Thought for the Week- 2020 (Archived)
In 1882 George Matheson described an experience he had been going through as ‘the most severe mental suffering’; but during that time he wrote, ‘O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee’.
We do not know what caused his suffering as it was not recorded for us but what we do know is that in the depth of pain, suffering, possibly loss, he penned those words ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’. Words that tell of the solace to be found in God in our times of suffering.
To say that God is love is one of the most wonderful things that the Bible teaches us about God. God is eternal, almighty, greater than our imagination, so great we run out of adjectives to describe him and yet at the same time, God is love.
Those words may be easier to accept when life is going along smoothly, and we have much to enjoy and be grateful for. Far harder when we are surrounded by sickness, pain and suffering, by death mourning and grief.
But allow me to point you for a moment to the cross – nothing demonstrates better God’s love for us. The Bible says that God did not even spare his own son but freely gave him up for us and nothing can change the fact that he did this for us. This is how God demonstrated his own love for us (the very words point to something unique and totally special). Jesus put it his way: ‘Greater love has no one than this – that he lay down his life for his friends’. God does love you, even when you do not feel his love; truly he does love you.
Whatever worries, concerns, pain, loss, tears, grief, you are experiencing and however deep the mental strain and emotional pain you are bearing, I hope that you will allow George Matheson’s song and the words of Scripture to convince you that God does truly love you and allow that love to bring you some comfort, peace and hope.
O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe, that in thine oceans depths its flow.
May richer fuller be.
O joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to thee.
I chase the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain.
That morn shall tearless be.
Bible verses referenced to help you: Romans 8:32; 5:8; John 15:13
Next week: If God loves me, why on earth is he treating me like this?
Last week I invited you to pause and be still for a few minutes to let the words of the Bible and an old hymn wash over you and help you appreciate that truly God does love you.
But in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic that is sweeping the world, bringing disease and pain with people suffering alone and family unable to visit their loved ones, it may seem hard to believe that God loves us. For some of us there is the uncertainty of our jobs, and for others the loss of jobs and our financial security. Some of us are nervous about sending children back to school and worry about our elderly parents whom we wish would stay indoors. And, most sadly, there are thousands up and down this country and around the world who mourn the death of loved ones. If God loves me, why on earth is he treating me like this? We might even dare to think – he has a funny way of showing it?
If you can relate to those questions and those feelings at this time, let me acknowledge first that it is not easy to find a way forward from this point. However, I find the true life-stories in the Bible do begin to help me in my struggles. For example the story of Joseph. As a young man he was sold by his brothers and taken to Egypt; there he became a slave; despite serving well, his master’s wife falsely accused him of rape; so Joseph found himself in jail; and even though he helped one of Pharaoh’s top courtiers, that man forgot Joseph after he was given his position back and Joseph spent two more years in jail. As the song says: ‘Poor, poor Joseph, what’cha gonna do? Things look bad for you, hey, what’cha gonna do?’ (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, 1982).
Now Joseph had had two dreams in which God promised to give him a place of importance and power. Wonderful! But there was no sign of that in Joseph’s circumstances. He could well have thought, ‘Well, if God loves me, why on earth is he treating me like this?’ No doubt Joseph had many down moments, when all seemed dark, not only in the gloomy jail but also in his heart. However, Joseph came to understand: ‘You intended to harm me but God intended it for good’ (Genesis 50:20). I don’t know when he realised that, but he did. Certainly he did not know that at the start. But we do – because we have his life story. Let the events in Joseph’s life encourage you, even when you are wondering why things are happening to you like they are, that God does love you. He really does.
Next week: Crying out for God’s lovingkindness
Thomas Boston was a Scotsman who lived in C18th; he had it tough – his father spent time in prison when Thomas was a boy; his wife struggled with mental health problems over many years; and six out of ten children died in infancy.
When circumstances all around us seem to bring into question the truth that God loves us, what can we do? When there are no answers to the question ‘why?’ Why has God allowed this? Why doesn’t God stop it? If God is love then, why on earth is he treating us like this? What can we do?
Sometimes we are in danger of thinking that love means God will always make life comfortable and easy. We think God is there for our benefit and we get upset when he does not. We think we deserve good things and fail to recognise that God does indeed grant many things to us though we do not deserve them. But even when we lay aside some of those false ways of thinking, we are left with the fact that at times circumstances make us wonder, ‘if God loves us why on earth is he treating us this way?’. At such times, what can we do?
We can cry out to God for his kindnesses and as we do so:
- i) We can be honest about our feelings – as many psalms are: ‘My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … My heart is in anguish within me; the terrors of death have fallen on me. Fear and trembling have beset me’ Psalm 55:2, 4, 5.
- ii) We can lament expressing our grief and bewilderment – as the psalms do:
iii) We can ask our questions – as both psalms and prophets: ‘Has his unfailing love vanished forever?’ Psalm 77:8; ‘Where are your zeal and your might? Your tenderness and compassion are withheld from us’, Isaiah 63:15.
- iv) We can cry out to God for his mercies: ‘O Lord, have mercy on me in my anguish. My eyes are red from weeping; my health is broken from sorrow. I am pining away with grief’, Psalm 31:9.
Often we cannot find answers, often God does not explain some things to us (which, of course, assumes that we could understand if he did). Rather He assured his people of his compassion, as in Psalm 103. God uses our troubles to draw us to himself. Sometimes we need the advice that Thomas Boston gave to his church – he urged them to have faith and humility: faith that their suffering was not random and without purpose; humility to ‘humble ourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand’, and like the psalms practise lament – crying out to God with our feelings, with our questions, and with our cries for his mercies.
Next week: God’s unfailing love
Many psalms sing joyfully of God’s unfailing love:
Bless his name! For … his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 100:5); Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 118:1); Give thanks to the Lord for he is good his love endures forever, Psalm 136:1 (and every verse!).
The psalms are united on this – God is love and his love never fails. In times of great trouble and pain and grief they remember what the Lord has done before for them and their families. In those times they depend on that lovingkindness, and hence they give voice to their cries that the Lord would show them mercy again.
A similar thought is found in the book of Lamentations, which records the weeping of the prophet Jeremiah when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed in 586BC. It expresses the humiliation, suffering, and despair of the people; some people find in it a struggle to find God’s justice in the face of extreme suffering. Perhaps not that different from the question – ‘If God loves us why on earth is he treating us like this?’. In the end it accepts that God is sovereign and just. But most importantly it reaffirms the faith that his mercies, his lovingkindness does not fail. Listen to Chapter 3, verses 22-23: ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness’.
But let me bring you back to the heart of our reflection on Day 1: let me point you again to the cross where the Lord Jesus died for us. There could never be a greater way for God to prove his amazing love for us and nothing can change the fact that he has done this. When situations, pain, tears cause you to wonder if God really does love you, look again at the cross where Jesus gave his life for you.
