Reflection day 71- Private prayer, a duty and a delight
‘Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their illnesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ (Luke 5:15&16)
Our verses describe, on the one hand, Jesus’ busy public ministry and, on the other, his private prayer life. The crowds seeking his attention did not compromise his commitment to communion with God all alone and by himself. If anything, they only deepened it. We have an example in Mark chapter 1. After an eventful Sabbath day and an evening healing people of diseases and driving out demons we are told, ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’ (1:35)
In his Sermon on the Mount, in the section on prayer in which we have the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus condemns the publicity-seeking, virtue-signalling prayers of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The praise they receive from others will be their only reward. ‘But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ (Matt 6:6)
It may be that Jesus had no room he could retire unseen and undisturbed to. Hence his practice of going out to lonely places to pray.
We can think of other examples of private daily prayer in Scripture. In the OT we have David (Ps 55:17) and Daniel (6:10-11). In the NT we have Peter (Acts 10:9) and I think we can safely assume Paul (private prayer is not entirely possible of course if you are chained to a Roman soldier but that didn’t stop Paul praying).
The situation Christians find themselves in during this period of lockdown – and now the easing of lockdown – is very varied. Some are spending day after day entirely alone. Others are locked down at home with others and have less time to themselves than normal. Some are bored with little to do, while others are busier than ever. Whatever, there is a certain discipline required to pray. We may never get round to something we have all day to do. The demands of our job, childcare, managing a household can edge out prayer. We need to find a time and a place even if that means (if we are allowed) going out for a walk in the park or fields.
And yet what Jesus emphasises again and again is not the duty to pray but the privilege and pleasure of prayer. In parable and plain statement he reminds us that God loves his people and answers their prayers. He tells us about the friend at midnight and goes on, ‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ (Luke 11:9) God is our Father in heaven. ‘Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ (Mt 7:9-11). So, an unjust judge who is relentlessly pressed eventually dispenses justice. ‘And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?’ (Luke 18:1-8)
There is a place for adoring and thanking God in prayer. But let our needs, and the needs of others, also draw us to him. We need help and he is ready, willing and able to give it.
Reflection day 72- Once banished, now brought near
‘Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.’ (2 Samuel 14:4)
Are we far away from God or able to draw near to him today?
There are, I think, four great and solemn examples of God banishing men and women from his presence in the Bible:
i) Adam and Eve. ‘So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken.’ (Genesis 3:23) Adam is held particularly responsible for it was he who was given the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and he was (or should have been) the head and leader in his marriage to Eve.
The Bible clearly teaches however that Adam’s sin affects us all (Romans 5:12-21). We are all sinful and all naturally far away from God (Ephesians 2:12&13). It is not simply that we have departed from God (though after Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they then hid from him) but also that he has banished us from his presence. At other times the Bible can also say that God has withdrawn from us. Whatever, there is distance, there is a barrier, there is a dark cloud between us and God.
ii) The exile of Israel to Babylon. This was a shock. The Jews were the people God had chosen, made a covenant with and given his commands to. He had brought them into the Promised Land. Their exile showed the seriousness of human sin. They were the most privileged people in the world and yet they rebelled against God and eventually God banished them from the land. Even in NT times it is probable that many Jews still felt in exile. There was no king of David’s line reigning over Israel and their land was occupied and ruled by the Romans.
iii) Death and hell. As Clive reminded us recently, the rich man died and was in torment in Hades (Luke 16:19-31). An unbridgeable chasm separated hell from heaven. Hell is often described as being ‘outside’. (Matthew 25:11,30, Rev 22:15) It is Jesus himself who speaks those solemn words, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt 25:41). Hell may not have been made for men and women but, nevertheless, to hell unrepentant men and women will go.
We will come back shortly to the fourth great example but the answer to banishment is to be properly reconciled to God while we have the opportunity. One of the sad things in 2 Samuel 14 is that the estrangement of David from his son Absalom (who had killed his wicked brother) was never thoroughly dealt with. David ‘swept under the carpet’ things that desperately needed to be addressed. Even after Absalom returned to Jerusalem David did not allow Absalom to see him face to face. And though after two years they were reunited it is clear Absalom remained embittered against his father.
But in the reconciliation God has worked in his Son Jesus Christ men and women are truly brought near to God. God has dealt with the critical issues of sin, punishment and repentance. That brings us to our fourth example of banishment:
iv) The cross. When Jesus died on the cross he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?’ He, who had always been with God, was without God. There was an intensity to what Jesus suffered sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world. Jesus experienced a banishment or to be exact a withdrawal of God’s presence and help. He experienced an agonising divorce and separation. We can solemnly say it was hell.
