Beauty For Ashes

Isaiah says, "to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness .
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And then, as He always does, He handed me the ribbon to tie it all together. The last piece of the puzzle that revealed the larger picture. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them; in His love and in His pity, He redeemed them; and He bore them and carried them all the days of old.

At the moment I finally realized that my ridiculous hesitation to accept the garments of praise was actively resisting His Spirit, the just-right worship song came on Pandora. And I was broken. You want to take this deep sorrow away? Who am I to choose grieving? To choose to stand by in my own private prison when, all around me, people are worshiping Him? I saw it in that moment: Full of radiant joy.

Not distracted by anything. And I stood off to the side. Clinging to a piece of sackcloth. Separated from the fullness of joy. As I realized what I was missing out on, I dropped the sackcloth and reached for His garments of praise. Your email is never published or shared. Thank you for sharing this. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I didnt think of it like that. I need to let go. I want to let go. I need to chose to let go of the shackles of grief and loss that are crippling me, that are keeping me from becoming everything God created me to be. Thank you for letting the Lord use you and that painful time in your life to reach out and bless me during mine.

May He return the blessing to you fold. These posts are such an encouragement to people who are going through the same thing. When I was searching of ways to help one of my friends that is patiently waiting for her child, I found your blog and immediately sent it to her. Thank you for sharing!!! What an amazing and vulnerable piece. This is refreshing and healing. All I can say is Wow! After having faced a recent miscarriage, I can relate to this on so many levels. I was deeply touched by this.

May God bless you continuously. After praying through continual sadness one day, God surprised me with the perfect anecdotes the next morning: Two chapters later, in Isaiah 63, the seriousness hit: Show Hide 5 comments. Cristi July 24, - 8: Meg August 5, - Chrisette June 13, - 2: He was even prepared to take the Name of God in telling the lie.

When Isaac asks him how he got the meat so quickly, he replies, "The Lord brought it to me" Genesis How lightly he could even take the Lord's Name and tell a lie! He certainly had no fear of God. Such was Jacob's nature - grabbing, bargaining and deceiving - looking after his own earthly interests all the time. He was very much a child of Adam. Finally, at Bethel, the sun set upon his life. There, in a dream, God gave Jacob a revelation of His great and glorious purpose for his life. He gave Jacob the same promises that he had given Abraham.

But how does Jacob respond? He says, in effect, "Lord, I'm not so interested in all those spiritual blessings. If you'll only protect me from harm and danger and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, I'll be quite happy. I'll give you one-tenth of my income and acknowledge you as my God" Genesis Many Christians are just like that. God calls them to something great and glorious and they settle for something far, far inferior.

God calls them to expend their energies in His work, but they waste their lives making money and seeking honour in this world. How few there are among God's people who recognize their high calling! One such was a man of God who told his son, "I should not like it, if you were meant by God to be a missionary, that you drivel down to becoming a king or a millionaire. What are your kings and nobles compared with the dignity of winning souls to Christ. God's purpose for us - as for Jacob - extends far beyond mere physical blessings.

His purpose is basically twofold - first that we might manifest the life of Christ to others; and secondly, that we might minister that life to others. This is the calling of the Christian - and there can be no greater calling on earth. Yet many Christians like Jacob, don't recognize this - even some who are in Christian work. God gives them some spiritual gift or ability and soon they are taken up with that, and go off on a tangent, away from the central purpose of God for their lives.

Like a child who is taken up with a toy, they are taken up with their gift. It fills their whole vision and they never see anything beyond. How cleverly Satan has sidetracked them without their even realizing it! Jacob could not take in the vastness of God's purpose for his life. He was satisfied with toys, when God wanted him to have heavenly riches. The result of such a narrow vision was that God's purposes for Jacob's life were delayed. God had to wait twenty years, before Jacob was willing to take his mind away from the things of the world and set it on things above.

How many Christians are hindering and delaying God's glorious purposes for their lives, because of the narrowness of their vision, because they are taken up with things lesser than God's highest. Paul was a different man. He could say at the end of his life that he had not been disobedient to the heavenly vision. On the Damascus Road, God had given him a vision of the great ministry He had for him - to open the blind eyes of people and to deliver them from Satan's power through the message of the gospel Acts And Paul never got bogged down with social work or anything lesser than what God had called him to.

