Episode 1. The Place of Power
We all want power – of one sort or another. Power to be free, power to live life to the full, power to overcome difficulties and obstacles. But God’s power – the sort He promises to each person who places their life in His hands through Jesus His Son – is so much better than […]
We all want power – of one sort or another. Power to be free, power to live life to the full, power to overcome difficulties and obstacles. But God’s power – the sort He promises to each person who places their life in His hands through Jesus His Son – is so much better than anything this world has to offer.
The Power We Already Have
It’s an exciting thing for me; the beginning of a new series of messages today and I’ve called this series, “Discovering the Power of God”. Anyone who believes in God knows that not only is He all loving, He is also all powerful, by definition. If God is indeed God; if He created the whole universe, then look around at this creation – He must be all powerful. Powerful in fact, beyond anything we could ever imagine. The question is: if this God is so powerful, can He, will He bring some of that power to bear in order to address the problems in our lives – my life and your life?
Because as huge and as mighty and as awesome as this God is supposed to be, you and I have a life to lead, down here on this earth – on this tiny rock, hurtling through space at eleven thousand kilometres or six and a half thousand miles each second. We have problems that confront us in life that are simply too big, too overwhelming for us to deal with. Now how does a mother deal with the loss of her child? How do a man and woman cope with the breakdown of their marriage? What do we do when there isn’t enough money to pay the mortgage or put food on the table?
It’s great to talk about the power of God – fantastic God, that You are so powerful – but sometimes we need some of that power. Is it accessible to us? Is it open to us and if so, how can we get it when we need it? Because when we are confronted by circumstances way beyond our ability even to cope, let alone to overcome, then God’s power is precisely what you and I need.
So, exactly how powerful is God? Well, consider this about God’s power: the universe is so big that with all our technology we simply can’t see to its outer limits, in fact, it may not have any outer limits. It may well go on for ever. But so far, given what we can see, what we know, what we can deduce, scientists calculate that from one side to the other side of the universe – the known universe – is about one hundred and fifty billion light years. Now that’s a big number to be sure, but what exactly does it mean?
Well, if you were to fly in the fastest rocket ship that we have invented so far, which rockets on through space at fifty thousand kilometres per hour, it would take roughly three thousand, two hundred and thirty eight trillion years to go from one side of the known universe to the other, which is pretty much forever.
So this God who created the universe has power that we can’t begin to comprehend. And then there’s little old you and me, fighting the battles of life here on this earth, that we fight, struggling through the struggles, wondering whether this God would ever, could ever give us just one little smidgen, one little drop of this immense, this infinite power. Well? And here’s the thing about our battles and our struggles – so often we are fighting against the odds. And it doesn’t seem to matter at all how powerful God may or may not be because our problem; our issue; our adversary; our dilemma is so close and it seems so big – and it seems that either God has forgotten about us or He is too busy to help us or maybe, just maybe, this problem of ours is even too big for God.
Ever felt that way? I have! And laying hold of the power of God has been one of the great challenges in my walk with Jesus. I’ll tell you why – because in this ministry that produces the radio programmes just like the one that you are listening to right now, even though these programmes are heard by millions of people each week, we started out with nothing; no money, no radio stations to take the programmes that we produced. Me, I had never done this before! And can I tell you, as I have travelled this journey over a good many years now, my natural instinct from time to time, has been to panic. Because I am human just like you and so as we do God’s work, the obstacles we confront seem so great. How are we ever going to deal with this one, or that one? Oh, panic!! Isn’t that what we do?
And I’m sharing this with you because I never, ever want you to imagine that just because I’m the guy on the radio, I don’t have any of these problems or frailties. And so I have had to learn and I’m still learning to lay hold of God’s power in the realities of life, just the same way as this is something that you need to learn too. We are human, we want to rely on the things that we can see and touch and feel but God … God wants us to rely on Him.
And so over these next few weeks, we are going to discover precisely how to do that … how to lay hold of the power; the awesome power of God, when we are confronted by insurmountable odds. And we are going to do that through the story of Gideon in the Old Testament.
But before we go there, I would like to share with you something the Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus. Ephesians chapter 1, in the New Testament. Have a listen to this:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:17-20)
So what Paul is saying here to the Ephesians is that his prayer for them as they get to know God better and better; as He reveals Himself to them more and more and more, is that they would know the hope, the riches and the immeasurable greatness of His power that they already have because they believe in Jesus – the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
As one of my lecturers years ago at Bible College said, Barry Chant, he said those original Greek words which we now translate into the English – “the immeasurable greatness of His power”, if we were to take those Greek words and kind of anglicise them just a tad, they would come out sounding something like this: the hyperbalistic, megathonic, dynamic power.
