9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

Advertisements

53. Trials & Tribulations

Meditations in 1 Samuel  53. Trials & Tribulations

1 Sam 27:8,9      Now David and his men went up and raided the Geshurites, the Girzites and the Amalekites. (From ancient times these peoples had lived in the land extending to Shur and Egypt.) Whenever David attacked an area, he did not leave a man or woman alive, but took sheep and cattle, donkeys and camels, and clothes. Then he returned to Achish.

Remember in all that follows, David is simply trying to survive. He is on the run from the king of Israel who is determined to hunt him down and kill him and so he has fled to neighbouring Philistia where Saul will not come because the Philistines were a strong adversary.  He has managed to get Achish to allow him to live in Ziklag, a little distance away, and so we now see David using his men as raiding parties against people who were not Philistines but who were those against Israel. The Geshurites lived south  of Philistia and were a people not conquered by Israel at the time of the taking of the Land. The Girzites aren’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible but we must assume they were a similar people. The Amalekites had long been enemies of  Israel and Saul had been instructed to wipe them out but had failed to do that completely.

David is living on a knife-edge. He has to be careful to stay on Achish’s good side and so when Achish enquires where David went raiding he told him areas of Judah and Israel: When Achish asked, “Where did you go raiding today?” David would say, “Against the Negev of Judah” or “Against the Negev of Jerahmeel” or “Against the Negev of the Kenites.” (v.10)  To maintain this lie David had to completely eradicate any group he went against: “He did not leave a man or woman alive to be brought to Gath, for he thought, “They might inform on us and say, `This is what David did.’ ” And such was his practice as long as he lived in Philistine territory.” (v.11) It was literally the only way he could survive and as a result, “Achish trusted David and said to himself, “He has become so odious to his people, the Israelites, that he will be my servant forever.” (v.12)

However it got even more dangerous: “In those days the Philistines gathered their forces to fight against Israel. Achish said to David, “You must understand that you and your men will accompany me in the army.” David said, “Then you will see for yourself what your servant can do.” Achish replied, “Very well, I will make you my bodyguard for life.” (28:1,2) It gets even worse as the Philistines prepare to attack Israel and as much as David is on the run from Saul we know he did not want to raise a hand against him and so as we move on we find, “The Philistines gathered all their forces at Aphek, and Israel camped by the spring in Jezreel. As the Philistine rulers marched with their units of hundreds and thousands, David and his men were marching at the rear with Achish. The commanders of the Philistines asked, “What about these Hebrews?” (29:1,2) The good news, as we shall see, is that the commanders of the Philistines were naturally unhappy about having David behind them as they go to fight Israel.

Achish argues on David’s behalf (29:3b-5) but has to give way to his commanders and so somewhat apologetically explains it to David  (v.6,7) and David pleads innocence (v.8) and Achish has to press him further to leave which he does (v.9-11). When David gets back to Ziklag (30:1) he finds that Amalakites have plundered the town and taken all their women and children (v.2-4). To cut a long story short David and his men pursue them, overcome them and bring back their families but we should perhaps note David is still seeking the advice and direction of the Lord: Then David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, “Bring me the ephod.” Abiathar brought it to him, and David inquired of the LORD, “Shall I pursue this raiding party? Will I overtake them?” “Pursue them,” he answered. “You will certainly overtake them and succeed in the rescue.” (v.7,8)

What is also interesting is how when they return David uses the plunder they capture from the Philistines: “When David arrived in Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah, who were his friends, saying, “Here is a present for you from the plunder of the LORD’s enemies.” (v.26)

I have headed this study ‘Trials and Tribulations’ because this is a time in David’s life which I am sure he would not have wished for that was trying and difficult. The difficulty was that he was still a warrior and Israel were still his people but he was living with the enemy. However there were other enemies and so he seems to have used his time to deal with them in such a way that it remained a secret and it still appeared to his hosts that he was fighting against Israel. This life of almost two lives nearly brought him to the place where he might have had to fight against Israel but was fortunately saved from that by suspicious Philistine leaders. He then finds that one of his other enemies have come and plundered his home town and has to go and complete the job of dealing with them,  Finally he uses the plunder to bless his friends back at home in Israel.

