Giving God Space To Work Out His Plan

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Give God a chance. He will confuse the plans of the Enemy, even when those plans are, humanly speaking, better than yours. When God is fighting for you—and he always is if you have placed your trust in him—you will ultimately win because his will for you is unstoppable. What will look like the end of the road will open up to a new path that the Lord has set before you. That is God’s promise, and he is always faithful to his promise.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 17:14

Then Absalom and all the men of Israel rejected Ahithophel’s advice for Hushai’s. They said, “Hushai’s advice is better than Ahithophel’s.” For the Lord had determined to defeat the counsel of Ahithophel, which really was the better plan, so that he could bring disaster on Absalom!

What an amazing statement: the Lord had determined to defeat David’s enemy. Now that is the kind of condition under which I want to live my life and serve my God. To have God fighting on my behalf, even turning better plans the Enemy might have to defeat me down a dead-end ally so that his plans can prevail—that is what I call undeserved grace. And I will take it.

David was going through the roughest season of life imaginable—and it was his own doing. He had sinned grievously against the Lord: he had committed adultery with Bathsheba, had her husband murdered to cover up her pregnancy, hid his sin for months, and then mismanaged the rest of his family when the consequences of his sin unleashed a tidal wave of rebellion among his children. Now Absalom, his favorite son and heir apparent, had usurped his throne and had peeled off one of David’s most trusted counselors, Ahithophel, to now actively plot against the king. The uprising was so strong that David had fled Jerusalem with his entourage, and at this moment, with Absalom mounting an attack against him, it looked like David was a goner.

But not when the Lord is working on your behalf. Even when the situation is your own doing, the Lord doesn’t abandon his plans for you. Your mistakes might delay his plans or detour them a bit, or a lot, but God has committed to complete that which he has promised to do: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6) The great hymn writer John Newton put it this way,

We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.

Let that sink in: God is fully and forever committed to his work in you. And along the way, he knows that he will have to delete your mistakes and redirect your life to get you back on track, probably often. But that is who God is and that is what God does—thankfully. In the 1700’s, Colonial missionary to the American Indians David Brainerd wrote in his journal,

There is a God in heaven who over-rules all things for the best; and this is the comfort of my soul.

Yes, that is quite comforting. And it is true. That is why you must learn to give God a chance. He is committed to working out his will in your life. Of course, you have a part to play—and your loving obedience greatly helps. And when you blow it, immediate and sincere repentance goes a long way to smooth the road toward your divine destination. Yet even still, as God is inexorably working out his plan for your life, so is Satan. Which means that you will be tempted at times to take things into your own hands to overcome his efforts, or perhaps you will get so overwhelmed that you will want to surrender to the pressure he has put on you.

Don’t! Give God a chance. He will confuse the plans of the Enemy, even when those plans are, humanly speaking, better than yours. When God is fighting for you—and he always is—you will ultimately win because his will for you is unstoppable. What will look like the end of the road at times will open up to a new path that the Lord has set before you. That is God’s promise, and he is always faithful to his promise.

If I haven’t said it clearly enough, let me say it again: Give God a chance. He will fight for you along the way and he will bring his work in you to a glorious completion.

Going Deeper With God: Memorize Philippians 1:6. Throughout the day this week, quote that verse back to God as an acknowledgement of his promise and as a declaration of trust.

Best Practice for Betrayal

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Getting stabbed in the back makes you want to retreat into a protective shell; to not trust, or be vulnerable, or open up to God, or go to church. King David wanted to withdraw from his betrayal: “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I’d fly away and be at rest—I’d flee far away and stay in the desert; I’d hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.” (Psalm 55:6-8) But Biblical rest doesn’t refer to geography—it’s a place in the heart. “Getting away from it all” rarely results in leaving your problems behind. The best practice for betrayal is to take it to Jesus!

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 16:33

Ahithophel’s advice was like that of one who inquires of God. That’s how both David and Absalom regarded all of his advice.

The setting is Absalom’s conspiracy to usurp his father’s throne. Ahithophel is David’s confidant and counselor—a trusted friend, or so David thought. But Ahithophel didn’t just side with Absalom in the coup, chapter 15:10-14 says, he actually advised the son to pursue his father and kill him.

Absalom sent secret messengers to Israel’s tribal leaders saying, “When you hear the sound of the trumpets, say, ‘Absalom is king in Hebron.’” Two hundred men from Jerusalem accompanied Absalom, but knew nothing of the plot. While he was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counselor. So the conspiracy gained strength and Absalom’s following increased. Then a messenger came to David, “The hearts of Israel are with Absalom.” Then David said to all the officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “We must flee immediately, or none of us will escape. Absalom will move quickly to put the city to the sword.”

