God is moved by humility, gratitude, and faith.
We started this new series called Spark. Spark has to do when faith comes alive. It’s going to take the early part of the summer, just a couple of months, we’re going to do it. I’m actually going to be seeing it as a connection to where we’ve been. Some of you are aware that coming off of Easter, we had this Incognito series. We talked about Jesus and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. How Jesus talked to them, and they said, “Did not our hearts burn within us when He opened to us the scriptures?” Working off of this idea of our hearts burning, we’re talking about this idea of spark. When faith begins to emerge in us in a way that begins to compel us to want to respond. We’re talking about what happens when our hearts are stirred. When there’s something that begins to grow. Something that just begins to get a flame, starts to emerge, and we feel compelled to respond to it.
We’re going to sit with that. I’m opening up the series. I’m going to do it for two weeks. After that, we’re going to be hearing from different pastors in the church and different communicators coming in that are familiar to our community. They’re going to be sharing on this and giving different perspectives as well. The way I’m approaching it for this week and the next is a little two-part piece on a very unique figure that is relatively obscure in the Older Testament. His story is found in a book that usually people don’t read too much because the book of Chronicles is not exactly the well-known book to go to. It’s not like Corinthians in the New Testament. It’s an Older Testament book. If you have your handout, your Bible, or your Bible app, you can look at that as well.
You’ll notice that in 1 Chronicles verses 7-8. You can see the sons of Judah were Perez, Hezron, Karmi, Hur, and Shobal. You know what? The first nine chapters essentially are genealogies. So-and-so begat so-and-so who begat so-and-so who begat, and so on. A lot of times when people are reading through the Bible, this is where you get into a deep slog. It slows down in the genealogies every now and then in these lists. It’s sort of like walking through a graveyard, really. Actually, I’ve learned some things walking in a graveyard every now and then. I’ll look at something that’s written, a phrase that said it reminds me a lot of the brevity of life. A vanity of vanities says the preacher. We’re here but for a short while. Our life is, but a vapor, comparatively speaking.
That should challenge us to think about how we’re living and remember what real priorities should be. A lot of times we get stuck in places. Bogged down. We lose a sense of what’s really important. The genealogies that are in this first Chronicles are kind of just listening games. But all of a sudden, there’s this one name that stands out with a description. It’s like God gives us a little bit of insight into this man’s life. Whenever this happens, it’s almost as if we’re being invited to give particular attention to it. It’s like God is taking a pen, if you will, and putting a circle around it and saying, “Hey, check this out.”
I once heard, well actually they wrote this. They said that what we’re about to read is like an oasis in the wilderness of the dead. I want us to look at it together. 1 Chronicles 4. I’m just going to read verses nine through 10. It is about a man named Jabez. Jabez, we’re told, was more honorable than his brothers. His mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that you would bless me. Oh, that you would bless me indeed and enlarge my territory. That your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil and that I may not cause pain.” So God granted him what he requested. One of the things that stands out to me here is that God can do amazing and wonderful things through the broken places of our lives. Even the weak places, the places that we feel deprived in, the places where we may not see them as happy places. They’re less than happy places. Maybe some of us have struggling places. These are the places where God can do things. God can work. God can heal.
Here’s something I want to put up. God is not limited by our lack. That’s one of the things Jabez teaches us. Whether it’s a lack of talents, abilities, wealth, resources, education, pedigree, or things that our culture values like youth or beauty. Or raw intelligence. The things that the culture places a premium on and tends to admire. What’s encouraging about that though, is Jabez was not born in any prominence at all. He wasn’t blessed with any distinct, outstanding advantage. There was nothing notable about him. If anything, he was at the back of the line, not at the front. He was lifted, not out of prominence, but if we could see it more out of obscurity and disadvantage.
The reality was that Jabez was a man who was born into an atmosphere of sorrow and pain. His name literally means sorrowful. It seems to have been a reflection of his mother’s physical and emotional state. Look at that in verse nine. Names in the Old Testament had meaning. We name our children names. Maybe some of us were named after people in the family or a friend or something. Usually, it’s because someone liked the name. In the Older Testament, especially, they gave names because those names had meaning for either what they were experiencing at the time or what they hoped to see happen. In Jabez’s case, he’s given the name sorrow. I mean, how would we feel if our mother named us sorrow? Taken another way. I have named you pain.
His mother called him sorrow. He was born with a stigma. He started out of the gate with a stigma. Often where we start defines where we’re going, doesn’t it? In our culture or world, many people are beginning their lives in pain. Obviously one of the blessings and one of the curses of the internet and technology is that we see. The fact that almost every conceivable thing can be videoed these days. The fact that things are being captured before they are happening and we weren’t aware of it. It is astonishing to see if we look at it through anything remotely resembling an objective eye. Some of the things that human beings do to other human beings are astonishing. The pain that is inflicted.