Finally let me share with you some wonderful words in Romans 8 that promise us that nothing can separate us from the love of God that he has shown us in Christ Jesus. Nothing at all – not troubles; not hardships; not famine; not danger; not even life or death itself. Nothing in all of creation, now or in the future can ever cause God to stop loving and caring (Romans 8:35-39).
Does God love? Yes he does. Don’t forget the many good things in your life, all of which you enjoy because God love and kindness. And in all the sickness and suffering, the death and mourning, the loss and grief, none of which makes much sense to us, God does still love us. Deeply. More than we will ever know.
My wife loves making bread at home. One of the ingredients is yeast. But the sachets are so small that you have to buy a pack of five. In Jesus’ day sparrows were worth so little that you could not just buy one, you would buy five for two pennies. But the words of Jesus are that the eternal almighty God sees when even one of those sparrows falls to the grounds.
This week we start a new four-part series around the wonderful truth that God sees all that we go through. Those words may be easier to accept when life is good and we have much to enjoy and be grateful for. Far harder when we are surrounded by sickness, pain and suffering, or surrounded by death, mourning and grief.
Allow me to share with you one of my favourite Bible moments. We read it in Genesis Chapter 16. It is the true-life story of a woman named Hagar. She is treated so badly that she feels she has no option but to run away from the home where she has been living. So off she runs… not knowing where to go, not having anyone to turn to. All alone in the world. After a while she finds a little spring in the desert – at least she as something to drink.
There she is – alone, hot, tired, nowhere to go, no one to help her. At that moment an angel speaks with her and Hagar starts to realise that the Lord sees her and her situation. How much that encourages her. It did not change her circumstances; she still had a difficult future; but knowing that the Lord saw her made such a difference for her.
When our Lord Jesus Christ was on earth he saw and took notice of a lame man at a pool when no one else was concerned for him; he saw the widow of Nain as she went to bury her son, and felt deep compassion for her; he saw the hungry crowds and wanted to do something to feed them; and even when he was dying, in pain on the cross he saw and, taking notice of his own mother, he made sure that one of the disciples would take care of her. Jesus saw people; he saw their needs; he saw their pain; he saw their hearts. And as our exalted Lord and Saviour he still sees our lives and our circumstances and if we let him this will make all the difference.
Next week we will try to think about some of the questions this raises for us when life is tough, but today I simply ask you to allow these words to sink into your mind and heart and to encourage you as they did Hagar. ‘You are the Lord who sees me’ (Genesis 16: 13).
Last week I invited you to pause and be still for a few minutes to let the experience of Hagar touch your hearts and help you appreciate, as Hagar did, that truly God does see all that we are going through. (Hagar’s story can be found in the Bible – Genesis Chapter 16)
But in these days with the covid-19 virus bringing disease and pain to so many, leading to the loss of jobs and leaving us not knowing how to feed our families, it may seem hard to believe that God does see us and our circumstances. Or that if he does see that he cares about us.
One question that we begin to wrestle with is, ‘If God sees what we are going through, why doesn’t he stop it?’ Why doesn’t he stop the virus? Why doesn’t he heal the people? Why doesn’t he prevent any more deaths?
Such questions are not easy to answer. But perhaps we could pause for a moment to consider what exactly we are asking God to stop. Is it the spread of the virus? If this is our request, are we wanting God to step in from heaven and stop people trading, or stop people moving around and meeting other people? In other words do we want God to override our daily choices and actions? Our daily choices have consequences and they result in some people living in poverty. It is our daily choices that cause climate change. It is our daily choices that sometimes bring pain into other people’s lives.
Just what do we want God to stop and where will we draw the line? If we ask God to intervene millions of times every day to manipulate the laws of nature or stop our bad choices, this would make science impossible and our lives meaningless. It sounds fine in theory but it actually raises more problems than it solves.
Let’s turn again to the Bible and see what help it offers us. This week I want to use the life story of Job. This man was a true God fearer, a righteous man in his actions towards others. Yet he suffered greatly – the loss of his possessions and the death of all his children. On top of that his own health deteriorated and he experienced immense pain. He went through a real rollercoaster of emotions, one day wishing he hadn’t been born and yet on another day affirming his faith in God.
So what does Job’s story teach us? The most obvious answer is that being good does not mean we escape suffering. It also teaches us that God not only sees our suffering but that he also hears and answers us when we tell him about our suffering. Have you considered telling him about the suffering you are seeing and experiencing?
The book of Job does not answer all our questions – it does not explain why God does not stop all pain and suffering. But it does begin to help us think about our response.
I am sure that your recent experience is similar to mine – trying to keep in touch with family and friends we have all become video conference wizards, or have we? What we want to see is a nice portrait but often what we see is the top of heads, the ceiling, the floor, and frequently family and friends are out of proportion. What we want to do is jump the other side of the camera and adjust the picture so that we see the whole picture not just a distorted fraction of the picture. If we are brave we might have suggested changes: can you move away from the window, up a bit, down a bit.
When circumstances all around us seem to question the statement of the Bible ‘that God sees’ (along with the implication that he cares), it may be that we want to step the other side of the lens and tell God what to do. But we can’t; so what can we do when we cannot find an answer to the question – if God sees all we are going through, why doesn’t he stop it now?
First we need to be aware of the danger of thinking that if God sees all, he will always step in immediately to make life comfortable and easy. Next we should recognise that we are only seeing part of the picture. And then we need to ask, does God really exist only for our benefit so that we live a life free of all pain? The Bible tells us that we exist to honour God, in the good times and in the tough times of life. Not that this is easy. Last week we said that Job struggled with his faith; his circumstances were not easy or comfortable and he was in considerable pain, physically and emotionally.
What do we mean then when we say that if God sees our pains and troubles, why isn’t he doing anything? Are we expecting God to stop the virus, fix our health and mend our lives? If that does not happen, does it mean that God is not doing anything? It maybe that we cannot see what God is doing but that does not mean that God is not active. We find our loss of control is infuriating, but might it be that our perspective needs re-orienting?
If God is in control and we are not, should we not humble ourselves before the almighty God and ask for his help. Often we need to get God’s perspective on situations.
- We need to be honest with our emotions, as the psalmist and ask ‘How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? … Look on me and answer me’ (The Bible – book of Psalms 13:2,3);
- We can ask our questions, ‘How much longer, Lord, will you just look on? Rescue me’ (Psalms 35:17);
- And we can cry out to the Lord, longing for him to do something, ‘O Lord, you have seen. So don’t be silent, Lord; don’t keep yourself far away! Rouse yourself, O Lord, and defend me’ (Psalms 35:22,23).
