Food for the fearful

Whenever we face a big step in the future, we tend to have two fears or questions: will this really be good for me, and, can I really do this? I’m speaking tomorrow at a wedding, and certainly before my own I had those fears and questions: Will marriage really be good for us? And, can I really do this? Can I love Tess for the rest of my life? You may have similar fears about starting senior school or uni. Will it go Okay? And, can I do it? Especially, can I keep following Jesus in the pressure not to? Or you may have similar fears about a new job. How will it go? And, can I cope? Especially, can I be a witness in the workplace? Or you may have similar fears about a move you’ve just made to Newcastle, or a commitment to taking on some ministry in church, or whatever it is for you.

Most important of all, you may be asking those questions about turning to Jesus. Would following him really be good? And could I really do it, could I live how he wants me to? Well, we’re in this series on the book of Deuteronomy. It is what Moses preached to God’s Old Testament people Israel on the brink of entering the Promised Land – which was about the biggest step in the future you can imagine. Because we heard last week God’s command that, rather than mixing in and settling down with the people already in the land, they were to remove them completely. So if anyone had reason to be fearful and asking, “will this really be good for us?”
And, “can we really do this?”, it was Israel.

So would you turn in your Bible or app to Deuteronomy 7.12. I’ve called this Food For The Fearful. And before we tuck in, let’s pray:

Father, We’re not Old Testmaent Israel on the brink of the promised land. But we are your new covenant people, facing things in the future which make us fear and question. So please speak to those fears through this part of your Word. In Jesus’ name. Amen

So here’s the first thing Moses says to the fearful in this week’s passage:

1. Know that the Lord is committed to blessing you

And blessing simply means, God giving us everything that’s good and makes for the life he meant us to enjoy. So if you’re a believer fearful about the future and asking, “Will it be good for me?” the answer here is know that the Lord is committed to blessing you. So let’s pick it up this week at Deuteronomy 7.12-13:

And because you listen to these rules and keep and do them, the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers. He will love you, bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock, in the land that he swore to your fathers to give you.

So twice there Moses said the Lord is going to bless you because that’s what he swore to your fathers. Which goes back to what the Lord promised Abraham in Genesis 12.1-3:

Now the Lord said to Abram [aka Abraham], “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you [or through you] all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So the Lord said there, “Here’s my plan, Abram. I’m committed to blessing you, and the people you grow into (Israel). And ultimately through you, I’m going to bless people all over the world - not just Israel, she’s just a staging post on the way to me blessing an international people”. And that international people is what you and I are now part of, if we’re trusting in Jesus. Because Genesis 12.3 was promising the blessing of being forgiven back into relationship with God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And that blessing is now open to anyone, anywhere in the world who’ll trust in him, including you. But before God could send his Son into the world in the person of Jesus, he had to teach people what’s gone wrong between us and him, and what’s needed to put it right, and what relationship with him ought to look like. And Israel was his teaching vehicle for that. And the way he gave Israel the promised land, with all these promised blessings once they were in, was to teach that he is a God who wants to bless us. And looking on to Genesis 12.14-15, he even said:

You shall be blessed above all peoples. There shall not be male or female barren among you or among your livestock. And the Lord will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you.

So God was saying to Israel, “If you live in relationship with me (which, like us, they could only do very imperfectly), then you will be blessed, and you’ll stand out above other people as more blessed”. And one high point of that being fulfilled was the Queen of Sheba’s visit to Solomon in 1 Kings 10.6-7:

And she said to the king, “The report was true that I heard in my own land of your words and of your wisdom, but I did not believe the reports until I came and my own eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.”

In other words, ‘You’re blessed above anything I’ve experienced.’ So how do we apply this to ourselves? (after all, we’re not Israel, about to live in the promised land under all the specific promises of blessing God gave for that time). Well, one thing I’d want to say is that: lots of social research has found that Christians, in Moses words, are blessed above other people. For example, it’s found that in marriage, on average, Christians experience more stability and security – and, even, more satisfaction in the physical side of their relationship. But if, as the wedding service says, ‘marriage is a gift of God in creation’, then it’s no surprise that those who are back in relationship with their Creator through Jesus, and trying to use his gift his way, are (on average) blessed in it above other people.