David was devastated by the events. Not only was his son usurping his throne, but his most trusted advisory and confident had turned on him. 2 Samuel 15: 30-31 describes the king’s intense emotional pain:

David fled barefoot, his head covered, weeping as he went. All the people covered their heads too and wept as they went. Then David was told, “Ahithophel is one of the conspirators with Absalom.” So David prayed, “O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.”

Later on, David wrote a moving and insightful psalm about Ahithophel’s betrayal—Psalm 55:12-14, 20-21,

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. My companion attacks his friends; he violates his covenant. His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart; his words are more soothing than oil, yet they are drawn swords.

An enemy—we can handle that; but how do you give grace when one you trusted was all sweetness and light to your face but sticking it to you when you weren’t looking? Consider what David did:

First, control the urge to withdraw. Getting stabbed in the back makes you want to retreat into a protective shell; to not trust, or be vulnerable, or open up to God, or go to church. David wanted to withdraw. He said in Psalm 55:6-8, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I’d fly away and be at rest—I’d flee far away and stay in the desert; I’d hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.”

But Biblical rest doesn’t refer to geography—it’s a place in the heart. “Getting away from it all” rarely results in leaving your problems behind. The best practice for betrayal is to take it to Jesus! David quickly follows up in Psalm 55:16-17, 22,

But I call to God, and he saves me. Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice…Cast your cares on the LORD and he’ll sustain you; he’ll never let the righteous fall.”

Second, cultivate a rear guard. Betrayal is so emotionally depleting that we need to have people who’ll be our armor bearers. David had some guys who stood by him. In 2 Samuel 15:15 & 21, David’s men say, “We’re ready to do whatever the king chooses.” …Ittai said, “As surely as the Lord lives…wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, I will be there.” You need people who will cover your backside—so do what it takes to cultivate protective friendships.

Third, cherish the Backstabber’s unintended work. If you know the pain of betrayal from divorce, or abandonment, or abuse; if you know the pain of being humiliated, unfairly fired, marginalized, ridiculed or lied about; if you have been robbed of dignity and respect, and your betrayer can never really repay you, you have got to let go so you can grow. David did. 2 Samuel 15:25-26, he said to Zadok the priest,

Take the ark back to Jerusalem. If I find favor in God’s eyes, he’ll bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I’m not pleased with you,’ then I’m ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.

David was willing to accept that God’s deeper work might be at the sharp edge of the betrayers knife. Charles Spurgeon said, “I bear willing witness that I owe more to the fire, the hammer and the file than to anything else in the Lord’s workshop.” The truth is, the fire, hammer and file of a betrayal may very well be God’s tool of choice. That was true for David.

If you’re going through the pain of betrayal right now, remember, you are just walking where great people have walked before. From the Great Cloud of Witnesses (Hebrews 12), they will be with you. Most importantly, always remember what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:17 during a time of betrayal,

God stood by my side and gave me strength.

He will do that for you too!

Going Deeper With God: Betrayal, treachery, backstabbing—call it what you will—it’s just a painful part of being human. If you are enduring that pain, refuse to withdraw. Instead, run to God. He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you.

Divine Grace for Humble Submission

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Repentance is the divine path to restoration when our fellowship has been broken with the Almighty, and humble submission to the wisdom of God’s judgment is the human spigot that opens the flow of divine grace. Yes, “the wages of sin is death,” but when we yield our sin-prone lives to God through true repentance and humble submission, “the gift of God is eternal life,” some of which leaks from the eternal into the here and now.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 15:25-26

Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

The seeds of sin that King David planted through his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband to cover up the pregnancy that had resulted from the affair were now being harvested in the rebellion of the king’s son, Absalom. God had completely forgiven David (2 Samuel 12:13), but his sin had set into motion a series of tragic consequences, which Nathan the prophet had predicted (2 Samuel 12:14), that would devastate the humbled king both personally and publically.

The low point of David’s kingship must have been conspiracy, coup and the resultant death of this favorite son, Absalom. The events of this dark season were beyond tragic for David and Israel, and so unnecessary—as is always the case with sin. Certainly the Apostle Paul’s assessment of sin was spot on: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) One sin set in motion a chain reaction of death, and as a result, the stench of death was in the air over all Israel—both literally and figuratively.

In spite of his self-inflicted disaster, however, the king found a way to reach into the reservoir of grace and wisdom that God makes available to every repentant believer. David humbly submitted himself to the merciful hand of God as he journeyed through this sin-harvest season. And as he did, this broken man found just what he needed: even more of God’s great grace.

