I have had to take stock since writing Part Ten. This is the fifth or sixth attempt I am making at writing this particular instalment. Every time I tried to write about signs and wonders, as I had said I would, I found I couldn’t. Writing Part Ten has, perhaps, brought into sharp relief just how wide the gap is between what those early disciples built as a church and what we build today. It also made me realise just how many excuses we make for not attempting to live as they did.
I said in Part One that I felt God had taken three years to answer a particular question with regard to this whole subject. What I felt He gave me as the answer I am yet to grasp fully. To recap, I believe that He showed me that the reasons why the disciples were able to perform the kinds of signs and wonders which we see recorded in the book of Acts was two-fold. Firstly, they accepted that God had a plan. And secondly, they had learned how to empty themselves of all selfish ambition.
Even now as I re-read what I have just typed, it is clear that I am far from grasping the full gravity of His answer.
I had intended, in this part, to discuss the kind of signs and wonders which God performed through the disciples. However, I suspect that unless we grasp the nature of what it actually means to accept that God has a plan, then any discussion of miracles is almost pointless. You see, the disciples were able to allow God to work through them only because they accepted His plan. Without that acceptance, nothing else follows. Unless we can truly learn to accept both that God has a plan and that He knows better than us, we will never stop trying to interfere with that plan. And if we never stop interfering with His plan, we will never be able to empty ourselves of our self. And if that doesn’t happen then He can never truly fill us with His Holy Spirit. And if He never truly fills us with His Holy Spirit then we will never see that overflow which causes the signs and wonders.
If I am right, then a big part of the problem we face is the way in which preachers from the past century or so have tried to make it all about us. They talk about God having a plan for us. They fail to talk about God’s plan being for everyone. The result is to turn it from being God’s plan to being our plan. It is billed like a career path by some – a Yellow Brick Road to wealth, health, and happiness. It has turned love thy neighbour into it’s all about you. This viewpoint is a false gospel which is peddled by false teachers. There is very little difference in the actual words ‘God’s plan‘ and ‘God’s plan for you‘, but in the sentiment of what each phrase implies, there exists a vast chasm. At the heart of this false teaching is a misquoted Scripture. You have probably already thought about it whilst reading this. The Scripture in question is Jeremiah 29:11. Let’s see how the NIV handles the translation (you probably know it off by heart):
” “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” “
As is so often the case, this single verse is frequently taken out of its context in order for a preacher to convince you to trust in him or her, rather than God. What the preacher is telling you is if you trust the preacher, they will show you the way to God’s prosperity for you. His plan for you. The trouble is, when you allow Scripture to be used away from its original context, you can make it mean anything you want.
Just look at the verse above. Notice the double speech marks at the beginning. That tells us that it isn’t the start of what God is saying – it is a continuance. Notice also that the word ‘For‘ is the first word. This implies that He has already said something and the something He has already said is the reason for what He is saying now. Can you guess what the word ‘prosper‘ reads as in the original Hebrew? It might suprise you to know that the word which the NIV translates as ‘prosper‘ is actually ‘shalom‘. Here’s a literal translation of that single verse from Hebrew into English:
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said Yehovah, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give to you an expected end.”
And, even with that literal translation of the original Hebrew, the context still remains vitally important and highly significant to the way in which God works, both then and now.
When Jerusalem was laid to siege by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, after the Hebrews failed to observe God’s Sabbath (amongst other things), God allowed His people to be carried off as captives to Babylon. His judgement on them was that they remain there 70 years until the land of Isra’el had received her Sabbath rests (Sabbaths weren’t just for the people but for the land too). Jeremiah was the prophet who had spent a great deal of time warning the Hebrews that this judgement would come upon them unless they humbled themselves before God and repented. They didn’t. The 29th chapter of Jeremiah contains the letter which the prophet wrote to the exiles in Babylon explaining God’s heart towards them. It needs to be read in its entirety to fully understand just how God and His plan work. You should pay particular attention to verses 12, 13, and 14 which are very clear when they say that if the people of Judah seek Him with all of their heart, He will be found by them and He will restore them to Jerusalem. God was as good as His word. If you read the 9th chapter of the book of Daniel you will see that, after 70 years of captivity, Daniel found Jeremiah’s letter and called upon Yehovah and He set the captives free.
Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t a promise for prosperity as we understand it. It wasn’t written to individuals in order to make them think that God wants to make them rich. It was written to an entire nation who had disobeyed God and turned away from Him. It was written to tell them that His plan for all mankind included them and that He doesn’t want to harm them but to give them His shalom, His peace. Shalom, today, is used as a word for peace. Then, it meant so much more. But it was never a word used for the physical, fleshy world. It was always used as a spiritual blessing. His promise to the Hebrews was for spiritual prosperity providing they humbled themselves and called upon His name with everything they had. All of God’s promises come with conditions which we need to fulfil.
So, with that in mind, what does it take to learn to accept God’s plan? Well, as we are starting to find out, everything.
Let me see if I can explain what I mean. As you read this I suggest you challenge yourself as to whether you actually accept what God has for you, or whether you try (like me) to manipulate the situation (and God) into getting what you want, and not what He gives you.
Let’s use the example of Abraham.
