The year is 587 BC. A very difficult choice faces the king of Judah at that time, a man named Zedekiah. It’s a choice between life and death – but not in the way you would think. In order to properly understand this choice, you need a little bit of context.
Zedekiah was born and given the name of Mattaniah. His father was King Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah. The kingship gets a little messy from there when Mattaniah’s older brother Jehoahaz becomes king. He’s king for just three months before being deposed by Egypt, and replaced by his other brother Eliakim whom Egypt controls and whose name is changed to Jehoiakim. Eliakim/Jehoiakim gets deposed by Babylon, and his son Jehoiachin is placed on the throne…for three months, before he is deposed by Babylon and Mattaniah is placed on the throne, and his name is changed by Nebuchadnezzar to Zedekiah.
Zedekiah doesn’t like being under the thumb of Babylon, and in his 9th year of rule he cosies up to Egypt and declares open revolt against Babylon.
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, acts immediately and leads a vast army against Jerusalem, which is a little bit like America and China teaming up to crush Swaziland.
Zedekiah is understandably terrified. Despite the fact that he is the 4th in a line of wicked kings, and he himself is quite wicked, he decides to ask for the LORD’s guidance and sends messengers to the prophet Jeremiah for a word from the LORD.
The LORD tells Zedekiah through Jeremiah that it is too late – the fate of Jerusalem is sealed. Babylon will succeed in defeating Judah because of their many sins against the LORD. The LORD tells Zedekiah that he has a choice: either they can surrender to His will and surrender to Babylon and live, or surrender to their own fears and keep fighting and die.
Now, after this, there’s a slight reprieve when Egypt attacks Babylon, causing Nebuchadnezzar to retreat for a while, and jubilation erupts in Jerusalem when they think they are saved.
But God’s word will stand, and a few months later, when Egypt leaves Babylon alone, Nebuchadnezzar leads his army back against Jerusalem again.
Zedekiah sends messengers again to Jeremiah asking for a word from the LORD, and this is where we take up the story today. You can read about this time in Zedekiah’s life in Jeremiah 38. Being a wicked king, you wonder why he would send for a Word from the LORD. Perhaps Zedekiah was hoping for a different word from God – maybe this time it would be favourable. But God’s plan hasn’t changed.
What a choice Zedekiah has to make! He’s tried so hard to keep this sinking ship afloat, and it looks like it’s time to put the life-rafts down. But if he does that, he’ll have to admit to everyone that he was wrong for years, he’ll have to surrender himself to God’s will, and – more terrifyingly in his own mind – he’ll have to throw himself on the mercy of those who have been seeking to kill him.
Place yourself for a minute in the sandals of Zedekiah. You face a difficult choice: Obey God in the face of imminent death and live, or disobey God – trusting in your own strength – and die. The odds were completely stacked against him, and all he had to stand on was God’s word.
You must place yourself in Zedekiah’s shoes because we face similar choices in life; sometimes smaller, sometimes bigger, but difficult – potentially life- or eternity-altering choices. Times when God tells you to move away from a certain group of friends; times when God calls you away from the alcohol or pornography that you’ve been using as an emotional crutch for years; times when God calls you to leave your job and go elsewhere; times when God calls you to surrender your heart to Him forever; times when God calls you to stand against your boss’s unethical choices or your client’s racism.
And how will you choose the right when the odds are completely stacked against you and all you have to stand on is God’s Word – God’s promises? What if following God’s call means losing big – losing friends, losing money, losing a job, losing family?
At that point, we need something to stand on. We need signposts to guide us safely along the potentially perilous paths of life.
I want to share with you today two passages that have been signposts for Sarah and I as we’ve prepared to follow God’s call into missions. While these passages have been meaningful for us in our walk into missions, I pray they’ll be meaningful for you in your walk into whatever act of obedience God is calling you to.
“Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I don’t remember the date, but I remember the road I was walking down in 2009 when this verse hit me with real significance. “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
We all have heart desires, don’t we? I’m not talking only about surface desires, like for a certain car or a big house or a particular job; not even only about BIG surface desires, like to get married and have x-number of kids. I am talking about those things, but I’m also talking about deeper heart desires as well: To be seen and celebrated. To be safe. To be affirmed as valuable and worthwhile. To have a life of meaning.
How can we reach those goals? Many people will work late nights and early mornings, sacrificing time with family and friends in order to achieve the surface desires: If I work a 70-hour week for just these three months I’ll get that promotion and I’ll finally get that car!
It’ll feel like you’re dying, but you might be able to achieve some of those surface desires. And it will come at great personal and relational cost.
Meanwhile, trying to achieve the deeper desires is what everyone actually wants – but we all know it’s hopeless trying to attain them. To be seen and celebrated; to be safe; to be affirmed; and on and on.
· You get the promotion and think you’ll be celebrated, but you’re not.
· You think if you move to Australia you’ll be safe, but you’re not.
· You think if you’ll get married you’ll finally be affirmed, but you’re not.
And so you keep working – maybe the bigger car; maybe a richer neighbourhood; maybe the next wife – but with each achievement you find yourself no closer to actually achieving your heart-desires.
Friends – this is the silliness, the emptiness, the foolishness, the vanity, the meaninglessness of unbelievers in the world – that they try to achieve what they’ve been created to achieve in a way they were not created to achieve it. And it leaves them feeling wretched, hopeless, empty, despondent, suicidal.
