3.4a …and Pray!

Short Meditations in Psalms: 3.4a  …and pray!

Psa 3:4  To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.  

In this very simple verse there are two very simple and yet very profound things to be considered. This is all about prayer – “To the Lord I cry aloud.” The sense behind this is that this is real heart anguish that has to be expressed in words out loud, but not mere words, a cry. I suspect that the truth is that initially at least, people never pray until they sense a need and the greater the need the greater the prayer effort. In dire crisis the survival instinct kicks in with a heartfelt cry of anguish.

I have read many books on prayer, many of them very good and very helpful but this verse strips away all the extras and leaves us with the fundament heart of prayer – a need that has come to the end of its human resources and turns to the One we hope is there who, for many of us, is otherwise unknown in life. But a crisis strips away all pretence and even the most hardened atheist has been known to cry out to God on their death bed.

We may start our life of prayer (which it may become) with this tremendous sense of need. Maybe that need passes away but we are left with the reminder that He is there and He takes that opportunity, and through a variety of ways draws us to a place of conviction where we realise we need His salvation through Jesus Christ. Thus we enter into a relationship with Him and prayer becomes a natural element of that relationship. Not always easy – for sometimes He feels a million miles away – but that only accentuates the need and makes us cry out even more.

‘Talking to God’, for that is what prayer is, is both the most simple and most profound thing we do in life. I confess that although I do it every day, purposely first thing every morning, and then in times of natural response or simple need during the course of the day, I still find it the greatest mystery of my Christian life. Why should I tell God all my worries, my fears and my doubts when He knows everything there is to know and so knows them even before I utter them? The answer is humbling: prayer is for my benefit not His. As I pour out those things so it seems He ministers to me and the worry, fear or doubt abates. I haven’t heard Him – that comes later – it just seems that somehow, maybe it is His peace of His presence, He ministers to me and the strife filters away. I struggle with repeating the same things day after day sometimes, yet the truths remain the same, I need Him to daily cleanse me and daily fill with me with His Spirit. And then comes the listening side which we’ll consider in the next meditation.

11. God of Initiative

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  11. God of Initiative

Ex 3:1-3  Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 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. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.”

There is always a danger with spiritual matters in thinking that we have to take the initiative and yet the Biblical testimony is that God is ALWAYS the one who takes the initiative.  He created the world to start with. He initiated a relationship with Adam and Eve, He reached out to a pagan called Abram and started off a long-term relationship. And then we come to the verses above where a failed prince of Egypt who has been looking after sheep for forty years comes across a burning bush that is not burning, and finds himself in a conversation with God that will mean life will never be the same again. What we see in those verses is the start of the revelation of the plan of God for the deliverance of His people from Egypt.

The day before I would guess that Moses had no thoughts for the life he had forty years ago, the memories had probably dulled. He is, after all, eighty years old, a time when most of us today would consider we ought to be in retirement. But God has His plans and they include using this man for another forty years.

That is the trouble with the will of God, it stretches out in ways beyond our dreams. We may have had ideas once upon a time of what we might like to become, but the ways of the world, the knocks of life got all that out of us, and so we opt for settling in a quiet lifestyle that upsets no one and allows me to drift on through life. But God looks down and sees a need and sees me and sees what He can do with me, and suddenly there is a burning bush, something that catches my attention and breaks into the hum drum of life. God has plans to do things with me. I would have considered them presumptuous but He simply sees the potential of His child that His child fails to see, and suddenly He creates a burning bush, and I pause and look.

Recently we considered the angel coming to Mary, the same angel that had recently come to Zechariah. Both were instances of God taking the initiative, of God moving His plans on, plans which include human beings. It will be thirty years before the next phase of His plan for salvation comes into being, but then He has waited over four hundred years for the time to be ripe for this phase to come. And so we start to realise that what appears to us as a unique taking-the-initiative is, in fact, just the next phase of a plan that had been thought out from before the foundation of the world – but each stage is brought on by God Himself when He sees the time is right.

