to him. He was fearful of what others would say. And we are no different today. Our world today is full of opinion, and every feels they can have their say no matter the consequences. People fire up and speak and hurt others all the time, and yes even in church. Listen, someone’s opinion is not more powerful than the call of God.

 

God’s response was: When I’m finished, they’ll listen. In Exodus 4:2-9 God outlines 3 signs to confirm Moses’ calling as leader of the people… A staff that turns into  a snake, skin that turns leprous then heals again, and water that turns into blood.

 

Whatever anybody says, whatever they think of me, I know the calling of God on my life, I know my integrity and I see the fruit.

 

4.      I DON’T HAVE THE SKILL

 

Exodus 4:10 (ESV Strong’s)

But Moses said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.”

 

Moses fretted about his inadequacies. Who would listen to him if he couldn’t even speak well? He looked at his skills and said, hey, I’m not equipped to minister like You’re calling me to, Lord!

 

Many of you here look around and compare yourself with others. If they’re worse than you, you feel pride. If they’re better, you feel inadequate. Comparisons are deadly and never productive.

 

God has placed within you skills, talents and abilities some of which you don’t even yet know about. If He calls you, He equips you, because He never calls you to fail and ruin your life.

 

God’s response was: Guess who made your mouth? (4:11-12).

 

Exodus 4:11-12 (ESV Strong’s)

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

 

That’s why church is important if you want to serve the Lord… It equips you. My role as a pastor is to equip you to fulfil your destiny.

 

Ephesians 4:11-12 (ESV Strong’s)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

 

So if you feel inadequate, take a number and stand in line because we all do. But then get equipped and trained the best way you can and watch God lead you into the most exciting destiny you could ever imagine.

 

5.      FIND SOMEONE ELSE

 

So finally, after all the excuses, we get to the truth…Moses felt inferior. He compared himself to others—even his brother—and decided that he came up short. Then he told God to find someone else… This made God angry…

 

Exodus 4:13 (ESV Strong’s)

But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

 

God has a destiny on your life. God is calling you to serve and make a difference, to do something significant, something that will last for eternity… but are you saying, “No, Lord, send someone else?”

 

There will always be more talented, better qualified, more attractive people out there.

 

1 Corinthians 1:27 (ESV Strong’s)

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

 

And He chooses you. With all your hang ups, sins, feelings of inadequacy, he chooses you. Why? No idea, it’s His decision.

 

There are many beautiful women in the world, movie stars, models and Kardashians. But I choose Fiona. I see in her something that all the others girls, for all their glamour, don’t have. She’s the one that I want, oo-oo-oo, honey. And in the same way, God chooses you.

 

God’s response to Moses’ final excuse was: OK, I will let Aaron go with you . . . but I’m still calling you…

 

Exodus 4:16 (ESV Strong’s)

He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.

 

I will speak to you, you to him and him to the people. But you’re still it, Moses.

 

FIX YOUR EYES ON THE CALLING

 

So at the start of this great journey of faith, Moses heard the call of God. He made excuses, he ducked and weaved, but in the end, he decided to be obedient. And this call was important, because the burning bush and the call of God remained with him all his life, even in the tough times.

 

When Pharaoh attacked, he could fix his eyes on the call. With his back to the Red Sea, he could fix his eyes on that call. When the people moaned, when they rebelled, when they sent him nasty emails and texts, when those closest to him, people he trusted actually rebelled against him… he stood through it all, because he had a call.

 

So what is God calling you to today? Maybe it’s a call you thought long dead, but it has only been dormant. Maybe your searching right now for a place to fit, and a ministry to pursue. And when you know you’re called, doesn’t matter what they say, doesn’t matter what they do, you know in your heart of hearts that God has called you.

 

WALK INTO YOUR DESTINY

 

Robert Krulwich, science correspondent for NPR, believes it is impossible for humans to walk in a straight line

 

Jan Souman, a scientist from Germany, conducted an experiment, where he blindfolded his subjects and then asked them to walk for an hour in a straight line. Without exception, people couldn’t do it.

 

Of course, everybody thinks they’re walking in a straight line, until they remove the blindfolds and see their crooked path.

 

According to this research, there’s only one way we can avoid our normal crooked course and actually walk in a straight line: if we fix our eyes on something ahead of us. Kurlwich concluded, “Without external cues, there’s apparently something in us that makes us turn [from a straight path].”

 

Isaiah 30:21 (ESV Strong’s)

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

 

To move towards our destiny, we must fix our eyes on Jesus, and listen because He is calling us. We must press on, and unless we fix our eyes on Jesus and His calling upon our lives, we will stray.

 

Philippians 3:14 (ESV Strong’s)

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Some of you here today have lost your way, but I want to give you he opportunity right now to refocus on the calling of God in your life. Are you tired, weary, hurt or discouraged? Some of you here believe the calling is lost forever, but it’s not. God is patiently waiting for you to stop giving excuses and start giving obedience.