I think every now and then something really hits and affects us. Increasingly for many people in culture, or maybe it’s just because we’re more aware of it. I think it’s a combination of many people starting out the early years of their life, and they’re not good years for them. In some cases, they’re incredibly painful. That one’s earliest years are painful years. It explains, in part, some of the self-destructive things that people, especially younger people are doing to themselves.
All of my kids are now out of college. It was just a few years back where I remember that a couple of them were in high school here in the city. One of them was in a school where they were having an epidemic of suicides among teenagers. You would think in this particular place where their people had means and wealth and such, oh, it was an epidemic. I was reading an article not too long ago by a woman named Susie Shellenberger. She talked about something that was happening in our culture. She called the article Cutting Pain. It struck me because I really had never been exposed to it before. So I wasn’t aware of it, but it hit me when I read it. She talked about a girl named Chava. She said Chava was 15 when she pierced the flesh of her hands and arms with a sewing needle. “I was desperate to get my mind off of all the sadness and confusion I was feeling,” she says, “and part of me was thinking, I can’t believe I’m doing this. But the other part of me was grateful I was able to numb the pain on the inside because I was now focusing on a different pain, a physical pain on the outside.”
The deep emotional pain started when Chava was abused at 11 years old. But the word wasn’t abused. “I don’t know what to do with all that hurt,” she continued. “I just didn’t know. It just wouldn’t go away. It kept growing and gnawing at my insides.” As Chava matured, she gained a little weight, which added to her worries. “I began to obsess about my weight, and I started throwing up three times a day. I actually got to the point where eating anything made me physically sick.” Unfortunately, Chava learned to juggle an eating disorder and an obsession with cutting herself.
Millions of teens are involved in self-destructive behavior. The majority are females, but the percentage among males is rising. It’s not simply a North American tragedy. Self-destructive teens live in every part of the world right now. Perhaps you’re aware of a student who’s involved in self-mutilation. He or she may be known as a cutter. No one simply begins cutting for the fun of it. Someone who cuts herself or commits any self-destructive behavior is trying to cover up a painful experience or is crying for help.
In Chava’s case, it had to do with an eating disorder. Her cutting was a product of the deep, emotional pain that she was having to walk through. It was an attempt to distract or relieve. Somehow, it was almost like a form of sedation. A numbing the pain kind of thing. But it was real. For some of us, it may not be. We may not have an eating issue. Maybe cutting has not even been on our radar screen or maybe it has. Maybe for others of us, it might be other things like what we turn to. We turn to drugs, or to some type of a drinking issue. Some of it’s pornography, and are deeply devastated by it. These addictions abound in our culture. What looks initially like a way of solving our pain ultimately ends up imprisoning us in our pain. It can be powerfully destructive.
Our contention as a church is that Christ heals. That’s what we talk about all the time. We talk about how Jesus is many things, but one of the things He is for sure is the gentle healer. This morning I was in prayer and found myself thinking, “Lord, I surrender to your kindness. I surrender to your kindness.” That meant two things to me. One part of it was just that I need to surrender this because it’s really bothering me, and I’m not doing well with it. Then your kindness; there’s just something about stating it out.
I was thinking about Matthew 11:28, where Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are heavy laden.” That is all you who are tired and are bearing so much weight. “Come to me and I will give you rest.” Some of us might be very tired. We might be feeling emotionally exhausted, mentally exhausted. Some of us might be at a point in our lives where we are carrying so much weight. People don’t even know it. Some of it is on the inside. Some of it has to do with relationships. Some of it has to do with the stuff we’re working through. When Jesus says that He’s inviting us into His rest, what does that even look like? How do I do it?
I was thinking about these two things, reflecting on Chava’s pain and Christ’s promise. I wrote a poem. It’s the only way I found I could express myself. It reflects something and I would like to share it with the church. It’s called A Poem for the Hurting.
“Hollow empty eyes, hurt once more, lonely, lost in the crowd. I am here. I am there. I am nowhere. Does anyone care? Does anyone see me walking by, my struggle, my sorrow, my pain, the pain in my eyes? I am hurt. I am wounded. I am nowhere. Lost and uncertain, wondering why, a little crushed and a little broken. I am hurt. I am wounded. I have nowhere. I look around, look to the sky, but nothing can I see, and no one sees me. God, are You there? I am hurt. I am wounded. I am nowhere. My tears are real but tightly concealed, unrevealed. I am hurt. I am wounded. I am nowhere. If you listen, the voice of love is calling, calling true and clean. My words run deep, and my blood runs red. My gift to you. I was hurt. I was wounded. I am now here.”
