7. Aspiring to Perseverance

Aspiring Meditations: 7.  Aspiring to Perseverance

2 Thess 3:5  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

2 Pet 1:6    For this very reason, make every effort to add to self-control, perseverance

Rom 5:3,4  we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope

Let’s from the outset, give ourselves a simple definition of ‘perseverance’. It is hanging in there when the going is tough. Looking up synonyms for perseverance we find: Perseverance – persistence, doggedness, determination and as it develops it produces Endurance – stamina, staying power, fortitude. Now one has to say it is not one of those things we all relish. It’s like someone says, “You need to aspire to going down to the Gym and getting fit, but I’m afraid you won’t get fit (that’s ‘endurance’) until you really push on and keep on attending to putting some serious effort in.”  Right! The thought of being fit and healthy sounds good, but the way of getting there isn’t thrilling!

In spiritual terms it is the same: you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (Jas 1:3) James was a real killjoy and he won’t let it go: “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (Jas 1:4) i.e. if you want to grow up and be mature spiritually, you’ve just got to recognize that sometimes life appears tough but you’ve just got to hang on in there. A bit later, he does try to bring a little bit of encouragement: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (Jas 1:12)

If some well-meaning evangelist said in your hearing, “When you come to Christ, he will look after you and guide you and life will be brilliant,” he was actually speaking the truth, it was just that he omitted that bit that should be added,  “but there are times when, to toughen you up spiritually, he will either lead you into, to let you walk into a tough time. The end result will be good, so just hang in there!”

That fuller message comes over in Scripture in various ways. For example, as Jesus explains to the disciples the Parable of the Sower he says, “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Lk 8:15) I had never noticed that word ‘persevering’ before, but he says if you are to be fruitful in your life, you will need to learn to persevere. The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Heb 12:1)

Now one of my favourite verses is, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10). The writer to the Hebrews calls our life a race “marked out for us” while Paul says this life, “God prepared in advance for us”. Both imply the life we walk is one mapped out by the Lord. It is a combination of His directing and our exercising our free will that leads us into a multitude of situations, yet the writer to the Hebrews is kind enough to warn us that this walk that God has mapped out for us, will sometimes need perseverance.

So, yes, if I am to be true to this calling to aspire to all these things the Bible lays out before me, then that is going to have to include trials and difficulties that are going to require perseverance and at the end of it, will have worked ‘endurance’ into me. But don’t ask me to rejoice over that because who rejoices over the pain the dentist might cause when he’s mending your teeth. Oh no! “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (Jas 1:2) I don’t believe it! Well yes I do actually, but here’s the thing: we spoke in an earlier study about ‘grace’ being God’s resources. I need grace even to face the thought of going through testing which, humanly speaking at least, I would much prefer not to go through.

So what help can I get, what encouragement can I find in the Bible? Listen to what the writer to the Hebrews said about Moses: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” (Heb 11:27) Moses ‘trial’ was having to face Pharaoh with all his pride, anger and power, a seriously scary situation, so how did Moses cope? What was it that helped him handle it and go on handling it for the period of the plagues and then for the next forty years? He met God. He encountered God at the burning bush, even though he did not see Him there. Nevertheless he heard Him and then found himself performing a couple of miracles at God’s direction. Later he met with God on Mount Sinai and the record tells us that he and his leaders actually saw God. Amazing. Meeting with God in the tent of meeting became a regular experience for Moses. So how I am going to learn to persevere? By meeting with the Lord. If you try to cope with it on your own, you are doomed. Part of the lesson behind every trial and testing, is just that – turn to God, sense His presence, get His help. Learn to wait on Him, be still before Him, cry out to Him. The many examples of David in the Psalms doing this should help.

But then in Paul’s speaking about love, in that famous chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, we find of love, “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:7) Now Paul also wrote, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thess 3:5) That is interesting phraseology. “direct your hearts into…” The JBP version puts it, “May he guide your hearts into ever deeper understanding of his love and the patient suffering of Christ. Christ pressed through, as the writer to the Hebrews put it, Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane clearly showed he didn’t want to face the Cross, and yet he knew it was the plan of the Godhead, and so he persevered in it. What helped him? Two things. First, his love for his Father: “love… always perseveres.” Second, the thought of what would be on the other side: glory, rejoicing, millions and millions of people saved and entering heaven.

