One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is found in 2 Chronicles 20. It is the story of Jehoshaphat and a battle that he faced. Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah (1 Kings 15:24). He occupied the throne for twenty-five years (873-848 B.C.). The biblical record of his reign is contained in the final chapters of 1 Kings and in 2 Chronicles 17-20. He was an able ruler and a faithful worshiper of Yahweh (1 Kings 22:43).
I like this story because it so illustrates the way the Christian life is to be lived. I believe that if we follow the example of Jehoshaphat, we will also experience the blessings that he experienced.
Before we look at Jehoshaphat's battle, let me give you a little background:
2 Chronicles 17:9 (NKJV) So they taught in Judah, and had the Book of the Law of the LORD with them; they went throughout all the cities of Judah and taught the people.
The people of Judah were biblically illiterate. They had never taken time to listen to and discuss God's Word and understand how it could change them. Jehoshaphat realized that knowing God's Word was the first step to getting people to live as they should, so he initiated a nationwide religious education program. He reversed the religious decline that had occurred at the end of Asa's reign by putting God first in the people's minds, and instilling in them a sense of commitment and mission. Because of this, the nation began to follow God.
We need to see here that exposure to good Bible teaching is essential for living as God intended. How can any of us live the Christian life when we don't spend time in God's Word to learn what it is he wants from us?
Jehoshaphat gets some bad news:
2 Chronicles 20:1-2 (NKJV) It happened after this that the people of Moab with the people of Ammon, and others with them besides the Ammonites, came to battle against Jehoshaphat. 2 Then some came and told Jehoshaphat, saying, "A great multitude is coming against you from beyond the sea, from Syria; and they are in Hazazon Tamar" (which is En Gedi).
Jehoshaphat learned that this great host was already at En Gedi, on the west shore of the Dead Sea, and would soon head for Jerusalem. One minute things are fine, and the next our world is caving in. Do you know the feeling?
One day when Cathy and I were dating, I road my motorcycle out to a lake cabin where her family was vacationing. It was a beautiful, warm sunny day. On the way back home, a storm suddenly blew in and it began to rain. When you're going 45 mph on a motorcycle, rain hurts. One minute I was enjoying the ride, the next I was in great pain. Storms can hit suddenly, unexpectedly and sometimes violently...much like the storms we experience in our lives from time to time. These storms come in various wrappings, such as:
"Mom, Dad, I'm pregnant," and your whole world caves in.
"Martha, it's about time you wake up! I've been having an affair for 6 months. I'm not in love with you anymore," and you're devastated.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith, your son is down here at headquarters on a possessions charge," and the bottom drops out of your heart.
The list seems endless: miscarriages, divorce, death of a loved one, business failure, rebellious son or daughter, losing your job, relationship problems...
Recently I read of one woman who said, "It's amazing how one day you can be going along smoothly, and the next day one little word from the doctor's lips--cancer--suddenly changes everything."
Life's trials come in various wrappings, but the results are similar--you get that empty, sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, you feel hopeless, you feel like your world is caving in.
I know that there are many of you that are facing a trial right now. Your trial may be a medical problem, it may be a marriage problem, it may be a job or financial problem What ever it is you're facing it's very real and very threatening to you. If you were in Jehoshaphat's spot, what would you do? Or better yet, how are you dealing with your own trial? When you get the bad news, how do you respond?
Let's look at Jehoshaphat's reaction and see if we can learn from him.
2 Chronicles 20:3-4 (NKJV) And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 So Judah gathered together to ask help from the LORD; and from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD.
Jehoshaphat's initial response was fear. Can you relate to that? We get bad news, a problem arises, and we fear. Is that wrong? No, it is the sense of fear that drives us to God. What do we do when we are afraid? David tells us in:
Psalms 56:3-4 (NKJV) Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You. 4 In God (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not fear. What can flesh do to me?
It's when we are afraid that we turn to God who is our refuge, and as we trust in Him, the fear goes away.
Psalms 46:1-2 (NKJV) God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
David is saying..."when your world is caving in...look to God! He is our refuge and strength." The Hebrew word "refuge" (makhseh) means "a shelter from danger." We are safe in His presence.
When you ask a person who has been a believer for many years "When were the times you have felt closest to God?", the answer will almost invariably be that it was during a time when they were going through some kind of trial, and they found in the experience that God is truly a refuge, a shelter from danger.