We may not always find answers; like Job we may have to accept that God may not give us any explanation. But the Bible does reassure us that the Lord sees it all and with our questions and our longings for God to do something we, like Hagar, can find hope, confidence and some peace in it all by remembering that the Lord does truly see and that he cares about all we are going through.
A young man who had fallen out with his brother, deceived his father and schemed with his mother was sent packing to a safe house far away with his Uncle Laban. On that first night as Jacob lay down to sleep, he had a vision and in it the Lord spoke to him: ‘I am with you and I will watch over you’.
It must have been a comforting thought to young Jacob, knowledge that sustained him on his way. Other Scriptures state the same fantastic truth: the book of Proverbs says that ‘The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good (15:13). The psalmist is glad to say ‘The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore’ (121:8).
Over the last two weeks we have confronted some of our struggles with the idea that God sees and cares, especially when life is filled with pain and loss. What we have begun to realise is that it is not quite as simple as asking God to just stop all the pain and suffering. We have learnt that it is ok to be honest with God about our feelings, to ask our questions, and in our prayers to show how deeply we long for God to do something.
Some of us find it very difficult to accept that God see us and watches over us when life is full of pain and suffering and when (apparently) the Lord doesn’t do anything about it. To look again at the story of Job, can help us reframe our perspective. The psalmist admits that sometimes our foot comes close to slipping, until we see things from God’s perspective. Job shows us that God is in control of the universe; even when we do not have all the facts – so we are in no position to argue with God.
n the end it is less important to have all the answers than to trust the One who does. That One (the Lord almighty) invites us to trust him, and he assures us that we are not alone. He is with us. In Isaiah Chapter 43 the Lord says, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze’. Water and fire here represent the extremes of troubles and pain, and cover every possibility we might ever face. In every situation the Lord is with us.
Truly he sees. He sees all we are going through. What inner strength this can bring to us. Do you remember Hagar whom we thought about three weeks ago? Hagar was given the strength to go back to the troublesome situation that had caused her to run away, such was the help she received from knowing, ‘You are the Lord who sees me’. What about you?
Bethany’s Story: https://resources.cvglobal.co/record/_vMfpGuNfxfof9fjf0b
Christian Vision has many videos to encourage and help you – https://resources.cvglobal.co/
Sometimes it seems so easy. At first glance it looks that way for Hezekiah. He was king of Judah at a difficult time when his country was under extreme pressure from the might of the Assyrian empire. When he was very sick, he prayed and the Lord extended his life. When enemy soldiers surrounded the walls of his city he prayed and they turned round and went away. So simple. He prayed; God heard; God answered; life continued happily.
This week we start another four-part series and look together at another wonderful truth that the Bible sets before us – God hears us when we pray, whatever we bring before him. Those words may be easier to accept when we can see the answers and life is good. It is far harder when we are surrounded by sickness, pain and suffering, or surrounded by death, mourning and grief.
So, what does it mean when the Bible says God hears prayer? Clearly at times the psalms are sure it means that God hears answers and does something to help us. But that does not mean God always answers in the way that we want. Sometimes the psalmist, by putting his trust in God in the troubles finds peace in the storm and the strength to carry on
Allow me to share with you another of my favourite Bible moments. We read it in 1 Samuel Chapter 1. It is the true-life story of a woman named Hannah. She is married but has no children. Her husband loved her dearly but does not really understand her pain. Others looked down at her and her ‘failure’ to have a baby. The depth of her pain was as deep as if she had lost her baby. Only, she had never had a baby to hold and love and care for. She prays. She cries. And eventually … God hears her. Finally she becomes pregnant and later gets to hold her own baby boy.
Many psalms celebrate that God hears us: ‘In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears’ (Psalms 18:6); ‘I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears’ (Psalms 34:4); ‘I took my troubles to the LORD; I cried out to him, and he answered my prayer’ (Psalms 120:1).
This then is the testimony of the Bible again and again; it is the experience of many women and men; it is the joyful celebration found frequently in the psalms. God hears us when we pray. Over the next couple of weeks we will try to grapple with questions such as, why God does not (seem to) hear us; why sometimes God waits. But today let us find encouragement in the life stories of Hezekiah and Hannah and the repeated testimony of the writers of the psalms. Together they tell us: God does hear your prayers.
So let me ask you: what would you like to talk to God about? What would you like to ask? What trouble or pain do you want to bring before him. Be assured – the Lord will hear you.
Last week I invited you to pause and be still for a few minutes to let the experience of Hannah touch your hearts and help you appreciate, as Hannah did, that truly God hears us when we pray. (Hannah’s story can be found in the Bible – Genesis Chapter 16)
But in these days with Covid-19 bringing disease and pain to many, leading to the loss of jobs and leaving us not knowing how to feed our families, it may seem hard to believe that God hears when we pray. After all, haven’t millions around the world prayed and asked God to take away the virus and heal the world? And what about all those tears and cries from the broken hearts of those who have been bereaved because of that virus?
One question that we begin to wrestle with is, ‘If God hears us when we pray, why doesn’t he hear us and stop our pain, suffering and grief? Why doesn’t he answer our cries and take away the virus, heal the people, and prevent any more deaths? (For a more theoretical look at those questions please see ‘Questions about God and covid-19’ on our website)
Today, let’s turn again to the Bible and see what help it offers us in those hard moments. Here I find the psalms most helpful, as much as they celebrate the times when God hears them, as we saw last week (Psalms 18:6; 34:4; 120:1) they also show us their puzzlement and pain when God doesn’t (seem to) hear. ‘My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer’ (Psalm 22:2); or ‘How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? …Consider and answer me, O Lord my God’ (Psalm 13:1, 3).
So like us, the writers sometimes find that God hears, but at other times they feel that God is deaf to their cries. Like us, they have moments when they wonder if God does hear and, if he hears, why he doesn’t answer. Yet often in these difficult times they find in God a person whom they can trust, where peace can be found, where their trust is renewed– e.g. Psalm 13 starts with the words ‘How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever?’ (v1), but ends, ‘But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation’ (v5).
I want to encourage you today that, if you are in one of those times when you have prayed and prayed, and the Lord still does not seem to hear you, – don’t give up. Others have been where you are and clung on in hope. In Psalms 42 and 43 the writer encourages himself several times to ‘put your hope in the Lord’. The word really means to wait – to wait patiently, to wait with hope. For even when we don’t think God has heard us, the truth is that … he does hear us when we pray.
When we leave an answer phone message or send an email – in response to a job advert, or to a friend, we wait for an answer. Sometimes it can seem to take forever. We wonder if the message arrived or if they listened to it and forgot.
It can be like that with prayer. We speak with God and long for God to answer – now. But he doesn’t always. That raises questions.
