“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we read of God’s magnificent creation. Adam and Eve shared sweet communion with their Father in the Garden of Eden — but there was also a snake in the Garden. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1). This cunning, deceitful creature tempted Eve, who brought her husband into the scheme, and they yielded to his voice.
When sin and shame entered the world, fellowship with the Father was broken (see Genesis 3:1-19). And from that time to this, there has always been “a snake in the garden” — some sort of challenge, opposition or trial designed to draw us away from our Father. God could have disallowed it from the beginning but it was part of his plan. The familiar phrase “testing your mettle” means to see what you are made of, demonstrating your true character. Unless the testing comes, you will not know how strong you are in Jesus Christ, how much power he has released in you, and the authority you have in his name.
We see this demonstrated when God left enemies in the land of Israel to test them. “Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before” (Judges 3:1-2). God could have empowered the Israelites to destroy the Canaanites so that the other enemies could not come against them, but he left those adversaries in the land to challenge them.
What is the enemy in your life — the snake in your garden? Anxiety and fear? A sense of rejection? Loneliness and isolation? Secret sin? God wants to heal all these things through his unconditional love. Storms may come, enemies may oppose you, snakes may be in your garden, but Jesus will fill you with his love, his peace, his joy, his life and his victory!
After Joshua took over leadership of the children of Israel from Moses, he led them into major victories — notably, Jericho and Ai. As God performed many astounding miracles for the Israelites, Joshua’s leadership was flawless with the exception of one very bad judgment. The crafty Gibeonites connived and manipulated him into making a decision without consulting God about it (see Joshua 9:3-13). “Then the men of Israel took some of their provisions; but they did not ask counsel of the Lord. So Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them” (Joshua 9:14-15).
Joshua was compelled to honor the covenant he had made and the consequences were dire. The Israelites went into battle against the Amorites, but Joshua’s warriors needed more daylight in order to defeat their enemy. Joshua prayed to God and received a miracle that is unparalleled to this day — the sun stood still! “There has never been a day before and there has never been a day since when the Lord stopped the sun, all because of the prayer of one man” (Joshua 10:14).
Many of us have made hasty decisions without consulting the wisdom of the Lord. That is why God urges us: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5). The Word also says, “It is not good for a man to be without knowledge, and he who makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Proverbs 19:2).
So, in chapter 9 Joshua makes a covenant without praying but then in chapter 10 he cries out to God and God answers in spectacular fashion. Why? Because Joshua invited his Father into his bad decision and God had mercy on him and intervened.
God will do the same for you. He will take your bad choices and turn them into something miraculous if you will turn to him and seek his face. If you are being rushed into making a decision, be sure to rush into the presence of God first.
Pastor Tim pastored an inner-city congregation in Detroit for thirty years before serving at Brooklyn Tabernacle in NYC for five years. He and his wife Cindy presently pastor in Lafayette, Louisiana.
“Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary” (Matthew 14:24).
Following the miracle of feeding the five thousand, Jesus sent the people away and instructed the disciples to go away, also. It had been an exhausting day and the Master sought a little rest. But the disciples’ boat got caught in a storm, and although they were seasoned sailors, the fierceness of the storm caused some alarm. They may have found some comfort in the fact that Jesus was nearby, but they did not expect what happened next.
“Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’” (Matthew 14:25-26). Actually, the disciples were terrified, but Peter took a bold step of faith and left the boat. One glimpse of his Savior was enough for him! “[Peter] said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water’” (14:28). So, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, Peter took that step out of the boat. He was not showing off his faith or trying to belittle anyone, he simply wanted to be nearer his Lord.
While it is true that Peter sank when he took his eyes off the Lord, he discovered a place in Christ above the stormy, raging sea. He was walking over what threatened him to get to Jesus. The faith that kept him above it all for a while could have kept him indefinitely. But he took his eyes off Christ and permitted the turmoil around him to cast down his confidence.
The story of Peter reminds us that the worse the crisis, the more diligently a Christian needs to pursue Christ. May you look into his face in the midst of your crisis and pray, “Draw me closer to you, Lord. Let everything in my life drive me to you!”
Stephen saw an open heaven and a glorified Man on the throne whose glory was mirrored in him to all who stood nearby. “But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56).
Stephen represents what a true Christian is supposed to be: one who is full of the Holy Spirit with eyes fixed on the Man in glory. One who mirrors that glory in such a way that all who see it will be amazed and filled with wonder.
Stephen was in a hopeless condition, surrounded by religious madness, superstition, prejudice, and jealousy. The angry crowds pressed in on him, wild-eyed and bloodthirsty, and death loomed just ahead of him. Such impossible circumstances! But looking up into heaven, Stephen beheld his Lord in glory and suddenly his rejection here on earth meant nothing to him. Now he was above it all.
One glimpse of the Lord’s glory, one vision of his holiness, and Stephen could no longer be hurt. The stones, the angry cursing, all was harmless to him because of the joy set before him. Likewise, a glimpse of Christ’s glory places you above all your circumstances. Keeping your eyes on Christ, consciously reaching out to him every waking hour, provides peace and serenity as nothing else can.
Stephen caught the rays of the glorified Man in heaven and reflected them to a Christ-rejecting society: “with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord … being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
It is so true that we become what we behold. Stephen became a living mirror in which men could see the glory of Jesus reflected. So, should we! When the enemy comes in like a flood, we need to both amaze and condemn the world around us by our sweet, calm repose in Christ. This is accomplished by keeping our minds on our Savior.
John the Baptist defined his ministry bluntly and simply when he said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23). This servant of the Most High who, according to the Scripture, was the greatest “among those born of women” (Matthew 11:11), was the finest, most blessed of all the prophets and a revered preacher of righteousness.
The crowds flocked to hear John’s scorching messages, and many were baptized and became his disciples. Some thought he was Christ and others considered him to be Elijah raised from the dead. But through all this, John refused to be exalted or promoted. He was emptied of self-serving and he continually withdrew from center stage.
In his own eyes, this greatest of all prophets was not worthy to be called a man of God — only a voice. A wilderness voice, in fact, modest, retiring and unconcerned about honor. He considered himself unworthy to even touch his Master’s shoes. His entire life was devoted to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). What a powerful rebuke to us, in this age of promotion of personalities, influence-grabbing, ego-tripping, and honor seeking. John could have had it all, but he cried out, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
The secret of John’s happiness was that his joy was not in his ministry or his work, nor in his personal usefulness or widespread influence. His pure joy was to stand in the presence of the Bridegroom, rejoicing in his voice.
All around Christians are saying, “I want God to use me. I want my life to count for the Lord. I want to serve him in a full-time capacity.” While that is very commendable, it must come with a willingness to find joy and fulfillment in devoted communion with the Lord as well as in service.
Commit yourself to the high calling of God in Christ on your life, faithfully living for him and telling others about the Lamb of God. The greatest rewards will probably go to those who are hidden and unknown, glorifying the Lord by their simple witness to his faithfulness.