Many believers have only a "head knowledge" about God being our refuge. They sing hymns about it, they read Bible verses about it, yet when they're caught off guard with a storm suddenly blowing into their life, the songs and Bible verses are quickly forgotten, and panic sets in. Suddenly, they're convinced that God has deserted them! David's advice in Psalm 46 is that we should not shake our fist our God, we should not spend years asking, "Why?", but instead, we should turn to God, trust Him, and seek refuge in Him. There is absolutely no guarantee of what tomorrow holds for you or me, but we are guaranteed that God will be our refuge, our strength, our constant companion.
So Jehoshaphat's fear moved him immediately to turn to God who was his refuge. He calls for national fasting and prayer.
When the nation was faced with disaster, Jehoshaphat called upon the people to get serious with God by going without food (fasting) for a designated time. By separating themselves from the daily routine of food preparation and eating, they could devote that extra time to considering their sin and praying to God for help. Hunger pangs would remind them of their weakness and their dependence upon God.
Notice Jehoshaphat's prayer:
2 Chronicles 20:6-7 (NKJV) and said: "O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? 7 "Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?
It seem to me like he is reinforcing his own theology as he prays. He is in effect saying, "You are the God who rules the universe, the absolute sovereign One and that is why I come to you."
2 Chronicles 20:12 (NKJV) "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You."
What is Jehoshaphat saying here? In his desire to show his complete dependence on the Lord, the king uses hyperbole in describing his army, which is well equipped and of good size (cf. 17:14-19), compared with that of the enemy.
The heart of this prayer is, "God, I have no strength or ability of my own, I am utterly and completely dependant on you." Please notice carefully his attitude. This is the attitude that brings glory to God -- complete dependance.
Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon is "Sinners in the hand of an angry God," but maybe a more important sermon, as far as American Church history is concerned, is the message he preached on July 8, 1731 in the city of Boston titled, "God glorified in man's dependance." The opening paragraph stated, "There is an absolute and universal dependance of the redeemed on God. The nature and contrivance of our redemption is such that the redeemed are in everything directly, immediately, and entirely dependant upon God. They are dependant on Him for all and are dependant on Him in every way."
There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependance on God, thus glorifying Him, more than in prayer.
John 14:13 (NKJV) "And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
We glorify God by prayer. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves. Prayer is the open admission that without God we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that he will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy, and exalts God as wealthy.
A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a rut because he doesn't know Clark Kent is on board.
Psalms 50:15 (NKJV) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."
Jehoshaphat's response to trouble was prayer and that should be our response. Our dependance glorifies God.
Since God is in control of all things, why would he bring trouble into our life? Why not just provide us with a trouble free life? Why didn't God prevent this army from even showing up? David gives us some insight into what trials do:
Psalms 119:67 (NKJV) Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
Psalms 119:71 (NKJV) It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
If we had no trial or troubles in our life, how much would we depend on God? Our trials are an opportunity to glorify God by our dependance and faith in Him.
A few years ago a preacher preached a message called "Tackling the Toughies." He said, "Most of the problems we face we can handle on our own, but sometime we have big problems and need God's help." That's not right! Unfortunately, though, it's the way many people live their lives. As a result, they miss out on the joy of experiencing God's power in the flow of life's daily routine.
When Michael Jordan decided to play professional baseball, there was some question about whether or not he could make it in this sport. After he was hired by the Chicago White Sox, he was sent to play Double A ball in Birmingham. Birmingham was a test; if Jordan could do well in the minor leagues, they knew he would be ready to play major league ball. Unfortunately, he wasn't good enough to play minor league ball. This is nothing against Michael Jordan. There's no question that he is the greatest basketball player ever to play the game, but he didn't pass the minor league baseball test.
The inconveniences that we face are our minor league test. If we can't handle them, we won't be able to handle the major stuff that will inevitably come our way. Every problem, no matter how small, is an opportunity to trust in and depend upon God.
As Jehoshaphat and the children of Israel seek God, He speaks to the assembly through Jahaziel.
2 Chronicles 20:15-17 (NKJV) And he said, "Listen, all you of Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem, and you, King Jehoshaphat! Thus says the LORD to you: 'Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's. 16 'Tomorrow go down against them. They will surely come up by the Ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the brook before the Wilderness of Jeruel. 17 'You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the LORD, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the LORD is with you."
