Summary: If we want to be useful for God, it is essential to learn that God is God. God determines the conditions of our service and we are to obey. It is too easy to descend into a pit of one demand upon another for God to serve us before we step out in obedience
If you read newspaper advice columns, like Dear Abbey, very often, you will recognize a scenario that comes up again and again.
It is usually a woman who writes in about the man she loves. She insists they really love each other, but there’s this problem. She just can’t keep him happy. She likes to go out with her girl friends every once in a while, but he gets nervous that she might be seeing another man if she goes out, so he tells her, ‘If you loved me, honey, you wouldn’t go out like that.’ So she has quit seeing her friends.
He likes to drink, and when he does he often gets pretty unreasonable and sometimes gets in trouble. She asks him to cut back. He promises that he’ll work on it, but he has a lot of stress on him at the moment, and her nagging doesn’t help. So he tells her, “If you love me, honey, you’ll understand and give me time.” But the more understanding and time she gives him, the worse the drinking gets.
And now he wants her to move in with him. And she doesn’t think they are ready. Abby, what should she do?
And Abbey, or any counselor who hears this all-too-common story has to say, “every couple has their ups and downs, but this guy is using you. He is manipulating you. Love requires trust. Love requires commitment. The faster you break this off, the better. You are enabling him to abuse you. Have you heard this story before?
Now let’s jump back in time several thousand years to the story we just read from Psalm 78. The story originally comes from the Book of Exodus, but the Psalm tells it in a more compact way.
The people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt. They called out to God for help and God came through with a miracle. Pharaoh let them leave. But Pharaoh soon changed his mind and soon the Israelites found themselves trapped with the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s soldiers coming up rapidly from behind. They called out to God and God came through again by opening up a way for them to go through the Red Sea and then drowned Pharaoh’s soldiers as they tried to cross behind the Israelites.
As they set out across the Sinai desert, one day they came to a pond of water, but the water was too bitter to drink. God came through and enabled them to make the water drinkable. Another day their food was running out and God provided this mysterious manna for them to eat.
One day they traveled as far as they could go and couldn’t find any place with water to make their camp. And what did they do? Did they humbly ask God for help? Did they say, “Lord, you have always shown us what to do in the past, what shall we do for water this time?” No, after all the times that God had been there for them, they grumbled. They accused God of bringing them into the wilderness for the purpose of killing them. After all the things God had done for them.
Can you hear the voice of the manipulating husband here? “God, if you really loved us, you would do this, and this, and this, and this.” If you loved us, demanding again and again for God to prove his love. They were determined to have things their way and in their time. They weren’t interested in waiting for God’s time and God’s way.
And God had things under control. There was no need to panic. Apparently, there was an underground spring there. God told Moses to hit a certain rock with his walking stick, and there was the water. Why did they doubt? Why were they demanding?
For centuries people looked back at this moment as a serious sin. God was God and they were his people. God had proven himself again and again; that he knew what he was doing and that he would take care of them. Who were they to come to God like this, putting God to the test, saying, “God you have to make things quick and easy for me. If you really love me, you will.”
This is our third week talking about the temptations that Jesus wrestled with. Temptations aren’t really fun to talk about. Who wants to have to wrestle with themselves? Its hard work to sort out what your deepest motivations really are. Our passage is clear that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness for the purpose of wrestling with the temptations. We usually prefer the parts about God leading us beside still waters and restoring our souls. But the reality is that much of what God does to restore our souls happens through a cleaning process where everything is closely examined and then thoroughly scrubbed. So it is an important process, something God’s people have especially done during Lent for many centuries.