We tend to say things like: “Today was OK, but I think tomorrow is going to be really hard.” What we really think of as most important, or most powerful, we but after that ‘but.’ Leah was a saint who had a very difficult life. People considered her ugly. Her husband didn’t love her, and it didn’t seem like that would ever change. But (!) she learned to put God’s love after the but. We too, can find incredible life and grace by learning to put eternal truth after the ‘buts’ in our life.
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LIVING CRUCIFIED #4
In order to really grab hold of the riches that we have in Jesus Christ, we need to start talking about your buts. We all have buts in life. (All right, insert whatever joke you like here, and then move on). What I mean is, we all say things like this:
Things are going well now, but who knows what will happen in the future?
I know God promises to take care of me, but things aren’t going well right now.
Generally, I have a good marriage, but sometimes he drives me crazy.
I would love to read my bible more, but I just don’t have the time.
I know God has forgiven me, but I still sin, and I don’t always feel forgiven.
There is something I have noticed – we give the most power, the most credibility, to what we put after the but. What we say after the but is what we think is the dominant thing about our reality. The first thing may be some kind of factor, but what we put after the but is more or less the final word on the subject.
What we need to learn, is to put what God says after the but. You might say, we need “heavenly buts.” [Sorry if that term brought you’re here on an different kind of internet search, but since you’re here, why not keep reading?] Putting God’s word after the but is an act of will, but before that even, it is an act of faith. Much of what we are talking about in this sermon series will not make sense until you agree, as an act of faith, to put God’s Word after the but.
I want us to look at the life of someone in the Bible who learned to do this. She is one of the least known, least talked-about heroines of faith in the Bible. Her name is Leah. Leah was the daughter of a man named Laban. Her story picks up in Genesis chapter 29. One day their cousin Jacob, whom they had never met, came from a far country. Jacob ended up working for his uncle Laban (Leah’s father). Laban asked Jacob how he should be paid for his work. At this point, the scripture says something about the two young women:
17 Leah's eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. (Genesis 29:17, ESV)
We don’t know exactly what it means when it says Leah had “weak eyes.” It seems to be a somewhat unique expression. It might even mean she was hard to look at, sort of the opposite of “she’s easy on the eyes.” In any case, we are given a comparison so that the point is very clear: Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Whatever Leah was, it was not beautiful. Did you notice the “but” there? What a powerful but! “My sister has a beautiful face and figure, but I have weak eyes.” It was probably one of the dominant “buts” in Leah’s life.
This isn’t a fairy tale, or a animated show about ogres. Jacob fell in love with the beautiful one, not the ugly one. That’s generally the way the world works. So, he told his uncle he would work for seven years as a dowry in order to marry Rachel, (the beautiful sister) and Laban agreed.
Only, when the time came, Laban tricked Jacob. Brides in those days were heavily veiled, and the wedding took place at night – and there was no electricity. And (let’s be honest) there was drinking. So Laban gave his older daughter, Leah, in marriage to Jacob, and Jacob didn’t find out until the light of the next morning. Jacob was understandably angry and disappointed. Laban, the father of the women, made some excuse about how there was a custom that the older daughter had to be married first, before a younger sister could get married. Then he said:
27 “But wait until the bridal week is over; then we’ll give you Rachel, too—provided you promise to work another seven years for me.”
28 So Jacob agreed to work seven more years. A week after Jacob had married Leah, Laban gave him Rachel, too. (Genesis 29:26-28, NLT)
Now, think about this. Suppose Laban was not lying about the custom. What did this imply? That no one else had wanted to marry Leah. She was so unattractive that her father had to trick someone into marrying her. Obviously, her father did not expect that anyone ever would ask to marry her. Leah almost certainly knew all of this. It says she was ugly, not stupid. So she had to live with that knowledge. Not only that, but she got to be the bride for only one week before her husband married her beautiful sister, the one he had always wanted in the first place.
Naturally, Jacob favored Rachel. He loved her, not Leah. Leah’s only consolation was that she had children fairly easily, while Rachel went for a long time with none. When Leah’s first son (Reuben) was born, she said, “The Lord has seen my affliction; surely my husband will love me now (Genesis 29:32).” Notice that her focus was on her unhappy situation, and she hopes the fact that she bore him the first child will change it. Applying this to the concepts we have been talking about, Leah was focused on things “below the line,” in the seen, temporary realm.
When her second son (Simeon) came along she said, “The Lord heard I was unloved, and gave me this son also (Genesis 29:33).” Still, her dominant reality is that Jacob doesn’t love her. After her third son was born, she was still focused on her struggles, saying, “at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons (Genesis 29:34).”
Now we know that it takes nine months to make a baby. There was no birth control in those days, but in general, when a woman is breastfeeding, that sometimes helps prevent pregnancy. Back in those days, children were probably breastfed pretty consistently for at least a year. So it is reasonable to assume at least two years between each child. When you throw in the fact that Jacob had another wife, and everything that was involved in the family dynamics, it may have been more like three years, or even more between children. So Leah went at least six years, and maybe as long as ten or twelve, while the dominant fact in her life was that her husband did not love her.
