Today many of us and much of the world is anxiously waiting in anticipation of tomorrow’s “hyped up” NFL draft. It is a constant and never-ending frenzy on which the hopes and dreams of many fans, franchises and cities lie. Regardless the extent of research, analytics, intelligence, and the so-called experts, each year many are made to look like fools and a few like geniuses. There are the “can’t miss” prospects who end up being “busts” and the unknown who become stars. If you have been a Cleveland Browns fan you know all about the dashed hopes and endless roller coaster of emotions. I remember several years ago we were having our annual leadership retreat during the NFL draft. Most of us men were inconspicuously, or so we thought, tracking the draft on our phones, during our sessions. When the Browns chose Johnny “Money” Manzel it was hard for us to hold in our emotions. Well, we all now know how that worked out! He was supposed to “wreck” the league and put Cleveland back on the map, but he wrecked our hearts, hopes and dreams, and more emphatically stamped Cleveland as the laughingstock of the NFL.
Well, maybe you aren’t familiar with sports, but you do understand life which is very similar. The only thing certain about life and this world we live in is that nothing is sure, predictable, or controllable. I am sure your life has also been a series of twists, turns, ups, and downs, stampedes, runaway trains, and quite an adventure, nightmare, or an absolute riot at times. History seems to repeat itself, yet we never seem to learn from its clear and obvious lessons. We seem to prefer to make the same mistakes over and over again. It can all be somewhat comical, infuriating, confusing, or discouraging, depending on where you find yourself at the moment.
For example, remember when we were young? We all wanted to be popular, athletic, intelligent, and important. As we look back though, we can see that none of those traits guaranteed success, quality, or significance. Just as in the NFL draft, there are more surprises and unexpected results than what was and is anticipated. Often those we thought were least likely to succeed, where the most successful and vice versa.
I remember early on in my married life, as often is the case, I had naive dreams and expectations of how my life would play out. I would be successful financially, raise a perfect healthy obedient family, after all I was in control and we can do anything, we set our mind to, right? Dream big and live out those “happy ever after” fantasies. Oh boy, was I in for a rude awakening!! I thought work would always be booming, but suddenly the economy crashed, and I couldn’t find work. There were health and family issues that created insurmountable bills and I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and never crawl out of my deep dark hole. I was paralyzed and couldn’t move; it was just too painful. This was the best thing that ever happened to me, as I observed many miracles, my Faith grew, I met Jesus in the desert, where He wooed me, and I found a Peace that was out of this world. Mountains were moved, money literally came out of nowhere, bills were paid, and there are so many incredible stories of God’s faithfulness, I could write at least one book. Ironically none of these miraculous events had anything to do with me. I did very little except to sit back, pray, and watch God work. A good deal for sure!
My life has been and will continue to be a series of ups and downs, good and bad. Interestingly what I have found to be true is that it is much easier to live joyfully and peacefully in the hard times than in the good. Yes, that took some time but now it is when times get difficult and uncontrollable that my life is the richest and I really feel like I am living. Actually, life is always out of my control, but it is only when I am forced to acknowledge this reality and I fall on my knees before my Heavenly father acknowledging my inadequacies that I find rest.
When times are good and there is adequate resources or surplus it is really a struggle for me to stay focused and content. How soon I seem to forget God and all His Faithfulness, becoming arrogant, proud, self-sufficient, cold, and distant from my Father. How crazy is that? But it is life, reality, and the repetition of life. History tells us countless stories of repetitive failures, pain, and repentance. Does it have to be like this? Of course not, but it is the reality of our old sinful nature or flesh.
Isaiah 31, which I have been meditating on lately, gives us a timely warning.
What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the Lord, the Holy One of Israel. In his wisdom, the Lord will send great disaster; he will not change his mind. He will rise against the wicked and against their helpers. For these Egyptians are mere humans, not God! Their horses are puny flesh, not mighty spirits! When the Lord raises his fist against them, those who help will stumble, and those being helped will fall. They will all fall down and die together. Isaiah 31:1-3.
Isaiah was writing about a severe threat against the ancient nation of Judah. The Assyrians were the most powerful, cruel, and godless nation in the world, seeking world domination. No one could stand in their way as they were unstoppable with Judah standing in their pathway and crosshairs. Believing they had no chance of surviving on their own Judah chose to create an alliance with Egypt. On the surface this decision made sense as Egypt had a large army consisting of horses and chariots which gave a small country like Judah an advantage. The problem was that all these years God had been fighting their battles and they had been invincible. For some reason, in this instance instead of trusting and confiding in God they chose to put their trust in humans and armies instead of their all-powerful God who no one could stand against. Looking back, it is easy for us to see the foolish, ridiculous and costly logic and choice. In the past their battles were not dependent on the size of their military but solely on God. Why would this battle be any different? Even the powerful Assyrian army was “toast” against God. Their logic was mindboggling and just plain crazy, and it cost them many lives and most of their wealth. As the Assyrian’s dominated the battles Judah made a deal with them giving them great wealth and treasures, but they were double-crossed. Eventually after they repented God stepped in and singlehandedly destroyed the Assyrian forces, sending an angel during the night to kill 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.
This story vividly shows the futility ignorance, and unnecessary cost of putting our trust in anything outside of God. How often do we like Judah go to Egypt for help? Egypt is simply putting our hope in anything outside of the promises of God. Just like with Judah God has promises to be with us, fight our battles, and bring victory. In John 14:1 God means it when He says don’t let your heart be troubled. He says He will never leave us or forsake us in Hebrews 13:5. Instead of living in fear and being anxious Jesus desires that we come to Him with all our concerns and decisions and only He can give us rest, Matthew 11:28-30. Imagine how much grief, effort, and pain could be avoided by just going to Him first. When we step outside of God’s promises we only find more uncertainty.
Today as we look around us at the arrogance and the lack of Faith in God that the world around us displays, it can be frightening and discouraging. It seems as if we are headed in a similar direction as Judah, walking away from God and putting our trust in worldly power, and human wisdom. How foolish, as history quickly and clearly shows us, as it always leads us to self-destruct. Our security and strength have little to do with the size of our military or our bank account. Today just like in the days of Judah we need to repent and return to God. We need to be encouraged and to receive Hope in the promises and presence of God. Our real crisis is not external but internal. It is not the world and circumstances around us but our unbelief in God and that our hearts aren’t filled with a sense and awe of God. Dealing and coping with the distresses of life comes from believing and living in the reality that the battle belongs to the Lord, 1 Samuel 17:47.
This is one of the greatest lessons that I have learned through all the difficulties and uncertainties we have encountered. In spite of all the unknown, impossible situations, those things totally out of our hands, God is never overwhelmed or taken by surprise. No situation is too big for Him. Not only does He reign supreme, but He always has our best interests in mind. We truly can rest in Him. What incredible peace and Joy is ours. Yes, even as we tend to so easily forget all the miracles He has performed in our lives and those in History, He is always faithful to forgive us and fight for us. Even though circumstances in our lives are out of our hands they are not out of His. Trust Him and rest in Him, as God will remove the obstacles as we wait on Him. Isa 30:18 The Lord longs to be gracious to you and will rise up to show you compassion. Blessed are all who wait for Him. Remember what God told Moses at the Red Sea. Stand firm as the Lord will fight for you and remove the obstacles. May we all be encouraged to be still and rest in Him.