But Jacob did not respond like that, when God spoke to him. And so the sun set on his life, and things grew darker and darker. But the wonderful thing is that God did not let Jacob go. God had promised him at Bethel, "I will not leave you until I have fulfilled My promises to you;" and God kept His word. This is what encourages us - the perseverance of God with His stubborn children. In order to fulfil His promises to Jacob, God had to discipline him severely. And so we see from this point in the story up to the second meeting at Peniel, twenty years of Divine chastening in Jacob's life in order that Jacob might come to the point where he would accept God's highest for his life.

First of all, God placed Jacob alongside another shrewd person. Laban was just as smart as Jacob, and as they lived together and came into close contact with each other, plenty of friction was generated and some of Jacob's rough edges were rubbed off. God knows whom to place us with in order to purge us of our crookedness. God measures out His disciplines to us, according to our individual need; and He makes all things work together for our good, even when He places us alongside someone like Laban - provided we don't rebel against God's providences.

Many people have learnt sanctification through God leading them to marry someone just like themselves. Jacob, as last, begins to reap what he had sown. All his life he had been cheating others. Now he gets cheated himself. He goes through his wedding ceremony, thinking he is marrying Rachel, but discovers the next morning that he has actually married Leah! He had met his match in Laban! He now gets a taste himself of the bitter medicine that he had been doling out to others. God does not discipline without a purpose or arbitrarily. He knows what dosage each person needs and gives the medicine accordingly.

With the merciful, God shows Himself merciful; and with the stubborn, He shows Himself stubborn Psalm He knows how to deal with every Jacob. Jacob's problems were not yet over. After fourteen years of hard work, he obtained Rachel, only to discover that she was barren. God was merciful and finally gave Jacob a child through her, but even this brings no change in Jacob. He still cannot trust God, but continues to scheme.

He next plans to rob Laban of his property. He knew all the tricks of the trade, and he knew how to get the best of Laban's cattle. How long God had to wait before Jacob learned to trust in Him and forsake his own human ingenuity. It is the same problem that God has with many of His children today. He is not impressed by our cleverness. He waits for us to see the folly of all that, before He can use us to fulfil His will. We find Jacob finally scheming to run away from Laban. He is tired of living with his father-in-law and wants to go away.

But when he does run away, he finds that he has only jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. He hears that Esau is approaching him with a large army and that Laban is pursuing him from the rear. The one who tries to escape God's disciplines finds that it is not an easy task. But Jacob had not learned to trust God yet.

Finding himself hedged in and his life in danger, Jacob now begins to pray. He is quick to remind God of His promises made at Bethel Genesis But prayer alone is not sufficient for Jacob. He has to scheme too. He thinks up a clever plan of saving part of his company at least - just in case God lets him down. How very much like those who talk of trusting God and " living by faith ", but all the time have some earthly source of security to fall back upon just in case faith in God alone does not work!

Jacob was indeed very much like us. And how often we have seen, as Jacob realized when he met Esau, that our fears were unfounded, that there was no need to have schemed and worried and doubted God. Esau's heart was in God's hands, and God could turn it as Proverbs God had told Jacob clearly that He would take care of him. But Jacob could not believe God's promise.

Jacob had twenty long and painful years of chastening under God's hand. We are not given all the details of what Jacob underwent - but he must have had a very rough time. It must have been physically exhausting too - working and sleeping out in the open, exposed to the sun and the dew and the rain. But all this discipline was necessary, in order to shatter Jacob's self-sufficiency and self-confidence. Only in later years, when he looked back, would he be able to appreciate what God took him through - not now. But being punished isn't enjoyable while it is happening - it hurts! But afterwards, we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character" Hebrews As the well-known hymn says:.

We have seen how the sun set upon Jacob's life and how the darkness deepened through the ensuing twenty years. He was indeed an ordinary man just like us. And on such a man the sun rose one day. God met with him a second time and changed him into an "Israel" - a prince of God. Only God could have seen any good in such a useless person as Jacob, and followed after him patiently, without giving up hope.

There we see the grace and greatness of our God. And this is what encourages us. In spite of all our self-centredness, God does not throw us on the scrap-heap. He is patient with us. We may not believe in the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints , but we cannot but believe in the perseverance of God.