So I wonder, perhaps, can I see this life as a plan being rolled out by God and somehow He has a part for me to play in it: 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 ‘good works’ that God has got for me are things He knows I can do with the gifts and enablings He gives me, and they are all part of that bigger long-term plan that He has on His heart.  Now if this is so then it changes me from being someone who either wonders if he is ‘good enough’ to be used by God, or berates himself for not doing enough, into someone who simply says, “Lord, show me what you want of me today, and if you need me to change to fit more fully your plans for my future, please show me what you want of me.”  May my response to what comes be the same as Mary’s,  “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Lk 1:38)

So what is happening when someone seems to be so burdened that they pray their heart out to bring about the will of God? Surely if God has it all mapped out already they don’t need to be interceding like that? Well that intercession is simply part of the process that God uses to bring about His purposes. Prayer is always a mystery but it seems that sometimes God waits upon our praying, as if our praying actually brings about changes in the heavenly realms. As we say, it is a mystery and so when we catch a sense of what ought to be and start praying for it, we suggest that it is God putting the burden on our heart. Without doubt He does seem to burden some people more than others to become intercessors and that to bring about His purposes, but even in that we suggest He takes the initiative.

What happens when someone moves to bring a word of prophecy or a word of knowledge or pray for healing? The are being prompted by the Holy Spirit – God is taking the initiative to intervene through what we now call gifts of the Spirit. ANY ministry should, we would hope, be a response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and in each case it is God taking the initiative to bring about a change here on earth. Moses’ burning bush was just one classic example of what God does in a variety of ways again and again as He acts into our lives and works in cooperation with us – He initiates and we respond. Good isn’t it!

11. Maintaining the Faith (4)

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 11:  Maintaining the Faith (4)

Rom 12:11,12   Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

We continue considering the second group of four mini-exhortations which move to our relationship with the Lord. The first of those exhortations was about zeal, fervour and serving God,  the second mini-exhortation was about being, “Be joyful in hope,”  and the third was about being “patient in affliction”

Which brings us to the fourth of this little group: “(Be) faithful in prayer.”  How simple and yet how dynamic! But that is true of each of these four, just a few words but they say so much. The first thing that strikes me about this, and although it is true of each of them, I realise I don’t think I have picked it up yet, is that this needs saying. The reality is that for each of these things we can flag and so need Paul’s encouragement to keep on with them. How easy it is to let zeal flag under the materialistic and atheistic pressures of life in the modern West. How easy it is to lose hope, to be frustrated, angry and jaded in affliction, and now, to give up on prayer.

Prayer, as I have found myself saying so many times when writing these meditations, is something much spoken about but so often so little done. Prayer is one of the greatest mysteries in the Christian life. Why pray when God knows every word you speak even before you utter them? The simple answer is that fathers like hearing their children even when they know exactly what they are going to ask for. Why pray when we have a sovereign God who is all powerful and can do what He likes? Why should we dare tell the all-wise God what He ought to do? The answer seems to be because we need to talk out things before the Lord, to come in line with His will. As we pray so we come to a realization of what it is He wants. I find that when I start thinking about it, I have so many questions. For example, if I don’t pray will God stop moving? I’m sure the answer is no. Then there is will the prayers of five hundred people be more effective than if five people pray?  That raises the question, what does ‘effective’ mean?  What is effective prayer? The answer the scripture seems to tell me is that which is in line with His will and starts its life in heaven.

So yes, we can have lots of questions and often few answers, but at the end of the day there is something inside me (the Holy Spirit!) that makes it seem natural at times to want to talk to God. However the fact that Paul feels it is necessary to encourage us to be “faithful in prayer” suggests that it is so easy not to pray that our ‘natural’ tendency will be to stop praying. So, for a moment, let’s consider some of the New Testament exhortations to pray. If we pray for no other reason that we’re told to, that’s not too bad.

The Gospels start off with the challenging, “But I tell you: Love your enemiesI and pray for those who persecute you,” (Mt 5:44) and when Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites,” (Mt 6:5) he is speaking to a culture that does pray. Prayer was clearly a part of the culture of the people of God. “After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray,” (Mt 14:23) is just one example of the fact that Jesus prayed on his own sometimes. “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them,” (Mt 19:13) is an example of a practice of Jesus, to pray over others. Into Acts we find, “About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray,” (Acts 10:9) which shows us that Peter seems to have maintained it as a regular practice.  Later we find, “All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray,” (Acts 21:5) which suggests that before setting off on a further leg of his journey, Paul and his companions prayed (and perhaps for those they were leaving). Paul wrote to the church at Rome, “his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times,” (Rom 1:9) which is quite amazing because he had never been there yet.

