Welcome to Unit 4 of Experiencing God: Love and God’s Invitation.
So far in this study we have covered two of the seven realities.
The first one is really comprised of two truths.
One, God is always working all around us – accomplishing His will with and without our cooperation.
And two, God’s ways are not our ways. His plans are not our plans. His way of doing things is not our way of doing things. Not even close.
The second reality we discussed last week – that God pursues a love relationship with us that is both real and personal, and I spoke of how we as human beings rebelled against God and turned our own way, but instead of leaving us to our fate, God chased after us. Amazing!
In Unit 4 we start talking about how God not only pursues us to bring us back into a right relationship with Him, but as the third reality states:
He invites us to become involved with Him in His work.
So, let’s pray and get into it.
When you read your bible – especially the Old Testament narratives (stories) – it’s easy to look at it from a human perspective and see the story as a bunch of people that did what they could to serve God with some doing better than others.
And it may even be rather confusing as to why God blessed certain people over others,especially when those certain people were not very good people – like Jacob and most of his 12 sons, Samson, Saul, and most of the kings that came after David. In fact, David himself did some pretty awful things.
So, it can be a bit confusing to read that and wonder why God would reward those not-so-worthy people. But to look at things that way is to misunderstand who the main character of the story is.It’s not the people. It’s God.
God is the main character of the bible. The people are the supporting cast. And when you understand that, you will see thatthe bible isthestory of an amazingly gracious and merciful Godthat is infinitely patient with us andfor reasons that cannot be explained, continually involves us rather imperfect beingsin His glorious perfect plan.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The world after the fall got to be a rather awful place due to the fact that “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” And so, God decided to start over, told Noah about it and invited him to be a part of it.
11 Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. 14 So make yourself an ark of cypress wood…
…make it this big, with this many decks, and a door, and bring your whole family aboard and two of every animal…and so on.
22 Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
Notice how it went down.
God had decided what HE was going to do and told Noah about it.“I am going to put an end to all people…”
Then God told Noah his part:“So make for yourself an ark…and do these other things…”
God was doing something. Told Noah about it and invited him to participate. And the result of Noah obeying was his family, all kinds of animals, and the human race being saved. Pretty cool.
Fast forward a few hundred years and we come to Abraham.
God tells Abraham (then still Abram) about His plans to make a great nation out of his descendants and eventually bless the whole world through one of his offspring – who we know to be Jesus.
And the instructions for Abraham to get involved:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him.
And the rest is history. God indeed did what He said, and once again the world was saved.
Again, God was going to do something and invited a human to get involved.
Fast forward another few hundred years and we come to Moses. The numerous descendants of Abraham are now slaves in Egypt, and God has decided to rescue them and use Moses to do it.
God got his attention with a burning bush and said to him…
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Once again, God tells someone what He is doing and invites them to be a part of it. Moses, unlike Noah and Abraham, put up a bit of a fight and tried to get out of it, but eventually agreed and obeyed. And sure enough, the people of Israel were rescued in dramatic fashion.
Next came Joshua, who took over after Moses died right before entering the promised land. God repeats the same pattern with him.
2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses….
Then God gives him some encouragement…
7 “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditateon it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
And what does Joshua do next?
10 So Joshua ordered the officers of the people: 11 “Go through the camp and tell the people, ‘Get your provisions ready. Three days from now you will cross the Jordan here to go in and take possession of the land the Lord your God is giving you for your own.’”
Joshua obeyed and God did indeed give them the land.
And there are many more stories like this in the Old Testament. You should read your bible. It’s fascinating.
But I will tell you one passage that truly amazes me. Backing up about five hundred years to the time of Abraham, God actually told him that all of that would happen.
This happened when God was making the official covenant with Abram, before he even became the father of Isaac. We find it in
12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age.16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Isn’t that amazing?!? God told Abraham the details of what would happen to his descendants over the next five hundred years, and every bit of it came true.
It shows that God had the whole thing planned out from the beginning and that in due time he involved different individuals to carry out certain parts of that plan. And God works the same way today.
And I believe He works the same way today with every single person….that He knows will obey Him.
Now, not everyone gets the magnitude of assignment that these people got, but I believe the third reality is true – that God does indeed invite each of us to become involved with Him in His work. Each of us, that is, who truly love Him.
This is an important point to ponder.
There’s an interesting thing that I notice as I go through the bible, looking at all the various ways that God invited individuals to participate in His work. Not one of them said, “No.”
Some took more convincing than others (like Jonah, Gideon, and even Moses) – but they all eventually obeyed. That’s a pretty good track record for God to so consistently pick the people who will actually do what He says. Or is it just that we only hear about the people who said, “yes”?