How wonderful and how humiliating it is to know the long-suffering of God in His dealings with us. If He were not like that, none of us would have any hope. At Peniel, God dealt a final blow to Jacob. He had been disciplining Jacob and breaking him, bit by bit, over the previous twenty years. But now the time had come to finish the work with one final blow. If God had not done that here, it might have taken twenty more years for the sun to rise on Jacob. God knows the right time to shatter our self-confidence once-and-for-all. And when God finally broke Jacob, then he was truly blessed.

The record reads, "God blessed Jacob there" Genesis The word "bless" is perhaps the most frequently used word in the prayers of Christians. But few understand its real meaning. What was the blessing Jacob got? It is described in verse 28 as " power with God and power with men ". This is the blessing that we all need and that we should be seeking for. And this alone can make the sun to rise upon our lives.

Nothing less than this is what God desires to give His people. Jesus referred to this blessing when He asked His disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father. He said, "When the Holy Spirit is come upon you, you shall receive power" Acts 1: Jacobs would be transformed by the Spirit's power into Israels.

This was what made the sun to rise upon Peter's life and upon the lives of the other disciples that day in the upper room at Jerusalem. And this alone can provide the answer to the crookedness of our self-life. It is not a question of reformation or of good resolutions or even of our determination. It is a question of the Holy Spirit possessing us fully and governing and ruling our lives. But where does the Spirit lead us? Always to the cross. It is only when we are crucified, that Christ can live in us in His fullness, It was when Jesus was baptized, buried under the waters - symbolically accepting death to Himself - that the Holy Spirit came upon Him Matthew 3: It was when Jacob was broken that he was blessed.

It was only after Moses' self-confidence had been shattered through 40 years of looking after sheep, that he was ready to deliver Israel. The rock had to be smitten before the living waters could flow. The Israelites had to go through the River Jordan symbolizing death and burial before they could enter Canaan symbolizing life in the fullness of the Spirit. Gideon's army had to break their pitchers before the light inside was visible. The alabaster vial had to be broken before the odour of the ointment could fill the house.

Peter's boastful self-confidence had to be shattered before he was ready for Pentecost. We find this truth throughout Scripture. It would be dangerous for God to empower an unbroken man. It would be like giving a sharp knife to a 6-month old baby, or like handling 20, volts of electricity without proper insulation. He does not give the power of His Spirit to those in whom self is still unbroken. And He removes His power from a man when he ceases to be broken. Jacob was now blessed by God Himself. Earlier, Isaac had laid his hands on Jacob and blessed him, when Jacob brought him the venison Genesis But that had brought no change in Jacob's life.

The real blessing came at Peniel. And this is the lesson we need to learn too. No man can ever give us this blessing. A man - even a saintly man like Isaac - may lay his empty hands on our empty heads and pray for us. Yet we may get nothing. Only God can really empower us. When Isaac put his hands on Jacob's head, the sun merely set on Jacob's life. But when God blessed him, the sun rose! Power belongs to God and He is the only one who can ever give it to us. The record says, "God blessed Jacob there " Genesis There were reasons why God blessed Jacob there - at Peniel.

First of all, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was alone with God. He sent everyone else away and was alone Genesis The spirit of the jet-age has got into most of us, and we are in a perpetual state of busyness. The trouble is not with our temperament or our culture. We just don't have our priorities right - that's all. Jesus once said that the one thing needful for a believer was to sit at His feet and listen to Him Luke But we don't believe that any longer and so suffer the disastrous consequences of disregarding Jesus' words.

If we are always busy with our various activities and do not know what it is to get alone with God in fasting and prayer, we shall certainly not know God's power or blessing - His real power, I mean, not the cheap counterfeits of which many are boasting. Secondly, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was broken completely. At Peniel, a Man wrestled with Jacob. God had been wrestling with Jacob for twenty years, but Jacob had refused to yield. God had tried to show him how everything he had put his hand to had gone wrong, despite his cleverness and his planning. But Jacob was still stubborn.

Finally God struck Jacob's hip-socket so that his thigh was dislocated verse The thigh is the strongest part of the body, and that was the part that God struck. The strong points in our life are what God seeks to shatter. Simon Peter had once thought that his strong point spiritually, was his courage. Even if everyone else denied the Lord, he would never do so. And so God had to break him there. Peter denied the Lord before any of the others did, and not just once but thrice, and that too when questioned by a weak little servant-girl!

That was enough to shatter Peter. In the physical realm, Peter's strong point was fishing. If there was one thing he was an expert at, it was fishing. And so God broke him at that point as well. Peter fishes all night and catches nothing.

