Walking The Line…
Recently, a series of revelations have led me down a path to conviction. In my last post ‘Water From The Rock‘, I discussed how the Holy Spirit dealt with showing me about unbelief in my life. I had been hoping that at the end of that particular path there was a place of respite – a nice lush meadow in which to lay down in. There was not. I continued down the path and found myself in a place of difficulty. For what I was confronted with was the direct consequence of unbelief: a series of issues that we had been disobedient in.
Now, if you find unbelief hard to swallow, the humble pie that is disobedience is a far more wretched experience that can leave you longing for someone to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre and release you from choking. The real trouble is that rather than spitting out that which is lodged in your throat, you really need to swallow it.
It is funny just how often when you are confronted with one shortcoming, it is only to find something else lurking behind it. I had expected to find rest, but instead I found trauma.
The issues of disobedience I shall come onto shortly but first I feel inclined to tell you something of how God works. It’s not all trauma. There is gentleness too. And blessing. This happened about a year ago.
There is a wonderful account in chapter 13 of Nehemiah where the writer returns to the newly rebuilt Jerusalem only to find that one of the main antagonists of the Jews had moved into rooms in the temple that had been set aside for the priests. As a result the priests had all gone back to work in the fields and none of the priestly duties at the temple were being performed.
Nehemiah threw this interloper out of the temple rooms and had the rooms cleansed and restored to their rightful purpose. God had given me this scripture three times during the course of a week. When I read the text on the first two occasions, I failed to see what God was trying to communicate to me. However, on the third occasion I saw it.
Today, the temple is our heart, where God should be enthroned. We no longer look to an earthly temple as the Jews did then. God has come to dwell in our hearts. What God wanted me to see was that I had something in my own heart that was preventing rightful worship of God to take place. I asked the Holy Spirit to show what was causing the problem, and He did. I was harbouring a sin in my heart that I had dressed up as not a sin. The point was that it simply didn’t belong in my heart for that is God’s dwelling place. I confessed my sin before God and repented of it. I allowed Him to cleanse me with His blood so that I would be, once more, a suitable temple for God’s presence. Do you know what happened then? I had a vision for someone else. It was crystal clear and beautiful. Later that day I was able to share the vision with the recipient and it was clearly significant. God taught me in all of this that having sin of any kind in our hearts will prevent us from being used for what we have been designed for – the glory of God. I just wanted to share that with you. It isn’t always trauma.
With the Holy Spirit showing me about my unbelief, God gave me the wonderful scripture about Moses and Aaron striking the rock with the rod rather than speaking to it. As we read, the water still flowed but the point of the account was that their unbelief led to them not being obedient to what God had said. The net result was that the whole generation alive at the time, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, failed to cross over into the Promised Land.
Now, I should have seen it there in that text – the disobedience as well as the unbelief. But I didn’t. I just figured that the unbelief was the issue and nothing else. That was until instead of the rest I was expecting, I got discomfort.
When I was a child, around 8 or 9 years old I found a small but perfectly rounded stone. It was slightly smaller than a golf ball and gray in colour. It felt very hard, as if made from flint. I had found it on a old Roman road on the South Downs. I kept it with me at all times. It was nice to hold because of its roundness and, generally speaking, I had it in my hand, enjoying its shape and smoothness. One day I was running along a small road at the rear of our house with the stone in my hand and I dropped it. I saw it split open. I was mortified at breaking it but as I picked up the three perfectly equal pieces I found myself amazed. The stone was no ordinary stone. Clearly, a perfectly round stone is unusual to say the least. But in its breaking there was revealed a secret that made it even more special.
I now know that this stone was in fact a geode. Inside my one was a cluster of beautiful crystals and layers of agate. I was fascinated by it. I could fit the three pieces back together so that it still looked round and then I could let the stone fall open to reveal its secret. I hadn’t thought about this stone for many years until I was walking along the path between acknowledging the sin of unbelief and the conviction of our disobedience. Why is it relevant now? I’m not entirely sure but the memory recall was so vivid that I include now because it feels important. God showed me that some things just have to be broken to reveal what’s really inside. I think He is showing me that brokenness is the way. That being more like Jesus means being broken just as He was. And that once we’re broken what’s really inside can be easily seen. It is our will that God wants us to let Him break. Then we can say with confidence ‘your will be done’.