It is a highly convoluted and unnerving experience. What can we learn about David from all this? Well he never went against his own people and so remained loyal to Israel during this time. In fact he went further and continued to deal with some of their old enemies who had continued to be a thorn in their side. Amazingly therefore, he continues to act as a commander of an Israelite fighting force even while living under the feet of one of Israel’s primary enemies. In it all we see he is still loyal to the Lord and seeks His wisdom. He is also loyal to his friends in Israel.

There are good things in the midst of this confusing time of his life. Let’s just accept it, life is sometimes confusing and not because of wrong things we have done. David is not on the run because he has done wrong things, quite to the contrary in fact. It is, as we’ve noted previously, a fallen world where people ad circumstances seem to pile up against us. Remember in it, the Lord is there with you and calls you to remain loyal to him, however confusing things may appear to be. Hang in there! Confusing circumstances do not mean He no longer loves you; they just mean the enemy is having a little rant for the moment. As we said, hang in there! You might be a king  – a ruler over the circumstances – tomorrow!

5. The Providence of God

Meditations in 1 Samuel   5. The Mysterious Providence of God

1 Sam 1:25-28   they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, “As surely as you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the LORD. I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”

When we speak about ‘providence’ in the context of God and the Bible, we mean God’s ‘behind-the-scenes’ activities, what He does to maintain the world and maintain His plans and purposes for the ongoing world. Often in the Bible we simply see a set of circumstances and are left wondering – how much of this was the hand of God? In our own lives and circumstances, it is again a genuine question, how much of what goes on is the hand of God on my life?

For instance I can look back at a number of things that have happened in my life, some out of my control that seemed random happenings and some that were my actions (motivated by what?) that had consequences. I am able, looking back, to see a clear chain of events that have resulted in me being the person I am today, doing the things I am doing today. A sceptic might say these things were just chance or coincidences but the fact is these ‘coincidences’ have resulted in me being where I am today. You may not be so clear in your mind and not be able to see such things in your own life, but is it simply that you haven’t thought it through before?

For instance, going right back to my school days. My birthday is in October and someone had given me a book on careers which I had browsed. The next day after my browsing (coincidence?) my headmaster (who I later hear is a Christian) came into our classroom and asked the class to tell him what we each wanted to be, what career we wanted. My mind was a blank. Months earlier I had pondered joining the army but that day I went cold with no idea, but as it came round to me I blurted out the one of the pages in the book I had perused the day before that stuck with me, “A Charted Surveyor, sir,” and so he passed on. I forgot about it but two weeks later he called me into his office: “Right if you are going to be a Surveyor, we’d better get you into a college, and he lined up three interviews in the top three colleges in London where I could study to be a surveyor. You didn’t say no to this authoritative man and so I ended up, initially living with an aged uncle and aunt in London to go to this London college.

Eventually their failing health meant they couldn’t have me any more so I moved into digs in west London, a most dismal experience. One of our subjects at college was law and we had a lecturer who was a barrister who dictated at a speed faster than I can type. The result was that at the end of the week when I looked at my law notes at least, I had this scrawl which I could hardly read and within a few weeks I would have forgotten the link. So I bought a portable typewriter and typed up my notes every day. A good way of learning and taking in.  Add to this the fact that living in a pokey bed-sit in Shepherds Bush in West London, and the college really having no social life, it meant that all my efforts went into learning with the result that after three years I came out top of my class. This opened a door from a top company in the city who head-hunted the top of the class every year and thus opened up experience at a level I could never have dreamed of.

Now that was one little block of my life but that led on to another block which was terminated by circumstances. I have changed my career (not just job) four times in my life and every time I took a third drop in salary (initially at least) but a tremendous improvement in quality of life and standard of living. In every change I look back and see the circumstances and marvel – it HAD to be the hidden hand of God working. And as for the contacts, the people and the circumstances, I look back with wonder and thankfulness!