God tells them not to be afraid, they won't even need to fight in the battle. God is going to fight for them, all they need to do is to trust in Him.
2 Chronicles 20:20 (NKJV) So they rose early in the morning and went out into the Wilderness of Tekoa; and as they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper."
Trust God! That is all they needed to do. Now God had given them a specific promise to trust, he told them he would defeat their enemies. We don't have a promise from God that says we will always win our battles, but we do have a promise that all that happens to us will work out for our good.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Do you trust Him? Do you believe that He is in control of every thing and is working all things together for your good? If you do, why should you worry?
2 Chronicles 20:21-22 (NKJV) And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the LORD, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: "Praise the LORD, For His mercy endures forever." 22 Now when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated.
They put the singers out in front of the army and they began to sing and praise the Lord, and as they did, the Lord destroyed their enemies. The Lord caused the enemy troops to turn on one another. The Ammonites and the Moabites fought against those of Mount Seir until the latter were annihilated, and after that, the Ammonites fought against the Moabites.
2 Chronicles 20:24 (NKJV) So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped.
Just as God has said, they didn't even need to fight. God wiped out all their enemies. When they got to the battlefield, they found all their enemies dead. This great army that caused Jehoshaphat to fear was now a bunch of corpses.
Now how do you imagine Jehoshaphat and the people felt at that moment? They must have been in awe of God's power and provision. I think that this is exactly how God wants us to deal with our problems. We are to go to him in prayer, trusting him to give us the strength and courage we need to get through our trial.
That would be a great ending of the story, but it isn't over yet, look at the next verse:
2 Chronicles 20:25 (NKJV) When Jehoshaphat and his people came to take away their spoil, they found among them an abundance of valuables on the dead bodies, and precious jewelry, which they stripped off for themselves, more than they could carry away; and they were three days gathering the spoil because there was so much.
They spent three days gathering the spoils of this war and they didn't suffer one casualty or even swing a sword. This is victorious Christian living. Not only was their enemy defeated, but they were abundantly blessed in the process.
2 Chronicles 20:26 (NKJV) And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed the LORD; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah until this day.
Berachah--a Hebrew word meaning "blessing." This is a picture of the blessings that come in our lives as we face trials in prayerful dependance. This is a picture of what God wants to do in your life if you will learn to trust in Him. We will always have trials and troubles, how will we respond to them? Will we panic and fall apart or will we trust in God who is our refuge?
Let me share with you some of the blessings or benefits that trials bring into our lives when we respond to them correctly.a. Trials help us develop compassion. The most caring, compassionate people I have known have been people who, at some time in their life, experienced the devastation of a personal trial. Out of that suffering they developed genuine compassion and empathy towards others.
We see this in scripture. Paul said that God "comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Corinthians 1:4, NIV) The second benefit is:
b. Trials help us develop deeper relationships. This has certainly been true in my family, and it's been true for many of us in this "church family." There's a certain strengthening and closeness that develops between people when they experience adversity together. The third benefit is:
c. Trials help us develop inner strength. I read once about how early missionaries to Africa had to cross rivers and streams on foot. This was before any bridges had been built in the area, so when they crossed the river, there was always the danger of being swept away and drowning. Eventually, the missionaries learned from the Africans that the best way to cross a river is to find the heaviest stone they were capable of carrying, and lift it up to their shoulders. The extra weight kept their footing solid and prevented them from being swept off their feet. The trials we face may be painful, but they help us to develop inner strength. The fourth benefit we receive from the storms we face is:
d. Trials help us grow spiritually.
After you experience several trials, and as you learn that God is faithful in seeing you through, you will develop confidence to face future trials. As the years go by, and a number of storms have come and gone in your life, a deep and abiding confidence sets in. With conviction you can say, "God has never failed me in the past, so right now--in this present storm-- I choose to trust Him."
The question is not "Will times of adversity come into your life?" The question is "How will you respond?" Let God be your refuge and your source of strength. Learn to depend upon Him in every situation; He will help you weather the storms of life.
Now, obviously, your faith means something to you; you are in church this morning. However, just attending church is not enough. Unless you're drawing closer to God on a daily basis, unless your relationship to Christ is the top priority in your life, you won't be able to weather a major storm.
Let's learn from Jehoshaphat and live in dependance of God in every area of our lives. Dependance brings blessings!