And that happened not just once but twice Luke 5: God broke him at his strongest points to teach him his total inability to serve God. It takes even longer for some of us. But it is only in the measure in which we learn the truth of those words that we can know God's power. When Peter was shattered at his strongest points - when he had been struck by God in his " thigh " - then he was ready for Pentecost. Moses' strong point was his leadership potential, his eloquence and his training in the best academies of Egypt.

He thought he was well qualified to be the leader of the Israelites Acts 7: But God did not stand by him until, forty years later, shattered in his strongest points, he said, "Lord, I'm not the person for a job like that I'm not a good speaker Then God took him up and used him mightily. God has to wait till our self-sufficiency and our self-confidence are shattered, and we are broken and no longer think highly of ourselves or our capabilities.

Then He can commit Himself to us unreservedly. Thirdly, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was earnest and hungry for God. How God had waited for twenty long years to hear those words from Jacob. He, who had spent his life grabbing the birthright, women, money and property, now lets go of them all and grabs hold of God. This was the point towards which God had been working in Jacob's life all along. It must have delighted God's heart when Jacob at last lost sight of the temporal things of earth and longed and thirsted for God Himself and for His blessing.

We are told in Hosea What a different man he was that night compared with his earlier years when he desired only the things of this world. God's dealings with him at last bore fruit! Before God blessed Jacob fully, He tested Jacob's earnestness. He said to Jacob, "Let me go," testing whether Jacob would be satisfied with what he had got or whether he would yearn for more. It was just as Elijah tested Elisha in later years. Elijah said, "Let me go," again and again, but Elisha refused to be shaken off - and so got a double portion of Elijah's spirit 2 Kings 2.

Jesus, likewise, tested the two disciples walking to Emmaus Luke When they reached their house, Jesus acted as though He would go further. But the two disciples would not let Him go - and they got a blessing as a result. God tests us too. He can never bless a man fully until the man is in dead earnest for God's best. We need to thirst like Jacob, saying,. Notice in the incident at Peniel, that it was when Jacob was in a state of weakness after his thigh had been dislocated , that he said, "I will not let you go, God. For it is when a man is most weak in himself that he has greatest power with God.

As the Apostle Paul said,. And so with Jacob, it is when he is defeated, broken and utterly weak, that God tells him, "You have now prevailed. The word is, "You have prevailed. You shall henceforth have power with God and with men" verse We prevail, when God has shattered us of our own strength and self-sufficiency - as the words of the hymn say,. If ever there was a picture of weakness, surely it is seen in a man hanging helplessly on a cross. Beaten and buffeted and finally nailed to the cross, Christ died as a weak and exhausted man. But there the power of God was displayed in the overthrow of the Devil and the deliverance of men Hebrews 2: We also are weak with Him, but shall live with Him by the power of God" 1 Corinthians 1: The Corinthian Christians were mistaking the gift of tongues for evidence of being endued with God's power, and so Paul had to correct their error.

Isaiah NKJV - To console those who mourn in Zion, To - Bible Gateway

In essence he tells them,. I remember hearing a man of God saying how God showed him the secret of spiritual power. He had been seeking God for some spectacular manifestation for some time. Finally the Lord asked him,. The way of the cross is the way of power. In the measure in which we walk that pathway we shall have God's power in our life, and people will be blessed through our life and our ministry. When the five loaves are broken, then and not until then, will the multitude be fed. Finally, Jacob was blessed in the place where he was honest with God.

God asks him, "What is your name? But now he is honest. And so God could bless him. Years later, when Jesus looked at Nathaniel, you remember what He said: This is what God waits to see in us too. Only then can He empower us. God blessed Jacob there - when he was honest, when he did not want to pretend any more, when he confessed, "Lord I'm a hypocrite. There is shame and pretence in my life. Many Christian leaders say words like that with false humility - to gain a reputation for being humble.

I am not referring to that type of abomination. What I mean is an honesty that comes out of a truly broken and contrite heart. There is so much guile in all of us. May God have mercy on us for pretending to be so sanctified when we are not. Let us covet sincerity and honesty and openness with all of our hearts, and then there will be no limit to God's blessing upon our lives.

