We wrote recently about the fact that our God is an extremely generous and extravagant God, willing to release to us all that we need to live an overcoming life. [Blog 279]. And yesterday we talked of the need to avoid letting a spirit of entitlement sour our relationship with the Lord. Is that a contradiction? And where does staying in ‘faith’ sit between, confidence in the Lord’s extravagant provision for us, and entitlement.
I think that ‘faith’ slips over into entitlement when we find ourselves harbouring disappointment and saying something like, “I thought the Lord was going to…….”, or “Lord, why didn’t you…..? or even “I don’t understand, if the Lord loves me, (sister ‘A’, or brother ‘B’), why did He let that happen? Faith can slip into entitlement when our hoped for expectations are dashed, and then we can even feel our disappointment turning into disillusionment.
Jeremiah is someone who certainly felt, quite understandably, that God had let Him down in a big way. His lament/complaint is recorded for us in Lamentation. Have a read of chapter 3:1-19. Surely he, who had been doing God’s work, had a right to be ‘looked after’ by God. His disillusionment took him to the place where he didn’t just feel let down, but positively persecuted by God, saying things like….. “He has walled me in so I cannot escape; He has weighed me down with chains.” “Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer”. “He pierced my heart with arrows from His quiver.” Jeremiah was not a happy man.
The good news was that he took his complaint to God, and we hear the dialogue between them in Jeremiah 15: 15-21. In answer to his question, “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and incurable? Will you be to me like a deceptive brook, like a spring that fails?” (i.e like something that promises a great deal but doesn’t deliver?), the Lord has this to say…. (and this needs to be read in an older version, or the Amplified Bible, to get the full weight of it).
“If you return, (and give up this mistaken tone of distrust and despair) then I will give you again a settled place of quiet and safety, and you will be my minister; and if you separate the precious from the vile (cleanse your own heart from unworthy and unwarranted suspicions concerning God’s faithfulness ), you shall be my mouthpiece….and I will make you a fortified bronze wall…… I am with you to save and deliver you, says the Lord.”
So how does Jeremiah do that? How does he separate the precious (his faith) from the vile, (his doubts)? Well in Lamentations 2:21-24 we get a clue. He ‘calls to mind God’s great and steadfast love and his mercy. He remembers that ‘it is because of the Lord’s great love that we are not consumed.’ We are not specifically told that He gave thanks for that love, but somehow his gratitude worked for him. He gains fresh hope and can declare the “Lord is good to those who hope in Him.”
Many years ago now I was moved by a friend who, going through a very difficult and protracted time with her family, seemed to be very steady in her faith. When we asked further about how she was managing to ‘stay in faith’, she quoted those words, “It is because of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed”. In other words, He has died for us and saved us. If we actually got what we deserved we would all be consumed. I’m not entitled to anything more. Salvation itself, all it means, and all it has achieved for me for all eternity, is so big, so immense, why should I complain if the other things that I would want at this time seem to be lacking?
When I am feeling disappointed, and it seems that, in spite of God’s declared character and promises, I am feeling that He hasn’t ‘come through’ for me, I really, really need to guard my heart with thanksgiving. I need to remind myself with thanksgiving of all that He has done. I need to look at the cross again and thank Him for my salvation. I need to remember the wonderful truth of ‘Emmanuel’- God is with me, and ‘Christ in me the hope of Glory’. I need to call to mind my history, my journey, my testimony and give thanks for all the ways in which He has been there for me in the past.
Thanksgiving will keep me ‘in faith’ for more of God’s goodness in my future, in a way that my complaints won’t. Thanksgiving will keep me in those moments when, like Basilea Schlink, I need to say, “My Father I don’t understand you but I do trust you”. Or even like Job declare “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him; …” Job 13:15, and “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth: and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” Job 19:25,26. Now that’s the kind of faith that is precious to God!