For us, the indwelling presence of one who was referred to as ‘the Comforter’ also helps. Also the fact that Jesus is seated at his Father’s right hand ruling over this world and that his eye is always on us.  Check out and read out loud Psalm 121 and let its truth settle in your heart. Never let the enemy seek to put fear into your heart about what ‘might’ happen in the future – it might not! And whatever happens, the Lord will be there with you in it: Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Dan 3:25) THAT is the truth. Hallelujah!

20. Faith & Perseverance

Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 20.  Faith & Perseverance

Heb 11:27,28   By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.

In these two verses the writer to the Hebrews, at first sight, appears to make a great leap and covers events spread over forty years. First he seems to be referring to Moses’ initial departure from Egypt, from his life as a prince of Egypt and then forty years later as a prelude to the final of the ten plagues, to the keeping of the Passover which preserved Israel from the destroying Angel  ‘passing over’ Egypt.

So we start back in Egypt, as a follow-on to what we considered in the previous meditation. Verse 27, when you stop to think about it, is really strange. “By faith he left Egypt.” Well that bit is the easy bit which we covered yesterday and we saw the decision he took to leave which was a decision based on faith. But then he adds, “not fearing the king’s anger.” Ah! Hold on, there are two Pharaoh’s in Moses’ life, the one whose daughter acted as his mother, and the one he confronted forty years later. The first one we read about in Exodus 2: “When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian.” (Ex 2:15) THAT ONE he clearly did fear and he fled from him. When you come to the other Pharaoh, it is a different ball game; he did NOT fear the king’s anger!

In the whole account of the Plagues leading to the Exodus there are three things that stand out – God’s sovereign power, Pharaoh’s foolish pride and intransigence – and Moses’ fearless faith. Faith, we have repeated many times, comes from hearing, and Moses ‘hears’ God again and again. In fact without God’s instructions he would have been utterly lost. But he not only hears, he goes and does and the doing in this case is confronting the most powerful man in the Middle East and challenging him to let Israel go. A most scary scenario. But time after time Moses hears and Moses does and the plagues get gradually worse and worse.

But still in verse 27 it goes on, he persevered.” That wouldn’t make any sense if this referred to the first leaving Egypt, but put in the light of the ten plagues it makes absolute sense. To persevere means to press on against the odds and to do that is, every time, an act of faith. Perseverance is an act of faith.

But then the verse finishes, “because he saw him who is invisible.” Now Stephen recounting what happened in Acts 7 said, “After forty years had passed, an angel appeared to Moses in the flames of a burning bush in the desert near Mount Sinai.” (Acts 7:30) This corresponds to the account in Exodus: “There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.” (Ex 3:2) The presence of an angel is often synonymous in scripture with the presence of God. The focus moves from the flames to the angel to the Lord’s voice, but seeing the angel is why the writer can say, “he saw him who is invisible.” In reality he saw the angel but that is in such times, equivalent to seeing God because the angel comes as the messenger of God to exactly convey God’s will. It was the incident at the burning bush that took Moses from being a shepherd in the desert to a king-challenger in Egypt.

And so we go through the ten plagues with Moses hearing God and then confronting Pharaoh with the message and then standing back while God brought the next plague. And so eventually as each successive plague gets worse, there is nothing worse left than death of individuals (Previously people had died in the hail but this was decreed deaths). Pharaoh remains resistance to God and so perhaps a judgment that had just been waiting to happen for years, comes. For years – we don’t know how long – Egypt has had an occult-based religion based on superstition where virtually everything was a god and was worshipped fearfully. At the top of the pile, so to speak, was Pharaoh, also designated a god. It is a situation so at odds with God’s design for His world that it was a wonder that God had not acted against it previously. The fact is that He builds the plagues, each one based upon something that was worshiped by this superstitious people, so that only gradually do they get worse and worse, and this is an indication of God’s grace, warning Pharaoh again and again and again. Pharaoh’s pride and arrogance, no doubt fuelled by the occult (as it so often is), eventually means that the ultimate judgment is about to come. (Actually the ultimate judgement,  I suggest, would be the death of every Egyptian).

The judgement is pronounced but so is the way to escape it – by taking a lamb and putting its blood on the door posts of each Israelite home so that when the destroying angel ‘passed over’ the land bringing death to the first-born son in every home, he would not bring death to any home where he saw the blood. This was the Passover, and this says, the writer, is an act of faith by Moses leading his people to obey. He hears it from God and passes on the instruction. The modern atheist would laugh at the idea of the blood being shed (and they do) but if they had been there, their home would have been a house of mourning next day.