Jacob was broken and thereby he became Israel. The sun rose on his life at last. This did not however, mean that Jacob had become perfect. There is no once-for-all experience that guarantees perfection. God had to discipline him further, for he still had plenty to learn.

The Israelites and God:

In Genesis chapters 33 and 34, we read of some of Jacob's disobediences and blunders. But the sun had risen on his life and he had entered into a new spiritual plane. The light had to increase in its brightness, no doubt, but that would come as the sun continued to ascend in the sky to its noon-day position. So it was with Jacob and so it must be with us. If we submit to God's dealings with us, as Jacob finally did, the light of God will continuously increase upon our lives. And as it does so, the shadow of our self-life will continue to decrease until finally when the sun is overhead when Christ returns , the shadows will disappear altogether and Christ will be all in all.

What was Jacob's testimony in later years, about his Peniel experience? He did not keep telling everyone that on such-and-such a date he had received a second blessing. His testimony was something quite different. In Hebrews 11 , we are given an inkling as to what Jacob's testimony was. There, we are given a record of some of the exploits of great men of faith in the Old Testament - shutting lions' mouths, raising the dead etc.

It looks quite incongruous to include something like that in a chapter full of spectacular events! What Jacob did, certainly does not look like a "miracle of faith. It was perhaps a greater miracle than the others miracles recorded in the chapter. The staff had become necessary to Jacob, because his thigh had been dislocated at Peniel. Leaning upon that staff, he would always remember the miracle that God had wrought in his life, in breaking his stubborn self-will. His leaning upon his staff now symbolized his helpless, moment-by-moment dependence on his God. He worshipped God now as a broken man.

He gloried in his weakness and his infirmity - and that was his daily testimony. So it was with the Apostle Paul too. And so it has been with the great men and women of God in all ages. They rejoiced in their limitations and not in their achievements. What a lesson for proud, self-confident 20 th -century Christians! Towards the end of his life, we see Jacob as a prophet. He prophesies concerning the future of his descendants Genesis Only a man who has been under God's hand and who has submitted to the Divine disciplines is qualified to prophesy.

Jacob had learnt through experience. He was no seminary-qualified theoretician. He had been through the grill and qualified in God's University. He knew the secret counsels of God. Truly he was a prince of God. What a wonderful thing it is to be purged by God. What fruitfulness it results in!

Notice finally, a word of encouragement that runs through the Bible. He is the God of Jacob. He has linked His Name with the name of Jacob, the grabber and the deceiver. This is our encouragement. Our God is the God of the man with the warped personality. He is the God of the woman with the difficult temperament. What meaning there is in the psalmist's words, "The God of Jacob is our refuge" Psalm He is not only the Lord of Hosts, but also the God of Jacob.

Praise be to His Name! What God has begun in us He will complete. As perfect as was the work of the Father in creation and as perfect as was the work of the Son in our redemption, so perfect will the work of the Holy Spirit be in our sanctification. He will complete His work in us, as He completed His work in Jacob. But we must respond as Jacob did at Peniel. If however we do not cooperate with Him, but frustrate His workings in us, we shall ultimately stand before Him with the tragedy of a wasted, fruitless life.

God wants us to be fruitful, but He won't compel us. He wants to transform us into the likeness of Christ, but He will never override our free-will. The pathway to the Christ-life is via the cross - being broken thereon. What power is released when an atom is broken! What power can be released when a child of God is broken in God's Hand! He had allowed himself to be emptied of the "I", so that Christ might live and rule in him.

The cross will mean the same in our lives as it did to Jesus and to Paul. We shall look at the life of Abraham in this chapter, to see what it means to be emptied. He was a type of those who, in the New Testament age, would be called the friends of God. I no longer call you slaves, for a master does not confide in His slaves; now you are My friends, proved by the fact that I have told you everything the Father told Me" John God calls us in this New Testament age to be, not just His servants but His friends - entering into His secret counsels and understanding the hidden mysteries of His Word.

Abraham was such a friend. God revealed His secrets to him Genesis God blessed Abraham mightily. And we are told that "all who trust in Christ [can] share the same blessing Abraham received" Galatians 3: What was the blessing with which God blessed Abraham. God's promise to Abraham was, "I will bless you" Genesis We saw in the last chapter what it means to be blessed of God. But God's promise to Abraham did not end with "I will bless you.

