Can it take 40 years to complete an 11-day journey? It will when any people refuses to trust God. The result is that forward movement towards spiritual maturity gives way to a wandering, aimless existence.
“It is eleven days’ journey from Horeb by way of Mount Seir to Kadesh Barnea. Now it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first day of the month, that Moses spoke to the children of Israel…” ~ Deuteronomy 1:2-3
Deuteronomy is the account of Moses restating the law of God before Israel entered the Promised Land. But he is not speaking to the generation set free from Egypt. That entire generation faded in a 40-year journey to nowhere when they failed to trust God, shying away from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14). God took care of them in the wilderness. They were still His people. But they lost everything associated with the promises of God… and those losses were real.
So in Deuteronomy, Moses is addressing a new generation. The children of those who refused to trust God. And as a cautionary admonition, he mentions that where they are standing is only an 11-day journey from the spot where their parents began their journey to the Promised Land — 40 years ago.
And just like that generation in the wilderness, any generation that consistently rejects a life of active faith — trusting God as He leads, step by step — is losing the life God intended for them… a life of wonder at the mighty acts of a living God.
It’s not a loss of personal salvation. He is a promise-keeping God. The soul that hears the message of the cross and responds by placing his/her trust in Jesus is completely forgiven and their sins are carried away (John 3:16, 1 Peter 2:24, 1 Cor. 1:18). He sends His Spirit to indwell the new believer. And He is there to transform that soul into the likeness of Jesus, guiding him/her into a life of trusting His rule and offering simple devotion to Him.
But if we go on from there to a daily life of unbelief, the losses will come. If He calls you to take a step of faith, and you refuse, you lose whatever He was about to accomplish with that step.
He already has a plan for your life. It is a plan to be lived out one faith step at a time. It involves…
- daily fellowship,
- knowing and enjoying Him,
- recognizing when He is speaking,
- a joyful obedience to what He says, and
- a continual repentance, a daily turning from doing life without Him and setting the heart on doing life with Him.
There are many times when we have to wait (by faith) on God’s timing. But how many other promises is He prepared to give sooner than later? In 11 days instead of 40 years? Only those who walk with Him by faith will know the answer to that.
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice: do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways.’“ ~ Psalm 95:6-10
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” ~ Philippians 4:13
the abundant life is a constant internal supply
flowing from the One who said He came to give it
to the ones who would abandon their overloaded lives
in order to walk with Him daily
through a joyful union and a lingering submission
eyes on Him and cares fading
finding rest then fully resting
as He steps ahead of me into every moment
with me, through me, in me
He is enough
(John 10:10, Matthew 10:38-39, Matthew 11:28-30, 2 Corinthians 3:18)
- My heart pursues what I truly love, and is indifferent to the things that I don’t care about (Matthew 6:21).
- My heart is susceptible to external influences — good and bad — and must be guarded (Proverbs 4:23).
- My heart can be consumed with one thing, or it can be partitioned by affections for many things (Psalm 86:11, Mark 12:30).
- My heart can be pure, or it can be morally unclean, clouding my perception of truth (Psalm 51:10).
- My heart can erupt in joy, or it can be be shattered by sorrow (1 Peter 1:8, Psalm 147:3).
- My heart is that immaterial part of me that exercises belief or unbelief (Romans 10:9-10).
And most significantly, my heart can be hard or tender towards God (2 Chronicles 24:37). Comparing the human heart to a field that must be prepared before there can be a harvest, the prophet Hosea writes,
…break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the LORD… Hosea 10:12
Is my heart like a long-neglected field, hardened against the quiet winds of God’s Spirit blowing across my soul?
In his 1956 book In the Day of Thy Power, Arthur Wallis (1922 – 1988) penned a classic reflection on genuine spiritual revival. In the following quote, he explains the vital role of a tender heart in apprehending (or missing) who God is and what He is doing around me.
“Here then is the first great condition of revival, that brokenness of heart that is sensitive to the least touch of the Spirit, and that has only to know the will of God to do it. One may cross fallow ground and not see where the feet have trod – no impression has been made. But when the plough and the harrow have done their work, and the soil is soft and friable, then the print of the foot is clearly seen. When our hearts are sensitive, responsive, and impressionable to the movements of God across our lives, we may be sure that the fallow ground is broken.”
Source: Wallis, Arthur. In the Day of Thy Power. London: Christian Literature Crusade, 1956.
Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19
God does a “new thing” when He comes into our lives. We are cleansed and changed from within, immersed into His body (the church), and led into a life of mission and purpose.