John the Baptist described Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36) and Jesus appeared in the throne room of heaven as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.” (Rev 5:6) Jesus is the Passover Lamb who, when his blood is appropriated by the believer, is the means for the angel of judgment to pass over and the believer be spared. For Moses it was an act of faith and so it is for us, the greatest and most important and significant act of faith any person can make.

8. Life Flow

Meditations in Romans : 8:  Life Flow

Rom 5:3-5  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us

Having started off with what we might call the fruits of justification – peace with God and access to His grace – this, says Paul, produces a rejoicing in us as we realise that we are entering into a personal relationship with God whereby we share in His Spirit and in His future. It also means that that rejoicing flows over into all areas and aspects of our lives and that includes the hard bit where we suffer as Christians. So, yes, His resources, His grace, are there available for us in every area of life and in every circumstance.

But actually, he goes on, we can rejoice in the difficult circumstances not only because of the power source we have within, but also because of the effect that such suffering will have upon us. He then embarks on a list of things that flow from one another.

Because we have this access to His grace, when suffering comes, His grace enables us to continue without wavering – that is what perseverance is. How often today do we watch people face a difficulty and then just give up? Young people, it seems, so often get married and then go through a difficult patch and give up on the marriage. Perseverance sees you through that time into better times without giving up. How often does a student find that the work was harder than they thought it was going to be and so give up the course?  How many inventors or writers or composers would fail to succeed in their work if they gave up the moment they hit a dry patch. No, perseverance is a key to success. I wonder how many “How to Succeed” manuals cover perseverance. When the enemy comes and opposes us, it is perseverance that sees us through.

But perseverance is also an ingredient in itself that goes to form that thing that we call character. If you look up a dictionary definition of ‘character’, you tend to find such things as, “pattern of behaviour or personality found in an individual, moral constitution, moral strength; reliability, self-discipline, fortitude, etc that produces a good reputation”. We also speak of ‘bad characters’ in a play or story or film, meaning disreputable, unreliable, dubious, and so on. The act of having to struggle with life and to fight your way through difficult circumstances brings about a change of being within you. There comes a steadfastness and reliability or unchangeableness. You learn to cope, you learn to press through and all these things bring about an inner strength that we call character. It isn’t much spoken about in today’s society because we prefer the easy, comfortable way, but such people give up easily. Not so Christians!

These things were exhibited in Paul himself when he wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14). Note the language! It is the language of an overcomer who is not going to give up but who is going to make effort to get where he knows God wants him to be. Is that us? Do we too press on, strain forward in our calling, or do we look for the easy way, the way that requires little or no effort. Even in writing these notes every morning I have to press on, for the temptation is always there not to bother. There are the key words the enemy uses, “Oh, I wouldn’t bother if I were you. It won’t matter. Give up. Stop all this straining and struggling. Surely the Christian life shouldn’t be like that.” Don’t listen to him!

Now when this character forms in us, this steadfastness, we find something else becoming clearer and clearer within us – hope. Hope in the Scriptural sense is a sure confidence, an assurance of what is coming. Hope is about what is still in the future, the goal that God has called us to, to become more like Jesus, to accomplish some particular task perhaps, to achieve the vision that He has put on our heart. As we persevere, so we find this strong steadfastness becoming established in us, character, and as that forms we have this growing sense that what we are aiming for WILL be achieved. That is hope.

As this process continues, we find also a greater awareness of God’s love within us, for we realise all of this is no accident, but a process that was initiated and empowered by God Himself and is one of the ways He is pouring His love into your life. As we wait for the vision to be fulfilled we realise that this love, His presence, is there sustaining us and encouraging us. In fact the whole process is part of His love and as we progress, as we develop, as we mature, we realise that all that is going on in us is a work of His love. How wonderful!

35. Perseverance

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 35. Perseverance

Mk 2:3,4   Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.

In the previous meditation I gave a personal testimony – possibly a somewhat unsatisfactory one you may think – but at least an honest one, and God looks for truth in us. Because I took up the space with that testimony I want now to do something unusual in these meditations and continue for a second time with these same verses and continue to think about determination or perseverance as I now call it. The two words aren’t exactly the same. Determination is about intention to achieve an end goal; perseverance is about pressing on in the process to achieve that goal.

