Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Celebrating as an act of faith

Right after the Jewish Passover came a countdown of seven weeks (49 days) when the Feast of the Firstfruits was celebrated, which ended at Pentecost – literally meaning the 50th day. These ancient feasts may seem like useless Bible trivia, but God never does anything trivial. So what was so special about the Feast of the Firstfruits?  

It was when the new spring crops of grain, fruit and vegetables were given to God in the confidence that He was going to provide for the entire year ahead. It was the first small harvest at the very beginning of the planting season. Other harvests, that would sustain them through the cold winter would continue to be brought in up until the autumn months of September and October – if the rain and sun were plentiful that year. There was no guarantee of a good year, no guarantee that drought wouldn’t wither their crops. They could work hard, but the right proportions of rain and sun came by the providence of God alone. If they didn’t fully trust in Him, they could lose everything. Their firstfruits weren’t much, but they were a declaration that God would provide, a celebration of faith that big blessings would come.

Imagine enduring a tough winter in Israel, carefully portioning out the grain and dried fruit you’d stored up for your family until the next year’s harvest. When spring finally arrives, fresh new crops provide hope that you no longer have to scrimp and save. But instead of devouring it right away, God commanded that the first crop be set aside for Him. They were to give sheaves of grain to the temple priests who would wave them towards the four corners of the compass – they were to offer some grain as flour baked into loaves, a basketful of their first fruit and vegetables, as well as the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb. They were to bring it all to His temple with joyful singing and celebration. The small crop was the first evidence that God’s huge blessings were on their way, and in that faith they were commanded to have a party! Only after that celebration, could they return home and enjoy the rest of their crops.

Today, God still wants us to celebrate every time we see the tiny beginnings of a miracle making their appearance. He wants us to give thanks for the first “harvest” that comes into our hands, in a joyful manner, in the knowledge that it’s just the beginning of what He’s going to do for us. If it’s our salary, then that firstfruit is a tithe. If we’ve been praying for a loved one who’s made a slight change for the better, our firstfruit is to give thanks with the certainty that something new and powerful is beginning, no matter how small the change seems.  If it’s news of an improved medical exam, then our firstfruit is to give our testimony, proclaiming that though we haven’t yet seen the final result, we’re sure that God is moving and that He deserves all the praise. God expects us to take the small insignificant signs of His handiwork as absolute proof that He is faithful to His Word and will accomplish exactly what He promises. After all, the consummate definition of faith is:  “…the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

We have a serious problem of thinking that being cynical and hesitant is a sign of maturity, but in the Kingdom of God, that’s hogwash. How many times have we seen positive signs of change, but hang back and say something like, “Hold on, I don’t want to get my hopes up just yet. Let me just ride this out and see if anything comes of it”?  How many times has God done something amazing in answer to prayer, but because it’s not the final answer we had hoped for, we won’t give Him the public honor He deserves by giving our testimony? Why do we think that talking about what God has done for us, whether big or small, is being proud and showing off? Why are we embarrassed to give our testimonies? All this is hogwash. The Bible teaches us that there’s a good kind of boasting – when we boast about Him!  (Galatians 6:14) Robbing God of our firstfruits isn’t just refusing to pay our tithes, it’s refusing to celebrate the small signs that He’s providing for us. And when we rob God, we lose blessings.  

Giving our firstfruits with joy is a declaration of faith that says: 1. Everything good comes from God alone, both big and small, and 2. We have to celebrate the answer to our prayer even before we see it happen.  When we honor Him this way, we open doors for His abundance to flow… Let’s grab every chance we have to live out the spirit of the firstfruits – giving our possessions, our praise and our testimony to Him in the faith that He will be good to us in every way. 

And it must be, when you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, and you possess it, and dwell in it, that you shall take from the first of all the produce of the ground which you shall bring from your land that the Lord your God is giving you, and put it in a basket and go to the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide. You shall go to the priest in office at that time and say to him, “I profess this day to the Lord your God that I have come into the land which the Lord promised to our fathers to give us.”  (Deuteronomy 26:1-3 MEV)

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