Reflections from 26th June
Friday 31st July 2020 (72)
God in the Everyday (cont)
In Reflections 70 we were thinking about everyday objects which tell us something about the character of God. Many of them were giving us pictures of His strength, His faithfulness and the protection He gives to His people. David was particularly good at finding these metaphors and he uses a whole list of them when he praises God for keeping him safe when he was being hunted by Saul. 2 Samuel 22:2-3 & Psalm 18:1-2 mention Rock, Fortress, Deliverer, Shield and more! (What other words?)
Boaz uses a softer, non-military picture of God’s protection as he describes Ruth’s journey of faith as she has come to know “the LORD … under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12). And the idea of Sheltering Wings comes up again in Psalm 91:4, Psalm 57:1, and Psalm 61:4 (where it is linked with the idea of dwelling in God’s Tent). In Matthew 23:37 Jesus likens Himself to a mother hen wanting to gather her chicks (the inhabitants of Jerusalem) under her protective wings.
Since both male and female are “in God’s image” (Genesis 1:27) it is not surprising to find words reflecting the feminine side of God. See Isaiah 66:12-13 “As a Mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you”.
Thank God for times when you have experienced God’s shelter and comfort.
As well as protecting His people, God also wants to guide them, so He is seen as a Lamp in 2 Samuel 22:29. What does that Lamp do? Is that what God does for you? God is also a God of justice who wants his people to be pure and clean, so the prophet describes Him as a Refining Fire & Laundry Soap (Malachi 3:2). Does that idea appeal to you?
What word can be used to express our longing for a close relationship with our faithful, compassionate God? The Psalmist likens this desire to Thirst. Psalm 42:2; 63:1; 143:6.
Isaiah brings a promise from God that our thirst will be quenched and our other needs met Isaiah 551-3. Where do we need to go? What will that cost?
Holiday Homework!! So far almost all of our examples have been taken from the Old Testament. But the New Testament is just as rich in metaphor. Explore some of the everyday things that Jesus claimed to be. Bread (John 6:25-35); Light (John 9:1-7): Gate (John 10:1-10); Good Shepherd (John 10:11-16); Vine (John 15:1-8).
What pictures do they bring to your mind? What are the implications for your life?
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you for the many different word-pictures that help me grow in understanding of what you are like. Please reveal more and more of yourself to me as I meditate on them. Amen.
Wednesday 29 July 2020
71 - Eve
Another woman from the Bible today – the first one: Eve. She lived not far from where Esther would live many years later. Esther was in Susa, Western Iran. The Garden of Eden was probably Southern Iraq.
Read Genesis 1:26-31. The first man and woman were the climax of God’s creation. He saw that what He had made was very good – as Psalm 8:5 puts it “You made him (man & woman) a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.” God provided them with food and with work to do – see Genesis 1:27-28 and Psalm 8:5-8. They were made in the image of God the divine King, to rule over the earth as stewards, with characteristics of God such as righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24).
What other characteristics has God passed on to us? Jesus is the true “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). We become more and more like Him as we live with the Holy Spirit in our life. The closer we grow to God the more we reflect His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Read Genesis 2:15-25. Eve was created to be a suitable helper for Adam, to Adam’s joy. As Matthew Henry put it: “Not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be loved.” She was neither inferior nor superior, but complementary, fit to stand opposite him and share his rule over the earth. God’s design was for people to delight in each other; they were made for communion with each other and with God. And man and woman were made to have a special union in marriage as “one flesh” (v.24) sexually and in a oneness that grows as they live together in a relationship of loving and serving each other.
Into this ideal world enter Satan, in the form of the Serpent. Read Genesis 3:1-10. He was very subtle. His conversation with Eve started harmlessly, but led her to doubt God’s word (“Did God really say …?” v.1), to question His motives (v.5), and to disbelieve His warning (v.4). Satan encouraged her to make up her own mind about the value of obeying God. Have you found out how subtle his temptations are? He is very clever at touching us at those very points, our weakest points, where we are unwilling to hand over control to God.
So how can we arm ourselves against this? (See for example James 4:7; Ephesians 6:10-18; Hebrews 2:18)
Eve disobeyed God, and then encouraged Adam to do the same. Immediately they felt shame and fear, and hid from God. This was followed by the penalty for disobedience: they were excluded from the garden so that they did not have access to the Tree of Life. There were consequences for Satan, too: he was cursed and would finally be crushed and defeated by the ‘seed of the woman’ – Christ.
God’s intention was for an unashamed intimacy and complementarity between man and woman made in God’s image; a close intimacy with God; the provision of food and a good place to live; work and responsibility (reigning as God’s delegates); life and no death.
The result of their disobedience was shame, a damaged relationship with each other and estrangement from God; a life of battling with evil; disorder in creation – weeds, pain, death; guilt and doubt; but, by the grace of God, food from the earth and children, so continuation of life, and ultimately the defeat of Satan so that the whole of creation can be restored to what God intended (Romans 8:19-21).