The four friends of the paralysed man were utterly determined to get their friend healed by Jesus for they were convinced that Jesus could do it. However now, as so often, this involves a process. The process involves getting the man onto a stretcher, carrying him to the home where Jesus is, and getting him in before Jesus. It’s that last bit where they came unstuck! They get to the house only to find that the crowd is so dense there is no way they are going to get through.  It is at this point that so many of us give up.  We have followed a process through several stages and now, suddenly, there is a blockage, a wall that defies us to go any further.  We have followed a right path all along and it has taken us thus far, but now the path is utterly blocked and clearly there is no way ahead this way.  So how do we proceed?

Well I’m not sure the men did it, but my advice is to ask the Lord for the way ahead. Hold onto your determination but reinforce it with God’s wisdom, His knowledge of ‘how to’.  Whatever you do, don’t give up!  These men found a way in through the roof.  Today we might call that lateral thinking or even ‘thinking outside the box’.  Whatever we call it, they pushed through to the end goal, of getting their friend before Jesus; the rest was then up to Jesus.

One of the most famous names in the Bible came about because a man refused to give up: “Let me go for it is daybreak. But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me’” (Gen 32:26). For wrestling with God and refusing to give up he was renamed ‘Israel’ which means “he struggles with God”. That name, that reminder to persevere, occurs over 1800 times in the Bible! Got the message?

34. Determination

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 34. Determination

Mk 2:3,4 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on.

Sometimes illustrations or examples in Scripture are so simple and straight forward that we almost miss them. In these two verses we possibly have one of the best illustrations in the Bible of simple determination or, if we like to call it by its other name – perseverance.

Consider what happened. There is a man who is paralysed and who obviously cannot move himself. Fortunately for him he has four friends, one or more of whom have almost certainly seen Jesus at work. This has convinced them that here, is a one-off chance to get their friend healed. They had seen Jesus do it for others, so what he can do for others, he can do for their friend! Of this they are absolutely sure. Is our lack of determination or lack of perseverance, I wonder, sometimes because we are simply not sure of Jesus?

It is not always so simple in our minds is it?  For example I am a living example of this at this very moment. I have for a number of years been troubled with damaged knees.  I was sure the Lord would heal me. One day fairly recently I happened to go to a healing seminar, largely to learn about how to better pray for the sick. There someone prayed for me and my knees were completely healed. Yes, they were, of that there was no doubt. For the next two days I was completely free of pain and had strong legs, and then on the third day while out walking, I fell in a pothole and twisted my right knee which buckled, pulled me down and twisted the left knee. Now – and this still continues a month later – I am in more pain than I was before.

Have I prayed again – yes! Have others prayed for me – yes!  Have I sinned – not to my knowledge! Is this a ‘thorn in the flesh’ – not to my knowledge, I don’t get the revelation Paul got! So why has it happened? I haven’t a clue! But one thing I do know and that is that God loves me and God’s desire is for my good and so if it is a case of the enemy withstanding me so I have to wait ‘twenty one days’ (see Dan 10:12,13) then  so be it. Am I going to continue to pray for my healing? Yes! Am I going to continue to ask others to pray for my healing? Yes! Why? Because I am convinced that Jesus does still heal and that having healed me once, he will do it again! However long it takes, we’re going to get there!

51. More on Patience

Meditations in James: 51:  More on Patience & Perseverance

Jas 5:10,11    Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

The temptation to give up is sometimes a very strong temptation. We have a poster which includes some of the following lines: “People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centred. Love them anyway….. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway…. People really need help but may attack you if you help them. Help people anyway….. Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you’ve got ANYWAY.”  Whoever originally wrote those words knew that sometimes life in this world is tough but we have to decide to keep on anyway. To give up is to let Sin and Satan win. To give up is to be trampled on and to lose wonderful possibilities of a better tomorrow.   When we’re tired, feeling jaded, worn out, and the enemy seems to jeer at us, he’s trying to get us to give up. It’s a strong temptation, but Paul wrote: No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it. (1 Cor 10:13 Message version) The words of that verse tell us a) our temptation is common to life, b) God won’t let you be pushed further  than you can cope with and c) He’ll be there to help you.

