A Different Spirit

I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I don’t like heights. I don’t do roller coasters. You won’t find me diving into a pool, much less a cave or the sky! I like calm, steady, uneventful, and predictable. My instinct in a public area is to blend in with the walls and go unnoticed. But what happens when God puts a challenge in front of you? Unfortunately, I have no doubt I’ve completely ignored many of those challenges because of my natural proclivities (read: fear).

In a recent study through the book of Numbers (more appropriately named “In the Wilderness” in Hebrew), my church came across a powerful phrase regarding Caleb’s faith:

“But my servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit and has followed me fully, I will bring into the land into which he went, and his descendants shall possess it.” – Numbers 14:24

The Israelites had been delivered by God from slavery in Egypt. They witnessed beyond amazing events of God directly interceding on their behalf—parting of the sea, pillars of clouds and fire, miracle bread and quail. He promised them a land. All they had to do was go in and possess it. As we read in Numbers 13-14, twelve spies are sent in ahead of the people.

Ten spies return with a hopeless report. The land is indeed beautiful and full of choice fruits, but it is populated by powerful people with large, fortified cities. They equate themselves as grasshoppers compared to the natives, who apparently are of a special group called the Nephilim (see Gen 6:1-4).

If I’m spying this out, I must admit that my first reaction would be to quickly and quietly run away! What if I knew, despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, God promised he would deliver me? Were the spies unaware of this promise? What seems ambiguous in Numbers is clarified in Deuteronomy 1:19-33. Verses 20-21 specifically record what Moses told the people regarding the Lord’s promise: “And I said to you, ‘You have come to the hill country of the Amorites, which the Lord our God is giving us. See, the Lord your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’”

They knew. They knew it was promised to them. But fear is a powerful thing from the Enemy. And the fear from the ten spies trickled down to the whole population who thought they’d be better off selecting a new leader and returning to slavery in Egypt! (Numbers 14:4)

Caleb and Joshua were different. It didn’t matter that the cities were well-fortified. It didn’t even matter that the people were Nephilim! Caleb and Joshua rested in God’s strength and not their own. They rested in God’s promises and not their own abilities.

In an effort to bring the people back to their senses, Joshua says in Numbers 14:7-9: “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

The people’s response to this rally cry? They get ready to stone them! (Numbers 14:10)

After just this latest rebellion, God determines it might be better to start from scratch! (Numbers 14:12) But Moses intercedes for the people and God pardons them once again, but not without consequence. The rebels won’t be entering this promised land but will instead wander the desert for 40 years.

Caleb and Joshua displayed immeasurable faith in their God in the face of ridicule from their entire nation. How discouraging it must have been for them to have to wander in the desert for 40 years with this faithless group of people. After seeing and tasting the fullness of God, they must wander with people who completely rejected the truth and the power of the Lord.

But 45 years later, in Joshua 14:10-12, we get to see where Caleb’s faith is: “I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then…” He didn’t waiver. He didn’t get pulled down by the doubt and rebellion of the Israelites even after having to wander for 40 years with them. He truly had a “different spirit.”

May we have the faith of Caleb and Joshua to face giants. May we have the faith of Noah to build a boat in the middle of a desert. May we have the faith of Abram to leave the known for the unknown. May we have the faith of Joseph who never gave up despite always finding himself in a “pit.”

Don’t be afraid to take a leap when God puts a challenge before you. Don’t let your natural tendencies impede your spiritual realities. Don’t let your fear prevent you from following God fully.

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” – Hebrews 11:6 NIV

Be of a different spirit like Caleb. Follow him FULLY. He rewards a faith like that.

I’ll close with a prayer from my dear sister Amanda:

Dear Lord: Help us believe that ALL we need to do is stand STILL. Listen for you. Obey you. Honor you. Help us to remember that we do this to glorify you. Open our hearts to you Lord so we may see you and your works you want us to do more clearly. Forgive us from our daily distractions stealing our focus. Forgive us for forgetting to put you first. How often we forget that you have already gone before us. Through parting the Red Sea, wandering the desert, through work and play, through health and illness, through wealth and poverty, through home and highway. I pray we do not miss the gifts you want us to have this year because we refused to trust the hand that you offer us. So again Lord open our hearts and minds to hear your voice, recognize your call, and to faithfully follow where you lead. Oh God, thy will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. Amen!

