This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
I s it working? Your belief system, that is. Is it really work ing? God’s intention all along has been for the believer’s life to work. From divine perspective toward terrestrial turf, God meant for His children to succeed. God stated unapologetically in Joshua 1:8 that conditions exist under which “then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (NASB). Are our Christian lives successful? Are they achieving and experiencing what Scripture said they would? In a recent sermon my sonin-law preached, Curt told us the only way we were going to impact the world and the next generation is to prove that our faith in Christ is real and that it works. For countless Christians I’m convinced it’s real. My concern is whether or not we have the fruit to suggest it works. I fear the reality of most Christians differs dramatically from our theology. We bear little resemblance to a church causing the gates of hell to tremble. I squirm as I suggest that the gap between our theology and our reality is so wide we’ve set ourselves up for ridicule. The sad part of it is that some of us are working pretty hard at something that is hardly working. Why do we spend so much time and energy on spiritual exercises with few effects while the rest of the world sleeps in on Sundays? Why are some of us getting up before dawn to have a quiet time with effects drained to the dregs by noon? Why are we running out of ink in our high-lighters marking Scriptures that rarely jump off the page and onto our pavement? Why are we doing everything we can to convince others to do something that hasn’t worked terrifically well for us? Why won’t some of us admit that for all practical purposes the present belief system of most Christians isn’t working?
Certainly those of us who have accepted Christ as our Savior have received the automatic and glorious result of eternal salvation. However, the primary reason God left us on earth after our salvation was for our Christianity to “succeed” right here on this turf. We’re getting by but getting by, was never our destiny. We were meant to be profoundly effective. Why have we accepted average? Are the few effects most of us see and experience all Christianity has to offer? Is this it? All we can expect? If so, someone out there needs to feel sorry for us.
I’d volunteer except that I no longer buy it. Our status-quo system of contemporary Christianity isn’t working, and I’m bucking it. Thankfully, so are a number of others. Some of us no longer want to play like the emperor has new clothes when he’s walking around, as my grandmother would say, as naked as a jaybird. The church, comprised of all believers in Jesus Christ, is generally pretending she’s cloaked with kingdom power and effectiveness while in reality she has exposed herself in powerlessness to the ridicule of the world. We can’t blame the devil. For the most part we’ve dumbed-down New Testament Christianity and accepted our reality as theology rather than biblical theology as our reality. We’ve reversed the standard, walking by sight and not by faith. We want to be the best of what we see, but frankly what we see is far removed from God’s best.
A few months ago I was taking my usual route on my morning walk when I came upon a simple scene with telling application. Four ducks were splashing in a mud puddle in the sidewalk while a large, pristine pond was just over a small hill. I stopped in my tracks and stared. I felt like God was saying to me, “Beth, that’s my church. My blood-bought, Spirit-promised church splashing in a mud puddle with a sea of living waters within her reach. Just on the other side.”
Trust me. No one has been covered with more mud from puddles-settled-for than I. Forgive me if my zeal is too easily interpreted as condemnation or criticism. What a hypocrite I’d be! If a mistake can be made, I suppose I’ve made it. In fact, my past record of failure, defeat, and pitiful mediocrity is exactly why I’m heaven-bent on sharing this message with you. If God can empower me to move from the mud puddle to the pond with such broken wings, wobbling legs, and webbed feet, I can assure you He can move you.
Beloved, God has made us promises. Real ones. Numerous ones. Promises of things like all-surpassing power, productivity, peace, and joy while still occupying these jars of clay. Few of us will argue the theory, but why aren’t more of us living the reality? Like the children of Israel, I believe many of us are wandering in the wilderness with the Promised Land just on the other side of the river. This book has one primary goal: to encourage any Christian who will listen to move to his or her personalized place of divine promise and to flourish.
Blessing is bowing down to receive the expressions of divine favor that in the inner recesses of the human heart and mind make life worth the bother.
God not only approves of New Testament believers applying the concept of a Promised Land, He insists on it in the third and fourth chapters of the book of Hebrews. Our Promised Land and Sabbath rest culminate in heaven, but I’d like to suggest that an earthly Promised Land exists for you and an earthly Promised Land exists for me. How might we define our land of promise? Your Promised Land is the place where God’s personalized promises over your life become a living reality rather than a theological theory.
Need a few examples? The parallels and subsequent applications we can draw from the children of Israel and their land of promise are numerous, but just for starters...
1. God promised us a place of blessing. God’s willingness and unwavering desire to bless His people is one of the most repetitive concepts in both testaments of His Word. He is the Giver of all good gifts and greatly exults when a child cooperates enough to receive some. New Testament believers were promised blessing for obedience as surely as the children of God in the Old Testament. The Promised Land was a place of promised blessing to those who followed the precepts of God. When you and I find our places in Christ where God can freely fulfill His promises to us, we will also experience immeasurable blessing. Blessing is defined by neither ease nor worldly possessions nor stock-market successes. Blessing is bowing down to receive the expressions of divine favor that in the inner recesses of the human heart and mind make life worth the bother.
