Michael Youssef - Counting Stars Will Transform Your Life
Silence. I know, some people love it. Others detest it. I know there are some people who are not happy unless there's all sorts of noise and sounds, and you can't stand silence, and then there are other who are the exact opposite. They just long for solitude and silence. This issue of silence is probably not more problematic than you find it in marriage relationship between husband and wife. You find that while one spouse is one way, the other spouse is the opposite. I really think that we all sympathize with the frustration that can come from those who exercise undue silence. Proverbs said that "Silence is golden". Whenever we are given the silence treatment and we feel... notice the word "feel". Doesn't mean necessarily true, but we feel isolated, and we feel confused, and that's understandable in a marriage relationship.
But here's the problem: We tend to take this same experience, that same feeling, with our relationship with the Lord, and we misinterpret his silence when you don't hear from God and you feel that God is silent, that you think that God is angry with you or God is mad with you or God is giving you the silence treatment, but when you are praying specifically for a specific item, for a specific issue, and you feel that God is silent, sometimes his silence, just like words, they have meanings. God uses silence for his redemptive purposes. You see, the important thing is for us, as believers, to discern the purpose of God's silence in the situation we're going through, and to be able to do that, you have to understand that at least I'm boiling 'em down to five times when God is silent. The first silence of God is what I call the silence of judgment.
In 1 Samuel chapter 3, verse 1, I give you the background. Eli the priest, he's in charge of the tabernacle, but his two sons were running wild. They were living in rebellion. They're living in disobedience to God, and the problem is not just that, but it was Eli who was acquiescing and not saying anything to them and not speaking to them, and God, out of judgment for that silence and the acquiescence of Eli, he stopped speaking until God raised a young man by the name of Samuel. You remember the story when Samuel kept coming back to Eli and said, "Did you call me? Did you call me"? and he said, "No"? And he knew in his heart that God is about to speak again, and he said to him, "Samuel, when you go back, when you hear that voice again, calling your name, say, 'Speak, Lord, your servant heareth.'"
That's what I call the silence of judgment. The second type of silence could be the silence of mercy. You see, by saying nothing, sometimes God is exercising mercy on us. He really is. He's exercising mercy to give us time to repent, to give us time to come under conviction, to give us time to reflect on his incredible grace and mercy and love. So rather than God, you're thinking God is angry with you or God is mad with you, he is not. He is giving you time to reflect. He's giving you time to relish in his mercy. You need to be grateful for that silence. As a matter of fact, Paul tells us "Don't confuse God's silence of mercy with his tolerance of sin". Some people do. The third silence could be the silence of testing.
You know, Job suffered like very few people have ever suffered or will ever suffer, but do you know, I wanna submit to you that Job's greatest pain was that God would not answer him for a long time. Sometimes that silence is a silence of testing. It's like Jesus said about the widow who kept on pounding on the door of the unjust judge. She kept on pounding on the door. He wants to see how long we're gonna persist in trusting him and keep on knocking and don't give up. The fourth silence could be the silence of waiting. He waits until we become quiet so he can speak. I wanna explain this to you. There is a difference between persevering, which is a silence of testing, and the silence of waiting, which is ceasing to strive.
Do you know, the difference between the two is our attitude? Do we keep on asking out of absolute faith, unshakable faith that God will answer, or are we keep on hammering away, fearful that God will not answer? That's the attitude. That's the difference. Then the fifth, finally, it could be the silence of love. There are some occasions when words distract from a message. Did you know that? Often, when God has no words of instruction for us, he always has that in his Word, in the Scripture, but it's the times when we're specifically praying about something or seeking God for something, and when there is no word of instructions for us, it's that he wants us to rest in his love.
