Barriers to Grace
Trials, Joseph, Jacob, Barriers to Faith
At one time or another every one of us has had the uncomfortable experience of witnessing a tantrum by a child. There are children who sit down and refuse to go on. Some buck like a bronco to get out of their parents arms. Others will even bang their head against the floor as a way of somehow punishing their parents for not giving in to their demands. They resort to these tactics because they don’t like a decision that their parent (or some significant other) has made.
It may be offensive to realize but in our spiritual lives we are allot like those children. As God begins His work in our lives we resist, rebel, and seek to get away. We may feel that God is being mean . . . when all the time He is motivated by love and is seeking to help us grow.
Last week we began looking at Genesis 42. I suggested that in these chapters we are seeing the hand of God drawing the brothers of Joseph to Him. God was using the famine to wake up the sons of Jacob. He used their imprisonment to help the brothers understand the nature of their wickedness and to bring them to a point of remorse for their past. I tried to show you that these are the same kinds of things God has to do in our lives.
But God’s work is still not finished. He’s gotten their attention. He has made them come to grips with their sin . . . but they have still not experienced the grace that comes with forgiveness. And they are not moving toward that place easily. The patterns of a sinful heart go deep. Like a spoiled child we dig our heels in and determine that we will NOT be changed.
This morning I want to show you two barriers to grace and Where they come from. As we see these things, it is my prayer that God would use them to show us where we have similar barriers in our life.
THE BARRIER OF A NEGATIVE SPIRIT
The first barrier we see is a barrier of a negative spirit. The brothers appear before Joseph, spend time in jail, and head home with their grain but without Simeon. They have strict instructions not to return without Benjamin. Our text tells us:
Joseph ordered his servants to fill the men’s sacks with grain, but he also gave secret instructions to return each brother’s payment at the top of his sack. He also gave them provisions for their journey. So they loaded up their donkeys with the grain and started for home. But when they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get some grain to feed the donkeys, he found his money in the sack. “Look!” he exclaimed to his brothers. “My money is here in my sack!” They were filled with terror and said to each other, “What has God done to us?” (Genesis 42:25-28)
In our record of the events the brothers have not mentioned God before this time. Now when they are surprised by finding their money in the sack of grain they assume that “”God is doing something TO them.”
They felt they were already “skating on thin ice” with the man in charge and if it was found that they did not pay they would be thrown in jail for good. And, let’s face it . . . if we were in that same situation we probably would have been worried too.
But, was Joseph setting them up? Nope. Were they in trouble? Nope. Joseph was being kind. As we read on in the account we learn that the books said their account had been “paid for in full”. It is very possible that Joseph paid for the grain himself. In their time of need God had worked so that they not only got the grain they needed . . . they got it for free! Yet, instead of thanking God for His goodness, they accuse Him.
It seems so silly when we see it in the brothers of Joseph and yet we are no different than they.
- a difficult time comes into our life and we conclude that God has deserted us
- we face a time of pain and we proclaim that God doesn’t care
- our plans don’t go as expected and we immediately fear that God is punishing us
We miss the grace of God because of our negative thinking just like the sons of Jacob.
Do you see the problem? We have a faulty view of God. Deep down inside we don’t trust Him. Many people see God as someone who is waiting for us to mess up so that He can punish us. They see God looking down out of Heaven to see if anyone is having fun . . . and if they are, He yells, “Stop It!” We react to God the way children often react to their parents. They see every comment of correction as criticism, every rule as designed to oppress them, and every refusal of a request as coming from hatred. But in most cases this is not the case at all.
- a parent offers correction because they want to guide their children to the right path and want to steer them away from pains the parents have endured.
- a parent gives rules in order to protect their children from problems they may not see and cannot yet anticipate.
- they sometimes deny requests because a parent sees a danger the child doesn’t see, or a parent sees that there are other issues involved. Parents often seek to teach their children to show restraint and to learn the valuable lesson of contentment. And to accomplish this, they sometimes have to say “No”.
We are like the lady who was asked, “How are you doing?” She responded, “I’m doing quite well today but I’m sure that there are difficulties just around the corner!” That woman was missing out on joy because she was looking for the negative. And as silly as this is . . . we do it too.
But God is not “gunning for us” He is seeking to “conform us to he image of Christ.” He is molding us. He is using the good and bad of life to prepare us to enjoy His goodness forever. Sometimes the lesson is hard. Sometimes He has to pry our hearts away from the world. Other times He showers us with His goodness. But in all cases, God is acting in love.