Have you found yourself feeling despondent? Have you lost heart?
Friend – you were created for more than this. God made you to have your heart-desires met. God made you to be satisfied and content. I would go so far as to say that if you’re not living a completely content and satisfied life, you have not achieved all that God has planned for you.
That’s where the popular passage from Jeremiah 29 comes in: For I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.
But what is the intention of these plans of God? Do you know verse 12 and 13 of Jeremiah 29? Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
God’s plan of blessing is GOD-DIRECTED, not YOU-DIRECTED. God says, Delight yourself in ME and I will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 16:11 says “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Where is the blessing? Where are the eternal pleasures? Not hidden in a cave. Not tucked away in a hole. In God’s presence – at His right hand – and as you seek Him anddelight in Him you will find Him and receive Him and all that He delights to give you.
And so, I no longer seek to satisfy my heart-desires anymore. If that was my goal, I’d never get there. Instead I’ve been crying out all year: Lord, teach me what it means to delight in You. Show me how to do that. Take away whatever elseis my heart-delight that isn’t You.
Some of you have had a difficult year, and you’re wondering when you’ll catch a break. Maybe you’ve been trying to keep your business going, or you know that you need a little more money to study further to get a better job; and no matter what you do your plans always come to naught. Stop seeking the break – seek to delight in the God of breakthrough.
I want to make this easier for you, and I love the Good News Bible’s version of this verse: “Seek your happiness in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desire.”
Seek your happiness in the LORD – learn to turn to Him for rest, for adventure, for friendship, for peace, stop leaning on your own wisdom and understanding, acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight.
“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
It's a similar statement to the one we looked at above, and so I’m not going to dwell on it for long, but it’s been a passage that has been ringing in our minds and hearts for months as we prepare to go down to KZN.
If you don’t know it, we’re going to a job that offers no salary. We have to raise not only our own salaries, but also raise funds for the work that we’ll be doing there.
How do we do that? Who’s going to give us money to live?
The world economy is strained; South Africa’s economy has been getting weaker; one of the first places that people stop giving to when money gets tight is churches, and the first thing churches do when people stop giving is cut back on missions support. We’re going to be at the bottom rung of the ladder. How are we going to eat? Where will we get money for baby clothes?
But right here is a command from Jesus. It’s not a suggestion or an encouragement. It’s not a confusing statement either. It’s as plain as can be: DON’T WORRY ABOUT THOSE THINGS! ‘Don’t worry?! Okay, if it was just about my DSTV subscription and my Edgars account – I can lose those. But don’t worry about what I’m going to eat?! That’s ridiculous!’
But that’s exactly what Jesus tells us not to worry about – Don’t worry about the bare essentials – those things that without them you’d die, or be walking around naked. Don’t worry about them. Or anything else for that matter.
He goes one further: Pagans run after those things. You’re not to do that. How are you different from a staunch, outspoken atheist when you lie awake at night worrying about finances?
My little girl is almost four months old now. One thing that makes me laugh at her is when I’m feeding her a bottle and I need to readjust my seating or grab something off another chair, and I take the bottle out her mouth and it won’t take 2 seconds before she loses her mind and screams like her very life is in danger. I laugh and tell her, ‘Baby girl, it’s right here, I haven’t forgotten about you.’
When we are walking around with stomach ulcers and grinded down teeth and nervous twitches – how do you think that reflects on our claims to trust God to take care of us? Jesus says in this verse, He’s our Father – He knows what we need; He cares about our hurts; He’s in heaven and can provide whatever. STOP WORRYING ABOUT ALL THIS STUFF. He’s either your Father or He’s not. He’s either able to provide for you or He’s not. But don’t call Him your Father in Heaven if you don’t believe He cares about you or you don’t believe He will take care of you.
I should say at this point that these promises and blessings only belong to the child of God who is made that way through faith in the work of Jesus Christ. God gives a measure of His goodness to all people, but His promises of life and His invitation to a satisfied life only belong to those who do His will – which is to believe in the One He has sent, who is Jesus His Son.
If you are not a believer, then worry all you like, and pursue worldly success and seek your heart desires because God won’t give them to you. You’ll fight all your life and with some success you’ll get that car, that house, that promotion. And then you’ll die and leave it all behind.
But if you are a believer, understand that God’s promises are not dependent on you, they are dependent on Jesus’ finished work, and you only need to learn to trust His word and rest in His promises.
And just like Psalm 37:4 we start at the end of the verse and work our way forward, we do the same with Matthew 6:33. You want stuff? You want food to eat and clothes to wear? You want a roof over your head and your children in a good school? You want security in your job and stability in your finances? SEEK GOD’S KINGDOM FIRST – and your heavenly Father will take care of the rest.
This verse, along with Psalm 37:4; Philippians 4:6,7 and others have been signposts along the way that have promised we’re going in the right direction and to keep on going. To the left is a good job in a nice neighbourhood surrounded by family and friends – all good. To the right is daily dependence on God, trusting His promises, seeking to delight in Him and no other. Every world signpost says ‘Go left and be happy’; but every Bible signpost says ‘Go right and trust God.’
So just like King Zedekiah we face a choice. Just like King Zedekiah, you will have to face choices. Left, or right. World’s way, or God’s way. Your strength or God’s strength. Self-dependence, or God-reliance. Death, or life.
What will you choose today?