Waiting for God.

16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you (Genesis 16:16-17:6).

When we look at the life of Abraham, we see a man who had learned to wait. The end of Genesis chapter sixteen points out to us that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael, but chapter seventeen tells us that nothing had happened for 14 years until God finally spoke to him again at ninety-nine years of age (Genesis 17:1). What can we learn from what is not written about that time?

Why do you suppose God made Abram wait so long? What work does God do in a person through making him or her wait? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned have been in times of waiting. God does His best preparation work in His servants in the waiting times. The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of the preparation of a servant of the Lord:

Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver (Isaiah 49:1-2).

For every servant of God called to do an important task for the Kingdom of God, there is a preparation time that is compared to the making of an arrow. There is a personal calling, then a preparation of what issues out from his lips, a cleansing of his language. He or she are also drawn close to the Lord, an intimacy under God’s hand before a polishing of his character.  And then, lastly, there is the concealment in the quiver. During this phase of training and preparation, a man or woman of God are not allowed to do anything that is “seen” by the world, at least for a time. He or she is called to be in hidden ministry that has to wait until the right timing to be shot in ministry from the Lord’s bow. Think of Moses and his having to wait forty years while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness of Midian. God made him wait until he was eighty years of age before the Lord would use him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. He definitely had to endure the hiddenness and waiting of the quiver!  Imagine how hard it would have been for him to be trained in the best schools of Egypt, and then do nothing seemingly of value while he shepherded the sheep in the desert. Why would God do that to a man? The greater the task, the greater the training. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is part of the training. Keith Thomas

“Hagar, Where Are You Going?”

7The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going? “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered. 9Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” 11The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. 12He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.” 13She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me” (Genesis 16:7-13).

It is in the desert place that the Angel of the Lord speaks to Hagar. This angel is One who has been watching and listening to all that was going on in Abraham’s household. He speaks kindly to her and asks two very pertinent questions which is good for all of us to hear, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Verse 8).

Every now and then as we go through life it is good to sit down and assess where you have come from and where you are going. If you are aiming for nothing, you are bound to hit it! Did you ever experience a time in your life when you felt aimless and really did not know which way to go? Was God’s direction sought?

This angel is no normal angel, but most scholars believe this to be an appearance of God in human form. John the apostle in his gospel reminds us that the Lord Jesus preexisted before His taking on human form. He wrote that Jesus was with God in the beginning, and that through Him all things were made, and that without Him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:2-3). This angel does not speak for God, but as God. He says, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Verse 10). This kind of language is not, “this is what the Lord says, but this is what I say!” This is God Himself speaking. Hagar knows who it is that is speaking to her, for she names God, “You are a God of seeing,” and names the well where she encounters the Lord, “Well of the Living One who sees me” (Verse 13). Hagar is given vision and direction for her future. She is told to humble herself and submit herself to her mistress, Sarai, and raise Ishmael in Abram’s home. I’m sure her heart was encouraged to learn that she would be mother to many descendants too numerous to count (Verse 10). These descendants today are the Arabic people.

Hagar was brought into a new revelation of the Lord on that day. First of all, she found out that God (Yehovah, not Allah) hears the cry of distress, and just to remind her, she was told to name her son by the name of Ishmael, which means God hears. She was also given the revelation that the God who was watching over her sees all that is going on in her life—it is a good lesson for each of us.

We all have challenging times of waiting when our faith is tested. Even though Abram had many tests to his faith, and although he did not pass all the tests, he is still referred to as a man of faith in scripture. We do not remember him for his mistakes, but rather for his decision to follow God’s direction and go to a new place he did not know. The legacy he leaves is one of faith. This is a reminder to us of the great grace God has toward us. He does not hold up our mistakes. He takes our damaged lives and leads us home from wherever we find ourselves. Even from a place that is a desert of our own making.