This was the ultimate penalty for sin his people deserved. It was through punishing his Son that God in his love could pardon his people and be just. This was the way of reconciliation God devised. Of course, God raised his Son from the dead and glorified him. One of the first things Jesus then did was to pour out the Holy Spirit. And one of the Holy Spirit’s chief works is to bring men and women to repentance and to give faith in Jesus.
Those who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus know reconciliation with God.
‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’ (1 Peter 3:18)
‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’ (Ephesians 2:13)
Paul describes the gospel as ‘the message of reconciliation’ in 2 Corinthians 5:19. And he concludes:
‘We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ (2 Cor 5:20-21)
Can you thank God personally for reconciliation? Have you, who were once banished, been brought near? If not, don’t delay. God does not desire this estrangement. Be reconciled to God today and draw near to him through Jesus right now.
Reflection day 73- Listen up!
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say’. (Acts 2 v. 14)
This Sunday, according to the church calendar, is Pentecost Sunday, remembered as the day when the Holy Spirit was sent (please see Acts 2 for what happened). In many churches across the world, in normal circumstances, special services would have been held. Whilst we as a church do not necessarily follow rigidly all times and seasons, we would nevertheless have been meeting together to worship God.
What do you miss most about our meetings? Is it the singing, all together as a corporate act of worship? Maybe it’s praying together, or hearing God’s Word read? Is it the fellowship between believers, as we enjoy time together over coffee, tea and biscuits? I am sure that you, like me, are looking forward to the day when we can meet together again (in person, not via Zoom) on a Sunday morning and evening?
Whilst it is difficult to do much of the above remotely in our homes, what we can do is to listen to the Word of God being preached. We must surely give thanks to God for the sermons that are available online, and the fact that Mark has been able to continue to help us in our understanding of Romans. I know that several of us have also accessed other messages via YouTube, Facebook, audio etc., and been blessed.
Watching a sermon on the TV or computer isn’t the same, though, is it? We need to be very careful not to treat a broadcast sermon just like any other programme that we watch. We need to be expectant, because we are hearing the Word of God proclaimed and explained by His servant. We should prepare prayerfully for worship in our homes as well as at church, we should think afterwards about what is said, and put it into practice with God’s help.
The 18th century preacher and evangelist George Whitefield wrote 6 ‘cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons with profit and advantage’. The headings of each point were as follows:
- Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty.
- Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God.
- Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister.
- Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think.
- Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered.
- Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon.
Whitefield expands upon each of these headings in the original document; if you would like further details, please let me know.
May the Lord help us to be those who value the privilege of hearing His word preached, and who take action upon it.
P.S. If you would like some more homework – Can you find the word ‘sermon’ in the Bible?
Reflection day 74- Calm in the storm
From Clive Gullett, one of our church elders
Daniel 2v28 – ‘there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries’
Can you remember the start-up of the book of Daniel, how he and his Israelite friends were taken captive by the hierarchy of that time? Nebuchadnezzar wanted to Babylonian-ise them and no doubt hoped these young Jewish men might, as loyal servants of Babylon, help him rule over Israel in years to come.
Anyway, the time comes when Nebuchadnezzar had dreams and demanded an impossible task of his advisors, magicians and astrologers. They were not only to interpret the dream, but to tell him what he had dreamt about – at the cost of their lives and the whole bang shoot of their colleagues too.
This included Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were among the bright young men. A second outrage was that they had not at that time even been given the opportunity to say their piece.
Well, the thing that struck me yesterday morning, was that, as Arioch the commander of the king’s guard went to round up these missing personnel, God’s Word gives us a wonderful picture of composure, self-control and faith.
Look at ch 2v15. Daniel asked the king’s officer, “Why did the king issue such a harsh decree?”
I have a picture of Daniel responding to the impatient banging on the door and the call of the officer with calmness, and as he followed him down the path to the front gate, still pulling his coat on, asking, “Why is this decree so hasty?”
There appears to be no fear, there are no screams of remonstration, no calls for his solicitor, no excuses. It seems more of an, ‘OK, I’m coming, what’s it all about really? Why?’
His answer here is characterised by mildness and wisdom. He did not fly into a passion but gently asks a common sense question, completely at rest in his Lord.
