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Choose Where You Will Live, Part I

DSC_3703_2Dear Comfort Cafe Friends,

For July and August we will look at Jeremiah 17:5-8. In the hot summer months, it somehow seems appropriate to study about deserts, wastelands, and wilderness. In July we will look at the first part of this passage and in August the second. My prayer is that your spiritual thirst will be quenched as you put down fresh roots by streams of living water.

desertThis is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:5-8)

Look at how Jeremiah contrasts two ways of life: a cursed way of life (unbelieving) and a blessed way of life (trusting). One produces the fruit of the Spirit and the other produces the fruit of the flesh. The following table examines the two ways of responding to life (where do you see yourself?):

The Blessed Life Contrasted to the Cursed Life

Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) Fruits of the Flesh
Love Hate

Unforgiveness

Resentment/Bitterness

Not trusting God to fix that relationship instead of being resentful that my efforts have been fruitless. Not trusting God to work in the other person’s heart in His good time. Not trusting that if the other person NEVER responds, I will be okay in God. If I’m bitter about the past, I’m not trusting God for the life He wants to give me now.

Joy Anxiety/worry

Depression/self pity

Not trusting God to provide for my physical or emotional needs. Seeing myself as stuck in hopeless circumstances, not trusting in God’s goodness, power, or wisdom.

Peace Anger/rage

Attempts to control others through shouting, yelling, and verbal assault because I’m not trusting that God will work in my best interests. I believe I have to fight for my rights for respect or love because God won’t. When hurt, not trusting God for revenge or restoration but taking matters into my own hands.

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Impatience

Self-will/Selfishness

Not trusting God to work quickly enough, so I have to take matters into my own hands. I want things my way, not God’s way. I’m boss of my schedule, of how I live my life, of what’s going to happen or not happen.

Self-control Not disciplined/laziness

Not trusting God to meet my emotional needs, choosing instead to self-medicate with food, substances, shopping… For example, instead of eating when hungry, stopping when politely full, I use food to numb my pain. Going to idols instead of God.

What fruit of the Spirit is most evident in your life? Which fruit of the flesh is most troublesome for you?

The Foundation of Trust

Consider how all the fruits of the Spirit are based on trust. And all the fruits of the flesh find their root in unbelief. To not trust, therefore, is unbelief; it’s saying, “I don’t believe you, God! I don’t believe you’ll take care of me; I don’t believe you have my best interests at heart; I don’t believe you are good.”

No wonder Jeremiah says there is a curse on man’s self-reliance. He says, “I, the LORD, have put a curse on those who turn from me and trust in human strength.” (Jeremiah 17:5, Contemporary English Version)

Cursed. This is a strong word. Relying on self is a cursed way of life. Jeremiah explains that such a man or woman will be “like a juniper in the Arabah; such people cannot see when good comes but dwell in the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land where no one lives.” (Jeremiah 17:5-6)

Living In The Desert

There are three things I want you to see about the cursed life:

(1) The Bible describes the desert as a dry wilderness. It’s an existence marked by loneliness, isolation, and lack. This environment cannot sustain life.

I did some research on the salt lands in Utah. They are so barren that the simplest life forms can’t exist. The spiritual parallel is that when we are driven into the wastelands by our stubborn independence, our lack of trust will eventually completely choke out life. Rather than joyfully receiving the abundant life in Jesus, we grit our teeth and plod on in survival mode, determined to do things our own way. This is a joyless, self-absorbed, stressed-out way to live.

(2) People who live in this wilderness place cannot see when good comes. (Jeremiah 17:6a)

The Bonneville Speedway in Utah is a perfectly flat, thick crust of salty soil. It looks like a frozen lake bed covered with snow. On hot days, heat waves rise from salty soil that creating mirages. If we were to believe our eyes, the dry desert would look as if it were covered by water. The spiritual parallel is that when we are mired in the salt lands, it distorts our vision. Living in our self will, we rush towards the paradise just ahead. Soon, after repeated disappointments, we become jaded and cynical. Our warped negativity distorts how we see life. All forms of negativity distorts reality. Jeremiah is right, in such a frame of mind, we “cannot see when good comes.”

(3) The wilderness is a land “where no one lives.”

Do you know people who have trouble keeping friends, who tend to alienate family members? They may have settled in the salt lands. Who wants to be with someone who habitually chooses to be miserable? There’s no life there, no shade, no comfort. Inability to trust God and others leads to greater and greater alienation and increasing isolation.

Dry Seasons

Note the little word, “dwells.” This means to live there. We all pass through dry seasons where we struggle to trust. We give in to anger, unforgiveness, self-pity, and worry.

Are you upset with God over some loss? Don’t stay there! There’s no life in that place. Love, joy and peace can’t be found in the salt lands. Don’t let the fruits of the flesh become an ingrained habit.

Choices

We tell ourselves that we can’t help how we feel. I’ll never forget a mentor who challenged me once. I had been venting to her about all my problems, and I was going round and round on the same things. She finally stopped me and said, “Ruth, it’s clear that you haven’t been guarding your heart. You need to dwell on what is true, noble, right, and lovely. Fixating on the negative things is giving the enemy a foothold.” In essence she was saying, “You can help it. You can make different kinds of choices here.” I decided to memorize scriptures so that when my mind was free, I had some good material to put in place of the negative thoughts. This practice helped me find my way out of the desert.

You see, the Bible doesn’t coddle us. It doesn’t say that we are hopelessly unable to trust. The scripture writers assume:

We can give up our bitterness.
We can learn patience.
We can learn self-control.
We can choose to forgive.
We are not victims of our emotions.

Repeatedly throughout life, we must choose to trust God in many different kinds of circumstances.

What We’ve Learned So Far
We’ve seen that the fruits of the Spirit are all rooted in trust whereas the fruits of the flesh are rooted in unbelief.
Moving into the desert of self-sufficiency will (1) choke out life, (2) distort our vision, and (3) alienate us from others.

Challenge

Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord where you may have strayed into the wasteland. Ask Him to show you the way out, for your situation specifically. He will surely be faithful.

Coming up: Next month we will study the rest of the passage, focusing on the blessed life! So stay tuned!
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