Now I have taken this time and space to share with you because I suspect that many of us have circumstances like this which if we only looked we might discern the hand of God on our lives.

Now consider Israel. There were in a bad way. They were ruled by judges or in the present case, a priest Eli, it seems, and he’s old and on his way out. God had a way of raising up new judges to bless Israel but this next one is going to be different, he is going to be a prophet. So how are you going to get this prophet into the heart of Israel, the priesthood, when he is not of the Levitical family? How will you train him to be one who listens to God and thus speaks God’s heart to Israel?

So then we have Hannah who, it is believed, is stopped conceiving by God. She gets so desperate that she offers God her child as long as she can have one  – so He enables her to conceive.  In the fullness of time Samuel is born and she gives him into Eli’s care to serve Eli – that’s probably all she and Eli saw in it. So here we have the circumstances that result in this child being deposited with Eli where he will be brought up in the vicinity of the Tabernacle. Nothing terribly dramatic in this but we are only part way through the story. All we’ve seen so far is how Samuel ends up with Eli.

If you want another story of providential circumstances, read Ex 1-3 and see how Moses, a Hebrew, ends up as a Prince of Egypt – but then fleeing for his life he becomes a shepherd for the next forty years of his life. He too had three ‘careers’, first as Prince of Egypt, second as a shepherd in the backside of the desert and then as a champion who brings down Pharaoh and leads out of Egypt a whole nation who he oversees for the next forty years. If you want another providential story, go backwards from Moses and observe the life of Joseph. Amazing!

Again and again we find these stories of significant people chosen by God and whose circumstances are amazing. Later in this book there will be David  a shepherd boy chosen by God to be king. We never quite see the hand of God in these stories but it defies the intellect to just write them all off as coincidences.

Can we become a people who learn to discern the hand of God behind the circumstances of our personal histories or even that of the nations? Yes, the Father is working to bring people to Himself  but if that’s all you think He is doing when Jesus said, My Father is always at his work to this very day,” (Jn 5:17) then think again. In this context ponder on Paul’s words: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1:11,12) and link that with Rev 5 where the Lamb is given the scroll for the role of overseeing the end times. WE are people of significance because God is working blessing into our lives because we are His children (Rom 8:28). We may not be aware of it most of the time, but He is there and He is working. Hallelujah!

2. Loved?

Meditations in Malachi : 2. Loved?

Mal 1:1,2  An oracle: The word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, `How have you loved us?’

Before we consider the other side of this particular coin, hold on to what we said in the first meditation. The starting point is that God DOES love Israel and DOES love you and me. His love, the Bible declares, is real and not under question, and yet a question is exactly what we now find here. In fact this little book is full of questions and they are questions about what God says, by the people.

Now a question of itself is neutral but what is important about it is the motivation behind it, the reason the person is asking the question. There are many questions in the Bible and sometimes they come from God questioning us, for example to Ezekiel:Son of man, can these bones live?” (Ezek 37:3) and Ezekiel wisely responds, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Or His question to Elijah in the cave: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9) That wasn’t such a comfortable question for He was confronting Elijah with the truth. Or there was Jesus’ question of his disciples in the storm on the lake: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Mt 8:26) Again a challenging question, but when God asks questions of us it is to bring us into a right way of thinking and behaviour.

Our questions of God so often reveal a wrong way of thinking. When Zechariah questioned the angel, it obviously was not from a position of faith: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Lk 1:18) and he was going to be made to remember that for nine months! Occasionally there is a question that simply seeks out information: “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?” (Jn 11:8) This was the disciples when Jesus was saying they would go south to raise Lazarus. It was a legitimate worry and they had yet to learn it was all very much part of God’s plan.

Now in Malachi we find the Lord confronting the people with their question. They have come through the Exile and now Jerusalem is being re-established and they are becoming complacent. All is well again, we are back in our land again, relax. But they are not excited by who they are or, even more importantly, who the Lord is. They have lost perspective: being one of God’s chosen people is nothing special. The Lord speaks to them: “I love you.” Their reply is tantamount to, “Oh yes?”  They have lost perspective.

