This week's Bible Study - September 11, 2016
One Great Purpose
Quotes of the Week:
Sometimes in tragedy we find our life's purpose - the eye sheds a tear to find its focus.
One great purpose. Everyone likes to have a purpose, don't they? When you are part of a team or an organization; if your purpose is well defined, you generally feel as more a part of that team. Berkley and I are avid St Louis Cardinal fans, and since we watch most of the games, either at Busch Stadium or on TV, we have gotten familiar with most of the players. Towards the end of the year when the roster expands, there are new players that were in the minor leagues that we don't know as well. On a baseball team, generally the positions are pretty well defined. Pitchers pitch, but seldom play other positions unless a game goes into extra innings and there aren't enough players. Outfielders generally play the outfield and infielders generally play the infield, although we have seen several players play many different positions. I would imagine it would be easier if you knew what position you were going to play, so you could focus on that position and how to respond in a number of scenarios.
We like to have purpose in our jobs. I know that I have been on programs where the job roles were ill defined. There is not much more frustrating than spending time working on something for perhaps days or weeks and finding out that somebody else was doing the same thing, differently. This isn't to imply that it is only one or just a few things that people should do, but having a distinct purpose helps with job satisfaction. In families, especially as the kids grow up, it is good for each child to have some designated task that fits with their age and skill level that they are responsible for. Although they may not appreciate that at the time, it sets them up to be more responsible as they age.
There are all different types of tasks we do, and different purposes we may have. However, this is not about work tasks or home tasks, but rather more generally about our purpose in life. Some people seem to figure this out and their life is all based on some purpose that seems given by God. However, many people struggle through life to find their purpose. Truthfully, I believe that when God ignites a passion inside of you, you have a clue to your purpose. We need to be careful to not identify a task as our purpose, because at different times in your life, you will be led to different tasks.
Personally, I know that whenever I have taken spiritual gift inventories or have felt led in different areas, I have always felt led to teach the Bible. I wouldn't have guessed that early on in my life, but over time, I became more and more focused on studying God's word and trying to find ways to teach it in a way that is relatable to people. I have taught numerous Bible Studies at church, informally in homes and through these lessons online. I also know that not everyone has this same purpose. Some are able to show mercy, others are led to give financially and by helping others, others are more hospitable and the list goes on and on.
When you are aware of your purpose and you start hitting 'your' groove, there will come times when you come up against massive obstacles. You may feel that God is leading you, but when you hit roadblocks, you may start questioning if you are doing the right thing. Wouldn't it be great if when you were right where you felt God wanted you, everything was a breeze? Over time, you will find it anything but a breeze, as if you are going against hurricane force winds. When this happens, what then? Has God left you out on your own?
This passage in Isaiah 43 was written to people who were to be in exile. In Isaiah 42, it was clear that 'God's people' had decided that they should go their own ways. They refused to listen to prophets and they began worshipping idols. They would not walk in God's ways and they would not listen to God's instruction. Yet, they would wonder why they were in exile and assume that God was done with them. I doubt any of us are in literal exile, but we all know what it is like to feel far from God. We all know what it is like to wonder if God has given up on us. It may be due to a time when we walked away from Him, or may be life circumstances that we wouldn't imagine we would face if God was with us, and if we had a purpose. Honestly, dealing with ALS and the increased loss of my capabilities makes me wonder that some, even now. Has God forgotten? Would I be dealing with this, if He were really with me?
In this first verse is the key to why we can rest in our God. As he writes to His people, which includes you and I as believers in Christ, Isaiah sums up the reason we can rest in Him, the Lord says "you are mine". Jacob was created by the Lord. The nation of Israel was formed by the Lord. They were redeemed by the Lord and summoned by name. Do we realize how special we are? Do you realize how special you are? God created you and He has formed you with your own personality and talents. He has redeemed you through Jesus Christ and He calls you.
He tells us to fear not. Embedded in this statement is the realization that we will have reason to fear. In John 16:33, we are told by Christ that we will have suffering in this world. Be courageous. Do not fear and be courageous. Wouldn't we rather a world that didn't require that? We have one coming in our eternity, but now one thing that we all have in common is that we will experience difficult times and at times, intensely difficult. We will experience times where we are fearful and where we will suffer.
Do you know anyone that has not suffered in some way or another? Granted, the level of suffering may differ, but we all will have trying times. Just this week, Berkley and I were talking about what it means to be content. Paul said that he learned to be content in all things, and Paul experienced 'a lot' of trials. Some see contentment as a happy, joyous place, but that is so far from the truth at times. Contentment is an acceptance of a situation, and it may well be a situation that you detest. We both have a hard time dealing with ALS (as a patient and as a caregiver), and it is a process to learn contentment. It is so tough to realize that your capabilities are diminishing at a rapid pace, and to say that you are content with that. It may be career related for some, relationship related for others and some other set of circumstances for others altogether. We would like to think that God's purpose would be that everything will be resolved in this lifetime, but God's purpose is so much grander than what we can see.
