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-Choosing To Lean On God

Picture KING ASA: Choosing To Lean On God

In 1792, William Carey published a pamphlet encouraging Christians to pursue the conversion of the heathen. Until then, Protestants across Europe had spent centuries debating theology and the political benefits of the Reformation. When Carey urged them to organize to evangelize the world, one of his many critics said, “Young man, when God pleases to convert the heathen He will do it without your aid or mine.” Every Christian community lives with this tension. There are active believers who “do things” and those who pray and wait for God to “do things.” The life of King Asa shows that both are necessary. At a young age Asa succeeded his father as king of Judah. He was committed to the Lord and implemented some very positive reforms. The main events of Asa’s 41-year reign (910-870 BC) are covered in 2 Chronicles 14-16.
Pleasing the Lord from the start (2 Chr. 14:1-8) How long do kings reign? How many years would Asa have to reform Judah? The future is always uncertain. The time for action and reform is now. As soon as Asa became king, he “removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles” (14:3 NIV). Does something in our lives need changing? Is our family or church in spiritual decline? Revival starts with confession of sin and change. What would the Lord have us “remove,” “smash” or “cut down” in our lives? Like Asa, it’s best to please God from the start. If we postpone action, we may become comfortable with disorder. Are we starting something new? Take steps to please God now.

Revival is much more than destroying what is evil. Asa also encouraged the people in three areas: relationship, obedience and vision. As to relationship, “he commanded Judah to seek the LORD” (14:4). He knew that without a genuine relationship with Him, they would have a dry religion. As to obedience, he instructed them “to obey His laws and commands” (14:4). Restoration always requires specific action. As to vision, he encouraged them to “build up these towns … and put walls round them … The land is still ours” (14:7-8). He taught them to appreciate, protect and build up their God-given inheritance.

Has God given you difficult children, a selfish partner, a boring job, a frustrating illness, a struggling local church? Some day soon we shall enjoy perfection – in heaven. But here on earth, we are called to appreciate and build up what the Lord has given us: “The land is still ours.”

Relying on the Lord while facing uncertainty (2 Chr. 14:9-15)
To defend the southern kingdom, Asa strengthened his army: “Asa had an army of three hundred thousand men from Judah, equipped with large shields and with spears, and two hundred and eighty thousand from Benjamin, armed with small shields and with bows. All these were brave fighting men” (14:8). But soon a serious threat arrived from North Africa: “Zerah the Ethiopian came out against them with an army of a million men and three hundred chariots” (14:9 RSV). Asa was really outnumbered!

However well we prepare ourselves, unexpected surprises and overwhelming difficulties may come our way. For some, it may be cancer, a divorce or the unexpected death of a loved one. For others it could be failing an important exam, the negation of a visa, the loss of a job, or a division in the local church.

King Asa was facing disaster. What options were available to him? He could run away. He could try to seek alliance with Zerah or another king. He could charge ahead. But Asa decided to pray: “LORD, there is no one like You to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on You, and in Your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against You” (14:11 NIV). Asa chose to rely on God.

That choice is also ours. In fact, when we feel helpless in facing an uncertain future, we are best positioned to lean on the Lord. He made this clear to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul experienced the strength that comes by relying on God: “For Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Relying on the Lord does not imply inactivity. After expressing their weakness and dependence on the Lord, Asa and his soldiers still had to fight the enemy. But as they fought, “the LORD defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah” (14:12 RSV). Are we facing difficult times? Like Asa, rely on the Lord. Then in His strength face the future. When we rely on Him, we allow Him to work. Dependence is essential for all “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor. 3:9).

Listening to the Lord through others (2 Chr. 15:1-8)
The next important event was the encounter between King Asa and Azariah. Differences in translations make it unclear if Obed was the prophet and his son Azariah a messenger, or if both were prophets (15:1,8). The fact was that at this point Asa was feeling tired and discouraged. The Lord noticed this and sent Azariah with an encouraging message. He assured him of His presence and a reward. As to His presence he said: “The LORD is with you when you are with Him” (15:2). As to a reward, Asa’s hard work and obedience were noticed: “As for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” (15:7).

Most of us go through times of discouragement. Paul sensed this among some at Corinth and wrote: “Dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58). We also need to believe these promises. “When Asa heard these words … he took courage” (15:8).

Why didn’t God’s Spirit come directly upon King Asa? (15:1). Why does God speak through another? Sometimes the Lord speaks to us directly. When Elijah was discouraged the Lord gently dealt with him. But quite often He chooses to speak to us through others. Here God chose to speak through Azariah. King Asa could have rejected him. Perhaps he considered him too young to speak to a king. He did not have the credentials of prophets like Elijah and Elisha. Asa could have despised the prophet for not being one of the “brave fighting men.”

If we aren’t careful, we can miss the Lord’s word because we reject the way it comes. Remember that He chooses the messenger. He may desire to challenge us through an old sister, a young preacher, a boisterous singer, a Christian we disagree with. Using Azariah was the Lord’s way of encouraging Asa while forcing him to listen to others. If the Lord required perfection in His messengers He wouldn’t use any of us! By grace He chooses to speak. By grace He chooses His messenger. By grace we must be willing to listen to His messenger.