James has just said, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near (v.8), the ‘too’ referring to the example of the farmers he had just spoken about as having to wait patiently for their harvests. In the face of unrighteous people or, even, of having to struggle with our own unrighteous attitudes or behaviour and sometimes failing, the temptation to just give up is often strong. Hence we need these words of encouragement: be patient and stand firm and now these words about the prophets. Look what James says.

“Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” The subject of his concern is having patience, waiting for God, or God’s grace, to turn up when we are suffering. If you want an example of how this worked out, he implies, look at the Old Testament prophets. He goes on,As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered.” In the teaching of the day, the prophets were revered for their loyalty and faithfulness to the Lord. Despite the opposition they received, they hung on in.  The reality is that despite what was thrown at them, they survived and were triumphant.

You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.” James then cites the particular example of Job who persevered in the face of lots of bad things happening to him.  Yes, the enemy afflicted him but the end of the story was God blessing him and restoring him to what he had known previously – in fact twice as prosperous as he had been before! (Job 42:10).

“The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.The fact that tough things happen in this world, doesn’t detract from the truth about God’s character. He is still full of compassion and mercy. He is still a God who feels for His people and is moved by the plight of His people.  Remember Moses’ first encounter with the Lord: The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex 3:7,8). Compassion is a heart moved by plight. God doesn’t stand afar off when we are going through tough times. No, He is right there and He feels and understands all we are going through and is there working to bring good through it (Rom 8:28). More than that He doesn’t assess every situation and say, “Oh well, they deserve it!” and leave us to it. No, He knows our frailty and despite our stupidity, so often, He comes and rescues us. It is an act of pure mercy. Not deserved but nevertheless given.

Yes, James knows that living in this world brings both opposition from other people and opposition from sin that we struggle with. He knows that we struggle with the temptation to give up, and so he encourages us to persevere, patiently waiting for the Lord to turn up and intervene. He cites working illustrations – farmers – and spiritual illustrations – Old Testament prophets. Having to wait and be patient is a familiar thing, a normal and natural thing in this Fallen World.  So his word comes: hang on! But it’s more than that; it is, hang on – because God WILL turn up, as surely as harvest does and as surely as He did for His prophets of old. So look up and look around. The Lord is coming for you in your situation!

6. Doubting

Meditations in James: 6 :  No Room for Doubting

Jas 1:6-8 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

I think if we are honest, there are verses in the Bible that we hurry by because we either don’t understand them, or we have a feeling about them and don’t like what we feel. I’m afraid these verses are like that for me. Yet I wonder how many of us relish what we read here today? It’s those words he must believe and not doubt. I mean, it is easy to believe and not doubt when everything is going well but the context of this is what we’ve already looked at – trials!   But it’s more than ‘just’ trials; it’s trials that require perseverance because they go on and on, and they are trials that need wisdom to know how to cope, and it’s all about asking for wisdom that he is talking about here. In such situations it isn’t easy not to doubt.  Because of the whole nature of a trial your faith is being tested and your temptation is to doubt, but James is quite uncompromising: he must believe and not doubt!

We live in a day when much counseling is gentle and understanding but for the apostles the truth is something to be taken hold of and used, and so for them they haven’t got time to be gentle. James is so often right in your face. You want to ask for wisdom from God who gives generously without finding fault? Then don’t be half-hearted about it! Don’t let there be any room for doubting. Grab hold of the truth and believe it: God loves you, is for you and wants to give you wisdom to help you through. Believe it! No messing around, believe it! But it gets worse. He explains what a doubter is like. You’re like a wave in the sea that is at the mercy of the wind, so it gets buffeted about all over the place. Imagine a little boat on the waves or a cork bobbing around. They are both being pushed all over the place, changing direction all the time, driven by whichever way the wind is blowing. It’s a powerful picture and, says James, that is what the man who asks without faith is like.

It gets worse. This person is double minded he says. They say they believe but they doubt. They pay lip service to God’s word but when it comes to it they are driven by desires or other people or circumstances. When we come to the Lord, our motivation should be the truth of the word of God which has captured our hearts. We shouldn’t just pray because in trial we want peace, or because other people tell us we ought to pray, or because the circumstances are so annoying us we’re forced to pray. No, prayer should come as a natural expression of our relationship with the Lord, out of a sure conviction that He loves us, if for us, and loves to give generously and without finding fault.