In Paul’s letters, prayer is a frequent subject: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” (Rom 8:26) “if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind.” (1 Cor 14:14,15) “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.” (Eph 6:18) “pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thes 5:17,18)

In James’ letter we also find, “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.” (Jas 5:13-15)

Peter in his first letter taught, “Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) John in his first letter taught, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.” (1 Jn 5:16) Jude in his letter taught, “But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.” (Jude 20)

So prayer may be a mystery but it was taught by Jesus and his apostles and they all did it. For whatever the reasons may be to pray, apart from simple obedience to Scripture, the Biblical teaching is pray. Satan, the world, sin, tiredness etc. etc. will suggest we don’t pray which is why Paul now exhorts us – be faithful in prayer, i.e. keep at it, do it!

63. Confident Asking (2)

Meditations in 1 John : 63 : Confident Asking (2)

1 John  5:14-15    This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.

In a previous study (No.42) we covered this same subject because earlier in the letter John had written “if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”  In that instance the confidence in asking was because of our lifestyle – obedience to Him. There we considered a variety of reasons why we may be sure that we get what we pray for, and we concluded that meditation with: “The key to getting answers to prayer is that we ask in line with His will. When we discern that and ask accordingly, we see answers.”  Which brings us precisely to these verses we now have before us!

We might do well to pause and move slowly into these verses because they do raise questions pertinent to modern Christianity. John starts out, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God.”  Now there appear to me to be two extremes in modern Christian circles. The first extreme comprises those people who have little or no confidence in the matter of prayer, and so pray rarely. To them John’s letter, says, you can be confident, your heavenly Father delights in His children and in answering the good and right things they pray for!

The other extreme are those people who appear to be over confident in their praying and pray about anything and everything which may roam from asking for Aunty May in Australia to what shirt they should wear tomorrow. Now that may sound derogatory but I often sit in prayer meetings where the content is unguided ‘shopping lists’, things people think would be a good idea for God to answer.

Now sometimes I believe that the Lord wants us to take responsibility for our lives and so He allows us to make our own decisions – the mundane things of life – what shirt to wear tomorrow!!! Other times I am sure His response, if only we could hear it, is “Whatever are you asking for? Why are you waiting? You know what my will is; it is spelled out quite clearly in my word!  Just do it!” These tend to be behavioural things or grace issues. For instance you have someone who is not particularly easy to get on with. Don’t pray for them to change, don’t pray for grace – you know you have it because you have the Spirit of love living within you. Just love them. Be nice to them; look to bless them – that will change them! But it starts with you and God’s will is quite clear. Jesus said, “Love your enemies” (Mt 5:44) so for someone who isn’t exactly and enemy but just someone a bit difficult to get on with, it’s got to be easier, hasn’t it!

Why do we pray for things that we know we should be doing something about? Our starting point – to find the will of God, if you like – is to ask about any person or situation we might think of praying about, is to ask, what could I be doing in this situation? We need to stop telling God what we think He ought to be doing, and ask ourselves what He wants us to be doing – and then pray!

What does prayer then become? It becomes coming close to the Father, committing to Him what you believe is His will, and checking with Him in your spirit, that you’ve got it right. Prayer thus becomes submitting your will to His. Now isn’t that exactly what John has said in our verses today: “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  He then goes on, “And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Do you see the logic of that? Check out His will, find out what it is (and sometimes that happens while we pray). Then pray and ask for it and know it is what god wants we know that He will hear and receive that request and then go on to bring it about – and we can have the confidence that it will work like that.

The crucial thing – and that is where we finished the previous meditation – is finding out what His will is and then asking for it, but the tricky bit is finding out what our part is in it all, because that may well be part of His will.

The one area where, it seems to me, that there will be difficulties, is when we pray for the salvation of someone else, because the Lord never forces the will of people. He may put so much before them that their hearts are opened to respond, but only He knows who such persons are. There are clearly other people whose hearts are set and will remain set for the rest of their time on this earth, but we never know who these will be (unless the Lord specifically shows us, which seems rare). Yes, we can pray for their salvation for we know that “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) but that doesn’t mean that every person will be saved. Pray for them by all means, but also ask, “Lord, is there a part you want me to play in drawing them to yourself?”

So there it is: find out God’s will – read His word, listen to Him – and find out how it involves you, and pray and do it and then expect things to happen! May it be so!

