It was the day before a potential confrontation with her. After being separated from this friend for a few months over a sharp disagreement I was preparing for what might be a show down. Although time had elapsed my vitriol had not. I was still angry, and hell-bent on finally getting a chance to prove myself, to show her I was right and she was wrong. Although we had once been close, the line in the sand had been drawn and she had crossed it.
My day had been spent planning out my objectives. I had formulated two plans, both of which I believed would have the desired effect but I was unclear as to which route to take. One plan was admittedly a bit more passive-aggressive than the other, but I was determined that both were appropriate. I rehearsed each approach in my mind until every point was sharpened.
By the time evening rolled around I was pumped and ready. Adrenaline had been surging through my veins for hours. I knew I needed to slow down and get some rest before this monumental take down but the question still loomed – which approach would I take? I decided prayer was my best option for an answer. So, as I began yet another rehearsal in my head I directed both options at the Lord. I’d preface my remarks with, “Okay, Lord, shall I do this… or this…” And I would end my diatribe with, “Which one do you think, Lord?”
I never waited long for an answer from Him. I’d just start again only more agitated that perhaps even He wasn’t listening to me! I’m not sure how many more rehearsals it took but I did begin to sense an answer from Him. The answer was, “Talk to me.”
“What? Lord, I am talking to you. Haven’t you heard me? Which of these two approaches do you want me to take with her tomorrow? A or B?”
Again I would hear, “Talk to me.”
“Lord, seriously? I am talking to you. I just need to know from you which of these two paths should I take. I mean, the one is a little more…”
“Talk to me.”
I finally stopped my thoughts long enough to realize I hadn’t really been talking TO Him but AT Him. I quieted my spirit, for perhaps the first time all day, and took a deep breath. In my mind’s eye I saw a picture of the right arm of a man. He had pulled up his sleeve and was flexing his bicep.
“Do you think I’m strong?” the Lord said to me.
My face grew flush. He had my full attention now. “Yes, Lord, I think you’re strong.”
“Do you think I’m strong enough to resolve this issue between you and your friend? Do you think I’m strong enough to bring you two back together?”
He didn’t have to say another word. It was like a 13 million lumen search light had been pointed in my direction and I could clearly see the stark contrast between my heart and the Lord’s. My objective, my motive, my intention was never about resolution. I had seen this disagreement as a line in the sand that had been crossed and my ONLY recourse was to defend my side and prove how right I was and how wrong she was. Both paths, with their meticulously sharpened points, I had designed to win the argument, to prove the validity of my perspective, and to further the separation between us. Back together? No, that hadn’t even crossed my mind.
It was then that I realized I had spent the day (and to be honest, months) formulating ideas and strategies that were worthless. I was putting my focus, my energy, and my creativity into something that would have only caused more strife, not healing. And while pursuing those efforts I was distracting myself from the Truth. I was taking God out of the equation altogether. I was bound and determined to right this “wrong,” this difference of opinion, on my own. I wasn’t thinking about Him or what His plan was for our relationship. I was singularly focused on that line in the sand. It had my rapt attention.
Well, I’m happy to say that I didn’t use either approach I had planned for that day – thank God! And, over time and with much patience on both of our parts the relationship with my friend was healed and restored. We have enjoyed many more years of blessed fellowship together since that time. God did that!
I’ve been reading the book of Isaiah and throughout it I am reminded of the stark contrast between the sovereignty of our God and the futility of the idols that we create for ourselves. That was the lesson God had for me in that circumstance. I had lost my focus on Him and His will for me and had focused instead on that line in the sand. I became so focused that I began to carefully craft what was ultimately an idol (or two). I wanted something to vindicate me, to acknowledge the significance of my point of view, to stand up for me in light of a disagreeing viewpoint. I worked hard on them, carefully crafting every detail. I put my hope in them, believing that one of them would surely defend me even if it did cost me a relationship. And all along the way I was ignoring the One who had brought us together in the first place. I acted as if He was either unaware of our differing opinions or worse, that I owned His favor and He was on my side alone. Either way, I took away His sovereignty and put my hope into ideas that I had manufactured for myself.
Here is just a small sample of God’s thoughts on this topic that He spoke through His prophet Isaiah:
“Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale? Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? Has the LORD ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice? No, for all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand. …To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him? Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold, overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains? Or if people are too poor for that, they might at least choose wood that won’t decay and a skilled craftsman to carve an image that won’t fall down!” (Isaiah 40:12-15, 18-20)
“Who has stirred up this king from the east, rightly calling him to God’s service? Who gives this man victory over many nations and permits him to trample their kings underfoot? With his sword, he reduces armies to dust. With his bow, he scatters them like chaff before the wind. He chases them away and goes on safely, though he is walking over unfamiliar ground. Who has done such mighty deeds, summoning each new generation from the beginning of time? It is I, the LORD, the First and the Last. I alone am he.” (Isaiah 41:2-4)
“‘Present the case for your idols,’ says the LORD. ‘Let them show what they can do,’ says the King of Israel. ‘Let them try to tell us what happened long ago so that we may consider the evidence. Or let them tell us what the future holds, so we can know what’s going to happen. Yes, tell us what will occur in the days ahead. Then we will know you are gods. In fact, do anything—good or bad! Do something that will amaze and frighten us. But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all. Those who choose you pollute themselves.'” (Isaiah 41: 21-24)
God is Sovereign! He is the First and the Last and He is the Creator of this world. Nothing is out of His sight. Nothing is beyond the power of His control. How is it possible for us as believers to forget this?! And yet we do, too often.
