I still have many friends who are hyper-Calvinists. To hear them speak, and to read their periodicals, one then realizes that they view the world as a stage. Men and women are merely players on that stage who speak their pre-written lines and act out their prescribed roles likes puppets on Divine strings. God does everything, writes the script’s monologues and dialogues, lays out every action and reaction, and we on the stage of life simply go through the motions. No more and no less.
In hyper-Calvinism, everything is Divinely pre-orchestrated and pre-arranged. It all reminds me of the story of the hyper-Calvinist who fell down the steps, and when he was able to get up and dust himself off he said, “Whew, I am sure glad that is over.”
On the other end of the spectrum, I also have friends who seem to think that life is all up to us. God gets the play started by lifting up the curtain on His creation, and then He goes off for coffee somewhere and everything from then on is all human improvisation. God will come back one day to bring the curtain down, but in between, we write the lines and wing each act of the drama. Everything, even the minutest and most fickle future uncertainties are under man’s control. Man alone determines whether he sinks or swims in the ocean of life. In this view, everything is spontaneously performed on earth by man. This sounds very much like Deism.
We have seen briefly both extreme ends of the spectrum. But I am afraid that the question or questions still remain, “How does God work in our lives? How does He answer our prayers?” Or if you will, to put it in the language of a theologian:
“HOW DOES OUR TRANSCENDENT GOD BREAK INTO
An honest investigation of the Word of God strongly teaches that there is not just one pattern, but several patterns by which God works. Not to be sensitive to God’s several and diverse methods of working in our lives and answering our prayers, and not to preach them as the whole counsel of God to our people, will leave them intellectually confused, spiritually impoverished, and emotionally chaotic. They will hopelessly and needlessly spend their entire lives with the complaint of the disciples:
“We have toiled all night and have caught nothing.”
I. DIVINE INTERVENTION
Here God is directly and, we might say, singularly reaching down and taking His struggling and suffering children out of the tough circumstances and the painful circumstances out of their lives. He changes the situation completely. This is the method of God’s working that we like the best.
This is usually what we refer to as a miracle! The word miracle today has lost its Divine glory and exalted status, because there are so many who go around acting is if they can both schedule and manufacture miracles. Miracle service three weeks from today at 7:00 p.m.! Man schedules God’s miracles when and where he dictates. God had better show up on time and do what we have outlined for Him to do. Tragic!
Miracles are solely the prerogatives and performances of Heaven. They are not human inventions, but strictly Divine Interventions. Thank God for them, for as there have been, there will always be those difficult and even terrifying events and circumstances in the natural that are uncorrectable and immovable without the direct intervention of the supernatural.
If I were to think of a Biblical model for this particular pattern of God’s working in our lives, it would be found in the well known Exodus 14. When the Israelites had finally been set free from the iron-grinding jaws of that long and cruel four-hundred-year-bondage in Egypt under Pharaoh by the blood of the lambs, they then found themselves trapped between the armies of Pharaoh and the Red Sea. If you will, between the Devil and the deep blue (red) sea. Their brief festival of freedom appeared concluded, as their old nemesis licked their chops over such an easy and irresistible target.
And in that moment out of their weakness and fear, being laughed at and intimidated by their enemies, they not only cried out to God (Exodus 14:10) but they also complained to Moses and accused him of getting them into such a mess (Exodus 14:11-12).
So it is, that when our self-interests are opposed or our very lives threatened, it often brings the worst out in us as we quarrel with God and find fault with someone who must bear the blame. Nothing new here! Celebration can so quickly become pouting and complaining in our lives. We lose our way in the walk of faith when even a small pile of nails in our path totally throws our faith compass out of whack.
It was in their moment of terror, complaining and unbelief that Moses spoke to the Israelites those powerfully famous and gracious words found in Exodus 14:13-14,
“…Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord which He will
accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have
seen today you will never see them again forever. The
Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
We know the story too well. The Red Sea before them divided and the mighty waters parted as all of the Israelites went through the walls of water upon dry ground to safety. All of the armies of Pharaoh, that well oiled military machine, had their wheels fall off their chariots as they pursued the Israelites. There they were, clueless and wheelless, and to God they were an irresistible target. God then goes in for the kill and drowned them as the walls of water came back together and swallowed them up. Now you see them, now you don’t!
Those Egyptians never saw the Israelites again, and the Israelites never saw those Egyptians again. Pharaoh never saw Moses again, and Moses never saw Pharaoh again. It was just as Moses had promised. The long and seemingly never ending “Egyptian Ordeal” for the Israelites was now finally over.
All that God demanded of them was that they shut their complaining mouth and keep silent. When the irritating and clanking sounds of their accusations and criticisms stopped, the “Divine Intervener” went to work. Listen:
“THERE ARE THOSE TIMES THAT WE MUST LEARN TO SHUT UP
SO THAT GOD WILL SHOW UP.”
