It was going to be a great Christmas. I could hardly wait until the kids saw all the neat toys waiting under the tree–games that lit up and buzzed, tanks that fired plastic missiles, cars that raced on a winding track. But as they eagerly ripped open the packages, I noticed for the first time something printed on the cartons: “Batteries Not Included.” Batteries! It was exciting all right, sifting around staring at immobile tanks and stalled race cars and ignoring little voices that kept repeating, “Daddy, this won’t work.”
Spiritually, that has been the frustrating experience of many Christians. Time and again, they have had everything but the power. And you might as well try to swim without water as to try to live the Christian life without God’s power. If the biblical account of entering Canaan teaches anything, it is that victory demands the release of God’s power in our behalf. Knowing how to plug into this power is absolutely essential.
God’s power is always flowing. If at times it seems that God is idle, it is only because we have stepped out of the stream. In this message and the next we will discuss the streams in which the power of God flows.
GOD’S POWER FLOWS 1N THE STREAM OF HIS PURPOSE.
God uses His power to accomplish His purposes. It is never released simply to indulge our carnal cravings or to bail us out of a spot He didn’t lead us into. God is no show-off, He isn’t running a sideshow for the amusement of the miracle-mongers. I was about ten years old when I saw the original King of Kings movie classic by Cecil B. De Mille. The scene where Jesus stands before Herod brought me to the edge of my seat. Herod kept asking Jesus to perform a miracle, and Jesus wouldn’t even answer the old reprobate. As I sat there in the darkness, I wanted to jump up and shout, “Do it, Jesus! Work a miracle. Show ‘em who You are!” But He didn’t. That was not within His purpose.
We have a tendency to treat God like a glorified butler, or a genie who, when we rub our prayer lamp, materializes to grant our every wish. but He is not our servant; He is the Lord of life who makes plans and executes them. It isn’t His concern to accomplish our goals, no matter how right they seem to us. the exercise of His power is reserved for the accomplishment of His purpose. But if we let Him, He will sweep us up in the mainstream of His purpose. Then we will know His power. God has a purpose, a plan for every life, and we must find and fit into that purpose. Let’s look at three characteristics of His plan for our lives.
It is an eternal purpose. Just as God had long centuries before planned for Israel to occupy Canaan, so God in eternity past drew up a design for your life. We are God’s “workmanship” created to do the good works He planned for each of us before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). Isn’t that a staggering thought! Before I was born, before even the worlds were formed, God singled me out and created a custom-made plan for my life. True success in life is knowing what God created you to do and doing it.
Paul was captivated by the knowledge that God had chosen him before he was born. On the Damascus road he met the living Christ; and as God’s purpose began to unfold, he fitted himself into it. Jeremiah was also conscious of God’s eternal plan. He first argued with the Lord about his credentials and abilities until God revealed that before he was born, God had known him and chosen him for a specific task.
This perfect plan may include difficulties with which He intends us to live. With the three Hebrew children thrown into the fiery furnace, we must be able to say, “Our God is able to deliver us. but if He chooses not to, that will be all right” (see Daniel 3:17-18). The purpose of God rises above every other consideration.
God’s purpose for our life is an essential purpose. It is essential to the fulfillment of our destiny. To miss God’s purpose is to waste our life in aimless wandering. God tuned all things to magnify His name. You wee created to be a showcase for His glory.
It is essential to our well-being. Our wholeness and happiness depend on our moving toward the goal for which we were created. Diverting our energies toward any other goal drains us of all effectiveness and turns us into misfits in a universe tuned to the glory of God. It’s like playing a sensitive stereo recording of a complex symphony on a child’s portable phonograph. The music would be a miserable facsimile of what it was intended to be. And if the record could feel, it would be frustrated and disappointed with the results.
As Paul stormed toward Damascus to imprison those who worshipped Christ, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light and said “Paul, it is painful to kick against the goads.” A goad was a sharp, pointed stick used to keep oxen moving in the right direction. It was painful for the ox, trying to go his own way, to kick at the goad instead of yielding to its prodding. Jesus said, “Paul, why are you fighting against me? You’re only hurting yourself” I’m sure all of us have scars caused by the goads. Oxen have sense enough to stop kicking–sometimes men do not.
Finally, the purpose of God is an exciting purpose. I doubt that a single Israelite died of boredom. I know that none of the apostles did. As they plunged forward in God’s purpose, He continued to do wonders among them. Every Christian who walks with God will find wonders unfolding each day. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself starting every day saying, “Well, Lord, what’s it to be today?” Maybe it will be the contentment of a quiet stroll, perhaps the turbulence of a stormy battle, or the satisfaction of giving yourself in service to one in need.
Moving in the stream of God’s purpose is exciting. It is thrilling to see the obstacles collapse like eggshells as God guides you with His presence and guards you with His power.
When Paul was sailing to Rome, the ship was engulfed in a great storm. Frantically, the sailors began to jettison the cargo, but the storm intensified and it seemed certain that the ship and all its passengers would be lost. That night Paul held a private prayer meeting, and the next morning he stood in the midst of his terrified shipmates and said, “Cheer up!” (Christians sometimes say pretty strange things.)
GOD’S POWER FLOWS IN THE STREAM OF HIS TIMING.