Eve had children, which brought great sorrow when Cain killed Abel out of jealousy (Genesis 4:5-8), and then went his own way, rejecting God. Lamech, one of his descendants was notable for his sinful pride (Genesis 4:19-24). There was also joy when Seth, the image of Adam (Genesis 5:3a), was born. Eve’s relationship with God seems to have improved by then: compare her reactions in Genesis 4:1 and 4:25. And in time her family also appear to have come closer to God (Genesis 4:26b). Adam and Eve had more sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4). It must have been a long, hard life for Eve with many regrets, after such a glorious start.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, our Creator and Lord, we praise you for the beautiful world that you made and for your plan for mankind. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for rescuing us when our ancestors spoiled that plan. Thank you for the hope of a total restoration of Creation, and the hope of being a part of the New Earth. Amen
Monday 27th July 2020 (70)
God in the Everyday
All through the Bible items from everyday life are used to teach us spiritual truths.
“The earth is the LORD’S and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” Psalm 24:1.
Yes! Everything is His, and it is all there to help us understand our Creator and His purposes better.
How can we describe the indescribable God? Here are some word pictures from the Old Testament which are there to help us grasp deep truths.
1 Samuel 2:2 “There is no-one holy like the LORD … there is no Rock like our God.” This analogy of God being a Rock is common. See 2 Samuel 22:32 and 23:3; Isaiah 26:4;
Psalm 95:1; Deuteronomy 32:4, and many more! What picture does this bring to your mind? What deep truth is it expressing? Sometimes the word Fortress is included with
the word Rock e.g. Psalm 31:2-3 and 71:3. What does this add to your mental picture?
2 Samuel 22:31 “As for God His way is perfect … He is a Shield for all who will take refuge in Him.” The idea of God being a Shield for His people is also a common one – e.g. Psalm 3:3; 28:7; 33:20; Proverbs 2:7 and again there are more examples. This idea is made personal in Psalm 33:20 “He is our help and our Shield” and Psalm 28:7 “The LORD is my strength and my Shield.” It was God Himself who introduced the idea of being a Shield when He made the promise to Abraham – see Genesis 15:1. Have you had experience of God being a Shield to you and your family?
What do you think of when you think of a Shield – something metallic? Read Isaiah 31:5 to get a different sort of picture of protection: it’s airborne!
God as a Shepherd is perhaps the best known word-picture of God (see Psalm 23), but David was not the first to use that analogy. Jacob, a very successful shepherd himself, recognised God’s guiding hand throughout his own turbulent life – see Genesis 48:15. Later, many of the prophets saw God as being a Shepherd to the whole nation of Israel. Isaiah 40:11; Jeremiah 31:10; and Ezekiel 34:12 are a few examples. Today we want to echo the prayer of Micah 7:14 “Be a Shepherd to your people, LORD”.
Another analogy is in Isaiah 64:8 “You LORD are our Father. We are the clay, you are the Potter, and we are all the work of your hand.” What is your reaction to that idea? Do you feel that you have more independence than a lump of clay? Well, yes, but we can choose to be shaped by the hands of the Potter. As Marilyn Baker’s lovely song puts it, “You are the Potter and I am the clay; Help me to be willing to let you have your way.”
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that you are my Rock, my Shield and my Shepherd. Thank you that you are the Potter who transforms my life to display your loveliness. Please reign supreme within my life. Amen.
Friday 24th July 2020 (69)
Does Prayer Make a Difference?
Jesus taught us how to pray. The New Testament authors encourage us to pray, and we have been told that ‘prayer changes things’, but we can get discouraged. We pray about an issue and nothing seems to happen. Does God listen? Has He already decided what He will do and our praying is not going to alter His plans?
Prayer certainly changed things in the life of King Hezekiah. Let’s look at one example. This event was clearly significant since it is reported 3 times in the Old Testament. You can read about it in 2Kings 18:17 – 19:37; 2 Chronicles 32:1-23 and Isaiah 36 and 37.
King Sennacherib of Assyria, with the most powerful army in the world, had conquered many of the surrounding countries including Israel. And now he was taking over the towns and villages of Judah and threatening to attack Jerusalem itself. Sennacherib’s envoys shouted threats and taunts at the city’s inhabitants. They insulted the LORD God and said that He would not be able to save them. Their aim was to terrify the people and make them reject Hezekiah’s advice and rebel against him (2Chronicles 32:16-19).
Why would God allow this? Do you think it was fair? Hezekiah was a good king: he had purified the Temple, restored the sacred festivals, removed the images that were used for idol worship, and got people back to bringing in their tithes and offerings for God’s service. Why might God have allowed this threat to come to such a good King?
What was Hezekiah’s response to the threat? Read 2 Kings 19:1-4. Note that as well as praying himself, Hezekiah enlists the prayer support of God’s faithful prophet Isaiah.
If I have a worrying issue, do I get godly people to pray with me and for me?
Isaiah passes on a message from God: “Don’t be afraid – Sennacherib is going to get a certain report which will make him return to his own country, and there he will be assassinated.” 2 Kings 19:5-7.
Sennacherib does indeed get a report, but does not immediately return home. Instead he sends a threatening letter to Hezekiah, again insulting the LORD God! (2Kings 19:9-13).