42. Confident Asking

Meditations in 1 John : 42 : Confident Asking

1 John  3:21,22  Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.

In the previous meditation remember what we said about meditating in context? It applies here as well. In verse 20 John had written about, whenever our hearts condemn us,” and so now he deals with the other option – “if our hearts do NOT condemn us”. If indeed our hearts are at rest or at peace before the Lord, then this brings a confidence in us that enables us to ‘cash in’ on our relationship with the Lord – by asking for things in prayer. Now we need to be careful here because this doesn’t give us a mandate to ask for just anything, but it does give us a confidence to ask.

Before moving on, let’s examine why John says we have this confidence, why our hearts can be at rest. Very simply it is because “we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” If we are doing all we possibly can to obey all that we find in Scripture, and all that we sense the Spirit is leading us to do, then there is nothing more we can do and we can be at rest in the Lord and in His will for us. If we lack peace, assuming we have not been oversensitive as we noted before, then that may be a form of guidance from the Spirit to stop us moving in some particular direction, but in the absence of such ‘dis-peace’ we can be at rest, and when we are at rest we can be confident in our relationship with the Lord.

But this confidence doesn’t just end there, for John goes on to make an amazing claim: “and receive from him anything we ask”.   This incredible claim seems to come more than once in the New Testament, for example: “Ask and it will be given to you,” (Mt 7:7) – though the tense indicates that it is ‘ask and go on asking’ (We will only go on asking when we are sure that we are asking for the right thing. – but even that doesn’t guarantee it in practice – so why? We’ll see). A little later, Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11) which is a further reason to have confidence in your Father’s love and concern for you.

Jesus also said, “I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Mt 18:19,20) The same applies to what we said above – two or three are only going to agree if they are sure it is God’s will. And yet…    Jesus also said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Mt 21:22)  Do we really believe when we pray? Are we convinced about what we are asking for?  John also records Jesus saying, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.” (Jn 14:13) In other words when we come to the Father asking things that we are convinced Jesus wants, we will get. Further he said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.” (Jn 15:7) i.e. having an ongoing sense of Jesus’ will because we remain in such close fellowship with him, will enable us to ask things in his will. He repeated this in an expanded form: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (Jn 15:16) i.e. when we are doing the work of Jesus as led by him, we may expect fruit when we pray for it. He also added, “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (Jn 16:23,24) James was later to write, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt.” (Jas 1:5,6)

Thus, although there are one or two general verses, most of the time the promise of answers is linked to conditions – that together with others we discern God’s will, if we genuinely believe and have faith (which means we’ve heard from God), if we are sure we’re asking in line with Jesus’ will, and it flows out of our fellowship with him, and we ask without doubting – then we can expect the Lord to answer.

The key to getting answers to prayer is that we ask in line with His will. When we discern that and ask accordingly, we see answers. May it be so!

25. Hold On

Meditations in 1 John : 25 : Hold On

1 John  2:24,25   See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.

Remember the context: John is encouraging the believers to resist the deception of lies and distorted teaching that was arising in the first century. He has reminded them that they have the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who has both anointed them and indwelt them, and He will help them remain in the truth. But the fact is that we as individual believers still have free will and we can make choices and we can choose how we will live. We can choose to be Christ-like in attitude, in word and in action. We can choose to obey God’s commands. Choice still plays a large part in our lives. We can choose to pray – or not. We can choose to read the Bible – or not. We can choose to go to church – or not. We can choose to worship – or not. We can choose to be a witness – or not. Oh yes, at every turn the choices are ours and God will not force us. It is a mystery why one person chooses to be all out for God and another chooses to be half-hearted (yes, we even choose that.)

The New Testament is full of instructions that require us to make a response. Again and again we see such instructions and we should imagine them having the word ‘You’ in front of them. For example, “(You) Be joyful always; (you) pray continually; (you) give thanks in all circumstances.” (1 Thess 5:18) That would remind us that such instructions are written to us individually and individually we need to respond to them.

Thus now, we find John giving such an instruction that we might render, “(You) See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you.”  Another way of putting that might be to say, hang on to all you have heard of the Gospel and of the apostolic teaching, and make sure it genuinely remains the expression of the active outworking of your lives.

