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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

God’s Word vs. Prevailing Circumstances

By Gary Denbow
Aug. 29, 2010

In Cebu City, Philippines, my wife and I met a young pastor and his family. Eli was assigned to provide transportation for us during a General Council convention there. We had a lot of time to talk, and this young pastor had a story to tell.

Eli had lost his mother at age 7. His dad was a military man who was gone several months out of each year. Eli dropped out of school just four months into the third grade. He lived on the streets.

He married at age 18 and settled down to the only job he could find: sweeping the floors in a pottery factory. Three boys were born to the couple. Their family’s outlook appeared bleak.

God’s promises are powerful, but at times their fulfillment stretches our comprehension. We just do not have the capacity to fully understand what God is saying. And difficult circumstances can compound our struggle.

That’s why we must give ourselves to the study of God’s Word. It is that point of reference that always shows us the very heart of God. It is God’s Word that offers reassurance and comfort even during our darkest hour.

Jeremiah, though one of the Old Testament’s greatest prophets, faced challenges similar to our own in understanding God’s purposes. He heard from God, but what God said to him left him wondering. In Jeremiah 32, the city of Jerusalem was under siege. It was smoldering from attack by the armies of Babylon. Water and food supplies had been cut off.

This chapter was probably written in about 587 B.C., just a year or so before the fall of Jerusalem and the start of the 70-year captivity of Israel by the Babylonians. It was Israel’s darkest hour.

Jeremiah had been God’s main spokesperson for years. His message had been consistent. He warned the people of Jerusalem of impending disaster and destruction. Instead of heeding these warnings, the people rejected Jeremiah’s message and hated him. From King Zedekiah to the man on the street, there was general disdain for Jeremiah because of his truthful, doomsday preaching.

While sitting in prison because of his ministry, Jeremiah received a puzzling word from God. God told Jeremiah that his cousin Hanamel was about to visit him, and when Hanamel arrived he was going to offer to sell Jeremiah a piece of family property.

Jeremiah never waivered in his obedience. He made arrangements to have money transferred to Hanamel. He instructed Baruch to have the deed recorded. He did all of this in public because he believed that he had received a word from God, and he acted upon that word. He made it clear that he believed what God had said to him: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land” (Jeremiah 32:15, NIV).

But Jeremiah was human. He did not understand. He obeyed, but he struggled to come to grips with the prevailing circumstances of his day.

His prayer is classic: “Ah, Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You” (v. 17, NKJV).

Jeremiah went on to recount current events to God. Everything was being destroyed. The city of Jerusalem was about to be leveled to the point that crops would be planted atop the place where the temple had stood.

It puzzled Jeremiah that what was happening in Jerusalem was God’s plan (v. 24), and yet God was telling him to invest in the future. “Thou hast said to me, O Lord God, ‘Buy for yourself the field with money, and call in witnesses’ — although the city is given into the hand of the Chaldeans” (v. 25, NASB).

There is no sign that Jeremiah prayed in doubt, but he sorely needed understanding.

God answered. In Jeremiah 32:26-35, God detailed His reasons for the impending destruction of Jerusalem. Jeremiah needed to understand that Jerusalem was going to experience the lowest point in the history of Israel, mainly because of the evil they had committed in the very face of God.

But, thankfully, He did not stop there. God already had restoration in mind. He did not plan to leave His chosen people captives in a foreign land. He planned to reverse the curse! Note God’s specific promises in Jeremiah 32:

• He will gather His people back into Jerusalem and make them dwell in safety (v. 37).

• He will be their God, and they will be His people (v. 38).

• He will do a “heart job” on them. He will change their desires (v. 39).

• He will make an everlasting covenant with them to never stop doing good to them and inspire them to fear Him so that they won’t turn away from Him (v. 40).

• God will rejoice over His people and “faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul” (v. 41).

• God promised that just as surely as all the calamity would come, all the promises of blessing would also be fulfilled (v. 42).

• What Jeremiah has done is a precursor to what will happen in the future when God restores Jerusalem (v. 43).

• Look at God’s Word: “I will restore their fortunes, declares the Lord” (v. 44).

In these difficult times, unemployment continues to rise. In some communities one family in 10 has been displaced with the repossession of their home. In our nation and around the world, the future looks stormy.

But Jeremiah’s experience reminds us that God’s principles still work in difficult times. The Word of God is to be obeyed — even if you are in prison and unjustly accused. Don’t quit living out your faith in the difficult times. We’re tempted to retreat in the face of hardship. But God says to us through the prophet, “Invest!” We are to live as if we know the rest of the story, as if anticipating the blessings God promises to bring about.

Let’s return to the Philippines, to the story of Eli. Things looked bad for his poverty-stricken family of five, but Eli was a hard worker. Someone witnessed to his wife and him. They accepted Christ, and he became an even better worker.

For 10 years, Eli swept floors making just enough money to feed his family. He did not own a pair of leather shoes. He had meager possessions. But he arrived early and worked late in the pottery plant, and he tithed off his very small salary. He was known to have the spirit of giving.

When Eli was 28 years old, the plant owner called him into his office. The owner had caught someone stealing. He had no one to turn to that he trusted but Eli. That day, he made Eli the floor manager of the plant.

Eli and his wife used their newly found prosperity to start a church in their home village. They sacrificially invested their own money into a church building. And Eli continued to give leadership to the pottery factory so that sales and production increased weekly.

Just a few years later, the owner of the plant called Eli into his office again. This time the owner told him that he had to return to the United States. He did not want to leave the plant with just anyone. His plan was to make Eli co-owner of the plant. Eli would run the plant in the Philippines, and the owner would stay in America and make sales.

All along the way, Eli obeyed God, tithing even when there was only enough money to buy rice for his wife and sons. God rewarded his faithfulness in the hard times by giving him great increase.

You and I are living under the new covenant that God has made with us through Jesus Christ. His Word is truer than the news and surer than the Dow Jones average. He is not moved by the index of leading economic indicators. His plan is going to come to pass with or without any help from any government.

Let’s be like Jeremiah. Let’s act first on God’s directive even before we understand. Faith trumps human understanding every time.

GARY DENBOW is president of Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo.

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