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Thankfulness Project: John the Baptist

I'm a daughter, granddaughter & niece of pastors. I love God & studying the Bible and want to empower others to do the same.

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A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight! Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, and everyone will see the salvation of God. Then John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit, then, in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe lies ready at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” -Luke 3:4-9

What incredible faith! What boldness John had to declare the truth without fear of what others thought or would reply! It seems superhuman, like something someone else—a hero of the Bible—could have done, but I can’t imagine it of lowly, timid, people-pleasing me (or my nature). John ate locusts and lived in the desert and wore animal skins. I’m thankful that’s not the life I’ve been called to live. But I’m also thankful for characters like this who were bold for Christ, yet still had moments of weakness, of doubt. There are moments when their faith fails in the face of horrible circumstances: when God doesn’t do what we expect Him to, what we desire Him to. John was Jesus’ cousin, just a few months older. They might have spent time together as kids and as young men, for holidays and festivals. John was the first one to recognize Jesus, even when they were infants. He leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the approach of Jesus in Mary’s womb (Luke 1:44). John was already proclaiming Jesus before he was born. It’s easy to look at John’s story and distance myself from him, as if he were superhuman. And while he probably was imbued with some supernatural, holy boldness and faith; eventually it waned. As mine has at times. Life and long-suffering trials wore him down, as they can often do to us.

Though I pray to have boldness like John to speak what the Lord would have me say, it is his moment of weakness, of doubt in the midst of an awful trial, that helps me relate to John most. John, thrown into prison for boldly, loudly preaching against the sins current government leaders and their reprehensible actions (Luke 3:19-20), sent messengers to Jesus to ask Him a question:

“Are you the One who is to come, or should we look for someone else?” -Matt. 11:3

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John knew Jesus, had grown up with Him, had leaped in the womb at Him even in infancy, had declared Jesus’ coming kingdom before anyone else. He had boldly declared Jesus’ Lordship and power as the Messiah. So why did he falter now? For the same reason so many of us do during trials. Life can be so hard, so disappointing, so frustrating. God sometimes calls or brings to us situations that don’t look how we’d expected, or that make us uncomfortable—John was in a bug-infested prison, no bed, no toilet, for what some think was two years. Every day, no books, no meals, nothing but the walls around him. Doubt started to whisper: “Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah and leave you, His prophet, His cousin, in prison! He’s performing miracles! Why isn’t He doing one for you by getting you out? Maybe you were wrong—about Jesus, about your purpose, about everything. Isn’t that why you’re in prison? You deserve this. You should have kept your mouth shut and head down, bowed to the rulers of this world and followed the crowd. You don’t deserve to be free. You’re worthless. No one loves you. Jesus doesn’t love you.” And over the slow wearing of hours and days with nothing to distract him (except maybe thinking back on Torah), John lost hope, lost faith—in Jesus. Jesus had called him to do a hard thing, and Jesus didn’t meet John’s expectations. That’s most often where people walk away from Jesus, when He doesn’t do what they hoped, expected, desired. Or when He allows a thing that’s too painful, too discouraging, which we think we shouldn’t have to endure because we were obeying Jesus! We were following Him! So how could He let this happen to us?!

Jesus sent a reply to John through the messengers: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." -Matt. 11:4-6

Some versions say stumble, fall, fall away, or turn away.

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Jesus essentially told John that yes, He is the One Messiah whom all the prophecies spoke of. And here’s the proof: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised. But here’s the hard part about following Jesus, about surrendering to and obeying Jesus: He doesn’t meet all our expectations. Yes, He sometimes exceeds them, and there are times when life is more beautiful and wonderful than we could have imagined or hoped. But sometimes He also calls us to do or endure hard, even impossible things, to suffer, to lose. James, a disciple of Jesus who knew firsthand, didn’t write “IF you have trials of many kinds,” he said “consider it pure joy WHEN you face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2). There will be trials, and some will be the hardest things we’ve ever gone through (though God empowers and equips us to endure) but the lying whispers of the enemy and even of “friends” and family can be persistent and discouraging. Sometimes people blame us for things that aren’t our fault (like the man born blind) and that don’t make any sense. And are exhausting. And sometimes, we lose heart. On account of Jesus. Because Jesus didn’t end the trial when or how we expected. He didn’t stop the “bad thing” from happening. He didn’t do what I wanted Him to do when I wanted Him to do it. Or He allowed something I didn’t want to happen. And sometimes when that happens, we question whether or not He really is good, or really does love us, or really is all-powerful. Because we falsely believe that if God truly was good and powerful and loving, He would rescue us from all trials when and how we want, if we obey Him enough, like some sort of exchange rate. I’ve been the victim of these lies many times in long-suffering trials.

Or we might believe that the trials of life would all be easy and short-lived for us, because we have Jesus. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, right? But we forget that we are also weak humans, who tire and sweat and bleed and sorrow and become discouraged, especially when we look at things from our perspective instead of His, when we take our eyes off Him and look only at what we can see around us.

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We have an enemy who tempts us, as he did to John, to stop trusting God (Did God REALLY say?...). An enemy who tempts us to desire that God align with OUR desires and expectations, instead of being still and knowing that He is God; He is good; and He works all things for our good. God is Almighty and He can do as He pleases. He does what He knows is best, for us and all people. His perspective is not ours; it’s so much bigger.

I’m thankful for the example of John the Baptist here, who is a human just as I am, susceptible to the same doubts and fears and temptations and questions as I am. I’m thankful for Jesus’ encouraging reply that yes, sometimes this life, this calling is hard, sometimes the hardest thing we’ll ever do (especially if we try in our own strength or wisdom). But if I choose to stay the course, following all Jesus has told me to do even when I’m weary beyond human capacity, even when I don’t see the point of even trying/bothering anymore, even when nothing makes sense, then if I still keep going, enduring, persevering, doing what I was called to do, then I will be blessed, joyful even, if we look at the different meanings of the word. It doesn’t say how or when we’ll be blessed. But Jesus Himself promised it, and Jesus is “not a man that He can lie” (Num. 23:19). And joy is something we can have anytime, even in trials, by being thankful that all the solutions and answers are in the most capable hands in the universe, and by thanking Him for all He has already done. We can “take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:18) We can be blessed and have joy in His presence, knowing that HE will make known to me the path of life, and fill me with eternal pleasures at His right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

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So even in my longest trials and darkest pits of despair, I’m thankful this promise pulls me out, this encouragement helps me to endure, to even count it joy that the enemy is picking on me and that God is refining me in this trial, because it’s strengthening my perseverance (I’m actually getting stronger in the midst of this, as is my faith, despite how weak I feel!) and it’s making me mature, complete, and lacking nothing! (James 1:3-4) And when it is over (which means it DOES HAVE TO END!!!) and I have persevered and withstood the test, I will, like John the Baptist, receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised (James 1:12) to those who love Him more than anything in this life, enough to follow Him even to the end.

For more about this, read Job 2:10 & 5:17, Rom. 5:3-5, Psalm 11:5, 1 Pet. 3:14, James 5:11, 1 Sam. 3:18.

© 2021 Amanda Lorenzo

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