This sounds such a simple exhortation, yet it is such a fundamental and important one.  To the church at Ephesus, the first of the seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus declared, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They were no longer what they once were. This happens because we change our thinking. The word ceases to be alive to us as it once was. We no longer hold to the truths we were taught as young Christians and are more laid back in our appreciation of them. In such ways we fail to hang on and ensure we hold to what we “have heard from the beginning,” so that no longer does it remain in us in the same way. It is so easy, as we see the passing of years, to let this happen. It is a vital call that John brings here, one that we all need to heed. So, let’s ask the question: are we ensuring that what we have heard from the beginning still remains in us? Is it alive and as vibrant as it was when we first received it?

John then says something which is seriously challenging: “If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father.”  The implication is that if we don’t hold on to the truth we don’t remain “in the Son and in the Father.”  Put aside arguments about whether or not you can lose your salvation, is it possible for you and me to lose contact with Jesus and with the Father, and thus cease to commune with them?  I believe the answer is undoubtedly yes. How many people that you come across, started out so strongly and were wonderful examples of all-out-for-God committed Christians, yet as the years passed, times with God early in the morning got squeezed out with the busyness of life and awareness of the Lord’s presence faded? I am not pronouncing on your eternal destiny but I am asking about the reality of our daily walk with the Lord?  Is it still like it once was? The most terrible of the indictments of the seven churches of Asia Minor, was that of Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” (Rev 3:15)

Half-heartedness is the greatest bane that can settle on the Church. It is so easy to let it settle on you in this materialistic age, in this age that is so busy and active. It is so easy to let it settle when we start getting jaded with modern church life that so often lacks reality. How easy it is to become cynical and then we step back and instead of letting our feelings stir us to challenge the church and the world, we let them neutralize us and we become ineffective, church life becomes repetitiously boring, and the world is untouched by us.

John has something more to add: “And this is what he promised us–even eternal life.”   When the true life is flowing in us it is eternal life, it is the very life of Jesus, of his Holy Spirit, and that life brings life and activity that is not merely following rules or performing rituals, it is responding to the prompting and energizing of the Spirit within. This goes with the thoughts about communing with the Son and the Father. When we commune with them, we are open to them and the Spirit is able to energize, guide and direct us. THAT is life.

10. Shutdown

Meditations in Malachi : 10. Shutdown

Mal 1:10  “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

I was amazed when I first studied the Law – well no perplexed first, actually.   Why were those long dreary chapters at the beginning of Leviticus about different sorts of offerings, and why were there those tedious chapters in the latter part of Exodus about the Tabernacle and the priests? None of it seemed relevant to today, so why was it there, and then eventually I understood. This was the Lord recognising that His people would get it wrong so that they would feel guilty and then feel at a distance from the Lord, this was the Lord making a way back for such people. This was also the Lord making provision for those whose hearts might overflow with love for God who just wanted to bring Him a gift.

That was what all those laws were about, about regulating how those things might happen through the sacrifices. That was what the Tabernacle and then later theTemplewere about. They were places of focus on the Lord, places where the Lord initially made His presence known, places that He filled with His glory, places of fellowship with God and places of reconciliation with God and restoration of a relationship with the Lord. That was what the Temple was all about. It was for the people to come and do two things: offer sacrifices and pray (remember Jesus called it a house of prayer). The Tabernacle and then the Temple were all about relationship with the Lord which is why, when the Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 587BC, it was so devastating for Israel. When Jeremiah spoke about restoration after seventy years, that seventy years was the period between the destruction of the Temple and the completion of its rebuilding, exactly seventy years!

But God isn’t fooled by play acting. That had been going on before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah parodied their reliance upon the presence of the Temple (Jer 7). Now the same thing was happening again. The apostle Paul prophesied about the last days: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:1-5) There is the same thing: there will be a form of religion (godliness) while all the time men and woman are living lives that are very different from God’s design for them.

The people of Malachi’s day were declaring that they were godly because they were performing religious acts and then comes this terrible word of judgment through Malachi: “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”   Shut down all this religious nonsense, is what the Lord is saying, for that is actually what it is – religious nonsense!  Did God want His people to perform religious acts in the Temple with no meaning behind them? No! God’s intent had been to provide channels for blessing Israel, for making ways back to Him and for legitimizing their gifts to Him. The Temple was for prayer and worship and reconciliation and those things, to be genuine, have to come out of wholeheartedness.