Have we done something wrong? While the psalms admit freely their sins and it is good for us to do so, we should not assume that if God does not do what we ask that it is because we have sinned. The pain of Psalm 44 is that the writer is living faithfully before God and yet still doesn’t feel God hears their cry.
A second question is – are we good enough? Is there something we are not doing to warrant God’s answer? But that forgets the very nature of God’s mercy – God does not hear us because we deserve anything, but solely according to his kindness.
So … when circumstances seem to question whether God hears our prayers, what can we do?
First, we can be careful not to think that God hearing us means he will immediately give us what we have asked
Second, we can recognise that sometimes when we think God has not heard it is because we don’t get what we want
Third, we can learn that God’s delay is not because God is doing nothing but God is doing something that we do not know (and we do not have the whole picture).
Last week we listened to some psalms which struggled with faith in tough situations when it seemed God did not hear them. We can respond in the way they did:
- They were honest with their emotions, ‘Lord I am overwhelmed … [full of] grief’ (Psalm 88)
- They asked their questions, ‘Lord, why do you hide your face?’ (Psalm 88)
- They continued to cry out to God for help, (Psalm 88)
Psalm 88 is the saddest Psalm of all – it starts and finishes with grief, not least because God does not answer. Feelings of discouragement and the sadness of unanswered prayer are part of life, and one of the hardest things is when we feel God is silent.
How then can this psalm help? In spite of feeling let down by God it encourages us to keep on praying. Look at the psalm again – V1 ‘day and night I cry out to you’; V9 ‘I call to you Lord every day; v13 ‘I cry to you for help’. To understand why he still prays when he feels unheard, look at the opening words: You are the God who saves me. Inspite of feeling unheard, the psalmist continues to pray because he knows the Lord is still God – even when for reasons known only to God he remains silent. I hope you find it helpful.
When my heart is broken, tears roll down my face and I don’t know what to do with myself, words such as ‘God answers in his time’ are meaningless. It sounds like a Christian cop-out! What I want is to know why has God not answered. After all if God is all-powerful, he can; if God is all loving, he would. So this is a problem. In such moments there is no answer, however brilliant, that will satisfy.
So what can we say? Is there any truth in these words ‘God answers in his time’, however hard they are to stomach when God seems not to hear us?
Perhaps a little look at John Chapter 11 (The Bible) might help. Jesus has some friends called Lazarus, Mary and Martha. He has been in their home; he has eaten with them; he has enjoyed their welcome. So when Lazarus is sick the sisters send a message to Jesus to let him know. He hears the message. But he does… nothing. Nothing at all. He simply waits. And so do they – in vain. Jesus doesn’t turn up. And then the worst thing in the world happens – their brother, Lazarus, dies. It is another four days before Jesus does arrive, at which point both sisters say to him, ‘Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. It’s as if they are asking: why didn’t you come? Didn’t you get our message? Why didn’t you hear us?
If we read on in the story we see how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead – but we don’t hear many stories of resurrection today. So, has the event anything to teach us? I think it does: remember that Lazarus died again a few years later and that even in the Gospels we do not have many resurrection events.
So how can this event help us at times when it seems the Lord does not hear our prayers?
It teaches us that trouble, tragedy and death do not have the final word. If we believe in the Lord Jesus then he promises us a day of resurrection to eternal life. Now that may be all well and good for the future, but what about the pain today when we feel that God doesn’t hear us? How can this event help us today?
It tells us that the Lord does know and hear but answers in his time (even when that is hard to accept). He had a purpose that they did not know about. It tells us that we too can trust God, and that he has a purpose we cannot see when he does not answer prayer immediately?
It tells us that Jesus cared deeply for Martha and Mary (who respond to their loss in different ways). He spoke with Martha but simply wept with Mary. As we cry out for answers to our prayers, we can find some peace in knowing that he knows our pain, that he hears and cares for us just as he did Mary and Martha, and we can choose to trust that he has a plan and purpose in these times.
Will you go on praying, trusting that God has heard your prayer?
‘Even the hairs on your head are numbered,’ said the Lord Jesus to help us understand how well God knows us and cares for us. The psalms in the Bible echo this this: Psalm 8 marvels at God’s work in the sun, moon and stars, which he describes as the work of his fingers – God is so great these huge things are the work of simply his fingers. Yet… God is mindful of us (keeps us in his thoughts) and cares for us.
The Hebrew word in that psalm literally means to ‘remember’. That is not to suggest in any way that God might forget us, but is an appeal to God to show his care for us. For example in 1 Samuel 1 Hannah asks God to remember her and give her a son; she does not just want God to remember she is alive – she wants the Lord to do something for her: to show his care for her. Psalm 136 rejoices in this care of God: ‘He remembered us in our weakness – His faithful love endures forever – He saved us from our enemies’. When the Bible says ‘God remembers’, it means that God demonstrates his care.
This week we start another four-part series that looks at another wonderful truth that the Bible sets before us – God cares. Those two words may be easier to accept when we are in good health, have a good job and are enjoying life. It is more difficult when we face sickness and pain, redundancy and economic hardship, or death, mourning and grief. But I hope we shall see that, in all these times, truly, God cares.
Let me point you to the shepherd idea that the Bible uses often to speak of God’s care for us. Many people have heard Psalm 23, which begins, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack no good thing’. It continues with green pastures, still waters, the restoring of the soul, and the paths of righteousness. Yes, we can believe God cares for us when all is going well. But what about the times we have troubles and pain? Let’s see how the psalm continues: ‘Even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…’. ‘What then?’ we ask, as we read. The psalm answers: ’You are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me’. In the tough times, too, the Lord cares for us.
This same thought is developed by Ezekiel, a prophet during some very difficult times for God’s people. God judged them for their persistent sin, and they became exiles; yet the Lord’s care for them was constant. The people did not change their ways, their leaders acted like bad shepherds not caring for the needs of the people; in contrast the Lord will see to their welfare: he will feed, guide, protect, save them.
They did not deserve such gracious care; we do not deserve it either. But the wonderful thing is – the Lord is still the same: he cares. So what will you trust him with today?
Last week I invited you to meditate on the shepherd analogy that the Bible uses to speak of God’s loving care for us. We looked at Psalm 23 and saw that care in many lovely ways. We made sure to note that even in the painful times (symbolised by the valley of shadow) God is with us, God helps us, because God cares.
But in these days with Covid-19 still having a huge impact on our lives – rules are being tightened again; many fear a winter spike; many are still out of work following redundancy. If God cares why is there no vaccine yet? Why are things so difficult still? Why is there no new job? Doesn’t God know… or care?
One question that arises is, ‘If God cares, why doesn’t he stop all the pain and grief?’ Perhaps we should try to define what we mean by ‘care’. In April 2019 the Health and Social Care Alliance in Scotland asked people, ‘What does caring mean?’ Answers included, ’helping someone’, ‘showing compassion and patience’. One answer was: ‘giving everything that someone needs’.
