Cultivating Faith – Part 6

Cultivating Faith:  A Man of Conviction (Pt 6)

Genesis 16.1-16

The descendants of Abraham would number as the stars are numbered in the heaven (Genesis 15).  God is gracious to reveal that Abraham’s future descendants would one day come out of Egypt after about 400 years of affliction with great possessions, great numbers, and a great God.  While God accomplished much for Abraham, what do we read of Abraham’s accomplishments?  We sum everything up in two words:  Abraham believed.  However, the years pile up until…

Conviction is undermined by compromise (Genesis 16.1-3).

The temptation for believers to compromise intensifies when…

        A Problem in Life Presents Itself (16.1)

Compromise of our convictions in the Lord begins when an insurmountable problem presents itself to us.  The temptation is to lift ourselves out of it or access that which cannot be humanly accessed.  We don’t pray or turn to God; instead, we take matters into our own hands.  This is a devastating decision.

The problem is obvious to Sarah at the outset of Genesis 16.  She didn’t have a son, but she had a maidservant.  Certainly Sarah’s plea for her husband to go into her maidservant would be persuasive in more ways than one.  Abraham cared for and certainly dearly loved his wife.  Surely his heart ached due to her barrenness.  Sarah had a solution to a problem that perplexed Abraham.  And one must conclude that what Sarah suggested would have been a great temptation for a man like Abraham, even though quite common in the day in which he lived.  So, the downward spiral continues…

        A Pragmatic Plan is Set in Motion (16.1-3)

Ten years passed since Abraham had come into the Land.  Sarah felt that it was her fault that God was withholding the promised heir from her.  But she would do well to remember that God made His promise with Abraham and not with her.  Sarah had carried a burden she was not meant to carry.  Instead of giving into his wife’s request, Abraham should have comforted and assured her.  He should have reminded her of the power of God to keep His promises.

We are so easily derailed by pragmatism when problems present themselves.  There will always be many options for us.  There will always be many voices or counselors to advise us.  We need discernment and wisdom from God in a sea of options and the cacophony of counselors.  It is important that we do not allow godly convictions to suffer under the corrosion of compromise.  If we fail to listen to the still, small voice of God, then we will quickly realize that…

Compromise always brings devastating consequences (16.4-16).

While this may seem obvious to an believer with a modicum of maturity, it is still something that we practically forget as we live life disconnected from the will of God.  Do this long enough, and…

        Compromise Breeds Contempt (16.4-6)

Abram went into Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid.  She conceived, and then the contempt ran in both directions when it came to Sarah and Hagar.  Hagar not only looks down upon Sarah, but she fears her.  As for Sarah, she deals harshly with Hagar.  So much so that Hagar flees for her home in Egypt.  Compromise always breeds contempt.

However, all hope is not lost.  It never is for the child of God.  Devastating consequences help us turn the corner.  We learn that…

        Compromise Deepens Conviction (16.7-16)

     The Angel of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Himself, found Hagar by a spring in the wilderness.  The common current of questioning from the Lord finds another place within the historical account of Genesis.  “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”  This is so reminiscent of what we see as God confronts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

The Lord commands Hagar to return and submit to Sarah.  He also promises her that her descendants will multiply exceedingly.  They shall be innumerable!  The amazing announcement the Lord makes at this point in the narrative is so clearly aligned with the announcement of our Lord’s birth.  It is uncanny:  “Behold thou are with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction” (Genesis 16.11).  The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and declared, “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matthew 1.23).

Compromise can deepen conviction once we repent and turn to a firm stand based upon firm dependence upon the Holy Spirit.  All of us fall short of the glory of God.  All of us have had times of compromise in our lives.  While we do not need to compromise in order to deepen godly convictions, the raw truth is that such a scenario has the potential to do just that.  The awful, bitter fruit of compromise will goad us back to the Savior and deepen our relationship with Him.  The only other option is to go adrift and rudderless in a sea of sin.

Our text is clear.  The Angel of the Lord names Hagar’s child through Abraham Ishmael, which means “God hears”.  The close parallel with our Lord’s birth announcement to Joseph points forward to His name Immanuel, which means “God with Us”.  It is one thing for God to hear us; it is quite another for Him to be with us.  Ishmael is born because God heard the affliction of Hagar; Immanuel is born because God heard the affliction of the world!

But Hagar named the Lord.  She called Him:  “Thou God seest me”  (Genesis 16.13).  The name of the well is named Beer Lahai Roi (Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me).  Hagar left Abraham and Sarah and fled for a familiar place.  However, something quite unexpected happened to her.  God came after her when Abraham or Sarah did not.  She could leave behind them, but she could not leave God behind.  He pursued her!  He sees.  She saw the God who sees her and learned that she, too, could have Abraham’s God as her own God.

The cultivation of a life of faith necessitates an uncompromising stand upon the truths of God’s Word.  One of those great truths concerns His revealed character.  One powerful meditation concerning His character is that God sees …He sees all.  God knows …He knows all.  When Hagar comes back to Abraham and Sarah, she will become an ensign of their compromise before the Lord.  She will be an instrument that deepens the conviction of God’s revelation and promise to Abraham and Sarah.  He sees and He knows.

