How do we steer a true path through the chicanery, confusion and conflict that the world the flesh and the devil conspire to throw at us? By the gentle leading of God’s Spirit, which is always towards truth and peace. Let’s explain…
When we don’t have Jesus in their lives, confusion reigns. When we have discovered a new relationship with God through Jesus, God’s true way is a choice we can make, but we still have to practise it day by day. And we can get discouraged… and feel defeated… and come to the end of ourselves.
Which is good, because that’s where we need to start:, not in our strength, but praising God for His. And sometimes we’ll be looking for Him and meet him coming towards us, or He will just shock us by revealing something completely unexpected.
That’s what happened to Jacob.
Jacob was a couple of days into a long journey away from home; his father had told him he needed to return to his roots and find a wife. Leaving his family and his familiar surroundings, was he also leaving the presence of God? That was an additional insecurity..
It had been difficult growing up with his very-slightly-elder twin brother Esau — a very different character, and not an easy one. Jacob, a thinker and opportunist, had secured his elder brother’s birthright privileges, when In a moment of weakness and hunger, Esau agreed to give them up. Too easily, in hindsight, for a grave matter affecting grandfather Abraham’s succession, which would now be worked out through younger twin Jacob instead.
This was conflict and confusion! Jacob needed to get some space and his father told him to go off to Mesopotamia and find himself a wife there, not among the idol-worshipping Canaanites. And so, in some trepidation, he set off. He knew that the Living God was not like the gods of particular places that the Canaanites worshipped, but Jacob still felt unsure of his direction, unsure of himself, unsure of whether God was in it — and very alone.
As night fell Jacob found a long rock to rest his head on, away from the termites and scorpions, and he dropped off to sleep — except that this sleep turned into a dazzling vision of a magnificent structure, with the longest-ever flight of steps leading high up, with processions of angels ascending and descending. And at the Gate of Heaven, God Almighty Himself spoke to Jacob, reassured Him and reminded him that he was part of the great promise his grandfather Abraham had often talked about:
From the Bible in Genesis 28:
As Jacob slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.
At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions–to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.
What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:12-15 NLT)
Jacob woke up. The way to the gate of heaven had disappeared, but he had the sense that this was a holy place and a holy encounter. So he up-ended his long pillow rock and consecrated it with oil, and he called this place Bethel, house of God, and it is remembered still as a special place.
Jacob was the less competitive, more thoughtful of the brothers. He didn’t look for conflict — conflict found him, but now he had God’s assurance, and that made all the difference.
Now let’s fast forward to the time and teaching of Jesus, and He is telling a story about where this conflict and confusion comes from. Some people were blaming him. He didn’t condemn the bad people, He hung out with them and they listened to him. Why, one of His close disciples had been a tax collector. Neither did He favour the people who kept all the details of the law — surely the real Messiah would be seeking out those who showed themselves to be righteous, not sinners!
In Matthew 13, Jesus told a story about conflict and confusion as a result of chicanery which goes to the heart of this question. He said:
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.
‘But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.
‘When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.
“The farmer’s workers went to him and said, ‘Sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds! Where did they come from?’
“‘An enemy has done this!’ the farmer exclaimed.
“‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked.
“‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.'”
This, Jesus said, is a picture of the kingdom of God coming, and how it comes under attack. The devil, the spoiler, is at work and we need to be constantly aware of his attempts to ‘spoil the crop’ and rob the message of the kingdom of its power.
We don’t like chicanery, confusion or conflict but it is part of the world we inhabit and — as Jesus points out — we cannot root it out by turning on its human bad actors. Conflict doesn’t root out conflict but merely adds to it. Judgment of individuals now is not ours to make, but the Lord’s. Most of that will happen in the final judgment.
What we can, in fact must, do is develop a discernment about what is from God and what has its source elsewhere. And spiritually our prayerful words will bless what is good and true and inhibit and expose what is false.
How does this work in God’s kingdom order?
The Holy Spirit that we receive when we trust Jesus and pledge to make Him Lord of our lives, does not put us under bondage to Him. It is belonging, but not that kind of belonging — but the kind that confers privilege and new identity. Children of God, no less, with all the rights and spiritual authority that goes with that!
Paul writes in Romans 8, teaching that dealing with problems and problem people in the human way is to head for decline, but taking the decision to be led by the Spirit brings life.
For if you live by the dictates of the sinful nature, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as His own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
(Romans 8:13-17 NLT)
The experience of God’s glory is tempered by suffering. Like Jesus, we have to accept that is what comes with the territory. Those who set out to live for God become targets for the enemy through those he stirs up to hate us.
It’s a difficult balance. It’s not an easy act to bring off, to use our spiritual authority as those adopted by Father God to say a firm ‘No’ to what is untrue or harmful or deceptive — and at the same time resolving to BLESS its perpetrators with God’s blessing. He knows what is best for them and, who knows, they may change and come into a new way of life, just as we did!
Jesus told us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. The flesh in us rebels at such a thought! Humanly it is impossible, but by the Holy Spirit at work in us we find a love for difficult people beyond ourselves, while prayerfully and resolutely binding up their harmful and objectively wrong actions.
How do we steer a true path through the world’s chicanery, confusion and conflict? Or what we see reported about discussions in the traditional church establishment about how we address God, a Tory councillor being sacked for saying that pride is a sin, and the drive to net zero becoming a greater passion than Jesus and His kingdom?
It is by hearing God afresh, as Jacob did, by distinguishing what is true and good wheat from toxic weeds mixed up with them, and by living up to who we are in Jesus, led and enabled by the Spirit of Jesus.
Our following a true path will always be contested. Even as peacemakers, conflict will find us and deception and confusion will rise like a dust cloud — but our discipline in keeping to our heading, guided by Jesus, is what brings the kingdom of God nearer.
• To see all the Bible passages together behind this story, this page has it.
• See also The Living Word Bible study for July 23 which takes a verse-by-verse look at the Bible passages.
• Listen to a very brief podcast presentation of the message of these readings in God’s Guidance Saves Us from Confusion