An Unoffendable Heart: Keeping the Faith in God’s Sovereignty

Things don’t always go the way we plan them. Maybe that house offer didn’t go through. The job you interviewed for never called you back. Your dream school didn’t accept your application. Maybe it’s something even more serious; tragic even. Some may say it’s fate. Simple bad luck perhaps? Someone you know will tell you all things happen for a reason. None of that makes us feel any better in the moment.

Even if we speak the words “God is still working,” it can be hard to truly believe it. And perhaps we don’t even want to speak those words. It’s easy to feel like God let you down. “Where is he? I thought he cared about me. How could he let this happen?” The vision we had for the foreseeable future is thrown for a loop. Now what?

Paul undoubtedly had his life planned out. He was a leading Pharisee; zealous for his faith, even happy to kill those that threatened it. God, however, had other plans for Paul. Not only would he follow the one he once believed to be an enemy, but he would take the saving message of the Messiah to a population that he once saw as lower than dogs…

Paul’s response on the road to Damascus wasn’t a rebellion from the God he thought he knew. To the contrary, from that moment, he became completely obsessed with his Lord. Everyone he encountered was going to hear about Jesus Christ and his kingdom!

Surely from that point on, since he was finally on the right path, everything would be smooth sailing. Both literally and figuratively, that could not have been further from the truth.

But Paul knew that. He had an intimate and deep understanding of Christ’s selflessness and humility, and he knew well the call to share in the suffering of Christ. He wasn’t the exception—the Scriptures are filled with examples of disciples who put it all on the line for their Lord.  

I have a lot to learn from them all…

Toward the end of the book of Acts, Paul is dragged in front of the Roman authorities because of the baseless claims of the Jewish leaders. He is unjustly imprisoned for more than 2 years before his case is even properly heard. Finally, he presents his case to King Agrippa and tells him “To this day I have had the help that comes from God.” (Acts 26:22)

Not only is Paul unoffended by God’s plan for his life, but he also credits God for his constant help and providence!

Festus and Agrippa think he’s crazy, saying “Paul, you are out of your mind!” (Acts 26:24). If God was helping him as he thinks, he wouldn’t have been imprisoned for years and on trial for his life for no good reason. Right? Why didn’t God grant him his freedom?

Freedom from Rome wasn’t God’s goal for Paul, and it wasn’t Paul’s goal either. Paul’s goal was to proclaim Christ wherever God willed. In this case, the mission was to Rome, and to Rome he would go! (Acts 23:11) Paul’s life was now Christ’s life (Galatians 2:20). How God chose to use that life was completely up to God himself. Afterall, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Paul wasn’t concerned with his physical comfort or happiness. Sometimes it seems this verse in Romans gets twisted in a bid for a “happy ending” in our struggles:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good…” Romans 8:28

God works all things for our comfort? our happiness? our dreams? No, he works things out for good. The good. His will, which is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

This is a struggle. We may wrestle with God with fervent prayer over a situation in our lives. We think we know the best outcome in many cases, and perhaps what we think or want does align with God’s plan. But sometimes the good that God has planned is different than what we want. Sometimes the good that God has planned is anything but comfortable.

Not that Paul didn’t ask for deliverance at times. The “thorn in his flesh” is something that he desperately wanted to be freed of. But ultimately, Paul surrenders to God’s will. We may not know exactly what that thorn was, but it’s safe to assume it was uncomfortable and a significant stressor on Paul’s life. But as the Lord told Paul—“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Will we keep the faith in those moments? Will we be able to say like Paul that despite our circumstances, God is faithful and he is good? That his grace is sufficient? That it’s when we are weak that we are truly strong?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

Is my faith based on the circumstances I’m in, or is it based on the God that is sovereign in all circumstances?

It’s reminiscent of a powerful example in the Old Testament. Three young Jewish men, living in Babylonian captivity, refuse to bow down and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol. Brought before the king, they are given the chance to relent. If they still refuse, a fiery furnace was ready to cremate the men alive.

That’s a rough circumstance. That’s a test of faith. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood firm.

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18

“Even if this physical harm comes to us, our God is our God and he is faithful.”

Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were saved from the fire in the furnace, we too will be saved from the fire—regardless of our physical circumstances and regardless even of physical harm or death. We’ve already been delivered. The same one who walked in the furnace with those three men is the same one who walked with Paul through his trials and is the same one who walks with you and me. Rest in him, even if…

But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand…” Psalm 31:14-15