If we don’t have that conviction then it will be those other expressions of ‘wind’ buffeting us that will have motivated us to pray, and they will all be self-centred, and as such our praying will be off-beam and we won’t get what we ask for. James is going to pick up this theme a bit later and develop it some more. Very simply, prayer should not be ‘driven’ by self-concerns but should be an act of faith, responding to the word of God and the prompting of His Spirit. When we pray in this way we will find the things we are asking for are in line with God’s heart, in line with His will, and because they are, He will grant them. How often Christians come to God with a ‘shopping list’ of things they want, instead of enquiring, “Lord, what do you want for me?”

There are times in the prophetic Scriptures of the Old Testament when the prophet or psalmist receives a word from the Lord about the Lord’s will and the next thing we find them doing is praying for it. The person who lacks understanding will say, “Why is he praying for what he has already declared?” and the answer is because he has heard that this is God’s will and he knows that the things to ask for in prayer are the things that are on God’s heart. The things that simply emanate from our hearts, that are self-centred, are so often wrong and we wonder why they are not answered!!!

Asking God for wisdom is coming to God acknowledging our lack and His ability to provide. This is a good heart position to have, but that is only stage one. Stage two is built on that good start. Yes, it is good to realize our own inadequacy and our own inability and it is good to realize the Lord’s ability, but stage two requires that we believe about Him what the Bible teaches, that God is good, God is love, and that God delights in giving to His children. There are those who wallow in half of stage one, that they are inadequate. That isn’t faith. It is semi-realism.

Faith is the sure belief (because we’ve heard it in His word and by His Spirit) that God knows the answer to every problem, every difficulty, and God wants to give us the answers to the difficulties that face us daily. Faith also says, “He wants me to have His answers, so I can ask Him in assurance that He will give when I come with an open heart.” This person’s faith is anchored by the truth. They are not being blown all over the place; they are not firing up desperate petitions of all shapes and kinds. They know they have a problem and that God has the answer and that He delights in giving generously and without finding fault. They ask with assurance; they ask in faith. Let’s be those sort of people! 

4. Maturity

Meditations in James: 4 :  Steps to Maturity

Jas 1:4     Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Vitamins DO things for you. Antibiotics DO things in you. When you take antibiotics, the doctor tells you to keep taking them until they have finished their course. They need to build up in your system until they overcome whatever it is you are suffering from. They must finish their work. In a similar sort of way, an author must ‘finish their work’. I’m told that those who write books, regularly often come to a point where their ‘creative juices’ seem to dry up for a while and the book comes to a grinding halt. Getting out, getting some fresh air, going walking; all these sorts of things I’m told help stir life and creativity and enable the author to persevere until the work is complete and the manuscript is ready to go to the publisher.

Some people age but never mature. Why is that? What is maturity? What is it that is missing from them? Well it’s not a physical thing because they look the same as anyone else and can do all the physical things that everyone else can do. No, maturity involves ways of thinking, ways of coping with emotions. There are probably dozens of criteria for measuring when a person is fully mature and they cover physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of their life.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity(Heb 6:1) He saw that there were basic teachings that all new Christians should be taught, but there was deeper understanding of the Faith that should also be brought. Jesus warned in one of his parables about not going onto maturity: The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” (Lk 8:14). Jesus was thus teaching that maturity was not letting worries of life, or seeking after material pleasures, hinder spiritual development, hinder coming to a deeper and deeper knowledge of God, a relationship that was fruitful. That was what that part of the parable of the Sower was all about. Paul, describing one of the Colossians, said, He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.” (Col 4:12). There he says that maturity is being able to stand firm in God’s will, being fully assured of who you are, someone loved by God, cared for by God and provided for by God. A mature person knows all these things.

Paul described the role of spiritual leadership ministries as, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13). For Paul the work of the church was to raise up people to full development (maturity), so that the body (the church) could act fully as Christ on the earth, expressing his ongoing ministry. A mature church is one where each person is operating as God designed them to be:From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Eph 4:16)

Thus a ‘mature’ Christian is one who understands their faith, understands God’s love for them, is secure in it, has their heart set with right priorities on doing the will of God, not being distracted by materialism, working out their gifting in harmony with others in the church to create an instrument in the hand of God that brings blessing to this world and glory to God.

But how do we reach this maturity? Is it simply by reading God’s word, and receiving teaching in the church? Well those things are certainly important, but James is focusing on a crucial ingredient in these verses – trials! We can agree in our minds to the fact that God loves us and His grace is there for us, but it is only when we go through trials that we prove it. It is only in those times that we truly come to ‘know’ that he is there for us on a daily basis, and His grace is what keeps us going. It is only when we face such a trial that we suddenly find within us a determination to keep going.