Now I want you to turn with me, please, to the Word of God in Genesis 17 because the first thing you notice is that God has been silent for 13 years. Between the age of 86 in Genesis 16, and the age of 99 in Genesis 17, there is absolutely nothing recorded in the Scripture. There's nothing recorded in the Word of God. Thirteen years of silence between Genesis 16 and Genesis 17. We don't know why those 13 years of silence. Maybe because there was nothing important that was happening in those 13 years. We don't know. Or maybe because God wanted Abraham and Sarah's faith to develop to such a degree that it becomes unshakable faith, or maybe God was trying to imprint on their hearts and in their minds and the consequences of their impetuous sin of running ahead of God and not waiting for God, or maybe God was trying to bring them to the end of themselves.
Maybe God wanted to be sure that Abraham was too old, that his seed is dead, that no matter how much younger the woman is, he ain't gonna have children. It's 'cause he's 99. Or could be because Abraham had grown to believe that all is well in his life with Ishmael. I think this is most likely the case because I'm gonna show it to you here from the Scripture. He basically thought, "Well, everything is going well with my life. Everything is hunky-dory. I have gotten up where I got a son now. Now all the blessings will be on him, Ishmael, and everything is fine". And maybe God needed to wait until he could come in and shake Abraham out of his comfort zone. Smooth waters in our lives don't necessarily always means that all is well with our relationship with the Lord. Conversely, problems, difficulties, tough times, when you feel the wind blowing in your face doesn't mean that God is angry with you.
Now, these are circumstances and criterions by which we judge each other, by which we deal with each other, and, unfortunately, we take those same things, and we impose them on God, and God doesn't work that way. The reason I believe that Abraham placed all of his future hope on Ishmael and not on God's promise that he's gonna give him a son through Sarah, is found in verse 18. Let me give you a Youssef translation: "Ishmael will do. Oh, that Ishmael may be the one". Verse 19, I don't know how many times I haven't counted. God said again, "Read my lips". Again, this is my translation. It's not in your Bible. "Sarah's the one. She's the one that's gonna give you a child because from the descendants of Sarah is gonna come my beloved Son, the Messiah," and throughout the 2,000-year history, people tried to eliminate the people of God, but God protected them because the Son is yet to be born in Bethlehem of Judea.
God is saying to him, "I wanna shake you from your satisfaction with Ishmael". The Lord had to reorient Abraham to the powerful truth of his covenant. God had to reintroduce Abraham to how precise God is in his faithfulness with all of his promises. The Lord had to show Abraham that he does not work with the attitude, "Well, close enough is good enough". God doesn't work that way. God is a God of precision, meticulous precision. So on his 99th birthday, the Lord appears to Abraham, and, beloved, this is the first time that God identified himself as El Shaddai. Can you say that with me? El Shaddai. This is the God of power and might, the God of power and might. What is God saying to Abraham, and why he identified himself specifically as El Shaddai, as if he say to Abraham, "Abraham, I don't need you to improvise on my plan. I only need your obedience. Abraham, I don't need you to improve my image to society," like so many preachers are trying to do today.
"Just obey my Word. Abraham, I am fully able to fulfill all of my promises. I only need your acquiescence". Can salvation take place without my cooperation with God? Listen very carefully. On the one hand, our God is a sovereign God. He's a God who's in control, and one of my life verses, one of the anchors in the Scripture, the verses that anchors me in the Scripture is Ephesians 1:11, that "God accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will". On the other hand, God demands our response. God said, "As for me, I will, I will, I will". In verse 9, he says, "As for you, you do this".
There's another contrast here in chapter 17. I don't want you to miss it. I don't want you to miss it. God said, "I will," seven times. How many? Seven times, "I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will". Then he immediately says to Abraham, "You must". Listen carefully, God said, "You must". He is not saying that his covenant depends on Abraham's action, but rather his graciousness. Back then and now and always, his graciousness always compels us to respond. Hello. You see, today, in the New Testament times, when God saves us, he regenerates us. Before he can justifies us, he regenerates us. He changes our hearts first so we see, "Oh, Lord, I am a sinner heading for hell. Forgive me". And we respond to his love. He regenerates us, then he justifies us.