How do I respond to or cooperate with His Presence?
As a young college student I attended Hyde Park Baptist Church in Austin Texas, where I was befriended by a deacon. He was a big man, a single adult, and an African-American serving in a predominantly Anglo congregation.
He often drove by the campus to pick me up for church, peppering our conversation with valued advice and quotations that echo in my mind to this day. One of his favorites was “Donovan, if can do your best, why settle for less?” I took his words to heart.
However, I have found that pursuing God’s direction often involves mopping up problems as they surface, then moving forward again. God’s will is rarely experienced as a sequence of error-free decisions or attempts. I must stay sensitive to His voice.
Let me encourage you to pursue God’s will — experiencing the “new thing” of God’s mighty work in your life– but be very forgiving of yourself and those around you when failure rears its head. Create an environment where failures and mistakes are okay: they are simply part of the price paid for taking new ground!
Romans 8:15-16 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God”
How can I know for certain that I am a Christian? God wants you to know your salvation as a fact. More than that, He wants to write that truth on your heart.
When our oldest daughter was four she disobeyed and was scolded. Afterwards I could see that she was not feeling very good about herself. In fact, she was devastated. For a moment I could see a lifetime of self-doubt trying to climb its way into her soul.
I took her by both shoulders, looked her in the eyes and said, “You know what? If I could pick any four-year old little girl in the whole, wide world to be mine, do you know who I would pick?”
I could see the question loom large in her eyes as she wondered. Who would Daddy choose?
“You!” I said with a smile and a hug. The clouds lifted from her face and her soul. That exchange became a game we played for years — she needed it.
So do you. The Bible says that when we trusted Jesus’ death on the cross to save us from our sins, we were saved. Period. The Bible tells me so. But that’s not all. There’s more…
John tells us in his first letter that we can look at our daily life. Can you see a change? People who have been born again change over time. You may look at your life and see objective evidence that your life is different. But that’s not all. There’s more…
The Holy Spirit lives within. He wants to convey to your heart an experiential knowledge of your sonship. As He moves you to cry “Father”, He wants to open your spiritual ears to voice of God. Listen to a father’s heart: “You are my child. And of all the people in the world I could bring into my family, I choose you!”
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth…
Some time ago, my wife and I drove separately to a retreat center in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Because I was preaching a Sunday night service 200 miles away, my wife decided to leave home early and make her way to the hotel. She had some difficulty finding her way, but eventually she made it there safely.
Several hours later, I drove into town and experienced the same difficulties she had in finding the hotel. I called her on my cell phone and she guided me through town, directing me at each turn and intersection. Step-by-step, she helped me find my way to the hotel. She was my guide.
In verse 13 of this passage, the Holy Spirit is called our guide. The Holy Spirit is assigned the task of communicating truth and insight that we need from Jesus every day – but not all at once.
Jesus understands that we are weak and limited in our ability to process and apply truth. As the Holy Spirit continues the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ, He guides us incrementally – step by step. The Apostle Paul would later caution us to walk with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) in this way: by keeping in step with Him on a moment-by-moment basis (Galatians 5:25).
Read Romans 8:22-27
Do you recall the famous Ronco commercials? Did you ever find yourself wishing you had a Mr. Microphone, the Pocket Fisherman, the Dial-O-Matic Food Slicer, or the Smokeless Ashtray? Ron Popeil the inventor revolutionized the ad industry with his sales pitch: It cuts, it slices, it dices—but wait! There’s more!
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul is not selling gadgets, but as he teaches young Christians how to respond to the ups and downs of this life, he holds them spellbound: Jesus forgives, He transforms, He guides—but wait! There’s more!
On Pentecost Sunday we remember how Jesus returns to dwell among His people in the Person of His Spirit. In this passage, Paul unveils three ways the Holy Spirit impacts our hearts after He comes to live inside us. His Presence causes me to:
Long for the unimaginable. (vs. 22-23)
In the West, we spend enormous amounts of time and money on our health. We go to great lengths to extend the length and quality of our lives. In the United States, we have succeeded in raising our life expectancy a full ten years ahead of the world average (Source: EarthTrends http://www.earthtrends.wri.org/).
Nevertheless, despite our best efforts to combat our mortality, Paul says all creation “groans” under the weight of sin’s damaging effects (vs. 22). Everything and everyone is vulnerable to illness, disease, injury and death.