Maybe we think that if God cares for us he should give us everything we need. But that begs a question: what is it that we really ‘need’? We tend to focus on this world, when God focuses on eternity; we focus on the physical, when God is concerned about our soul.
Maybe we think it is obvious how we should care for someone’s needs; but is it, always? The physical help and care may be clear. But what about the deeper, inner needs of the heart – a friend, someone who will listen?
When we focus on the physical, temporary needs we forget that God is always concerned with our ultimate good. God desires that we turn to him, receive his forgiveness and are fit for the new heaven and earth. Psalm 119 makes a fascinating statement: ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word … It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees’ (Verses 67-71). Wow! I wonder how many of us would say something like that? We don’t know exactly what the writer had experienced; maybe he had wondered if God cared. But he sees now that God was achieving something much more important. Yes – God cares.
In the book of Genesis, Joseph had a similar experience. When contestants in the jungle can’t take any more all they have to say is ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’. I wonder how many times Joseph wished he could have prayed something similar? When his brother threw him in a pit; when he was a slave in Egypt? When he was accused unjustly? When he was in prison for something he didn’t do? I’m Joseph – get me out of here!
But God didn’t get him out of there; or at least, not until God was ready. God was refining Joseph’s character; God brought him into contact with a king’s butler. When the time was right Joseph was released, interpreted the king’s dreams, was given a position of responsibility, and thousands of lives were saved in a time of severe famine.
Why didn’t God get him out of there? Because God cared too much to do so – for Joseph, his family, the Egyptians, and many others.
Life was the difficult Joseph and for the man who wrote Psalm 119, but God had a deeper plan. We may not know why we face difficult times, but we can know that God cares. Always.
‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ (Psalm 22:10). Have you ever felt like that? Have you ever felt that God was so far away, and uninterested in your life? We can really struggle with our thoughts and emotions when we face such moments.
A barometer is a device that is used to measure air pressure and changes in this can be used to forecast short-term changes in weather. My father-in-law has one in his house – all you do is tap it gently and the marker moves either towards warm and drier or the other way towards cooler and wetter. Now while our emotions are real and they are strong in times of difficulty and pain, they are not a good barometer of God’s care. God’s promises to care are true. We need to trust God’s word rather than our feelings, however strong they be.
In a moment I will give you three (out of what could be many) promises that I hope will help you. But first let us consider what we can do when we feel that God is far away and uninterested and we begin to doubt if he cares. As we have said in previous weeks (see Weeks 2, 6 and 10) we can be honest before God about our feelings; we can bring our questions (if we are willing to listen for God’s response) and we can lament our suffering.
Let me now give you three promises of God to meditate on:
- Isaiah 41:10 – ‘do not be afraid, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand’. The God of heaven and earth says that he will personally hold your hand, which is a figurative way to say that God promises to be close to us (even when we do not feel it) and to care for us (even when we wonder if he does care). He cares – enough to be with us; enough to make us strong; enough to uphold us.
- Psalm 34:17 – ‘The LORD is near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit,’ and Psalm 145:14 – ‘The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down’. Both these psalms say the same thing: the Lord is near; the Lord feels for us; the Lord lifts us up. In a strange way, perhaps, sometimes we need to face difficult times in order to experience exactly how much God cares. Don’t shut him out.
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – ‘Blessed be God … who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God’. Whenever we face any trouble or pain, we can look up to God; there is no situation in which he will fail to comfort us. Notice the words: ‘in ALL our afflictions’. Because God cares.
Did you notice the one thing that links those verses? All speak about times of trouble or weakness. It is in such times we may know how deeply and truly God cares. I know we do not always feel that God is near or is even interested, because our feelings are real and intense. But I encourage you today to rely on God’s promises rather than your feelings. God promises that God cares.
It was one thing after another – first there was danger; then they were thirsty; then they were hungry; then they were under attack. You can read the history of God’s people in those first weeks in the wilderness. At each stage they complained and made a fuss. Yet in reality, those moments were opportunities to trust the Lord and to see his care for them.
They may not have known about the Red Sea (they had been slaves in Egypt), so when a few days after leaving Egypt they stand at the banks of the Red Sea they could have been surprised. When they could find no way across and heard the sound of chariots as the Egyptians were chasing after them, they became afraid. But God was there. God helped them. God made a way. Because God cared.
Three days later they arrived at a place called Marah. The water there was bitter and they could not drink it. So what did they do? They grumbled against Moses: ‘what are we going to do? The Lord healed the waters and they drank. But they could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if they had remembered the crossing of the Red Sea and trusted God’s care.
Soon afterwards they came to the Desert of Sin. They were hungry. They had nothing left to eat. So what did they do? They grumbled against Moses: at least back in Egypt ‘we ate all the food we wanted’, they said. There was more than enough. How poor their memories were! (In Egypt they had been slaves enduring forced labour) But the Lord rained down manna from heaven and they had food to eat. But they could have saved themselves a lot of heartache if they had remembered the crossing of the Red Sea, the waters at Marah, and trusted God’s care.
Can we learn from their experiences so that when situations get difficult or we experience pain, we remember to trust in God’s loving care? His faithful love endures forever.
The greatest demonstration of God’s care for us all is seen most clearly in his sending of his son, Jesus Christ, to die for us so that we can be forgiven and come near to God (John 3:16; 14:1-3). In Week 13 we saw how the Old Testament pictures God as our shepherd; the New Testament calls Jesus Christ the good shepherd – because he cares so much for us that he lays down his life for us.
One final thought. In Isaiah Chapter 49 and Verse 15, God addresses a people who were feeling that their way was ‘hidden from the LORD’. They thought – wrongly – that he didn’t see or know and that their cause was ‘disregarded by God’ (even worse – he didn’t care). God asked them a question: ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?’ The answer is of course, ‘No’. But maybe there is a slight chance it may happen. So what does the Lord say to his people? God says, ‘Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’
What a wonderful promise. Our way is not hidden from God – he sees it all. Our cause is not disregarded by God – he knows. And even if a mother might forget her baby, God promises never to forget us. The Lord remembers. In difficult times, at all times – He cares.
Many of you will know the TV programme Through The Keyhole where the panel has to guess the celebrity hosted by Keith Lemon. What you may not know is that Keith Lemon’s real name is Leigh Francis.
Leigh Francis is a man with many identities: he is known as an actor, a comedian, a film star, a celebrity, a husband, a parent, a game show host, a producer, a director and a voice artist.
Like Leigh we too can have multiple roles or identities – but who is the real me? How do we define ourselves? – Will the real me please stand up!!