May I speak from experience? It is hard for me to see my dad’s degeneration from Alzheimer’s as anything but a burden. I honestly don’t understand what God is doing. I don’t like the direction the road seems to be heading. But I also know that God can take bad things (and Alzheimer’s Disease IS a bad thing) and use it to further His purposes.
This horrible disease has brought me closer to my parents and my sisters. My faith is deepening. My priorities are changing. I’m finding that I enjoy the simple things more and fret less about things that really don’t matter. I’m developing more compassion for others who watch their parents suffer.
But I must be honest. These things are small consolations. It doesn’t seem like a fair trade. I know my dad is a believer. I know that God loves Him. And I don’t know why this is happening. But, I have a choice: Will I trust God or despise Him? I have chosen to trust Him. I don’t know what God is doing . . .but I know that what He is doing is good. I know this because that’s what He’s promised. And I’ve never known Him to break a promise.
So, how do we begin to remove this barrier of negative thinking? Here’s some ideas:
- We must learn to ask in every situation: What might God be doing here? We need learn to assume He is working rather than He is not. We need to look for the opportunity rather than the problem.
- We must remind ourselves that there is more to every situation than what we can see and sometimes understand. God sees every variable . . . we don’t.
- We must remind ourselves over and over that God is in control, He loves us, and He never, ever, makes a mistake.
THE BARRIER OF A FEARFUL SPIRIT
The second barrier is seen in Jacob’s reaction to the return of his sons and the story they relate to Him.
Jacob exclaimed, “You have deprived me of my children! Joseph has disappeared, Simeon is gone, and now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!” Then Reuben said to his father, “You may kill my two sons if I don’t bring Benjamin back to you. I’ll be responsible for him.” But Jacob replied, “My son will not go down with you, for his brother Joseph is dead, and he alone is left of his mother’s children. If anything should happen to him, you would bring my gray head down to the grave in deep sorrow.” (Genesis 42: 29-38
Jacob hears the story and immediately digs in his heels! He concludes that God has struck him with another tragedy rather than placing him on the threshold of the most moving reunion of his life. And why does he do so? It’s because of the scars of his past. The loss of his beloved Rachel during the birth of Benjamin was devastating. The rape of his daughter Dinah left deep scars. And the believed death of his treasured son, Joseph, led Jacob to build a wall of protection around himself.
Max Lucado writes,
There is a window in your heart through which you can see God. Once upon a time that window was clear. Your view of God was crisp. You could see God as vividly as you could see a gentle valley or hillside. The glass was clean, the pane unbroken.
You knew God. You knew how he worked. You knew what he wanted you to do. No surprises. Nothing unexpected. You knew that God had a will, and you continually discovered what it was.
Then suddenly, the window cracked. A pebble broke the window. A pebble of pain.
Perhaps the stone struck when you were a child and a parent left home–forever. Maybe the rock hit in adolescence when your heart was broken. Maybe you made it into adulthood before the window was cracked. But then the pebble came.
Was it a phone call? “We have your daughter at the station, you’d better come down here.”
Was it a letter on the kitchen table? “I’ve left. Don’t try to reach me. Don’t try to call me. It’s over. I just don’t love you anymore.”
Was it a diagnosis from the doctor? “I’m afraid our news is not very good.”
Was it a telegram? “We regret to inform you that your son is missing in action.” [IN THE EYE OF THE STORM P. 105-106]
What happens in times like these is we build walls. We isolate ourselves. We hide. We do so because we want to protect ourselves from hurting again. But in shutting out the pain, we are also shutting out the chance to experience God’s healing grace. Let me give you examples of what often happens.
- a spouse walks out so you are afraid to dare to love again
- a child is killed and you withdraw emotionally and become detached from others you love (who you desperately need) or you become so protective of other children that you squeeze the life out of them.
- a parent is suffering and you feel helpless so you withdraw from your parent and other family members and you miss those precious moments when small talk is minimal and things that need to be said get said. And you spend the rest of your life feeling empty.
- your body gives out and so you give up and conclude that you can no longer serve any useful purpose. You just withdraw and become depressed.
It happens all the time. And it is possible that it has happened to you.
Do you know what the most common command in the Bible is? It’s the command “Fear Not”. Fear keeps us from moving forward. It keeps us from loving. It keeps us from dreaming and risking and daring to trust God in bold and daring ways. As long as we are afraid we will be limiting the work that God’s grace can do in our life.
