For many of us, the turning of the calendar from one year to the next brings fresh thoughts of what the future might hold…of the better selves we hope to become…of the goals we desire to accomplish. And, if we’re honest, we understand that these noble goals we hope to achieve are often only possible through the many small, day-in-and-day-out choices we make—tiny, often spur-of-the-moment choices that, over time, are the stone-upon-stone masonry upon which we build our future selves. The inimitable C.S. Lewis helps the Christian understand how truly significant these choices are:
“[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
For the true believer in Christ, these choices reflect our obedience. On a daily basis, some of our most significant choices boil down to answering one question: Will we choose to believe what our God has said?
The Bible repeatedly juxtaposes belief and disbelief in the children of God (sometimes within the same person and sometimes between different people). If you are a student of the Bible, specific instances of this juxtaposition have probably already come to mind.
As I’ve been reflecting on the 49th chapter of Isaiah this morning, I couldn’t help but consider the stark example of disbelief that the people of God reflected right after being given a command to praise Him for what He had done and what He was going to do for them:
Isaiah 49:13-14 (ESV)—The Choice of Disbelief
13 Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.
14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.” [emphasis mine]
“But Zion said.” Astonishing, isn’t it? Through their words, their disbelief charges God with lying. “Comfort? Compassion? Are you kidding? You have forsaken me. You have forgotten me.”
Oh, how easy it is to accuse Zion of horrifying disbelief—until the Holy Spirit unveils the mirror of my own disbelief in theirs.
Yet God is too good to leave us staring dismally at our own disbelief. He continually provides us with examples of obedient belief. Of course, the perfect example of belief we have comes through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ; however, the Bible also provides us with others who, even in their imperfection, choose in the moment to believe, who refuse to succumb to blind unbelief, even in terribly trying moments. The commentator Alec Motyer describes a two-step process to making this choice of belief: “The antidote to despondency is first to direct the mind to God and secondly to rest on His word” (Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 394).
One of the most brilliant of Old Testament examples of the choice of belief occurs in 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, the story of the people of Judah and their king, Jehoshaphat, whose circumstances involve the terrifying prospect of a battle they can’t win (according to all outward appearances). As I re-read the account aloud this morning in the context of thinking about Zion’s unbelief in Isaiah 49, I was astonished at the choice to believe that occurs over and over again in these thirty verses—of, as Motyer says, the children of God directing their minds to God and then resting on what He had said.
Here is the account in its entirety. You will be much helped by reading it aloud.
2 Chronicles 20:1-30 (ESV)—The Choice of Belief
1 After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites,came against Jehoshaphat for battle. 2 Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, “A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar” (that is, Engedi). 3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.
5 And Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, 6 and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. 7 Did you not, our God,drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? 8 And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, 9 ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you—for your name is in this house—and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.’ 10 And now behold, the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom you would not let Israel invade when they came from the land of Egypt, and whom they avoided and did not destroy— 11 behold, they reward us by coming to drive us out of your possession, which you have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
13 Meanwhile all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. 14 And the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. 15 And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. 16 Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. 17 You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.”
18 Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.19 And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise theLord, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice.
20 And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.” 21 And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say,
“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”
22 And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. 23 For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another.
24 When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped. 25 When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take their spoil, they found among them, in great numbers, goods, clothing, and precious things, which they took for themselves until they could carry no more. They were three days in taking the spoil, it was so much. 26 On the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, for there they blessed the Lord. Therefore the name of that place has been called the Valley of Beracah to this day. 27 Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat at their head, returning to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. 28 They came to Jerusalem with harps and lyres and trumpets, to the house of the Lord. 29 And the fear of God came on all the kingdoms of the countries when they heard that theLord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 So the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around. [emphasis mine]
Beautiful belief. Belief that is chosen. Belief that is spoken. Belief that is God-honoring and God-honored.
Oh, may God give us this spirit of belief. May each one of us pray alongside the broken-hearted father of Mark 9:23-25, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
But let’s not stop there. Let’s also pray this for our brothers and sisters in Christ. After all, we are commanded to help one another fight the sin of unbelief. Hebrews 3:12-13 give us the following command: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a wicked heart of unbelief that turns away from the living God. But exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” So let’s pray that, especially in moments of despondency, our brothers and sisters in Christ will make many daily Godward choices, choices that result in turning their minds toward our triune God and then standing on His perfect Word. And may He receive much glory from these choices.
Soli Deo Gloria.