4 Jan 2017
Battles and Blessings
I have never forgotten a talk I heard over thirty years ago. The speaker started by saying that the Christian life is ‘battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing… battle and blessing…’
At the time I thought, ‘Why is he going on like this? Will it never end?’ But he was making a memorable and profound point. When we are in the battle it is hard to believe that it will ever come to an end. When we are in a period of blessing we sometimes feel it will never end. But life is not like that. There are battles and blessings.
Rick Warren says that he used to think that the Christian life was a succession of battles and blessings, whereas now he thinks of life as being on two tracks. At any given moment in life there are usually blessings, but also battles to face.
He gives the example of the huge blessing that came to him through the publication of The Purpose Driven Life, which became the fastest selling Christian book of all time. It gave him enormous influence. But at the same time he found out that his wife, Kay, had cancer. On one track of his life there was great blessing; on the other track there was a massive battle to face.
1. Learn to steer through battles and blessings
The purpose of the book of Proverbs is stated right from the start: ‘These are the wise sayings… Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right… A manual for living, for learning what’s right and just and fair’ (vv.1–3, MSG). It provides practical wisdom for everyone – both the ‘inexperienced’ and the ‘experienced’ (vv.4–6, MSG).
These Proverbs tell you how life usually works. Generally speaking, people who are godly, moral and hardworking will reap rewards and blessings, but this is not guaranteed here on earth. Proverbs are pragmatic and wise advice learnt from a lifetime of experience.
The purpose of the book is to enable you ‘to steer your course rightly’ (v.5, AMP). Wisdom is the ‘art of steering’ through the battles and blessings of life, and living skilfully in whatever conditions you find yourself. Wisdom, as Joyce Meyer says, is ‘decisions you make now that you will be happy with later’.
Wisdom starts with the ‘fear of the Lord’, which ‘is the beginning of knowledge’ (v.7a). The ‘fear’ of the Lord can be translated ‘reverence’. It means to respect and honour the Lord as God. The most important lesson we can learn about life is to ‘start with God’ (v.7a, MSG).
Lord, help me to learn the art of steering through the battles and blessings that lie ahead. Help me to grow in wisdom. May I honour you today in all that I say and do.
2. Learn from how Jesus dealt with battles and blessings
Jesus’ ministry began with the blessing of the Holy Spirit at his baptism but, as so often happens after great experiences of the Holy Spirit, battles immediately follow.
‘Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test’ (4:1, MSG). The temptations start with the words, ‘If you are the Son of God…’ (vv.3,6). The devil is tempting Jesus to presume on his identity, and thus to test his Father. Sometimes the devil comes to us and says, ‘If you are a Christian then you are better than others.’ Or, ‘If God forgives everything, it doesn’t matter how you live.’ Respond by following Jesus’ example.
Jesus faced three powerful temptations:
Instant gratification (economic)
There are some things that provide instant gratification but leave us feeling hollow afterwards.
Jesus had prepared by fasting for forty days and forty nights. ‘That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the devil took advantage of in the first test’ (vv.2b–3a, MSG). He says to Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’ (v.3b).
Jesus answers, ‘It is written: “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”’ (v.4). Although ‘bread’ is necessary it is not enough on its own.
Material needs matter, but they can never fully satisfy. There is a deeper spiritual hunger that can only be satisfied by ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (v.4). We need regular spiritual food even more than regular physical food.
Attention seeking (religious)
Next, the devil puts before Jesus the challenge to throw himself off the highest point of the temple. Among other things, this is a temptation to do something dramatic (though not productive) to attract attention.
The devil goaded Jesus by quoting Psalm 91, but it is a verse taken out of context. Jesus countered with a verse that is in context: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (v.7).
Wrong means (political)
Third, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers them, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’ (Matthew 4:8–9). This is the temptation to be dissatisfied with God himself and to embark on a programme of unscrupulous manipulation to achieve his ends by the wrong means. Jesus responds: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness’ (v.10, MSG).
To each temptation Jesus responds with a verse from Deuteronomy Chapters 6–8. Perhaps he had been studying these chapters at that time. As you study the Bible it reveals God’s character and loving care for you, and deepens your relationship with him. This protects you against the devil’s lies, and helps and equips you to resist temptation when it comes.
At the end of these battles, Jesus enjoyed the blessing of angels who ‘came and took care of Jesus’ needs’ (v.11, MSG). The period of blessing did not last long. Jesus heard that John had been put in prison (v.12). It must have been devastating for Jesus to find out that his cousin had been imprisoned for his preaching.
Jesus was not daunted. He began to preach the very message that had caused John’s arrest: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (v.17). He was fearless and courageous in the face of the battles.
Life is not just a matter of defensively seeing off the attacks; there are also positive advances to make. Jesus was on a mission. He began to build his team for that mission calling his first disciples: ‘Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women…” They… dropped their nets and followed’ (vv.19–20, MSG). These were exciting times. The beginning of the ministry of Jesus was a period of great blessing.
Lord, as I face the battles and blessings that lie ahead, help me to follow the example of Jesus. Help me to learn your Word so that when temptation comes I will be able to deal with it. May I be courageous and fearless in proclaiming the message of Jesus.
3. Learn how others have coped with battles and blessings
Christians should be positive people. We see in this passage, as we do in the entire Bible, that the blessings outweigh the battles. Of the four great themes that run through this passage (and the entire Bible) only one is negative (the fall that leads to the battles). The other three are all about positive blessing.
Human beings are created in the image of God (9:6b). There is a nobility and dignity about all human life. We are to treat every human being with respect and dignity. ‘From each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being’ (v.5c), for ‘whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed’ (v.6a).
Noah faced a major battle – the flood and the destruction of almost the entire human race! It rained for forty days and forty nights (7:4) (exactly the same period as the temptation of Jesus). God’s judgment came because of the seriousness of sin: ‘Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (8:21).
Despite the battle of the flood, Noah enjoyed the blessing of God’s love. Even though only Noah and those with him in the ark were left (7:23), as we read this passage through the lens of the New Testament we see that the ark is a picture of being baptised into Christ (see 1 Peter 3:18 onwards). Those who were in the ark were safe. Those who are in Christ are safe.
God blessed Noah and his sons. He said ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the earth!’ (Genesis 9:1, MSG).
God made a covenant with them (9:9). Every time you see a rainbow (v.13) it is a reminder of God’s commitment to you, which led ultimately to the cross – the blood of the new covenant. It is an ‘everlasting covenant’ into eternity (v.16).
Lord, thank you that ultimately your blessings will far outweigh the battles. Thank you that one day I will be with you forever and enjoy the even greater blessings of everlasting glorification. Help me to remember that my light and momentary troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (see 2 Corinthians 4:17).
Noah was quite old (600 years old!) when he began his life’s work. It is never too late – however old you are.
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