We all want to read a story about how to get rich, but this week’s story is starting in a different place — more like how to avoid getting trapped in poverty! But if a renowned financial adviser wrote about common investment mistakes and how to avoid them, we would take that as good advice on how to handle our money.
So this is good kingdom of God advice, even if it’s coming from a different angle.
This is Ian Greig of The Living Word, giving you ‘faith without the faff’ and helping you to find God and find joy in your walk with Him.
Based on the Bible readings set for July 31, 2022 (Revised Common Lectionary) and this Small Group Study: Lessons on How Not To Miss God’s Best
This week’s story starts with Hosea’s prophecy to the northern kingdom of Israel, moving into Jesus’ parable about a rich farmer who thought his security was in building more barns to store his crops, and then reflecting on the NT church learning to embrace the new life of the Spirit without slipping back into the old ways.
They depict three common ways we stumble, spiritually: by FORGETTING God’s goodness, DISREGARDING God as our ultimate source, and REVERTING to old destructive ways.
To start off, these verses of praise from Psalm 107 set the backdrop for us.
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story —[rescued] from the hand of the foe… gathered from… east and west…north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands… hungry and thirsty… their lives ebbing away. They cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He… led them… to… where they could settle. …Give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and… wonderful deeds…for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 (excerpted)
That highlights the first pitfall — forgetting the giver and not giving thanks. Difficult times get easier, lack turns to abundance and we deceive ourselves, thinking it comes from our skill and efforts. Not surprisingly, God does not like His generosity taken for granted. Or misinterpreted.
This had been Israel’s mistake for a long time, addressed by this prophetic word in Hosea 11:
“The more they were called, the more they went away from Me…and… burned incense to images. “It was I who… [took] them by the arms; but they did not realise it was I who healed them. I led them with… kindness, with ties of love… and I bent down to feed them. “Even though they call me God Most High… My people are determined to turn from Me. “…And will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent? A sword will flash in their cities; it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans.”
Hosea 11:1-7 excerpt
This is about forgetting God’s past kindness — His deliverance and provision for the nation. The Israelites have been looked after by God on the journey from Egypt, delivered from the enemy through the Red Sea — and then provided for during a long stay in the desert. Deserts are places with sparse food, forage or water. This very large Exodus of men, women, children, and animals needed a lot of sustenance! God tested them on occasion, and miraculously provided on very many occasions.
The Israelites were taught to use testimony of God’s saving acts as part of their worship. Some of the Psalms include quite lengthy narratives of Israel’s salvation history, as God met with them, saw their needs — and provided.
By the time Hosea gave his word of warning from God to the northern kingdom, they had ceased to worship in that way. There was prosperity — more than in neighbouring Judah. There was enough of everything. This had led to a proud self-sufficiency where the well-off had an abundance of riches, while the poorer parts of society were being marginalised.
Hosea’s message addresses the danger they were in from forgetting who gave them a good lifestyle.
Next we meet a wealthy landowner, who thought his security would come from bigger barns to store more produce — a picture of the second pitfall, which is disregarding — disregarding God as a source of security in a life lived in covenant partnership with Him.
Forgetting God’s goodness and faithfulness is a bad mistake, but DISREGARDING God as the One who has committed to provide, is a step worse — it is saying that we don’t need Him!. Let’s hear the story in Jesus’ words in Luke 12:
Jesus said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Then he told [this] story: “A rich man [owned] a fertile farm that produced [an abundance of] fine crops… He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll… build bigger [barns]. Then I’ll have room… to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back… [with] enough stored away for years to come, and take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ “A person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”
Luke 12:15-21 NLT excerpted
We are not all farmers, but we all think about how we can ‘build bigger barns’ in a variety of ways – through savings, investments, insurance policies and pensions — property ownership as well.
Note that Jesus is not criticising good farming practice. Farmers where I live have grain dryers, and refrigerated storage for potatoes and apples. They also use mechanical handlers to pack barns to the roof with huge bales of forage, essential to feed the sheep and cattle through the winter months when the grass is not growing.
In one sense this is storing up wealth, but no farmer would survive long without any facilities.
It’s not about where we put our resources, material or financial. It’s about where we put our trust. Is it in these kinds of provision, or do we see all these sources as given by God and so part of our trust in Him? This is what Jesus was getting at in the story.
God must be prominent and central in the picture of our trust. Disregarding the One who provided the door in the first place, however it is stored, is clearly an offence to God and a sin which we need to put right.
So we have the first pitfall of forgetting, and the second or of disregarding, and now we come onto the third common mistake we make, slipping spiritually and REVERTING to ways we had renounced.
What is that about? There was the old life, the old self, before we came to know Christ — and for most of us, our attitudes to others lacked grace and kindness. Or worse, as this teaching to the church in the Colossae region indicates!
Since…you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God… not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God… Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now… rid yourselves of… anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language…[and] do not lie to each other. You have taken off your old self with its practices. [You] have put on the new self, which is being renewed… in the image of its Creator… Christ is all, and is in all.
Colossians 3:1-11 excerpted
Becoming a Christian of personal and committed faith in Jesus is a fundamental spiritual shift. It makes us different in how we are with other people. It will be noticed!
Those who have that relationship with God through Jesus will stand out as the ones who are joyful and peaceful, who are gracious and comfortable people to be around, encouraging the good more than criticising perceived faults.
This is what this teaching is about although it is being viewed from the other side of the coin – the old nature and the old life.
The point is, we have had a lot of practice of living the old life through the old nature. And living the new life through the new nature is at first unfamiliar. It’s all too easy to revert — to slide back into the old ruts, and find ourselves saying and doing things which are toxic and destructive.
Just as Jesus in His parable said, “Be warned!”, so Paul here teaches firmly: “Rid yourselves… of your old self with its practices.”
The Holy Spirit does the renewing work in us and brings the transformation. He shows us the new path to follow but we have to take care that we are not pulled back to the old track that we were used to.
The Scriptures have set out for us three common pitfalls for Jesus’ followers: forgetting the goodness of God, disregarding God as our source and focus for trust, and reverting from God’s ways to our old ways.
Knowing is avoiding
Knowing these dangers, we can avoid them – and of course the Holy Spirit in us is always reminding us of God’s goodness to us in the past, revealing God as the Faithful One now, and guiding us in our new life and new nature.
But there’s a part we have to play. We must want God enough to allow ourselves to be led by Him and listen to His prompting.
Father God, help me to walk with You as one who listens to You.
Forgive me for the times I have forgotten Your many gracious works in my life, and for the times I wrongly put my trust in things I created, rather than in You, the ultimate Creator and Provider.
Help me to embrace fully the new life which comes through trusting in Jesus alone for my salvation, and willingly allowing His lordship of me. And where I have slipped back to old ways, show me my fault and guide me back to Your way.
As I seek to honour Your Son and my Saviour, Jesus. Amen.