Follow God Wholeheartedly | How To Finish Strong?
< Michael Jackson >
He was an American singer, songwriter, and dancer, dubbed the “King of Pop.” He was one of the most popular entertainers in the world and one of the best-selling music artists of all time. Thriller is the best-selling album of all time, with estimated sales of over 66 million copies worldwide. He had popularity, fame, pets, mansions, yacht, and private jets. What he wanted he had it. He earned in billions. His name is Michael Jackson.
On June 25, 2009; Michael Jackson died of a drug overdose at the age of 50. When he died, Jackson owed $400 million to $500 million. At the time of his death, he was three to four months behind on loan payments. Michael Jackson received no loans from banks after 2007.
Here is the story of someone for whom life just clicked at the go, but finished as a failure. He Started well but didn’t finish strong. In Christian life also, it’s not just how we start that matters, but also how we finish.
How will you finish in 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years from now?
This morning I’d like for us to look at a biblical character who finished strong. His name was Caleb.
See the testimony of Caleb from God:
..my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly. God said, “Caleb follows me wholeheartedly.”
What’s interesting about this three word phrase is that it reoccurs three more times in the life story of Caleb and in the mouths of three other individuals.
Caleb himself confesses it:
…but my fellow Israelites who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt in fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.
Moses acknowledges this of Caleb:
So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly.’
Joshua acknowledges this of Caleb.
So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the LORD, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly.
Caleb followed the Lord God of Israel fully.
We can see from Caleb’s life as to how to follow God wholeheartedly.
The Bible depicts three seasons in the life of this great man and I’d like for us to look at each of those seasons briefly and learn three ways in which to fully follow God.
Three Seasons Of Caleb’s Life And Three Ways To Fully Follow God
The action begins in numbers chapter 13. The Israelites have been in captivity in Egypt for 400 plus years and God has just led them out miraculously under the leadership of Moses during the Exodus. Now God is ready to hand over the keys of the promised land to this newly liberated nation. That’s where the story begins:
The LORD said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.”
God’s promise is an unambiguous statement. God is very clear about the fact that he is going to give them this land. God is the one who is going to give them this land, not their military power or military strategy.
You know what happens. Twelve spies, one of them Caleb are sent to scope or spy out this land. Ten of them come back with bad news, “The land is good but there are giants in them.”
And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there. We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”
Notice all these references to saw and eyes or sight or vision. Now they had a problem. Should they see those giants or should they hear and obey God who had promised them this land. Should they retreat in fear of visible giants or should they advance in confidence in an invisible God.
< Vision >
Marla Runyan gave her all to qualify for the Olympic Games in 1996, but her best time finished short of the mark to make the United States team. Undeterred by that failure, she returned in 2000 and made it to the team for the Sydney Olympics. Her eighth place finish in the 1,500 meter race was the best finish ever for a United States woman runner. The thing that makes Runyan’s accomplishments even more remarkable is that she is legally blind. She is the first legally blind athlete to ever qualify for and compete in the Olympic Games. After her Olympic career was over she switched to running marathons, and in 2002 posted the second fastest debut marathon time ever by an American woman.
Runyan can only see shapes and blurs, but she says that her lack of vision is actually an asset—she just focuses on the finish line in front of her rather than looking around to see what the other runners are doing. Not having visual distractions helps her compete and win her races.
The same thing can be true in our lives.
There will always be giants that try to pull us away from what we should be focused on doing. But if you can focus less on the giants and focus more our God and his promises, we can stay focused to receive God’s promises.
They saw the giants and failed to see God. Going to the Promised Land? No way with those giants out there.
But Caleb came to a different conclusion. Numbers 14:9 And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.
Here in the first season of Caleb’s life, he was trusting in God’s presence. The Lord is with us. The reality that Caleb acknowledged is more than what he could see or smell or taste or touch. He knew God had promised, so he was trusting God’s presence. He is trusting the presence of God who even today continues to affirm to us the constancy of his presence.
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
1. Trust In God’s Presence Despite What You See
We need to trust in God’s Presence even when all you see are insurmountable obstacles.
As we read, we need to Trust in God’s presence despite what you see. Yes, what we see is not all that hopeful. The economy is falling down. People are losing their income and jobs. The Covid-19 counts are increasing by the day. Will you continue to trust God? Will you continue to trust God as Caleb who said, “The Lord is with us, do not fear them?”
