Did you hear about the man who telephoned the U.S. Naval Department greatly excited to tell them he had found a way to destroy all enemy submarines? When the Admirals showed interest in his discovery, the caller eagerly explained that his plan involved setting the ocean in a boil so that all the submarines would be bubbled up to the surface where they could be destroyed. When they asked the man how he proposed to make the ocean start boiling, he replied, "Well, I've given you the plan, but you'll have to work out the details."
Of course, everybody knew that the caller was either a nut or some kind of a jokester making a prank telephone call. It is so ridiculous that we laugh at the whole preposterous suggestion of the man.
But today I want to point you to a text in the Bible that sounds almost as incredible as the ocean boiling idea. When we first read this verse, it sounds so unlikely that we have to blink and read it again to make sure that our eyes are not deceiving us. It is undoubtedly one of the most daring texts in all the Scriptures. Here it is, taken from the midst of Psalms 78 verse 41: "Yea, they turned back and tempted God and limited the Holy One of Israel." So there it is in all of its strange boldness. It actually says the poor weak human beings can limit the great God of the Universe. Is that possible, friends? How could it be? Surely there must be something here that we don't understand at first glance.
So let's look into the background and setting of this Psalm for a moment. The entire Psalm is a description of the children of Israel as they left the land of Egypt and traveled into the dry hot barren wilderness of Sinai. Behind them was Egypt where they had been slaves; but behind them was also the food supply and the water. It was worse than they had expected in the desert. They quickly grew faint and discouraged. Their hearts turned back to the land of Egypt where they, at least, had the necessities to keep alive. Now it seemed that they would perish; so they began to murmur and complain-against Moses, and even against God.
The Bible says they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. In spite of their miraculous deliverance from the hand of Pharaoh, they doubted that God was with them, and that He would take care of them. And the Bible says that this lack of faith limited God in what He wanted to do for them.
So that is what the text means, friends. We can never limit God in His purpose and plan for the Universe. He moves the planets and stars and suns in their appointed paths without consulting us. And no man has the power to change God's designs for a single heavenly body. But listen, you can still limit God and change God's plan concerning what He wants to do in your life! You are a free moral agent with the individual choice over your own life. Even God cannot accomplish His purpose for your life unless you permit Him. God can do nothing for you without your consent. All the miracle demonstration of grace in your heart was wonderful, but you had to agree to it. The shattering breakthrough against sin in your life was God's work, but you had to give permission for Him to carry out His plan for your deliverance. The simple fact is that we can limit the illimitable and powerful God of Heaven in what He would like to do in our lives. We can veto and nullify the plans that God laid for our lives long before we were born.
I want you to think about this today and ask yourself a question. What might your life be like today if you had fully cooperated with God, and had permitted Him to carry out His full purpose in your life? Believe me, friends, things would be altogether different with every one of us today.
The Holy Bible has some sad reading on this subject. For example, Jesus had gone back to His home town of Nazareth where He had grown into manhood. What a tremendous honor it was for that tiny village to welcome the Son of God-the Messiah-into their streets. But, do you know, they did not react as we might think they would to the visit of Christ. The would not receive Him, and they wouldn't listen to His message of truth because He was too plain and homespun. They rejected Him because He had lived in their town and was the son of the village carpenter. Notice what they said in Matthew 13:55,56: "Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brothers James and Joses and Simon and Judas?. . . And they were offended in him. . . . And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief."
Listen, friends. Jesus wanted to work His miracles in Nazareth just as He had done in Capernaum. His relatives and neighbors lived in Nazareth; some of His boyhood playmates and friends were still in town. Perhaps some of them were sick or blind, and all of them needed to know the Saviour of the world. Jesus longed to touch them, to heal them, to lift their weight of sin and suffering, but He could not. They limited Jesus by their lack of faith. He could not deliver them.
How often we read in the Scriptures the words of Christ, "According to thy faith, be it unto you." And that is the limit of what Jesus can do for any one of us today. There are wonderful things that He wants to do for us now, just as He longed over the people of Nazareth. He has all power to meet every problem and need. He is ready to move in your behalf to smash obstacles out of your path. He holds the Universe in His hand, but He can't do a single thing for you unless you are willing. You can limit God still in His desires for your victory and your happiness.
