My first verse comes from the Song of Deborah:
Listen to the village musicians
gathered at the watering holes.
They recount the righteous victories of the Lord
and the victories of his villagers in Israel
And another very well-known and loved verse:
Abraham staggered not through unbelief. (Romans 4:20)
Or in another translation:
Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.
Both verses have been in my mind because on a Tuesday night in Greenock we have been rehearsing the mighty acts of God and the quite miraculous way He has kept and guided us as a church throughout many decades. That verse, ‘Abraham staggered not through unbelief,’ has been in my mind because it’s a verse that spoke to my father when we were buying the present Glasgow church and other buildings at the same time, and so we were stretching ourselves a bit with three different properties, and he felt that verse lived for him: He staggered not through unbelief.
It’s a lovely thought for Abraham. His faith was tested and tried until he became known as the ‘father of the faithful’, and he didn’t stagger – he didn’t waver – at the promise of God. Now if we stagger, it generally means that we don’t actually fall: when we stagger we can nearly do ourselves an injury, but we manage to avoid it. But Abraham didn’t even stagger – he didn’t even waver. And this whole principle has been on my mind, of the finding a trust in God, a belief in His action and a belief in His promises that means we do not waver at all in our hearts.
I do remember once in my own life being faced with a very difficult situation, and knowing that it was critical that I should not waver even for a moment, and that Christ could look into my eyes and I into His, and I would know that I had not doubted Him for a moment, and He would know that that was true. But very often we are content to have a kind of faith that staggers, and sometimes we can fall, until in many Christian lives there comes an acceptance of defeat. This can be defeat in various areas. It can be in the realm of giving into temptation to do wrong, and I think that basic Christianity teaches us there is a better way than that. In the case of maturer Christians there can be defeat in various circumstances of life that have not come about through our own choosing, but there comes a wavering in faith, a staggering through unbelief.
Faith works by love, and I think that over the years Abraham had discovered and believed in the faithfulness of God and the love of God. And here we surely have such a tremendous advantage, for we read:
God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)
The love of God has been interpreted to us through Jesus Christ. Again, in the words of another lovely verse:
For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. (Romans 5:5)
And when we know that we are loved, but most of all, when we know we are loved by God! – take time to meditate on that, until that love fills our hearts, our minds, our spirits, and we act and live in the strength of it.
But we can be faced with real trial. We can be faced with that which really tests us. And in Isaiah we read of the occasion when the armies of the Assyrians under King Sennacherib came up to Jerusalem to beseige and destroy her, and the generals spoke in such a way that the people could hear them, shouting: ‘Don’t trust in God! Just come out, just surrender, and you then can live at peace.’ Is that not a true principle for us also? – that the enemy says: ‘Don’t be so extreme in your Christianity! Don’t be so serious in your separation to God, and trying to walk in His way. Just surrender a bit. You can’t trust Him.’
But Abraham believed God against all circumstances. And in Hezekiah’s time, these Jews inside the city were in a terrible position, because the Assyrian army had just swept everything else before it. They said: ‘Don’t think your God will defend you! He won’t.’ The story unfolds at some length. Eventually, during an interval when the army has departed for a little, a letter is sent to King Hezekiah:
Don’t let your God, in whom you trust, deceive you with promises that Jerusalem will not be captured by the king of Assyria. You know perfectly well what the kings of Assyria have done wherever they have gone. They have completely destroyed everyone who stood in their way! Why should you be any different? (Isaiah 37:10-11)
The people were terrified, and Hezekiah was distressed. But we read this lovely verse:
After Hezekiah received the letter … and read it, he went up to the LORD’s Temple and spread it out before the LORD. (Isaiah 37:14)
Unlike Isaiah the prophet, to whom he had gone for help, Hezekiah wasn’t a giant of the faith at that time. He had gone first to Isaiah, but now he goes straight to God, to His temple, to tell Him it all - he shows it to Him. And so can we. We can just spread it all out before Him. We don’t need a great prayer of faith. We don’t need to work out any principle. We just say: ‘O God, You are my Father. You are my Saviour. You do actually love me. Here I am. Help!’
I love something that Billy Graham (such a man of God, used so deeply) said. When somebody asked him: ‘How do you pray to God? How do you do it – what do you say?’ he said: ‘I sit on my verandah for hours, and I look at the hills, and I just say: “O God, help me! O God, fill me with Your Spirit!” And I just say it over and over again.’ A great man of God, but he beseeched God to help him, God to fill him. And that’s what we do: ‘O God, help! O God, fill me with Your Spirit!’ and spread out the letter of life before Him.
What we find is victory. Victory in our deep inner spirit, not just in the outworking of circumstance, but in our deep inner spirit. That’s where Abraham found victory and walked with God. How much more, of course, does that apply to Christ! Could it be our inheritance too?
And what we find is that victory is very sweet. We can become used to defeat – and I am sometimes dismayed in reading modern Christian literature how it almost seems to me to be accepted that Christians will keep falling. But the Bible says:
He is able to keep us from falling. (Jude 1:24)
If we begin to accept the notion that we just keep on falling, then we will keep on doing it and accept defeat. But surely we can become addicted to victory, because it’s very sweet, the taste of victory. The passage about Hezekiah and Sennacherib once many years ago spoke to me and rescued me. I was a much younger Christian, still, I suppose, becoming spiritually stabilised in some ways. I was at a church Camp, staying alone in an old caravan, and God spoke to me through it. And I have never forgotten the sweetness of victory. It became an abiding principle.
What the victory led to was the opening up of Christ’s words, where He said: ‘I am the Good Shepherd. I am the door of the sheepfold. Come in by Me and you’ll find pasture.’ I found the pasture was very rich and very sweet. And this is the place to live, a place where we glorify God, because we trust in His unfailing love and faithfulness. He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. He so loved the world He gave His only Son. What more could He do to show to you and to me that He is our faithful Friend?
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