Believing is Not Believing

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Bible.com

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

1 John 3:18

Last night my church group discussed what it means to truly love someone as God commands us to. As the Bible.com devotional video describes, the word “love” can get thrown around and misused, but what does it really mean? The Bible describes love not merely as an emotion, but actions that come from the results of a changed heart. Love comes up a lot in the Bible, and we are warned that whatever we do, we must do in love, otherwise it is meaningless.

For some of us, love is a word that makes us shudder. It’s a word that can be used to manipulate, to justify harmful behaviour, and to control. “If you really loved me…” “You know I love you, but…”We love each other, so….” The perversion of this concept can make it difficult to conceive of God’s love and how we are to show it to others, and to ourselves. But the good news is that we don’t have to fake an emotion that we don’t feel. We just have to act, and maybe the emotions of compassion and empathy and forgiveness and maybe even affection will follow. But it’s possible that in some relationships it never will – we are still called to love those whom we don’t get along with or who mistreat us. We can say we love God, but what do people see when they look at us? The wandering Israelites might provide an interesting example.

Our Daily Bread

You, Lord, preserve both people and animals.

Psalm 36:6

The verse of the day from Our Daily Bread comes from Psalms, describing how God takes care of his creations, from humans to animals. The devotion expanded this concept to include the idea that Jesus pointed out in Matthew that even the flowers of the field are looked after. Even though everything has a short lifespan here on Earth, God has paid special attention to everything that he made, even to the things that will be used as food or fodder.

In our Old Testament reading, Moses is giving a recaps of the Israelites greatest hits as he explains the laws and history to them before he dies. I actually find myself really liking the book of Deuteronomy a lot better than Numbers. A couple of ideas that stood out to me are not to forget about God when we’re rich and our bellies are full and we have everything we want. Also the fact that God doesn’t help us or do anything for us because we are good, but because He is good. We can’t boast about anything! Even the richest of the rich are only that way because God allows it. He could take it all away and give it to the poorest of the poor in a second if He wanted to, and He very well might.

Moses gives summaries of all the ways that the Israelites have turned against God, over and over. I’ve had this conversation a few times with others as we try to say that we would have done better than the Israelites and actually listened to God. How dumb are they! How could they see God’s miracles and all the ways He snuffed people out and still they believe that they can get away with anything!

The Israelites would profess with their words that they would follow and love and obey God, but their actions, and what other nations could see of them, told a completely different story.

Moses loved his people a lot, despite the grief that they caused him. Sometimes he complained to God in the same way that they did, asking why He doesn’t just kill him. But despite those words, Moses’ actions still demonstrate the love he had for the Israelites. I was struck in this reading by how Moses apparently spent forty days praying for them so that God wouldn’t destroy them. Have you ever spent forty days praying non-stop? Has anything ever been that important to you, that you would drop everything just to pour out to God? Not me. Those are some actions I can’t even fathom.

At Young Adults group we continue reading in the book of James. We talked about how believing in God and following or submitting to God are very different. Even the demons believe in God. Of course they do. They were once angels who served him and saw him face-to-face. But just like the Israelites, they believed that they could do better on their own. They know God’s power, and they trembled at it, yet it is not enough to make them turn from their sins, just like the Israelites. This happens to a lot of people in the Bible stories – even though they have witnessed God’s power firsthand, it is still not enough to make them believe and trust in Him.

Even though the Israelites were cared for by God, and He provided for them in the way He’s described in Psalms and Matthew, the Israelites still didn’t believe in his goodness and love, and that He would do what He said. Or, even if they did believe, they thought their own ideas were better, or maybe they just didn’t care what happened to them. Even though they were provided for in miraculous ways, and they had food and water and their clothes didn’t even wear out after 40 years, it still wasn’t enough.

The New Testament reading in the book of Mark echoes this. The Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law continue to harangue Jesus, even though they have seen firsthand his mighty miracles and doubtless heard about those that they hadn’t seen themselves. Despite all this, and even knowing that they were wrong not to believe John the Baptist, they still believe in themselves and their own ideas more than what the prophecies and their eyes are telling them. They are relying on their own understanding, which is so limited compared to God that it is laughable.

Yet I’ve been doing that, too. Now, after a few turns around the sun a couple of times reading the Old Testament, I’m finally realizing that I am just like the Israelites. I groan every time they do something stupid, again, despite what happened to Korah and the Kohathites, despite the poisonous snakes and diseases and slaughter that God brings down on them when they disobey, and then they just go right back to complaining and rebelling again. It’s like, come on, what are you guys even doing?”

In Conclusion

Now when I read about the constant back and forth with the Israelites rebelling, I’m asking myself whether I’ve been doing the same thing. I’ve been learning to rely only on God the last year or so, and even when I think I’ve learned my lesson not to be anxious about anything, but to bring everything to the Lord in prayer and thanksgiving, I remember that I didn’t trust God with a certain part of my life today. I got caught up in worry about my love life and my family. Anxiety about where I’m going to get food. Anxiety about having enough money to pay rent or other bills that keep piling up. A constant concern about whether someone might be angry with me, or whether my business is going to fail, or whether I’m going to get enough sleep, whether my son will grow up to be a good person, whether I’m doing enough for the Kingdom, and on and on. Sometimes this worry becomes procrastination or even an all-out mental breakdown where I can no longer function, then everything gets worse and really does start to fall apart. . God doesn’t just warn us about worry because complaining is annoying, but because it causes us to separate from Him and go our own way, often in ways that aren’t good for us or those around us. Even though God has never let me fall, I still feel like I’m walking on a tightrope above a chasm, and I can’t even see where I’m headed or when I’ll be getting off. Sometimes I plunge myself down because I can’t deal with the uncertainty anymore. But when I trust God, I can walk it as though it were flat ground.

And then something else happens, and I rinse, wash and repeat. Because even though I’ve seen that God is good, my memory is short, and He needs to keep reminding me so that I truly believe, and feel that sweet, delicious peace that is becoming more and more a part of my life. That way, the love and peace that He grants me will translate not only in the words I speak and write, but in the actions I carry out in my life.

Seeing is not believing. Believing is not believing. Surrender is believing.

Try to spend a bit of time in the word every day! It will be amazing, confusing, uplifting, perplexing, and at times disturbing – just like life, and so much better when you’re holding God’s hand.

For daily Bible verse breakdowns and more, go to http://www.bible.com. Don’t forget to download the app!

For a daily guide and devotionals on how to get through the Bible in a year, go to http://www.ourdailybread.ca

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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13

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