In the message of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy, Moses showed us the danger of unbelief. And he warned that unless we take heed, we will suffer the same awful consequences as those who fell before us: “Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:11). He is saying, in essence, “It doesn’t matter what impossibilities you face, or how hopeless things may appear. You are not to fall into the same sin of unbelief. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a terrible wilderness, as they did. And you’ll wander through it for the rest of your life.
“God is faithful to lead you as He led our fathers into their crises for a reason. He wanted to teach them to trust Him. He wanted a people who would be unshakable in their faith. They were to come out of the wilderness with a tried faith that was as pure as gold. He wanted them as a testimony to the world of His goodness toward His people.”
I believe our generation has taken the sin of unbelief too lightly and right now we are seeing the tragic results. I see many believers today who are full of depression and unrest. Of course, some suffer these things for physical reasons, but many others endure such sufferings because of their spiritual condition. In my opinion, their depression is the result of God’s displeasure with their continual unbelief.
The Lord always uses strong language when He refers to unbelief among His people, words such as wrath, anger, abhorrence, tempting Him. Moses made a point to remind the younger Israelites of this: “Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went. . . . And the Lord heard the voice of your words [of unbelief], and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers” (Deuteronomy 1:31, 34-35).
The entire book of Deuteronomy consists of a single speech by Moses, delivered just before his death. This speech was a review of the forty years Israel had spent wandering in the wilderness and Moses delivered it to a new generation of Israelites.
At the time, the people were perched at Kadesh-Barnea, an important place in their history. They were at the border of Canaan, the Promised Land, the same spot where their fathers had stood thirty-eight years before. It was also the place where God had prevented that older generation from entering into the Promised Land. Except for Joshua and Caleb, they were all sent back into the wilderness to wander until the whole generation died out.
Now Moses was reminding this new generation of their fathers’ story. He wanted them to know exactly why the previous generation had died as despairing rebels in God’s eyes. Moses urged them to learn from their parents’ tragic mistakes, saying, in so many words:
“You know your fathers’ history. They were a people called, chosen and anointed by God. But they lost the vision. The Lord so loved them that He bore them up in His arms and carried them, time after time. Yet over and over, they murmured and complained against Him, grieving Him.
“Finally, God’s patience came to an end. He saw that they were committed to unbelief and there was nothing He could do to change their minds. No miracle He performed could fully persuade them of His faithfulness and goodness. Their hearts were like granite, so God told them, ‘Not one of you is going to enter My promised land. Instead, you’re going to turn around now and go back into the wilderness.’”
What powerful words. Yet Moses wasn’t just speaking to a new generation of Israelites. He was also addressing every generation of believers to follow, including us today. Like all the Old Testament accounts, this one was written for us: “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition [instruction], upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Throughout His ministry, Jesus was asked two kinds of questions by the people He encountered, questions that revealed everything about the hearts of those asking. The first type of question was accusatory. Time after time, religious leaders asked Christ, “Why do You eat and drink with sinners? How could You be sent by God with a reputation like that?”
The second kind of question came from people bearing the problems of life: “Would You heal my sick daughter? Would You deliver my son who is being thrown into the fire by demons? Would You heal my issue with bleeding, which has plagued me my whole life? Jesus, would You help me?”
Do you see the difference between the two kinds of questions? Both seek an answer about the nature of God. The first asks, “Do sinners deserve God’s love?” while the second asks, “Does God want to help me?”
Jesus answered both questions with His actions. First, He transformed the outcasts, bringing them from the farthest margins of society to the very center of God’s love. He told them, “You are on center stage now. You’re at the very heart of My Father’s kingdom.” Second, Christ revealed that the accusers were not at the center of God’s kingdom. He told them very clearly, “You have no say in My Father’s kingdom.”
Do you want a meaningful, significant role in God’s kingdom? Then be willing to lay down your stones and pick up the cross of His grace. Every time you act as Jesus did, extending grace to those marginalized by sin, you take part in a great transformation. You will be changed by your actions, the accused will be changed, and those accusing will be changed. Meanwhile, passive believers will be stirred by the manifestation of God’s grace.
May we all become His army of grace—drawing to His kingdom the addicted and the clean-living, the grieving and the carefree, the poor and the wealthy, the lonely and the lively. Let every soul be loved and belong, and may we all be transformed by the amazing grace of our Savior.
Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.
Too many Christians live in a state of denial. “Well, I hope my child will come around someday.” Some parents have actually given up: “I guess nothing can be done. Bobby didn’t turn out right—but we tried; we dedicated him to the Lord when he was a baby. Maybe someday.”
The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And the more we sense our need to pray, the more we want to pray.
Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline. Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute—but she’s not breathing! Never mind the frilly clothes; stabilize the child’s vital signs. It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state. That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results. Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled. If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but unfortunately, spiritual life cannot be taught.
Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.” This conviction makes us squirm a little, but how else will there be a breakthrough with God?
If we truly think about what Acts 2:42 says—“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”—we can see that prayer is almost a proof of a church’s normalcy. Calling on the name of the Lord is the fourth great hallmark in the list. If my church or your church isn’t praying, we shouldn’t be boasting in our orthodoxy or our Sunday morning attendance figures.
In fact, Carol and I have told each other more than once that if the spirit of brokenness and calling on God ever slacks off in the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we will know we’re in trouble, even if we have 10,000 in attendance.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson and a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
I didn’t realize how guilty I was of the sin of having defiled ears until I was on a preaching trip to the British Isles. My son Gary and I were being driven to a preaching event by a pastor who politely asked how our meetings had been going. When I tried to answer, he interrupted me to talk about his own preaching. This happened several times and each time, he “one-upped” me with stories of having bigger crowds and visiting more countries than I had.
Finally, I decided to just shut up and let him talk. At one point, I looked at Gary and rolled my eyes, thinking, “What a boastful man. This preacher is a nonstop talker.”
Then I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “Think about why you’re upset, David. It’s because this man isn’t listening to you. You wanted to do the talking and now that you’re hearing his stories, you want to brag about your own ministry. You may have stopped talking, but you have a boastful spirit in your heart.”
What’s more, I had defiled my mouth. Notice that I didn’t speak anything terrible about this man. In fact, I hadn’t said a single word about him. Yet, by merely rolling my eyes, I had slandered him to my son.
I can speak about holiness, I can expose society’s sins, I can preach on the victory of the New Covenant. But if I allow my ears to be defiled—if I shut out another person by focusing on my own interests, if I can’t listen to him with respect—then the life of Christ isn’t prolonged in me. I am no longer leading a life that satisfies my Lord and I am not bearing the fruit of His travail.
“He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isaiah 50:4-5).
“Mine ears hast thou opened” (Psalm 40:6).