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EMPTY PROMISESThe Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You've Believed
By PETE WILSON
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Pete Wilson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE WAITING ROOMS OF LIFE
Watch DVD session 1.
AFTER THE VIDEO
Is there anyone who has not felt the nagging emptiness inside that longs for something: to be a little more beautiful, a little more wealthy, a little more successful, a little more powerful? We always want "a little more." But it is never enough. We look toward tomorrow with hungry eyes, waiting for the thing that will finally satisfy us.
We wait and we wait; and we don't like waiting. Then we get fed up with the wait. Frustration takes over, and we may start feeling our wait is hopeless. If we can't get what we want when we want it, we sometimes take things into our own hands instead of waiting on God's direction. Or we find something else to want. For all our wanting, we remain empty.
Consider the Israelites. They were totally ruled by this same inner hunger—the emptiness within that demands to be filled. Israel had actually seen and experienced God's presence. Through Moses, God had led the Israelites from captivity to freedom. They had seen God work. But the minute Moses was out of their sight, the Israelites were forced to wait. When the waiting continued, they decided to find fulfillment in a god of their own making—an idol.
The Israelites' desire and reaction is really no different from our own. We all seek something to worship; we all seek fulfillment. We seek a feeling of worth and significance. We need to feel we are valued and secure.
God knew about this need. He knew there was an emptiness within all people. He also knew only He could fill the void. He knew there was an ache that haunts every one of us. He knew this longing for purpose, beauty, significance, and peace pulsates through our veins and we would stop at nothing (including building our own golden calves) to fulfill those longings, not even for a moment. So God gave a command: you shall have no other gods before me.
It makes perfect sense that this was God's first command to a newly freed people. We cannot follow His other commands if we break this first one.
Just think about it: your response to God's first eightword command influences every facet of your life. Idolatry isn't simply a sin. It's what is fundamentally wrong with the human heart.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Share about a time in your life when you felt truly satisfied and content.
2. Read Exodus 32:1–6.
Have someone in the group recall the events of the exodus from Egypt that had taken place not long before this account.
What are some reasons you think the Israelites wanted Aaron to make them gods to worship (v. 1)?
Aaron was Moses' brother and helped Moses in leading the people. Why do you think he was willing to do what the people asked of him (vv. 2–5)?
3. Has there ever been a time in your life when you got tired of waiting on God and took matters into your own hands? What happened?
4. Often our search for fulfillment begins with the words "if only I" (for example, "If only I had that ... I would feel this"). In your search for significance, value, satisfaction, and security, what are your "if only" statements?
5. No one likes to wait. Share a time when waiting was difficult for you. Why was it difficult? Why is waiting such a challenge for us?
6. Why do you think the Israelites chose to worship an idol? In what ways do we follow that same pattern of behavior?
7. How can breaking the first of the Ten Commandments—"You shall have no other gods before me"—keep us from following the other nine?
8. Share about a time when you trusted in an idol (another person, a job, your talent, a hobby, etc.) for something only God could give you. What was the result?
9. What attitude lies at the heart of idolatry? In what ways does this attitude reveal itself in your own life?
10. In what ways do you see idolatry influencing the world around you?
11. How can you begin to identify and break the pattern of idolatry in your own life?
Lord, thank you for creating us with the desire for fulfillment that only you can meet. Please help us through this time together as we recognize the pattern of idolatry in our lives. Show us how to break the pattern and seek only you to fill the emptiness inside. When we get tired of waiting, please help us realize that even waiting times can be a gift bringing growth and closer relationship with you. Help us as we declare our independence from idols through our total dependence on you. Please go with us through this week as we seek you and pray for ourselves and others. Amen.
DAY BY DAY
In our first session, we confronted the reality that we simply hate to wait, and that often leads us to idolatry. Although difficult and frustrating, waiting is worth it when we're living according to God's timetable. The good news is, we are not left on our own. God is with us in the waiting and has even given us great examples of real-life "waiters" in His Word. One such "waiter" is Joshua. His life draws a beautiful picture of the truth in Isaiah 40:31: "But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings life eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walls and not be faint." Let's tape a walls this weep through Joshua's life and see how being a faithful "waiter" helped him avoid idolatry and ultimately helped him soar along the journey God had planned for him.
Exodus 1:8, 9, 11: Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, "Look, the people of the children of Israel are more and mightier than we.... Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with their burdens. And they built for Pharaoh supply cities, Pithom and Raamses.
Exodus 14:21, 22: Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided. So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
Exodus 17:1a: Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim.
Exodus 17:8–10: Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
Joshua was one of the Israelites living in captivity in Egypt. He had lived his whole life waiting for God to show up and deliver His people; all the Israelites had waited for generations for their promised Deliverer to appear. As Egyptian slaves, many of the Israelites may have believed the time for hope had passed and no deliverance was on its way. Imagine having to wait a year for someone to keep a promise to you. If waiting just a year for a fulfilled promise could be frustrating, imagine families waiting for generations! It's not so hard to understand why some may have been tempted to give up hope.
Apparently, Joshua was not one of the hopeless ones. We first meet him when the Israelites were attacked by another group of people shortly after God had used Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Joshua was the first person Moses turned to in planning an attack against their enemy. Joshua must have shown strong character, a godly spirit, and leadership potential for Moses to trust him to lead Israel's fighting men. These character traits were formed in Joshua during a time of captivity and hardship as a slave in Egypt. Instead of switching his allegiance to an Egyptian god or becoming a grumbler in the desert, Joshua apparently used his waiting time to let God continue to form him into the man of character and strength he would ultimately become.