The truth of the Word of God is that the “Almighty Arm of Divine Power” is not shortened, but that God today is as ready and able to supernaturally intervene and save His people now as He did then. He is the God of miraculous intervention for His people. No one can stand against our God, not even death, even when death is not only our fear but our sure expectation, as it was in this case of the Israelites.
However, death was not only their fear and their expectation, it was their conviction So we read about them earlier murmuring and negatively confessing death in Exodus 14:12,
“…For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than
to die in the wilderness.”
They had complained and reacted like infidels, striking first at Moses and tacitly at God Himself. But God Who keeps covenant with His people, delivered them anyway. Unbelievers would say, “We cheated death again.” Christians say, “God kept covenant again.” I think of what II Timothy 2:13 states so ingloriously about us and so gloriously about God:
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.”
The message of the Bible is never primarily about our faith, but about His faithfulness. I have never once prayed with perfect faith, but He has responded in perfect faithfulness over an over again.
Of course, this again is the one that we like – swift and favorable Divine Intervention. That is how we think of God, particularly in childhood. In fact, such a God-concept, which is very Biblical, goes all the way back to infancy. When we were babies and we were hungry, we cried our eyes out and the big people came with a breast or a bottle, and there was instant intervention and deliverance from hunger pains. The hunger-fit was relieved and the crying ceased. That is what big people do for us, and that is what the bigger God does too.
Or again, when we were babies and our diapers were soiled, we made the appropriate noises (as everyone here did), and there was immediate outside intervention as one of the big people came, cleaned us up, and took away our discomfort. That is how big people responded to our needs, and that is what we expect of the bigger God too.
Furthermore, there may be many here who as children like myself, went to Sunday School all of their young lives, and were told stories over and over again about people like Daniel and Lazarus and God’s direct and “Miraculous Interventions” in their lives. It all took deep root in us, and that is how we view God and His involvement in our circumstances from childhood on. Biblical stuff! Good stuff! Our favorite stuff!
I am sure that this is why this is the first model of God’s working in our lives that I thought of. As a matter of fact, if we were to go around the congregation in this sanctuary this morning, most of you could tell of situations in which God miraculously and directly intervened. I too praise God that I have personally seen the dead raised, as well as God heal the almost dead and comatose in a moment. And the next moment they were sitting up in their bed having nourishment as if nothing had ever been wrong let alone critically wrong. That is the way I tend to think about God working in our lives. I have always thought that way about God. I always will!
Strange thing though is what I read the Psalmist David saying about these incredible interventions by God. Strange but not foreign! He writes about God’s direct deliverances and the reactions of those who He delivered in Psalm 126:1 in the KJV,
“When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were
like them that dream.”
I think I get it, because I have been there too. The miraculous things that God does for us are often so far beyond our expectations before He does them, that after He does them we can hardly believe the reality of what He has done. God seemingly can’t win with us. His interventiona are so astonishing that we question the reports of our own eyeballs and eardrums. If you will:
“IT IS SO ASTONISHINGLY AWESOME THAT WE DISBELIEVE THE
INFORMATION OF OUR OWN SENSES. IT IS AS IF WE ARE
DREAMING, SUSPENDED BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH. “
I have been there myself, as I stood before a man in my first pastorate who had died and who God brought back from the dead. I too thought that I was looking at fantasy rather than fact. These direct and authentic interventions of Almighty God are too great for any finite created mind to process or human hands to manufacture. And so too when we tell other people what has happened, they have that incredulous look on their faces which tells us that they think we have manufactured the entire fairy tale.
II. DIVINE INTERACTION
We much prefer to yank God down by His ankle to our circumstances by our prayers and have Him go into action all by Himself. However, God often lifts us up by the nap of our necks and puts us into action with Him, even though we more often than not don’t even realize what is happening.
It is the unlikely marriage of “Divine Sovereignty” and “Human Responsibility.” When thinking of a Biblical model for this modus operandi of God and man interacting, I think back again to God and Moses in Exodus 3 and 4. When God plans His partnerships with man to accomplish His Divine designs, He orchestrates things in that man’s life from all eternity, and then they begin to unfold the moment he is conceived.
You know the story well, and if you don’t, you can read it in Exodus 2:1-5. Incredible how all of the hinges of the several doors of Divine providence in Moses’ life opened at the right time, each one opening to the great door leading to God partnering with Moses and their Divine-Human Interaction to save the Israelites from Pharaoh.