Maybe you can relate to one of the characters in this part of the story. Are you like Abram, being worn down and weary in the waiting process? Are you like Hagar, finding that you are at a point where you need God’s assurance and His direction? Wherever you are in your journey of faith today, and whatever difficulties you are facing, God has a next step for you. Even if that step is to continue to wait. He has a plan and direction for you, to lead you on from the place that you find yourself right now. Keith Thomas

One Thing is Needed

38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Mary comes across as a person who is passionate about the things that really count. She knows that she is expected to be helping Martha with the food and drinks, but how often does one have the God of the universe over for tea and crumpets (or whatever they had for tea in that day)!  She sees the eagerness on the face of Jesus as He begins to answer questions and discuss the Scriptures. Wild horses could not drag her from the room! She made a conscious decision to ignore the unwritten rules, obligations, and expectations to help Martha in the kitchen. There are higher priorities than laying the table and pouring drinks. I am sure that Mary had a number of questions stored up in her heart. She was just waiting for the words of Jesus to feed her soul. Mary was right in putting the word of God as her highest priority.

Martha strikes me as a person whose self-esteem was bound up in what she does for Jesus more than who she is in Christ. She was a task-oriented person, and there is nothing wrong with that. We need task-oriented people. God has gifted them in their inner DNA to be like that. It was her home, so she felt that the responsibility was on her to treat the Master right. After all, if the Lord Jesus was coming to your house, wouldn’t you try to prepare a nice spread of food in hospitality to the visiting Rabbi? By the time Martha makes her final outburst to Jesus, we can imagine that she was getting as steamed up as her kitchen was! I can picture Martha banging the pots around, making plenty of noise to remind Mary of her duties in the kitchen. Martha’s focus shifts from trying to get Mary’s attention to blaming Jesus. “Why doesn’t He say anything to her?” she thinks to herself as she bangs a few pots in the hope of drawing Mary’s attention. There is no indication that Martha was directing her anger toward her sister. She can’t get her attention; instead, Martha accuses Jesus of not caring: “She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” (v. 40).

Martha wanted Jesus to redirect Mary; however, Jesus wanted to redirect Martha! Martha attempted to get Mary to serve Jesus in the same way that Martha did. Martha’s irritability had grown to the point where she was literally commanding Jesus as to what He should do. We must give room to let people be different to ourselves. We are given different temperaments for a reason, i.e. to learn to live with one another’s temperaments. It wasn’t that Martha was wrong and Mary right, but that we should imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. To achieve a balance in both, we must put first things first.

Martha felt like she had to do everything and felt let down because Mary was not pulling her share of the load. She felt that this was unfair. Have you felt like that before? Some of us have heard these words from our parents: “Life is unfair! Get used to it!” Jesus does not respond this way, however. He gets straight to the heart with Martha. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (vs. 41-42). How tenderly He responds to her. These are not words of anger or disappointment levelled at Martha, and the doubling of her name reflects deep emotion on His part.

Some would say that Jesus was only after one thing on Martha’s menu instead of an elaborate meal. Bread and water would have been quite sufficient. It is more logical to interpret the “one thing” to be Mary’s attitude of hungering after Christ’s presence. Time was short. Jesus was headed to the cross, and food was not on Jesus’ priority list, but Martha and Mary were! They were His priority! Jesus did not stop by Martha’s house for the food but primarily to spend time with them.

What if Jesus were coming by your house today, would you be too busy for Him, or are you a Mary and love to sit at His feet?

Taken from study 26 in Luke entitled “Jesus Martha and Mary.” Found in the middle column under the heading Luke, A Walk Through the Life of Jesus. Click on the link to all the studies in Luke and find study 26

Keith Thomas

What Does it Mean to Remain in the Vine?

4“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. 8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:4-8).

What does it mean to remain? (The King James Version uses the word, “abide”).

I think that the thought here is of the picture of the life sap of Jesus Christ flowing through your life by allowing the Word of God to be the pruning shears of the Spirit. The disciples had the person of Christ with them for three years speaking the very words of God to them. That’s why He said to them that they were already clean because of the words that He had spoken to them (John 15:3). Further, He promised them that if they continued to maintain connection with Himself (the Head), and that His Word remained in them, they would ask “whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (verse 7).

Is it as easy as just reading the Word of God? No, the devil knew the Word of God and quoted it to Jesus in the temptation of the wilderness. The difference is allowing the Word to find a home in you—to take root in the soil of your character:

37And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40yet you refuse to come to me to have life (John 5:37-39).

The religious Jews had meditated on the Holy Scriptures all their lives, but the Word of God had not found a home in them. We must move the furniture around and make room for His Word. Any junk in the room of our hearts has to be taken to the junkyard and the throne room has to have Christ and His Word fully at home and taking root. The Lord said something similar a little bit later to the religious Jews:

37I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word (John 8:37).