Do you see what happened as a result of Jacob’s fear?
- They delayed returning for more supplies
- They prolonged the imprisonment of Simeon
- They delayed the reunion with Joseph
Jacob’s fear became a barrier in his life. When we are afraid we miss seeing God’s ability to provide for us. We miss seeing His marvelous sufficiency for our times of heartache.
Some of you are afraid to trust Jesus for your salvation. You are afraid of what others will say. You are afraid that you will have to change (but don’t you want to, deep down?). Maybe you are afraid that you aren’t good enough (you’re not, but He loves you because of Christ not because of our goodness); Maybe you are afraid that it won’t “work”(What if it does?) When you hide from God because you are afraid you are like the person who desperately needs a shot from the Doctor but hides because he is afraid the needle will hurt . . . he would rather die than get the shot that could save his life.
Maybe you are fearing the footsteps of the grave. You’re getting older and you are petrified of the idea of dying. Do you remember that He is the one who defeated death? He is the one who says we will “live even though we die.” God promises that death is the doorway to eternal and glorious life for everyone who has turned to Him in faith. He says that “he will come to take us to be where He is”. Death is not the end . . . it is the goal of living!
Maybe you are afraid to step out in faith. Or maybe you are afraid to share your faith with a friend. Or afraid to venture out in a new job or begin a new ministry. Is it because you believe God will not help you? Is it because you feel that you may be going down the wrong path? God has promised to give you the words to say and He has promised to guide you in the way that you should go. Why not dare to trust Him?
Maybe you are afraid because of your failures in the past. You have made mistakes and now you are afraid to try anything because you might fail again. Or perhaps you are afraid to move forward because you can’t believe that God could love you. After all you have done . . . you think it is impossible that God could forgive you.
Jim Cymbala is the Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York. His wife is the Director and songwriter for the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. In his book FRESH FAITH, Pastor Cymbala writes,
Many times at the end of our services, I meet people at the altar who are so ashamed that they often will not even look me in the eye. Their shoulders are slumped; their gaze is on the carpet. I sense no faith in them to ask Christ for mercy. Praise and worship seem impossible. They are living under the heavy burden of their own failure, with no hopes that their life can be retrieved. They now feel too unworthy to expect any blessings from a holy and righteous God.
I am not just talking about people with the stereotypical inner-city problems of drugs, prostitution, or whatever. These are average-looking people who have simply given in to a besetting sin so often that they are convinced they will never rise above it.
Often, as the congregation is worshipping in the background with a song such as “Grace, grace, God’s grace – grace that will pardon and cleanse within,” I notice that the person before me isn’t singing along. It is because the person isn’t sure that the song could really be true for him or her. Sometimes I will gently try to lift the person’s chin or perhaps the hands in upward openness to God. [p. 129]
The incredible message of the Gospel is that God’s forgiveness can cleanse and renew the foulest heart! God’s promise of redemption is staggering . . . and true.
So, how do you overcome the fear barrier? Here’s some ideas,
- Confess Your fears to God. Discuss them with the Father. Listen to His counsel. Draw on His strength.
- Write down and memorize the promises of God repeat them until you believe them.
- Remind yourself of why the Bible says we should fear not . . . . “Fear not, for I am with you.” Remember that you are NOT alone. David said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . . .because you are with me.” Do you remember the times when you were young and you wouldn’t go someplace unless you could hold your parents hand? What made the difference. It was who traveled with you.
So, are you missing out on God’s grace in your life because of the barriers you set up? Do you always assume the worst? Are you always looking over your shoulder waiting for God to “get you”? If so, it is time for an attitude adjustment. And it’s time that you change your understanding of God . . . He loves you. He is working to make you what you were created to be.
Are you living in fear? Are you afraid to begin something new? Are you afraid to love and care and enjoy because you have been hurt in the past? If so, it’s time to take the hand of Jesus and dare to live again.
The story is told of a family that had a fire in their home. The parents got out but their little girl was stuck in her room. She opened a window and cried out for her dad. The Father stood on the ground and said jump honey, and I will catch you. She replied, “But daddy, I can’t see you.” And dad replied, “That’s O.K. you can’t see me but I see you.”
God sees you, friend. His arms are open. He calls you to live and have faith. He says “Jump in to life”. . . Dare to trust Him. The jump may be scary but His arms are strong . . . and His hands are sure.