I used to love to swim and fancied myself a good swimmer at that (you'd never know it to look at me now. No comments please). Anyway, since my parents were in the military, I lived near an air force base. And like most, if not all, military bases in Canada, it had several indoor as well as outdoor pools. During my early teens, I frequented these "water holes" with my friends in the summer. We spent hours there in the afternoons, bathing in the sun and enjoying games in the pools. But, I also lived near several lakes (it's hard to grow up in Nova Scotia and not live near lakes). Now I had a good friend whose parents had a cottage on one of those lakes. So a bunch of us would often go "up to the lake" to go fishing, swimming, and just have fun.
On one occasion my friend and I dared each other to swim across the lake into a good breeze. I immediately (and somewhat thoughtlessly) accepted the challenge of the quarter mile swim and together we prepared to set out. Now having swum at the base pools all the time, I thought this was going to be a piece of cake. But alas, it was not. You know there's a difference between still water in a pool and open water in a lake. (I know that now.) There are waves in the lake-large ones-if the wind gets up. Like so many things in my life, I had to learn the hard way. Perhaps you can relate.
Anyway, my friend and I dove in and began the journey side by side. Initially, I was doing fine, but before long Tim had pulled ahead of me. I was simply unable to keep up with him; after all, he was three years my senior. The possibility of losing the race was soon to be the least of my problems, however. Just as I was rolling over to take a breath, a wave spilled over my face and I inadvertently took in a mouthful of water. Have you ever had that experience? You're quite a distance from shore, tired, breathing hard, and then you take in a huge gulp of water? Not pretty!
I immediately began to choke and could not catch my breath. Before long, things were looking very bad indeed. I quickly realized that I was "in trouble" and that there was nothing I could do. Though I was choking, I tried to yell for Tim. But he probably thought I was joking (trying to get him to slow down so I could catch him) or maybe he couldn't even hear me because of the wind. The truth is I was sinking when my friend reached me. For some reason Tim had stopped and looked behind him to see where I was. When he couldn't see me, he panicked and quickly began swimming back in my direction. When he reached me, I was under the water. Now the good thing about Tim was that he was in excellent physical condition, a body-builder actually. He grabbed my hand and pulled me up so that I could breath. In short, he saved my life. With his help I made it to shore.
It often takes someone stronger or in a greater position of authority to help us in our time of need, doesn't it? And when you're drowning in the circumstances of life, you don't need good advice, you need a savior! It's as simple as that. The other night on TV, the news channel was replaying the video of a man swept up in a raging river. As he was hurled along in the water, his head bobbing to the surface every few seconds, you could almost taste the hopeless in the situation. No one in the news helicopter held out much hope. This man needed immediate help. Now, there were well-meaning people on the banks of the river, yelling advice to him: "Swim over here!" "Grab on to that branch!" "Swim harder!" But, again, such advice-as well-intentioned as it was-is nonetheless utterly futile to a person submerged under the sheer force of thousands of tons of rushing water. In a situation like that, you simply don't swim here or there, maneuver, or do anything else for that matter. You're at the mercy of the water; you need a savior.
Now some of you are in the most difficult situations of your life. You're in the middle of a lake drowning, as it were, and it seems that no one hears your cries for help. You're caught in a torrent of gut wrenching events, hoping that someone will throw you a lifeline. You feel like the ensnared rabbit, exhausted and spent after repeated attempts to deliver yourself from the hunter's snare. The more you flail and flop, the more the wire of impossible circumstances seems to tighten its grip.
In such painful and stressful situations, there are at least three piercing questions that incessantly gnaw away at our fragile souls, exposing the raw flesh of our frightened and wounded hearts: "Is God good?" "Does He care?" "What does he want from me?" Like a cat ascending the living room drapes, much to the dismay of the pet's owner, these little questions claw their way up the fabric of our souls only to finally perch themselves in our consciousness. Daily they contend with our hearts. Nothing tests our commitment to God's goodness, presence, providential care, and competency more, than serious trials and crises.
It is at this point that the faith of many of us begins to droop, our countenance sags, and our hope fades like a used pair of denims. We get angry at God. We dismiss other people as nave and totally ignorant of our pain. Their response often seems as glib and unfortunate as the bystanders yelling at the man caught in the river. But again the questions spring to life in our mind: Is God good? Does he care? What does he want from me anyway?
Now I don't know precisely what God is doing in your life, but I do know that if you're a believer in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Captain of your soul may be leading you to places you'd rather stay away from, transforming you into Christlikeness and glorifying His name through it all. He is good and he does care. Have no doubts about that (Rom 8:28-29)!1 And know for certain also, that nothing in this life can separate you from him and His all conquering love (Rom 8:38-39).2 Yet he uses the most severe trials to topple the foundation of our self-trust, to curb our waywardness, and to deepen our commitment to His purposes so that we might share in His holiness. He wants you to share in the spiritual and moral (and someday physical, i.e., at the resurrection and glorification of our bodies) character of Christ himself. In that is true and lasting happiness.