And do you know how we do it, friends? Lack of faith is one thing that hinders, of course, but the Bible tells us about something else that completely frustrates our prayers and prevents God from doing His will for us. Here it is in Isaiah 59:1,2: "Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." That is one of the most true and demonstratable statements in the entire Bible. Everywhere people are limiting God by their sins-their jealousy, their hatreds, doubts, impurities. Known sin is like a chain that binds and fetters until the experience stagnates and loses its vital, fervent element. Finally, the life begins to dry up, and the beautiful design of God is vetoed and nullified.
Listen, those sin barriers have to come down before God can do His miracles for you. He can still heal and deliver in this twentieth century as well as He did in the first. There is no limit to what can be accomplished, when the sin barrier is removed. According to thy faith, be it unto you!
About 160 years ago man could travel no faster than a horse could run. The horse barrier stood in the way of human progress. But in 1830 a tremendous thing happened-man broke through the horse barrier by inventing the "iron horse"-the locomotive that could outrun the fastest animal alive. Then one breakthrough followed another until two brothers learned how to overcome the tug of gravity, and mankind became airborne for the first time. But then the SONIC barrier appeared like an invisible demon to shake the stoutest plane to pieces as it approached the speed of sound. It seemed insurmountable, but finally the engineers designed a streamlined fuselage that solved the sonic problem.
Then the THERMAL barrier arose to threaten progress, causing the metal body to melt like butter as it approached the speed of Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound. New alloys were developed which withstood the fierce heats, and now the scientists declare that the "impossible" things are merely the things they haven't had quite enough time to work out yet. And they are probably right. But if the flesh is able to do all of this, what can the mighty arm of Omnipotence do if we only give God a chance? The "sin barrier" is the last obstacle standing in the way and preventing God from carrying out His purpose in your life and mine. How long will we keep limiting the illimitable God in His plans for our lives?
Now I want to point you to one of the most dramatic examples in the Bible to show what sin can do. It is found in Joshua 7:11-13. The armies of Israel had crossed over the river Jordan and were moving forward to occupy the land that God had given them. God had promised to deliver the enemy into their hands, so they confidently marched against a little town that stood in their way-the town of Ai. But to their dismay, every assault was thrown back and they seemed to have no power to stand against the little band of the enemy. Joshua was so discouraged that he rent his clothes, fell on his face before the Lord, and pleaded for an explanation. Well, the Lord gave him an explanation all right, and it wasn't a very pleasant one. He said, "Israel hath sinned . . . for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen . . . and they have put it even among their own stuff. Therefore the Children of Israel could not stand before their enemies." Verse 11.
That is right-somebody in the camp of Israel had broken the law of God. They had stolen something and hidden it in their tent, and the next day they found out that it was Achan. He had taken a goodly Babylonish garment and 200 shekels of silver, and it was buried in his tent. The Bible says they brought the accursed things from their hiding place "and laid them out before the Lord" (verse 23). Then Achan was destroyed for his presumptuous sin, and the armies marched forward to victory over all this town-their enemies in Ai.
Listen, doesn't this help explain why there is so little power in the lives of Christians today? Sometimes there are hidden sins-willful transgressions that have shut out the Spirit of God and the power of God. Those sins must be confessed. They must be laid out before the Lord before the victory can be granted. The blessing of Heaven falls only upon the obedient. Here is the proof for that statement, and I am reading it right out of the New Testament, Acts 7:32: "And we are his witnesses of these things, and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey Him." Now there it is! The Holy Spirit is given only to those that obey Him. No wonder the modern church is so barren of power. They have rejected the Ten Commandments as out-of-date, and old-fashioned. Theologians, pastors and evangelists have turned their backs upon the great moral law that God wrote with His own hand, and have openly encouraged transgression. Some have denied the binding obligation of only certain of the Ten Commandments, but most of them have thrown aside the fourth one altogether. That is the one about the Sabbath Day which identifies the Creator as the only true God to be worshipped. The Sabbath was set aside, and made holy by God Himself and commanded by God and written by His hand. "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work. . . ."
Well, you already see what I am pointing out, don't you, friends? What does the commandment say? "The seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God . . ." Yet how many Christians even profess to keep that commandment today? The seventh day is Saturday, and it is used, contrary to God's express command, as a common day of work and business. The Bible says the blessing of God and the Spirit of God is given to those who obey Him.
Oh, how we need a revival in the churches today-a revival of obedience. And that kind of a revival would bring a spiritual revival also as the Spirit of God would be poured out upon those who loved Him enough to obey Him.