Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Faith to Overcome Our Fears


Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in World War II and put in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, he was stripped of everything: property, family, possessions, and a manuscript he had spent years researching and writing on finding meaning in life. The manuscript had been sewn into the lining of his coat. "Now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a spiritual child of my own," Frankl wrote. "I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning." A few days later, the Nazis forced the prisoners to give up what little clothing they still wore. "I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber," said Frankl. "Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, which contained the Jewish prayer 'Shema Yisrael' (Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.) "How should I have interpreted such a 'coincidence' other than as a challenge to 'live' my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?" Frankl later reflected on his ordeal in Man's Search for Meaning, saying, "There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is meaning in one's life.... He who has a 'why' to live for can bear almost any 'how.' " [Based on Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning]

Frankl was faced with the most difficult of circumstances. We humans come to face to face with such situations from time to time. We come back to the next chapter in Elijah’s life and ministry (1 Kings 18:1ff)and we see that he is finally going to confront King Ahab concerning all of the evil he has done. God commands that this event take place, and along with this, the Lord will end the drought that has punished the land and the people for over three years. Now, a person named Obadiah arrives on the scene. He is a high royal official and steward of the king of Israel. But, he is also a courageous servant of the Lord. One would have to be exceedingly faithful…or crazy…in order to serve in such a place with such a wicked man. But, much like with Esther, the Lord has put Obadiah in the palace to use His God-given authority to do God’s will. And he has already proved his loyalty to the Lord by risking his life to save a hundred prophets of the Lord when Queen Jezebel was on the extermination trail.

The king and Obadiah are searching the countryside for any grass or such that could be used to feed the horses and mules used in the army. It is interesting to contrast Ahab’s self-righteousness with David, who repented when there was famine in the land for three years (2 Samuel 21:1). Ahab isn’t particularly concerned about the people of the land…he just wants to be certain that his army is strong enough to repel any invaders. It is amazing that the king is willing to leave the safety and comfort of his palace to scour the land for food for the animals. Furthermore, as a side note, it seems as if Ahab is actually something of a better person when not in the direct presence of his supremely evil wife and queen, Jezebel.

Meanwhile, the Lord leads Elijah down the road that Obadiah is traveling. Obadiah recognizes Elijah, and has such reverence for him that he falls on his face prostrate toward him. Elijah discloses his goal immediately to Obadiah, and it is to find the wicked king, but he isn’t about to go looking for him, so he commissions Obadiah to go and tell the king where he is located. Obadiah is between a rock and a hard place. He has every desire to obey the Lord through Elijah, but he believes going back to the king will be problematic to say the least. If Ahab has proven anything, it is that he is unpredictable and unstable. Ahab has been searching for Elijah for three years, so he is not going to want another false lead. Obadiah fears that he will be punished or killed by the king if something goes wrong…and this includes the fact that the paranoid king might suspect him of being a follower of Elijah’s God. Much like Jonathan who had to navigate the choppy waters between his father, King Saul and his best friend, David, so Obadiah is going to have to face his fear, trust in Elijah. And even more so, trust in the God who has protected him as well as his servant Elijah for three years. Elijah’s assurance that he will remain there and wait for the king has to give him some peace. So, Obadiah goes and delivers the message. We really do not know the “rest of the story”, but I believe it is safe to assume that Obadiah survives his meeting, as most Jewish historians believe that it is this Obadiah who is the author of the Old Testament Book of Obadiah. We can rest assured that if we are faithful like Elijah and Obadiah, there will be times when the Lord will ask to go to difficult places and deal with challenging situations in order to better ourselves and the kingdom of God.

Theologian and popular speaker, Francis Chan, offers this -- The truth is that the Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be. This often incredibly painful process strips you of selfishness, pride, and fear. For a powerful example of this, read in C. S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader about the boy, Eustace, who becomes a dragon. In order to become a little boy again, he must undergo a tremendous amount of pain as the dragon skin is peeled away and torn from him. Only after he endures this painful process is he truly transformed from a dragon back into a boy. Sometimes the sin we take on becomes such a part of us that it requires this same kind of ripping and tearing to free us. The Holy Spirit does not seek to hurt us, but He does seek to make us Christlike, and this can be painful. (Francis Chan. Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (pp. 50-51). Kindle Edition.)

Elijah has been down a challenging road for three plus years, and now, his mission is about to change in a dramatic way, which we will explore next time. In relationship to his plight, and Obadiah’s, we may not always understand why we find ourselves in certain circumstances, but we must know that the Lord has a plan to see us through…and this is in order that we learn and grow to be more like His son. We can choose to respond to challenges with fear, and this happens to us from time to time. But, when we trust in faith, we are able to experience the full benefit of blessing from the Lord. But, one final thought to consider…Bill Hybels shares this – “Every single day we make choices that show whether we are courageous or cowardly. We choose between the right thing and the convenient thing, sticking to a conviction or caving in for the sake of comfort, greed or approval. We choose either to take a carefully thought-out risk or to crawl into a shrinking shell of safety, security and inactivity. We choose either to believe in God and trust him (even when we do not always understand his ways) or we second-guess him and cower in the corners of doubt and fear.” Bill Hybels, Who Are You (When No One’s Looking)

Blessings, Don

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