So then, your Father loves you. Let's not move away from this truth and so give the Devil a victory. The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ preaches the truth to us, once and for all, that God loves us and has made this love real to us through His Spirit (Rom 5:1-8). When trials have brought "distance" between you and your God, Jesus' vicarious death is the divine megaphone which continually broadcasts: "God loves you!" "God loves you!" "Come home!"
So, while I don't know exactly what's going on in your life right now, I know one thing: God's unflinching love for you is the cornerstone around which your home together has been built. Again, the death and resurrection of Christ answers the question of whether God is good and whether he cares. The answers are "Yes" and "yes."
I also know that I learned something very valuable that day on the lake: there are times when you need a savior, not just advice, however good it may be. There are times in this life when God has to come out of heaven for you or it's all over. Again, I'm not just talking about the daily struggles we face-as troublesome as they are-but rather those impossible situations in which only God himself could bring about deliverance. He did it for us at the cross and overcame our greatest enemy, death itself. But he also wants to do it for us now in our "deadly perils" in this life. The apostle Paul said that on one occasion he had experienced such an overwhelming trial that he despaired even of life itself; in his heart he felt the "sentence of death." But, he says, "this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead" (2 Cor 1:9). Thus, Jesus' victory over death is the paradigm for how God handles the "fiery trials" of our lives today. This is truly good news for those of us at the end of our rope, hanging on for dear life.
It is with your situation in mind, whatever that may be, that I want to leave you with a fascinating story, a truly liberating account of God's almighty deliverance. This is a story which ultimately answers the questions that nag us in very difficult times: Is God good? Does he care? What does he want from me anyway? My prayer is that as you reflect on this story, in the presence of God himself, he might inscribe permanent answers to these questions on your soul. While you're probably not facing an aggressive army-as are the people in this story-you are still facing what appears to be a hopeless situation. Again, my prayer is that you might "see" the God of this passage at work in your own life now.
The passage is 2 Chronicles 20. In this remarkable scene, covering all of thirty verses, we are personally invited by the Spirit of God, for the purpose of our instruction, faith, and worship, to overhear God's dealings with a king and his nation-a ruler and his people brought to their knees with the very real threat of sudden annihilation. Disaster was imminent, loss of life and limb was hungrily staring the nation down like a pack of angry wolves. No one was exempt-spouses and their children, from the highest in the land to the lowest-all stood motionless before the Lord, eagerly waiting for His reply. The adjective "hopeless" hardly begins to convey the grimness of the situation. Perhaps you feel like that right now. Make no mistake; there are times in each of our lives when we find ourselves helpless, out in a lake, gasping for air, sinking below the waters. Perhaps you're spent, afraid, and fear for life itself. Again, perhaps you're there right now. It could involve finances, health, violence, drugs, the government in your country, or whatever. Every Christian will need to cry out to God for deliverance--deliverance that only he can possibly accomplish.
This episode in 2 Chronicles has been specially tailored by the Spirit of God for all generations of the people of God; it shows us the lengths God will go to deliver those whom he calls His own. Let's take a quick stroll through the passage. It opens with the stark reality and certainty of impending war, bloodshed, ruin, and misery (20:1-4) and closes with singing and peace (20:28-30). In its movement from lament to praise it resembles the Psalms, reflecting as they do the basic experience of the saint who travels through the land of bitter struggle to eventually arrive at the safe haven of joyful trust in God. The main story in between has three panels, if you will. First, the narrator records king Jehoshaphat's God centered prayer in 20:5-13. Notice the king's appeal to God's uncontested sovereignty (v. 6) and His covenant purposes for His people (vv. 8-10). It is only then, after an acknowledgement of who God is, that this wise king concludes with an appeal to God for divine deliverance (vv. 10-13; cf. Matthew 6:9-13). Second, we are told about God's response in 20:14-19. Wow! Immediately after the fasting and prayer, the Spirit of God moves into action, coming powerfully upon Jahaziel. The Lord commands the people to listen (something we're not that good at) and in an almost unbelievable move, proclaims that the battle is not theirs, but His (20:15, 22)! He ministers peace to their hearts and instructs them not to be afraid because he will fight for them! My friends, there are some situations in life that only God can handle. All that the Lord required of them was that they have faith, trust in what he said through His prophets, walk out in battle array, and praise His holy name (v. 18-22). Third, the story ends with the victory of God and the people of God sharing in that victory (20:20-27). Nothing's really new is it? God wins and everyone rightly connected to him by faith wins too. Our three questions are answered!