Moreover, you may have your personal giants other than the general problems we are facing: Problems with relationships, health challenges. The whole army of the enemy tries to threaten us daily. And if we focus only on what we see, we are going to miss out on the best on what the Lord is ready to give to us. Trust God’s presence.
Trust God’s presence. Constantly be aware of God’s presence.
< God’s Presence >
The German national, Count Von Zinzendorf, the founder of the Moravians. He was saved in an art gallery in Dusseldorf while contemplating a painting of Christ on the cross which had the inscription, “I did this for thee. What hast thou done for me?” This picture had been painted by an artist three hundred years before.
When the artist had finished his first sketch of the face of the Redeemer, this artist called in his landlady’s little daughter and asked her who she thought it was. The girl looked at it and said, “It is a good man.” The painter knew that he had failed.
He destroyed the first sketch and, after praying for greater skill, finished a second. Again he called the little girl in and asked her to tell him whom she thought the face represented. This time the girl said that she thought it looked like a great sufferer. Again the painter knew that he had failed, and again he destroyed the sketch he had made.
After meditation and prayer, he made a third sketch. When it was finished, he called the girl in a third time and asked her who it was. Looking at the portrait, the girl exclaimed, “It is the Lord!”
That alone makes the coming of Christ meaningful to the world–not that a good man came, not that a wise teacher came, not that a great sufferer came, but that God came-Immanuel, God with us.
How do you practice God’s presence?
Habitual prayer life and constant meditation on God’s word.
The first season of Caleb’s life, he was trusting God’s presence.
THE SECOND SEASON OF CALEB’S LIFE >
TRUSTING GOD’S PURPOSE
You know what happened after Numbers 13. As a result of their lack of trust in God’s presence, God punished them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years, until all those adults above the age of 20 had perished. Caleb was 40 years old when he went to spy the land. We near hear anything of him during these 40 years during Israel’s chastisement. Then we hear about Caleb after the wilderness journey. He will be 80 then.
Forty of the best years of his life was spent wandering in the desert. The worst thing about it is that he was punished for the rebellion of the people of which he had no part. He would have been a great leader of his tribe, had the Israelites taken possession of the land then. But instead, he too had to spend 40 years in the desert. It was a tough time, in despair, despondent. Forty years of uncertainty, unheard and he was not to blame.
Can you imagine how Caleb must have felt?
The book of Numbers estimates there were probably around 10 lakh adults over the age of 20 at that time. All of those 10 lakh people would have to die in 40 years which meant around 70 people had to die every day. If you conduct funerals during the working hours of the day, that means 7-10 funerals on average in an hour every day. This went on every day, every week, every month, every year for 40 years.
A constant chilling reminder of the disobedience of the Israelites and the intense displeasure of God. And none of this was Caleb’s fault. In fact, if they had only listened to him, this would never had happened. But instead in 40 years, he sees an entire generation disappear. Maybe his parents died. His brothers, his sisters, his cousins, his childhood friends, his neighbors. Forty years of eating manna in the desert and burying people and waiting and waiting. How long Lord?
Are you in a situation like that? You are suffering for no fault of yours?
< Chippie The Parakeet >
“CHIPPIE THE PARAKEET NEVER saw it coming. One second the parrot was peacefully perched in his cage. The next he was sucked in, washed up, and blown over. The problems began when Chippie’s owner decided to clean Chippie’s cage with a vacuum cleaner. She removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and she turned to pick it up. She’d barely said ‘hello’ when ‘sssopp!’ Chippie got sucked in.
The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Chippie– still alive, but stunned. Since the bird was covered with dust and soot, she grabbed him and raced to the bathroom, turned on the faucet, and held Chippie under the running water. Then, realizing that Chippie was soaked and shivering, she did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . she reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
“Poor Chippie never knew what hit him.”
“A few days after the trauma, the reporter who’d initially written about the event contacted Chippie’s owner to see how the bird was recovering. ‘Well,’ she replied, ‘Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore. He just sits and stares.’
“It’s hard not to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . that’s enough to steal the song from the a singing and vibrant bird.”
Are you in a situation like that? Have you lost your song?
Are you suffering through no fault of your own?
Maybe you are blaming your spouse or your parents or your company. Maybe you are blaming the corona virus. I did not cause this, this was not my fault. I’m tired of being a victim… and I want out.
