IS GOD GOOD?
“Was God good to me? I couldn’t hold that question and at the same time believe in the full life he offered me. To be filled anew, I needed not just to acknowledge hunger, but to recognize how necessary that hunger was.” (Hagerty, Sara. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Zondervan, 2014. p. 54)
Do you really believe God is good? I’m not talking about what we know to be the right answer. I’m talking about your deeply held beliefs. Over the years I developed an understanding of God based on bits and pieces of scripture that I memorized from childhood. I measured my understanding of His goodness based on my understanding of my goodness. I really believed God to be an angry, punishing God more than I believed any other character quality. I therefore spent an inordinate amount of time trying to determine which actions were most likely to please him. Obviously I never actually said these things out loud because I knew the right answer, and I honestly wasn’t completely aware of these beliefs myself at the time. As my understanding of God has broadened, I now know that deep down I used to see my God as one who wanted me to throw a virgin into the volcano to keep things status quo. I succeeded in my goodness many times AND I failed. When bad things happened I assumed it was because of my failures. Do you feel like you’re being punished for not living up to God’s expectations? Do you really believe God is good?
This is what you call living by the law. There’s more to come on the Law of Moses in the coming chapters of Acts, but for now I’ll suffice it to say that living a life measured by your positive or negative output for God, is a life of the law. I could be slaving away at good works, exhausted and frustrated, or relinquish myself to a life of self-satisfaction, addiction, and good works when it suits me. Either way, it’s a trap.
Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:21-22 NLT)
In last week’s study we looked at the path our journey takes into an intimate relationship with God. We discussed a life of purpose, filled with great works for God (a.k.a. The Promised Land), that comes only after you’ve been freed from captivity and prepared in the desert. Click here to see last week’s lesson. A life under the law, including all our white-knuckling efforts, is a life of captivity. We must be released from the belief that we have to live up to an expectation; that we have to please God. When we are no longer captives to false beliefs, we can learn how to surrender to His ways. We can learn how to allow God to live through us. We can approach Him exactly where we are. And remaining where we are for very long is never an option in Christ. This is grace. Grace is proven through the difficult lessons of preparation, nudging us to approach the borders of our purpose.
CIRMCUMSTANCES ARE NOT AN INDICATOR OF HIS FAVOR
“They acted as if they believed God didn’t just tolerate them; He enjoyed them. And yet their messes were more visible than mine. I couldn’t understand this combination, but it intrigued me. They lived and walked as if they knew God was good to them, though their circumstances said otherwise. These people liked to pray, and they referenced their day-to-day experience with God as if it were an adventure.” (Hagerty, Sara. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Zondervan, 2014. p. 60)
Entering the Promised Land for the nation of Israel, unlike my naïve thoughts of the land of milk and honey, was a battle from the beginning. In order to see the fulfillment of God’s promises, they had to fight for it. The fulfillment of the Promised Land was ultimately not about the destination, but rather the purpose of Israel to bless the entire world. When Paul and Barnabas set out on the first missionary journey in chapter 13 we saw that they were entering the symbolic Promised Land of their lives. They were entering the season of their lives where they would live out their purpose by making God’s name known among the nations. And it was obviously not easy street. God said he would use Paul to bring his message to the Gentiles. They battled everywhere they went as they fought to see that fulfillment. They could have easily thought God was punishing them since their lives were threatened virtually everywhere they went. In Lystra (Acts 14:20), Paul was stoned and left for dead. But Paul and Barnabas didn’t see God this way. They believed God was good. They understood grace in the context of their hardships. Paul and Barnabas then re-visited the towns where they were persecuted.
They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22 NLT)
Now lest you be tempted to think this verse is saying you must pass a test to be accepted by God and enter his Kingdom, consider this: In the heavenly realm
The Promised Land symbolizes God’s purpose for your life.
The Kingdom symbolizes God’s presence and authority in your life.
Now read the verse again.
ENTERING THE KINGDOM
“I wanted to have the deep parts of me find the deep parts of Him. That night I saw that having taken small steps toward receiving more of Him wasn’t satisfying my hunger; it was creating more of it.” (Hagerty, Sara. Every Bitter Thing is Sweet. Zondervan, 2014. p. 72)
Like the Promised Land is not a destination, so the Kingdom is not a destination.