The difference between nowhere and now here is but a little gap in the shifting of a letter, but it makes all the difference. That’s the Lord. I am now here in every place where that wound is. He is there. That’s what He does. Now go back to Jabez for a moment. It appears that his birth was a source of exceptional pain for his mother, either because of the birth itself or the circumstances surrounding it. I don’t know why she called him pain. Why did she name him sorrow? Most Hebrews at that time, most of the people who were Jewish at that time, it was an agrarian culture. It was patriarchal. It was more male-dominated. There were no governmental assistance programs. If you got old, family meant everything. It was huge. Family and community, that’s how you lived when you got old.
If you lived long lives, it was because you had people with you that were networking with you in a familial structure. To have a son in that kind of a world was a blessing. It meant provision. For Jabez’s mother to have this boy and to call, “Your name is Jabez. You are a sorrow to me.” I wonder how it affected him. Using our language, I wonder if he possessed a negative self-image. A damaged sense of his worth and wonder if that’s part of the reason that fuels his ambitious nature. I think it was. What we see is this man born into negativity and sorrow with no apparent unique talents, gifts, or any advantage. You know what it says he did? He began to call upon the Lord. This is the key to me. It says he began to call out to the Lord. If we call out to the Lord in our pain and our sorrow, in our struggle, do you know what we open up ourselves to? We open ourselves up to dimensions of healing and blessing.
It’s part of what happens. Jabez cried out, “Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, Lord, that your hand would be with me and that you would keep me from evil. I don’t want to be myself.” I’m going to talk about this next week. “I don’t want to be a pain bringer. Don’t let me cause pain. Enlarge my lands, lift me out of my situation, expand my responsibility, expand my influence. Bless me, Lord, bless me.” This is what we’re being told he cries out. It was his prayer. It was his passionate request. It was ambitious.
In Jeremiah 33, we’re given this really wonderful verse. It says, “Call to me and I will answer you.” I love this. This is from the ESV. It says, “I will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.” Think about that. Call to me, call to me and I will answer you. I will show you great and hidden things that you have not. I will reveal things to you. We’ve got an invitation. What a wonderful, expansive promise that is. You can feel it. It’s wide. Call to me. I will open up things to you.
Then, take that verse, and balance it out with a verse in the New Testament in James 4. In James 4:3, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong. You want only what will give you pleasure.” Can you hear me when I say this? Motives matter to God. Motives matter to God. The why matters to God. The why matters to God. Jesus taught us the why matters, not just the what but the why. It means that we’re going to have to wrestle with stuff, examine our heart, be honest with God about our motives, not just slap a coat of righteousness over the veneer of self-interest. It’s like washing a fence that’s all decayed. I might put some paint on it, but really inside of it, it’s rotten. Ever done that before? I don’t want to replace that, I’ll just put some paint on it.
Jabez’s motives appeared to be at least in part generally connected to a desire to honor God. Look at how he’s described in verse nine. It says he’s described as being more honorable than his brethren and his peers. The fact that he asked God and God answered him by moving on his behalf, tells us in part that God interpreted his request as legitimate. Legitimate enough to be answered in a positive, affirming way. Look what Jesus said. Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given; seek, you shall find; knock, and it will be open to you.” Now you see the progression from a relatively passive place to one that is more desperate. Do you see it? I ask you, I seek you. Now let me in. That’s a different degree of pursuing something. When we’re desperate. I was thinking about this. Here’s the question. How many of our requests for God’s help and provision go unanswered because we never asked them.
I think it was Wayne Gretzky? He’s scored more points, had more goals, and more points than any player in the history of hockey. They were asking him about it. He said about taking shots. He said, “you miss 100% of the shots you never take.” That’s a guarantee. You’ll miss 100% of the shots we never take. It’s the same thing with prayer. A hundred percent of the prayers we never make aren’t going to get answered. Take the shot. That’s the point. Jabez seemed to have a discontent with his situation. He didn’t walk around and say, “I was born and it was an unfair place. My mother cursed me from the day of my birth.” He didn’t say, “why did you let this happen to me, God? It’s your fault.” He didn’t walk around blaming God. That’s pretty clear here. He doesn’t complain. There’s no subtle tinge of resentment that somehow God, you owe me. No, his attitude leans to the positive. If we’re unhappy, if we’ve been unfairly treated, if we’ve even been sinned against, or just feel bad about a situation, the worst thing we can do is blame God. I was having this conversation with someone just a few days ago. I said, “The worst thing you can do is to blame God.” You know that. I said, “Don’t make God your enemy. Make God your ally.”
For some of us, things don’t go right. We go on strike. It’s like, “I’m on strike, God. And oh yeah. You didn’t come through for me. You’re not coming through for me. I love you, but I’m on strike right now. I’m on strike right now. My attitude’s on strike right now. You find someone else. We had a deal. I love you. You take care of me, right? I’m on strike. I’m not doing it. I’m not. Nope, not so.”
