Of all the sins we can commit, doubt is the one most hated by God. According to both Old and New Testaments, our doubting grieves the Lord, provokes him, causes him much pain. We see a prime example of this in ancient Israel, after God delivered his people from the hands of Pharaoh.
The Psalmist laments, "We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly. Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies; but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea" (Psalm 106:6-7).
The writer is making a confession here. What was the wicked sin that Israel had committed? It was their doubt that God would further deliver them, even after he'd performed an incredible miracle for them at the Red Sea.
The Psalmist is asking us to imagine God's people as they stood rejoicing on the victory side of the sea. The Lord had just performed one of the greatest miracles in the history of humankind, delivering Israel from the mighty Egyptians. Yet, how did these same people react as they faced hardship afterward? They doubted God's faithfulness.
The writer is saying, essentially, "Can you believe it? Our Lord had moved supernaturally on our behalf, delivering us from the enemy. Yet, even after this incredible miracle, we mistrusted him. How could we ever provoke God that way?"
It was a different story altogether when Israel stood on the victory side of the sea. They sang and danced as they watched the mighty Egyptian army sink to destruction: "He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness. And he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And the waters covered their enemies: there was not one of them left. Then believed they his words; they sang his praise" (Psalm 106:9-12).
The Israelites sang the right song -- a song of praise to almighty God -- but they sang it on the wrong side of the sea. Anyone can sing and rejoice after they've got the victory. But Israel had failed miserably on the testing side of the Red Sea. They hadn't trusted God at all there.
Now, after they experienced a miraculous deliverance from Egypt, the Psalmist makes these shocking statements: "They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel...they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word" (106:13, 24).
Do you see what was happening here? God had proved himself to his people in Egypt, performing incredible signs and wonders for them. On ten separate occasions, he'd brought judgment on Egypt but had kept the Israelites safe.
Yet, according to the Psalmist, these miracles made no impression on Israel whatsoever. When hard times hit, the people probably looked back and saw those past wonders as mere natural calamities. Moses tried to convince them it was all God's work on their behalf. He pleaded, "The Lord is using all these miracles to orchestrate your deliverance." But they still doubted God, taking his mighty works for granted.
Of course, we're never to build our faith on miracles alone. Rather, the Holy Spirit strengthens our trust in the Lord through our trials and testings. Yet, even so, Israel had witnessed ten earth-shaking signs and wonders such as the world had never seen. But they arrived at the Red Sea without a shred of faith in God.
Israel had arrived on the victory side of the Red Sea. The place where they stood was known in Hebrew as "the entrance to a precipitous cliff." The name also meant "on the edge of a crisis." God's people were literally poised on the brink of a vast wilderness. Yet the Lord had led them there because he had a plan in mind for them.
In the coming days, God would supernaturally provide for every need his people faced. There were no grocery stores in this wilderness, yet Israel would be fed with manna from heaven. There was no water, but the Lord would bring forth springs from a rock to quench their thirst. There were no shopping malls, but the people's clothes and shoes would miraculously never wear out. God didn't overlook a single contingency.
He had even laden them down with silver and gold before bringing them out of Egypt. Then, once they were in the desert, he provided them with supernatural strength. There wasn't one feeble person among them. God protected them from the blazing desert sun by covering them with a cloud. At night, he produced a supernatural fire, warming them from the desert chill, and comforting them with a glow that lit up the darkness.
I tell you, Israel faced no danger whatsoever, because God provided for them at every turn. Yet there was one thing he couldn't provide: trust and faith. Even after God's many miraculous provisions for Israel, his people continued to doubt him.
At this point, let me ask you a question: why do you think God chose Israel as his people? After all, they were a tiny nation, an insignificant people. What purpose did God have in taking them out of Egypt and placing them in Canaan? Was it to give them nice homes, vineyards, and plenty of milk and honey? Was it to provide them with a life of ease, so they could sacrifice and worship freely, for generation after generation?
No. This great deliverance wasn't about God bringing his people to a place where they could continually indulge themselves in his blessings. It's clear the Lord was trying to produce something in his people through this experience. He'd brought them to the very brink of catastrophe, to face a crisis like none they'd ever known.