More time from the king is requested and granted. Daniel immediately looks to and prays to the God of wisdom who knows all things and has undoubtedly a point to make with Nebuchadnezzar.
Do you see something emerging here that will help us if we can only get a grip of our initial responses to crises and unfair demands?
Whatever is the matter of our care, must be the matter of our prayer. We must desire the mercy of God concerning this or that which causes us to trouble and fear.
God gives us leave or freedom to be free with Him, of course with humility and yet a holy boldness.
We may in faith pray to Him who has all our hearts in His hand and who in providence does wonders for the discovery of that which is out of our view and the obtaining of that which is out of our reach.
Oh, to have a faith like Daniel’s. Impossible? As you know, there is a lot more to come of Daniel’s calm faith in the book and what’s more, His God is our God.
Reflection day 75- A bruised reed he will not break
‘A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.’ (Isaiah 42:3)
Our Saviour is for any among us (and others we know) who are feeling ‘fragile’, guilty, damaged, worn out. Maybe in lockdown you have felt lonely and gloomy or been stressed caring for others. Maybe you are apprehensive about the relaxation of lockdown and worried you or a loved one could die of Corona Virus. Maybe months of not meeting physically with others have left you irrationally anxious about doing so at all (someone said as much to me last week). Maybe you are concerned about your education, exam results and how your future may be detrimentally affected in the longer term. Of course, many are wondering whether they will still have a job to go back to and are fearful for their financial situation. Finally, maybe spiritually you feel you are weak and temptations are strong. Your faith itself seems fragile.
It is a great comfort to know that Jesus is a Saviour who cares for such people. He is the wisest, kindest doctor and the most tender and faithful carer. A broken reed, which seems good for nothing, he will not break, and ‘a faintly burning wick he will not quench’ (ESV).
We see this in his life and ministry to the sick and demon-possessed. We think of the well-known stories of the healing of a leper, a paralysed man, a woman who was constantly losing blood, a man whose beloved daughter had just died, a blind man begging beside a road. A man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit cried, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’ Jesus encouraged the faith of that man and healed his son.
We also see Jesus’ tenderness in his interaction with those whose godless and immoral lives meant to most that they were now beyond redemption. A woman with a history heard Jesus proclaiming the gospel and came to thank him, washing his feet with her tears and anointing them with perfume. He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ and, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’. He told Zacchaeus, ‘I must stay at your house today,’ and, after Zacchaeus made it clear he was a changed man, Jesus declared, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too, is a son of Abraham.’
Clive reminded us recently of Peter’s denials and of ‘the look’ Jesus gave him. Most would give up on a man who could make such great boasts and within hours fail so miserably. But Jesus did not. ‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat.But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:31-32) We can forget how remarkable it is that Simon Peter, with all his failures on record, became the leading apostle in the early church. It was Jesus who graciously restored him.
In Isaiah 40 we read, ‘He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.’ (v29) This pattern is seen in the NT letters too. Some suggest that good Christians will never be fearful, anxious, exhausted or struggling with temptation. It was not so with Paul as he makes clear to the Corinthians. He was no superman or ‘super-apostle’. And yet he can write, ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.’ (4:8-9) Some have summed up the message of 2 Corinthians as ‘strength in weakness’. Jesus famously told Paul, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:9 and see 2 Cor 1:8-9, 2:12-13, 11:27-29, 12:7)
Jesus is a Saviour for the weak and fragile. Take heart and draw near to this loving Saviour for courage and strength today.
Reflection day 76- The work of the LORD
‘Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ (1 Corinthians 15:58)
The Bible considers what we might think of as our ordinary daily work to be of great importance. Slaves are exhorted, ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters’ (Col 3:23). Masters are also commanded to treat their slaves fairly since they have a Master in heaven. No one is to be idle. Paul gave believers a rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.’ (2 Thes 3:10) Paul (although he defended the right of evangelists and elders to be paid in 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5), set an example of hard work by making tents and supporting himself. Jesus worked as a carpenter, probably from at least his early teens, until he commenced his ministry at the age of thirty. Hands-on motherhood is demeaned in our society but godly mothers are esteemed in the Scriptures (Elizabeth, Mary, Eunice – Timothy’s mother, the unnamed mother of Rufus – Romans 16:13). Where women are able to have children, the demanding work of raising them is considered both natural and honourable for a woman (1 Tim 2:15, 5:14).
