Life + Culture

When God Does Not Draw Near

When God Does Not Draw Near

When you are desperate for God to intervene in the midst of your trials, where in the Bible do you turn most often for hope?

Over the last decade, 2 Chronicles 16:9 has been a favorite for me: “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” God is not slow to see our needs. He is not distracted or preoccupied. His eyes run to give strong support to those who are his. He is an attentive Father and a tenacious comforter.

The fierceness and tenderness of God’s love in this verse makes the next six words all the more chilling:

“You have done foolishly in this.” (2 Chronicles 16:9)

When the prophet Hanani reminded King Asa that God’s eyes run to and fro throughout the earth, he was warning the king, even condemning him, not reassuring and comforting him. What was his message to Asa? If you seek God’s help in your desperation, no one and nothing will be able to harm you. But if you run elsewhere for help, and do not turn to God, no one and nothing will be able to save you.

How to Rely on God

Asa knew the sweetness of seeing God suddenly send strong support. Just two chapters earlier, when a million Ethiopians descended on his army, and he was outnumbered two to one,

Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” (2 Chronicles 14:11)

What kind of heart does God run to support? First, one that recognizes that no one and nothing can help like him — “O Lord, there is none like you to help.” God does not promise to help those who treat him like a last resort, and not as a first defense. Asa looked immediately to God when the Ethiopians invaded, not to his own resources and not to his allies, knowing that God alone was greater than all his enemies.

Second, the one whose heart is blameless toward God acknowledges his own weakness and God’s strength: “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak.” The Ethiopians were mightier, in power and number. Judah, the nation under Asa, was weak. But the king knew that his God confounds the wisdom of even the wisest men and overturns the power of the strongest armies — making the mighty weak and the weak mighty to reveal more of his own magnificence.

Third, Asa took the courageous next step in reliance on God. He prayed, “Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude.” Because they trusted their sovereign God to act, they did not run and hide, but advanced. They went into a battle they could not win on their own.

What happens when Asa runs to God for help? God runs to fight for Asa: “So the Lord defeated the Ethiopians before Asa and before Judah, and the Ethiopians fled” (2 Chronicles 14:12). Asa relied on the Lord, and God defeated a million soldiers.

Your Wars Won’t End

But Asa’s heart did not remain wholly God’s. When Baasha king of Israel attacked Judah, even though Asa had already seen the Lord defeat a million Ethiopians because he prayed, the king turned to Syria for help — and not to God.

Then Asa took silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and the king’s house and sent them to Ben-hadad king of Syria. . . . Ben-hadad listened to King Asa and sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali. (2 Chronicles 16:2, 4)

With Syria’s help, Asa won the battle, but he had lost the Lord’s support. The blazing eyes that had once run to and fro to help him, now hid from him. “You have done foolishly in this,” the prophet says, “for from now on you will have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

God Will Not Help You

When we run to someone or something to the exclusion of God, we reveal that, at bottom, we rely on ourselves instead of on him. We trust that we know better than God what would be better for us. Instead of stopping, praying, and looking to God for support and direction, we unlock our phones and thumb through our contacts for someone like Syria.

When conflict flares up in our marriages and friendships, and we neglect to actually stop and ask God for his help, should we be surprised when conflicts become more frequent and volatile? When our ministries are mired in swamps of relational or organizational problems, and we keep putting off concerted prayer about the issues, do we expect the waters not to rise even higher while our feet sink deeper and deeper? When major decisions hover like a storm cloud, and we do everything else we can possibly think to do, except the most important thing, will we not feel like a million enemies have lined up against us?

Asa teaches us, through stubborn failure: if we rely on ourselves and look elsewhere for help, not only will God leave us to fend for ourselves, but the wars may never end.

The Worst Way to Die

What if Asa would have seen just how much he lost when he won the battle without God? What if he would have seen how shallow and temporary his victory was? What if he would have listened? Instead, Asa hated the prophet’s message: “Then Asa was angry with the seer and put him in the stocks in prison, for he was in a rage with him because of this” (2 Chronicles 16:10). That’s how stubborn self-reliance responds when confronted with the truth — in Asa and in us.

Three awful years pass until Asa’s death: “In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe. Yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians” (2 Chronicles 16:12). Is there a more pitiful demise? He preferred to die in a physician’s hands rather than entrust himself to God’s. Jesus would say, “Those who are well have no need of a physician” (Mark 2:17) — even as the disease climbs from their feet to their heart.

When You Need Him

When God reminds us, through his word, how much we need him, either pride will rise up in rage to defend itself or humility will send us to our knees with brokenhearted joy. When we feel our need for God, and yet resist running to him, we should not expect him to run to us. He will not prop up our self-reliance, because it says so little about him. Another king, a humbled King David, would have warned Asa (and anyone like him), “Though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, but the haughty he knows from afar” (Psalms 138:6).

However, if we run to God and rely on him, casting our burdens on him because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), trusting that the one who did not spare his Son for us will gladly give us all we need for everlasting joy (Romans 8:32), God himself will help us — whenever we need him, however weak we feel, whoever or whatever stands against us, whatever it takes.

If his eyes ran to and fro throughout the whole earth to rescue an ancient and wandering king, how much more will he race to rescue those for whom his Son died to save.

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