How do I feel when God does not answer my prayer quickly in the way expected?
How does Hezekiah respond? Read 2 Kings 19:14-19. (I like the way he spreads the letter out before God so that He can share it!)
Isaiah brings God’s message of hope, “I have heard your prayer” (2 Kings 19:20). “Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib … I will defend this city and save it …” (Isaiah 37:21, 35). You can find out how the story ends in Isaiah 37:36-38.
The message is clear: God hears the prayers of His people, and He responds to them.
A Prayer: Loving Father, thank you that you want us to share our hopes and fears with you. Thank you that you hear our prayers and that you do respond to them. Amen.
Wednesday 22 July 2020 – Esther 8
68 - Rescue
Read Esther 8:3-17. Xerxes has forgotten the threat to the Jews! Esther and Mordecai are safe, but Esther, from her place of privilege, still identifies with her people – the threat to them is unchanged more than a month after Haman was executed. Once again Esther risks her life by entering the throne room unbidden. She falls humbly at his feet, and once again she finds favour with the King (v.4). Compare Esther’s action with that described in Isaiah 53:12 – the Messiah would be numbered (identified) with the transgressors and make intercession for them.
The King is willing to grant her request to end Haman’s evil plan, but it is impossible. “No document written in the King’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (v.8). So the only solution is for the King to authorise another decree to give the Jews permission to band together and arm themselves against anyone who attacks them and their families.
The Jews are authorised to kill those who attack them – on one day only. This is to “avenge themselves on their enemies” but it is not to be an ongoing vendetta. In the Bible the avenger is the one who procures justice. In a well ordered society the Lord avenges wrongs through authorities and judges, “avengers who carry out God’s wrath on the wrong-doer” Romans 13:4 (ESV).
“Vengeance is mine; I will repay … The LORD will vindicate his people” Deuteronomy 32:35-38. How should we deal with our “enemies”?
In Romans 12:19-21 Paul quotes Deuteronomy, along with Proverbs 25:21-22.
Jesus said “Love your enemies” Luke 6:27-28. He also said “All who draw the sword will die by the sword” Matthew 26:52. Pacifists argue that this is the only way – we should never take up arms. Read also Matthew 5:39. Is this unrealistic?
Was Jesus really advocating pacifism in all circumstances? See what he said in Luke 22:36. What would be your response to a physical attack – on you or someone you love?
Read Esther 9:1-17. “The tables were turned” (v.1) on the enemies of the Jews. Not completely, though. Mordecai’s edict is not a reverse image of Haman’s – it is much more humane.
Compare Esther 8:11-12 with Esther 3:13. In what ways is Mordecai’s decree different?
The enemies of the Jews were warned. If none of them had attacked the Jews there would have been no deaths at all.
Read Esther 9:18-10:3. There was great rejoicing and celebration among the Jews when the date planned for their annihilation had passed. God had changed the hearts of many in the Empire. He had rescued the Jews. Mordecai and Esther wrote letters to all the Jews in Susa and the provinces to establish the Festival of Purim as an annual celebration of the triumph of justice over wrongdoing, the overthrow of evil and the salvation of the innocent. Like the Passover it was a celebration of God’s rescue of his chosen people, so that the promise of Genesis 12:3 still remained a living hope.
We celebrate God’s rescue of his chosen people, when we break bread together and give thanks for the One through whom that promise is finally fulfilled. Jesus told us to do so “in remembrance of” Him. See Luke 22:19.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you that you identified with us, taking the form of a man, and dying for us, to rescue us from our slavery to sin. Thank you for your faithfulness in fulfilling the promise to Abraham, that all the peoples on earth would be blessed by his offspring. Amen
Monday 20th July 2020 (67)
Get Wisdom! (Life)
The Bible is not a collection of Myths, or a History textbook or a book of Rules. It is about real Life! It shows us how to get the most out of Life, and how to have good relationships with to our Heavenly Father and with other people.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).
What does that mean to me?
When Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd, He says, “The thief comes only in order to steal, kill and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life – life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). Am I living Life to the full? (Yes, even in difficult circumstances!)
The Bible refers to different aspects of Life, and it is helpful to look at some of them.
Where there are harmonious relationships within the family this is described as ‘Life’ - in contrast to the trouble brought about by greed or dishonesty (Proverbs 15:27). In the same way, if our public affairs are wisely managed and the authorities smile on us, this is described as ‘Life’ (Proverbs 16:15).
Proverbs 3:21-22 “Hold on to your wisdom and discretion, and they will be Life to your soul (meaning your inner self) and an adornment to your neck (meaning your outer self).” How we choose to live is going to impact the whole of our being. We find the same truth in Proverbs 14:30 “A heart at peace gives Life to the body” but notice what happens if envy takes over!
Moral and Spiritual Life
It is clear that ‘Real Life’ means sharing life with God. “The wages of the righteous (the upright – those in right standing with God) is a worthwhile (meaningful) life.” Proverbs 10:16 And there’s more! “The fear (reverent obedience) of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied.” Proverbs 19:23. (Both references are from the Amplified Version). Some more verses expressing the same encouraging truth are found in Psalm 91:3 (a popular Psalm in these strange times!); Jeremiah 1:8; Isaiah 46:4 and Job 5:19.