Nevertheless, Paul distinguishes this work from ‘the work of the Lord’ in 1 Corinthians 15:58. So what is ‘the work of the Lord’? I suggest it is work of a more direct kind that we do for the Lord. Principally it means showing love, patience and kindness to God’s people in our local church and using the particular gifts God has given us to help others (and he has given gifts to every Christian). Paul famously pictures the church as a body of many different parts all working together for the good of the whole, a body headed up by Christ (see 1 Cor 12-14 generally). If we move on to 1 Cor 16, ‘the work of the Lord’ probably includes giving a proportion of our income to needy Christians in other parts of the world (16:1-4). It also involves supporting missionaries financially (v6). Paul tells the Corinthians to receive Timothy respectfully because ‘he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am’ (v10). The household of Stephanas, ‘have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people.’ The Corinthians were ‘to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labours at it’ (vs15-18). Aquila and Priscilla who hosted a church in their house (in just about every country they ever lived in!) were no doubt also doing the work of the Lord (v19). So in the wider context of this verse we are given an impression of what ‘the work of the Lord’ represents.
In giving this exhortation at the end of chapter 15, a chapter devoted to the resurrection, Paul also emphasises that the rewards for this work, even if not reaped in the present, will certainly be reaped in eternity. ‘Your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’
Brothers and sisters there is a work for you to do in the Lord’s strength and for the Lord’s glory. Right now this could mean picking up the phone and giving a word of encouragement or advice – or just listening, inviting folk round to your garden for a drink and a chat, holding a Zoom Bible study or providing some practical assistance e.g. with shopping. There’s a work to do now during this partial lockdown and there will be a work to do when lockdown is lifted. An old hymn we used to sing begins:
There’s a work for Jesus, ready at your hand,
’Tis a task the Master just for you has planned.
Haste to do His bidding, yield Him service true;
There’s a work for Jesus none but you can do.
Reflection day 77- Should you love those who hate the LORD
‘When Jehoshaphat king of Judah returned safely to his palace in Jerusalem, Jehu the seer, the son of Hanani, went out to meet him and said to the king, ‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord? Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is on you. There is, however, some good in you, for you have rid the land of the Asherah poles and have set your heart on seeking God.’ (2 Chronicles 19:1-3)
‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?’ The answer in context is, ‘No!’
In Britain we look back with pride to ‘The Battle of Britain’ and are sure it was right to fight with all our might against Nazism. A less noble moment occurred on 30 September 1938 (less than a year before the outbreak of war) when our then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed an agreement with Hitler and others in Munich and declared it was ‘peace for our time’. In retrospect we can see clearly that it was neither wise nor right to make an agreement with an evil tyrant like Hitler.
The issue in 2 Chronicles is similar but has a crucial spiritual aspect to it. Stay with me as I sketch in some historical background.
In the Old Testament (OT) the era is that of the two kingdoms. After King Solomon died (931BC) his son Rehoboam succeeded him. Rehoboam, however, was foolish, vain and harsh. His approach to government led to civil war in Israel and the northern tribes rebelled against the southern tribe of Judah to which Rehoboam belonged. Two countries emerged (and this can be confusing): the northern country or kingdom was called Israel and her capital was Samaria; the southern kingdom was called Judah (and also included the tribe of Benjamin) and her capital was Jerusalem. Israel in the north quickly turned away from the exclusive worship of the LORD to worship other gods, especially Baal. In the southern kingdom of Judah decline was much slower. There were bad kings but there were many faithful reforming kings who encouraged the worship of the LORD, the one true God.
About fifty-five years after the initial split two kings reigned in these two kingdoms. In the north Ahab reigned over Israel. He and his wife Jezebel were wicked people who ruthlessly promoted the worship of Baal. In the south, in Judah, godly King Jehoshaphat reigned. He sent priests out into the country to teach people the Scriptures. The LORD blessed him and he became powerful militarily.
That is why it is a shock to learn in 2 Chron 18:1 that Jehoshaphat ‘allied himself with Ahab by marriage.’ Then in the rest of the chapter we read how Jehoshaphat, at Ahab’s request, joined with him in a military attack on a fortified city in the north east called Ramoth Gilead. The campaign was a disaster. Ahab was killed but Jehoshaphat cried out to the LORD and was delivered.
Jehoshaphat was not to believe however that he had behaved blamelessly. The seer Jehu rebuked him, ‘Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?’ The NIV footnote reads, ‘Should you help the wicked and make alliances with those who hate the Lord?’ Jehoshaphat is warned, ‘Because of this, the wrath of the Lord is on you.’
