Big Idea: Because of who God is, we can pray, trust, even in the worst circumstances of our lives.
I first heard the name Jack Deere when I was a student in seminary. Deere was the epitome of respectability: a professor of Old Testament at one of the most famous seminaries in North America. I knew him because he had written a book that I really liked, a book that pushed the boundaries of his theological tribe in some healthy ways.
That’s all I knew about him: he was a leading scholar, popular speaker, and bestselling author. It turns out I didn’t know the real Jack Deere at all.
If I’d known him better, here’s what I would have realized. His father committed suicide. A few years after I read his book, his 23-year-old son Scott, who was home for Christmas, ended his life in the family home. Understandably, Deere was crushed. His wife started to drink too much, and his life began to unravel. He lived, he said, from failure to failure. “I couldn’t write. I couldn’t build a church. I couldn’t get my wife sober.”
The truth is that we all know a little about each other. We know the good parts, the respectable parts. But few people know the deep scars that we carry, the most painful parts of our souls. Few people know the regrets, the secrets, the things that we would not wish on anybody else.
What do you do when you face situations that push you to the brink? Where do you turn when you carry wounds that don’t seem to heal? What do you do when the easy answers fail, and when the problems seem bigger than anything we can handle?
We’re in a series on one of the oldest books of the Bible, the book of Exodus. And this week we’re looking at a time when Israel was out of options, when things were getting worse instead of better, and when the people who were supposed to help instead were getting in the way.
From the passage that we read today, we learn three things about God. They are not three platitudes. They are three truths that can stand up even under the worst real-life circumstances we can ever face.
God hears, so we can pray.
There are few things worse than feeling ignored. A friend last week told me about a joke that they pulled on one of their friends. He was the last to arrive, and so the whole group agreed that when he did that everybody would ignore him. He walked in the room with his wife. Everybody said hi to his wife and completely ignored him. He would sit down beside someone and start talking to them, and they would pretend that he wasn’t even there.
You can imagine how upsetting this would be. Fortunately, he realized that they were playing a joke on him. He stood in the middle of the group and said, “Okay, guys, I get it. Good joke. Who’s idea was this?”
But that’s how we feel sometimes in our lives. It’s bad enough to suffer, which we will all do. But then we have to cope with the fact that sometimes it seems like nobody even notices when we’re suffering, and that nobody cares.
One of the hardest things for me about suffering is loneliness.
Inevitably I feel isolated. Though my friends can help, they cannot share my sorrow. It is too deep a well.
When loss is fresh, people are all around. They call, offer help, send cards, and bring meals. Their care helps ease the razor-sharp pain. For a while.
But then they stop. There are no more meals. The phone is strangely silent. And the mailbox is empty.
No one knows what to say. They aren’t sure what to ask. So mostly they say nothing.
Have you ever felt like that? I know that I have! No matter how much people care, there’s a limit to how much they are able to care, which leaves us feeling isolated and alone.
I think that’s how Israel must have felt. They had been suffering in Egypt for decades. In the middle of all of that suffering, God was at work. He was preserving their lives and raising up a deliverer, but they couldn’t see it. To them it looked like God was ignoring them. So verse 23 says, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.”
We can relate. We have those moments when all we can do is to express our pain and to ask for God’s help because there are simply no other options.
This is why, by the way, I don’t think there are many more encouraging verses than verses 23–25:
Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
I want you to feel how amazing these verses are. Their prayers for God’s help are heard. The God who was working behind the scenes now enters the scene explicitly. I love the verbs in these verses: God heard; God remembered; God saw; God knew.
Friends, remember that God is always at work in our lives, even when he seems absent. He is at work behind the scenes even when we can’t see him. But then also remember that your prayers are being heard by God. God hears. God remembers his promises. God sees. God knows.
One of the most encouraging reminders in the New Testament on this theme is 1 Peter 5:6-7:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
When we’re suffering, Peter says, humble yourselves before God. This means that we’re to trust him even when he’s not doing what we like, or visibly working in our lives as we might expect. Humble yourself, trusting in the way that he’s ordering your life, even when you can’t see what he’s doing.
But then cast your anxieties on him. There are some things that are simply too heavy to carry. If we try to carry them ourselves, we’ll crumble. And so Peter tells us to cast these on God. Whatever is bothering you — give that to God. Whatever is too heavy for you to carry right now — give that to God. God invites us to cast all of the things that are bothering on him. Whenever you feel anxious, say to yourself, “Well, I’m not the person in charge of handling anxieties. I’m going to send this to the right department,” and then hand it over to God.
But then major on the last phrase: “because he cares for you.” Is there any better news in the world than that? God cares for you. God hears. God remembers. God sees. God knows. God cares for whatever is going on in your life.
Even right now, I know that some of us have been struggling with feeling like God doesn’t care about you and what you’re going through. Let this story assure you: God does care. He’s always working behind the scenes, and sometimes he takes center stage and we see what he’s doing directly. But never doubt that God cares about what’s going on in your life, and that he’s at work even when he seems absent.
God is sufficient, so we can trust.
