Monday, April 21, 2014

Withholding Gifts from Our Children

Good Friday found me driving sullenly back to my parents' house while three children sat in perfect silence behind me.  The five of us were supposed to be enjoying a rare lunch out at Chick Fil A, but less than cooperative behavior during the biannual family pictures that morning had consequences.

As a mother who loves her children dearly, I wanted nothing more than to lavish this special treat on them all.  But because I am a mother who dearly loves her children, I simply couldn't.  Heart heavy, I drove home to the routine lunchtime meal of peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, and carrots.

This isn't the first time I have been unable to shower my children with every good and perfect gift because they failed in some way to uphold the rules of Scripture and of our family.  Each time, it hurts my heart to uphold justice and stay my hand, but I know how much my children learn through these teaching moments, lessons they retell for years to come because they remember what blessing was lost due to their own choices and actions.

In these times, I am merely shadowing what God the Father does with His own children.  While I usually think of God as staying His holy hand when it comes to judging the world or waiting to pour out His wrath on a perverse and unholy generation, God also holds back His blessings. 

After explaining of God's judgment to come, the prophet Isaiah appealed to Israel, saying, "Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.  For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him" (Is. 30:18).

Gracious. Compassion.  Blessed.  These are words to describe how the Lord desires to treat His children.  In the King James version, the phrase "Therefore the Lord longs" is translated as "and therefore will the Lord wait."  He must wait to bless us with His grace and compassion...because He is a God of justice.

God doesn't deprive us of blessings out of spite or anger but simply because He is perfectly just.  As a parent, I understand this longing, this waiting to bless my own children.  How much more must our God long to bless us with all He has?

Isaiah continues, saying "He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher.  Your ears will hear a word behind you, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right or to the left. And you will defile your graven images...You will scatter them as an impure thing, and say to them, 'Be gone!' Then He will give you rain for the seed which you will sow in the ground, and bread from the yield of the ground, and it will be rich and plenteous" (Is. 30:19-23).

In this passage, the prophet alludes to three things that cause God to stay His hand--(1) not relying on the Lord, (2) not listening to the words of the Lord and (3) idolatry.  At the time, Israel was guilty of all three--it had turned to Egypt (not God) for protection, had rejected the words of the prophets, and was worshiping false idols.

Today, though, we, too, are often guilty of all three as well.  Sometimes, we trust in our bank accounts, our connections, our skill, and our intelligence for our security instead of in God.  We may seek out help from our spouse, friends, our family, and neighbors before we stop and ask God for help.

Likewise, we often fail to listen to the words of the Lord.  Any day that passes where we do not crack open the Bible or where we read simply to check it off our daily routine while not really engaging in the text is a day we have failed to listen to His Word. 

And finally, any time we put anything before God--even good things--we are guilty of idolatry.  Our family.  Our job.  Our favorite TV show.  Our children.  Anything can become our idol if it keeps us from putting God first.

As generally happens after we have experienced God's judgment, the people of God in the above passage grew more sensitive to God's voice to the extent that they could hear "a word behind" them. God, Himself, became their Teacher, implying they were willing to receive and be tutored by His Word  Also, they recognized their idols for what they were ("impure thing[s]") and rid their lives of them.

The result?  Blessing.  Rain. Rich, plenteous, bountiful blessing.

Yes, Scripture says "He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:45).  Still, God's Word shows that He longs, He waits to pour out more blessings on us than He already does simply because we fail to rely wholly on Him, fail to listen to Him, and fail to put Him first in our lives.

How differently might our lives look if God could give us everything He wanted to lavish upon us?

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