As Isaiah continues, he writes that "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze." Note that the word is when and not if. We will all deal with dire situations, but the promise is that God will be with you. The promise is not that He would control the current of the rivers or the temperature of the fire. Even in the fire, they would not be burned or set ablaze. This makes me think of Daniel and his friends that were thrown in the furnace. In Daniel 3, King Nebuchadnezzar was going to throw them in the blazing furnace, because they would not bow to him. They told the king that if they were thrown in the blazing furnace, their God is able to deliver them from the fire and from the hand of the king. However, they continued to say that even if God didn't save them, they wanted the king to know that they would not serve the king's gods nor would they worship the image of gold that he had set up. You likely know this story and the furnace didn't even singe their clothes and when they came out, they didn't even smell of smoke.
The story of Daniel and the furnace is a great story, but how many believers have been killed in a furnace, fed to the lions, decapitated or killed in some other heinous way. Was God not with them and did He not deliver them, although He could have? And, how many believers do you know that have experienced loss and felt as if the rivers have swept them away, even right now? I know of many great people that certainly feared the Lord that have contracted diseases and died way before we assumed was their time. Those who are left behind may feel utterly defeated and anything but content. Passages such as these are difficult when tragedy strikes.
There certainly is the principle that we will not get swept away and the vast majority of our lives, we see that to be true. But, this is not a promise on an individual basis, for here and now. We need to realize that this written to a nation that was going to in exile for 70 years. What can happen in 70 years? The point was that God's purpose was going to continue for the nation and that was a promise. Many preachers will do a disservice to this passage, personalizing it (out of context) as a promise that God wants you to be prosperous. Some will carry it to the point that God doesn't want His people to deal with the repercussions of a common cold, much less other serious diseases.
What is the promise associated with this that we can bank on as believers? It is not that you will never be tested beyond what you believe that you can bear, but that He will be with you in the midst. He will give you the strength to bear your circumstances and, even if they never change, He promises to be with each of us.
Isaiah continues to say that He is the Lord and Savior of Israel. In their history, God had clearly provided for them and had given other nations and people for the redemption of Israel. He rescued them from slavery from Egypt and He was with them as they traversed through the Promised Land. In our case, God has provided redemption through Jesus Christ so that we could be free from slavery to sin.
God didn't provide for the nation of Israel because of their goodness. Instead, He did it because they were, as a nation, precious and honored in His sight. God loved them. They tended to turn it around and believe that it was about them, and that was the seed of many of their problems. At times, we don't know what He saw in that nation, and if we are honest, at times don't know what Christ sees in us. But, as believers, we know that Jesus was given for us and that we are His.
Isaiah continues in this passage to say that they were not to be afraid. Their Lord was with them. After their time of exile, He would return His people from all parts of the world where they had been taken captive and would make them into a nation. These people were called by His name, created for His glory and had been formed and made by Him. God was not done with them and He had a purpose for His people.
You have been created by God for a purpose. Yes, you. He formed you to be the person that you are, although through life, we should be honed to be the person that we need to be. He has given you gifts. Are you using them? As believers, He has called us by name to become His through Jesus Christ. Do we think God created us, formed us and called us, only to leave us on our own? We know that Jesus said that we would be sent the Holy Spirit, who is in each believer. In essence, He understands what we deal with and He knows when we have drawn near to God, and when we have strayed. But, all along, God is with us.
It seems that there are two endings for this, based on where each of us is personally. For some, you know of tragedy in the lives of others and you may have experienced rocky times, but by and large, things are going well. You may feel God leading you in some direction. Follow that leading and keep listening for His voice. Be used by God by using your gift in whatever way you are being led, and know that God is with you in your pursuits. Continue to seek Him and know that He goes with you.
For others, you may feel as if you have been swept away based on circumstances of life. While you know God is with you as a fact, you feel as if He was really there, He would step in and change things. You believe that He would change your health or the health of a love one. You would hope that He would change others who are treating you horribly and seeming to get away with it. At times, we cannot understand why things are happening and there is a tendency for many to fall away from God. Realize that He is with you and keep seeking Him. Even in the midst of suffering (actually, often in the midst of suffering, God can use you to reach others).
I wish I understood more than I do. I know that God was with the nation of Israel, but I know that nation was made up of millions of people. We see how God stuck with the nation and His purposes were fulfilled, but along the way, millions of individuals came and went. Sometimes, the notion of the individual gets overlooked for the notion of the cause, or so it seems. However, we need to remember that we are each fearfully and wonderfully made and that God has given each of us purpose. We must put our trust in God and allow Him to use us as He sees fit. We may not understand how it all fits together, but we know that God's ways are higher than our ways and we must be trust that it all in His hands.