It’s one thing to say that God cares so we can pray. A lot of people care but can’t do anything about the situation. If God were simply caring but not powerful, then his care would provide some comfort but that’s about it. We need to know that God is more than just caring. We also need to know that he’s powerful.
In Exodus 3, we find out what it means for God to care. God shows up in his glory and shows us that he’s not just caring. He shows us that he is also sufficient for anything that we’ll ever need.
Let’s set the scene. Moses flees to the wilderness. He’s in exile from both the Egyptians and the Israelites. He’s been there for 40 years, and is now 80 years old. I think it’s safe to say that Moses had probably settled in. It looked like things would stay the same for both Israel and for Moses.
But then he encounters a bush that’s burning but not consumed. And God speaks to him, telling him to remove his sandals because the ground is holy. God reveals himself and tells Moses that he’s heard the cries of the people, and that he’s going to use Moses to deliver them. Finally, some very good news.
Moses asks a series of questions, though. It’s understandable. God wants to send Moses to deliver Israel. I think I could come up with a whole bunch of reasons why that plan wouldn’t work. From a human level, God is asking Moses to do something impossible. He’s asking Moses to go up against the most powerful nation on earth. Who would want that assignment?
Moses simply didn’t want to go. At the end of this discussion, he says to God, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”
How does God answer Moses’ objections? By revealing himself. God reveals his sufficiency so that we can trust him.
I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. (Exodus 3:6)
I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them… (Exodus 3:7-8)
I am who I am…Say this to the people of Israel: “I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)
What is God doing here? He’s revealing himself. He’s teaching us that the wrong place to look is ourselves and our obstacles. We don’t need a bigger view of ourselves. We need a bigger view of God.
Are you confused, by the way, with the name that God gives himself: I AM? Good! Join the others who for 3,000 years have tried to plumb the depths of even understanding God’s name. We have ideas about what it means, but I don’t think anyone can say that they fully understand it.
What we see in chapter three is that we’re going to have one of two orientations in life. The first orientation is to look at our lives — to look at ourselves, our abilities, our self-esteem, and our problems. If we live this way we’ll live in continual scarcity, because we’ll never be enough. We’ll never be able to do enough. We’ll never feel good enough. Our problems will always be more than we can handle. If we live life at the horizontal level, we’re doomed to a life of scarcity and insecurity.
The other option is to look at God — a God who is so above us that we can’t even fully understand his name. He’s a God who is unchanging and caring, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses, who has been faithful for millennia. He’s the God who hears, remembers, sees, and knows everything that we’re going through. He’s the God who is so self-existent that he can burn like a flame and never run out of fuel.
His resources are inexhaustible, his power unwearied. He needs no rest for recuperation of wasted energy…He gives and is none the poorer. He works and is never weary. He operates unspent; he loves and he loves forever. And through the ages, the fire burns on, unconsumed and undecayed. (Alexander Maclaren)
It’s the same thing that God told Job. When Job and his friends complained about Job’s sufferings, God never answered their questions about the suffering. What he did was to reveal himself.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
What Job needed in his sufferings is exactly what we need too: a bigger view of God.
If you live looking at God, you’ll never run into a problem that’s too big. One definition of spiritual maturity is that God becomes bigger and bigger in our lives so that we see more and more of him and what he’s revealed about himself. That’s what we need.
God hears, so we can pray. And God is sufficient, so we can trust. Look at God today. Don’t live with your eyes on yourself. Live with your eyes on him and his sufficiency.
God meets our needs despite our obstacles and weaknesses, so we can rest.
We’re only in chapter 3 of Exodus, but already we’ve seen obstacle after obstacle stand in the way of God’s promises.
- The most powerful nation in the world is angry at Israel and wants to wipe them out.
- The Israelites are turning on themselves and fighting. They’re not even united.
- Moses looks like a promising leader, but he murders someone and spends the next 40 years in exile.
- God shows up and calls Moses and promises to help him, but Moses argues with God and asks him to find someone else.
And still, God comes through. Still, God delivers.
Friends, hear this: God hears, so we can pray. God is sufficient, so we can trust. God meets our needs despite our obstacles and weaknesses, so we can rest. Because of who God is, we can pray, trust, even in the worst circumstances of our lives.
As we started today, I told you a little about Jack Deere, the respectable man whose life fell apart. You learn some lessons after you go through that kind of suffering. The easy answers fall away and you are forced to come to grips with what is really true.
Here is what Deere says he’s learned:
I am no great believer…I can confess with Paul, “In my flesh dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7: 18 KJV). I am more aware of the enormity of evil in me than I’ve ever been. This is one way I can tell that the light within me is expanding.
One truly good person was born into this world. This is the truth…
The only truly good and holy person wants to be our friend despite our messiness and all our failed attempts to clean ourselves up. The harmony of these two truths is the seed from which obedience flourishes.
When I lusted after material wealth, he turned my gaze toward eternity. When I sought large crowds, he brought me humility. When I tried to change my wife, he taught me how to love and understand her.
What I really needed all along, more than anything, was to see myself through his eyes.
Friends, what we need more than anything else today is to see God in the middle of our problems, to see Jesus and what he’s done for us, and what his heart is towards us, and then to see ourselves through his eyes.