When we started on this journey to open Cornerstone, God had asked us to ‘trust Him with all of our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding’ (Proverbs 3:5). We are still learning what that means exactly but I can tell you when you do trust Him completely, His peace is amazing, regardless of what is going on around you. To trust Him completely means no doubt. None whatsoever. With all of your heart. I had let unbelief creep in. I doubted not that God could do it but that He would. As a result, I wasn’t trusting Him but leaning on my own understanding. My interpretation of what was going on. Bad move. Especially if He has told you to trust Him, and let’s face it – that is exactly what He has told every one of us to do. My doubt led directly to disobedience. But I couldn’t see it at first.
In the first book of Kings (chapter 13) there is the account of ‘The Man of God‘ and the message that God sent him to tell to the evil king, Jeroboam. We learn that God had instructed him with very particular boundaries:
“For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, “You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor shall you return by the same way you came.”” [1 Kings 13:9 NKJV]
This Man of God, this prophet understood perfectly his instructions and at the first time of asking – the first temptation, if you like, he stood his ground and stuck to the word. Now (for the sake of a little context), we know that this prophet had travelled from Judah into the kingdom of Israel. We presume he walked there because someone lent or gave him a donkey after he got there. This area is the wilderness. The trek would have been thirst-quenching and probably arduous. He did well to deny himself and follow the instructions that God had given him. We often get instructions from God that don’t appear to make sense at the time. But God sees everything – not just that which we can grasp with our own understanding.
On his return journey, not only couldn’t he eat or drink but he had to find another route. We presume that he came by the quickest and easiest route in the first place, so the return journey would be harder still. He’s tired. He stops and rests under an oak tree. Another ‘Man of God’ comes to talk with him and tells him that an angel had spoke to him and told him to ‘bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water’…he was lying. The Man of God went back with him and refreshed himself at this stranger’s house. Now, no sooner that they had sat at the table but the word of the Lord came upon the second man and he prophesied over the first that as a direct result of his disobedience he would not be buried in the tomb of his ancestors. In those days this would have been a big deal, especially for a prophet such as he.
The second prophet gave him the donkey and sent him on his way home. Out of nowhere a lion appeared and killed him. The lion sat down beside the corpse. The donkey too. The lion didn’t attack the donkey, only the man. And sure enough, the prophecy was fulfilled for the Man of God was buried in the tomb of strangers.
I have to confess that, until this week, I have always felt a little sorry for the Man of God. I mean, I have always looked at what he did as perfectly understandable. He had after all managed to fend off the first temptation for sustenance from the king. Then another prophet had lied to him and caused him to be disobedient. Poor guy. But I don’t share that same sorrow for him now. Before last week I would have said that he hadn’t sinned because he had followed what he had been told was God’s new instruction to him. But God never does that. He never tells us to do something and then revokes it. Never. He is the same today, yesterday and forevermore.
The lion attacked the Man of God because, despite knowing what God had said, he listened to the advice of other men. He failed to trust in the Lord with all of his heart. He leaned on his own understanding.
In the apostle Peter’s first letter we have some insight into how this works for us today. We need to be very, very careful to carry out God’s instructions to us, even when we can’t see the benefits. Peter says this:
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” [1 Peter 5:8 NKJV]
The word used here for sober can also mean to be watchful. And so does the word vigilant. Peter emphasises our need to be watchful. We need to make sure we are on the right path. If we are not, we can expect, like the Man of God, to be devoured by a lion.
And that was my lesson. My warning. My reprimand. Either follow God’s instruction to the letter or your might as well not bother at all. Either trust God with all of your heart or lean on your own understanding. Someone said to us earlier this year that partial obedience is disobedience. How true that turned out to be.