We are not only to be blessed but also to be channels through which that blessing is communicated to others. The Holy Spirit is the One Who communicates the abundant life of Christ to us and then ministers that same life through us to others. These two chapters in Genesis describe two important periods in Abraham's life. Moreover, in these two important chapters, we find the first occurrences in the Bible of two important words - " believe " Genesis Since all Scripture is inspired by God, there must be some significance attached to the first time an important word occurs in Scripture.

These two passages of Scripture therefore will have much to teach us concerning the true meanings of faith and worship. And these were the two lessons that Abraham had to learn - what it meant to believe God and what it meant to worship Him. Both of these are possible only as we accept the cross as the instrument of our self-emptying. Abraham had to learn that trusting God meant not merely intellectual belief, but also being emptied of self-sufficiency and self-dependence. In Genesis 15 where the word " believe " occurs in verse 6 , the paragraph begins with the words, "After these things The previous chapter, to which that phrase refers back, indicates that it was a time of great triumph in Abraham's life.

With untrained servants, he had gone out and defeated the armies of four kings. And then at the end of all that, he had conducted himself so nobly before the king of Sodom, refusing to take any reward for his efforts. God had helped him marvellously on both these occasions. Now, in the hour of his triumph, it was so easy for Abraham to feel self-sufficient.

At such a time, God spoke to Abraham and told him that he was going to have a son. And not only that, but God also said that through that son would come a seed that would be like the stars of the heaven for number. It looked almost impossible, but Abraham believed the Lord Genesis The Hebrew word translated "believe" here is " aman " which is the word we use at the end of our prayers: It means, " It shall be so ".

When God told Abraham that he was going to have a son, he replied with an "Amen", meaning in essence, "Lord, I don't know how this is going to take place. But since You have said it, I believe it shall be so. God's promise looked difficult of fulfilment because Sarah was barren. Of course, Abraham himself was still fertile. So there was some hope. In other words, the promise was not exactly impossible , but certainly difficult.

After Abraham heard God's promise, he must have reasoned with himself and said, "Well, I suppose, I should help God out in this situation, since Sarah is barren". And so, he readily accepted Sarah's suggestion to unite with Hagar his maid. He sincerely desired to help God. He felt that God was in a tight spot, having made a promise that could not, humanly speaking, be fulfilled. God's reputation was at stake. And so, to save God out of this awkward situation, Abraham united with Hagar and produced Ishmael!

But God rejected Ishmael as unacceptable, for he was the product of man's self-effort. So much of the motivation for Christian work in our day, alas, arises out of the same carnal reasoning that Abraham had. Believers are told that God is depending on their efforts and that if they let Him down, His purposes will not be fulfilled!

Things apparently have not worked out exactly as God planned and as a result He is in a tight spot now! Some exhortations to Christian service give us the impression that the Almighty is now at His wit's end and is desperately in need of our help! No doubt, God uses human agency for the outworking of His purposes.

He has voluntarily accepted this limitation because He wants us to have the privilege of cooperating with Him in His work. But that certainly does not mean that if we disobey God, His work will remain undone. There is certainly a work for Jesus that we can do; but if we don't do it, He will just pass us by and get someone else to do the job - and we shall miss the privilege of being God's co-workers. Puny men are not going to hinder God from carrying out His program.

That service which has its roots in human energy, fleshly wisdom, human ability and natural talents even at their very best is totally unacceptable to God. Ishmael may be very smart and impressive. But God's answer is. And so with service that originates from ourselves. God did not accept it then and He will not accept it today! If there is any human explanation for our Christian service - if it is merely the result of excellent theological training that our sharp minds have assimilated, or made possible because we have access to enough money to support ourselves in Christian work - then however impressive our work may appear in the eyes of men, it will be burnt up in the day of testing as wood, hay and straw.

That day will reveal the multitude of " Ishmaels " produced by well-meaning Christians, who were never emptied of their self-sufficiency. The only work that will abide for eternity is that which is produced in humble dependence upon the power of God's Holy Spirit. May God help us to learn that lesson now, instead of having regrets at Christ's judgment-seat.

Our self-life is so subtle and so deceitful that it can enter the very sanctuary of God and try to serve Him there. We have to watch that - and put self to death even when it seeks to serve God. God's work has to be a work of faith - that is, one that originates in man's helpless dependence upon God. So it is not a question of how effective our work is in the eyes of men or in our own eyes. The important question is whether our work is the result of the Holy Spirit's working, or our own. God is not so much interested in how much is done, as in the question of whose power has energized the work.