Can you hear me? Don’t go on strike with God. The Lord is on our side. When things are melting down, or when things are wrong on the inside of me, I’m not going to blame you, Lord. I want you to help me. I need your help. Oh, bless me, oh God. Help me, Lord. Bless me. Help me through this. Show me a way. Give me wisdom. Help me with my weakness. Bring the right people around me. Find a way to get me through this. Show me the path. You make a broad path. Make a path for me. Lord, my eyes are on you. My eyes are on you. This is what I’m talking about. Jabez says, “God help me.” He says, “God help me. Move on my behalf.” He cannot change how he starts out in life. He can’t change what someone who should’ve loved him better did to him. He can’t change it. What he does though, is turn to God. He says, “God, help me. Help me. Bless me. Open it up for me. Heal me in this way.”
It’s like he’s crying out. I was reminded that God is moved by humility, gratitude, and faith, particularly when we’re under duress. In times of difficulty, it may feel like we’re forsaken or we’ve fallen into a hole that we made for ourselves, or someone turned on us, whatever it is. In those places, we need to affirm our faith and commitment to the Lord. Affirm it. Everybody can say, I love Jesus when it’s always going the way I want it. Do you love me when I’m not coming through for you the way you want me to? I will say that we can get very stubborn with God. There’s a verse in 1 Samuel 15, I think. I think 22. It says “rebellion is the sin of witchcraft. Stubbornness, like iniquity and idolatry.” That’s how the Lord categorized it. Whoa. Be very careful about our pride. God resists the proud, but He gives grace to the humble, and some of us need to look to Him. I love what Jesus modeled on the cross because on the cross he says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
I hear it. It’s powerful. It’s like, “Where are you?” Right? He knows it. He’s got the weight on Him. It’s all part of the plan, but at a human level, He feels it. “Where are you? You have turned on me.” Then, in the next breath, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” He models for us what we do. I place my trust in you in the place of my question and in my pain, I placed my trust and into your hands, I commend my spirit. Some of us need to just remember that in our pain and our season of discontent, our winter of our discontent, the season of our hardship, we trust Him. We place it in His hand. In our confusion, sorrow, and struggle, some of us need to ask for open doors and faith, then to step through them. Others of us need to ask for courage so that we don’t let fear start dominating our lives. Others of us need to ask for humility because honestly, our real problem is our pride.
Pride has made us blind. What’s that song? Blessed is the man who knows his need. “Blessed is the one who knows how to plead, for in his pleading, he will find that his pride has made him blind.” By asking the door is open wide. I think in the end, though, most of us just need to know we’re loved by a God who will not give up on us. He wants to take our sorrow and turn it into a song. I was telling someone, “There are wounds, but He wants to take the wound and get the infection out of it. Then it becomes a scar. It’ll never not be a scar, but it’s a scar that reminds us of His grace and how He heals. He’s the wounded healer who makes us wounded healers.”
Here’s what we’re going to do. The way I would like to invite us to consider working with me toward the end of this service. After service, if some of you feel like there’s just something that you want to have prayed for, we’ll have a couple of pastors on the side in the connection area if anybody wants to pray. We’re going to have our time of giving. I know more of us are giving these days online and through the app. But we still have this time of giving that we do for those who don’t. We have this song that we’re closing with. The song, it’s very powerful. It’s called “I Won’t Let You Go.”
There are certain lines in the song that this morning I was listening to as they were getting ready to bless us with it. The band was preparing, and there was a part where I started crying. It was one line that just totally stood out to me. It made me cry. I could tell my eyes couldn’t contain my feelings. There’s a line that says you want peace, but there’s war in your head. You want peace, but there’s war in your head. It’s like the one who brings peace to our troubled waters. I’m going to pray. I’ll pray for dimensions of healing to come, whatever area. Some of those might, our worst enemies might be ourselves. Others, it might be someone we love is just really hurting us. Bad stuff we’re trying to move forward with in the Lord. God’s the healer. He’s good. You’re in the right place. Let’s pray.
Lord, we ask for you to bless this closing time that we’re about to share together. I pray that you would spark faith in us for what you can do. I thank you that you’re the life giver, not the life taker. It’s all that you’ve done. It’s all that you’ve been. It’s all that you still do. Let your life work in us, God. Dimensions and ways that we can’t even imagine it sometimes. I thank you for the struggling places where we find your grace to be so powerful. In the place of our wounded pride and in the struggle of our heart, it forces our eyes on you while our knees are bowed because we can’t do it. Who is the great and powerful one, the one who can be real and open to you, or the one who guards themselves and never reveals the heart? Help us to be as you would have us to be. Help us to be safe in the greatness that you modeled, the vulnerability of Jesus. Bless our time. Bless these minutes. Bless that we’re about to close with, in Jesus’ name, I ask it. Amen.