If that is what you are thinking, take a look at Caleb and the silence of 40 years. 40 years of neglect. Forty years of unfairness. 40 years of innocent suffering. Did Caleb quit? And did he quit being a leader? Also, did he run away from the Israelite camp. Did he washed his hands off this unfaithful generation? Not at all. He stay put through thick and thin knowing that God was working in and through tragedy. Because God was doing something, Caleb was trusting God’s purpose.
In The Second Season Of Caleb’s Life, He Was Trusting God’s Purpose.
2. Trust God’s Purpose Even When Life Is Unpleasant In The Wilderness.
Do you trust God’s purpose? God knows where you are. What you are going through. What trials you are in. You may not be seeing God, you may not be feeling God. It might not be tangible but God is working. He is shaping, remolding, reformatting you in the wilderness of life. God is always working, building Christlikeness in you, confirming you to his image. Will you trust his purpose even in the darkness of life and even in the silence.
Invisibility is not inaction on the part of God.
Inaudibility is not inattention on the part of God.
God is not on leave. God is not on quarantine. He is working, trust God’s purpose.
I don’t know what you are thinking of giving up. Maybe some of you are thinking of giving up your dreams or thinking of quitting your marriage. But I know one thing, God is working. Trust God’s purpose. Hang in there. Stay put. Don’t quit.
In the second season of Caleb’s life, Caleb was trusting God’s purpose. We must do that too, trust God’s purpose.
To follow God wholeheartedly, we must trust God’s presence, we must trust God’s purpose.
Now we come to the third season of Caleb’s life.
Forty years have gone by. All the adults over the age of 20 have died. Moses their leader has died. Now the nation Israel under the leadership of Joshua is going to take over the Promised Land. Guess what Caleb is up to?
10 “Now then, just as the LORD promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! 11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”
Look at that. It is incredible. Caleb is 85 years old and he is asking for a mountain. At this age people want to retire. Most people would have asked for a wonderful seaside house and lot of rest. When Caleb’s friends are thinking of retirement, he is planning on a conquest. He is not looking for a conquest for his own prosperity. He wants the same city which had distressed his fellow men 40 years ago. What a vision? What a testimony?
The secret in the third season of his life:
11 I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. 12 Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”
I was strong then. I am strong now but what is more important is that I am going to win with the resources of God, with God’s power. Here in the third season of Caleb’s life he was trusting God’s power. He was fully following God by trusting God’s power.
3. Trust In God’s Power Even When You Don’t Have An Ounce Of Strength.
What is your vision? To do great things for God? To finish strong? It is possible. Maybe you are thinking you don’t have the capabilities and the resources to do great things for God. Maybe you are thinking you do not have someone to encourage or the talents needed. If that is what you are thinking you are absolutely correct. You have neither capability nor resources but out God has it all for you.
Perhaps you are feeling the ache of lost opportunities. Maybe you are feeling the burden of wasted years. Perhaps you are telling yourself it is too late. It is never too late. Caleb was 85, he trusted God’s power.
Trust God’s power.
< Illustration from the book ‘1001 Illustrations That Count’ by Craig Briag Larson. >
In 1867, Swedish chemist, Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper. The paper reported, “Alfred Nobel , the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before. He died a very rich man.”
Actually, it was Alfred’s older brother who had died. A newspaper reporter had made a mistake. This misreported epitaph had a great impact on Alfred. He decided that he wanted to be known for something other than developing the means to kill people efficiently and amassing a fortune in the process. So he initiated the Nobel Prize which goes to people and institutions who foster peace.
Instead of killing, he wanted peace now.
Alfred Nobel said, “Every man ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”
Here is your chance to correct your epitaph in midstream and write a new one, it is not too late. You can finish strong. Opportunities are innumerable and our God’s power, unlimitable. Take on a challenge, conquer a mountain, trust God’s power. God can and God will use us if we are like Caleb are fully following God wholeheartedly.
I know men and women listening to me are at different stages of your life. Look at Caleb through all the stages of his life.
1. Trust In God’s Presence Even When All You See Are Insurmountable Obstacles.
2. Also, we need to Trust In God’s Purpose Even When Life Is Unpleasant In The Wilderness.
3. And, Trust In God’s Power Even When You Don’t Have An Ounce Of Strength.
Like Caleb, fully follow God, trust God’s presence, trust God’s purpose, trust God’s power. May our Lord help us to do that. Follow God wholeheartedly. Let’s pray.