Was the work done by the power of money and intellectual ability, or by the power of the Holy Spirit? This is the real test of a spiritual work, a work of faith. In other words, God is more interested in quality than in quantity. God's true work carries on today, as of old, not by human power or might, but by the power of the Holy Spirit Zechariah 4: We forget this truth to our own peril. Isaac, unlike Ishmael, was not the product of Abraham's strength. Abraham had become sterile by then.

This is clear from Romans 4: Isaac was born through God strengthening impotent Abraham. This is the type of service that lasts for eternity. One "Isaac" is worth a thousand "Ishmaels. All "Ishmaels" will have to be cast out one day. Only Isaac could remain with Abraham. There is a spiritual lesson here. Only that service which is the result of God working through us will remain for eternity.

Everything else will be burnt up. You may have heard the saying, "Only one life, it will soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last. Only that which is " from Him and through Him and to Him " Romans See my book Living As Jesus Lived for a fuller exposition of this. Paul lived and laboured according to God's living and working through him Galatians 2: Hence his life and labours were so effective. He lived by faith and he worked by faith. In the very next verse Genesis We see here a gap of 13 years. Those were years when God waited for Abraham to become impotent. God could not fulfil His promise, till Abraham had become impotent.

That is God's way with all His servants. He cannot work through them till they recognize their impotence. And in some cases, He has to wait for many years. Abraham needed to learn what it really meant to trust God. He had to learn that it was only when he became impotent that he could truly exercise faith. He was strong in faith and glorified God by believing that God was well able to perform what He had promised.

He did not waver in unbelief, for his feet stood firm on the rock of God's Word to him. But when could Abraham exercise such faith? Only when he had come to an end of all confidence in his own ability. We too can exercise real faith only when we reach that state of utter helplessness. This is God's way, so that no flesh may ever glory in His presence. This does not however mean that we do nothing. God does not want us to be reduced to a state of inactivity. That is the other extreme of error. God used Abraham to produce Isaac. God didn't do it all by Himself, for Isaac was not born apart from Abraham doing his part.

But there was a difference between the birth of Ishmael and the birth of Isaac. In both cases, Abraham was the father. But in the first case, it was in dependence upon his own strength; in the second, in dependence upon the power of God. That was the difference - and what a vital difference!

At the end of the thirteen years of waiting, when God appeared to Abraham, He gave him the covenant of circumcision Genesis Circumcision involved a cutting-off and a casting-off of human flesh.

It symbolized a casting off of all confidence in self - as Paul explains in Philippians 3: Notice, that in the very same year that Abraham obeyed God and circumcised himself, Isaac was conceived cf. There is a lesson for us to learn here. God waits until we learn to put no confidence in ourselves and our abilities. And when we finally come to the place where we realize that it is impossible for us in ourselves to serve God and to please Him Romans 8: At the age of 85, the birth of a child to Abraham looked difficult.

By the time he was 99 and impotent, that which had been difficult had now become impossible. Someone has said that in a true work of God, there are three stages - Difficult, Impossible and Done! Human wisdom finds it difficult to follow such reasoning, for spiritual truth is foolishness to the natural mind. But this is God's way. No flesh will ever be able to glory in God's presence, either now or in eternity See 1 Corinthians 1: God is working to the point where finally Christ will have the pre-eminence in all things Colossians 1: If there is going to be some work in Heaven, which lasts for eternity, which has been done by human ingenuity and cleverness, then all through eternity some man will be able to take the credit for it.

But God is going to make sure that it will not be so. All that ministers to human glory will be burnt up at the judgment seat of Christ. Here on earth, men may receive the credit for something they do, but that will all be reduced to ashes before we reach the shores of eternity. One of these days, God will gather up all things in Christ and then throughout eternal ages Christ alone will have the pre-eminence. Jessie Penn-Lewis was a woman whose writings have helped many people understand the way of the cross.

About ten years after her conversion, when seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit, she tells of how she got a terrible revelation. She saw a hand holding up a bundle of filthy rags and a gentle voice saying, "This is the outcome of all your past service for God". She protested that she had been consecrated to the Lord for years.