We are watching our country divide right before our eyes. Every issue you can name has become a line drawn in the sand and that line has our attention. We are motivated to defend our side, prove how right we are and how wrong our opposition is. We are throwing our time, our energy, and our enthusiasm behind movements, bombarded daily by causes that require our allegiance, our attitude, and our focus, all of which have been created by the hearts and minds of mankind. Make no mistake, they are idols! They hold no real power. They will not foretell our future or give us safety and security. They will not provide for us or care about us as individuals. They are inanimate objects created to bring false hope.
Believers, I ask you to pause and consider who is drawing these lines in the sand? Who is making these real issues that face our world a dividing line? Whose goal would it be to polarize us? To distract us and put us at odds with other fallen and broken people? To have us spend our days formulating our arguments, sharpening our points of debate, and looking for opportunities to destroy those whose opinions we oppose. It is not our God. It is a ploy of Satan and too many of us are falling for it.
Is what is happening in this world a surprise to our God Who created it? Is He sitting back on His throne puzzled by the confusion and chaos that we are surrounded by? Is He a Democrat or a Republican? NO! He was well aware of this time in history long before we were ever born and He has chosen us to be a part of it! In fact, His desire is to be able to use us as lights in this dark, divided, angry, and confused world to draw more people to Him, His love, His forgiveness, and His gift of eternal salvation for those who believe in His Son, Jesus.
We CANNOT forget God’s Sovereignty. We CANNOT forget that He has carefully and painstakingly designed a specific purpose for each one of us to fulfill for precisely this time in the history of our world. We CANNOT get swept up in the schemes of our enemy, falling for the notion that we must pick a side from the line he has drawn in the sand. We CANNOT waste our precious time, energy, and creativity carefully crafting useless, powerless, destructive idols that will further divide us.
Instead, look at what else God says to us through His prophet, Isaiah,
“Do not tremble; do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim my purposes for you long ago? You are my witnesses—is there any other God? No! There is no other Rock—not one!” (Isaiah 44:8 emphasis mine)
We are to be His witnesses! We are here to show others that there is a God who knows not only our current circumstances and our future, but He knows us personally! And He wants every living person He has created to know Him personally too. So how do we do this? How do we become God’s witnesses?
Jesus told us in the prayer that John recorded in his gospel.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (John 17:8)
Unity. Plain and simple. Just as it was for my friend and I, God’s desire is still to heal and restore the relationship among His Body of believers so that they may be one, a single Body working and functioning as one with Jesus as the Head. Do you see now how transparent the enemy’s scheme is? Satan would like nothing more than to divide the precious Bride of Christ; to see believers in Jesus picking sides against one another and spending their time focused on how to destroy the opposition. Satan knows the power of unity! Jesus couldn’t have said it more clearly. The world will believe that God the Father sent Jesus to save us from our sins when it sees unity among believers! That is our witness.
During the persecution of the Church by the Roman Empire, when a Christian met a stranger on the road he would draw an arc in the sand. If the stranger was a fellow believer, he would draw a second arc forming the outline of a fish. If the stranger was not a believer he would just think the man was doodling in the sand. The symbol of the fish became a symbol of the Christian faith. They would use it to mark Christian homes where underground churches were meeting. It was a symbol used to unify believers. The Greek word for fish, ἰχθύς (ichthus), was an acronym for the words “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, (our) Savior. Today, as we see the enemy draw more and more “lines in the sand” daring us to engage in the distractions and idolatry of the world, let’s focus instead on the lines in the sand drawn by those early Christians. Let’s look for ways we can unite as one, just as Jesus and His Father are one, so that the world may know Him through our witness.
Lord, you are the First and the Last. You are the Almighty God, Creator of the heavens and the earth. You are strong enough to handle the strife and division that is in our world. Father, you are Sovereign over all. Forgive us for the times that we forget that. Father, may each of us seek you and know the specific purpose and plan you have for us. Thank you for the opportunity to be alive during this time in history. May you use each of us to draw others to you. Unite us by the One Spirit that is within each one of your believers. Help us to see clearly the schemes of our enemy and let go of the idols we have been crafting for ourselves. Draw us together. Make us strong, finding all our strength in you alone. May the world seek you because we are your witnesses. Thank you Jesus for being our Savior and Lord. It is in your name we pray, amen.