Psalm 17:15 “As for me … I will be (fully) satisfied when I awake (to find myself) seeing your likeness.” (Amplified) tells us that these truths apply in a spiritual as well a physical sense. Do I sleep with a mind at peace? Where does that come from?
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that Jesus has promised Life in all its fullness. Please help me to live day by day in that truth. Amen
Friday 17th July 2020 (66)
Get Wisdom! (Cont)
In Reflection 64 we looked at the components that make up true Wisdom, and we noted that it is so much more than head knowledge. You can be highly qualified intellectually, but lack wisdom. You can have a low IQ and be very wise. Wisdom is available for us: It is for anyone who wants it. How do we get Wisdom?
1. It comes from the LORD “For the LORD gives wisdom” (Proverbs 2:6). We need to acknowledge our dependence on Him for Wisdom. We can’t produce it for ourselves. As James tells us, “Ask God . . . and it will be given” James 1:5.
2. It is Costly
(a) You have to search for it! See the phrases used in Proverbs 2:2-4 “turn your ear”; “apply your heart”; “call out for insight”; “cry aloud for understanding”; “look for it”; “search for it as for hidden treasure”. There is often a price to pay (Proverbs 23:23).
(b) You may have to turn your back on some old behaviour patterns, “Wisdom hates pride, arrogance, corruption and deceit of every kind” Proverbs 8:13 (LB). Some old ways that used to seem right need to be left behind because they lead only to death Proverbs 14:12
(c) You need to make a deliberate choice to turn to the Light. Read Proverbs 9:4-5 and note the instructions “Come, eat … drink … leave … live … walk”. (It reads like a New Testament Gospel call in an Old Testament context!)
3. It comes from Devotion
(a) In Proverbs 8:34 we get the picture of someone who is watching, waiting at the door, rather like a devoted lover or suitor. There is determination here (as in the analogies that Jesus gives for our praying – Matthew 7:7-11) and there is also passion.
(b) It is not for someone who is wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 3:7) because their attachment is to themselves. There is more hope for a fool than for such a person (26:12)!
(c) It is for those who remain teachable all through life – there’s always more Wisdom to be gained however old or experienced we may be (9:9). This implies that we must be ready to listen to advice from other people (13:10).
(d) It is for those who are consciously open to obeying God’s commands (10:8), and to accepting correction from the LORD (3:11-12).
The key verse in the Book of Proverbs is Proverbs 9:10 “The fear (reverent obedience) of the LORD is the beginning of Wisdom”. (See also 1:7 and 15:33). All true Wisdom derives from and results in obedience to God.
No wonder that Wisdom proclaims (8:35) “Whoever finds me finds life!” And what else?
A Prayer: Loving Father please give me your Wisdom and help me to look at life from your perspective: to see each moment as your time; each relationship as your opportunity; each duty as your command; and each blessing as your gift. Amen.
Wednesday 15 July 2020 – Esther 7
65 - Justice
Read Esther 7:1-10. The King and Haman come to Esther’s second banquet. The king is intensely curious to know what could be Esther’s urgent request. What is going on in Haman’s mind? He has been very frightened by the apparent sudden start of his ruin (Esther 6:13). Was his humiliation actually engineered by the King? But the Queen still seems to value him highly.
All goes well at the banquet until the King asks Esther, very courteously, what is her request. She answers in the same formal, courteous fashion, but what she says has an electrifying effect on both the King and Haman. The King is overcome by rage that Haman could threaten the Queen’s life. Haman, who had no idea Esther was a Jewess, is overcome by terror.
How does the King deal with his anger? It seems astonishing that he should go outside and leave Esther alone with the man who has apparently plotted her death, but there must have been attendants and bodyguards present in the banqueting hall (vv8,9). Haman’s extraordinary behaviour seals his fate, because of how the King interprets it. Harbona’s intervention informs Xerxes of Haman’s plot against Mordecai the King’s saviour, specifically. Justice comes to Haman.
Xerxes had acted hastily in his anger against Vashti (Esther 1:12,19,21). Had he later regretted this and learned from the experience?
Haman concealed his anger and plotted revenge (Esther 3:5,6; 5:9-14).
Esther does not allow her feelings of anger to disturb her outward composure and courteous behaviour. Is she calculating like Haman? (Why did she ensure Haman was present at her revelation?) Or is she trusting in God for justice, like Mordecai?
How do you handle anger? How does God want us to handle anger? See Psalm 4:4 (Septuagint version) “In your anger do not sin.” Quoted in Ephesians:4:26 along with the warning “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
Paul’s advice is to follow the way of love: 1 Corinthians 13:5 “Love … is not easily angered”. In Ephesians 4:29-32 he advises us, instead of rage and anger, to let kindness and compassion rule our thoughts and speech. Where do we get these from? They are fruit of the Spirit. Look at the list in Galatians 5:22,23. How do we get them? If the Holy Spirit lives in us he grows the fruit in our lives. See Ephesians 5:18 and Luke 11:13.