I believe in the West today, here in the Church, we are in a similar position. The truth is that atheism and materialism have made big strides and the committed Christian population is the minority.  Yes, we have our religion, we have our Sunday Services and we even have our Alpha courses, and yet within many there appears to be little sense of the wonder of the Lord or of the excitement of being a Christian. Indeed Jesus’ words to the Laodicean church may ring true: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot….You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Rev 3:15,17)  We’re not actually cold but neither are we hot. We are not what we should be and so the Lord says, “I love you,” and we reply half-heartedly, “Well, yes, I suppose so,” with the implication we’re not sure of that.

We allow circumstances to determine the truth and not the truth to change the circumstances. Things go wrong and we don’t seem to see the Lord coming to help and so we question, “How do you love us?” We expect more but aren’t really concerned to cry for it. We are complacent. When you lose a job, the children get into trouble, your partner leaves you, you have an accident or you get seriously ill, it is easy to lose perspective. Gideon was a classic example of this, for when the angel of the Lord came to him and said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior,” (Jud 6:12) Gideon’s response was, “But sir, if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about.” The circumstances didn’t match the thought of God being with them.

But is that true of you and me? In a measure, yes, for surely the Lord wants to manifest His presence through His church far more, but actually most of us are really blessed. It is our affluence (the fruit of God’s blessing) that puts us to sleep spiritually. The Lord is going to speak to Israel through Malachi to show ways that He has revealed His love. Does He need to do that again for us? Stop and think about the Gospel, stop and think about the goodness of His provision for us in so many ways, and then praise and worship Him and don’t dare say, “How have you loved us?”

16. Trapped

ADVENT MEDITATIONS No.16

16. Trapped by Circumstances

Luke 2:1-4 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria .) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea , to Bethlehem the town of David , because he belonged to the house and line of David.

Throughout history there have been groups of people who have decided that life, the world, is like a great clockwork machine and that everything is interlinked and no one and nothing is free from it. It’s like one great machine and you can’t affect it. Some have even gone as far as to say everything we say or do is determined by what has been. We are locked into a great machine, slaves to yesterday!

Now why do we sometimes feel that? Because governments and authorities decide the rules, the media portrays life as being a series of incidents where so much of it goes wrong and we feel we have little or no say in the destiny of the world. Joseph and Mary could have felt like that. They are part of a small nation, Israel , which has been taken over and ruled by Rome . Rome is all-powerful and so, because the Roman emperor has decided he would like to know exactly who he is ruling over, everyone has to be counted, and they are to be counted at the place of their birth. So, all over the country, people were moving to go to their home town to make sure on census day they were there. There were no doubt severe penalties for those who didn’t! In the case of a married couple, they were to go to the husband’s home town.

So here they are, expecting a baby – which Joseph, no doubt, isn’t feeling too sure about on a bad day – and now they have to travel from Nazareth in the south to Bethlehem in the north, because that’s the town of his family. Cogs in a machine, being driven by forces beyond them! Why Bethlehem? What’s special about Bethlehem? That will become clear later, but for the moment it seems there is little point in it, except the emperor requires it. Isn’t that just how life is so much of the time? We seem carried along by the winds of circumstance and we don’t know why. We wish we could win a million pounds, say, and break free from the daily drudgery and not have to work, perhaps, for work can seem such a part of the ‘machine’ which holds us in place. In such a framework of thinking, it is so easy to feel depressed. What’s the point? Why am I here? Why is this happening? If only I hadn’t… If only I had…. Yes, there are days when it seems that that is all there is.

It’s like what we were thinking about, in respect of Elizabeth and Zechariah, a little while back. She’s pregnant and it’s going to be nine months before anything is going to happen, so it’s a waiting time. We’ve just got to get on with life and wait for the next significant thing to happen. For Mary and Joseph, it’s having to be at Bethlehem. Get the census out of the way and we can get on with life again. Oh really? You don’t know some of the things that are going to happen there, because one thing we’ve forgotten about here, is that God has a plan and God is on the move. That’s so easy to forget in what seems the ordinary mundane day to day working out of life. Oh yes, it may seem that ‘big people’ are moving us around like pawns on a chess board, but actually God is the One who is ruling over it all. Don’t lose sight of that today, or tomorrow, or any other day! Look for Him in it. Remind yourself what He has said or done to get you to today. Get perspective! Get a God perspective, and that will change everything!