It is the Holy Spirit within us, linked with our spirit encouraging us. Suddenly we ‘know’ we want to fight our way through this trial with all the ability that God gives us. Suddenly it seems important. We’ve got to get through this. We’ve got to keep going. This is perseverance at work! Perseverance, a dictionary says, is the act of keeping going. But it is more than the physical act; it is the act of will, the determination not to give up.  As this works in us so it brings us into maturity, so let’s repeat what we said about, so that you really take it in: a ‘mature’ Christian is one who understands their faith, understands God’s love for them, is secure in it, has their heart set with right priorities on doing the will of God, not being distracted by materialism, working out their gifting in harmony with others in the church to create an instrument in the hand of God that brings blessing to this world and glory to God. Be mature! Let perseverance work and work in you to bring you to full development (maturity).

3. Testing

Meditations in James: 3 :  Joyful Testing

Jas 1:2,3    Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

Living in the West in the early part of the twenty-first century, we are more affluent and have more technology than any people who have ever existed before us. Life should, therefore, be easy and pleasant, but so often it isn’t. If you asked most people, they would pause, reflect and then say something like, “Life is tough!” Why is that? It is, I suggest, because we live in a Fallen World where sin prevails and therefore things go wrong and people are nasty. As a dispersed people (see yesterday) we are out there in the world, largely alone, having to learn to cope with the less-than-perfect life that rolls out before us. A lot of the time it may be humdrum, ordinary with no particular problems, but then suddenly something happens, something goes wrong and we are in conflict or stress and anxiety, or we are struggling with illness or infirmity. That’s what life in this Fallen World is like. The staggeringly wonderful news for Christians, of course, is that we are not alone; we have the Lord with us. Moses was able to encourage Israel with, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut 31:6) and the writer to the Hebrews was able to take that and apply it to us when he wrote,be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Heb 13:5,6).

So the first thing to note from our verses today is that we live in a world where things go wrong, things that James calls ‘trials’. The second thing to keep in mind, which isn’t in this verse, is that whatever happens the Lord is with us in it. Perhaps we would to well to remember a third thing,  that however difficult the trial seems to be, the Lord will be there seeking to bring good out of it for us: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Bear those two things in mind: the Lord is with us and He will be working to bring good out of what otherwise might be a bad situation!

But then James says something about what is going on. He says God is testing your faith. Our education system, at the government’s direction, seems paranoid about testing. Our children constantly seem to be getting tested. Why do the government want teachers to do this? They do it because they want to check a child’s progress and ensure that they are learning. That is exactly why God tests us. There is a clear indication in Scripture that God expects us to mature – we’ll see that tomorrow. The writer to the Hebrews chided them saying, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:12-14).

There he indicates he expects us to grow up, understand the truth and live it. God’s testing, however, doesn’t merely monitor our position; it acts like a work-out in the gym and strengthens us. Whereas a physical workout brings strength to our muscles, God’s work-out develops perseverance in us, that ability to just plug on when life seems difficult. Yes, there are times when life seems glorious and wonderful and easy, and at those times you don’t need any special resources, (and that is a danger for we forget our need of the Lord), but we’ve been saying that in this Fallen World life is sometimes difficult and the enemy would want us to give up on our faith, and so perseverance is something the Lord builds in to us. How does He do that? By allowing us trying times!

It’s not only James; Paul says the same thing: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance(Rom 5:2,3). It’s not only James and Paul; Peter says the same thing: In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:6,7)

So there it is; these trials, these tests, work to bring perseverance which we need to handle the dark side of life, and as we do, our faith is seen to be genuine and all the angels looking on give a mighty applause because they see it is the work of Jesus and so when he returns, and every knee bows to acknowledge his wonder, this will be part of the reason for all the praise he receives. Our lives have the means of glorifying Jesus!

Which brings us to the first part of the verse that most Christians struggle with and focus upon: Count it pure joywhen these things happen to you. Why? For the reasons we have been seeing: because we are taking part in God’s strategy which strengthens us, reveals us for who we are, encourages us as we realise that we can cope with His grace. It also brings great glory to Jesus as we triumph as he, standing alongside us is working out the Father’s purposes and bringing good out of every situation for us. Wow!  Rejoicing in whatever life is holding for you at the moment? Go for it!

