As you know, Vicki and I are going through a time of crisis through unemployment at the moment. Looking back through some old posts on RF, I came across this message that I wrote three and a half years ago. I called it "Looking to God Alone" when I wrote it because, even though we all say we do, when the trials come hard and fast, we usually don't look to God alone until we have come to the absolute end of our rope. And that only comes after much pain and suffering. Well let me assure you, we do not need to experience the bitterness of that suffering. We really can say with Paul: "I rejoice in tribulation!" And I mean that. This is experience speaking, not mindless repetition of some verse. If, like me, you are feeling the pain of a trial right now, please read this article. I pray the Holy Spirit take that which is of Him to your heart so that you may be built up in your faith and comforted.
"Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You for help, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy Sanctuary." --Psalm 28:2 (NASB)
Note, first of all, that David is calling upon God for help. He was not looking to man for help, even though he was surrounded by men of might ... and men of valour ... and men of favour in God's eyes. No, David looked first of all to GOD. He knew that all flesh is as grass ... which fades in the heat of the sun and blows away.
He knew that the true man (and woman) of God knows that it is GOD that sustains and GOD who is the Deliverer. Jeremiah would later say, "Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm...." (Jeremiah 17:5) The Hebrew word "bawsawr" which the KJV translators rendered "flesh" literally means "power", and the word translated "trusteth" is extremely emphatic in the Hebrew. So the man that trusts in man and makes flesh the source of his power is cursed.
That does not mean that receiving help from another is wrong. But it means that our eyes are to be first and always on God for our help. As one commentator said, "We may expect help from men, so far as God enables them to help us, but we must rest our trust in God alone."
In Psalm 62:5 David says, "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him" Talking to his soul he says first "Wait". He is saying in effect stop striving ... just trust in your God; know that He WILL answer. "Wait thou ... ONLY!" Not wait upon God while you look for how to deal with the situation; not wait for God while you seek some means of deliverance; not wait for God while you look for someone to help you with whatever situation you find yourself in; but, "Wait thou ONLY" ... put your trust in God alone! Yes He may send men and women to be the instruments of His deliverance, of His help, of His sustenance. But know that the source is Him. So wait upon Him ONLY. Doing so indicates, as it did to David, that your expectation is from God alone. In other words, your focus is correct.
The text in Jeremiah 17:5 goes further. It first calls a man "cursed" who puts his trust in man, who believes that man can help him. Then it says that such a man's heart is departed from God, for the verse ends with these six words: "... and whose heart departeth from the LORD."
It is when we look to man, to earthly help of ANY kind that our heart has begun its departure from our Lord. And it is important that we constantly look --as David said-- to the Almighty God ALONE for our help. Oh, we say we do. But how many times when trouble comes, when fears assail us, do we look for some earthly help. We try to see if there is some solution to try, we look for some course of action to attempt, we worry 'what if somebody does whatever, then what will happen to me'. We look at the circumstances and allow them to batter us and fill us with fear. We look at ourselves, at our condition --whether spiritually or emotionally or physically (in other words: our situation)-- and we struggle with it all.
THAT ... ALL of it ... is putting our trust in something other than in our God. And His Word says when we do we are cursed. Not, since we are a child of God, cursed by God ... not, since we are a child of God, cursed from His Presence ... not, since we are a child of God, cursed to utter and outer darkness ... but even though a child of God we are cursed by being without the blessing of God. It is interesting that the Hebrew word "awrar" which is translated "curse" comes from a root word that means "bitter". And to be without God's blessing is to be in a bitter place. It is indeed bitter when we stand alone in the face of the storms without the security of God's favour, His blessing, His grace.
When Naomi (Hebrew=pleasant) got her eyes off God, she asked that her name be changed to Mara (Hebrew= bitter). "And they (Naomi's daughters-in-law) lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. Then she (Naomi) said, 'Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.' But Ruth said, 'Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.' When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, 'Is this Naomi?' She said to them, 'Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?' So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab.... [Ruth 1:14-22a NASB]"
Naomi looked to her circumstances. She had lost her husband to death, and now she had lost her only two sons, whom she loved. So now she saw nothing but grief. And that grief possessed her mind and her soul to such an extent that she viewed herself as cursed, as an outcast from the blessing of God. "Call me no longer pleasant, but bitter!"
The Israelites traveled through the wilderness of Shur after deliverance from Egypt. But rather than keeping their eyes on the God who had delivered them, they got their eyes on their situation. "So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? And he cried unto the LORD; and the LORD shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet...." --Exodus 15:22-25 (KJV)
The people of God had got their eyes on their condition, on their situation. They looked at reality ... but they were looking at earthly reality. They should have been looking at the eternal reality ... the REAL reality: the Truth ... which is God and His Word. For He never fails and His Word never changes. But, in a beautiful type of the Cross of Christ, the LORD shewed Moses a tree ... wood ... and told him to throw it into the water. And what happened? The waters instantly became sweet.
What a beautiful picture of salvation in Christ. As I see it, the waters represent our life, the wood the Cross. The waters of our lives are bitter. We wander in the desert and seek refreshing streams. But they are few and far between. And none offers refreshment for long. All too often the waters we find are bitter. But when we come to Christ ... when we answer His loving call ... and accept His work on the Cross ... then suddenly, in an instant, our lives of bitterness are transformed into lives of sweetness, lives of blessing. The Cross placed in the waters of our life turns them from bitter to sweet.
And immediately following this foreshadowing of the Cross, what did God do? He led, by His Presence, to Elim. "Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs and seventy palm trees, and they camped there near the water." [Exodus 15:27 NASB] Elim means Palm. And that is where God took them.