Anger need not be sinful: Jesus was angry (Mark 3:5). What is the difference between righteous anger (Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 6:14,15; Psalm 95:11) and human anger (James 1:19,20)?
Read Esther 8:1-2. Justice at last for Mordecai – with a real reward for faithful service. And Esther is treated with favour – a rich estate is handed over to her, and her life is spared. But what about her people? In his rage over the threat to his Queen, has Xerxes forgotten the threat to the Jews?
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that I do not have to be ruled by my feelings. Thank you for the promise that Jesus gave that you will give your Spirit to those who ask you. Please fill me today with the Holy Spirit, so that I grow daily more like you. Amen.
Monday 13th July 2020 (64)
The Bible frequently instructs us to get wisdom (e.g. Proverbs 4:5,7); Jesus tells us to “be as wise as serpents” Matthew 10:16; and James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God . . . and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5).
But what is Wisdom? The first few verses of the book of Proverbs show us that Wisdom has several facets. There are different sides to it. Like a cut diamond they reflect different aspects: but they are all one jewel. It is instructive to look at those facets in Proverbs 1.
1. Discipline (v2a,3a) (Some translations have Instruction or Training.)
This is telling us that Wisdom does not come easily. There is no quick fix! It comes as a result of what is going on in our character, not just our mind. Involved in this may be times of warning or correction (v23) so it is often hard-won. This Wisdom is not academic: it is for disciples.
2. Understanding (or Insight) (v2b)
The root word here means “to discern between”. This is clear in Solomon’s prayer for Wisdom (1Kings 3:9) “give your servant a discerning heart ... to distinguish between right and wrong”. It is there again in Paul’s prayer for his friends in Philippi, “… that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best …“ (Philippians 1:9-10)
3. Wise Dealing (or Prudence) (v3)
Wisdom involves good sense in practical matters. Eve got it wrong in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6) because she was disobeying God’s clear instruction and trying to get Wisdom by a quick fix. (1John 2:16 tells us where that sort of temptation comes from, and Jesus faced the same sort of temptation – see Luke 4:3,5,9). On the other hand Abigail displayed prudence well in her handling of a dangerous crisis. Read that lovely story in 1Samuel 25:1-42.
4. Discretion (or Shrewdness) (v4b)
What is meant here is the ability to form plans. Obviously this is not in the bad sense of ‘scheming’ as seen in Proverbs 12:2 “The LORD condemns a crafty man”. Rather it is the approach of a godly person who takes the trouble to know what is right, and plan his course accordingly. “A shrewd man sees danger and takes refuge” (Proverbs 22:3).
5. Knowledge (or Learning) (v5)
This is not talking about an informed mind, rather a knowing of the truth – and indeed a knowing of God Himself. See Proverbs 2:3-5, and 3:5-6. This is something which is on offer and we can choose to grasp hold of it!
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that Wisdom is a treasure of great value which you have hidden, ready for me to seek for and find. Please help me to search diligently. Amen.
Friday 10th July 2020 (63)
How are You Feeling? (cont.)
Last time we noted that the Psalms deal with the whole range of human emotions. In Evangelical circles today we are encouraged to be full of faith and have a positive outlook on life. This means that we suppress any negative feelings because we regard them as wrong and harmful.
However, we are discovering that the very wide variety of emotions expressed in the Psalms, tells us that God expects us to have this diversity. John Calvin wrote, “The psalms are the anatomy of the soul”. They encourage us to be real with God and to talk with Him honestly about life as we experience it. Here are a few more pointers. If you have time you will find it profitable to explore in a bit more depth those that match your own experience.
1. The Dark Hour – you feel that the world is against you – see Psalm 3 “O LORD, how many are my foes! Many are saying of me, ‘God will not deliver him’.” King David wrote this Psalm when his son Absalom, whom he loved dearly, rebelled against him and deposed him. Those who have been rejected and mistreated by someone they love will identify with the darkness that David experienced here. But there is hope in the midst of despair: “You are a shield around me” (v3); “I lie down and sleep” (v5).
2. Deeply aware of Guilt and Shame – Psalm 51. David is now so ashamed of his acts of adultery and murder that he pleads with God to forgive him, “Have mercy on me O God – blot out my transgressions – wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me“. What encourages us, when we become aware of wrong in our own lives, is that God’s forgiveness is not based on our efforts and sacrifices, but upon His “unfailing love” and His “great compassion” (v1). Like David we can be confident that, “I shall be clean – I shall be whiter than snow” (v7). We must not carry around a burden of guilt!
3. Feeling discouraged – needing spiritual renewal – Psalm 142. “I cry aloud to the LORD – my spirit grows faint – no-one is concerned for me – no-one cares for my life – I am in desperate need”. Are you sometimes in that place? David had that hunted and haunted feeling, and he knew what to do about it: cry out to God! (see vv1,5,6). The LORD is the one who will “rescue me - - set me free from my prison”
4. Feeling content and secure – Psalm 131. There is a lovely word picture of contentment here, “– like a weaned child with its mother” (v2). David has reached this state by making conscious decisions: “I do not concern myself with … I have stilled my soul” (vv1,2) Sometimes we have to make the deliberate decision to be still and recognise where our hope lies (v3).