Miraculous Provision

WALKING WITH GOD. No.38

1 Kings 17:15,16 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

Miracles don’t happen, miracles rarely happen, miracles frequently happen, thus runs the gamut of people’s ideas. Probably for many Christians the viewpoint would be, miracles can happen but never for me. That idea is probably built on two further ideas. First, I have no need of a miracle and second, God doesn’t turn up in my life like that anyway. Well what is a miracle? It is a sovereign act of God to bring about the existence of something that didn’t previously exist, or to change something, and both things are against the course of nature.

The intriguing thing about the miracle that occurred here in today’s verses, is that God took something that already existed and kept on making it exist, even when some of it was taken away and used up. The same thing occurred when Jesus performed the miracles of the feeding of the five thousand (Mt 14:15-21) and the feeding of the four thousand (Mt 15:32 -38). There too he took a small quantity of food and made it stretch round a large number of people. The other well-known ‘provision’ miracle of Jesus was the changing of water into wine (Jn 2:1-10), this time changing something that existed into something else. Other miracles that Jesus performed that went against nature were walking on water (Mt 14:25 ), and the calming the storm (Mk 4:39). Of course all his acts of healing and raising people from the dead all come under the heading of the miraculous as well, all things that clearly went against nature. Miracles of provision where there was nothing previously were the two draughts of fish (Lk 5:4-10 & Jn 21:6).

The question has to be asked, why miracles? Well in Jesus’ case in the examples of all the healings he did, the simple answer has to be compassion and because he could do it. Those of us who struggle with miracles actually struggle with the concept of a God who is there, who created this world and therefore clearly has the power to change this world as He sees fit. It’s as simple as that. We may be frightened of miracles because they challenge our unbelief, but don’t write off miracles as impossible because you are writing off the God who the Bible proclaims from beginning to end who is all-powerful and who created the world, sustains this world, knows everything there is to know about this world and can, therefore, change this world as and when He wants! Why should He want to change it in the form of what we call miracles? Because the Bible shows Him not as some impersonal, unfeeling force in the background, but a living, feeling, benign and full of love Being who interacts with this world that He has made. Very simply God loves people and turns up and blesses them in the miraculous simply because He loves them and can do it!

In the case of Elijah God has performed this ongoing miracle for this woman as a means of providing for her and her son and for Elijah. How did God do it? Don’t be silly, you can’t explain miracles! He just speaks and things come into being. He has that power because He is God. Now the bigger question that may be in your mind is, well I don’t have a need so why should God turn up in this way for me? Why shouldn’t He? I wonder how many times in life God does things that change the course of nature or change the course of circumstances without us ever noticing. I wonder sometimes if, when we get to heaven, God will ever let us look back and see over our past lives but from His viewpoint. If He does I suspect we may be very surprised at the number of times He intervenes in the affairs of the earth on behalf of His children, us!

However, one has to agree that much of the time it seems we don’t need a miracle because most of the time most of us don’t stretch ourselves in His service where our resources need miraculously replenishing. But what about the illness or the infirmity that we seem stuck with, what about the thing that seems impossible to change? Yes, if you look around your life, it is quite possible that you will see examples of things where we tolerate the absence of provision whether it is the absence of health, or healing or whatever else. Do we not get because we do not ask? (Jas 4:2). Did Jesus not teach us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”, (Mt 6:11) i.e. please provide for me all I need to live today in your kingdom.