But (notice the but) by the time her fourth son arrives, something has changed. There is no evidence that Jacob ever changed his attitude very much toward her. Reasonably, at least eight years might have passed by this point, perhaps as many as twelve or even more. Say, a decade; ten long years of realizing her marriage will never be what she dreamed it might be. But listen to what she says when this fourth son, Judah, is born: “This time, I will praise the Lord (29:35).”
Leah is no longer fixated on what she lacks in her life. She isn’t trying to get Jacob to change anymore. She isn’t focused on the seen, temporary world, the “below the line” reality. Instead, her focus is on the Lord, and his love and favor for her. Her struggle had been with God and with her husband. But when she gave birth to Judah, she has given up the fight – in a positive way. Her troubles have led her to a place where she looks to God to meet her needs, and can receive his love and mercy with joy and thankfulness. I’m sure that Leah still struggled. I think it is only reasonable to assume that emotionally, her situation never changed much. Certainly, the Bible never records that Jacob changed his attitude toward her. But she came to the point where the dominant thing in her life was not her struggle, or her unfilled needs, but rather, God’s awesome love for her.
Genesis 29:31 says that when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb. In other words, the Lord was the one who gave Leah these children; and even more, he gave them to her because he saw that her husband did not love her. Now, at first, her response was basically this: “Good! This child will change my situation. This child will make my husband love me.” But think about it. God gave the children to Leah, not as tools to coerce Jacob’s love – the Lord gave Leah children because the Lord loved her. He was showing her that regardless of what Jacob thought of her, He loved her. She was not unloved. At first she missed the point. She was still putting Jacob’s lack of love after the but. Finally however, she got it. When Judah was born, she praised the Lord. She finally saw that these children would not make her loved – they showed her that she was already loved.
Sometimes when we pray, God changes our situation, and makes it better. Sometimes, he leaves us in the same circumstances. When he does that, his desire is that our lives can be so filled with him, that the negative aspects of our situation pale in comparison. When Kari and I first started dating, I was in a job situation that I didn’t like, living in a city I didn’t care for, with few real friends nearby. I remember sitting in a meeting at work, filled with joy. I wasn’t joyful because I was in the meeting. I wasn’t joyful because I liked where I was living, or because I was making much money, or that I liked my work. None of those things were true. But I was joyful because I knew that wherever I was, whatever I was doing, Kari loved me.
Now, I don’t mean to be negative, but the kind of joy that came when I first knew that Kari loved me, does not sustain me in the same way thirty years later. We still love each other. It is still an enormous thing in my life that Kari loves me. But no human being has the power to fill you with joy consistently for a long period of time. Only God’s love is that strong. His love can change everything without changing one bit of our circumstances.
I think that was the kind of place Leah finally reached. Jacob still didn’t love her. He probably never would. But God did, and the fact that God loved her was more important than the fact that her husband did not.
This is the key to “Living after the But.” Remember, whatever you put after “but” is the dominant reality to you. For many years, Leah probably said something like this: “I know God loves me, but my husband does not. I’m just a third wheel.” Finally, after the birth of Judah, she started thinking this way: “I know Jacob never wanted to marry me. He may never love me the way I want him to. But God loves me and cares for me.” The only thing that really changed for Leah is which thing she put after the “But.” However, I think it transformed everything for her.
Now, I want to make sure you do hear this correctly. I’m not trying to create a rule for you to follow. “I must always put the correct thing after the but.” Instead this is an invitation for you to dive into God’s grace. There is an everlasting well of the water of life, a cool, clear, beautiful spring of love, joy, beauty and strength. One very helpful way to access that deep well of grace is to put the promises of God after the but. Again, not a rule, but an invitation, a door by which we can access what God is offering us.
Now, I want the Holy Spirit to make this practical for you. What have you been putting after the but? Has your dominant reality been what God says? Or have you given more power and credence to your circumstances, or how you feel, or what your mind tells you logically? Take a moment to think about it. Let the Lord bring to mind what you have reversed right now.
I am not saying that your struggles aren’t real. I am not saying that you aren’t dealing with things that are truly bad, or difficult or wrong. But I am saying that God’s Word is more true, more powerful. It is an act of faith to believe it.
Your dominant reality might be very negative, and very powerful. Leah spent her whole life thinking, “but I’m ugly.” Long years of marriage only added, “and I’m unwanted, and I’ll never get the chance to be with someone who does want me.” That’s powerful stuff. And it was all true. She never was loved by her husband or anyone else in that way.
But…BUT – there was another thing that was true. It was true that she was made in the image of God. It was true that God loved her. It was true that God wanted her. She let God’s love become her dominant reality. She let his word be the final word.
So pause for a moment. Think about your own life. What are your struggles? What is bothering you? What is stealing your peace, joy, or love? Now, put the promises of God after the but:
“I’m so upset that my child has gone this direction….but______”
“I feel so anxious and lonely, but _____”
“I want to follow God, and yet I constantly fail, but ______”
“I am so upset about something, but ____”
You get the idea. We need to learn to believe that what God says is more real than what we think or feel. And so, we need to learn what God says. Try reading some of the verses below. Believe that these promises are for you, that God himself loves you!
Zephaniah 3:16-18; Isaiah 43:1-5; Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 6:31-34; Romans 8:1-39; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18; 2 Corinthians 5:1-21; Ephesians 1:1-14; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 4:6-8.