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that you know and understand me completely. You know my moods, my hopes, my fears. Help me to consciously share all of my life with you. Amen.
Wednesday 8 July 2020 – Esther 6
62 - Earning Rewards
Read Esther 6:1-3. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” (Henry IV Part 2) It is important for the king’s reputation that he is seen to be just and to reward special services. Xerxes is concerned to put right the omission in Mordecai’s case. How do you think Mordecai felt about the failure to receive recognition for saving the life of the king? Have you ever done something that you believed was really good, but it went unnoticed? How did you feel?
Should Christians expect good service to be rewarded? Don’t we serve God and other people simply out of gratitude for what Jesus has done for us? Jesus spoke of God rewarding people for what they do. See, for example Mark 9:41 – rewards for kindness to fellow believers; Matthew 6: 1-4 – rewards for generosity to those in need; Ephesians 6:7-8 – rewards for doing your work wholeheartedly; Luke 6:35 – rewards for being generous to our enemies.
Are you alert to recognise the kindness of others to you? Do you reward them with appreciation for what they have done for you? Do you take trouble, as Xerxes did, to find out what they would really enjoy as a reward?
Read Esther 6:4-10. Haman has come very early to the palace to make sure he is first in the queue to see the king. His happiness depends on seeing Mordecai executed. So when the king seeks someone to advise him on a suitable reward for Mordecai, Haman is the only person available. Haman would have been delighted to be summoned into the king’s presence immediately, and naturally assumes he must be the one whom “the king delights to honour”.
His choice of reward is strange. Public fame and recognition seem more important to him than anything else. Wearing the king’s garments would convey a sign of unique favour; riding his horse suggests he is almost on a par with the king. Both would mean Haman was partaking in the king’s power and honour.
Read Esther 6:11-14. Xerxes, living in isolation, probably knows nothing of the enmity between Haman and Mordecai, though it must have been obvious to ordinary people passing the palace gates. Haman’s shame when he has to walk through the streets proclaiming Mordecai’s honour must have been obvious to everyone. Haman is utterly humiliated and makes no secret of it as he goes home mourning publicly. He receives no encouragement at home – the Jews had a reputation: if their God championed their cause then no-one had a chance against them.
Our God regards his people as his treasured possession Malachi 3:17. He loves us and cares for us. He is so generous to us. How aware are you of his kindnesses to you? Do you give him appreciation and thanks? A.W.Tozer suggests using a whole day “in the practice of being thankful” to God. “Write one by one the things for which we are grateful to God and to our fellow men. And a constant return to this thought during the day, as our minds get free, will serve to fix the habit in our hearts.”
Prayer: Dear Lord thank you for all the blessings you pour on me each day. Help me to keep my eyes on you and to recognise your kindness. Teach me an attitude of thankfulness. Amen.
Monday 6th July 2020 (61)
How are You Feeling?
This is a commonly asked question today, and it’s not just about our physical health! How are we coping with things emotionally and spiritually? The Book of Psalms deals with the whole range of human emotions. While we may feel that it would be wrong as Christians to give voice to reactions like fear or anger, disappointment or frustration, the Psalms encourage us to be candid with God and talk about life as it really is for us.
The Psalms were written by Kings and Priests, Prophets and Poets and they wrote honestly about their feelings. This book of Songs has been canonised in Scripture and made up the hymnbook from which Jesus and His contemporaries sang their worship. So it is acceptable to be frank with God. Here are some pointers. Maybe there are one or two you would like to explore in a bit more depth.
1. Desperate for God’s intervention – see Psalm 13 “How long O LORD? Will you forget me for ever? - - How long must I wrestle with my thoughts - ?” But read on and see the solutions in verses 5 and 6.
2. Angry with God – feeling aggrieved that He does not act – see Psalm 44 “Awake, O LORD! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! - Why do you hide your face and forget our misery - ?” Can you find any hope in this Psalm?
3. Looking for hope during the pandemic – Psalm 91 “Surely He will save you - - from the deadly pestilence - You will not fear the terror of night -“ Be encouraged by the hope in v4.
4. Life is unfair – bad people have an easy life – Psalm 73 “I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles - their bodies are healthy and strong - always carefree, they increase in wealth.” Asaph the Psalmist is very upset by the unfairness of it all! Where is he when he gets a true perspective v17? He then knows where his real security lies - vv23-26.
5. Feeling fragile and vulnerable – Psalm 103 “- the LORD has compassion – for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Look at the six verbs in vv3-5 and be encouraged as you count the blessings that God brings to our lives.
6. Feeling weak and weary – you’re worn out! – Psalm 6 “Be merciful to me O LORD for I am faint; O LORD heal me for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. - - I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping - “. Poor David is in a bad place! But before the end of the Psalm he knows that his cry has been heard – v9. How does that alter his outlook?
A Prayer: Loving Father, thank you that you want me to be open and honest with you about my feelings; and thank you for your compassion which meets my deepest needs. Amen.
