Friday, February 19, 2016

Things Aren't Always What They Seem

I have to be honest, I don't typically enjoy reading through the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah.  Isaiah is full of prophecy and always leaves me confused about what's what and what's happening when because it jumps from past to present to future (and you are all aware by now how much trouble I have with time travel!).  As for Jeremiah, well, it's just a tough read.  There's a lot of whining and fussing going on, and again, the account jumps from person to person during the reign of this king and that king, and I get lost.  Please understand, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with the Bible.  There's not.  There's something wrong with me and my limited understanding of God's Word.

Still, I try to make myself do the reading and to pay attention as much as possible.  For the past week, that practice has been paying off, and God has revealed some interesting things to me through the book of Jeremiah.  I shared with you yesterday from chapter 42, and today I'd like to share with you a few verses from chapter 44.

Then all the men which knew that their wives had burned incense unto other gods, and all the women that stood by, a great multitude, even all the people that dwelt in the land of Egypt, in Pathros, answered Jeremiah, saying, As for the word that thou hast spoken unto us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken unto thee. But we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth, to burn incense unto the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, as we have done, we, and our fathers, our kings, and our princes, in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem: for then had we plenty of victuals, and were well, and saw no evil. But since we left off to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto her, we have wanted all things, and have been consumed by the sword and by the famine. - Jeremiah 44:15-18

Basically, the remnants of Judah were saying, "Hey, look here, Jeremiah.  Things were working out just fine for us when we were serving the queen of heaven.  We had plenty to eat.  We were happy.  We didn't experience war or famine or anything else bad.  But as soon as we stopped and tried to serve your God, everything fell apart.  Well, no thank you!  Just leave us alone and let us do what we want to do.  After all, it's been working out just fine."

It's a sad state of mind, but unfortunately, I can relate, and I'm sure you can too.  There are times when it seems like doing the wrong things pay off better than doing the right ones.  Eating what I want when I want is so much nicer and less stressful than watching calories and limiting sweets.  Trying to fix problems myself instead of waiting on God to do something seems like a more productive way to spend my time.  Doing my will instead of God's will seems to often bring about some benefits like extra money, more exposure to my ministry, and so on.  Meditating on a Bible verse for a few minutes then muttering a quick word of prayer may not be as effective spiritually as sitting down to really read God's Word and spend time with Him in deep prayer, but it seems like it leaves me a lot more time for accomplishing other things (including serving God).

Did you notice a trend throughout that paragraph?  How about the word "seems"?  If nothing else, these verses in Jeremiah remind us that appearances can be deceiving.  Sure, things may look good in the short term, but what happens over time.  Eating recklessly may make me happy temporarily, but what about after I've gained fifty pounds and I'm suffering from a myriad of health problems?  Still good?  Not so much.  Trying to fix my own problems may seem like I'm being productive, but in the long run, I'll realize that while I've been spinning my wheels, I haven't been going anywhere.  And yes, sometimes there are benefits to be had by circumventing God's will, but experience has taught me that the consequences far outweigh any benefits.  As for skimping on my quiet time with God, it may seem that I have more time to do other things, but the problem is that I've walked away from God, leaving me to complete my many tasks in my own strength alone.  And guess what?  It doesn't go well.

The Bible states very clearly that there is pleasure in sin for a season.  There will be a stretch of time where everything seems to be going just the way we want despite our disobedience to God.  But take it from Jonah and Abraham and David and many others throughout the Bible, there is always a payday.

Things are not always what they seem, and that goes for the positive things in life too.  Sometimes we get it in our heads that if we're serving and obeying God, life will be a bed of roses.  Along with our obedience, we set up certain expectations.  Without verbally uttering the words, we say, "Okay, God, I'm obeying, so that means you're going to take care of this bill or that situation, right?"  Then, when the bill goes unpaid and the situation goes unresolved, we throw up our hands and declare, "Well, I tried serving God, but it just didn't work for me."  What we really mean is "He didn't work for me."  Well, the last time I checked, He was the employer and we the employees, right?

Look, I get it.  I really do.  I'm in that same boat.  I find myself clinging to the expectations of how God will reward my service to Him, but when things don't work out the way I think they should, I find myself confused.  But if we would only cling to what we know instead of what we feel, we would be much better off.  If we would commit to the truth of how things are instead of focusing on how things appear, we might become more dedicated and more surrendered to the cause of Christ.  Imagine the impact that would have on our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Things aren't always what they seem.  Sometimes they're better, and sometimes they're worse.  Keep that in mind as you go about your day, and try to keep your focus on the One who never changes!  I guarantee you it will be worth it!


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