The Lord is concerned more what goes on inside a person than the things they do outwardly. Outward acts can be pure pretense. In medical terms, sometimes people come out in a skin rash and it is a sign of tension or stress within. It is the reality of the inner life that God is concerned with, not the charades that people put on. Who are they kidding? Do they think they will make God think well of them? Does “going to church on a Sunday morning” make God feel good about us? No, it should be an expression of the love we have for Him on the inside.

Around the world, often the churches with the greatest reality are those in countries where the church is persecuted and driven underground. When those people gather together under threat of arrest, there is a reality and a depth of love not found in the West. How tragic it is that our love is only proved real when it is challenged! When will we come to our senses and call out to the Lord for a reality of relationship? Will the Lord have to shut our churches down before that has to happen? May it not be so!

62. He Cares

Meditations in 1 Peter : 62: He cares for you

1 Pet 5:7-9 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

We live in a worrying world. It seems to be endemic to this part of history and easy communications and the media may have much to do with it. Two hundred years ago you would not have heard what was happening a hundred miles away, let alone on the other side of the world. By the time news arrived it was usually months old and you couldn’t do anything about it and, anyway, you were still there so whatever it was couldn’t have been that important!  I have recently been reading the biography of a famous reporter who lived through the years of the Cold War. We tend to forget the worries about ‘the Bomb’ or Cuba or the Russians that abounded then. Today the news often covers the deaths in Afghanistan and there are many worried parents and loved ones back here who wonder whether the one they know will be one of the victims of a sniper’s bullet or a roadside bomb.  Writing in the years following financial meltdowns in the City of London and in America, the threat of loss of pensions and loss of jobs is a very real anxiety for many. No, we live in an age of anxiety!

Now our verse above is one of those that can be taken right out of context and it still holds true, but actually when you look at the verse before and verse after, you see there is a linkage between them: Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.  Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” At the beginning is the (possible) anxiety of holding a right balance in your attitude and outlook before God, and in the latter one we’ll come to in a subsequent meditation, there is the concern of having to cope with attacks from the enemy, which are very real. Those two concerns – rightly relating to God and combating the enemy’s tactics – are real concerns in whatever age. Today we may have more concerns and worries (certainly different sorts of worries, real or imaginary) than two hundred years ago, but in whatever age we live, these two things are genuine concerns to be worked through.

Now there are two parts in the verse to be noted. To start with, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” Even within that there are three things to note. First, this general picture of casting something on someone else. Today, bluntly speaking, we might say, “Dump it all on Jesus.” However we see it, it is an action that we have to carry out, something to be done as an act of will. The apostle Paul said it in a slightly different way: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6), i.e. get rid of your anxieties by giving them to Jesus – pray! It is an action, something you have to do.

So to the second thing: actually Peter doesn’t say “anxieties”, he says “anxiety” and that is slightly different. Anxieties are the individual worries – and yes we are to give them to Jesus – but “anxiety” is an attitude or way of thinking, a more general thing. Some of us take worrying to an art form!  We have a general approach to life where anxiety is constantly there in the background. We are unsure of ourselves and we are unsure of God and so we worry. It isn’t over anything specific; it is a general thing.

So, says Peter, put this attitude to rest by taking it all and putting it on Jesus or seeing it all in the light of all you know about Jesus. This is the third thing which will lead us on in a moment to the second part of the verse.  Focus on Jesus and realise that you don’t have to worry about what the Lord thinks or feels about you and your life. Hold to the truth:

  • Jesus died for you (Jn 3:16) and
  • so now you are a child of God (1 Jn 3:1), and
  • Jesus intercedes for you when you get it wrong (1 Jn 2:1) and
  • he is with you and will never leave you (Heb 13:5) and
  • Jesus always remains the same (Heb 13:8) and
  • will provide all you need (Phil 4:19).

Let these truths about Jesus melt away your general anxiety, your worry about not being loved or cared for. Rely on the truth and not your feelings. Bring your feelings in line with these truths, but daily declare these truths as an act of faith.

This takes us on to the second part of the verse: “because he cares for you.” Now that is so obvious that it shouldn’t need commenting upon – but it does! Now if we accept that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) – and the whole series of references we quoted just now suggest that is true, then everything we know about love suggests that it also involves ‘care’. In an earlier meditation I defined love as warm affection, attachment, liking, benevolence or strong benign feelings for others or, as the Bible portrays it, selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others. Now if that is so, and I believe it is, then that good-will towards others will involve caring for them, looking for their well-being – and God cares for us because He loves us.

