Episode 1. Listen to God and Wake Up
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When things aren’t going quite the way we’d planned, it’s easy to put our heads down, and just deal with the grind. Our eyes are downcast, our hearing becomes dull. Right then, it’s time to …
When things aren’t going quite the way we’d planned, it’s easy to put our heads down, and just deal with the grind. Our eyes are downcast, our hearing becomes dull. Right then, it’s time to listen to God and wake up to the future He has planned.
An Improbably Journey
Over the years I’ve done a lot of flying and on those long haul trips that I really like to do is to get from point A to point B by the most direct possible route, preferably flying business class; that pretty much sums it up when I’m sitting crammed up in an economy seat at the back of the plane on a 14-hour flight.
And that pretty much sums up our attitude towards life as well. Whatever we’re traveling through we want it to be quick and comfortable and direct would you agree? Life is full of awkward transitions, from being single to married, from being married to being single, from being a child to becoming an adult, from being a couple to being a couple with a baby.
It doesn’t matter what the situation is there always is an awkwardness to the transition. Have you noticed that? And somehow we always seem to be in some transition of some sort. If only we could just arrive, if only we could get to the end of whatever we’re going through from point A to point B in a straight line, preferably flying business class.
If we can get better at travelling through life’s transitions – the change from A to B; from something we know to something we don’t know – frankly we’re going to have a much better life, we’re going to enjoy life a lot more. So I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready? Life is just one big transition, see we constantly want to arrive at the point where everything’s going swimmingly well, where everything is absolutely perfect, cause most of us have some seasons in our lives where things are like that but seasons come and go.
It seems to me that most of our lives are about traveling through transitions, and instead of just wishing that the transition phase was over, instead of wishing today and tomorrow away I believe that with all my heart that God wants us to enjoy every minute of every day. Enjoy – quite literally entering into His joy.
There was a time in the history of the nation of Israel where they were about to start going through a major transition and I guess over the coming weeks I want to explore that time of transition to discover how God handles transitions, our transitions in life, because where not traveling through this alone – you and I.
He has a plan and the whole world’s plan doesn’t always revolve around us. We need to fit into God’s bigger plan and He’s a player in all of this.
When we’re going through transition and we’re feeling uncomfortable and we’re looking forward to something much better. You know where our focus is? It is normally on ourselves, 100% on ourselves we become all inward looking and self pitying and we’re all woe is me, friend that’s no way to live our lives, it’s no way for me to live my life and it’s no way for you to live your life.
Israel at the point where we’re going to pick up this story have been exiled in Babylon as slaves for close on 70 years it was God’s punishment for their unfaithfulness. Most of the Israelites couldn’t even remember the Promised Land and Jerusalem, because they had never been there! Most of them had been born in slavery but God is about taking back to that place the Promised Land, they’re about to go through a major transition – from slavery to freedom from Babylon to Jerusalem.
Change is always difficult; even getting them to believe that change was going to happen! Hey, they had been slaves for all their lives. God appears to have failed them even though he hasn’t, but that’s how they see it. The Babylonian kingdom is so big and so strong and they’re been hoping that God would do something. They’ve been hoping beyond hope that one day … one day Israel would be restored and God’s promises would be restored. But you know in the face of the present reality – slaves in the most powerful kingdom in the world – that seems somewhere between improbably and impossible. Really?
So this is what God says to them through the prophet Isaiah. Incidentally I believe that this is what God saying to anyone today who’s in that same place as the Israelites back then. Isaiah chapter 51 beginning at verse 1:
God says, listen to me you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hue and to the quarry from where you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you for He was but one when I called him. But I blessed him and made him many. For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places and he will make her wilderness like Eden, her dessert like the garden of the Lord. Joy and Gladness will be found in her thanksgiving and the voice of song.
So what’s God saying? What does it mean to look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry from where you were dug? God’s pointing them back to an impossible promise and an impossible journey that they’ve all heard about. They know it backwards. The promise God made to Abraham, 75 years old he was, and God promised him a son. His wife Sarah was barren and off they went on a 25 years journey.