38. Reality

Meditations in Job : 38.  Working towards Reality

Job 14:19 as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy man’s hope.

Job, we saw in the previous meditation, has been pondering on the possible wonder of there being something more after death, of the possibility of  being reconciled to God through resurrection. But there is something in the back of his mind that is worrying away at him. It is like he had these thoughts of hope and yet they seem to contradict what he sees before him in this present world. It is rather like Gideon responding to the angel when the angel has said, The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” (Jud 6:12). Gideon has two problems with this. First he doesn’t feel like a ‘mighty warrior’ and second, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us?” (v.13). He heard the assertion but then looked at the present facts of their submission to an enemy and couldn’t see how the two go together. Thus, similarly, Job has these feelings about a future hope, but they don’t seem to correspond to present reality. Very often, for Christians. the big issue is about bringing understanding to receive the full picture so that we can see how apparent opposites harmonise.

So, let’s see how he expresses this. He uses examples of what he sees in nature to explain what he feels about man and his life. “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place, as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil,” (v.18,19). He observes in nature a tendency for rocks and stones to be eroded and worn away. This, he says, is what he observes in the way God deals with mankind: “so you destroy man’s hope.” (v.19b). Look, he says, as I look around the world, all is see is that God seems to be working at bringing us down. I mean, look at what has been happening to me; all this has done is to bring me down. Then he looks forwards and contemplates the end of all this, as he sees it – death! “You overpower him once for all, and he is gone; you change his countenance and send him away.” (v.20) God has the power to bring death when He wants to – and He does exercise it! All God seems to do is ease us towards death – and that is a very negative thing: “If his sons are honored, he does not know it; if they are brought low, he does not see it. He feels but the pain of his own body and mourns only for himself.” (v.21,22). Whatever happens to those left behind, he doesn’t see it. He misses their success and (implied) cannot rejoice with them, or he misses their difficulties and (implied) cannot be there for them. In other words, death doesn’t seem to be a very helpful end! So if God works like this in life, why do I have a sense that it will be different after death?

This, of course, is another one of those occasions where only half the picture is being expressed. So what is the full picture? Why does it seem like this? Well the truth is that God does work to bring men to the end of themselves because only then will they turn to Him and receive His blessing. Our pride and self-centredness means that we struggle on in life without turning to the Lord and without receiving all of His resources to live out our lives in this fallen world. So, yes He does work to destroy man’s hope. The reason for this is that man ‘hopes’ in his own achievements. We each have hopes and dreams but so often they are self-centred and God knows they are not the best for us. He alone knows what is best for us, and so when He sees that we are aiming for something else, something less than the best that He knows we could be with His help, He works to undermine our false or inadequate ‘hopes’ so that we will come to our senses and realize our helplessness or our low self worth, and turn to Him for Him to remake us in the image of the one He knows we could be.

A second point to observe here is Job’s wrong assessment of death. Yes, death does mean that we are cut off from sharing in our children’s future, but the reality is that the next world will be so much more glorious than this one that we will not be concerned with hanging on to the things of this one; we will be content to allow the Lord to look after our children.  This perhaps brings us full circle to something we said right at the beginning of these meditations: we need to remember that God is love and therefore all of Scripture should be viewed with that in mind. Where we come across things in life, therefore, that seem to contradict that, we need to look afresh and ask the Lord to show us the full picture. To go back to the example of Gideon, the answer is twofold, when he says, how can God be with us when life is like this. The first answer, is that things are like they are because the Lord has made them like that as discipline for Israel to draw them back to Himself, so He IS with them – but to discipline them. Secondly, when He brings discipline, it is to bring change and bring us into a place of blessing and so He IS with Gideon to guide and equip him to become Israel’s latest savior.  So, yes, the Lord IS with you Gideon, but not in the way you expect.

Very often Christians want God to be with them to just bless them and make them comfortable, but He wants to work in their lives to mature them, and the move towards maturity may involve a number of things, some of which may not appear comfortable at the present: Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (Jas 1:2-4)  Peter also gives us a list of things to work through: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” (2 Pet 1:5-7) Remember, when ‘stuff’ is happening, the Lord is working to work these things out in us. Painful? Sometimes!  For our good? Always!

(We will be taking a break from Job for a couple of weeks but will return and continue with him later).