That question has come to my mind various times in my studies through the years. Is it possible that Noah was not the first person God asked to build the ark? Or Abraham not the first person He told to go to Canaan? Or Moses not the first person he tagged to lead the Exodus? Did God perhaps ask someone else first, but they turned him down and thus we don’t hear about them because what’s the point in including the people who turned down the role? We see the same thing in movies – only the actors who played the parts are in the credits – not the actors who didn’t make the cut or turned down the roles.
It’s an interesting thought experiment, but I think I’ve finally come to the answer that satisfies my questioner, and it’s quite simple:
God doesn’t make mistakes. He doesn’t need a plan B.
I’m convinced that each person we read about in the bible who played these mighty parts in God’s story are the only ones auditioned for the parts.
In other words, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and all the others were thefirst and only people God needed to propositionbecause God knew they would obey – even if some needed more convincing than others.
And that’s because, I believe, a prerequisite to being invited to participate in God’s work is an obedient heart.
An obedient heart is one that wants to obey God. Not necessarily one that is perfect in doing that – but one that deep down desires to do God’s will. David in the bible is a perfect example. Despite his many failures, his deepest desire was to follow God. And thus he was called a “man after God’s own heart”.
God is less interested in our obedient works than He is in WHY we obey.To obey out of some sense of duty or desire to earn God’s favor, or at it’s worst – obedience in order to feel self-righteous – that is detestable to God.
What God wants is an obedient heart, one that trusts Him and is willing to do whatever He saysbecause it loves Him.
In fact, love for GodISan obedient heart.
To love God is not a set of emotions. To love God is to decide in advance to obey whatever He commands.
An obedient heart says “Yes God” before the question is asked.
And when you have a heart like that, such that God knows you will ultimately do what He says, then He will get you involved.
The proof of this comes in a couple of things Jesus himself said.
The first I want to point out is the memory verse for this unit and something I actually covered last week. In John 14, Jesus speaks three times about how loving Him is equal to obeying Him. But in verse 21 He says something remarkable.
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.
Jesus says that those who consistently obey/love Him will be loved back and that Jesus will show himself to them. An interesting promise, but what exactly does it mean? I think the answer is in chapter 5 of John where Jesus speaks in very similar terms about another kind of love/obedience relationship.
19 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.
Do you see the connection? The parallel?
In the relationship between the Son and the Father – the Son loves the Father by obeying Him perfectly, and the Father loves the Son by showing Him all He does.
I believe back in chapter 14, Jesus was telling the disciples and by proxy telling us that we can have that same kind of relationship with Him. We love Jesus with our obedient hearts, and He will love us by showing us Himself, which must include what He is doing.
And indeed, that is what we see in the stories I showed. The people God chose to invite into His work were people who loved God with an obedient heart -not a perfect heart, but a heart that desired to obey God- such that God knew they would obey when He asked, and so He did.
This is why the topic of Loving God is so important. Basically, if you don’t get this part right, the rest of the seven realities are a moot point. It may sting to hear that, but it’s true. If you have no intention of obeying God, why would He bother speaking to you and inviting you into His work? History shows that He won’t.
In fact, having a disobedient heart is the very definition of sinful.
Sin is ultimately our desire to do things our own way as opposed to God’s way (or Self-Love rather than God-Love).
And so a heart that has pre-decided that it will weigh the options before doing what God says is already sinning because it is deciding to only go God’s way if it lines up with it’s own way…which is the same thing as simply going your own way.
In other words, a sinful heart says “Ill think about it” when God asks the question.
No, the only way to love God is to pre-decide to obey Him no matter what – because you trust that…
- His way is always best.
- His directions are always right.
- And He can enable you to do anything He asks of you.
And when you have a heart like that, there is no limit to what God may do through you.
So, what do you do if you find that you do not have an obedient heart? If you find that you are more concerned with your own way than God’s way? If you can’t honestly say that you trust God’s ways? What do you do if you find that you are actively sinning because you have not pre-decided to obey?
You repent. You confess your sin to God and ask Him to forgive you. And you ask God to change you. And if you really mean it – He will.
In fact – earnestly asking God to give you an obedient heart rather than trying to manufacture one on your own shows that your faith is in Him, and not yourself.
A perfect prayer from scripture that models this is the prayer of David after he was confronted about his adultery with Bathsheba. His prayer in Psalm 51 is the perfect example of a truly contrite heart seeking to be forgiven and changed by God.
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing/obedient spirit, to sustain me.