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was finally born. God promised a future, he promised to make him a mighty nation, and he promised him the Promised Land. And the very nation of Israel the descendants of Abraham and then Isaac, these same people who are now slaves were themselves the impossible fulfilment of that impossible promise.
See, God’s saying to them, ‘I know it looks impossible, I know your present reality is all you can see at the moment but look back at what I’ve already done, look back to the quarry from which you were hewn. How far have I already brought you? Look back at the many impossible promises that I’ve already fulfilled and the many improbably journeys, like Abraham’s, that I’ve already made happen. It’s your heritage it’s your reality. I am that God; I am your God.’ Wow talk about standing on the promises of God
Whatever transition you’re traveling through your life at the moment, look back and see how far God’s already brought you, look back at Jesus, look back at the cross, at the tomb, at the grace that God’s already poured out on you, at the many blessings, at the many provisions that he’s already bestowed upon you.
However overwhelming your present circumstances may feel, this is your reality. This is who God is; this is who your God is. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, there will be comfort there will be a garden in the dessert the Lord will find a way to restore to you the blessings that he promises.
They don’t call it the Good News for nothing. My friend, listen to me. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
An Uncertain Destiny
It’s’ true isn’t it we hate uncertainty. We want everything to be under our control so that we can make sure that we head to the right destination – the destination that we want. It may be that your job’s going just fine, your children are fine, your finances are fine but your marriage is anything but fine.
Well what’s going to happen? How’s it going to turn out what can I do? Will it ever change? Will she ever change? Will he ever change? Why can’t things be different and if it’s not your marriage, it could be your job or your finances or your health or perhaps your children. At any point in life there is some part of our lives in transition, from point A to point B and often the outcome is uncertain. Well here’s what I believe, in fact here’s what I know – There is a light at the end of the tunnel.
As we saw before the break Israel was at the point of hopelessness – 70 years in exile in slavery under the mighty, mighty nation of Babylon. All hope was lost but as the 70 years came to a close God spoke to them through the prophet Isaiah that the one thing they’ve been hoping for – freedom and a return to the Promised Land – was about to happen.
Now for most of them who had been born in captivity the Word of God, spoken through Isaiah, spoke of an uncertain journey. Sure they may have been in slavery but hey, at least it was certain. They knew how it worked. They knew what tomorrow would bring. Going back to Israel how could that ever happen? What would the Babylonians do? Would it be like the Egyptian army all those centuries ago who come after the freed Israelites and try to destroy them? How was it going to turn out?
So we’re picking up Israel’s story in the next few verse of Isaiah chapter 51 and hearing what God has to say to them to get them focused on the blessing that He’s about to bring upon them. Isaiah chapter 51 beginning at verse 4:
God says, listen to me my people and give heed to me my nation, for a teaching will go out from me and my justice for a light for all people. I will bring near my deliverance swiftly my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me and for my arm they hope. Lift up your eyes to the heavens and look at the earth beneath for the heavens will vanish like smoke and the earth will wear out like a garment and those who live in it will die like gnats but my salvation will be forever and my deliverance will never be ended.
Listen to me you who know righteous, you people who have my teaching in your hearts. Don’t fear the reproach of others, don’t be dismayed when they revile you for the moth will eat them up like a garment and the worm will eat them like wool. But my deliverance will be forever and my salvation to all generations.”
Several times in this chapter God uses a short powerful verb. He says: Listen. Listen to me. Just stop. Listen. Remember me, I’m God. The God that created those heavens the God that created this heart, have a look around just stand back and have a look at the big picture. Remember me, remember who I am and listen to me.
And the first one of those is “Listen my deliverance is coming”. It’s simple. And the second is “not to be afraid of the reproach of others and that not to be dismayed when they revile you for I’m your God and I am mighty to save and my salvation is to all generations.”
Now I don’t know what twists and turns your life has taken so far and I don’t know what twists lie ahead for you but this one thing is for certain, God’s deliverance is coming and when He decides to deliver you and bless you and to get you to the other side of what you’re traveling through at the moment it’s going to be a mighty thing.