There was nevertheless some good in Jehoshaphat. He continued to lead the people of Judah in the ways of the LORD but his reputation is marred by two more things:
i) He had to be rebuked again for another disastrous alliance with another king of Israel (2 Chron 20:35-37). So this was a recurring fault;
ii) Sadly it comes as no surprise that his son and heir Jehoram, ‘followed the ways of the kings of Israel, as the house of Ahab had done, for he married a daughter of Ahab. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.’ (2 Chron 21:6)
The Lord Jesus could have made a pact with the Pharisees (who were highly regarded) or the powerful Sadducees. Paul could have come to some kind of agreement with the ‘Judaizers’ who insisted that to be saved you need to believe in Jesus and be circumcised or even with the pagan Epicureans and Stoics, for you will find some thoughtful, beautiful things in their writings. But neither Jesus nor Paul could join with these other groups.
My application is simply that churches need to be discriminating today about cooperating with other churches and religious groups. As individuals we can hold radically different religious views from someone else and still be members of the same company, sports club, community group or political party. But as churches we cannot ally ourselves with those who might claim to be Christians but deny that Jesus is God or indeed that he is a real man or that he died on the cross bearing the punishment of the sins of his people or that he physically rose again from the dead. We cannot make an alliance with those who deny the Bible is God’s true Word or that Jesus is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ and that no one comes to the Father except by him (John 14:6). We cannot join with those who, however friendly they might be towards us, hate the Lord and the gospel.
We are of course at another level to love all people. We are to love even our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. But we cannot work as churches with those who deny fundamental elements to the gospel. As with Jehoshaphat the long-term consequences are disastrous.
In our age of religious pluralism and tolerance it’s important that you and I pray that we might be discerning, courageous and faithful.
Reflection day 78- ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain’
‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ (Philippians 1:21)
Isaac Watts concludes his famous hymn, ‘When I survey the wondrous cross,’ with these lines:
‘Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.’
That was emphatically the conviction of the apostle Paul. He had at one time, as a zealous Jewish Pharisee, hated Jesus. He ‘was once a blasphemer, and a persecutor and a violent man’ (1 Tim 1:13). But on the Damascus Road Jesus met with him, poured light onto his darkened mind, forgave him and commissioned him. From then on every day, every hour, every minute was Christ. Jesus was without doubt God’s Son and the Messiah, the Christ God had sent. When Paul wrote the words in today’s verse he had been a prisoner for about four years and was awaiting trial in Rome on a capital charge. The missionary who had once traversed Syria, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece had not wasted these years in chains but used them to witness to governors, soldiers and visitors, to write letters to churches and to pray. He hoped expectantly that he might yet be released and resume his work preaching the gospel where Christ was not known. Spain, in particular, was in his sights.
Our history and our life’s calling are almost certainly very different to Paul’s but can’t we look back on our lives before we were converted, on the open sins and the hypocrisies, on the trajectory we were heading in, and thank God for intervening in our lives through his Son Jesus Christ? If you are a Christian you know that Jesus came into this world for you. He lived and died and rose again for you. He intercedes for you in heaven. His Spirit dwells in you on earth. Praise the name of Jesus and live your life out wholeheartedly for him.
But Paul adds here, ‘and to die is gain.’ Dying of cancer, heart disease or a virus that fills your lungs with gunk is not pleasant or easy. For the Christian, however, beyond this is life in the eternal presence of Christ. That, Paul adds in v23, ‘is better by far’. For the Christian death is not a candle extinguished or hitting a brick wall but passing through a doorway into the bright presence of a living and loving Saviour.
Life or death Paul knew he was in a win-win situation. Rejoice in that today and devote your soul, your life, your all to Jesus Christ.
Reflection day 79- The reasons for trusting God’s power
From Clive Gullett, one of our church elders
‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.’ (Ephesians 6:10-11)
I was at the door of the church one hot summer evening to welcome folk to the service and a bloke rode up on a bicycle, red faced and sweating profusely from his exertions. He said he had ridden from Aston Clinton and his name was Mark. So I welcomed him in and gave him a hymn book. Several weeks later he returned with his brother Geraint and has stuck around ever since.
As long as I have known him, he has been very generous, especially in gifting and lending books that he felt might be helpful.
The first book I received from him was one called ‘The Christian in Complete Armour’ an abridged version by William Gurnall a Puritan.
