Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Lord Who Goes Before You, Also Your Rear Guard

JESUS is baptised, then he is immediately “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” (Matthew 4:1)  In just the same way we’re led from our baptisms into much temptation from the world — the devil’s clever instrument.  Then there’s the phenomenon of the still small voice of the Lord as he affirms us in one arena of life, then comes the testing; and the temptations to give up can come with seemingly ever increasing fury.
I recall walking a local street in the local area proximal to the church I serve at as associate pastor.  This was within a few weeks of starting.  In that moment, the Holy Spirit affirmed the move, and then confirmed the call — to this church.  There was a geographical sense that this was the place.  God gave me an assurance that was unquestionable.
And then I questioned.  Over the ensuing months I would doubt and wrestle and resist this call.  Tests came left, right and centre.  The first year was tough in many ways.  And that testing continues, but then, as I witnessed a baptism, Jesus’ baptism came flooding back — as a metaphor for what was soon to take place — testing.  Then I saw afresh how I’ve come to be tested.  There was, in me, an instant recognition; a recognition of God’s perspective — it’s not about me; it’s about my obedience.  In that moment I saw things as they actually are.  Baptism brings us into the realm of spiritual warfare: testing.
Testing is designed to sanctify us.  Anyone who belongs in the Kingdom of God knows they wage war with a cunning enemy who wishes to tempt us in many ways.  But these are only tests, to sift and to grow us.  Testing is a very real and very viable way in the Christian life.  How else would we know that our faith is real?  We should never take testing sullenly (though we’re forgiven if and when we do, for nobody genuinely enjoys testing).  It’s because God loves us so much that he turns evils into our favour through our obedience.  This is a truth we must wrestle with:
Nothing can be against us in our being tested,
if we’re
for God in our obedience.
And then this was remembered:
Isaiah 52:12
“… the Lord is going before you,
and the God of Israel is your rear guard.”
In the Exodus account, the people of God were blessed two ways: they were being liberated from Egypt and they were being reconnected to God.  As they left that tyrannous land, they came to know a protection that was insurmountably complete.
The Lord literally surrounded his people with the love of his perfect protection.
This is the reason we ought not to be afraid or resentful in the presence of testing — God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  God has gone before us in affirming us and confirming our way.  He is also a very near and very present Protection — our rear guard — as we serve out our calling, committing to the Word he spoke into our hearts in the near or long ago past.
If God has called you to an endeavour, it’s incumbent on you to keep going.  If he’s called you to a place, it’s your obligation to stay.  If the Holy Spirit has convicted you, that you must do.
But know that God has not only gone before you in convicting you to his call; he comes behind as your rear guard — the surrounding of his perfect protection — so you should not be afraid.
Just keep on stepping in obedience.
Whatever God calls you to, he will complete; in you and through you — if you keep stepping.

© 2016 Steve Wickham.

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