Cultivating a life of faith motivates an uncompromising stand for at least three reasons:

    1. God’s omniscience convinces and grieves the compromising heart.  Don’t be among those who say, “How does God know” (Psalm 73.11)?  Don’t think that no one sees; God sees.  He searches the heart.  He knows you.  You cannot hide in darkness from Him (see Psalm 139.1, 12).  This may bring fear and grief, but it is an important step to hope and the cleansing desire to welcome the searching penetrating gaze of God in order to melt away anxiety (see Psalm 139.23-24).
    2. God’s omniscience reaches the thoughts and intents of the heart.  You cannot claim that God is not fair or that He does not judge with righteous judgment every man.  We are finite.  We only see the outward actions of people; God sees the inner man, the soul (see 1 Samuel 16.7).  All the ways of man may be pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit of a man (see Proverbs 16.2).  The only intent that rings true is that which is for the glory of God.  Beg God for the discernment and protection from deceit that is needed due to our easily corruptible hearts.
    3. God’s omniscience heals and comforts the broken heart.  There is hope for those of us who have compromised our convictions.  Don’t run from the harshness of real-time life as desperate and broken Hagar did.  When you are slandered and cannot defend yourself, remember that God sees.  All things are naked and open to the One who will judge righteously (Hebrews 4.13).  His eyes still run to and fro and throughout the whole earth in order to show Himself the strong and all-seeing God that He is.  He reveals Himself to those who humble themselves, submit, and return.

God sees.  This is both comforting and convicting.  When we are hurting, God sees the hurt at its deepest level.  God sees us strive for lives of holiness in the face of those who accuse us of being sanctimonious and legalistic.  God sees when we go to Him yet again, broken and ruined by our sin.  We know that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin!  Even at the most depressing times of our lives, we can put one foot in front of the other and find our way back to Calvary.  God sees.  I know He sees me.

The Discipline of Self-Loathing

Broken and Contrite Christianity

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

David begins Psalm 34 by testifying to LORD’s work in his life:  The LORD saved David from fear and foe alike (4-6).  He surrounded David with His presence (7).  Then David takes what he has learned and teaches other believers that the LORD can do the same for them.  The LORD can meet your needs (8-10) and grant you a long and prosperous life (11-15).  He can keep you safe and secure from your enemies (17, 20-22).  But the unrighteous must realize that God is against them; His anger and condemnation hover over them (16, 21).

I think verse 18 is the key to this Psalm.  Broken and contrite Christianity always wins the favor of God.  Arrogance and an aggressive overbearing spirit meets only with the fury of God.

Basic to this Psalm (and many others) are two groups of people mentioned in it:  the righteous and the wicked.  The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous.  Our afflictions are numerous, but those who cause them and hate us will be held guilty by God (21).

We struggle because we are so aware of how weak we truly are.  Most of us are well aware of the fact that we have problems.  So much so that we really cannot grasp the benefits and promises God has provided for us here.  And yet we shouldn’t think that God does not allows us to be broken and contrite in order to receive these daily benefits.  So, we need to first understand what it means to have a broken and contrite heart or spirit.  

Contrition

Generally speaking, we should be cheerful and joy-filled when it comes to life.  “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Pv 15.13).  I surely don’t want a broken and dejected spirit like the one described in this Proverb!

Perhaps the word contrite clarifies things for us.  This broken and contrite spirit is aware of his or her sin.  He or she is coming face-to-face with the fact that they deserve the fury of God and wonder how they could ever have the favor of God.

David will say in Psalm 34.8:  “For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.”  Again, in Psalm 40.12 David says, “My iniquites have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up.”  The sense here is the self-loathing we feel because we remember our iniquities, even our abominations before God (Ezek 36.31).  We will never forget what God has forgiven us even though His fury has been absorbed by the Lord Jesus Christ.  That seems to be contrition to me …it certainly isn’t presumption.

You don’t have to commit great abomination before God in order to know deep brokenness and contrition.  But those forgiven by God for great iniquity will certainly have an increased hatred for it.  And yet none of us can really stand before God with our heads unbowed and souls unbloodied.  We look at our lives and see how far from God we were …how utterly selfish we were, and we can’t help but recoil in the face of God’s great deliverance.

I’m reading through Job right now.  I don’t think I know anyone who approaches Job’s integrity.  Not many people would ever think to refer to us as perfect and upright.  Yet that’s how he is described.  But how did Job describe himself:  “Behold, I am vile …I abhor myself!”  (cf. Job 40.4; 42.6)  You don’t hear that in our self-esteem saturated society.

If we would know God’s near presence and daily deliverance, we must abhor ourselves for our sins.  It is quite humbling to remember just how often we are disobedient and rebellious toward God.  We acknowledge that God is absolutely right when His justice demanded such a sacrifice as the death of His Son for my sin …your sin.

Arrogant sinners don’t believe in a God of Justice.  Their god is never displeased and always gives them what they want.  He won’t send them to an eternal Hell.  Such a thing could never exist if God is truly loving and merciful.  David acknowledges after a year of torment over his murder and adultery cover-up:  “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight – that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge” (Psalm 51.4).

Arrogance kills the Gospel message; contrition prepares the heart for its entrance.  Contrite people say, “What must I do to be saved?”  Arrogant people say, “What need have I to be saved?”  If you wonder at the people who without batting an eye reject your witness, then just remember arrogance is the main reason why they are steely hard.

The Benefit of Brokenness

“The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart” (34.18a).  God resists the proud and arrogant, but He gives grace to the broken and contrite …He is near them.  This is objective fact whether one feels it is true or not.  Sometimes we should pray, “Lord I believe this; help my unbelief.”

“And saves such as have a contrite spirit” (34.18b).  The LORD delivers those who say, “I have sinned, and perverted what was right, and it did not profit me” (Job 33.27).  His life shall see the light (Job 33.28).  God’s deliverance is everlasting …there will be no more shame or disgrace.

Our contrition is a sign that God’s love is upon us.  The LORD is near us.  God has taken away the arrogance and pride and given us humility in its truest form.  I think because people are taught in many evangelical churches that God basically winks at sin, when they do have a heavy dose of contrition, they question their salvation; they cannot rest.  But without contrition, we would never ask God the right questions in prayer.

The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)