Can you imagine life in a body free of frailty, weakness, imperfection, or aging processes? Paul can! He explains that when the Holy Spirit takes up residence inside your body, He births in you a desire for God to hurry up and finish the process of adoption: setting you completely free from everything that interferes or impedes your relationship to God as His child.
Throughout your lifetime, God wants to free you from the guilt and dominance of sin—but wait! There’s more! He also wants to free you from the destructive effects of sin on your physical body (vs. 23). This is the unimaginable final act of redemption that occurs after this life: when God provides every believer with a new body unstained and free from the presence of sin.
Hope for the unseen. (vs. 24-25)
An ad for a small business consultant reads: You work long hours, have no time to relax, no time for your family, you’re often stressed and disillusioned that your dream has turned into a nightmare, and you feel more like a prisoner than a king!
Unfortunately, that describes what often happens when we pursue earthly dreams—they rarely deliver what we expected. It is normal to dream of a place or situation or relationship that could fulfill the deepest longings. We need dreams. They keep us going and they give us a reason to live.
Paul uses a different word to describe our dreams: hope.
The Holy Spirit forms in us a desire to be free from sin’s awful effects in this life. But wait! There’s more! When we were saved, Paul says we were infused with a new hope for ultimate fulfillment (vs. 24)—not here—but there with Jesus in an unseen place and time (vs. 25).
Peter agrees with Paul, explaining that God creates a “living hope” inside every Christian when they are born again. It is a hope for “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled”—it will not be a disappointment. It is a hope that is “reserved in heaven”—it cannot be found in earthly, ambitious, life-consuming pursuits (1 Peter 1:3-4).
Pray for the unknown. (vs. 26-27)
The Holy Spirit fashions in me an unimaginable longing for a new life free from sin and an expectation that one day my deepest desires will be fulfilled. But wait! There’s more! He also helps me pray effectively.
Why is that significant? If prayer is asking and expecting God to do what He wants to do (1 John 5:14-15), how can I pray when I do not know what God wants to do? I need help!
Have you ever had your hands in the sink when the phone rings? Or perhaps you were working in the garage and your hands were too dirty to hold the phone? Did someone hold the phone up to your ear so you could talk?
When you pray with the purpose of asking God to do His will, Paul explains that it is like “holding up the phone” so that the Holy Spirit and God the Father can talk. The Spirit literally joins in to help you pray (vs. 26), but His mysterious, non-verbal intercession is “according to the will of God” (vs. 27).
At the end of a movie I saw not long ago, most of the theater-goers got up to leave as the credits began to roll—but the film was not over! There were several minutes more of humorous outtakes to enjoy!
We may be forgiven, saved, and born again. But wait! The Father is not finished with us. There’s more!
In the book of Acts we have a record of the “starting line” of the Christian church. Beginning at Pentecost, believers reached out to the lost in dozens of languages and cultures throughout the Roman Empire and beyond. Although they encountered many obstacles and disappointments, the early Christians penetrated their world with breathtaking speed. So where does effective ministry begin?
Effective ministry begins…
When I understand that all of my resources combined will never be enough to do the job. (v. 1)
On the day of Pentecost we find the disciples gathered together in one place. With all they had experienced with Jesus and armed with the Great Commission, we would expect them to be out in the streets, preaching the good news.
However, in Acts 1:4 and 1:8, Jesus made it clear that the disciples needed something more in order to fulfill their mission of local and global evangelization. Years of intensive training and sitting at the feet of Jesus were not sufficient. By telling them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, Jesus was underscoring a basic truth: in my own strength and abilities I will always be inadequate to do what God has called me to do (Zechariah 4:6).
Power for the task is a gift, not an achievement.
When I am filled with and fully dependent upon the Holy Spirit. (v. 2-4)
Heralded by the sound of wind and the appearance of fire, the Holy Spirit came to rest visually on each disciple as a fiery flame. Through this imagery, He makes it clear that each individual disciple needs His guidance and enablement in ministry. It is not enough to have a Spirit-filled pastor and staff in my church. I need to cultivate a personal relationship of love and obedience with the Lord Jesus Christ through His Spirit.
It was common when I ran track in high school for some runners to start too soon: this was called “jumping the gun.” They were forced to go back to the starting line and begin again. Have you “jumped the gun” by attempting to do ministry apart from the Holy Spirit?
When I am willing to do whatever it takes to share the gospel with my world. (v. 5-11)
Moved by the Holy Spirit, the disciples immediately began to speak in the languages of at least 15 different nationalities gathered in Jerusalem to observe the Jewish feast. Now the Spirit did not have to do this. Using the language of business and trade, the disciples could have simply spoken Greek or Aramaic. They would have been clearly understood by most of the crowd.