Simply put, God wanted to train his people to become his messengers to a lost world. You see, his purpose from the very beginning has been to reach a lost humankind. He chose Israel to be a light to the nations, a shining example of his grace and love. He wanted the world to know he has a heart of love toward every nation, even those that have sinned against him.
Israel's prophets knew this. They prophesied again and again that God's law would go out of Jerusalem to the rest of the world. And now, here in the wilderness, God desired to shape a "first generation" that would trust him fully. He wanted to prove to the nations there is only one God, and that he works his wonders through a believing people.
Yet, the Lord will not work through a people who are full of doubt and unbelief. The Bible tells us, "Without faith it is impossible to please him" (Hebrews 11:6). Even Jesus himself was prevented from working wonders when the people didn't believe: "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:58).
Beloved, the Lord didn't save us simply so we could bask endlessly in his goodness, mercy and glory. He had an eternal purpose in choosing each one of us. And that purpose goes beyond blessings, fellowship and revelation. The fact is, God still reaches out to lost humankind. And he's searching for a believing, trusting people he can shape into his greatest evangelistic tool.
Our Lord doesn't use angels to witness of his glory. He uses his people. And he desires to train us as a special, "peculiar" breed (see 1 Peter 2:9). He's looking to prove his word in our lives, so the world will believe it when we proclaim it. He wants to present to the unbelieving nations a faithful people who've been rocked by hard times, broken by deep trials, yet who continue to trust him.
We see God searching for such a people in Gideon's day. When Gideon issued a call for volunteers to fight the Midianites, thousands of Israelites responded. But the Lord told Gideon, "The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands...proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart" (Judges 7:2-3).
God was telling Gideon, "If anybody here is afraid, tell him to go home now. I won't allow my army to be infected by fear." God was actually turning away volunteers for his army. At one point, some 22,000 doubters were sent home. Gideon eventually reduced the number of volunteers to 10,000 but God told him there were still too many. The Lord finally settled on 300 battle-tested soldiers.
This ought to tell us something. As the Lord seeks gospel messengers he can send out to the world, he's not going to recruit churches whose pews are filled with fearful, doubting, untested people. He won't look for powerful, efficient religious organizations or highly educated seminarians. God uses organizations and the highly educated, but in themselves none of these has the resources needed to be God's tried and tested messengers.
So, what is needed to reach a lost and hurting world? A small army of soldiers that has been enrolled in the school of hardship and trials. God is seeking those who are willing to be tested. So he enlists all who are willing to be tried by fire, whose faith he can refine and bring forth as pure gold.
Throughout my years in ministry, I've noticed a pattern in the lives of most Christians. Almost immediately after God saves us, he leads us into a wilderness of testing. This was true even in Jesus' life. As our Lord came up out of the baptismal waters, he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was sorely tested (see Luke 4:1-2). The same thing happened with the Israelites. No sooner were God's people delivered from Egypt than they were led to the very brink of a wilderness crisis.
Why is this so? It's because God is looking for a people who'll trust him before the whole world in impossible situations. And you can be sure the world is watching, as his servants endure trials and testings while clinging to faith.
We see this kind of trust demonstrated by Daniel. Daniel's jealous co-governors devised a plot against him, convincing King Darius to ban prayer for thirty days. Just as his peers expected, Daniel disobeyed the ban and kept praying three times a day. Although King Darius respected Daniel, he was forced by his own decree to cast this devout man into the lions' den.
Daniel had been fully aware that the penalty for disobeying the ban on prayer was death. Yet he never stopped praying, because he trusted God. He knew the Lord would see him through his trial.
Throughout this ordeal, King Darius observed Daniel anxiously. He had tried every means possible to save Daniel, but he simply couldn't. Finally, just before Daniel was cast to the lions, the king assured him, "Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee" (Daniel 6:16). Yet, that night, the king couldn't sleep. Scripture says he "went to his palace, and passed the night fasting" (6:18).