Briefly what does it mean to be cared for? It means, first of all, feelings of concern and desire for your well-being. First of all, God feels for you. Second, it means He takes action to secure your well-being. If you are a mother and care for your child, or you are an adult child who cares for your aging parent, you will do things as the expression of your caring for the one who is reliant upon you, to secure their well-being. THIS is why you do not need to be anxious; because God is there, looking after you and working to secure your well-being. Declare it and thank Him for it!  Hallelujah!

 

28. Bane of Fame

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 28. The Bane of Fame

Mk 1:36,37 Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Being famous isn’t all it’s made out to be! People point at you or want your attention and generally stop you being the person you could be. But actually Jesus is more than famous – he is on call. He has a commodity that people want – the power to heal and change people. Suddenly he is a wanted man! They don’t want him for who he is but for what he can do. In churches that put themselves out to be caring, leaders find the same thing. When there is a crisis it is the Pastor who is called for and it can be any hour of day or night. When you place yourself at God’s disposal, that is how life becomes.

Jesus has purposefully gone out to be on his own to pray and the disciples come looking for him and impose themselves on him. They don’t think, “Jesus has gone off to be alone; we’d better leave him until he’s ready to come back.” No they charge off and find him and declare, “Everyone is looking for you.” If it had been me I suspect my reply would have been, “So?” but we’ll see in the next meditation that Jesus came up with a slightly different answer.

The thing the disciples had not yet learnt was that Jesus knew everything and Jesus knew best. Of course Jesus would have known that everyone was looking for him. How we like to tell him (in prayer) what he already knows. How we like to tell Jesus what he ought to do, as if somehow he lacked the wisdom we think we have!

When the disciples said, “Everyone is looking for you,” they were really saying, “You really ought to come and attend to these people who are here who want to see more of you.”  The night before he had ministered to great crowds. Wasn’t that enough for the time being? They obviously thought not, Jesus is about to disagree.

How can we learn not to think about Jesus as our servant who is at our beck and call? Jesus has his own plan of working and, yes, it does include us, but he does know best and so we need to learn to seek him out and then do what he has said and get on with it without keep on referring back to him. Get on with what he’s told you to do. Yes, look to him for his grace and wisdom by all means, but believe him and obey him and just get on with it without having to come back to him and get confirmation after confirmation.   Father, thank you for what you have said. I will get on and do it!

27. Prayer Life

Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 27. Jesus’ Prayer Life

Mk 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed

I have to confess, if there are mysteries in the Christian life (and there are!) prayer rates very highly on the list. Over the years I have pondered prayer long and hard. On one hand I find it so easy as to be almost pointless; on the other hand it is hard to be real.

Why does the Bible encourage us to pray when the Father knows every word we utter before we’ve said it?  Why is it that sometimes the Father seems to hold back acting until we have prayed? How is it that sometimes break-through doesn’t happen until we have prayed our socks off? Why is it that if prayer is so important so many of us find it so difficult?  I’ve got answers now to each of these questions but I’m not going to utter them – they are probably only a quarter of the truth!

Eventually I have reached a simple conclusion: God encourages us to pray, simply because He likes hearing His kids talk to him. I’ve also come to a second, slightly more complex conclusion: often when I pray I come away strengthened, clearer in mind and purpose and surer of my calling,   i.e. in some way God talks to me, whether I am aware of it or  not, and I am changed – and I need changing!

Now I don’t believe Jesus needed changing but in the verse above we find Jesus going out to be on his own, away from anyone else, to pray early in the morning. Some have suggested he needed to lay out the day before the Father, to check it out with Him, but we aren’t told that he did that every day. Perhaps he did but we just aren’t told.

The emphasis in this verse, it seems, is the thing about being on his own. Praying with others is good but sometimes it seems it is better to be just alone with the Father. I suspect those are times when we need to pour out our hearts and need to hear what is on the Father’s heart. Other people might be a distraction then. Beyond that there is not a lot we can say. Prayer obviously was a feature of Jesus’ life, even as the Son of God – perhaps more so because he was and is the Son of God.

I make time to talk to my wife, not because I have issues to sort out with her, but simply because I love her and it is the most natural thing to do, to talk and share. Perhaps that is how it is with Jesus and his Father.   Father, thank you that you are just a word away and you delight in hearing from us.