The life of God flows easily through a man or woman who is living in obedience and faith in God by making room in His heart for the Word of God. We often underestimate the power of the Word of God, but Jesus said this about His Word:

63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life (John 6:63).

This is true discipleship. Being connected to Christ, who is the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27). When we allow His strength to flow through us, the Lord produces results that defy natural explanation—powerfully effective prayers, God-honoring blessings, unbounded love, and inexplicable joy. All these things come when God’s Word finds a home in our hearts, and we are rooted and grounded (Ephesians 3:17) in the love and power of Christ. The life-giving sap of this organic connection to the Lord Jesus Christ will bring immeasurable fruit to your life.

Keith Thomas

Does God Know Everything that will Happen?

The big question that most people have about the Bible is this, “Can I trust that what I read in the Bible really will happen?” Does the Almighty God, the creator of the Universe, really know the future? Did you know that a quarter of the contents of the Bible are made up of prophecies about the future? In describing His foreknowledge of events that will happen, the Lord Himself states:

9Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.
10I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. 
I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please’ (Isaiah 46:9-10).

3I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. 4For I knew how stubborn you were; your neck muscles were iron, your forehead was bronze. 5Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My images brought them about; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’ 6You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them? “From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you. 
7They are created now, and not long ago; you have not heard of them before today.
So you cannot say, ‘Yes, I knew of them’ (Isaiah 48:3-7).

When the people of Israel were wandering far from God and worshipping nature deities in the form of idols, He used a prophet, Isaiah, to speak to them as to who was really God. To set Himself apart from other so-called deities, God said: “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you” (Isaiah 42:8-9). To prove and authenticate that He alone is God, the Lord says that He knows the future and tells us ahead of time. He says, “Before they spring into being I announce them to you.” He challenged the false gods and idols to do the same:

21“Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. 22Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. 
Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come,  23tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. 
Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear (Isaiah 41:21-23).

The Lord God puts all the false religions to the test—“tell us what the future holds, if you really are God,” He says. No other scriptures from any other holy book states the future ahead of time. Just to prove that He is God, again and again, He spoke of things that were future. Let’s just take one for today, the prophecy about the city of Tyre in Ezekiel 26:1-14.  I don’t have room to reproduce the whole passage. You can read it online elsewhere or in the Bible. God spoke ahead of time about six specific things that would happen to the city:

  • Nebuchadnezzar would attack the city and capture it (v.7, 10).
  • Many nations would come against the city and plunder it (v.3-5).
  • There would be a siege on the city by Nebuchadnezzar (v.8).
  • The stones, timber and rubble of Tyre would be thrown into the sea.
  • The city would be a bare rock and a place for fishermen to spread their nets.
  • The city would never be rebuilt

 Seventeen years after this prophecy was given, history records that the Babylonian king came against the mainland city of Tyre. You can check this out on Wikipedia.org.  He was after the great treasure that was there—the city of Tyre had become very prosperous. Nebuchadnezzar was after the treasure to finance his army. When he arrived with his army, their dust covered the city. He used massive force and with battering rams he broke down the walls and captured the city. There was only one problem, though; ships had shifted the majority of the treasure to the two little islands that were half a mile from the land. Nebuchadnezzar and his army were furious but try as they might; they were unsuccessful in capturing the island fortress, partly because they had no ships. Nebuchadnezzar carried on down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Some would say that this left the prophecy partially unfulfilled, and for several years it was so. 240 years later came Alexander the Great on his conquest of the Persian Empire. He also attacked the city of Tyre, and to get to the island off of the coast, he built a causeway with the rubble that was left of the mainland city of Tyre. Literally all of the rubble of the city of Tyre was thrown into the sea to make the causeway. Alexander finally captured the city and even today there are pictures of the local fishermen spreading their nets on the bare rock of where the ancient city stood. The causeway changed the way the tide ran past the city making the old island city now underwater, just as Ezekiel prophesied. A Jewish traveller in the 1100s, named Benjamin of Tudela, came to the ancient spot where Tyre once existed and wrote:

“A man can ascend the walls of New Tyre and see ancient Tyre, which the sea has now covered, lying at a stones throw from the new city. And should one care to go forth by boat, one can see the castles, marketplaces, streets and palaces in the bed of the sea. New Tyre is a busy place of commerce, to which merchants flock from all quarters.” Benjamin of Tudela, the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela.

Keith Thomas