If you tell the world that Jesus is your Lord your savior and healer, a God who can perform the impossible they'll watch to see how you react in impossible situations. Their eyes are glued to everyone who boasts on God's goodness, power and glory. And the devil looks on too, hoping our faith will fail.
The Psalmist writes, "Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men"
(Psalm 31:19). What is this "great goodness" that God lays up for those who trust in him through trying times? It's an impenetrable, glorious testimony to the world that your faith can survive any situation.
How did God respond to Daniel's faith? He shut the mouths of those hungry lions. The next morning King Darius was up early, anxious to see if God had answered Daniel's prayers. He quickly ran to the lions' den and "cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel...O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?" (Daniel 6:20).
This is still the question of the hour. Like Darius, the world longs to see a testimony of God's keeping power. And it will keep asking us till Jesus comes, "Oh, Christian, I see you serving God faithfully. You fast, pray and testify of his glory and power. Yet now you're in the trial of your life. Tell me, has your God sustained you through this ordeal? What is your testimony now that you're in the lions' den?"
You can imagine Darius' joy when he heard Daniel's voice, crying, "O king, live forever. My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions' mouths, that they have not hurt me" (6:21-22). Daniel was alive and well. Yet, I don't believe this godly servant slept calmly through the night. Daniel was no superhuman, any more than we are today. And our God doesn't expect us to act unnaturally when we face such crises. Our feelings of trepidation during such moments are normal.
In my opinion, Daniel watched and prayed all night. Every time a lion yawned, baring its teeth, Daniel must have silently cried out, "I'm still trusting, Lord. I believe you're going to shut that animal's mouth." He held fast to his faith. And Scripture tells us, "No manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God" (6:23).
One man trusted God before the eyes of men. And an entire kingdom was impacted. The Bible states: "King Darius wrote unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth...I make a decree, that in every dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: for he is the living God, and steadfast for ever, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be even unto the end. He delivereth and rescueth, and he worketh signs and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the power of the lions" (6:25-27).
Do you see what Darius was saying here? He was extolling God, not just for his natural wonders, but because he had delivered Daniel from death. This pagan king had to see just one believer who truly believed what he preached. And, in turn, he declared, "I saw a man who maintained a testimony of his God. He never doubted. And the Lord delivered him from the powers of hell."
There exists a place in Christ where there's no anxiety about the future. In this place, there is no fear of sudden calamity, of affliction, of unemployment. There's no fear of man, of falling, of losing one's soul. This place is one of total confidence in God's faithfulness. The writer of Hebrews calls it a place of perfect rest.
Such perfect rest was offered to Israel. But the people's doubt and unbelief kept them out of God's rest: "They to whom it was first preached entered not in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 4:6). The Israelites lived in constant fear and dread, always waiting for the next crisis to happen. As a result, they were desolated in their trials.
If Israel would have entered into this rest, God's work in his people would have been complete. But because they didn't, the Lord continues to search in every generation for a people who will enter: "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God" (Hebrews 4:9).
God is telling us, "This offer of rest is for you, today. There still exists a place in me where all doubt and fear no longer exist. It's a place where you'll be prepared for whatever may come." Thus, his Word urges, "Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it" (4:1).
Today, multitudes of God's people know nothing of this rest in Christ. As they read the awful reports in the daily news -- reports of tragedies, calamities, deaths -- they're filled with fear and dread. Their constant prayer is, "Oh, God, please don't take one of my loved ones. I could never handle the grief."
Yet, if you're at rest in the Lord, you won't succumb to such fear. You won't panic or fall apart when you're hit by some unexpected crisis. And you won't lose hope, accusing God of bringing on your troubles. Yes, you'll endure the pain that's common to every human being. But you'll be at rest in your soul, because you'll know God is in control of everything concerning you.
My wife, Gwen, was thirty-four years old the first time cancer was found in her. We were devastated when we got the news. We'd just moved our family to New York so I could start a ministry to street gangs. Now, as I walked the streets preaching to gang members and addicts, I had to fight back tears of anguish and fear. But the Lord continually reassured me, "I am faithful, David. I won't abandon you or your loved ones." God walked with me through that frightening ordeal with cancer, and every one that has followed.
