The Effort Required


A Study of DEUTERONOMY 1:21-31

God has given us all we have and will receive. While we pay nothing for gifts, there may be obstacles preventing us from enjoying them. When so faced, we must decide whether it is worth keeping what we have. The text teaches us that what God gives or promises is worth fighting for and keeping. But it takes work on our part.

Pastor Paul from the pulpit

The psalmist says in Psalm 24:1,

– “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein.”

This psalm of David reminds us that God has provided everything – from the people in our lives, to the resources we use and acquire, to the possessions we claim as ours. Everything, therefore, belongs to God, who, out of his gracious mercy and love, has chosen to bless every person with whatever they have.

God allows us to possess things like life, health, family, friends, a job and career, a place to live, resources, a place to worship, and so on.

But we must also recall that the blessing is not in the gifts themselves, but in what they add to our lives.

Hence the gift of …
life offers us the potential to do and to be;
health allows us to actualize our potential to live in an uncompromised manner and know independence;
family allows us to know and experience love;
friends allow us to know and experience sharing and companionship;
a job or career enables us to discover what we were created for, and to know personal fulfillment;
home protects us from the elements and gives us a sanctuary to which we can retreat;
resources give us the ability to provide for our well-being, and to be contributors to society.

God promised Israel a place they could call their own. Described as a land filled with milk and honey, Canaan offered the creature comforts. But God also told Israel that, along with this gift, some work would be required on their part.

I think about a beautiful bicycle a friend received one Christmas. Since it was a gift, it cost him nothing, but he had to expend some energy cleaning it, fixing flat tires, and occasionally greasing the chain. It took some work keeping that gift, but it was worth it over time. This is true of all things we receive: it takes work to make a marriage last; to raise children; to build a career; and so on.

As Israel conferred on God’s proposition, they decided to send out spies to see exactly what God was offering them, and how much work was involved. Their actions are interesting given that Scripture reminds us,

– “Every good gift comes from God.”

Israel’s response is consistent with human nature. Checking things out is a sign of wisdom. Only fools rush in where wise men fear to tread, they say. Years ago people buying a car would check its soundness by kicking the tires. Sometimes it is a good idea to “kick the tires.”

Likewise, dating gives people the opportunity to "interview" prospective life partners over an extended period. Through dating, we get to discover the good, the bad, and the ugly. Dating is essentially a fact-finding mission that will yield data for the future. Before we rush into anything, we need to investigate. Career counselors tell job seekers to interview the employer who is interviewing them. It is always a good idea to find out what we are actually getting.

Our challenge – and this was also Israel's – is being able to see the goodness in what God offers. Israel sent out 12 spies; 10 returned with negative reports; two saw positives outweighing the negatives. This created an impasse that stalled the entire operation.

Perspective and vision go hand in hand and are critical in everything we do or face. The narrower the perspective, the more limited the vision. Conversely, the broader the perspective, the greater the vision.

There are people who, at the first sign of trouble, are ready to abandon relationships, jobs, careers, and so on. Walking away from something is easy if you see no reason to stay. Again, the blessing is usually not in the gift itself, but in what will be added to your life because of the gift. Remember that the Scripture says,

– “Every good gift comes from God.”

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Edwards said that, despite being deeply hurt by her husband’s indiscretion, she had to separate his action from the wonderful things he had done. Mrs. Edwards told that one misdeed did not overshadow 30 years of love and support.

The 10 who saw only negatives could not see past them, and so never saw “the milk and the honey.” Someone once said,

– “Anything worth having is worth working for.”

Whatever God offers us is going to require some work on our part. The work arduous in some cases, minimal in others. We will, however, always be required to expend some energy.

It is also clear Israel forgot that God told them there would be some challenges. This is a valuable lesson for the people of God today.

There will be things that stand in the way of our ability to experience the blessings that flow from God’s gifts.

The obstacles that stand in our way will take various forms, and Israel faced two types: external followed by internal ones. The external obstacles included the giant Anakites, who were the descendants of Anak, and dwelt in the south of Canaan. Israel also faced huge city walls. These obstacles were unlike anything they had ever seen.

I believe we all can identify with Israel. Some of us have faced giants in our own lives; problems that are bigger than we are. Some such giants have taken the form of health challenges, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other illnesses. Some giants come in the form of financial problems, such as difficulties managing money, or having limited resources. Still other giants can be personal, such as time-management problems. Managing the demands of a career and family, and still finding time for self can be daunting. Regardless of the form of our giants, they leave us feeling overwhelmed and intimidated.

Beyond the giants, Israel also saw cities with 30-foot-high walls. Again, we can identify. We have all encountered roadblocks, objects and attitudes that seem impenetrable. In her interview with Oprah, Elizabeth Edwards spoke openly about the roadblocks her husband’s indiscretion created in their marriage. Mrs. Edwards described how his failure to disclose all, and the subsequent emergence of details, created an impenetrable barrier in their marriage.

External obstacles not of our making can be problematic. They usually appear at inopportune moments, and, because they are real, they cannot be ignored. One problem with environmental obstacles is their impact on us. Israel allowed their external obstacles to create internal ones that stopped them in their tracks. As they looked at the giants and the walled cities, they were overcome with fear. Their fears immobilized them to the point they eventually succumbed to hopelessness.

Internal obstacles are much worse than anything we face externally because they are of our own doing. It has been said that people and things cannot do any more to us than what we allow them to do.

We must guard against seeing people and objects as bigger than they actually are.

The Anakites were larger than any other people the Israelites had encountered, but they were still just people. The walled cities were intimidating and stocked with impressive arsenals. But every chain has a weak link, and we just have to find it. Fear and discouragement are normal reactions when we encounter seemingly immovable objects. Complaining about the objects does no good. The 10 spies who saw only negatives in Canaan wanted to know why God would put them in such a difficult situation. Does that sound familiar?

How often do we complain when we believe God has stacked the deck against us? How often do we bemoan the fact that, in our estimation, God is not treating us fairly, or has given us a raw deal?

Like Israel before us, we, too, forget that the blessing is not the person or the thing itself, but in the value it brings to our lives. Therefore, when we face obstacles to things God has given or promised us, our response should be to confront them, not complain…

Okay! Complain if you must! But definitely also confront!

The 10 made two critical errors. First, they forgot God had commanded them to “go up and take possession” of the land. It had been a gift from God, and they were instructed to step up and claim it. They would then have to work to keep it. In her interview, Elizabeth Edwards said,

– “It takes work to build a marriage, raise children and have a family.”

With everything we receive, work is required to build it, develop it, and reap the blessings it holds.

Their second error was they forgot God, Himself, had assured them He would fight their battles. A principle of physics is that an unstoppable force is required to move a near-immovable object. God is an unstoppable force. There are no obstacles we encounter that He cannot shift. He makes His power available to His people so that, as we move, live and operate under His protection, we are able to “go up and take possession” of what He has for us.

Sunday 10 May 2009

May God Bless You

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