God told him to leave the land of the Babylonians and go to a land which He was promising, as an inheritance, to offspring which Abraham didn’t even have. Abraham was 75 years old when God told Him He was going to make a mighty nation from Him, that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars. The only thing which was missing from this plan was the timing of the events. So, after about ten years, Abraham’s wife decided that she knew better than God, and, instead of waiting for God’s promise to come to fruition in God’s timimg, she decided to speed up the process. She persuaded Abraham to listen to her plan instead of God’s plan, and Ishma’el was born, not to Sarah but to her Egyptian slave girl. This wasn’t God’s plan. This was Sarah’s plan.
Now, we know that Ishma’el’s descendants are the Arab nations which currently surround Isra’el on all sides and whom want Isra’el wiped from the face of the earth. That is the consequence of not following God’s plan, or more accurately, interpreting the lack of action on God’s part as a sign that He had changed His mind.
Abraham, despite clearly loving Ishma’el, was ready to accept God’s plan once more when He was visited by three strangers and was promised a son in the next year. Once back on the Narrow Path, Abraham wasn’t going to take any more chances. He had learned his lesson. He was 99 years old when Isaac was born. And Sarah was 90.
We can easily see that from the giving of the promise there passed some 24 years or so before it actually came to pass. Besides the blip when he allowed his wife to take his eyes from that which God had promised, Abraham was very patient.
Then comes perhaps the most important part. God saw that Abraham loved Isaac very much. Maybe He saw that Abraham loved Isaac more than God Himself, such was the way in which he protected his son, and the heir to the promise. So, when God told Abraham to take Isaac up to the top of a mountain and offer him as a burnt offering, you would have thought that Abraham would have tried to, once more, divert the plan. Not so. Like I said, Abraham had learned His lesson. He trusted God when He said that He would make a great nation through his offspring. He knew that God wouldn’t deviate from His plan. And he knew that even if he did sacrifice Isaac, God’s plan was such that He could raise him up from the dead.
I think this is a good time to ask yourself what you would have done.
It doesn’t really matter if you would have changed the plan in some way. Abraham tried with Ishma’el, but the plan remained in place. And we know how God works – He has a plan. He looks for people whose hearts are willing to be obedient to Him. If not Abraham, then someone else. If not me, then someone else. If not you, then someone else. See Esther 4:13-14.
God’s plan includes Point A and Point B. Where we start and where we finish. In a way, it doesn’t matter to Him who actually does the leg work. His plan will not fail. It is impossible for it to fail. He is God – the creator of the entire universe. Everything there is, both seen and unseen, He brought into being. His plan is unstoppable.
My point is this, God’s plan may not be person specific as we might like to think it is. God has the benefit of existing outside of time and can, therefore, see both Point A and Point B simultaneously. I don’t want you to let your head spin round and round thinking about this. Just understand this much – if God has chosen you then it is because He knows you will succeed at doing His will. He has seen the end already. He chooses people with the express purpose of getting His will done. He never interferes with our sovereign free will. But, those whom He calls, those who respond to His call, have hearts which can, in theory and with discipline, follow His will. Remember that many are called, but few are chosen.
Now, here’s something to think about:
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray ‘Your will be done‘.
That is effectively a contract between us and God saying that because of what Christ has done for us, we are willing to give up everything in order to pursue God’s will. Not our will. His. By praying it we are also, by default, trusting Him. This is what Abraham did. He was made to be righteous because of trusting God. And that trust of Him is effectively saying to God that we know He only has what’s best for us in His intentions. That is beyond all doubt. It is also saying that we understand that He wouldn’t put us through anything which we couldn’t handle. And therefore, because we trust Him; because He is good to us; because He has our best interests, we know that whatever comes our way that day, good or bad, is part of God’s plan for us.
I am sure that some of you won’t like to look at it like that. Especially if you have grown up in a church that spouts off about spiritual warfare. If that is the case then ask God to show you how He uses suffering to discipline us into being more like His Son, Yeshua. If in the face of trouble or adversity you are crying out to God for Him to put an end to it, then there is something wrong. You are rejecting His plan. Trouble comes with the job. If any preacher has promised you a life of prosperity and ease, then you have been lied to. I’m sorry to tell it like it is, but for too long people have been made to see trouble as the work of the devil. To some extend, it is the devil’s work, but never without God first allowing it. If you haven’t read the book of Job, may I please press you to do so? It explains all of this very clearly. Satan only went to work on Job and his family and possessions at God’s say-so. What was true back then, is true today, for God cannot change.
If you want to be a true disciple, it is time to start assessing whether or not you are prepared to walk the Narrow Path. I can tell you, that if you do decide to fight your way to the Narrow Gate to find the path, all you will find is hardship and trouble, all of which is designed for one single purpose – to make you more like Yeshua. To be conformed to the likeness of His Son. There’s nothing else there. Our reward, our prize for our trusting in God comes the other side of this life. In the world to come.
So, the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer, or stand up and sing a song in church on a Sunday morning in which you declare that you will follow Him, make sure you are ready to be tested in that vow you make (for it is a vow). God is looking for people who are ready and prepared to do His will, regardless of personal cost. Without that personal cost, the path to humility is blocked. If the path to humility is blocked then you will never be able to share in His sufferings. And if we don’t share in His sufferings then how do we expect to share in His victory?
God’s plan isn’t for you. It isn’t for me. It is for the redemption of all mankind and the earth itself. If you want to play a part in that plan which will produce treasure for you in the next life, then you will have to give up everything in order to follow the Master. We all will. Unless we accept His plan and learn how to die daily to ourselves, just as Paul taught, then we are not even going to be called upon to serve.
We will continue with examining God’s plan and how we fit into it in Part Twelve.