The Holy Spirit wants to help us overcome every obstacle posed by language and culture. Unlike Islam which requires seekers of truth to study the Koran in Arabic, the good news of Christ is to be shared in the idiom and within the cultural norms of peoples around the world.
Was it comfortable for the disciples to speak a language they had never learned? I doubt it, but the greater purpose of proclaiming the “wonderful works of God” (v. 11) overwhelmed all personal preferences and tastes. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to communicate the gospel in terms others can easily understand?
When I accept that some people will reject me and my message. (v. 12-13)
In verse 12, some people are asking “what does this mean?” In verse 13, others are mocking the disciples, accusing them of being drunk.
Some people will reject and ridicule you and your message. Paul taught we should expect persecution whenever we begin to live our lives with reference to Him in all we do and say. (2 Timothy 3:12)
However, there will also be those who want to know more. Endure those who reject you so that you can impact those who respond positively to you.
When I embrace a deep sense of evangelistic urgency. (v. 14-21)
Quoting from Joel 2, Peter announces to the crowds that the arrival of the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of prophecy. Everyone willing to call on the name of the Lord (v. 21) could be saved and subsequently filled with the Spirit (v. 18). He also explains that these are the last days, describing signs and wonders which will immediately precede the “day of the Lord.” (v. 20).
Life is short and time is short. Anyone and everyone can now call on the name of the Lord. Armed with the leading and power of the Holy Spirit, God’s people ought to be deeply motivated to broadcast the good news.
Let’s go to the starting line for effective ministry and allow Him to launch us into His work—just like He did for the church at Pentecost.
Reproduced here with permission, this message originally appeared in the March-April, 2004 issue of Preaching Magazine (Vol. 19, No. 5). Edited by Michael Duduit, Preaching Magazine is written almost entirely by those who share a calling to the ministry of preaching. Each issue contains practical feature articles which offer useful insights to strengthen your preaching. Every issue contains a selection of model sermons which reflect the best of preaching across the United States and beyond.
It was my first preaching assignment in college. At breakfast in the school dining hall, the chair of our Bible department walked up to ask my companion if he could preach at a little country church later that morning. Knowing how badly I wanted to preach somewhere, my friend declined but pointed out that I was available. The professor looked at me — an untried commodity among the preacher boys on campus — and decided to take a chance.I had been preparing sermons for months. Grabbing a set of notes and my Bible I traveled about 45 minutes and pulled up to the front of the tiny, rural chapel. I was early, so the Sunday School director took me to a small kitchen where I could wait prior to the service.
I began to pray. In fact, I cried out to God with all my heart for His help. I didn’t know much at that time about God’s anointing assistance He provides preachers of His Word. I just knew I was young and didn’t know much. (I still don’t know much!)
The service was unremarkable. Yet, the impact on my life was dramatic. I began to be conscious that there was something God does during the act of preaching that goes far beyond my efforts and eloquence.
Paul observed this phenomenon among the Thessalonians: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance.” (1 Thess. 1:5 CSB) By noting their message did not arrive “in word only” Paul acknowledges the possibility that it could have happened that way!
What kind of preaching arrives “in word only”? According to Paul, this kind of preaching is missing something. Specifically, he mentions three things that should accompany our preaching.
I’ll leave the word studies to you, but let’s pray each week for His words and for what He alone adds to the message.
Galatians 5:25-26 “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
Hebrews 10:24 “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.”
Advice to a young man starting his first job: “You’re likely to be nervous at first, but don’t let it upset you. I, too, was frustrated, bewildered and subdued. It works like this, so don’t worry: The first year you’re on the staff, you will ask yourself what am I doing here? After a while you will have another question: What are the rest of ’em doing here?”
Paul warns us in his letter to the Galatians of one of the dangers of spiritual development over time: conceit. After encouraging us to walk in the Spirit (under His control, guidance and prompting), Paul directs us to avoid sliding into an empty pursuit of attention and respect from others. It makes us easily irritated and jealous of others in the family of God when we do not receive the praise when something good happens.
A Spirit-focused walk will provoke our spiritual family members to love and service. Rather than creating ill-feeling in others, we will cause those around us to desire another level — a higher place — a purer devotion — in their walk with God.
The writer of Hebrews suggests that we have to think about how to do this. Irritating others requires little effort or forethought. Challenging others to love more… requires deep reflection and openness to the Spirit of God.