When Pharaoh the King of Egypt commanded that all of the Jewish boy babies be thrown into the Nile River and drowned, Moses’ mother, who couldn’t hide her son any longer, prepared a wicker basket for her tiny 3 month old baby boy and hid him in the reeds along the bank of the river. It happened like clock work, right on time. Not a minute too soon and not a minute too late.
Had not that little ship been carried to the water in the very place and at that very moment where and when Pharaoh’s daughter came down to the river side, the child would have eventually been destroyed by drowning with all the others. There was a hair’s breath between him and certain destruction.
Moses’ life was a series of interactive miracles, and in this case Moses’ mother and Pharaoh’s daughter were God’s interactive partners. How many interactive partners with God have there been in your life and mine that saved us from temporal and eternal destruction?
“GOD NOT ONLY EXCEEDS HIS PEOPLE’S EXPECTATIONS BY HIS
INTERVENTIONS, BUT BADLY MESSES UP ENEMY
PLANS THROUGH HIS INTERACTIONS.”
Then in Moses’ midlife, when God decided he had matured, and now was seasoned and ready, the Lord came to Him and said to him in Exodus 3:10,
“Therefore come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may
bring my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”
Moses said to God in Exodus 3:11,
“…Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the
sons of Israel out of Egypt?”
Then God said to Him in Exodus 3:12,
“…Certainly I will be with you….”
Finally the Israelites were delivered as a result of God’s working with Moses, and Moses working with God. God teamed up with Moses as a hit squad specializing in plague-warfare against the Egyptians in order to set free God’s chosen nation of hostages.
Never before or since has one nation been so catastrophically hit with calamity after calamity in such a short period of time as was ancient Egypt under Pharaoh. Search the annals of history, run over all the records of antiquity, and give it a parallel if you can. I seriously doubt if anyone can. The tenfold pummeling of Egypt had the signature of Almighty God stamped on every blow. They were far too great for any finite created agent such as Moses to pull off by Himself. Divine-Human Interaction! Or should we say, God in action allowing Moses to enter in and mostly go along for the ride.
Quickly in this interactive method of God and man, I must be reminded of the great New Testament model of this pattern found for us in Matthew 28:18-20 in what we call “The Great Commission.” The Great Commission is sandwiched in between two glorious attributes of God. Jesus says in Matthew 28:18,
“…All authority has been given unto me….”
Then Matthew 28:19
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations….”
It is abundantly clear that:
“THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE SAVED UNLESS YOU AND I GET
INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS WITH GOD.”
I will never forget in my first senior pastorate hearing the parsonage doorbell ring, and there stood a young pastor who introduced himself as Pastor Jay from Skunkhollow, MI. I didn’t know it but Skunkhollow was nearby, and was a poverty stricken rural community riddled with alcoholism. He got right to the point and asked me if I would join him in Friday night ministry in the area’s bars, such as The Embassy and The Yellow Jacket. I was stunned and sat there with a mouth full of teeth. I said I would pray about it, and he said that he would see me Friday night.
Before I knew what was happening, that very Friday night there he was dressed in a Catholic priest black shirt with that plastic snap in white collar. He also had one for me, and what was worse, it fit. The next thing I knew, we were in the bars witnessing to the customers about Jesus, as we played pool for Christ.
Pastor Jay was also a pool hustler, and would take on and beat all comers. Then half way through the games, I can still hear him say to the drinking competition, “Well brothers, you are losing at pool, but how would you like to learn to win in life?” Then he would share Jesus with them, and Pastor Jay from Skunkhollow would lead them in the sinner’s prayer and bring them to Jesus in the pool room of the bar. I could feel Jesus standing there with us in His interactive love and power. I never experienced His presence like I did that night. it changed my life and ministry forever.
The next thing I knew, one Sunday morning the bar owner and his wife, and the bartender and his girlfriend were sitting on the front row of my church. Tragically there were some of my people who recognized them.
In short, we must remember this great interactive principle:
“IF GOD DID EVERYTHING FOR US, HE WOULD BRING US INTO
ANOTHER KIND OF SLAVERY, AND WE WOULD NEVER
BECOME WHAT HE HAS DESIGNED US TO
BECOME IN CHRIST.”
III. DIVINE INNERVENTION
Here God does not by swift intervention change the circumstances. Nor in this method of working does God interactively deliver us or others out of the circumstances. Rather, here:
“GOD LEAVES US WHERE WE ARE IN THE MIDST OF OUR
CIRCUMSTANCES, AS HE WORKS A MIRACLE
INSIDE OUR HEARTS.”
Divine Innervention! As we have already seen, the Apostle Paul asked the Lord three times for Divine Intervention in his circumstances to take to the thorn out of his flesh. In other words, Paul petitioned the Lord, more like pleaded with the Lord, to change those circumstances, to deliver him out of that situation, and to heal his flesh problem.