Elijah had put himself out on a limb in God’s service in difficult times, yet God was there for him and in this beautiful way seen in our verses today, provided for Him. The question of miracles is a real challenge to our faith. To deny the possibility is simply unbelief; let’s not try to rationalise it and explain it away, it’s unbelief! Perhaps we need to be like the father of the little boy who, when Jesus said, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” responded, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief !” (Mk 9:23,24)

Coincidences

Readings in Luke Continued – No.7

Lk 4:16-17 He went to Nazareth , where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him

When I look back over my life I can see lots of ‘coincidences’, lots of things that ‘just happened’ and coincided with other things that then produced a good outcome. Sometimes you can see that actually these weren’t coincidences but events brought about by subconscious choice – but that in itself raises questions. Sometimes it is a set of circumstances that are already preset which then run into other ‘random’ circumstances which make us speak of ‘coincidences’.

In the Old Testament, the account of Abraham’s servant going to search for a wife for Isaac, is one such time when a series of ‘coincidences’ come together to bring about a good end. (Gen 24:1-51). We have already seen in Luke 2 the account of Mary & Joseph going to the Temple to present offerings according to the Law, only to encounter the Spirit-directed man, Simeon. It was a case of word and Spirit bringing about a good outcome. Jesus is about to proclaim himself for the first time; that is the significance of what is about to happen. So how did it come about?

Jesus, we read in the previous meditation, has been teaching in the synagogues around the area of Galilee and has been obviously gaining a reputation for himself as a teacher. Now he ‘happens’ to be back in his home town. Whether this was by design or accident we are not told, but it is his home town which may explain some of the subsequent reactions to his declaration. Then we observe it is the Sabbath day and for all good, pious Jews this was the day when they went to the synagogue for teaching, so Jesus went, as was his custom.

There were usually prayers and also readings from the Law and from the Prophets. It is when they come to the reading of the Prophets that the scroll of Isaiah is handed to him. Now as far as the synagogue leader was concerned there was probably nothing more of significance to this than the fact that Jesus was considered an honoured guest invited to read – probably for the reason that we’ve already noted, that he has a reputation in the synagogues of Galilee. Was it a coincidence that the Isaiah scroll was being read that morning, or did they work their way through the Prophets to a known and prescribed schedule? Did Jesus thus know that this would be the scroll of the day and did he choose to be in his home town to take this opportunity and make this point there? We aren’t told! Frustrating isn’t it, but Luke is just giving us what he’s been told and presumably those who conveyed it to him didn’t know either. Jesus is about to declare himself by means of a prophecy on this scroll and it seems more than coincidence that it happens in his own home town!

When we try thinking our way into the interweaving of the workings of God and the workings of man, we soon find ourselves out of our depths and we are left wondering just how much was God-planned. If you are a Christian, can you look back at the circumstances that brought you to the Lord and see His hand behind all that was going on? The Lord will use a variety of means, a variety of people and a variety of circumstances to help us to the place of commitment. Were the things that brought you to Him coincidences? Had God been speaking into your mind? Had He been speaking into the minds of others, to bring about the things that happened? In the Christian world there are many and varied testimonies about coming to salvation, about receiving healing or deliverance and about receiving God’s provision, and the more you listen to them, the more you discern the many ‘coincidences’ that came together to bring about this end encounter with the Lord that resulted in blessing.

The book of Acts is full of instances of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but it is also full of the acts of hostile unbelievers who brought pressure to bear on the Christians, and so we see a combination of guidance by God and by circumstances. Yet the Bible tells us that God works within all the circumstances; He works within the bad motives of sinful men – He doesn’t make them do things but He uses even their sinful motives and builds them into His plans.

The conclusion to all of these thoughts, about what theologians call ‘Providence’, is that when you are a Christian you can rest in the knowledge that God will be working there in the background (as well as the foreground!) of our lives, taking and weaving actions and circumstances to bring good for us. As the apostle Paul was later to say, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28). Note that it doesn’t say He brings all the things He uses, because they will even involve the sinful acts of men (e.g. Acts 2:23 ), but he will use and work within all things to bring good somehow for us in it.

We may not be able to see the hand of God moving, we may not know if certain circumstances are originating with Him or with men, and we may not be sure of what our responses ought to be, but as we commit all these things back to Him and seek to be obedient to His word and to the leading of His Holy Spirit, we just have to trust that He will guard us, keep us and guide us and that there will be a good outcome. That’s what living by faith is often all about!