I do like the writings of the Puritans, they don’t beat about the bush, they go straight to the fact of the matter and preach an up to date and hard-hitting message which often grabs my attention. I have again dipped into this book these past weeks and today, straight away, I took in a paragraph which I thought worth sharing here.
A paragraph headed “Your present dilemma” that highlights our need to trust and focus our dependence in and on God at all times and especially in the hour of testing. It does happen doesn’t it — those times when you are spiritually sensitive and conscious of your failings, you endeavour to make special effort to stand firm, but often in such a personal effort (if you do manage to make an effort) one is still aware of one’s extreme weakness. So to me this thought of God’s readiness and grace to stand by is a blessing —
Without God’s strength, you cannot stand in the hour of testing. – There’s a bold, in your face statement for a kick off.
The challenge is beyond the stretch of human fortitude. Just suppose all your strength is already engaged to barricade your soul against temptation and Satan is steadily hacking away at your resolve; what will you do? You need not panic. – Comforting?
Just send faith to cry at God’s window, like the man in the parable asking his neighbour for bread at midnight, and He who keeps covenant [true to His promise] forever will provide.
When faith fails, however and the soul has no one to send for divine intervention, the battle is all but over, and Satan will at that very moment be crossing the threshold.
When you are in the midst of testing, do not give up in despair. Faith is a dogged grace! Unless your soul flatly denies the power of God, this courier – faith – will beat a well-worn path to the throne. Doubt cripples but does not incapacitate faith. Indeed, even as you are disputing the mercy of God and questioning in your mind whether He will come to your rescue, faith will make its way, if haltingly, into His presence. And the message it delivers will be, ‘If you will, you can make me clean.’
Reflection day 80- What to ask God for
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
Please read 1 Kings 3 vv. 1-15
Friends and family, on your birthday or at Christmas, often ask what you would like. It’s a question that is sometimes difficult to answer, not least because we don’t know their budget, and the ability to get what’s requested. What would you ask for?
In the Bible passage referred to above, we have Solomon, King David’s son, recently installed on the throne of Israel. He has a great nation to rule over, and all the trappings of kingship. He would have seen and heard of his father’s work and exploits, that which had been achieved under God’s hand, and now he has to take over and continue the work – an awesome responsibility. How do you imagine he felt?
Solomon knew of his father’s trust in the LORD, and how he had been blessed by Him. David had taught his son as to how to live, and Solomon in his early years followed, to a large extent, what he had been taught. He came before God, at the appointed place, to offer sacrifices – and vast quantities of them too. He knew that he needed the Lord’s help in governing the people, so he sought God’s favour. We too need His help every day of our lives. While we may not bring sacrifices of burnt offerings, God requires of us ‘to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God’ (Romans 12 verse 1).
At Gibeon, the LORD met with Solomon – what a privilege! Was Solomon expecting that? Are we ready for God to speak to us? He asks Solomon what he would like – not just a small birthday gift, but anything?! Imagine – Almighty God making you that offer – if you were put on the spot, how would you respond? Would it be in terms of good health, family security, a job that satisfies, or maybe something else that’s on your mind at the moment?
Solomon’s answer can help guide us. He doesn’t immediately say ‘I want….’. Instead, he thanks God for what he has, for all of the blessings that his father David and he have enjoyed up to that day. He is of a thankful spirit – are we? Do we count our blessings and thank God for them?
Solomon goes on to make his request – he humbles himself before God, acknowledging his inexperience in leading his people, by comparing himself to a little child. He knows that he needs help, and the best help of all comes from God in heaven. He asks for a ‘discerning heart’ – for wisdom from above. He is self-aware, knowing his own limitations. Are we likewise humble before God, or are we too often trying to be self-sufficient? We read in these words in James’ letter: ‘Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up’. (4 v 10)
Solomon’s request pleased the LORD, and he received a great blessing. He was commended for not asking selfishly and because his request was concerning the welfare of God’s own people. It was therefore for the glory of God.
This was a wise request, from someone who realised that character and spiritual wisdom are far more valuable than earthly riches. Solomon, because of his prayer, not only received what he had asked for, but much, much more, including riches and fame. God abundantly blessed him. That won’t always follow – beware the prosperity gospel! Our Heavenly Father, though, will give us those blessings that are for our good, as we seek to do His will. We should pray that all that we do is for the glory of His Name, that ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done’.
Solomon started well, as he humbled himself and looked to God for help. May we do so in our own lives day by day.