Teenagers are heard to say – ‘I want to be my own person’. Later in life some people travel far to exotic locations to ‘find myself’. For others the crisis comes when the family grows up and leaves home, leaving us with the questions ‘who am I?’, ‘What now?’ and ‘How do I continue to live a life with meaning and purpose?’.
If we find our identity through job, status, academic achievements, our role in the family then our identity is fragile – for what happens if we slip up and get it wrong? What will people think of me then? What is my value if I do not get that promotion? What is going to happen when I get older? When someone suggests that a younger person takes my place because they will bring in new ideas, or when I retire and find my memory is not as sharp as it used to be, what then? Do I become worthless?
If we find our identity in what others think about us, at work, at home, in society, I would ask, do you really want to be defined by others?. Does it really matter that much what others think? If our self-worth is defined by what others think of us – does that not make us slaves to the opinions of others?
Rather than being dependent upon the opinion of others have you ever thought about how God sees you? The value God places on you?
You are Important enough to be made in His image:
‘God created human beings, making them to be like himself. He created them male and female (Genesis 1 verse 27 – The Bible).
You have been created with a purpose:
‘God has made us what we are, and in our union with Christ Jesus he has created us for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for us to do’ (Ephesians 2 verse 10 – The Bible).
You are valued enough that God would come to earth as man so that we might know him:
‘I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness’ (John 10 verse 10 – The Bible)
You are loved enough that He would lay down His life for you:
‘This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us’ (1 John 3 verse 16 – The Bible).
You are someone that God wants to adopt into His family:
‘”I will make my home with my people … I will be your Father, and you shall be my sons and daughters”, says the Lord Almighty’ (2 Corinthians 6 verses 16-18 – The Bible).
I hope as you think about these truths and the value God places on you that it will help you understand your real identity.
If you want to know more or explore this further please get in touch, you can use the contact details at the bottom of the home page.
On his 40th birthday, Tom Good gave up his job designing plastic toys for breakfast cereal packets. He and his, Barbara, adopt a simple lifestyle and become almost self-sufficient by growing fruit and vegetables in the gardens and rearing chickens and pigs. Their actions disturb the suburban life of their neighbours who fail to understand them (You may have enjoyed watching The Good Life during the 1970s).
Today as thousands of acres of Amazon rainforest are destroyed, land is flooded with saltwater in Bangladesh to grow prawns for Europeans to eat, and tons of plastic is dumped that destroys the coral reefs, many people think it is time to do something.
Should I be concerned?
“What has it got to do with me?”, we might ask. Some people think that Christians focus so much upon salvation, God’s forgiveness and the spiritual dimension of life, that they ignore the physical world in which we live. Somehow caring for this world is not a high priority.
I am not about to suggest that we all adopt the life of Tom and Barbara, or join the local tree hugging club. But as people who praise God as the creator of all things, we should think carefully about the world in which we live and our responsibility in it.
The Bible teaches us that God created all things good. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 – The Bible). The world is not only beautiful to live in but also supplies all our food needs. We should, therefore, appreciate this and care for the world that supplies our physical needs.
The created world fills us with a sense of wonder at times, and leads us to praise the Lord – the splendour of a mountain, the brilliance of a sunset, the beauty of flowers. As the psalm writer said, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1 – The Bible). As people created in God’s image we should honour God not only in words but in the way we live in this world.
God gave the first humans a responsibility in his world – “to work it and care for it” (Genesis 2:15 – The Bible). Work was not intended to be a burden but a joy as we worked with God in caring for his world and seeing it respond in fruitfulness. It remains our responsibility to care for the planet.
We live in a beautiful world. And we live in a broken world. The reason for this is that we have turned away from God and not only is our relationship with God broken, so is our relationship with one another and the physical world. So if we know anything of the joy of being reconciled to God, we should want to care for the world too.
The impact of deforestation, the flooding of farmland with salt water and the dumping of plastic has the worst effect on the poorest of the world and restricts their access to good food and health. Since God has a special concern for the widow, the orphan and the stranger, it would seem to follow that we should be concerned about decisions and lifestyles that are unfair in their impact on others and make life worse for them.
Next week we will consider whether there is any hope for the future of this planet or whether we are doomed for extinction. But this week:
- Take a little time to look out of the window at a starry sky, the autumn leaves, or the smile of another person and say to God. “thank you”.
- Think also of millions who live in poverty without access to healthy food and who suffer poor health because their land is used to satisfy the desires of the rich in this world rather than meet their basic needs. And ask: “is there anything I can / should change in my lifestyle?”
Last week we saw both the beauty of our world and acknowledged that it is also a broken world. We reflected on how our broken relationship with God impacts on the relationships we have with each other and our environment, and usually makes life far harder for those who are already the poorest in the world.
This week we look at God’s promise to restore the world to its created glory, and what our response now should be.
When the deforestation of the Amazon in order to grow more cattle to meet the demand for beef burgers means that local poor cannot grow basic food items, is that right? When land is flooded in Bangladesh to farm prawns for the European palate, but means the farmers there cannot grow rice and fruits for themselves, is that just? When we dump plastic and any litter and it finds its way into rivers and into the sea and beautiful coral reefs, is that ok?
My reading of the Bible suggests that the answer to all three questions is no. No it is not right because God created us all equal and wants us all to enjoy healthy food. No it is not just when some suffer as a result of these practices while others benefit from them. No it is not ok to spoil the world in which we live and which God has entrusted to our care. We have a responsibility to care for the created world and to work for justice for all (Amos??? – The Bible).
The hope that Christians have includes the promise that one day God will restore the physical world: “creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay (Romans 8:21 – The Bible) and there will be a renewed heaven and earth (2 Peter 3:13 – The Bible). This is pictured beautifully also in Isaiah 11 (The Bible), which describes the lion lying down with the lamb and a child playing near the hole where the cobra lives. Impossible in the world in its present broken state. But one day God will restore and renew the world and all will be in perfect harmony. So we are not doomed to extinction; instead we have much to look forward to if we will trust God.
What does this great hope mean for the way we live today? It does not mean we can do what we like with the world now; rather it means we should work with God to see the beginnings of that renewal now. We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and we know what the future holds. We have the privilege of serving the Lord now, by living in ways that promote justice for all and in which we care for the world God has made.
Practically, then, what can we do?
- Reduce food waste at home and when we eat out
- Use water carefully and avoid wasting by leaving taps running
- Walk more and drive less, and reduce our carbon footprint
- Use a 100 per cent renewable electricity provider
- Buy sustainable products when possible
- take our own bags to the shops
- avoid buying plastic when possible but properly dispose of lightweight plastics when we do use them
- write to local and national politicians.
- When we go on holiday we can refuse to buy souvenirs made from the results of illegal wildlife hunting.
And as we do these things, let us remember that we do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus (that is, for his honour) and therefore all these choices and decisions are part of our daily spiritual act of worship (Colossians 3:17; Romans 12:1 – The Bible).