Yet, the Lord doesn't want victory for us as merely a one-time experience. His goal isn't for us to emerge from a crisis, saying, "Thank God, I kept my faith through that." Yes, you may have made it through that one. But, like victorious Israel at the Red Sea, another trial will eventually come. And it may be a different kind of test altogether.
Living in God's rest is a way of life. He wants us to be maintained by his peace and confidence in all our trials, knowing our high priest is touched by the feelings of our infirmities.
Don't misunderstand: I'm not talking about achieving some unfeeling state of nirvana. Many New Age teachers claim that the only way to endure future crises is to harden your heart now and kill off all your love. In short, if you simply stop caring for people, you won't be hurt. Therefore, you should steel yourself against life's calamities.
Yet God is never glorified when his servants numb themselves to a point of stupefication. That's not what his rest is about at all. It's about learning to trust his promise to be faithful toward us in all things.
I'm a father of four and a grandfather of eleven. And I can honestly tell you, there's never been a moment when I could stand by and watch my offspring hurting, without wanting to enter into the suffering with them. At such times, I've done everything in my power to heal and deliver them. I ask you: how much more does our heavenly Father love us, walk with us in our trials, and long to heal our hurts?
To enter God's rest, we have to renounce our own efforts and sweat. Faith alone admits us into this perfect rest: "For we which have believed do enter into rest" (Hebrews 4:3). Simply put, we're to set our hearts to believe that God is faithful to deliver us in every circumstance, no matter how impossible it may seem.
"For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his" (4:10). When we're at rest in Christ, we no longer try to put on a brave face in times of trouble. We don't pump up some phony acceptance of our crisis. And we don't worry that we might cave in to fear and begin questioning God's love. In short, our "works mentality" has ceased to drive us. Now we've learned simply to trust the Lord.
How do we develop such trust? We seek the Lord in prayer, meditate on his Word and walk in obedience. You may object, "But those things are all works." I disagree. They're all acts of faith. As we observe these disciplines, we're trusting that the Holy Spirit is at work in us, building up a reservoir of strength for our time of need. We may not feel God's strengthening going on inside us, or feel his power being built up in us. But when our next trial comes, these heavenly resources will become manifest in us.
This is the foremost reason why I seek the Lord diligently -- fasting, praying, studying, looking to obey his commandments through the power of the Holy Ghost. It's not because I'm a minister who wants to set an example. I do these things because I know I still have many trials ahead of me. As long as I'm serving the Lord, the devil will never give me rest. I'm going to face intense warfare, surprise attacks. And, in spite of all the victories and peace I've already experienced, I'll always need heaven's resources to help me endure.
I want to be a soldier who's fully prepared for the battlefield. And I know that victory is won long before the battle begins. It's won in boot camp, in training and conditioning. When the enemy suddenly comes at me, I'm going to need all available ammunition. And that ammunition is supplied by the powerful Word of God, as I hide it away in my heart. So, the next time the devil attacks, I'm confident I'll have reserves to draw on. I'll have won the battle alone with God, prior to the battlefield.
Are you a committed soldier, believing that God is equipping you even now? If so, then you're fulfilling three requirements:
1. You're a diligent reader of God's Word.
As you study Scripture, you're beginning to understand how much God loves you. If you're not convinced of his absolute love for you, you won't be able to handle any crisis that comes. And you become convinced of his love only by devouring his Word.
2. You're cultivating intimacy with God daily, through quality-time prayer.
Our Lord wants us to cry out to him in our times of crisis. But prayer during our hardships isn't enough. We have to seek our Father in good times as well. Our faith isn't meant to be merely situational. It has to come from a developing relationship with the Lord.
3. You're trusting that God won't allow you to face any trial without making a way for you to endure it.
Should a great trial come upon you, you don't have to worry whether you'll be strong or faint. Our Father gives grace when it's needed. And if you've developed a close, intimate relationship with him, he'll pour his enduring grace into you when you need it.
God invites you to enter into his rest -- today.