What God’s Teaching Me Right Now: Reality Check
My devotional life has been strange this year. For the second year in a row, I have read the whole Bible in the first 30 days of the year because you can do anything for 30 days. Following that, I attempted to read the Bible in 90 days, but I ran out of gas. I also really felt convicted that I was spending a lot of time in God’s word but not a lot of time with God. I love His word, but I always want my priority to be Him and His presence. After all, that’s why I read His word: to better know Him, love Him, and obey Him.
Following my devotional life crisis, I have been diving deep into Isaiah. I am attempting to read a chapter of Isaiah and the corresponding section in the New Bible Commentary every day. The NBC is a quick and helpful read that covers the whole Bible in one commentary. You can get it on Logos Bible software for $30! I highly recommend it as it has quite literally become a daily driver for me.
I wanted to plug into Isaiah because during the 30-day Shred, it became clear that I didn’t understand Isaiah very well. (Or maybe just Old Testament prophecy in general.) One of the best things to do when you don’t get something in scripture is to read it more. As you do, it begins to become familiar, and perhaps let something like the New Bible Commentary help you out. I have been amazed at how much I am learning from Isaiah and how vividly it portrays God’s heart for his people, the purpose of his judgment, and the ultimate plan of salvation through Jesus.
A major theme in the book of Isaiah is trust. God is pleading with his people to trust Him and not to place their trust in other gods or alliances with pagan nations. In chapter 7, this theme comes to the surface again. The kingdom of Israel has long been divided, and the Northern Kingdom is coming to battle against the smaller Southern Kingdom of Judah. Ahaz, the King of Judah, is faced with a problem repeated in Isaiah: “Will I trust in God to deliver us from this destruction? Or will I take things into my own hands and try to generate peace and safety for myself?” Isaiah comes to tell Ahaz, “Don’t sweat it! God has got you, and these guys don’t stand a chance!” Instead of God just offering a statement of comfort and confidence to Ahaz, He goes so far as to offer a sign:
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also?
This section in Chapter 7 caught my attention. I often see people getting into trouble for testing God in Scripture. Even when someone like Gideon keeps asking God for a sign, I get a little uneasy reading it, anticipating that God will lose patience with him at any moment. The interesting thing here is that God tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, and Ahaz says he doesn’t need it. You and I might think, “Wow, good for Ahaz. Put him in the Hall of Faith!” But Ahaz also gets in trouble with God! This made me feel like God was being a little unfair to Ahaz, and if there’s a higher standard for faith than that, I’m feeling a little insecure because I’ll take that sweet, sweet sign every time. I might even pull a Gideon and ask for a couple.
I think this response was great evidence that I am more comfortable keeping God in a box like an equation.
[Offer sign + Decline in faith = the favor of God] When I can be sure of the outcomes of my responses when I engage with God, I am more comfortable. Due to His unchanging nature, there are some things you can definitely bank on. For instance, if you approach Him in a genuine fear of the Lord, then you can be sure to find His nearness, compassion, and grace.
But a fact I miss all the time is that God has autonomy. He gets to do what He wants, when He wants. He’s the only free being in the universe after all. I also forget that God doesn’t look at what I look at. I look at Ahaz’s outward statement and see a man of faith. God looks at his heart and knows that he plans to betray God already. God offered a sign to Ahaz because Ahaz was already set to betray God, and a sign would have given him the opportunity to turn and repent. Ahaz denies even the opportunity to turn back from his course of action. Thus, he gets in trouble.
Isaiah has made something clear to me over and over again: God sees straight through you and me, so it makes no sense to pretend. I spend so much time trying to say the right things like Ahaz, putting on a good show while I already have it in my heart to rebel against God.
I think that a core aspect of sin is escaping into fantasy. The allure of sin is always to “be your own god” (BYOg), and that’s a fantasy to begin with because you and I are the created, not the Creator. So, if sin is living in a fantasy, I think this situation with Ahaz makes it clear that God lives in reality. If we choose to live in the reality of the actual state of our marriage, addiction, recovery, relationships, parenting, and so on, he will be faithful to meet us there and bridge over those gaps with his Spirit and grace. But, if we continue to live in a fantasy, pretending that we have it all together, then I don’t know how we can expect to have an intimate relationship with our Savior when our whole lives demonstrate that we don’t need a savior.
I think this explains the variable in God’s response. His response is ultimately the same as to those who are faithless and ask for a sign. In this case, Ahaz was faithless in declining a sign. God lives in reality, and if you and I want to live with Him, then we need to live in reality too.
Fortunately for me and Ahaz, God responds to this rebellion by choosing a sign for himself, and that sign is Jesus. For all who are willing to admit the reality of their sin and turn in faith to Jesus, He is faithful to forgive, redeem, and restore.
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
I am encouraged to increasingly lean into offering God the real story of where I am at in prayer, confession, and repentance, knowing that He doesn’t love us because we’re all cleaned up. He loves to clean us up and forgive us if only we ask. True repentance takes a reality check. A true relationship with God requires living in reality on a regular basis. Let’s show Him all of our cards because He already knows what’s in our hands and hearts; it’s just up to us to own up to it.