We faced a test a few weeks ago. It was tough. At the get-go God had said that we were not to borrow any money. He would provide everything we need. We were told that God would ‘stretch’ us – that He would test our faith beyond anything we had known before in order to make our faith in Him stronger. We joked about it at the time, but when the first stretching came we were overwhelmed. But we stood our ground. When you truly live by faith, everyday becomes a test of its own. We live day to day, never knowing if tomorrow we will have what it takes to put food on the table. We always do. Don’t ask me how. I try to record some of the things here, the rest are in my journals. They may not seem like miracles because we take so much for granted but when you are living like this you start to see God in everything…because He is in everything. He is always there.
Our second stretching was something far more formidable. After around a week of no money whatsoever and empty cupboards, fridges, change pots, and every resource we had, we caved…I caved…and borrowed some money. Not much. Just enough. The relief was incredible but, like the Man of God, the consequence was dreadful. No one died but we failed the test. And when you fail a test with God you invariably end up having to re-sit the exam.
And that’s where we are. Being stretched again. Thankfully, this time, God readied us by revealing our sin in borrowing. Once we saw that, it made us a little more determined to succeed. You have to take the pain and get through it, knowing that He is there; He is in charge; and He will not let you down. In my journal for yesterday in bold capitals it reads: THIS IS JUST A TEST. THIS IS JUST A TEST. And it is just that – a test of what we say with our mouths when we say ‘your will be done’.
What I realised was that when we borrowed that one time, it didn’t stop there. I justified it to myself and we borrowed over and over until provision turned up. God was gracious in that He provided ample to settle the borrowing but then I made a stupid error. I paid off what we had ‘borrowed’ from a local DIY store on our account and no sooner had I done that, I was there getting more stuff for Cornerstone on credit. No big deal you might think – after all we are getting on with the work. But it is a big deal. Sinning in order to fulfil God’s promise is still sinning. Just look at Abraham and Sarah and the mess with Ishmael. Or my example from last week with Moses and Aaron. Disobedience.
Now the test we are facing, we now have to welcome. We have to pass through it. The Valley of the Shadow of Death, so to speak. There is no choice. So we rejoice (mostly) in it. Is it the consequence of disobedience? I don’t think so – I think it was always God’s intention to test us this way. The consequence of the sin was the lion that came in the form of a debt collector on our doorstep. He was certainly ready to devour us. And our enemy, the devil, is waiting for any opportunity to devour us like a lion. Imagine this – I am in the throne room of God asking for provision and my accuser stands opposite arguing that God shouldn’t answer my request because of my disobedience. We know that God is just…really just, and so He can’t fulfil my petition until I confess my sin, repent and be washed in the precious blood of Jesus. Then, and only then, will He fulfil my request. Just a thought.
Our walk with God is a fine line between obedience and disobedience. We must take care not to wander from it, but to constantly walk in obedience. He has given us the power to do that. We often choose not to, and dress up our motives to make it seem right. But it’s not.
Friends, I implore you to be obedient to what God has said to you. Whatever that is. Just do it. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t wait. Read carefully Matthew 5:21-26. Let’s start obeying God. Forgive everyone. Show love to everyone. Practice kindness to everyone. Everyone. Let us not preach a gospel only of grace, but one of repentance. If you want God to answer your prayers for revival, for whatever you are asking, make sure you are right before Him. Otherwise there is a lion out there waiting to pounce.
Revival starts inside you. It flows out from you as living water. Get right with God – not just on the surface but really pursue Him until you gain His peace. But be warned – if you decide on a particular course of action, it will be established, and your faith, your resolve and determination will be tested. And when it is, learn, like us to rejoice. Be thankful that God is allowing you to be tested for He only disciplines those He loves. Tribulation perfects us, makes us more like Jesus and He knew all about obedience.
“He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” [Philippians 2:8b NKJV]
Walk the line my friends. Walk the line.