We tend to boast in the power of faith while minimizing the value of hope. Yet, “faith is the substance of things hoped for” (Heb. 11:1). Without first having a living hope in God, our faith is meaningless. Indeed, the first stage of transformation is the awakening of hope.
Yet, even after we come to Christ, we still fail. Often a downward spiral occurs when sin opens the door to condemnation, and condemnation smothers the voice of hope. Consider the story of Israel's conquest of Canaan. The Lord was about to prosper Israel with the wealth of the Canaanites, but only if the spoils of their first battle at Jericho were completely dedicated to God.
However, one man, Achan, defied the Lord's edict. He took silver, gold and a garment from Shinar, and then he hid the spoils in his tent. As a result of his sin, 36 Israelites died in their next battle—defeated and humiliated by the tiny city of Ai.
After the Lord exposed Achan as the perpetrator, Joshua took him, along with his family and possessions, and brought them all to a valley. There Israel's leader said, “'Why have you troubled us? The Lord will trouble you this day.' And all Israel stoned them with stones … Therefore the name of that place has been called the valley of Achor to this day” (Joshua 7:25-26).
The word Achor meant “troubling.” It represented the trouble and pain one person's sin exacted on many others. Certainly the most terrible thing Achan experienced was that his sin caused his wife and children to die with him. As they huddled together awaiting this horrible judgment, the guilt and regret flooding Achan's mind must have been insufferable.
In time, the valley of Achor came to symbolize the worst of punishments. It was a place of death and desolation. Today, of course, we do not stone those whose sin or irresponsibility has caused others grief. Still, sin has consequences, and though we may not be physically stoned for our failure, the effects of public condemnation can be just as crushing to the human spirit. The fact is, too many of us have known a personal valley of Achor where our moral negligence or ill-advised actions caused another's suffering.
Perhaps you committed adultery, and your spouse and children are devastated. It might be that your anxious or careless driving caused an accident, resulting in great suffering or possibly even another person's death. Or maybe your lack of Christian example has caused your children to turn from God. The possible ways of falling are endless, but the result is nearly always the same: It is as though a curse rests on your life.
Not only does your own heart condemn you, but there are also others who know your failure, whose chorus of criticisms convince you of your hopeless nature. Public censure, cold looks and judgmental attitudes have the same effect on your soul as Achan's stoning had on his flesh, only what dies in you is hope. Where once you could look with anticipation toward the future, now heartache and regret block your view.
Only virtue, made pure and strong by true repentance, can displace the burden of self-condemnation. Thus, the only correct response to wrong actions and their consequences is the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately, the enemy has many Christians trapped in unbelief and self-condemnation. They know what they did was wrong and they hate it, but they cannot unburden themselves of the guilt.
Remember, our Redeemer came to proclaim liberty to those who are “prisoners” (see Isaiah 61:1). Is He speaking only of those who are incarcerated in jails? No, His mission is for all of us who are prisoners of our past failures. God wants us to learn from our mistakes, not be held captive to them. Jesus came to deliver and restore those whose dreams lie buried in the valley of Achor.
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