But the Lord told her that all her service had been merely consecrated SELF - the outcome of her own energy and her own plans. And then she heard one word spoken to her, "Crucified". She had not asked to be crucified, she thought, but to be filled. But she rested on that one word and came to know Jesus as the Risen Lord!! Self must be crucified, before there can be any service that pleases God. We may serve God with all our hearts and then say, "Lord, please accept these Ishmaels that I have produced. He will say "No" now and He will say "No" in eternity.

Let us test ourselves in one area - the area of prayer. Do we really know what it is to pray what the Bible calls " the prayer of faith "? It is only when we come to an end of ourselves that we can pray like that - for true prayer, as O. Hallesby has said, is simply confessing our helplessness to God.

There is no credit in uttering beautiful, eloquent and impressive prayers. Such ordinary praying can be done by anyone - even by a heathen. But the prayer of faith can come only from one who has recognized his impotence and utter helplessness without God. This is what it means to "pray in the Spirit" Ephesians 6: As someone has said, what we need in our day is not more prayer but more answered prayer. Let us not fool ourselves, like the heathen, that God is pleased by our much praying. Prayer has no value before God, if it does not arise out of a recognition of our own impotence.

So little of evangelical Christian work today is a work of faith. We have so many electronic gadgets and other aids to help us in our service for the Lord that many of us are, all unconsciously, depending on them, rather than on the Lord. It appears as though one does not need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, these days, to serve the Lord.

All one needs is a tape-recorder, a few Christian movies, audio-visual aids, and some rich businessmen to provide financial support. If added to these, one also has a dynamic personality and eloquence or a trained singing voice, he can go out and "win souls for Christ"!

How far evangelical Christianity has drifted from the faith of the apostles! What a tragedy that the techniques of the business world have been brought into the sanctuary of God. Let us never be fooled by the apparent success of these methods. We can accumulate statistics of our " conversions ", but we shall realize in eternity that they were spurious. Heaven does not rejoice over our labours, because we have not delivered souls from their self-centredness, but merely entertained them and given them a good time.

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God's way has not changed. Even today, we need to be emptied of our self-sufficiency and filled with the Spirit of God, if we are to produce "Isaacs" that please God. However much such a man may give the appearance of fruitfulness to others, he will stand in eternity like a barren tree, for his work originated in himself and in dependence on human energies and human resources. On the other hand, it says, "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and has made the Lord his confidence.

He is like a tree planted along a riverbank, with its roots reaching deep into the water To change the illustration to the one found in 1 Corinthians 3: One ounce of gold is worth more than a ton of straw after the fire has done its work. Only genuine works of faith will abide in that day of testing.

In Edith Schaeffer's book ' L'Abri ', she recounts how God brought her husband Francis Schaeffer and his co-workers, again and again to a point of utter helplessness. More than once they found no way out of their impasse. The enemies of the gospel almost triumphed at many a point. In their impotence they looked to God to work on their behalf. And He did - not just once or twice, but repeatedly.


  • El manual del ministro (Spanish Edition);
  • Beauty for Ashes: God's Grand Exchange.
  • Fostering Healing and Growth: A Psychoanalytic Social Work Approach.
  • Creating a Sense of Presence in Online Teaching: How to Be There for Distance Learners (Jossey-Bass .
  • Caminar sobre las aguas (Spanish Edition);
  • Rasierte Frauen (German Edition).

This is the type of work - a work of faith - that will remain for eternity. It is not the size of a work that impresses God. The world looks for size and numbers. But God is looking for works of faith - even if they be the size of mustard seeds. And so, when God brings us to an end of ourselves, hedging us in on every side and shattering our hopes, let us take heart!

He is preparing us for greater usefulness by bringing us first to the place of impotence. He's equipping us to produce Isaacs. This was how Jesus prepared His apostles for His service. They were not being coached to write scholarly theses that would earn them doctorates in theology! That's how some people today feel they can be equipped to serve the Lord. But Jesus didn't train His apostles for that.

None of the twelve disciples except perhaps Judas Iscariot! Jesus trained them to learn one lesson primarily - that, without Him they could do nothing John And, I tell you, a man who has learned that lesson is worth more than a hundred theological professors who haven't learnt that lesson. Total dependence upon God is the mark of the true servant of God. In a prophetic reference to Him in Isaiah It is only on those who have come to an end of themselves and emptied themselves of self-confidence and self-sufficiency, that God pours out His Spirit.

Look at some of the remarkable statements that Jesus made, which clearly show how emptied of self He was:.