The novel, Robinson Crusoe, tries to imagine what it would be like to be alone on an island – day after day, after day, after day. When Crusoe is shipwrecked with only the captain’s dog and two cats, he has to make do alone. He collects tools and weapons and food supplies; he makes a fence around the entrance to a cave; he collects fruits, grows barely and rice, he hunts and fishes. He also reads the Bible and begins to thank God for his fate in which nothing is missing …. Except for human company.
Over recent months some of us may have endured a little glimpse into what a solitary life might be like. We have been shielding at home and even in the summer months did not venture far beyond the garden gate. How grateful we have been to those who telephoned us, sent WhatsApp messages, said hello when they dropped off our shopping, and stood at bottom of our drive for a quick chat?
In the news many voices call for government and others to recognise the strain on mental health during these difficult times. On their website, the charity, Mind, offers some tips for mental wellbeing – the first is to ‘Find ways to connect with others…’. Our local council has put online links and contact numbers for several charities that offer support for people who are stressed at being home alone. Our government is allowing people who live alone to form a bubble with one other household.
The importance of relationships, the value of human contact, the joy of hearing another human voice, or feeling their hand squeeze ours, are well known. The Bible has taught us this for thousands of years.
‘The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”’(Genesis 2:18 – The Bible) and so he created Eve to be a suitable helper, that they might love and care for each other, work together, and be there for each other. Marriage is one of God’s gifts to us. But not all of us marry, and some of us face the pain of divorce or bereavement at a young age. The Bible recognises also the need for good friendships.
‘A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity’ (Proverbs 17:17 – The Bible); a true friend doesn’t give up on us but is there in times of trouble.
‘Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 – The Bible). Friends help one another and both benefit.
‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend, profuse are the kisses of an enemy’ (Proverbs 27:6 – The Bible). A really good friend can tell us something we don’t want to hear, when it is for our long-term benefit.
The Bible shows us the importance and value of community and why we long for it. We have been made in the image of God and God’s plan is that we should enjoy relationship with Him and with each other.
Covid-19 has taught us what we already know, that we do not fare well in isolation. It is no surprise that mental health deteriorates when we spend long periods of time on our own. We are created to live in community – family and friends provide important relationships. Why? We need them for encouragement, help, and support in all ways: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We benefit from sharing each other’s pain and rejoicing in each other’s blessings.
Perhaps today you might thank God for the family or friends you have; for those who keep in touch with you; and pray for anyone you know who lives alone. If you are lonely please do get in touch with us firstname.lastname@example.org
Five members of the same family, three children and their parents, lost their lives just over four weeks ago when the little boat they had been crammed into sunk in the Channel. Somehow, they had found nearly £22,000 to pay people smugglers – but they never made it. I hope it breaks your heart.
All they wanted was perhaps a safe place to live, maybe just a better place. A new community where they could belong, make new friends, and live happily. They are not alone, of course. Some people face unrest and violence on the streets, including the sound of gunfire; some live where war continues with no sign of an end; others are persecuted for their faith and fear for their lives. And so they take these risks – hoping to find a new community that will welcome them.
Apart from maybe with tears, how ought we to think; how ought we to respond to refugees making their way to this country?
When we talk about God’s commands in the Bible the first reaction is sometimes to say they are negative, they spoil our fun, and are outdated morality that we don’t need anymore. Well, listen to these words in what we call the Old Testament section of the Holy Bible.
The refugee or stranger should be welcomed and loved: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself…” (The Bible – Leviticus 19:33-34).
The refugee or stranger should be treated equally and fairly: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether, he is one of your brothers or one of the sojourners who are in your land” (The Bible – Deuteronomy 24:14).
The refugee or stranger should receive enough to live on: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it …. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time … When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this (The Bible – Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
Negative? Outdated? I think not. These verses offer us a relevant and timely way to respond to and live with new refugees and those from other countries who have been in this country for several generations. We have to admit we have not always done so – and the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted this.
Our Lord Jesus teaches us to live the same way. One day he was asked which was the greatest command. He replied, saying, “Love the Lord your God”, and “love you neighbour as yourself”. When the questioner asked, “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus told a story about a man who was beaten up on his journey and left at the roadside. No one would help him, until a Samaritan man came along – he stopped, went over and helped the man, took him to a place for rest and offered to pay any costs he incurred. The point of the story comes from the fact that Jews and Samaritans despised each other. They certainly would not help each other. They wouldn’t even share the same plate. But Jesus says they are our neighbours.
Refugees who make the long and hazardous journey to these shores are our neighbours. Not just because they have arrived in this country, but because they are our fellow human beings. We ought to help them.
For five years my wife and I lived in Sri Lanka. In the hill country everyone in the little town of Hatton knew us, and we felt accepted and safe. When we moved to Kandy, the second city, my wife returned each month to the Bible College in Hatton. If she was travelling by bus to Kandy, I would meet her. If she was travelling to the hill country I knew she would be safe when she arrived there. So we would go together to the large city bus station; we would find the bus; as she got on, the conductor (whom we knew well) would smile at me and say, “I look after madam”.
We know what it is like to be welcomed; should we not offer the same to others?
Why not look up the Bible verses quoted above and see how God promises a blessing on us when we do
Faith might be expressed simply in the words “we trust God”. We trust the promises of God; we trust God to be with us; we trust God to help us. And somehow we trust God in all the ups and downs of life. We learn to trust God in times of sickness, pain, death loss, tears; in times of anxiety, worry and fear.
To trust God when life is difficult is not easy. At a time when life was difficult the writer of Psalm 73 (the Bible) asks ‘what’s the point’ in trusting God as he saw those who had no care for God flourish.
Is faith only for the good times? Too often we use faith for what we can get out of it. So long as the returns are good (God makes life comfortable and happy), we are satisfied. But when life is hard, painful, full of troubles, we question whether or not it is worthwhile.
The Bible has been given to show us that it is possible for men and women to trust God in the hardest of times; it shows us how they learnt to trust God.
In the book of Hebrews we read about people who achieved amazing things though trusting the promises of the Lord. But this was not so for everyone. Look at these words:
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated …” Hebrews 11:35-37 (the Bible)
They did not achieve any of the great things that some others achieved. They suffered greatly. Yet they are equally men and women of faith. They learnt to trust God even in the toughest times.
As we begin to read again the account of the first Christmas, we meet men and women in difficult situations, who also learnt to trust God.
Think about Mary: a young woman, pledged to be married, who receives a visit from an angel to say she will soon be pregnant. She knows she has not been unfaithful or had sex before marriage. She trusts in God to work a miracle in her. But who will believe her story? What about her family? What will Joseph say … do? How will the rest of the village react when they hear the news? The shame; the disgrace; the rejection; the accusations; the name-calling; the reputation she will have for the rest of her life! In it she learns to trust the Lord.
