Just Enough

“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9.

Affluence tempts us to deny our need for God and to embrace the fallacy of self-sufficiency. When we have more than enough, it is easy to convince ourselves that we can get along fine without God, if indeed there is a God, that we are not beholden to him for anything, and that what we have is the result of our own hard work, wisdom and diligence. When we don’t need anything, we are susceptible to the lie that we can live and thrive without God.

Just ask Rehoboam.

Solomon was the wisest and richest man who had ever lived. When he died, his son, Rehoboam, succeeded him as king of Israel. Though he inherited Solomon’s wealth, Rehoboam did not receive his wisdom. Rehoboam rejected the counsel of his elders in favor of the advice of his peers and treated the people harshly. As a result, most of the nation rebelled against him, dividing Israel into a northern and a southern kingdom. Rehoboam reigned in Jerusalem over the southern kingdom of Judah.

Sadly, “after Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:1. Consequently, calamity followed. When Rehoboam and his leaders humbled themselves and acknowledged God, the Lord delivered them from total destruction.

Such was the cyclical history of Israel. Obedience brought blessing, which led to forgetting God, which brought judgment. Fortunately, judgment led the people to repent and to remember and obey the Lord. They were then blessed…until they once again abandoned God.

We may be tempted to say, “Get a clue, people!” until we consider the United States of America today and ask whether we are just as foolish as Israel.

After our country was established and became strong, we, too, abandoned the law of the Lord. Instead of seeking Him, we have pursued money and what money can buy, relying exclusively on it for our security. We have rejected the higher ways of God for the ways of man.

Consider the words of Soviet dissident and author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who, in a speech delivered almost 40 years ago to Harvard University’s 1978 graduating class, declared that the West has become morally impoverished because it has forgotten God and others, mistaking the excess acquisition of material things for happiness. Solzhenitsyn described “the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness,” a disaster in Western culture that he said had been unfolding for some time:

“We turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which has imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs.”

Solzhenitsyn lamented America’s spiritual poverty in light of the fact that at the time of our nation’s birth, “all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature…. freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.”

Neither God nor our founding fathers ever intended to grant people unlimited freedom. Reasonable restrictions on personal liberty are good for individuals and necessary for a healthy and happy society. But the West has increasingly rejected God-given restraints in its relentless pursuit of materialism. It turns out that many Americans don’t really want freedom of religion; they want freedom from religion and religious responsibility to God and their fellow man.

“We have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life….

 If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them.”

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn “A World Split Apart,” speech delivered on June 8, 1978, at Harvard University.

Because America has rejected the law of the Lord in favor of the pursuit of self and the things of this world, judgment is imminent. And judgment is not just imminent, but necessary to remind us that unrestrained personal freedom is not in our best interest, that we cannot survive and thrive without God.

God commands us to love him and to love others because he knows that this is the path to peace and happiness, not the love of money and material things. The good news is that when the painful consequences of our foolishness cause us to humble ourselves, repent and turn back to the Lord, he forgives our sin and restores us into fellowship with him where we enjoy his favor and blessing.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Help us to get a clue, Lord. Please give us just enough and not too much, so that we will remember you, enjoy your blessing and save ourselves a world of hurt.

 

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Gad and God

IMG_5653Unless you are one of those persistent, adventurous types that have actually ventured past the longsuffering list of Hebrew genealogy in the opening and eye-closing chapters of 1 Chronicles in the Old Testament, then you probably don’t know much about the Gadites. Recently, I slapped my glassy-eyed self awake several times to get far enough into the book of Chronicles to find them.

Recall that Jacob had twelve sons and Gad was one of them. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, and thus his descendants are referred to as the children of Israel, or the twelve tribes of Israel. Gad’s descendants, the Gadites, were one of these twelve tribes.

The Gadites lived east of the Jordan River between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. They were joined east of the Jordan by two other tribes of Israel – the Reubenites to the south and half the tribe of Manasseh to the north. Bordering them on the west were the rest of their family – the remaining twelve tribes of Israel – and on the east were their enemies, including the Ammonites and the Hagrites. We meet up with these east siders in 1 Chronicles 5:18-22:

“The Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had 44,760 men ready for military service – able-bodied men who could handle shield and sword, who could use a bow, and who were trained for battle. They waged war against the Hagrites [and others]. They were helped in fighting them, and God delivered the Hagrites and all their allies into their hands, because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him.”

A few chapters later we are introduced to eleven individual Gadites whom God deemed worthy of honorable mention. These brave men left the ranks of the reigning king of Israel, Saul, to support David, whom the prophet Samuel had anointed as Saul’s successor and whom Saul was intent on killing:

“Some Gadites defected to David at his stronghold in the wilderness. They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains. These Gadites were army commanders; the least was a match for a hundred and the greatest for a thousand.” 1 Chronicles 12:8,14.

You do not want to meet these men in battle; you want these Gadites fighting on your side. No doubt David was grateful to know they had his back. I was grateful God kept me conscious long enough in 1 Chronicles to discover these lessons from the Gadites:

1. Preparation is key to success. The Gadites diligently trained so that when the battle came, they were ready to fight. They worked their bodies until they were strong. They practiced using the tools of the warrior trade – shields, swords, bows and spears – until they were skilled. As a result, when conflict came, they could face it with the courage of a lion and could scale mountains as fast and steady as a gazelle.

If we want victory over the enemy of our soul who uses sin, temptation and trials to get us to fall, like the Gadites we must prepare for it. If we want to do something well, we have to first be willing to do it poorly until, after constant repetition and correction, we have become skilled at it. Training takes consistent effort and perseverance. To grow strong in the Lord and to be changed so that we look more like Christ we must daily study the Word of God, seek Him in prayer, serve in his kingdom and follow him in word and deed.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:13.

2. God helps those who cry out to him. Man says, “God helps those who help themselves.” God laughs and says, “How’s that workin’ for you?”

The Gadite soldiers were strong and able; their least capable could fight one hundred men alone, and their greatest could handle a thousand. But more important than their strength and ability was their wisdom. The Gadites knew that they needed God to fight for them during the battle because no matter how strong they were, they would lose without God on their side.

When we come to the end of ourselves and realize that we cannot do life on our own apart from God; when we acknowledge that we need him to guide us, to comfort us, to give us wisdom and strength; when we finally cry out to him, then, as the Psalms repeatedly attest, God will come along side us and say, “Here, let me help you.”

“I cried out to the Lord, and he answered me.” Psalm 3:4.

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1.

“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” – George Muller.

3. God answers prayer when we trust in him. God didn’t hear the prayers of the Gadites because they were strong, skilled, prepared, courageous or fast. He answered their prayers because they trusted him. The Gadites had a firm belief and confidence not in themselves, but in the reliability, truth, power, and promises of their God. They knew they were able, but not always able. They were wise enough to understand that God alone is able always.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.” Psalm 28:7.

Like the Gadites, let us train for victory, but trust and rely on the only One who delivers the victory.