2. God promised us a place we could live. God didn’t promise the children of Israel a place they could visit. He promised them a place they could settle and dwell in blessing. A land they could possess. A place they could find Sabbath rest. According to John 15, New Testament believers have likewise been called to a place of abiding. Living. Dwelling. I finally came to a point in my Christian walk where I grew bone weary of inconsistency being my only constant. Occasional wisps of authentic spiritual living only multiplied my frustrations. I then knew a place of fullness and effectiveness in Christ existed, but at best I was a drop-in. My soul needed a place it could live. I longed for my defeats to be infrequent visitations, not my victories. Beloved, our personalized lands of earthly promise are places we’re invited by God to dwell in Christ. It’s high time we stopped dropping in and started taking up residency.
3. God promised us a place where He brings forth a great harvest. As much as any characteristic of the Promised Land, God promised that it would be fruitful. Many of us have heard it characterized as a land of “milk and honey,” but additional Scriptures are far more descriptive. For instance, Deuteronomy 8:7-9 says: “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with streams and pools of water, with springs flowing in the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.”
John 15 again supplies us with a New Testament Promised Land parallel for every follower of Jesus Christ. The eighth verse says, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” Not some fruit. Much fruit. Beloved, can you accept the truth that your heavenly Father wants to show His glory through using your life to bear tremendous fruit? Your personalized Promised Land is the abiding place where you get to see God keep the promise of a great harvest through your life.
God has far more in mind than bringing forth one kind of fruit from your life. The harvest God desires to produce has the potential of abounding variety. I believe the promises God made to the Israelites for their Promised Land in the tangible realm parallel ours in the spiritual realm. You and I weren’t called to become machines of mass-but-monotonous production. Just when we decide our lives are all about figs, God starts mixing up the soil underneath our feet to bring forth some pomegranates. Have you too quickly decided that what you have done or what you are doing is all you’ll ever do? Ah, God’s far too creative for that. May God use our present journey to shake up some soil.
Perhaps my favorite part of Deuteronomy 8:7-9 is that the Promised Land was an abiding place where God’s people would lack nothing. Need a New Testament parallel? Second Peter 1:3-4 tells us that “his divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” Our personal Promised Lands are the places we accept those “very great and precious promises” and appropriate “everything we need for life.”
If you can’t imagine God ever delivering you from the corruption of evil desires and bringing forth a great harvest through your life, you’ve bought into the lie that God’s promises don’t apply to you. The Amplified version of Ephesians 2:10 says that you and I are “God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].”
God knew you before you were formed in your mother’s womb and planned good works for you that would bring forth much fruit. According to Acts 17:26, God even determined the times and places set for us to live on planet Earth most conducive to our personalized harvests. Too much predestination for you? Here’s the catch: we don’t have to cooperate. We can live our entire lives as Christians and never fulfill the glorious plan God tailored for us in advance.
Ephesians 1:18 says, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” Our glorious inheritance in Christ is not meant for heaven alone. The primary context of Ephesians 1 is the impact of our heavenly inheritance on our earthly existence. God knows the plans He has for us, Dear One, but He will not force them on us. Don’t miss the word hope. Nothing about your calling or mine is compulsory. God is going to accomplish His agenda regarding heaven and earth no matter what you and I do, but we get to decide whether we’re going to be part of His process in our generation. Our callings remain a hope until we allow the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened and choose to accept them.
4. God promised us an abiding place of great victory over our enemy. From the moment God first issued the promise of land to Abram, He described its occupants as quickly as its perimeters: “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites” (Gen. 15:18-21). Our Promised Lands are characterized by the presence of victory, not the absence of opposition.
Promised Land theology becomes an earthbound reality only to those who cash in their fear and complacency for the one ticket out of their long-inhabited wilderness.
Earlier I asked you if your present belief system was working. One way we can measure our belief system’s effectiveness is to examine how consistently our biblical position as “more than conquerors” (Rom. 8:37) is fleshed out in our reality. The children of Israel showed they were God’s conquerors on earth by conquering. Victory always assumes a counterpart defeat. We will never take our places as “more than overcomers” with nothing to overcome. We will never be victors without opponents. As we will continue to see in our journey, God gave the Israelites the Promised Land but told them they’d have to take what was theirs in fierce battle. Why? Probably one reason was so they’d develop the strength to keep it once they conquered it. Surely another was to let them experience the thrill of victory that only a battle hard fought can bring. In God’s economy, much of what is worth having is proved worth fighting for.
Like the Israelites, you and I have been promised spiritual ground for great and abiding victory on a turf where our enemy stands in defiance. If you’re not presently occupying your Promised Land, rest assured the devil is. Are you going to stand by and let him get away with that? God has given you land, Beloved, but He’s calling you to go forth and take it. Your enemy is standing on your God-given ground daring you to take possession of it. Are you going to let him have it? Or are you going to claim your inheritance? Possession is the law of the Promised Land. Red Rover, go over.
The Creator of heaven and earth—the One with the entire universe and its riches at His disposal—knows you by name, has planned a Promised Land for you, and longs to bless you. He wisely reserves the right to require your cooperation. Many promises of God are unconditional, but His promises of full-throttle blessing, abiding, fruit-bearing, and conquering are not. Nothing in your life or mine is worth forfeiting the places of promise where our own 1 Corinthian 2:9’s are fulfilled. What God has prepared for you is more than your ears have heard, your eyes have seen, and your mind has ever conceived. Promised Land theology becomes an earthbound reality only to those who cash in their fear and complacency for the one ticket out of their long-inhabited wilderness.