What Does God Really Want?

Copyright Jason Stern - Isaiah 58 Arbor

In reviewing a chapter of the book I am writing, a friend mentioned that something I said reminded her of Isaiah 58. I was discussing the futility of earning God’s favor through asceticism (severe self-discipline) and it made her think of what God told Israel. Here’s what He said almost three thousand years ago:

“They seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God.

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.

Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?

Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the LORD?

“Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the defenseless, to shield him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’

If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.

And the LORD will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and

you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

…for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

(Isaiah 58 ESV, mostly)


God is good — and He doesn’t change. He’s been trying to tell us all along that he is not interested in treating our relationship with Him like a monetary exchange. He does not need us to pay Him off with bribes and He does not respond to our acts as though He is required to perform.

The Gospel — the good news — is that God sent His Son to pay the ultimate price for us so that we could be free again. He bought us out of the slavery of sin and judgment and adopted us as heirs. And He isn’t asking us to pay Him back. The price is too high. We can never accomplish it.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

So what does God really want? He asks us to humble ourselves and to accept that freedom — and then boldly mount up and follow Him.

There are adventures to accomplish. Let’s go!


Live Life… Boldly

Mike Turner and Andy

Nearing the lake, the hiker stepped onto a large boulder that shifted precariously under his weight. Instinctively, he leapt. The rock ahead was solid but tilted up at an awkward angle. His boots hit, and slid. The boulder behind kept coming, closing the gap. Just as his legs slipped off the edge, the boulders slammed together, catching the man above the knees, pinning him as if in the jaws of a trap. – Jeff Rennicke, Backpacker

So many times it seems that as we navigate life, the guidebooks are written in a foreign language, and when we do study the map, only part of it is there. 

I suppose if ‘happily ever after’ was easy to get to, there would be no stories: no tales of wonder, no hearts to win, dragons to slay, lands to conquer.

And sometimes ‘happily’ comes after ever.  As it did for a local pastor named Mike Turner, the hiker mentioned above. Mike died up there in the wilderness of Wyoming. And in the long last eleven days of his life, he journaled. He journaled his pain, his sorrow, his loss, his faith, his trust and ultimately, his readiness to meet God — much sooner than he’d imagined.

In a documentary narrated by his hiking partner and best friend, Mark Smith, this morning we learned the tale of this man of faith who lived by a creed to live life boldly.  Mike died in his prime, on an adventure designed to take him to nature where he could get closer to God.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him.
(Job 13:15a ESV)

At the beginning of his journal, Pastor Turner wrote of hope:

You send the winds and rain and yet even amidst the deep savagery and destruction of life, I sense your hand. In threatening my comfort, even my life, you challenge me to cope. In beauty and peace you refresh me. And all of it I need…God bless this trip. May it fulfill your holy purposes.”

After being pinned by the boulder, he wrote of doubt:

“God is with me but I am angry with him. Why this terrible injustice, or is it the product of pride? This sense of wrestling against God or the angel of God is distressing. What can I do against God?…I don’t want to be fighting against God’s will. How am I failing him or what does he need me to teach? What is the purpose of this ordeal? Will I ever know, or continue to be puzzled, angered, and feel quite abandoned by the one I serve?”

And in his final hours, after ten days, water gone, no longer hoping for rescue:

“Fill me with peace, Lord. May the conditions not deny my love for you…I am ready to die, though missing my family. To live is Christ. To die is gain…I will trust in God though he will slay me, yet will I trust him, he is the way, the truth, the light.”

What of this story, then? A cautionary tale to some, a story chronicling the death of a saint to others. How do we reconcile these thoughts, this loss?

Mike’s unexpected journey touches us as it encapsulates the unknown and the known – a short tale often stretched over decades of our own lives. How do we live responsible adult lives and yet recklessly take up our cross and follow Him?

How do we follow Him wherever He might lead? After all, respectable Hobbits don’t go on adventures. It’s not culturally acceptable.

The thing that keeps nibbling at me — and maybe it has all my life is this: Are we supposed to be respectable? To whom are we attempting to gain favor? Are we called to live lives of quiet desperation or even quiet quietness?

Is there more to this life than “living and dying– trying to make it through the day?*”

Sure, it’s peaceful to sit next to a pleasant fire with a nice book or kick back and watch a football game.  Or just to go to work, punch the clock, tuck the kids in bed, hit the alarm clock and repeat.

Yet. Yet… do you feel the FIRE in you deep down to do something? … to follow the Lion of Judah in the adventures of YOUR lifetime?

Because we only get to do it once.

Pray with me: Lord help us to live life boldly and with conviction. Amen.

May We Live Life Boldy.

*Bonus Points if you know the reference!


Copyright 2014 Jason Stern

It’s 2015 and that means it’s time for a new Word for the Year.  I don’t do resolutions.  Instead, I prefer to set goals and objectives.

We’ve been going through that healthy exercise with our family this week.  All of the children and Andrea and I are praying and considering what we want to accomplish this year and what steps it will take to get there.  We start out with general drafts and then refine them into something doable.

Last year, we joined the OneWord365.com community in praying and asking the Lord to focus on one word for the year that will help shape our vision.  My word for 2014 was adventure.  Because of that, I spent more time thinking about the adventures I had hiking, writing, driving and living life out loud here in Idaho.  This year, my word is BOLD.  I believe God wants me to be bold this year in being who I am, sharing what I’ve learned, and forging ahead to new places.

Andrea is still praying about her word for 2015, so hopefully she will join in soon and share her reflections on 2014 and thoughts on 2015.

I encourage you to find your word for 2015 and keep it in the back of your head. You might be surprised at how much it pops up in your life.

– Jason