Friday 3rd July 2020
What about Angels?
Angels are mentioned about 180 times in the New Testament, and about 300 times in the Bible as a whole, but they are not a common topic of Christian teaching or conversation. However, according to a Bible Society poll, 1 in 10 people say that they have experienced the presence of an angel, while a Mori poll records that 46% of British adults believe in guardian angels. 21% of people who never attend a religious service also said that they believe in angels. What do you believe? What does the Bible say?
Their Appearance It is not possible to give one description! In Hebrews 1:14 they are described as “ministering spirits”; in Colossians 1:16 they are “powers”; in Matthew 28:3 the angel is “dazzling, like lightning – with clothes as white as snow”; while in many cases the angel comes like an ordinary human being Hebrews 13:2.
Their Numbers You get some idea of their number when you read Revelation 5:11.
Their Tasks (a) Worship – David exhorts the angels to this task In Psalm 103:20. They are in “joyful assembly” in the Presence of God Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 7:11. We notice that they also rejoice over a repenting sinner Luke 15:10.
(b) Service – In the Old Testament angels helped Hagar (Genesis 16:7); Abraham (Genesis 22:11); Moses (Exodus 3:2); Gideon (Judges 6:11); Elijah (2Kings 1:15); and Daniel (Daniel 6:22). You can read their stories to find out how they were helped. That list is far from complete: can you think of others?
In the New Testament, an angel strengthened Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43); gave directions to Philip (Acts 8:26); rescued Peter from prison (Acts 12:6-11); and encouraged Paul in a stormy sea (Acts 27:22-25).
(c) Judgement – at times God uses angels to bring judgement and justice. See what happened when David became conceited and disobeyed God 1Chronicles 21:15-27. What was the fate of the arrogant Herod Agrippa1? Acts 12:21-23. And Jesus explained that angels are involved in separating the wicked from the righteous at the end of time Matthew 13:49.
What about our understanding today? Of course we must be cautious remembering that Satan “masquerades as an angel of light” (2Corinthians 11:14), and that the New Age movement and cults like the Mormons follow false “angelic” teaching. However, we can be sure that God’s Messengers are supporting us. “The angel of the LORD encamps round those who fear Him”( Psalm 34:7) and “are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). Have you been cared for by a stranger in a situation which could have been dangerous? Have you had unexplained meetings which have left you encouraged and joyful? God’s Messengers are always at work!
A Prayer: Loving Father please help me to reflect on the ways in which you have cared for me all through my life. Thank you for your Messengers, who have protected me, strengthened me and encouraged me. Amen.
59 -Wednesday 1 July2020 – Esther 5
It’s all about Haman today. As you read about him notice how different his reactions are from Esther’s. Think about what the reasons for this difference might be. Are there lessons for us in this?
Read Esther 5:9-14. Haman is on top of the world. But Mordecai is back in his usual seat, his fasting and mourning ended. His studied indifference infuriates Haman. Haman is incredibly wealthy and successful; he has received the highest honours from the King - why is he so sensitive to criticism from someone? And why is the honour shown him by the Queen so important to him? In his distress he rushes back to his wife and friends so he can recite his achievements to them and receive their endorsement of his own opinion of himself. Do you know anyone like this? What is the answer to this fragile self confidence? Read Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Isaiah 32:17 for some ideas.
What was it that restored Haman’s happiness? (vv14-15)
What is your happiness based on? When you look back on achievements that are important to you, what brought you greatest satisfaction? Was it beating someone else in a contest? Was it recognition from other people? Was it the feeling that you had done your best? Was it the satisfaction of a reward for hard work? Was it the joy of knowing that you were serving God?
“Pride goes before a fall” is a Biblical quote.(Proverbs 16:8) Haman’s pride in his own achievements repels us. Is it wrong to be proud of what we have done? What is the difference between pride and arrogance? Does the attitude of the heart have something to do with it? (See the readings in Daniel below.) How can we prevent our hearts being hardened? (Galatians 5:22-23.)
In the Bible pride is referred to in two main contexts:
“Pride and arrogance” For example read Proverbs 8:13 and Isaiah 2:11. The arrogant are those who glory in their own ability while rejecting God’s part in their achievements.
“Pride and joy”. For example read Isaiah 60:15. Pride and joy come from recognising what has been achieved through God’s help.
It was pride and arrogance that were the undoing of King Nebuchadnezzar: Daniel 5:20,21. He was stripped of his glory until he turned to God in praise and humility. Read Daniel 4:34-37 to see how his attitude changed.
Proverbs 11:2 “When pride comes then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
Luke 18:14 “All who exalt themselves will be humbled, but the humble will be exalted”
How can a Christian who has had success continue to be humble?
See 1 Peter 5:5-6; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:12-14.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that all that I am and have achieved comes from you. You are my creator and the source of my strength and my inspiration. I pray that I may live in the confidence that comes from knowing I am loved and saved by you. Teach me humility so that I will have wisdom and grace in my dealings with other people. Amen.