It’s clear from the third chapter of Joshua that a timetable arranged by the Lord was being followed. As this heavenly schedule was kept, the people fitted into the countdown of the Lord. Understanding the principle of God’s timing is indispensable if God’s power is to be released. Because they fail to recognize this, many Christians have their permanent residence in “PanicPalace” at the corner of “Fretful Avenue” and “Worry-Yourself-Sick Boulevard.”
During a difficult and trying time in our lives a friend gave us a wall clock with this inscription in large letters: “GOD’S TIMING IS ALWAYS PERFECT.” That clock hung on our kitchen wall for many years and greeted us every morning with its reassuring message. God’s timing is always perfect. He’s never late. Of course, He’s never early, either; but He is always right on time.
You can do the right thing at the wrong time. Moses, for instance, knew God would deliver His people from the bondage of Egypt. Having escaped Pharaoh’s massacre of Hebrew infants, and having been sheltered in the heart of the king’s household, he figured he had been chosen to effect this deliverance. And he figured correctly. But he got ahead of God and started the campaign by killing an Egyptian bully. I guess he thought he could do the job by killing off all the Egyptians one at a time. He failed to calculate how long it would take or how hot things would get when the Egyptian police discovered the murder. The result was that Moses lost the confidence of his own people (no one trusts a man who works in the energy of the flesh) and spent the next forty years hiding in the desert. When God was ready the people were taken out in one night.
Abraham missed God’s timing too. God promised him and Sarah a son who would be the beginning of a mighty nation.; The years passed, but the promise remained unfulfilled. Fearing that old age would cancel the promise of God, Abraham had a son by his wife’s servant girl (a perfectly legal way to do things in those days). But man can never bring to pass the purposes of God, and it is a foolish and dangerous thing to try. Nothing but disaster resulted from Abraham’s effort to “help God out.”
Time spent waiting on God is never wasted. We waste time when we refuse to wait upon the Lord and take matters into our own hands. Sometimes the work of God is set back for years as a consequence of our bungling attempts. One of God’s most difficult tasks is teaching us to wait. One day a friend of Phillips Brooks, a great preacher of another generation, called on him and found him impatiently pacing the floor. He asked what the trouble was. With flashing eyes Dr. Brooks exclaimed, “The trouble is that I am in a hurry and God is not!”
Jesus’ life exhibits the perfect timing of God. The Bible tells us that in the “fulness of time, God sent forth His Son.” God kept Jesus practically hidden for thirty years before launching Him on His public ministry. If we had been in charge of S.O.W. (Save Our World) when Jesus showed up in the temple at the age of twelve, we would have immediately put Him on the evangelistic circuit. “The world is going to hell,” we would have argued. “You’re wasting your time in that carpenter’s shop.” But God took thirty years to prepare Jesus for a three-year ministry. God’s timing was illustrated by the statement “my hour has not yet come, which is repeated throughout the Gospels. Several times the Jews tried to kill Him, but could not because “His hour was not yet come.” He always slipped easily away until God said, “Now.”
On two notable occasions Jesus’ timing must have seemed like criminal delay to the others involved. On His way to the bedside of a desperately ill child, He suddenly stopped to talk with a woman about her illness and her many trips to the doctor. Just as He was about to resume His journey, a servant rushed up to the girl’s father and told him the child was dead.
Another time, Lazarus was ill, and Mary and Martha, his sisters, sent for Jesus. He purposely delayed a few more days before going to them. When He finally reached them, Lazarus was dead, and the sisters rebuked Him saying, “If you had been here, our brother would not have died.” In both situations Jesus’ delays meant death. If Jesus had followed man’s timing, it would have saved much grief and anxiety; but following God’s timing bestowed other benefits and even greater joy. God always has His reasons. these two incidents, as well as the crossing of Jordan, show us three reasons for divine delays.
God’s delays display our helplessness. The delay in crossing the Jordan convinced the people that only God could take them to the other side. As long as Jairus’ daughter was sick, there was still hope. When she died, all hope vanished. At the time Jesus received word of Lazarus’ condition there was still a chance. When Jesus arrived, the brother had been in the tomb four days.
God often waits until things are absolutely hopeless in our lives too. We must be completely convinced that God’s power alone can deliver us.
God’s delays deepen our fäith. In both instances of Jesus’ delay the level of trust in Him was lifted. They already trusted Him to heal, but He showed them they could trust Him for even more–the restoration of life. When there was no longer any human reason to believe, Jesus urged them to believe anyway. Real faith operates when we have nothing to cling to but the bare promise of God. God uses delays to create situations in which, like muscles, our faith is exercised. Just as exercise strengthens our physical muscles, so the exercise of faith strengthens our spiritual muscles. Without a program of exercise imposed upon us through delay, we would never grow stronger.
God’s delays demonstrate His glory. Which glorifies God more–healing a sick man or raising a dead man? Leading you across a calm and shallow Jordan or making a dry path through a raging one? This is why God lets things get blacker; it causes His glory to stand out more clearly. It must be obvious that he has done it. then He will be seen as unsurpassingly glorious, and His people will praise Him in the temple and trust Him in trouble.
If God is to release His power in your life, you must fling yourself wholeheartedly into the stream of His purpose and wait with steadfast expectancy for Him to do His work.
©Ron Dunn, LifeStyle Ministries, 2002