Over the past several years, God has graciously ministered to me through stories of God’s power in the midst of seemingly impossible odds. This is a lovely thread throughout Scripture. The Lord often goes to great lengths to demonstrate that God alone is able to provide and protect.
Here are a few of my favorite examples:
Gideon (Judges 7)
God reduces Gideon’s army from 32,000 warriors to 300! God then causes the opposing army to fight each other or flee.
Elijah and the Prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18)
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a direct demonstration of God’s power. 450 prophets of Baal vs. Elijah. The story again emphasizes that it is not a fair fight. But, again, the fight turns out to not be fair for the opposite reason it seems to the world. Elijah has the one true God on his team and the 450 prophets of Baal only have an imposter god.
The four lepers (2 Kings 7)
Samaria is under a terrible siege. Four lepers with no good options decide to surrender to the Aramean army and end up raiding their camp.
“But when they came to the edge of the camp, no one was there! For the Lord had caused the Aramean army to hear the clatter of speeding chariots and the galloping of horses and the sounds of a great army approaching. ‘The King of Israel has hired the Hittites and Egyptians to attack us!’ they cried to one another. So they panicked and ran into the night, abandoning their tents, horses, donkeys, and everything else, as they fled for their lives.” (2 Kings 7: 5-7)
Our Faith in God’s Power
One of the things I have been struck by is that in the midst of these stories something subtle but very important happens. Real people take simple steps that demonstrate that their full trust and confidence is in God.
Here is a story that I’ve been rereading for about three years now that shows this in a way that is particularly moving to me.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3)
There was a period of time when I just couldn’t stop reading Daniel 3. I encourage you to read this story for yourself. King Nebuchadnezzar is deeply confused about who God is. (He has a lot of other stuff going on.) He builds a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. He then demands that everyone in the kingdom bow down and worship the idol that he has made.
Daniel is a profound study of faithfulness in a foreign land. This is a powerful story of when faithfulness requires saying no to the powers and principalities, even though there is every reason to believe it will cost them their lives.
“But there are some Jews…” (12) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have refused to bow down and worship the idol. And their accusers promptly bring this to the King’s attention. They are then called on the carpet to stand before the King who reiterates his demand and gives them one last chance to bow down and worship his idol. He makes sure the threat is explicit:
“But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?” (15)
The response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the face of the full might of the King and his promises continues to encourage and strengthen me:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”
My reading of this passage has almost always stopped at verse 18 of late.
But even if he doesn’t.
Amazing courage and strength!
Of course, God does rescue them. But I have needed the reminder that the life of faith is lived in real time. And the gospel is not a promise that we will avoid suffering. It is a promise that God is with us always and Jesus wins.
The resurrection, the ultimate victory of God, comes through the cross.
I don’t know about you, but this feels like a pretty chaotic and uncertain time in my part of the Lord’s vineyard. (And it has felt that way for a long time, hasn’t it?) There are times I feel weary and exhausted.
There has been an unexpected blessing for me in this place. I am learning to seek God’s power in what seem like impossible odds. I am learning to hunger and thirst for the Holy Spirit. I am learning to depend on God’s power to rescue.
I am remembering that the God we read about in Scripture is the same God we worship today. And he is worth giving yourself to fully, without holding back.
I am desperate to see God move in power in ways that only God can. I am yearning to see a move of the Holy Spirit that increases faith, brings strength, and courage. I want to see the Lord raise up a people who want nothing more than Jesus and the power of his resurrection.
God is faithful. Lord, we are waiting on you. Come Holy Spirit.
Kevin M. Watson is a professor at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. He teaches, writes, and preaches to empower community, discipleship, and stewardship of our heritage. Click here to get future posts emailed to you.
Amen. This resonates deeply with me. My wife and I have been noticing that the fruit of living in this part of the UMC’s story is that it’s renewing in us a raw desire for God’s Spirit, and it’s giving us what I can only call a “holy detachment” – a reliance not on the institution in any way at all, but only on what the Spirit of God is doing and the power of the Gospel. I suppose that this is the fruit of circumstantial uncertainty: It forces us to course-correct and place our hope in the activity of God alone.
Tom Deviney said:
Daniel 3:18 – Amen to Matthew and you. In the last year, I have heard two other people talk about this passage. One was a young colleague talking about how he and his wife battled through the loss of a newborn. In the midst of praying and struggling, the Spirit directed him to this verse. It became a touchstone of strength for them. Another was a farmer in Africa. After the death of his wife and daughter, he and his sons began to farm. As they struggled and he fought with depression, the Spirit directed him to this verse. It became their touchstone, read and prayed over every night. He is now one of World Vision’s “champion farmers” in the region. But he claims this verse as his weapon against doubt and depression.
I confess not paying much attention to this verse of Daniel until hearing from them – and now you. But I am leaning into it, also, as a source of strength in these turbulent times. And I stand amazed at how the Spirit has guided people in such different situations and cultures to find strength and inspiration from the same verse. What an amazing witness to the moving of the Spirit and the power of His Word.
Kevin, I love these stories, too. Such insight into our loving God and His amazing power. This was a wonderful reminder that even in these circumstances in our church and denomination today, God will prevail. Things may look different, be called by different names, but when the flap is “over” ( for this go around!) we will still worship God. Thanks for you encouraging words. Becky
Calvin "Cal" Brannon said:
Thanks, Kevin, for sending such encouraging insight. I remember a preacher commenting on these stories, saying, “It’s not until our dreams die and become impossible for us to attain depending on ourselves, that God often does some of God’s finest work.”
I am desperate to see God move in power in ways that only God can. I am yearning to see a move of the Holy Spirit that increases faith, brings strength, and courage. I want to see the Lord raise up a people who want nothing more than Jesus and the power of his resurrection Amen!Joe
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