So here is the starting point in laying hold of God’s power when we are facing incredible odds. We don’t need to ask God for the power because we already have it. We need to ask God to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to open and enlighten the eyes of our heart so that we can see the hyperbalistic, megathonic, dynamic power that He has already given us through our faith in Jesus Christ.
And that my friend, when I realised that, it blew me completely away! All this time, I’d been moping around wondering whether God would lend me just a bit of His power, when all along, there it was, right under my nose.
Just in the Wrong Place
Okay, great! God’s power is right here under our noses but how do we lay hold of that power amidst the struggles of life – that’s the question? And that’s a problem that Israel, God’s chosen people, faced over and over again. So let’s explore that question through the story of God and Gideon because Gideon was called by God to fight a battle of absolutely impossible odds. And it’s a battle in which he had a great victory but whilst victory is always fantastic to celebrate in hindsight, a great victory invariably involves impossible odds. In fact, God specialises in impossible odds! And so, there it was that the Israelites found themselves facing impossible odds.
There they were, God’s chosen people, being oppressed by another nation. It wasn’t fair; it wasn’t what God had promised them. Why was this happened? Why is it that God is not showing up in power to deliver us? Well, the answer was simple: the Israelites were just in the wrong place. Let’s have a listen. This comes from the Book of Judges chapter 6:
The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for seven years. The hand of Midian prevailed over Israel; and because of Midian the Israelites provided for themselves hiding places in the mountains, caves and strongholds.
For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the East would come up against them. They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighbourhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey. For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in.
Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help. When the Israelites cried to the Lord on account of the Midianites, the Lord sent a prophet to the Israelites; and he said to them, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I led you up from Egypt, and brought you out of the house of slavery; and I delivered you from the hand of the Egyptians, and from the hand of all who oppressed you, and drove them out before you, and gave you their land; and I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; you shall not pay reverence to the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not given heed to my voice.
What were the Israelites doing? They were doing evil in the sight of the Lord. The covenant; the contract between God and His people back there in the Old Testament was really simple: God had laid down a Law, the Torah, the first five Books of what we today call the Old Testament and the first and the greatest commandment in the Law was this: God said:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, you shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:1-5)
So when they cry out to their God, God sends them one of His prophets to tell them precisely what they had done. They did precisely what you and I so often are prone to do – they had a foot in both camps. On the one hand, they wanted God to bless them; to protect them. But on the other they were worshipping other gods. And the one true, living God comes to them and says, “Look, I’ve told you this before – you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” They were simply living out the consequences of their rebellion against God.
And God let that happen because He doesn’t want them doing that. When we rebel against God it always brings us pain and pain is a sign there is something wrong. That’s what pain is for in our bodies and that’s what pain is for in our lives. Rebellion against God which has a name – it’s called “sin” – always at the end of the day, involves pain because that pain is God’s means of showing that this rebellion is not going to work. It’s God’s way of having us come to our senses and turn back to Him. Just like the story of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told all those years later.
None of that should be any surprise to us at all. But will you notice something else with me here … will you notice that God’s chosen people, the Israelites, were completely powerless. The Midianites and the Amalekites roamed free and plundered Israel mercilessly. They wasted the Promised Land. They were like locusts, they trampled over it, they destroyed the crops, they brought hunger and poverty and misery to God’s people. And all the Israelites could do was to run and hide in the caves up in the mountains and in holes that they dug for themselves. How pathetic is that? These were after all God’s chosen people who had been promised this land through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was their inheritance from God.
And friend, here’s the thing: even though today you and I aren’t under the same law as them – the Old Testament Law, the Torah, because when we put our faith in Jesus we come under grace rather than under the law – there’s a principle here that every parent will understand. When our children rebel against us, we simply can’t bless them. When our children go their own way, as much as we love them, there comes a point when we have to let them suffer the consequences of their actions. And if we don’t do that, we are being lousy parents.
And you and I, we can be facing insurmountable, absolutely impossible odds; being plundered in life by our own version of the Midianites and the Amalekites, whatever those things may be and we cry out to God but He doesn’t answer because we’ve set up other gods in our lives, ahead of Him. We are off chasing the god of wealth or of recognition or of worldly success. whatever … and we are surprised when our lives are ravaged and attacked and destroyed? Shouldn’t be any surprise at all. It’s just simple, natural, predictable, unavoidable cause and effect.