In the Bible, the palm represents steadfastness and grandeur. That's on God's part. But the palm also represents rejoicing. And that should be OUR response to God's majesty and His steadfastness. So God took the Israelites from a place that speaks of the Cross in their (and our) lives and brought them to a place of rest by the fountain of living water in the presence of His majesty and faithfulness and in a place where they could rejoice. He wants to bring us to the SAME place.
Remember Naomi? She believed HER life afflicted of God. And she called herself Marah, "bitter". But her eyes were on her condition, not her position. She was surrounded by grief ... and that is where she chose to fix her eyes. But God was her Father. She was a daughter of Abraham ... and thus heir to all the promises of God. Her eyes should have been on Him. But instead she looked at her situation and found nothing but bitterness.
Yet, despite her failure, God WAS at work in her life. He provided the person of Ruth. Yet someone who a Jewess like Naomi would never have looked to for a blessing. Ruth was a woman of Moab ... a heathen ... an idol worshiper. What an unlikely source! But God had His hand on Ruth ... and He called her into fellowship with Him. What a sublime figure of faith and commitment was Ruth's speech to Naomi! "Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried." And so it was that this Moabitess would prove be the blessing of God in Naomi's life. But more than that, this pagan, this Gentile, became King David's grandmother. And as David's grandmother she was thus one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ in His humanity.
(An interesting sidebar to Ruth as an ancestor of Christ is to note that there are only four women listed in Matthews genealogy: Tamar; Rahab; Ruth; and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Check them out-- every one of them was a Gentile. And therein lies an entirely separate message on the grace of God and the adoption of the Gentiles.)
Anyway, Naomi wound up being blessed immensely; but what suffering, what mental anguish, what bitterness she endured in the meantime. Bitterness because she did not patiently wait on God. She did not trust in Him as she should. She looked at her circumstances and experienced the curse that comes when one loses the hope and blessing that God intends of us.
To be driven to a moment of despair in trial is not wrong. To experience moments of mental pain and anguish are not wrong. Trials and tragedy are the lot of humanity. The rain falls on the good and the wicked alike. But to live in despair, to live in emotional pain and anguish, is not God's will for you. Despair, worry, anxiety, bitterness are the results of the fiery darts of the enemy. But God has equipped us to quench those fiery darts, to deflect them. Ephesians 6:16 tells us how: "Above all, taking THE SHIELD OF FAITH with which you shall be able to quench ALL the fiery darts of the wicked." Faith is our shield; faith that is based on God's Word as it is enlivened by God's Spirit.
Faith means trusting God. It means believing against sight, and hoping against evidence to the contrary. Hebrews 11:1 declares "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." When you do not see God's answer, but you can see all the problems, faith is saying, "I care not for what my eyes see, my heart sees God's answer." Faith is believing God ... that He is Good, and Honest, and Pure, and Holy, and Faithful, and Righteous, and Unchanging ... that He is perfect Love and what He says is True and can be relied upon. Faith is KNOWING that HE is in control, that HE is your help, that He will deliver, that He will never fail.
David knew this. And although you will read in the Psalms over and over where he cries out to God from the depths of his tribulation, you will also always read his words of faith and trust and hope in Our God ... as in this Psalm:
"Unto thee will I cry, O LORD my rock; be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy sanctuary. Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbours, but mischief is in their hearts. Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours: give them after the work of their hands; render to them their desert. Because they regard not the works of the LORD, nor the operation of his hands, he shall destroy them, and not build them up. Blessed be the LORD, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him. The LORD is their strength, and he is the saving strength of his anointed. Save thy people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever." (Psalm 28)
Notice that, without having received anything to this point, and in the middle of this cry for help, David shouts: "Blessed be the LORD, BECAUSE HE HATH HEARD the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I AM HELPED." There was no answer in man's sight; but in the eyes of David's faith, he was already helped! Would that we had that faith, for then what bitterness would we avoid?
The old Hymn says, "Oh what peace we often forfeit, Oh what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry, Everything to Him in prayer."
Yes, we forfeit God's peace when we do not pray the prayer of faith. Yes we bear pain that is so needless ... for He has made provision for us! The prayer of faith ... that is to say, the prayer that is born out of faith ... the prayer that expresses our trust in God. When we keep Him as our focus, we are able to pray that sort of prayer. And when we do, then we can rest in the peace and the joy that is the fruit of the Spirit.
In the 4th chapter of the Epistle to the Church at Philippi, in the 4th and 5th verses, Paul gives the formula for this peace. Under the leading and inspiration of the Holy Spirit he writes: "Worry about nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Read that again. Worry about what? Nothing! In what circumstances are we to pray and supplicate before our God? In EVERYTHING. And are we just to make our requests known to God through prayer and supplication alone? No-- we are to make them known "by prayer and supplication WITH THANKSGIVING!" Isn't that what David did in the sixth and seventh verses of Psalm 28? "Blessed be the LORD, because He hath heard the voice of my supplications. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him."
David confirmed his faith by offering praise and thanksgiving to God even as he uttered his prayer. And so should we. For does that passage in Philippians not conclude with the words, "And the peace of God ...SHALL keep your hearts and minds." It is God's promise. It is sure. It is unchanging. So let us seek the sweet that God has provided that we may avoid the bitter that we need not taste. For then we will receive the peace that passes all understanding ... that will transform our waters from bitter into sweet. Then we will receive the peace that will make our lives to exult in the spiritual name of Naomi, rather than bear that of Mara.