If grace does not make us differ from other men, it's not the grace which God gives to the elect, his elect, and there may be somebody here who's visiting with us today, many probably watching around the world, and I don't know where you stand, I don't know where you are, but if you are not living for God, if you are not loving God, if you are not obeying the Word of God, it could be an indication that you have never been regenerated. In fact, your obedience and your love for God and your love for his Word is the only evidence that you have become born-again believer, and I pray to God, if there's one person or two, or however many, and have not been generated, but you came here because God wants to have an encounter with you, and God is speaking to you, and he's saying, "I want to bring you to myself," that you would say, "Here I am, Lord. Here I am, Lord".
And that is why God changed Abraham's name from "Abram," "the Father of many," to "Abraham," "the Father of multitudes". Please understand, Abraham's obedience did not contribute to the covenant. In fact, the opposite is true. The opposite is true. The cutting away of the flesh signifies the renouncing of human effort. The cutting away of the flesh signifies the renouncing of the work of the flesh, the renouncing of identifying with anyone else except Yahweh. In many ways, the Lord's Supper is like that. The Lord's Supper is our testimony to the world that we believe we cannot save ourselves, that only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross 2,000 years ago can we be saved. It is our testimony to the world that we cannot live this life without his strength, that we come to declare our dependence on Jesus, that we are declaring that we believe that we cannot go to heaven without the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
We cannot participate in the marriage supper of the Lamb without the shed blood of Jesus Christ. But verse 1 of chapter 17, is really the key verse to the entire dialogue that has taken place between God and Abraham: "I am El Shaddai". Can you say it again? "Walk blamelessly before me". What does that mean? It means that God is asking Abraham, and I believe with all my heart he's asking every one of us here today to trust in his words implicitly, to trust in his promises unconditionally, to trust in his plan completely, to stop trying to improve on God's plan. But then he goes to 18, verse 18, and he says to God, after God said, "I will bless you, I will do this, I'll do this, I'll do this," he said, "Ishmael will do. You just bless him. He's already here".
It's amazing how God responds to Abraham's request of letting Ishmael be the one. He said, "Let me say it one more time: As for Abraham, my friend, where have you been? I've been trying to tell you this for the last 25 years. Abraham, when will you get it? Abraham, how can I make it clearer for you? When will you understand that I'm El Shaddai, that I'm the God of power and might, that I'm the God to whom nothing is impossible? I am the God of power and glory. I am the God who clicked his fingers, and zillions of galaxies began to dance in their places. I'm the God who tells the rain to fall. I'm the God who tells the sun to shine. I'm the God who tells the star to move with precision in their orbits".
And when Abraham gets it, that God is gonna give him a son through Sarah, because that's how the "seed," in the singular and not the plural, that the son from the descendants of Isaac and Jacob is gonna be no other than the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, and billions of people throughout the world today identify with him and are blessed because that blessing that came to Abraham has gone through the seed of Abraham, Jesus. How often do we settle for second best when God longs to give us his best? How often have we settled when God says, "Don't settle," "There are new territories to be conquered for me," "There are new opportunities for serving me," "There are many souls to be won for me," "There are new ministries to be accomplished"?
Let me plead with you. Let me plead with you. Don't settle in your Christian walk and ministry. Don't settle 'cause God said to Abraham, "I'm gonna bless you". And God, beloved, bless us individually and bless us as a church, only for one purpose and that we may be a blessing to others. He doesn't bless us so we can form a "Bless Me Club". No. "Abraham, my blessing for you shall be so overwhelming for me that through you the blessings are gonna flow to many, many, many generations".
My beloved friend, the Bible makes it clear that God blesses us so that we may be a blessing. Let me ask you, are you holding onto your blessings so tight you're almost ready to choke it? Are you cuddling your blessings, or are you sharing it, opened hands, opened hearts? If you are not experiencing an overwhelming blessings of God, it could be because you have ceased to be a blessing to others. Be very careful. Be very careful. With those eyes, I have seen in the last 41 years in the ordained ministry how blessings can develop wings and fly when they are hold onto so tightly.