God did nothing of the sort. He totally skipped over method #1 – INTERVENTION, and He also passed over method #2 – INTERACTION, and in Paul’s case He majored in method #3 – INNERVENTION. Divine prerogative, though certainly not human preference!
God did not change Paul’s circumstances. He didn’t even allow Paul to make a difference in those circumstances. However, God did something beautiful and powerful in Paul that made the huge difference in his life in the midst of his circumstances.
Because of God’s Innervention Paul found and threw himself upon the all-sufficient grace of God giving him an enabling strength within himself in the midst of a weakened condition that he would have never discovered had God intervened or interacted. For God the ALL WISE AND ALL POWERFUL INNERVENER told Paul that this would be not only His program for him, but that he would find the following in II Corinthians 12:9 to be absolutely and gloriously true in his thorny life:
“…My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness….”
I have hugely appreciated over the years of my life the words of George Matheson in this regard:
“MY GOD, I HAVE NEVER THANKED THEE FOR MY THORNS. I HAVE
THANKED THEE A THOUSAND TIMES FOR MY ROSES, BUT
NOT ONCE HAVE I THANKED THEE FOR MY THORNS.”
GET COMPENSATEDFOR MY CROSS, BUT I HAVE NEVER
THOUGHT OF MY CROSS AS MY PRESENT GLORY.”
MY THORN. SHOW ME THAT I HAVE CLIMBED TO THEE BY
THEPATH OF PAIN. SHOW ME THAT MY TEARS HAVE
MADE MY RAINBOW.”
You are allowed to cry tears of gratitude to God right about now for thorns and crosses in your life. Perhaps for the first time! I will join you.
I close with the prophet Isaiah’s famous words as he writes to the Jewish exiles in Isaiah 40:31 (KJV),
“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall
mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary;
“They that wait upon the Lord shall first walk. Secondly, they shall run.
Third they shall mount up with wings as eagles.”
If you will, Isaiah’s critics would rather that those who wait on the Lord would first walk, then run, and then fly. My response is that Isaiah is not after poetic structure, but prose fact. More than that, I think that Isaiah is on to a great truth that so many have not only missed in His writing, but in their lives. That fact is that Isaiah did save the best and most important for last – walking and not fainting.
When we first come to the Lord and fellowship with Him, we are flying high and soaring on the wings of the Holy Spirit. Along life’s way He also gives us those “spiritual highs” that are so awesome and exhilarating from time to time. Thank God for them! Those moments of exalting in the Lord and finding Him to be our unspeakable and totally exhilarating delight! We are not only on spiritual mountain peaks, but we are soaring on eagle’s wings above them. It is absolutely supernatural “Divine Intervention” as He lifts us higher than we ever thought possible.
Then there are those times when in our fellowship with the Lord, and our waiting upon Him in meditation and prayer, He reveals to us so much all at once as to what He is doing, and what He wants to get done through us, that we have to run just to keep up with Him in our thoughts let alone our deeds. We find ourselves running in high gear without weariness for remarkably long and extended periods of time. And when we finally look back at what had been accomplished, we know that it was not us, but chiefly “God Interacting” with us to get done for His Kingdom what needed to be done.
But the ultimate and greatest victory is when we walk and don’t faint. Why? Because it is the long haul, the day to day repetitive and even monotonous routines that can take the biggest toll on us. There is no job that does not contain huge chucks of boredom and wearing routine. No amount of pep talks or self-psyching on the job or in the house is going to make driving the truck, milking the cows, cleaning the greasy dishes, vacuuming the rugs, dusting the unending dust catchers etc. anything other than humdrum chores. Walk here, walk there, walk everywhere, walk, walk, walk!
Raising up, reading to and reprimanding our children is no walk in the park either. Constant demands, and even on vacation the little buggers are still there. It never goes away, all of that constant busyness which only seems to fill but never escapes unending time. Fatigue, boredom, and the drab routine of life would suck the strength out of us if were not for “God’s Innervention.” This may be indeed the greatest miracle of all, that the Lord inwardly renews our strength day by day and moment by moment, so that we can keep on walking without fainting.
Life you see is not primarily a flight. Nor is life primarily a sprint. It is primarily an unending walk. So I have come to the conclusion that life is not primarily about Divine Intervention, though praise God for it when it happens. Nor is life primarily about Divine Interaction, though praise God for it as we could accomplish nothing worthwhile without it. But life is primarily about Divine Innervention, for life is mostly about continuous and repetitious routine, with glorious moments of rapture sprinkled in along the way. When we feel that we can’t put one foot in front of the other, somehow:
“IN OUR WEAKNESS HIS STRENGTH IS PERFECTED.”
If you will:
“HALLELUJAH TO OUR INNERVENING GOD.”