9. Persevering for Peace

Short Meditations on Peace 9. Persevering for Peace

Prov 4:11  I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.

I am aware that the previous meditation was a little short and abrupt (the downside of ‘short meditations’). I spoke of life callings or careers but the biggest problem here is when we identify the sort of person we are and then (maybe with help) match it with a career or job. But then jobs may not appear obviously available and so prayer for wisdom and help from God is an obvious course to take.

Most of us have to work to earn to pay for life, but that is another subject we’ll tackle another day, but nevertheless this is the path we are forced to take (few of us being fortunate enough to inherit large sums!) So here comes this smart preacher who says ‘pray about it, seek God’s wisdom’ and it sounds so easy. It might be easy if we all had ears that caught every word from God’s lips, if I may put it like that, but actually ‘hearing’ God isn’t always easy and often it takes time. The thing is that the Christian life is not an automatic machine that always works the same way for every person and in every circumstance. Sometimes, the Lord simply remains silent because He sees the path ahead of you is simple and obvious and it is going to open up for you quite naturally. We don’t always have to ‘have a word’, we just have to be patient.

If I am honest, and I always try to be, I really struggle when I watch and listen to younger Christians, maybe parents worrying over the way their children are going, because my own experience says that in my life and that of my family, as we look back, some of us had no guidance at all, others had glimmers of desire for a certain direction, and one went one way and ended up backing off and going a completely different direction – but with God’s blessing.

I look back on my life, from school days, through college, into one career, then another career and then a third career and finally a fourth career (yes!), I have no doubt that I see the hand of God throughout that time, including before I became a Christian, leading me on and on. Much of it appears as coincidences and much of it was a matter of circumstances and timing, and yes in later years we did pray, and did note disquiets and did sense some directions but often His hand was out of sight and yet there. Now you may get a specific word, “this is the way, walk in it” (Isa 30:21) but if not, hold on to various things. Know He IS for you (Rom 8:31), He IS working all things out for you (Rom 8:28) and even though you cannot see or hear him (1 Pet 1:8), He loves you. Be at rest in those things. His purposes for you may take time to become clear, but be at peace in the meantime.

4. God who Answers

Meditations in 1 Samuel   4. God who answers prayer

1 Sam 1:19,20   Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the LORD for him.”

The records within chapter 1 of 1 Samuel clearly attribute Hannah’s barrenness to the Lord (v.5 AND 6) and now her ability to conceive. Sceptics might say it was pure coincidence that she now conceived but as a friend of mine used to say, “the strange thing about prayer is that when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening.”  When you observe the account dispassionately you observe for a number of year Hannah being unable to conceive, then her praying and then within a short period of time her conceiving. The coincidence is too strong for it to be ‘just a coincidence’.

Thus we arrive at a very simple conclusion: God answers prayer. For Hannah there is no doubt about this. Hebrew names very often  had a meaning to them and when she names her son Samuel we find it means “heard of God” and she says she gives him that name “because I asked the Lord for him” and by implication the Lord answered and enabled her to conceive where previously she had been unable to.

The fact that any of us ever pray means we, at least, hope God will answer and change our circumstances but when we look at the Bible record we find a very varied record when it comes to these barren women that we previously noted. In Abram’s case, there is no record of him praying, simply that God chooses him and says to this childless man with a barren wife, I will make you into a great nation.” (Gen 12:2) and eventually, when both he and his wife are beyond childbearing age, enables them to have a son, Isaac.

In the fullness of time, Isaac grows up and marries Rebekah who for twenty years – despite his praying – remains barren until she eventually has twins. When we come to the fourth couple that we mentioned previously, Zechariah and Elizabeth, there is no record of them having prayed until the angel Gabriel turns up and says his prayer has been answered (Lk 1:13) but I suspect that that prayer had been many years earlier because we are told “they were both well along in years,” (v.7) and then when Zechariah says, “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years,” (v.18) there is a strong inference that he means they are both beyond child-bearing age, and this is reinforced by Gabriel’s words to Mary that, “Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age,” again with a strong inference that she was well beyond child-bearing age.

So in the four accounts of barren women Hannah prayed desperately and got a quick answer, Abram doesn’t appear to have prayed at all about Sarai’s barrenness, Isaac prayed for twenty years for Rebekah who eventually conceived and Zechariah seems to have prayed earlier in life but probably gave up asking as they got too old to have children, before the angel of the Lord turned up with the news of the coming baby. Simply observing these accounts it is virtually impossible to create any clear principles about answers to prayer beyond:

  1. God often acts even though we don’t pray (Abram)
  2. God appears to wait a long time before answering (Isaac & Zechariah)
  3. God seems to answer quickly when we are desperate (Hannah)

Thus we have a sovereign God who decrees what is right and so He acts into our affairs to bring about what is best. We, on our side, often find ourselves in hopeless situations which make us cry out in desperation and sometimes the Lord answers quickly and sometimes He appears to say, “Wait.”

The “quick answers” are a blessing and a cause for thankfulness, but the long delayed answers require grace in the form of trust in a loving God who knows best, and perseverance to keep on pressing on for what we believe is right.

The subjects of childlessness and healing are closely associated because both require a belief in a God who does intervene in our physical affairs, even when they seem impossible. When it comes down to it, it is a mystery as to why God waits or even doesn’t appear to answer at all, and we just have to trust in the Bible record that He is a loving God who does what is best for us.

When it comes to healing my personal testimony includes ALL of the following:

  1. I have prayed for people to be healed and they have been. I have prayed for many more others and they have not been.
  2. I have had over a long period of time, trouble with both my knees. About fifteen years ago, one of the girls in our congregation just came up to me in the middle of worship and prayed for my knees and I had no pain for some 3 to 4 years.
  3. Gradually the pain increased again until I went to a Bible week and was prayed for and was completely healed. A short while later I tripped in a pothole in the road and twisted both knees and was back to square one.
  4. Over the coming months I prayed and prayed, full of faith really believing it was God’s desire to completely heal me again – as did various other people who prayed for me, but a year later I was on an operating table having a new knee operation – which went incredibly quickly and incredibly well so I was around apparently faster than others having similar operations about that time.
  5.  Four years later both my knees were again causing me much pain, long and continuous. Sitting in a main meeting at another Bible week, I suddenly found the pain in my right knee completely go. As the speaker called for people to be healed someone prayed over me and the pain in my left knee also completely went. One knee God sovereignly healed, and the other He healed as one of His children prayed over me.

Des God heal? Yes, He certainly does. Does He sometimes want is to use modern medicine? Yes, He does. Does He sometimes move sovereignly in healing? Yes He does. Does He sometimes appear to hold back? Yes He does. Does He wait and use people to bring healing? Yes He does.  Overall conclusion?  God is not a machine, you cannot control Him. He is an all-wise, loving and compassionate person (who is Spirit) who knows what is best for us. Be assured of His love for you, whether or not He turns up or requires you to wait. His love for you is not under question; what is, is how we will respond if He requires us to wait.

Perhaps I should also testify that the two prayers that the Lord answers most regularly of mine are, “Lord please will you show me where I put…(the keys, pliers, scissors etc.),” and “Lord will you give me wisdom and show me how to….” (see Jas 1:5). I cannot remember the last time when He did not answer  those two prayers!

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!