So that's my preamble to the passage. Here it is for your reading and instruction. Drink deep of the grace of God and listen for His voice in the whirlwind. May you see the hand of the Lord your God move in your situation, bringing light where there was darkness, joy where there was sadness, victory where sudden and irrevocable disaster seemed unavoidable. May God give you eyes to see and ears to hear...and answers to our three foundational questions-answers tailored just for you. He loves to speak directly to His kids (John 10:14).
20:1 Later the Moabites and Ammonites, along with some of the Meunites, attacked Jehoshaphat. 20:2 Messengers arrived and reported to Jehoshaphat, "A huge army is attacking you from the other side of the Dead Sea, from the direction of Edom. Look, they are in Hazezon Tamar (that is, En Gedi)." 20:3 Jehoshaphat was afraid, so he decided to seek the Lord's advice. He decreed that all Judah should observe a fast. 20:4 The people of Judah assembled to ask for the Lord's help; they came from all the cities of Judah to ask for the Lord's help.
20:5 Jehoshaphat stood before the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem at the Lord's temple, in front of the new courtyard. 20:6 He prayed: "O Lord God of our ancestors, you are the God who lives in heaven and rules over all the kingdoms of the nations. You possess strength and power; no one can stand against you. 20:7 Our God, you drove out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel and gave it as a permanent possession to the descendants of Abraham your friend. 20:8 They settled down in it and built in it a temple to honor you, saying, 20:9 `If disaster comes on us in the form of military attack, judgment, plague, or famine, we will stand in front of this temple before you, for you are present in this temple. We will cry out to you for help in our distress, so that you will hear and deliver us.' 20:10 Now the Ammonites, Moabites, and men from Mount Seir are coming! When Israel came from the land of Egypt, you did not allow them to invade these lands. They bypassed them and did not destroy them. 20:11 Look how they are repaying us! They come to drive us out of our allotted land which you assigned to us! 20:12 Our God, will you not judge them? For we are powerless against this huge army that attacks us. We don't know what we should do; we look to you for help."
20:13 All the men of Judah were standing before the Lord, along with their infants, wives, and children. 20:14 Then in the midst of the assembly, the Lord's Spirit came upon Jachaziel son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph. 20:15 He said: "Pay attention, all you people of Judah, residents of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat! This is what the Lord says to you: `Don't be afraid and don't panic because of this huge army! For the battle is not yours, but God's. 20:16 Tomorrow march down against them, as they come up the Ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the ravine in front of the Desert of Jeruel. 20:17 You will not fight in this battle. Take your positions, stand, and watch the Lord deliver you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Don't be afraid and don't panic! Tomorrow march out toward them; the Lord is with you!'"
20:18 Jehoshaphat bowed down with his face toward the ground, and all the people of Judah and the residents of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord and worshiped him. 20:19 Then some Levites, from the Kohathites and Korachites, got up and loudly praised the Lord God of Israel.
20:20 Early the next morning they marched out to the Desert of Tekoa. When they were ready to march, Jehoshaphat stood up and said: "Listen to me, you people of Judah and residents of Jerusalem! Trust in the Lord your God and you will be safe! Trust in the message of his prophets and you will win." 20:21 He met with the people and appointed musicians to play before the Lord and praise his majestic splendor. As they marched ahead of the warriors they said: "Give thanks to the Lord, for his loyal love endures."
20:22 When they began to shout and praise, the Lord suddenly attacked the Ammonites, Moabites, and men from Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 20:23 The Ammonites and Moabites attacked the men from Mount Seir and annihilated them. When they had finished off the men of Seir, they attacked and destroyed one another. 20:24 When the men of Judah arrived at the observation post overlooking the desert and looked at the huge army, they saw dead bodies on the ground; there were no survivors. 20:25 Jehoshaphat and his men went to gather the loot; they found a huge amount of supplies, clothing and valuable items. They carried away everything they could. There was so much loot, it took them three days to haul it off.
20:26 On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, where they praised the Lord. So that place is called the Valley of Berachah to this very day. 20:27 Then all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem with Jehoshaphat leading them; the Lord had given them reason to rejoice over their enemies. 20:28 They entered Jerusalem to the sound of stringed instruments and trumpets and proceeded to the temple of the Lord. 20:29 All the kingdoms of the surrounding lands were afraid of God when they heard how the Lord had fought against Israel's enemies. 20:30 Jehoshaphat's kingdom enjoyed peace; his God made him secure on every side.
1 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, 8:29 because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
2 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, 8:39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.