About three years ago my family was suffering a difficult hardship in our lives. It was the source of a lot of fights between my husband and me as we tried to navigate our circumstance. Our very livelihood was at stake and so the level of anxiety rose with each passing day. I groggily headed to the car one morning to meet a friend for an early morning run. On the way there I began talking out loud. My emotional concerns came flooding out of my mouth. To an onlooker they sounded exactly like prayers, and I guess they were, but here’s where my deeply rooted beliefs came to light. God actually answered my outspoken prayer that morning, and it shocked me. I looked around the car to ensure that I was alone, because surely I didn’t actually hear a response. It wasn’t an audible response, but it was so clear and definitely from outside of me, that it might as well have been. I followed this response with a trembling, “God, are you in the car with me?”
“Yes,” came another strikingly clear response.
Chills ran up my spine as I became very much aware of God’s presence in the car. I wasn’t scared at all; in fact I was very much at peace. It soon became clear to me that I was not at all alone in my car nor in my circumstance. I knew at that moment he would answer any question I had. So I asked and he answered. Tears fell from my face with the realization that He took the time to visit with me. Do you hear that? I just revealed my deepest held belief, that I knew in my head was terribly wrong, but I held it anyway. I believed in the deepest part of my heart, that God had better things to do than spend time with me. Seriously, there are far worse things going on in the world than my little problems, and he wanted me to work them out myself, right? Lies. All lies.
I got a taste of Him that morning. We shared an intimacy in that fleeting car ride and I wanted more. So what did I do? I relished in the memory of that Saturday morning every day the following week, until Saturday rolled around again. I quickly jumped in my car, headed for my sunrise run, all the way anticipating another heavenly moment with my God. But it didn’t happen. I did everything the exact same way. I prayed for it while I tied my shoes. As I turned the ignition in my car I said, “Ok, God! I’m ready to talk. Let’s do this!” Crickets. Crickets. Was that really going to be the only time I ever got to be with him?
So I literally spent the next 18 months pursuing His voice. Through my studies I began to know him better. I wasn’t reading out of obligation this time. My hunger for him begat more hunger. With each layer that unfolded, I saw many more layers before me. This was never going to end!
And instead of feeling frustrated that the thread I was pulling kept lengthening, I became more and more enthralled. I experienced his presence at each turn. I began hearing His voice on a fairly regular basis that was sometimes soft, sometimes bold, and always comforting. I felt drawn in a direction that was unknown, but oddly assuring in its promise. In hindsight I can see that I was moving toward my purpose although it was veiled in mystery at the time. On one particular night, as I was reading in the Book of Daniel, I came across this verse:
And the man said to me, ‘Daniel, you are very precious to God, so listen carefully to what I have to say to you…’ (Daniel 10:11 NLT)
I immediately prayed, Lord, how I would love to hear you say that to me. How I long to be as precious to you as Daniel. Immediately a thought so strong dropped in my mind, “You are very precious to me.” This God was becoming new to me every day. So I am as precious as these pillars of my faith? I am as precious as Peter, Paul and Mary? I know, bad joke. But seriously, how in the world can I be compared to some of these scriptural giants? Well that assumes God doles out a finite amount of love. Our unending search for God proves his infinite limits. Little by little, God was exposing all of my fallible beliefs
WE ARE PRECIOUS
My two daughters are wrapped tightly in a fierce competition for my attention about half the time they are awake. If I give one daughter a hug, the other immediately comes running. If one daughter takes a seat next to me, she will predictably move her legs over mine to prevent the other a seat on my lap. One evening we talked about this. My older daughter revealed that it hurts her feelings when I express my love for the other. She just couldn’t understand that when I share love for one, it doesn’t mean I’m taking love away from the other. I think we often apply this thinking to God too. When God tells Daniel he’s precious, it doesn’t mean I’m not. Take this home. When God tells me I am very precious, he’s telling you the exact same thing.
Try to wrap your brain around the truth that God is good all the time, and that all the time God is good. If you can really believe it, then you can begin to understand the truth in Acts, “that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” Where was the good in all that Paul and Barnabas suffered?
…they called the church together and reported everything God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. (Acts 14:27 NLT)
The good is found in His purpose and it inevitably leads to His presence. And that is very, very good.