Monday 29th June 2020
People forget God! In spite of the repeated injunction from Moses, “Do not forget the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:11), (along with warnings of what would happen if they did forget Him) history reports that again and again God’s people failed to remember Him.
1Samuel 12:9: “They forgot the LORD”; Isaiah 17:10: “You have forgotten God your Saviour, you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress”; Nehemiah 9:17: “They failed to remember your wonderful deeds”; Psalm 106:7: “They did not remember your many kindnesses”. How sad that God has to say through his prophet, “My people have forgotten me, days without number” Jeremiah 2:32. Are there days when you forget your Lord?
God’s people are reminded of His Presence with them and His blessings for them by:-
1. Memorials: Piles of stones or pillars were set up to be a reminder of God’s Presence or intervention at particular places – e.g. Bethel (“House of God”) by Abraham Genesis 12:8 and by Jacob Genesis 28:18-22. Joshua 4:1-9 records how a memorial was set up when God enabled the Israelites to cross the River Jordan and enter the Promised Land.
Is there any special place which you associate with God’s Presence or blessing?
2. Feasts: These joyful annual festivals were to remind the people of God’s salvation and provision. In the days of the Temple, people were expected to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem so that they could all celebrate together at the three main feasts.
(a) Passover and Unleavened Bread. Read Leviticus 23:4-8. Passover was a time for remembering when many Egyptians died, but death did not enter the houses of God’s people where the blood of a sacrificial lamb had been daubed on the doorposts. Bread made in a hurry without yeast reminded the people that God had taken them out of Egypt in haste. For a whole week the people celebrated their rescue from slavery!
(b) Weeks (or Pentecost). Read Leviticus 23:15-21. The barley has been harvested and the wheat harvest is beginning, so the people have a festival of joy as they celebrate God’s provision of grain and bread. In the time of Jesus, Pentecost was also a reminder of the giving of the Law at Sinai. The people had received God’s word.
(c) Tabernacles. Read Leviticus 23:33-36. After all the grains and fruits had been gathered in, there was a week of celebration with people camping in tents or booths. The people thanked God for His bountiful harvest.
For followers of Jesus, those festivals now have new and deeper significances.
What are they?
In addition Jesus has left us with a new way of remembering Him – anytime, anywhere.
Read 1Corinthians 11:23-26. How are you remembering Jesus today?
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you for all the ways you have blessed me and provided for me. Please fill me with gratitude and praise, so that I remember you are with me all the time. Amen.
Friday 26th June 2020
Do not be Anxious!
Anxiety levels have risen significantly in many lives during the current pandemic. The Bible addresses this issue, and in the words of Jesus and the writings of Paul we have hope to bring to a worried world.
1. What are the things that people are anxious about?
(a) Life – Matthew 6:25,27 Jesus understands the natural inclination to be fearful for our lives and those of our families and addresses the issue in His Sermon on the Mount.
(b) Tomorrow - Matthew 6:34 the temptation is to be fearful about what might happen in the future, but Jesus tells us to take life one day at a time.
(c) Food – Matthew 6:25-26 the stockpiling of food (and toilet rolls!) in recent days has illustrated this anxiety! Jesus reminds us that God cares for the birds so He will certainly care for human beings made in His own image.
(d) Clothing – Matthew 6:28-30 Jesus points out that our Father who created so much beauty in the world is certainly going to care for those whom He has made responsible for looking after it.
(e) Our Responsibilities – read Luke 10:38-42 Martha worked hard at her hospitality, but Jesus gently points out to her that she has allowed her tasks to dominate her life and make her distraught. There are more important things than our work! What are they?
(f) Insults and Accusations – with the growth of social media, anxiety levels have risen and with them an increase in mental health issues and suicides. What did Jesus say about those who suffered false accusations because they followed Him? Matthew 5:11-12.
2. What are the Results of Anxiety?
(a) Proverbs 12:25 “An anxious heart weighs a man down” (NIV) “Worry can rob you of happiness” (GNB). It certainly did that for Martha. But Jesus tells us not to be weighed down by the worries of life (Luke 21:34). Jesus wants us to live in joy (John 15:11).
(b) Psalm 37:8 “Do not give in to worry – it only leads to trouble” (GNB) or “- to evil” (NIV)
(c) Matthew 13:22 Anxiety chokes the seed of God’s word and limits fruitfulness.
3. What are the Solutions to Anxiety?
(a) Both Jesus and Paul tell us that we need to make a deliberate decision not to worry. It’s our choice! See Jesus’ repeated instruction in Matthew 6:25-34, and His advice in John 14:1. Note Paul’s advice for alternative ways of handling worry in Philippians 4:6. What is the solution?
(b) What is Peter’s advice 1Peter 5:7? Read Psalm 94:17-19 any time you are anxious, and remember that our Heavenly Father’s love is lavished upon us 1John 3:1.
(c) We also have a responsibility to support and encourage other people who may be struggling with anxiety – Isaiah 35:3-4a and Proverbs 12:25.
A Prayer: Father please forgive me when I allow anxieties to crowd into my life. Please help me focus my attention on you and your love, and fill me with your joy, so that my life will be a blessing to others. Amen.