Moving others by example (2 Chr. 15:9-19)
Once Asa was encouraged, he pressed on with his reforms. Two of them are highlighted: cleanliness and worship. As to cleanliness, “He removed the detestable idols from the whole land of Judah and Benjamin and from the towns he had captured in the hills of Ephraim” (15:8). Asa removed that which was offensive to the Lord even within his family (15:16). As to worship, “He repaired the altar of the Lord that was in front of the portico of the Lord’s temple” (15:8). Asa repaired the infrastructure so the people of God could worship Jehovah and offer sacrifices. Seeing these changes, God-fearing men and women from other tribes moved to Judah: “Large numbers had come over to him from Israel when they saw that the LORD his God was with him” (15:9).

Do others find our lifestyle attractive? Is the presence of God felt in our homes and our lives? Real godliness is life-giving and attractive. It is instructive to reflect on why Jesus attracted publicans, prostitutes and sinners. Why did they enjoy His company? Would such feel comfortable in our local church?

How did the kingdom of Judah respond to Asa’s initiatives? They worshiped and recommitted themselves. As to worship, “They assembled at Jerusalem … At that time they sacrificed to the Lord seven hundred head of cattle and seven thousand sheep and goats” (15:10-11). Now that the altar of the Lord was repaired, there was renewed joy and generosity in offering to the Lord. A desire to worship is a sign of renewal. As to recommitting themselves, “They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their fathers, with all their heart and soul … All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it wholeheartedly. They sought God eagerly, and He was found by them” (15:12-15). Asa’s devotion to the Lord moved others to a deeper spiritual experience.

Asa’s words and actions changed a nation. We may not move a nation, but we have influence. Does our devotion to the Lord inspire those around us? Do we influence others by our preparation for group Bible study, our participation in prayer and worship, our concern for the needy? “Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity … Do not neglect the gift you have … Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim. 4:12-15 RSV).

Relying on cleverness and experience (2 Chr. 16)
After the nation divided, there was constant rivalry between Israel (northern ten tribes) and Judah (southern two tribes). “In the thirty-sixth year of Asa’s reign Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and fortified Ramah to prevent anyone from leaving or entering the territory of Asa king of Judah” (16:1). The date of this offensive is unclear since king Baasha died in the 26th year of Asa’s reign (1 Ki. 15:33). Commentaries offer explanations, but the purpose in recording this war narrative was to contrast it to the way Asa fought his first war. Experience builds confidence but erodes dependence on the Lord. Asa chose to trust his own strength and three things happened.

Asa’s freedom was threatened. King Baasha moved south and began to fortify Ramah, a city about four miles north of Jerusalem. This represented a serious threat to Asa’s future. In the first war, when Asa had little experience, he asked the Lord to help. But this time, Asa sent messengers to a Gentile king in Damascus saying, “Let there be a treaty between me and you … I am sending you silver and gold. Now break your treaty with Baasha king of Israel so that he will withdraw from me” (16:3). This clever strategy worked. Israel was attacked from Damascus and Baasha was forced to withdraw from Ramah. “Then King Asa brought all the men of Judah, and they carried away from Ramah the stones and timber Baasha had been using. With them Asa built up Geba and Mizpah” (16:6). Asa recovered some of his investment and removed the threat.

How did the Lord view this? He sent a prophet, Hanani, to help Asa see the difference between the two wars. When attacked from North Africa, “you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand” (16:8). But in this war, he relied on silver, gold, and unhealthy alliances. When our freedoms are threatened, how do we respond? When we serve, do we still depend on Him? “Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him … Do not be wise in your own eyes” (Prov. 3:5-7). Do not forget the danger of experience!

Asa’s reputation was threatened. Once the crisis blew over, Asa must have felt pleased with himself. His experienced maneuvering had brought peace and prosperity. Perhaps many told Asa how happy they were to have such an intelligent king. But Hanani assessed the situation differently: “You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war” (16:9). Leaders do not like to be accused of foolishness, especially not when enjoying strong support. Hanani’s view was very sound. Why had Asa chosen to rely on man and not God? God wants to bless. “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (16:9). But now Asa’s reputation was at stake. He could not admit failure. Instead of humbling himself, “Asa was angry with the seer because of this; he was so enraged that he put him in prison” (16:10). How do we react when our reputation is threatened? Do we listen to criticism? It may contain the word of the Lord.

Asa’s health was threatened. “In the 39th year of his reign Asa was afflicted with a disease in his feet. Though his disease was severe, even in his illness he did not seek help from the LORD, but only from the physicians” (16:12). Old age brings its frustrating limitations. With severe disease in his feet, Asa’s ability to fight was lost. What do we do when faced with painful limitations? The above verse should not be understood as dismissing physicians. Jesus approved of doctors: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mt. 9:12). What did Asa do wrong? When his health was threatened, he did not seek the Lord but leaned on physicians. Faith does not dismiss the need to seek medical attention. Faith is trust. Be diligent, but depend on the Lord.

Conclusion
It is clear that Asa was not perfect, yet the Lord said: “Nevertheless the heart of Asa was blameless all his days” (15:17 RSV). We will also fail, and not live up to our calling, but will we continue to lean on the Lord? Fortunately we serve a gracious God: “He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end” (Heb. 6:10-11). The Lord still blesses our dependence. Let’s press on, choosing to depend on Him.

The 3000 year-old promise still stands: “Be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded” (2 Chr. 15:7).

By Philip Nunn

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org

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