I’ve read my bible from front to back at least a dozen times I’ve looked everywhere and there’s not one place where I can find that God tells us not to put too much faith in Him. I don’t care what’s going on in your life at the moment cast it all on him!
Towards the end of WW2 the allied forces were sweeping across Germany and they were searching the farms and the houses for snipers, at one abandoned farm house almost a heap of rubble, searches with flash lights found their way into the basement and there on the crumbling wall a victim of the holocaust had scratched a star of David and beneath it in rough lettering the message:
I believe in the sun even when it doesn’t shine,
I believe in love even when it’s not shown
and I believe in God even when God doesn’t speak.
My friend that’s the sort of faith and confidence that you and I can have when we hear God say, “Listen. Remember who I am! I am coming to deliver you.” And remember the poignancy of what that Jew wrote on the wall. He went to the gas chamber, he didn’t make it, and yet his confidence was in his God.
If you put your trust in Jesus then for you, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. No person, no man, no woman, no child who believes in Jesus is on uncertain journey with an uncertain destination. Sometimes God brings His salvation quickly, sometimes He delays because He has a much bigger plan remember not all of God’s plans revolve around you and me.
I know we sometimes think it does but God’s specialises in hitting many birds with one stone, His plans and His purposes don’t put us at the centre of the universe, you see we forget … God why is this happening? God what’s going on? When will I get to the other side of this? How’s it going to turn out? And they’re all great questions but His thoughts aren’t our thoughts, His ways aren’t our ways, He works things out according to His plans and His purposes in His time. But I’ll tell you this, His salvation isn’t too far away!
That’s good news! There is a light at the end of the tunnel! It’s that certainly, that trust that faith that hope that shines a light into the darker times. That’s what gives us courage and the will to keep going and to get through the time of transition. Sure the future may seem uncertain, the outcome may be uncertain, most times honestly only God knows. But the very fact that he does know is what brings Joy to my heart when I’m going through one of those awkward times of transition.
I’ll never ever regret putting my hope in God. Often he hasn’t delivered me in the way or the time frame that I would have liked but what He has done is, He has delivered me at the right time in the right way having achieved His plans and purposes.
Whatever you’re going through at the moment my friend I assure you that in Christ there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
An Impatient Heart
I mean, how do you cope with the uncertainty? You ask about 80% of the population the answer would be “not too well at all “. It’s only natural. We don’t like uncertainty, we like to know what the future holds, and all too often in our lives we find ourselves going through a transition. How often have you and I been swamped by the reality of our circumstances? How often have we wanted to believe in God in the face of the impossible odds that we’re facing? But it’s just too much of a stretch.
How do you respond to God’s promises in times of uncomfortable journeys with uncertain destinations? Like the Israelites, God sent them the prophet Isaiah to proclaim the mighty salvation he was about to bring.
I will bring near my deliverance swiftly my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples. The coastlands wait for me and for my arm they hope.
Today God’s brought me into your headspace, through this program, to share with you what He’s saying to us through that great Prophet of old. But we still look at our circumstances don’t we, saying “well you know I’d like to believe but … ” I want to share something powerful with you as we head towards the end of our time together today; a powerful truth that will help you navigate uncertain waters in your life. A powerful truth that will put a great courage in your heart with your spirit is weak and your demeanour is timid.
And that powerful truth comes to us again through the Word of God through Isaiah; through what Isaiah has to say in response to God’s revelation about the great coming salvation and restoration of the nation of Israel. Remember this, Isaiah was seeing the same things that the rest of the Israelites were seeing – the power of Babylon the impossibility in human terms that freedom from their present slavery and oppression would be possible and that they’d actually return to the Promised Land – and yet this is how Isaiah response to God. This is what he says to God:
Awake! Awake! Put on strength o arm of the Lord. Awake as in days of old the generation of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab up in pieces who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea the waters of the great deep? Who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to cross over? So the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing, everlasting joy will be upon their heads they shall obtain joy and gladness and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”(Isaiah chapter 51 verse 9-11)
See God’s been talking to Israel through Isaiah and Isaiah been listening to it and now he responds with confidence in God. He hears what God’s proposing here to save Israel to redeem them out of slavery yet again and restore them. And Isaiah is listening to God and saying:
GO FOR IT GOD! Halleluiah! God we’ve seen you do it before! You redeemed us all those years ago out of slavery in Egypt, way it go God as in days of old and the generations past.