But you can’t push that and say, “So if you’re back in relationship with your Creator, you won’t experience things like illness or difficulty conceiving or infertility – because he’ll keep your experience of his created world free from those things”. We’re not ‘blessed above all peoples’ in that sense because we’re not immune from the effects of living in a fallen world, with fallen bodies. So the other thing I’d want to say is that we are, above all, blessed in Jesus. Ephesians 1.3 says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…

And that passage goes on to list the unbreakable chain of blessings we have in Jesus – from eternity past to eternity future. So it says God planned and chose to bring us into relationship with him before the universe was even made. And then it says he forgave us back into relationship with him through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and that his forgiveness will be there whenever we need it – that it’ll never run out and he’ll never give up loving us. And it says he is working in us now by his Spirit to overcome the falleness of our wills. And then it says that beyond this life, in the End, he will raise us from the dead to be with him in unfallen bodies in an unfallen, brilliant new creation. And it will be crystal clear in the End, to everyone in heaven and in hell, who is ‘blessed above all peoples’. And even before then, while we may go through all sorts of things in this fallen world just like other people – from car crashes to cancer, from depression to divorce – we can know at every step of the way that we are caught up by Jesus in that unbreakable chain of blessings, and that nothing can take them away from us. So that’s the first thing, know that the Lord is committed to blessing you. Here’s the second:

2. Know that the Lord is committed to using you in his plan

So the first fearful question about the future is, will this be good for me? And the second is, can I really do this? And that’s the question Moses knew the Israelites would be asking, on the brink of the Promised Land. Look on to Deuteronomy 7.17-18:

If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them…

So the land was currently occupied by the nations we heard about last week (Deuteronomy 7.1):

the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves

So at least the Lord was honest enough there to acknowledge that, humanly speaking, it looked impossible to take it over. But back to Deuteronomy 7.17-19:

If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So will the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid.

In other words, focussing on myself and asking, ‘can I do this?’ is the wrong place to start. Instead, I need to start with the Lord, and what he has planned, and what he is able to do. And for Israel that meant looking back to the Exodus. Where, even though humanly speaking, it looked impossible, a bunch of captive slaves got free from the strongest ruler in the world because that’s what the Lord had planned. And that’s what he was able to pull off. So Moses was saying, “Start with the Lord – and if he’s planned to give you the land, that’s what he’s able to do, and will do”. Look on to Deuteronomy 7.21-24:

You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will clear away these nations before you little by little. You may not make an end of them at once, lest the wild beasts grow too numerous for you. But the Lord your God will give them over to you and throw them into great confusion, until they are destroyed. And he will give their kings into your hand, and you shall make their name perish from under heaven. No one shall be able to stand against you until you have destroyed them.

So saying, “Start with the Lord”, doesn’t mean just sitting back and letting him do it all. There’s God’s activity and their activity in those verses (or to use the jargon, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility). So, Deuteronomy 7.22-24:

The Lord your God will clear away these nations…[but, you’ll have to] make an end of them…the Lord your God will give them over to you…[but, you’ll have to] make their name perish…

And I know these are uncomfortable verses. So we need to remember: these nations were renowned for their evil and inhumanity – such as sacrificing their children to their gods. So the Lord giving them over to Israel was his way of finally bringing judgement on them after long centuries of patience. So as they wondered, ‘Can I really do this?’, Moses was saying, “Yes you can. Because it’s the Lord’s plan to do this, and you need to know: the Lord is committed to using you in his plan”. So again, how do we apply this to ourselves? The key is to remember: we live in a different stage of God’s plan. These Israelites were about to be used in his plan, in a one-off way, to bring judgement on others. Whereas at this stage of the plan, after Jesus and his death and resurrection, God wants to use us to bring salvation to others. He wants us to get the good news of Jesus to as many as we can, worldwide, and to build up our fellow Christians in life together in his church.

But when you think of trying to talk about your faith with others, or the ministry you’ve agreed to take on this year in church, or the sense you’re beginning to have that God may want you in full-time ministry here or overseas you may feel like the Israelites on the brink of the Promised Land ‘How can I do this?’ ‘I can’t do this.’ And the answer’s the same. Don’t start with yourself – start with the Lord, and what he has planned, and what he is able to do. So e.g: he has planned that, as we share our faith in conversations, in laying on Christianity Explored, in our October outreach events, and so on he will bring to himself the people he’s chosen to. So although, like taking the Promised Land, it may seem humanly impossible for that friend or family member to come to faith, we need to remember that God is perfectly able to bring them to himself – just as he did for us. And once again, it’s God’s activity and ours, God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. We don’t just sit back and let the Lord do it all. Because he uses means – and the means is us and our witness, ministry and prayer.

Time’s up, so apologies for missing Deuteronomy 7.25-26, but that’s plenty of food for the fearful. And the lesson is if we’re asking about any step in the future, big or small, Will this really be good for me? And, can I really do this? Then the answer is if it’s part of his plan, yes it will be and yes you can. Because he’s committed to using us in his plan, enabling us to live out his will in everything that lies ahead. And he’s committed to blessing us as he does so. Let’s pray:

Father, you know our fears and uncertainties about the future – about how things will work out, and whether we can really live out your will. And in response to this part of your Word, we pray that you would help us to look away from ourselves, and to trust that you will enable us to live out your plan and your will, and that you will bless us as we do. In Jesus name we pray. Amen

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