So, what about you, in this season of Advent? Maybe you are thankful for many things and trusting God comes easy – at the moment. Or maybe, you can understand the question of the Psalmist, asking in effect, ‘What’s the point?’
It is not always easy to trust the Lord. Many times we do now know what the Lord is doing in our lives, and in moments of trouble we cannot see any good in it. Or at least – not at that moment. To trust God is something we need to learn. For many of us it does not happen all at once. There are doubts, questions, and a few slip-ups along the way.
How can the experience of Mary help you? (You can read more about her in Luke Chapter one and two [The Bible]). Can you relate to any of the difficulties she faced? Or are your struggles very different? Either way I pray that you will let her faith inspire you.
In a moment of quiet – offer to God what troubles you and makes you wonder whether it is worth bothering to trust God.
Now ask the Lord himself to help you to trust him, for truly he is to be trusted – always and in everything
2020 has been a tough year – some countries have suffered wars, while others have seen demonstrations and sometimes violence on their streets. There have been flood and famine; mass unemployment and homelessness; and of course Covid -19. If we have not been affected personally then we probably know someone who has. Where in all of this can we find even a glimmer of hope?
An MP recently said that we need to find a way to get through Christmas and then put our hope in a vaccine. C.R. Snyder said that hope implies the possibility of a better future; it shows up at the worst possible time when things are dire and difficult, but can keep us going during those hard months. But what if it can’t? The journal Psychology Today (Feb 2019) explained why it is that hope matters so much – ‘Hoping we can make things better is the secret for doing so’. The writer had not been living through a global pandemic! And what if we can’t make things better?
The Self Help for Life website says the ability to feel hopeful … increases the chance of things working out for you. But many would question that. At times it just doesn’t work out that way.
During 2020 we have actually witnessed many signs of hope: neighbours looking out for each other in a way they have not done before; the amazing kindness and sacrifices made by NHS staff and other key workers. Little glimmers of hope in a bleak year.
The season of Advent – the four weeks that lead up to Christmas – is a time for hope, as we read the well-known events recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (the Bible). The hope of a baby being born; the hope of salvation, the hope of God with us
Think with me for a few moments about the shepherds, who were the first to hear from the angels the good news of Jesus’ birth. There are some differences of opinion among historians but many think that shepherds were looked down on. As Israel became more agricultural, shepherds were forced to the edge of the wilderness areas to find pasture for their sheep. They were on the bottom rung of the social ladder; some described them as lazy; many thought they were dishonest and assumed that anything you bought from them had probably been stolen.
What hope did the first Christmas bring to these men? In Luke 2:10-14 (The Bible) the angels told them of God’s favour and of peace with God because the saviour had been born to them. Now that was hope. Great hope.
They had the hope of God’s favour – that God would be kind and gracious toward them, even if others despised and distrusted them.
They had the hope of peace with God – that God would forgive them and they would enjoy his friendship, even if others rejected them and insulted them.
They had the hope of God’s presence with them because the baby born was Christ the Lord, Immanuel, truly and fully God with them, even when others turned their back on them and wanted nothing to do with them.
For us, however tough 2020 has been, and however deeply we have been affected by it, physically, financially, mentally, spiritually, the same Lord Jesus holds out the same promise to us: the hope of God’s favour and kindness, the hope of forgiveness and peace with God; the hope of His presence with us in all that we endure.
Of course, we all would like the vaccine to be a big success in the fight against Covid-19. But whatever a vaccine does or doesn’t bring, it only takes our hopes so far. God offers a bigger hope, one which transcends and continues beyond this life if we will accept it. It is not a case of getting though Christmas and then putting our hope in a vaccine. Christmas is our hope, God with us – Immanuel.
In a moment of quiet – offer to God the disappointments and the pains of this year.
Now ask the Lord to fill your heart with the lasting hope that he alone can give
Your fiancée loves you – that’s good. Your fiancée is pregnant – that is not so good.
However, she wants to keep the baby – that is good, after all life is precious. But you know the baby is not yours – that is not good.
Your families will probably support you – that would be good.
But some people will look and stare; some will point their finger – that’s not good
Her reputation will be in ruins – that’s not good
In such circumstances, what is a young man to do? The law said he could divorce her – but then all their dreams of life together vanish in smoke.
At night he tosses and turns – unable to sleep. Over and over these thoughts go round in his head, as he tries to work out what to say and what to do. Longing somewhere, somehow to find some peace.
Your circumstances may be very different – indeed, probably they are. But you can identify with Joseph in longing to find some peace. Perhaps you are out of work and don’t know how you will pay the next rent or gas bill – you certainly can’t afford presents this year. Maybe a relative or friend is in hospital – you don’t know if they will pull through. You would love to go and visit family between 23d and 28th – but what if? What if you pick up the virus?
Let us look at Joseph’s experience as we read it in Matthew’s Gospel, Chapter 1 (The Bible). Joseph is engaged to be married to Mary; before that special day comes, she confesses that she is pregnant. The baby is not his; but she insists that she has not been unfaithful. What on earth is he to make of her story? And what is he going to do?
Matthew Chapter 1 tells us that as he turned these things over in his mind he thought about divorcing her, but doing it quietly so as to limit the damage to Mary’s reputation as much as possible. But it seems that he didn’t really want to even take that step.
Joseph began to find peace of mind when an angel of the Lord spoke with him in a dream. The angel explained that Mary had not been unfaithful to him; she was pregnant because God had worked a miracle in her. More than that, her baby would be the longed-for Saviour of the world through whom we may find forgiveness and peace with God.
We may find the thought of dreams and angel visits with messages from God unusual. Maybe they have always been rare – but clearly it did not cause a problem for Joseph. The word of the Lord brought him clarity in his thinking, peace in his mind and heart, and without a shadow of a doubt he knew what he should do. He took Mary home as his wife; they had no sexual relations until after Jesus had been born. He took on the responsibility of a father role as Jesus grew up.
I know that some people have received dreams or visions in which the risen living Lord Jesus has appeared to them and shown them the marks of his crucifixion, and this has brought them to their knees to confess him as Lord and Saviour. But the more frequent way in which God speaks with us is through His Word – the Bible.
So if you can sympathise with Joseph, and if you are wondering where, if anywhere, in these days you can find any peace of mind, then let me encourage you to pick up and read a Bible and allow God to touch your heart and bring peace to your mind.
In the Bible God promises:
- To uphold all who fall and to lift up all who are bowed down
- To be near to all who call upon him
- To never turn away any who come to him
- That if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us
- To comfort us in all our troubles
- To walk with us, even in the valley of the shadow of death
(Psalm 145:14, 18; John 6:37; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Psalm 23:4 – The Bible)