Waiting can be hard for all of us. But like Joshua, we can make the most of our waiting time and let God work in us to form us into the people He created us to be.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
* Think of a situation in which you've had to wait a long time for a promise to be fulfilled. Were you able to maintain hope? Why or why not? How does Joshua's waiting experience in Egypt shed light on your wait?
* Why do you think it's so easy to lose faith during a waiting time? What idols are you tempted to build or worship when you are in a waiting time?
* Reflect on a challenging experience that God may have used to make you a stronger or more faithful person. How were you able to withstand the challenge? Were you aware at the time that you were growing in character? How can that experience inform your reaction to future challenges or times of waiting?
* Are you in a waiting time right now? If so, how can you avoid turning to idolatry to fill the emptiness? In what ways may God be using this time to form or shape you?
* If you're not in awaiting time right now, you probably will be at some point. What can you do now to prepare yourself to remain faithful when that time comes?
Exodus 24:12, 13: Then the Lord said to Moses, "Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them." So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up to the mountain of God.
Exodus 32:15-18: And Moses turned and went down from the mountain, and the two tablets of the Testimony were in his hand. The tablets were written on both sides; on the one side and on the other they were written. Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God engraved on the tablets. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, "There is a noise of war in the camp."
In Exodus 24, we see Joshua accompanying Moses up Mount Sinai. Moses was going there to meet with God, and Joshua was his right hand man on the journey. Joshua waited alone while Moses entered the presence of God. For forty days and forty nights, Moses met with God on the mountain, the Israelites were waiting down below, and Joshua sat by himself in between.
Talk about waiting on the Lord! Forty days and nights is a long time to sit by yourself on a mountainside. Joshua could have let fear or frustration cause him to give up, go back down the mountain, and maybe even join the people in their eventual idolatry Loneliness could have caused him to give up on Moses and God. But instead, we once again find him ready and waiting when Moses comes looking for him.
At some point in your life, you will probably face an in-between time when you're not sure exactly what is going on and you're left waiting all by yourself. That is a dangerous time when idolatry can creep into your life. But idolatry is not inevitable. Like Joshua, you can maintain your focus on God and be found ready and waiting when it's time to finally take your next steps.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
* What are some examples of in-between times you've experienced? (Maybe God called you to make a leap of faith and you felt like you were about to go somewhere, do something, or get something, but it just wasn't happening yet.)
* During these in-between times, what idols were your biggest temptations? Why?
* How do you think Joshua was able to keep himself focused during those forty days and nights? How can that insight help you when you face in-between times of waiting?
Numbers 14:6–10a: But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: "The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, 'a land which flows with milk and honey.' Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them." And all the congregation said to stone them with stones.
Numbers 14:30: Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in.
Numbers 14:34: According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear yourguilt one year, namely forty years, andyou shall know My rejection.
Numbers 14:38: But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh remained alive, of the men who went to spy out the land.
Joshua got his first look at the promised land as one of the twelve spies sent on a reconnaissance mission by Moses. He and Caleb were ready and willing to go take the land! But because of the fear and unfaithfulness of others, it would be another forty years before Joshua saw the promised land again.
Joshua did all the right things, but he still had to wait. Through no fault of his own, Joshua spent almost half a century wandering the desert, just waiting to finally go back to that land he fell in love with—the land God had promised to Israel. This provided yet another opportunity for idolatry to take hold in Joshua's life. Forty years is a long time to pursue a promise delayed because of other people. He could have let bitterness build in his heart, or he could have tried to set out on his own to go into the land. But he didn't. Instead, he was able to maintain his focus on God so that he would eventually find his promise fulfilled.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
* Consider a time you had to suffer the consequences of another person's actions. How did knowing you were in that situation through no fault of your own make it easier or more difficult?
* What kinds of idols are particularly tempting when you are in one of these "no-fault" times of waiting? What steps can you take to avoid turning to those idols?
* What can you learn from Joshua's experience of waiting in the desert? How does his example encourage you?
Deuteronomy 1:38: Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall go in there. Encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it.
Deuteronomy 31: 7, 8: Then Moses called Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel, "Be strong and of good courage, for you must go with this people to the land which the Lord has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall cause them to inherit it. And the Lord, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed."
Deuteronomy 34:9: Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.
It was no secret that Joshua would one day replace Moses as leader of the Israelites. As a matter of fact, God even told Moses that Joshua would be the one to lead the people into the promised land. Joshua knew he had a big future coming, but he didn't take over immediately. He had to wait.
Joshua could have chosen to worship at the altar of his own potential, becoming infatuated with his own abilities. He could have become prideful in his position of power as Moses' protégé. He could have tried to lobby the people to follow him in a coup against Moses. Joshua could have tried to shorten his waiting time by turning to idolatry. But he was able to withstand the temptations and eventually walk into his future in God's time.
Even though we may not see our future mapped out like Joshua did, we are often tempted to try to speed things up or take our next steps before God lays them out for us. But in our waiting times, we can grow in godly wisdom and learn from every experience we have. If we remain focused on God, we can avoid the pitfalls of idolatry and ultimately reach the future He has planned for us.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
* How do you think Joshua was able to keep himself faithful to function on God's timetable?
* In what situations have you tried to speed up your future? What was the result?
* How can the way Joshua handled his "future-in-waiting" encourage you when you're tempted to try to bypass your waiting time?
Joshua 1:1–3: After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' assistant, saying: "Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. Everyplace that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses."
It was finally time for Joshua to take over as God's leader for the Israelites. He had made the most of his time in waiting and training, and now he was ready to lead the people into the promised land. But his waiting wasn't over. Joshua had to lead the people through more challenges; conquering enemies and taking the land was a long process that took courage and trust in God, even when things didn't make sense.
Excerpted from EMPTY PROMISES by PETE WILSON Copyright © 2012 by Pete Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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