Before we can expect the power of God to be on our side, we need to tear down the altars on which we have sacrificed our lives to all those other gods. It’s as simple as that!
The Call of Gideon
Earlier we saw that the Israelites, God’s chosen people, were being ravaged by the Midianites and the Amalekites for no other reason than the fact that they turned their backs on God by worshipping Baal – a false god; a false idol of another nation. And so God let them live through the consequences of their sin but … here’s the thing: as much as they were being punished by God for rebelling against Him, God’s punishment is always redemptive. The pain that they experienced was meant to bring them back to their God.
I mean, given the choice between the pain of our rebellion and the blessing of God, hopefully, we eventually come to our senses – just like the Prodigal Son and turn back to God. So God heard their cry after explaining to them why they were being ravaged by these other nations, knowing that His people were at a turning point, ready to turn back to Him, He stepped in and He did something about it. Let’s have a listen because there’s a clue here; well, it’s more than a clue. There is clear instruction here of what to do to lay hold of God’s power in our lives. Judges chapter 6, beginning at verse 11:
Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.”
Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”
Gideon responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”
Then Gideon said to God, “If now I have now found favour with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speaks to me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.” So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened breads from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them.
The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” So he did. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.”
But the Lord said to him, “Peace be onto you; do not fear, don’t be afraid; you will not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
This is the story of God calling Israel back to Himself through this one man, Gideon. Now there is a reason that God chose Gideon, because he was a man of strength. In other words, he was a natural born leader and what Israel needed right at this point was a leader; someone who trusted God but someone who was strong and who could inspire a nation and lead an army.
But, will you please note with me the turn of events because it tells us so much about of our God. Here were God’s chosen people turned against Him by worshipping a foreign god, Baal, and as a result were ravaged by foreign nations. But they cried out to God and so God acts … God acts by sending an angel to Gideon – just the right man for the time – in order to redeem Israel; in order to call them back to Himself.
And friend, God always acts to draw us back to Him in the midst of our rebellion because He loves us. Did you hear how Gideon reacted to the angel? ‘Why is this happening to us? Where’s God? Why doesn’t He show up like He used to? Gideon was still confused and in the midst of the pain and the confusion, God just acted … God stepped out; God reached out; God spoke. Now so distant was Gideon from God that he needed proof; evidence that this angel was indeed from God. So the angel gave him the sign: the fire that consumed the meat and the cakes. And the moment Gideon realised this angel was from the Lord, what did he do? He built an altar to God and worshipped Him, right there in that place.
Friend, maybe you have been listening to God’s Word today as we have been talking together about Israel’s rebellion and God’s power and now about Gideon and perhaps through this word you can hear God reaching out to you, just as He did to Gideon. Because frankly, that’s what He does when His Word is proclaimed. Perhaps you have been sitting there squirming a little because you can feel the Spirit taking the Word of God and laying it on your heart.
Well, that’s okay; we all squirm a little when God is convicting us of something. Well, let me say this: if you are in that place right now, the very first thing that happens is that God reaches out to us in our rebellion in the middle of all the consequences and He call us back to Him and our natural response … well, our natural response should be to worship Him; to put Him back in His rightful place in our lives; to sacrifice our lives to Him on His altar rather than to the other gods on their altar.
And as we will see next week on the programme, there are two parts to that transaction – but that’s next week. In the meantime, can I encourage you: if you heard the voice of God through His Word today, it is time to respond. It is time to worship the one true God because friend, we can sit there with the Midianites and the Amalekites trampling all over our lives – whatever that happens to look like in your life or my life. We can sit down and say, “Aw, God my life is such a mess.” We sit there in our dung heap and our mess, amongst the smell and the yuck and we imagine somehow that God wouldn’t possibly reach in that place for us.
We imagine that we are so far away from God that God has written us off. Let me tell you this: through Jesus, God never writes anyone off! Jesus died for me, He died for you and He died for each person whose life is in a mess; whose life is so dark. He loves us, He reaches into that place and He acts even when we are confused, even when we are complaining.
Friend, stop, listen and hear the voice of God today. God came to Gideon right in the middle of Israel’s mess … a mess that came from their rebellion against God. And as we are going to see over the coming weeks, God did some amazing, powerful things to redeem His people, to fulfil His promise.