Wasn’t it you who did all those mighty things o God? Wasn’t it you who got Israel out of slavery and through all that red sea thing? God I’m going to put my trust in you, I’m going to believe that we’re going to get back home and we’ll see the temple on mount Zion again, that we’ll be singing in everlasting joy. And all the sorrow and sighing will be gone and replaced by rejoicing.
Isaiah responds in faith. Isaiah looked back at God and all that He had done and cried YES GOD!
There is something powerful about speaking God’s promises out loud. I’m not about “name it and claim it” or “blab and grab it” school of faith, I’m simply talking about verbalising God’s promises and saying, “Lord God I am going to believe in you, I’ve heard the prophet Isaiah I’ve heard that joker on the radio today and it’s your word of God and I’m going to believe you, in your time, in your way I’m going to respond in trust and faith and in throwing my whole self upon you.”
I’ll tell you the alternative. The alternative in these transitions that are uncomfortable and uncertain is impatience. The alternative is whining. Why God? How long is this going to go on? Oh Lord why are you putting me through this? Ok there is a place for pouring out our hearts to God; there is a place for being real and honest and direct, sure, but there is time to pick ourselves up; there is time for us to stand on the promises of God.
Then it’s time to speak back to God what He’s said and ask Him powerfully to come and do what He promised to do. Go for it God! I’m ready I’m waiting I’m looking to you; show me what you’re going to do! I dunno what I’m going to do, but my trust is in You.
All too often we respond to God with impatience and importance and as much as He loves us, as much as He shows compassion towards us, He’s looking for true Disciples to worship Him, to honour Him and to trust Him. Can I ask you very plainly but very simply, are you one of those Disciples or are you one of those people whose incessant whining He constantly has to listen to?
Come on, if you were a parent and you provided for your children and you were there for them to love them and to protect them and all they every did was whine and complain, wouldn’t you get sick of it at some point? Wouldn’t you at some point want them to grow up and stop being so self-focused and impatient and see what they have in you? Sure you would! So why do we expect that God would be any different huh?
Impatience wishes away our days. Impatience. A person driven by an impatient heart isn’t grateful, they’re not at peace, they’re not at rest, they’re not trusting in God. They’re not enjoying the journey despite what the world is throwing at them, they’re not sitting there waiting for God to act and trusting in Him.
See without faith it is impossible to please God, in fact when we respond to him with impatience and whinging and whining and complaining you know what He does? Often He keeps us in that place longer and longer and longer to teach us that the way to react to God, the way to react to our situation is the way that Isaiah reacted – with confidence! With faith in the Lord knowing who God is, knowing that God loves us, knowing that God’s going to provide for us and deliver us and restore us and bless us.
And I know, I know that often that’s the last thing we feel like doing right, reacting to God with faith, reacting to God with praises and worship and joy when we’re doing it tough, when were’ uncomfortable, when we don’t know what the journey is doing or where it is going or what it is doing or what our destination is. The last thing we feel like doing is reacting to God in faith.
So speak it out! Do what Isaiah did – speak back to God the Word of God spoken out over your life. Say to God,
Awake! Awake! Put on your strength oh arm of the Lord. Awake as in the days of old generation of long ago. So that the ransom of the Lord can return and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy upon their heads, they will obtain Joy and Gladness and sorrow and sighing will flee away. God I believe in you! I believe that you are going to deliver me. I believe that whatever I’m going through right at this moment I believe that in Christ there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
How do you think God reacts to that? What do you think that does to God’s heart when He sees that sort of faith in His children?