What is it that releases God’s great grace at times when grace is the last thing we deserve? It is that which always moves the heart and hand of God: true humility and complete submission to God’s sovereignty. David truly meant what he said—“ I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”

Now that is an incredibly mature response to a self-induced disaster. Unlike some people who whine, blame and pout, David demonstrated confidence in the judgment of God, he focused on God’s presence in the moment , he left restoration—if there was to be any—to a later time, and he submitted himself completely to the will of God, no matter what the divine plan would bring about. Such humility of heart and submission to the Sovereign’s will are the very reasons the Lord himself proclaimed David to be “a man after God’s own heart” despite the many mistakes he made throughout his lifetime.

It is that very posture, when it comes from an authentic heart, that allows the second half of Romans 6:23 rather than the first half to become the defining reality of our lives: “But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” For sure, we have been promised life in the age to come, but when we yield our sin-prone lives to God through true repentance and humble submission, some of that divine life leaks to us from the eternal into the here and now.

Going Deeper With God: Repentance is the divine path to restoration when our fellowship has been broken with the Almighty, and humble submission to the wisdom of God’s judgment is the human spigot that opens the flow of divine grace. Today, humble yourself before the mighty hand of God and he just may lift you up by his grace!

Silence Is Not Golden

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

Having difficult conversations is a skill that parents must develop if they are to do a great job of bringing up their children to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. To balance words of rebuke and admonishment with words of encouragement and direction is one of the most difficult things to master, but it can and must be done. To a large degree, the future of the child depends on how skillfully the parent speaks the truth in love.

Going Deep // Focus: 2 Samuel 14:28

Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king’s face.

It is easy to put figures from history on the couch and analyze all their problems. When we do, however, we never have all the facts and nuances that went into why they did what they did, and playing armchair psychologist with their lives will lead us to a pretty dismal cure rate. As Henry Louis Menchen said,

Explanations exist; they have existed for all time; there is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.

Having said that, let me take a shot at analyzing David’s parenting technique of isolating his misbehaving son, Absalom, which from our vantage point now looking back several thousand years was horrible. Absalom was King David’s favorite, his pet. The young man was handsome and winsome, and people loved him. His attraction quotient was off the charts. He was also as devious, sneaky, and self-serving as the day is long. When his half-brother Amnon forced himself sexually on Abalsom’s sister, Tamar, Absalom was furious—understandably. And when their father seemed to turn a blind eye to what Amnon had done, Absalom fumed, and secretly plotted.

When the time came, under the guise of a family celebration, through an intricately planned trap, Absalom murdered Amnon and avenged his sister’s rape. Absalom then fled Israel and lived in exile for a couple of years under the protection of a friendly king. In the meantime, again turning a blind eye to what his son had done, David pined for his favorite child. Ultimately, through some skillful mediation, Absalom was allowed to return home to Israel.

But his ongoing punishment was the silent treatment from David. The king refused to speak to his son for two years. In fact, Absalom couldn’t even be in King David’s presence. And it was during this time that Absalom, now seething from his father’s silence, began to secretly foment the rebellion that would lead him to usurp his father’s throne. It would be a rebellion that would divide Israel, lead to the deaths of thousands of soldiers, and ultimately lead to Absalom’s own death and David’s deep and abiding grief.

Now for the analysis: In hindsight, banishing the young man from king’s presence was probably the worst thing the dad could have done for the son. Punishment yes, but silence no. In this case, the judgment was not redemptive; this was not discipline—a form of discipleship that has the goal of restoring the one being punished to a better place. This was done out of anger, frustration and embarrassment.

How much better would it have been for king David to bring Absalom close to himself and help the self-absorbed young man learn about selflessness and serving from the man who truly understood what it meant to shepherd his people? Rather, David’s silent treatment allowed what had already been festering in Absalom to now grow even more rapidly. If Absalom was narcissistic before, he was now a narcissist on steroids.

Having difficult conversations is a skill that must be developed by parents if they are to do a great job of bringing up their children to be well-adjusted, responsible adults. To balance words of rebuke and admonishment with words of encouragement and direction is one of the most difficult things to master, but it can and must be done. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15-16,

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

A key piece of a parent’s own maturing process is to courageously and confidently speak the truth in love to their children. As Paul said, this is the only way for our family—our children—to build itself up in love.

If you are a parent, or a mentor to a young person, I plead with you: learn how to get this one right. To a large degree, the future of your charge depends on how skillfully you speak the truth in love.

Going Deeper With God: Learning to speak the truth in love is a very challenging skill to acquire. But the Lord will help you if you ask, then commit to it. So ask!